Wednesday, May 10, 2023

They Just Keep a Comin'!

Wood Duck Drake - Visiting the "Mrs."
Have I ever been lax!!!  Well, not really, just shirking my blog responsibilities I guess.  It is so easy to get behind on things - especially when Spring arrives with all its distractions and perks!!!
They just keep coming!
Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron Rookery 

First it was the Great Blue Herons returning to the Waterman Rookery across the road from us.  I'd fretted all winter about them; they'd had so many set backs here the past two years.  Two Derechos in a 7 month period destroyed 2/3's of the rookery...but nest building has taken place in April...not as many birds but around 30-36 we believe at this point.
After the rookery grabbed our attention then the other bird travelers got our attention.  This year was a banner year for Trumpeter Swans!  We observed flocks every day here for nearly 2 weeks - so neat to see that here.
We only got the front north pasture burned this spring - and it was late for us.  The humidity levels early spring were incredibly low and the fire hazards just would not allow an early burn.  It was curious because the snow load was very heavy this past winter, but by the time the melt was done - it was too dangerous to get the burns we were wanting.
And ironically the ground was too frozen to take in moisture - at least not the majority of we are not breaking the 3 year drought as of yet.  April brought just over an inch of rain, but we aren't quite as bad off as this time last year.  Time will tell.

I haven't gotten out and hiked the prairies for Pasque Flowers this spring yet.  I don't know if that will happen now.  I'm having issues that may keep my "hikes" at home...I'm certainly not getting any younger - how does that sneak up so quickly?!

As of today nearly all our spring visitors and summer residents have returned...I believe the Eastern Kingbirds, Bobolinks and Dickcissels are the main characters yet to return, but I know there are others - they just keep a comin'!
Enjoy your Spring and be kind to each other - hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

(All images - ©Bruce A. Morrison)

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Gett'n Close!


"McCormack Sunrise" - oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison

It's finally March and we had our first Robin of the year this morning!  Things are looking up...well, sort of.  Next week we're to have another 2-3 days of snow...maybe not much but still...ugh.

Really I'm not feeling as grumpy as I make it sound.  We are finally in a zone of precipitation, something that just hasn't been the norm here the past 3 years.  Although the ground remains frozen, we still have hope that some of this winter's snow and rain will make it into the soil.  Maybe some of the seeding we did again in the north pasture will actually take this time???  One can certainly hope!

My easel has been hopeful this winter as well, I figure if you can't have warm weather - just paint it!

The image above is of a nice little conservation area maybe 7 or 8 miles south of us "as the crow flies".  The McCormack area was donated to O'Brien County about 30 years back by Francis McCormack.  Francis was a native to the area having grown up in the vicinity of this location.  He left the area to serve in the US Navy...spent many years in Philadelphia after his service - then returned home in 1986 and purchased this ground from his brother - ground they were all so familiar with.  Family say Francis would spend time there "for peace and quiet".

It is a very nice quiet spot, one my wife and I and even grand kids have visited...over the years it has been on my regular visit list.  Thanks to people like Francis McCormack for giving back to the people of this area - there are so few places in our county still left that aren't plowed under or built up with houses or confinements.  The McCormack Area is a treasure of our natural heritage.

In the meantime I'm keeping at it in the studio - watching the landscape gradually change in the valley out front.  Spring is gett'n close!!!

Hope to see ya on the Tallgrass!


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Changing It Up A Bit - A Look At The "Process"


"Past Thanksgiving - November Barn"  - oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison

A few friends have noticed I haven't been "yarn spinning" for a while. Getting caught up in other things always gets the better of me...I'm easily distracted... SQUIRREL!!!
Where was I? Oh ya; I think I'm changing my old format up a bit and will eliminate the "Archival Works Friday" theme; but still occasionally give some insight to what steers me and my work derived from it. I'll try and bring these up from time to time. I have to admit I never liked schedules because too many things pop into my head and I just give in to whatever shouts the loudest.
Some weeks back I posted an image of our old stucco barn here on the was a still late fall evening under a crescent moon. It was taken on the evening of November 26th and posted the next morning. I will post that November 26th Photograph in my first comment you can make a comparison from the original photograph below...

Original photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
I've always been partial to crescent moons. And I've always been partial to the stucco barn here; I believe it to be the only such barn in our county. I could be mistaken but have looked for 20 years and not found another. The barn was retrofitted with concrete stucco sometime shortly after WW2...concrete block reinforcement of the north and west sheds was done first, and concrete buttresses added to the north shed to support or reinforce the addition are fairly unique for an "old" barn as well. 
I've done paintings of our stucco barn a couple times in the past...still regret selling one of them. And Georgie - bless her (!) has also painted the stucco barn a few times - literally! She has been up there with the barn swallows many times in the past 20 years with her bucket of paint and brush!
After I first brought the November 26th barn image file up on the computer screen, I liked what I was seeing...the photograph was nice yet there were elements in the picture's foreground that did not lend nor add to the support of the image. But I was struck by what I saw in my mind - could I do it justice? Well, that's always the question when I pick up a paint brush.
I set out to simplify and celebrate the light and the delicate crescent hanging in that last glow of the remnant day. That silhouette of our barn was almost iconic and somber in color and tonality. Did I mention loving that crescent phase? I embellished it ever so slightly, by increasing its size by about 50%...not too much to make it seem too unreasonably exaggerated. 
There was much too much "busyness" in the foreground...all the bushes and shrubs add nothing to the design and composition - they will not be included. That lone crab apple intersecting one of the barn windows was actually two trees, one had been damaged by strong winds many years ago and I couldn't bring myself to cut it was still gifting us with a flush of deep prairie rose colored blossoms on its lop-sided trunk each spring. Another opposing color crab was planted next to it a few years ago and they seem quite happily married now. It will be painted as one, as that's how it appears.
The complete idea of the very closest foreground leaves and gravel drive will give the image a resting place, a foundation to support the image. I appreciate those leaves; fall is nearing its end...their least bit of color notes are peaceful on the eyes.
But - as you'll notice, I gave the scene my own color interpretation...I am NOT trying to lavishly copy a photograph but give my own sense of the "emotion" the original scene evoked for me.
These are my thoughts and goals as I worked on this painting. These are the ideas that formed this attempt to remember this moment in oils. It left a lasting impression on me and this small token of an idea, albeit small, is part of this memory.
"After Thanksgiving - November Barn" - oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
A little distraction as we wait for spring here...the prairie is covered well up in this corner of the state...quite different from the past 2 winters.  But we are still listed in the "Extreme" drought designation.  My biggest hope right now is that we do manage to get some spring melt into the ground here!  We have a lot of seed under this cover - lets hope for the best!
Be good to one another and I hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

Friday, December 23, 2022

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Pre-Blizzard Sun Dogs from our lane (photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison)

It's almost Christmas and I just wanted to take a moment and wish everyone the best this season!  Unfortunately for many it is also bad weather timing!  We have a really nasty blizzard here as I type...started yesterday and is still going strong here this late afternoon.  Visibility can be measured in "Feet" here right is insane.

Yesterday morning when the above photo was taken, it was 18 below zero with a near 50 below zero windchill.  It was just kicking up the wind when this was taken.


Sun Dogs at full arc over the barn (photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison)

The next photo was taken this morning at about a quarter to ten...I was out trying to start the pickup/plow and saw the arc...WHOA!  I ran into the studio and grabbed the camera.  I backed up as far as I could up the lane past the barn but ran up against some very high drifts and the studio orchard fence...this was as much as I could manage in one shot.  

It is only the second full arc sun dog I have ever witnessed.  I took another very similar image of the first one here a few years back.  The snow was beginning to kick up so bad that I was lucky I spotted it before the winds just blotted it out!  It's been a terrible afternoon - much worse than yesterday.

The county plows have been pulled off the roads the past two days...we'll see what tomorrow brings.

At any rate - Be safe out there.  Stay inside and off the roads until the plows get a chance to catch up.  Please make this a safe and Blessed Christmas for you and your familiy.

See you on the Tallgrass - Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 21, 2022

Autumn in SE O'Brien County

I was asked to write and illustrate another piece for Bleeding Heartland this past week. This one is titled "Autumn in SE O'Brien County". There are some image repeats from the last blog entry, but some new and with a story to illustrate.  Give it a read if you have a moment - I hope you enjoy it! 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Autumn Drought = Autumn Color!


Autumn Road - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

I really believe we are seeing the best autumn colors this fall than I've seen since we moved here 20 years ago...its been just beautiful!  We just weren't expecting it...3rd drought year in a row...listed in the "Extreme" category now, with the worst (5 out of 5) "Exceptional" creeping even closer.

According to a state arborist, we are getting great color due to the warm/mild weather preceding our first hard frost.  We haven't had any rain since then so the wind has been the only thing dropping leaves now...and its been monotonously windy since the colors came on!


Hale Slough - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

I'll leave you with some nice Fall color in NW Iowa near and not so far from our acreage.  (Click on each image for a larger view).


Receding Pool  and Cottonwoods - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison 

Garlock Slough - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

Arching Autumn Colors - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

Autumn in the Waterman Valley - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

Happy Fall out there!   See you on the Tallgrass!

Friday, October 7, 2022

Artwork Friday!

"Inciting a Riot!"  Blue Jay Portrait - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

It's Artwork Friday!  OK...I decided "Archival Works Friday" was too constricting - I think this will give me some room to just try and post something interesting once a month, whether it's new or old...sometimes my brain just drops something out there and I say to myself "why not?"!

I'll try and broaden the original idea a bit and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month.  I hope you'll find it interesting!

Maybe this should be called "Blue Jay Friday". 

I just recently finished this Blue Jay color pencil drawing, and readily admit that this is not an old piece...but the idea does stretch back many years...Blue Jays and I.

I have always loved Blue Jays...these birds have real character and are very intelligent; part of the bird family "Corvdae", which includes crows, ravens and magpies.  My first personal “close encounter” with Blue Jays was when I was maybe around 11 or 12.  I had snuck up on one, on a friend's bird feeder, and reached up and grabbed its tail...of course the jay let out a loud squawk and flew off - leaving that stupid kid (me) with a handful of tail feathers!  Through the rest of the summer (until molt in August) everyone in the neighborhood recognized this "tailless" Blue Jay wherever it went!  I even got the feeling it was extra keen on avoiding "me"!

It's funny how us humans place our own judgments and morals on wild creatures...Blue Jays seem to get unjustly criticized at times.  Blue Jays are obvious when they're in the vicinity...noisy, constant calling; often arriving in numbers, and usually dominating the bird feeders.  Some people think they're pushy or mean, so have a personal dislike for them...placing human judgment on something is really misguided; in doing so it is easy to miss the “larger” picture...the entirety of these amazing and beautiful birds.

When we hear jays around the acreage, we can very often discern what is going on by the calling...the chatter of the airwaves if-you-will. I can often hear when they are calling to alert to a good meal to be had (at the feeders), whether they seem to be in a good or bad mood or when they are on their own and pensive (see - there I go placing human attributes myself!). I have often heard individuals do the most pleasing quiet gurgles, and jingles, when they seem to think they're alone and unobserved. When they're aware they're being watched, they can be quite quiet and alert.

They're good at imitating other birds – particularly Red-tailed Hawks. I often stop what I'm doing when I'm outside, to look up for a Red-tail whenever I think I hear one call...I can now spot “most” impersonations, but occasionally I have to say out loud “good one”! Even a Red-tailed Hawk would be proud of some of those attempts of jays (and even starlings, by-the-way) trying to imitate them!

I've found over the years how good they are at spotting hawks and owls in the yard. This can be beneficial to me if I have the camera handy. What better way to have a predator alarm! Crows are also very good at this...a flock mobbing a hawk or owl is a fairly common occurrence. And I've watched jays actually bully some hawks they should be wary a dangerous game of cat and mouse. But they don't always come out unscathed.

A couple weeks back I was out in the north pasture photographing some dew covered webs and suddenly a big ruckus broke out up in the northwest corner of the backyard.  Blue Jays were having a, they were definitely upset and one jay was clearly beyond distressed. I thought to myself “someone had just become breakfast”. I made my way over to the yard as jays were dispersing in different directions. Moments later a large mature accipiter – had to have been at least a female Cooper's Hawk, flew up out from underneath a low sweeping conifer – carrying away its meal for the morning...Blue Jay feathers scattered about under the tree verified the menu.  Real life drama in the bird world!

I really enjoy trying to photograph Blue Jays. Their personalities really seem to shine at times, especially when they get cranked up or mischievous! The color pencil drawing at the top of this article says it all!  I read many years back that a flock of Blue Jays is called a "Riot" or a "Party"...hence the subtitle for this small life-size Blue Jay Portrait - "Inciting a Riot!"...gotta love these birds!

Blue Jay color pencil drawing from some 40 years ago...we all have to start somewhere!  (prismacolor color pencil drawing © Bruce A. Morrison)

This wasn't my fist Blue Jay drawing, but probably my most expressive and first color pencil Blue Jay was done on archival/colored mat board, 40 some years ago...I've done others in more recent years as well.


I'll part by saying enjoy “all” the birds...they aren't little “people” and don't have our motives or faults, no matter how endearing or disconcerting!  Give 'em a break and enjoy watching every chance you get!