Tag Archives: birds

Are We There Yet?

posted August 4, 2020 by Kerry McFall, who is very tired of this 2020 ride…

Remember when you were a kid in the back seat of the car and the trip was taking an eternity?  That’s what this year feels like, and this month (which is now known as Faugust because it’s weirdly foggy and gloomy here in San Diego), and this week, and this afternoon, and – yeah.  The answer to “Are we there yet?” from my Dad generally sounded a lot like this hawk looks:

Swainson's Hawk painting

Swainson’s Hawk, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The answer from my Mom, the first time one of us asked, was usually something like, “Almost…” or “Pretty soon…”  The second time we asked her, the answer was essentially the same as Dad’s.  Only with less profanity.

This beautiful feisty bird was photographed originally by Christine Paige, Idaho wildlife biologist, who says that it will soon be flying off to Argentina… I wish it well, and I hope there’s no kids in the backseat.  I am fascinated by that blue beak!

Meanwhile, something that helped take my mind off the news/journey/insanity last week was a video about Urban Sketching by Sketchbook Skool.  Since I didn’t much want to go out into the Urban insanity here (“Life’s  A Beach, Bro!  Grab a Brew!  Who needs a mask?!”), I just paused the video and sketched the instructor, Jason Das.  Best hat I’ve ever done!

sketch of man in hat

Jason Das Urban Sketcher, mixed media by Kerry McFall

So Hang in There, folks.  But no, I don’t think we’re there yet.

#SketchbookSkool  #JasonDas #ChristinePaige  #Swainson’sHawk #AreWeThereYet #UrbanSketching




Call and Response: Raptor

To say I was not immediately struck by inspiration would be an understatement.  

My prompt for this year’s Call and Response* exhibit was “Quiet, Noisy.”  How in the world could I put the sense of hearing on a flat surface with paint?  How to translate audio into visual?  But soon enough, I was assaulted by the answer: I happened to be driving near the Portland Airport when a military plane took off from PDX and the afterburner kicked in… it was deafening.  I decided to contrast that with the silent flight of a hawk, often seen soaring over the fields as we drive up and down the Willamette valley.

Sketch, copyright K McFall2015

Sketch, copyright K McFall2015

My first sketch was for a triptych, made to look as if the observer is in a cathedral, the ultimate quiet sanctuary, looking out.  The backdrop was quintessential Willamette Valley, a lone “seed tree” fir silhouetted on a clearcut hillside above a field of grass stubble.  Next came some detail studies of the hawk:

study for hawk

Hawk Sketch, copyright 2015 K McFall

Once I started getting ready to paint, the reality of a triptych dawned: I have no place to paint big enough to allow me to work on three canvases at once, which I would have to do to keep the colors consistent.  So, down to one canvas, which would be simpler anyway, but sticking with the window arch idea… maybe making the entire piece a “window” done as if it were leaded glass?


But then I decided that I didn’t like the arch or the curving “glass” pieces, so I painted them out… or tried to…  So now we’re down to the simple sanctuary of nature, no cathedral in sight…

Next came the jet, which interestingly enough was called a “raptor” according to my Google research.  Hmm… possible title?  The underlying glass bits, which I had outlined in ink markers, bled through, even through several layers of thick gesso.  This “pentimento” became echoes of the jet con trail.  The jet and the bird are also going in opposite directions, both facing off the canvas, but the con trail(s) and furrows in the field below curve back to the center of the painting, the conflict of the quiet and the noisy.  Coincidence?  Works for me!

Carolyn Kindell, my neighbor, is an avid birder, and she shared several bird books to ponder for reference.  I learned that hawks glide over fields listening intently for mice and voles moving underground… as a “hidden Mickey” kind of a joke, I had already added a tiny field mouse in the grass beneath the hawk.  When she saw the work in progress, (she’s my neighbor and a frequent visitor, impossible to keep  it secret), Carolyn said “The mouse lives another day, but the hawk goes hungry.”  And possibly the hawk goes profoundly deaf,  after the afterburner event.  I decided that the mouse needed a bigger role, so I detailed in his little home entry and made him more obvious.

"Raptor," acrylic on canvas, 11" x 14", copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, $300

“Raptor,” acrylic on canvas, 11″ x 14″, copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, $300

Finished 2/12/2014.  The painting is now hanging in La Sells Stewart gallery on the OSU campus, surrounded by the responses of our seven Call & Response member artists, plus three guest artists.  I am thrilled with their responses.  If you’re in Corvallis, please take the opportunity to see how these artists chose to respond to my call.  It’s free!

*Call and Response is a community art exhibit created by eight Willamette Valley artists.  This is our fifth exhibit.  The C&R theme for 2014/15, was “Opposites”.  We each pulled a “prompt” slip of paper out of a hat, which contained two words that were the opposite of each other.   The painting that resulted from this prompt would be my “call” to seven other artists, one at a time, who would respond with a work of their own based on mine.  They would not know the words of my prompt, and they would not see the other artists’ responses; they all just knew that we were working with opposites.

Community Poetry Birdhouse – If Wishes Were Fishes

Linn Benton Community College sponsored a call for artist’s this spring asking for artist proposals to decorate “birdhouses” that will be mounted in their Albany campus parking lot.  But there’s a catch – they aren’t for birds!  They’re for interactive poetry… watch for more information from LBCC about how that will work, but in the meantime, here are some photos of my birdhouse, titled “If Wishes Were Fishes”.

When I heard the title for this project, words began to pop into my head: birdhouses > feathers > flight > community > a sense of place > icons >iconic fish > flying fish… and finally a snippet of a poem, “If wishes were fishes, then horses would ride.” I have never really understood that phrase, but I’ve always loved the mental images it inspires! So instead of birds being the focus, my sketches took shape as fish flew inand out of water waves and air waves, progressing through a day and a night in our part of the Willamette Valley, represented by Mary’s Peak and satellite imagery of the rivers.  My background as a fiber artist means that I just had to find a way to include some fabric, so the interior became a silky, glimmering stage to receive the poetry notebook.  A very fun project!

No Flying Monkeys… Yet

sketch of geese grazing

“Wintering in Wichita” mixed media by Kerry McFall

When we arrived in Wichita last night at our hotel, I would have said that someone’s chihuahua had a tummy ache after eating too many “greenie” dog treats, and they didn’t bother to scoop up the evidence on the sidewalk.  This morning, looking at both the sidewalk and the car windshields, I decided that there were two other possibilities: a) the front desk manager had summoned the famous Kansas Flying Monkeys because we had slightly messed up our reservation, and b) pterodactyls are not extinct after all.  But I discovered a bit later that it was a small flock of geese, who seem to be overwintering in the parking strip.  They waddled around outside our room, keeping me company as I coughed and wheezed my way through the day (yukky cold, hazard of traveling).  And based on the ruckus they kicked up when a huskie-type dog walked past, I wouldn’t want to mess with them.

Today would have been my Dad’s birthday, so I made this sketch for him.  He and I share a love of geese.   The wild goose is my spirit animal – not because I’ve ever done any exploration of the spiritual basis of such things, but just because I know it.  Another interesting coincidence of this trip and his birthday is that yesterday in Dodge City, I stumbled across the handprints in cement of Dennis Weaver (if you’re old enough to remember Gunsmoke, you know him as Chester) who graduated highschool with my Dad –  class size was five students!

I’ll post a new coloring page with these geese soon, but right now, time to put my cold to bed!


Anna's Hummingbird, sketch by Kerry McFall, mixed media

Anna’s Hummingbird, sketch by Kerry McFall, mixed media

I’ve been hearing a hummingbird scolding from our neighbor’s treetop ever since the first hard freeze not too long ago.  The last fuchsia’s and sage blossoms had finally given up the ghost, and the bird was protesting.  I thought at the time, you should have gone south, little bird.  His head was mostly black, his breast caught the sun now and then and sparkled chartreuse, but mostly he was greyish brown, maybe even a she, I thought.  I’m pretty sure it’s an “Anna’s Hummingbird,” and I’ve read that they do over-winter here in the Willamette Valley.  Poor wee thing.

Yesterday, Day Two of the Big Snow in Corvallis, I heard that shrill-pitched scolding again, this time from my front porch.  Perched defiantly on the end of a rhododendron bud, he was trying to warm himself in the thin sunlight.  Every few minutes he would zoom off to do battle with other hummers, and birds many times his size as they approached the neighbor’s porch and their feeders, including the frozen hummingbird feeder.  The neighbors had thawed it and re-hung it several times, and we did once when they were gone for awhile, but with the temperature in the teens, not much you can do.  He took on starlings and robins and pigeons and scrub jays until he was so exhausted that I was able to get within a few feet of his perch, and take photographs.  And then, the incredible happened – the sun caught the top of his head and it shattered into a million ruby crystals.  I literally gasped – I’ve seen pretty little birds before on National Geographic TV specials with ruby throats, but never anything to compare to this, and certainly not on my front porch.  That dark head was a fabulous source of reds and pinks and rubies and black light, and I stood out there in the cold in just my houseslippers long enough to almost capture it on film twice.

He was out there again today, this time perching on a plant stake nearer to the house and out of the wind.  But he didn’t fight as much with other birds, he seemed to sip from melting snow a bit, and just rest.  Cruel cold.  I hope he makes it through another night to share his magical colors again.  Good Luck, little bird.

This sketch is in my sketchbook that I’m going to be sending to the Sketchbook Project next month.  The topic is borders… here I was wanting to shatter the border with the jewels from the bird’s head.  Almost made it work.  The paper is too thin for watercolors, so I’ll need to put in different papers if I can’t resist watercolors again.  Or maybe crinkly pages is one of things that makes the sketchbooks so real, so immediate.


Listening to the “Choir” at Finley

sketch of bridge across ash swale

“Wetlands Bridge”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The geese are in full voice at Finley Wildlife Refuge.  As graceful necklaces of birds stack up overhead apparently wating for clearance to land, the choir on the edges of the reservoir perform the Hallelujah Chorus.  Their songs make my heart sing.  And for comic relief, every now and then some duck cracks a joke and all his duck buddies join in with their coarse wack-wach-wack laughter.

Each autumn we make a pilgrimage to hear their wild songs. A 20 minute drive and we’re there.  We usually go before October 31st, which is when the nesting areas and the dam path above the reservoir are closed for the season.  But now that there is a boardwalk across the ash swale, you can get fairly close to the reservoir any time of year, and there are several trails open in the oak savannahs up the hills also.  Down in the swale, the world seems to be almost entirely covered in drippy lichens and moss, primarily a soft grey green but occasionally an eye-popping chartreuse.

Every visit reveals new wonders: this time, it was swans (or maybe white geese?) visible through the telescope from the gazebo, and lovely white moths who seemed to have collapsed in the damp weather all along the boardwalk.  It was too wet and windy to want to sketch on site, so we hiked around with our hands in our pockets and our hats pulled over our ears, and I took a few photos.  I came home and worked from the photos in the warmth of my “studio” (aka dining room), cat in lap, wine glass at the ready (always being on the alert not to dip my brushes in the wine), candle flickering just for the cinnamon-roll scent.  November can be quite cozy – the trick is to get out and get a little chilly exercise first.

Sitting Ducks

paintng of boat ramp

“Sitting Ducks”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The urgent cry of a young osprey is immediately recognizable, “Mom!  Mom! Wait for me!!”  As my Plein Air class painted from the small dock at the Crystal Lake Drive boat landing in Corvallis, we heard it several times from across the river or from above us.  I kept anticipating that they would make a dive into the swift river and fly up with a fish, but eventually I decided they must be waiting for just the right moment to snatch a meal from the gravel bars mid-river.  A small flock of ducks there was barely visible from my vantage point – I was glad the ospreys didn’t make their move while we were there!   A slow parade of boaters came and went on the ramp, yanking on starter cords of old outboard motors, one carrying a bow with arrows tied with fishing line for hunting carp.  An otter was sighted briefly – or maybe it was a nutria, hard to tell.

When we arrived at 5:30 p.m., the sky was overcast, the light was flat, the river was a dull brownish green, and I was thinking to myself that it wasn’t the most dazzling spot for painting.  But as the evening progressed, the mood changed dramatically.  The cottonwood trees began to quiver, it rained a bit off and on for a few minutes.  The clouds above us gradually parted, emerald trees glistened in front of black thunderclouds to the east, the river shifted between blues and greens and silver.  It was impossible to figure out where to look, what to paint.  Was it Buddha who said, “Change is inevitable.  Get over it.”?  As we propped up our work for a critique session at 8:00 p.m., a rainbow shone above us in the gathering dusk.  Just another glorious August evening on the Willamette River!

Vignette- Dinner for Two

sketch of birdfeeders with gold finches

“Dinner for Two” mixed media digitally enhanced, by Kerry McFall

Last Thursday was grey and cool, (a distant memory as I sit in front of my hard-working little green fan and “glow” in the heat…) – but it was so cool that after two hours of my Plein Air class, my fingers got tingly and numb!   Oddly enough, what struck me, near Philomath in the midst of misty mountains and bamboo groves and struggling orchards, was a cluster of clear acrylic birdfeeders.  A couple of gluttonous brown sparrows munched at the seeds at first, but eventually I was rewarded by the arrival of two bright yellow goldfinches.  They stayed just long enough for me to get a quick impression of them.  The background was a tangle of dark green shrubs and berries which I thought I might add later… but later I was at McMenamin’s pub warming my hands on a hot mug of cheese and potato soup.  The weekend took me off on another tangent, so this afternoon I twiddled a bit with it in  Photoshop to enhance the edges, and here it is, a cool grey memory.

Nye Beach Performances

gulls perched on a row of posts

"Synchronized Scowling" mixed media by Kerry McFall

The Newport Performing Arts Center (not pictured obviously!) on Christmas Eve eve was a treasure:  first we saw a local ballet troupe perform Nutcracker Remix in 3D, an absolute hoot and very well done.  There is nothing like a 3-year-old ballerina to lift your spirits, unless it’s a 3-year-old Nutcracker soldier battling a mouse king three times his size – best sword play I’ve seen on stage since I saw Baryshnikov dance the Nutcracker in Atlanta once!  And then later that evening, we heard none other than David Ogden Stiers read from “A Christmas Carol” and other Christmas works – world class actor, small audience – we felt very privileged.

Between performances, an informal synchronized  flight show was taking place a bit north of the Arts Center.  As a rule it’s too windy/wet/cold at the coast (there’s a reason we rarely use the term “beach” in Oregon) for plein air sketching.  This weekend was no exception, and I came prepared with my camera.  A flock of gulls had congregated because some idiot was throwing them bread – it was fun to watch them catch the chunks in mid-air, but what I know about wild birds is that you shouldn’t feed them white bread.  When Bread Man left, a cloud of gloom descended on the flock, and they all took up posts on the fence and stared moodily out to sea from the Nye Beach Parking Lot (obviously so named by the good people in the Tourism Bureau).  Good mood or bad, it’s very difficult to avoid an expression on a bird face that doesn’t look cranky… still working on that!  The blob of red on the tip of their beaks doesn’t help much, kind of makes it look like they just tore apart their prey and forgot to use their napkins… the NationalAudubon Society web page tells me that this is probably a Western Gull, and the wing span can be up to five feet… wow!

And So It Begins

fish skeleton on parched lakebed

"And So It Begins," mixed media by Kerry McFall

Global warming is upon us.  This was the scene on October 7th, 2012 at Finley National Wildlife Refuge.  It takes 15 minutes to drive there from home – reality doesn’t get any closer than that.  This was the large reservoir at the refuge, where for 20 years we have come in October to hear my Goose Choir, to hear the ducks gabble, to watch elk roll in the mud, to see the water circles of rising fish mirror the sky circles of eagles hunting above.   There were no birds, not a one, only the smell of decay, and this evidence of the carp that inhabited the water.  “Not a big loss,” commented an acquaintance about the carp.  But what of the other aquatic creatures, the minute organisms that geese and ducks eat?

Sure, it could be just a peculiar rainfall year .  No way to know what next year will bring.  Maybe as I write this today’s rain has replenished most of the water.  Maybe not.  Even so, it was sobering, saddening.  Is this the future of my church of nature?  Please, no.