Macro Mania

As a bird photographer I don’t put on my macro lens very often, but I got it out this afternoon to take some macro photos of the batch of Mexican Crazy Lace agates that I got this past week. Before I started tumble polishing them, I wanted to record what they look like in their natural state. When you zoom in extremely close like this, you can really see the beauty. It boggles my mind that these gorgeous patterns are all made by nature…such variety, such cool patterns, such wonderful colors.

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace AgateMacro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace AgateMacro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Costa’s Hummingbird – Drawing

I have had zero motivation to do any drawing this year. Literally. The last time I drew anything…New Year’s Eve of this past year. Unfortunately, I’ve also not been very motivated to go out and do much bird photography lately (hence the long time between blog updates).  Today, I was planning on going out, but it was a gloomy, drippy day.  To try to get over my funk, I thought I’d just ignore the crappy news of the world, pick up my pencils, and draw a bit while listening to baseball.

Here’s the result. Not my favorite, and I admit I was getting antsy at the end and just wanted to finish, so there’s no vegetation or background to speak of. One of my favorite species though…a Costa’s Hummingbird. We don’t get them in South Dakota, but we’ve seen them many times on our trips down to Arizona.

Costa's Hummingbird - Calypte costae

Colored pencil drawing of a Costa’s Hummingbird male

Killing Government Science and more — Science, Nature, and Other News

Some news and views from over the last week.  For anyone interested in science, and the huge role that government plays in science in America…it’s been one damned depressing week,as details of the first Trump budget come trickling out. Overall, it’s an absolutely devastating picture for science and environmental funding. A few stories on federal science and environmental funding, followed by some other more cheery stories.

Trump's 4 Horsemen of the Environmental Apocalypse

Seen this week rampaging through the hallways of Federal science agencies were the 4 Horsemen of the Environmental Apocalypse, led by Trump, Steve Bannon, Scott Pruitt at EPA, and, well…one of the original 4 horsemen. I have to include an actual Horseman of the Apocalpyse, as clearly this administration has struck a deal with the devil himself, choosing short term greed and selfishness over the very welfare of the planet.

Trump Budget Kills NOAA Climate Science — Who needs satellites to study weather? And who needs scientists to actually do the science?  Evidently not the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The proposed Trump budget that has trickled out this week proposes drastic cuts to NOAA, with a 17% cut overall for the program.  For programs that deal with climate change, it’s even more ominous, such as a 26% cut to the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research branch.  Observing what’s happening to our earth’s weather systems? The budget proposes a 22% cut to the satellite data division.  This is a pretty common theme across all of the Federal science agencies, with science evidently something the Nation can afford to sacrifice, so we can build more missiles that are too expensive to actually use, or build outrageously expensive planes that are $164 BILLION over budget and are lacking key functionalities. Government science in aggregate is only 3.4% of the entire budget…yet to pay for a ridiculous $54 billion increase in defense spending (with the U.S. already spending nearly 40% of ALL global military expenditures), science takes a disproportionate hit compared to many other programs.

EPA Budget set for 25% cut — It’s not just NOAA taking a hit.  The Environmental Protection Agency, LONG in the cross-hairs of conservatives who don’t appreciate trivial things like environmental regulation getting in the way of making money, is currently slated to be slashed by 25% in the Trump budget.  The budget proposes cutting 20% of EPA employees, and eliminating or sharply scaling back some major environmental programs. Great Lakes cleanup funds are proposed for a ridiculous 97% cut. Funding for restoring ecosystems in the Puget Sound would be slashed by 93%.  Environmental justice programs would be cut by 79%.  A program to help cut emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane has a proposed 70% cut. I have friends and acquaintances who work for EPA.  The mood there is nothing short of apocalyptic. Wall Street is loving it, given the salivating leaders of corporate America who envision a world without regulation, where they’re free to pollute and destroy the environment, all to squeak out a little bit more in short-term profit.  I’ve said it before…I honestly wonder if any of these people have children, and for those that do, how they can so COMPLETELY ignore their future health, safety, and well-being, all because of short-term selfishness and greed.

Ryan Zinke - Secretary of the Interior

Ryan Zinke, newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior riding his horse to work on this first day. He’s said some of the “right” things in his first few days. He said during his confirmation hearings that he believes in climate change, and that we’re causing it. He’s said he believes science should drive policy, not the other way around. Given a 4% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, we will see if this is just rhetoric meant to placate those who would potentially criticize the direction environmental conservation is going under the Trump administration. Hopefully Zinke realizes the massive responsibility he has for managing our Nation’s lands, and is being honest when he states how important DOI’s scientific research is for supporting sustainable use of those lands.

Department of Interior head “not happy” —  If (just theoretically speaking of course) a scientist was a part of the Department of Interior, things may seem apocalyptic right now as well, but perhaps with just 2 or 3 horsemen of the apocalypse roaming Department halls instead of the full-out 4 horsemen that are set to rampage through some of the other Federal science agencies.  The new DOI secretary is Ryan Zinke, who was confirmed this week, and promptly decided to ride a horse to work for his first day. Rumor has it that Mr. Zinke also has a penchant for proudly proclaiming he’s an ex Navy SEAL, which of course as we all know has direct relevance to managing our Nation’s lands, and the science behind it.  To be fair, Zinke has SAID the right things. As this article points out, he’s “not happy” with the Trump’s proposed 11% cut to Interior.  Few details have emerged so far, but what has become apparent is the disparity in how that cut would be applied across DOI.  Fish and Wildlife is set to take a massive cut compared to other DOI components, primarily because of their role in providing the science that supports the Endangered Species Act.  You can’t enforce the ESA if you don’t have the science behind it, and evidently the strategy of the Trump administration is to simply eliminate the science!  Problem solved, just as eliminating climate science “solves” the climate change issue!  Zinke is a fisherman and hunter, and DOES value the outdoors.  That helps.  Zinke also has a 5% lifetime score form the League of Conservation Voters.  That’s what’s sad, is that someone who has been very environmentally hostile in the past is viewed as a BRIGHT spot in the Trump administration. Here’s hoping that his early rhetoric is actually translated into meaningful action to protect the function of Department of Interior science.  Here’s hoping Zinke means what he says, and he isn’t just saying what’s politically or personally convenient.

Yes, it CAN get too hot for life on Earth — Past theory was that despite the potential for massive global warming to occur, temperatures in the tropics were somehow regulated by an “internal thermostat”, feedback mechanisms that prevented tropical areas from experiencing the same kind of temperature increases found elsewhere in the globe. It was an important theory, because the implication was that the Earth could warm significantly, yet the tropics would be somewhat shielded from that warmth increase, and would still support life. New research demonstrates that this likely isn’t true. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum occurred 56 million years ago, a time of the highest global temperatures of the last 100 million years.  Evidence shows that tropical areas did indeed experience drastic temperature increases, increases that resulted in widespread die-off of tropical biomes that couldn’t handle the increased temperatures.  The most drastic temperature increases we’re currently seeing are in Arctic regions, with temperature increasing over two times as fast as the planet on average.  However, as this study shows, there’s no place on Earth that’s immune from the effects of climate change. As this study shows, it IS quite feasible for temperatures to warm up so much that some parts of the earth become inhospitable for life.

Ten million lives saved – Vaccine effectiveness — Certain Trump administration officials, including Trump himself, have expressed skepticism about vaccines, with some even perpetuating the myths about vaccines causing autism and other harmful effects. Here’s one of the BRILLIANT tweets from Trump, showering the world with his “wisdom” about vaccines:

I’m not against vaccinations for your children, I’m against them in 1 massive dose. Spread them out over a period of time & autism will drop!

There you have it, straight from “Doctor” Trump’s mouth. I’m sure he’s done a lot of research on linkages between autism, and the timing of vaccinations. He has some other gems as well regarding vaccines, and there have been some suggestions that he’s partnering with well-known vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to assess the “dangers’ of vaccines. Although there shouldn’t be any need to provide more empirical evidence to shut the anti-vaxxers up, new research from the University of Illinois-Chicago has gone to the trouble of quantifying just how many lives have been saved due to the widespread use of vaccines. It was the early 1960s when vaccines against these diseases became widespread, thanks to the development of new human cell strain that allowed for safe and rapid production of vaccines.  According to the research, from 1963 to 2015, over 200 MILLION cases of polio, measles, mumps, hepatitis A, rabies, and varicella were prevented in the United States ALONE. Over 450,000 deaths were prevented by vaccine use. Globally the numbers are staggering, with over 4.5 billion individual infections prevented, and over 10,000,000 lives saved.

Climate change…vaccination use…evolution…the science behind all of these is quite clear. I find it hard to see how any rational human being can deny actual empirical evidence such as that provided in the study above.

The cost of Volkswagen’s deception – 1,200 shorter lives — When Volkswagen installed “defeat” devices on their vehicles from 2008 to 2015 to fool pollutant measurements, it did more than increase air pollution.  A new study shows that due to the lower air quality induced by Volkswagens sold in Europe during that time, that around 1,200 people will have substantially shorter life spans, by around a decade. Volkswagens were emitting 4 times as much nitrous oxide as allowed by European law, contributing to the estimates of premature death for hundreds of Europeans. Retrofitting all remaining Volkswagens on the road is necessary to avoid 29,000 “life-years lost”, and over 4 BILLION Euros in increased health care costs. THIS is the type of world being currently pushed by the Trump administration, where regulation is greatly reduced, and companies like Volkswagen can worry more about profit and less about the health and well-being of people.

Panda "AnAn"

A panda munching on a cookie. Hmmm. According to research released this week, the black ears help “convey a sense of ferocity” to potential predators. I’m not quite seeing the ferocity.

Why Pandas are Black and White — Well, screw the esoteric research many scientists devote their lives to.  Here’s a basic “research “question people can relate to…why are pandas black-and-white?  I’m not exactly sure of the value of the research (I’m sure other scientists might say the same about my research), but they looked at the black and white patterns on pandas and tried to relate to other carnivore species to see if there were survival or adaptation advantages to the black-and-white pattern.  Doesn’t sound like much of a surprise in terms of results. They are largely white because it helps them hide in snowy areas. The black?  The body markings help them blend in areas of dappled light and shade, while markings on their head are thought to help them differentiate among each other and communicate with other pandas. Another supposed finding is that things like the black ears will deter predators by providing a “sense of ferocity”.  OK, it may be pretty basic research, but at least they had me interested until that last point.  I have a very hard time looking at a panda bear and having any “sense of ferocity” conveyed my way.

Seven Earth-like planets a potential hotspot for life — Trappist-1, about 39-million light-years from Earth, is very unlike our sun. It’s an “ultracool dwarf star”, with a temperature much cooler than our sun. However, scientists recently found that 7 rocky, earth-like planets orbit the star, with three of them potentially in the “Goldilocks” zone where temperatures are just right for life. They’re very different than our earth. Given that they’re much closer to their sun, they make complete orbits in as little as 1 1/2 earth-days for the innermost planet, to around 20 days for the planet furthest from Trappist-1.  They also are likely gravitationally locked, with the same side of each planet always facing the sun. The next step will be to try to take measurements of the atmospheric composition of each planet, which will give clues to the potential for each to host some form of life.

Refugee scientists on the run, scared — From, a fascinating story of “refugee scientists”, scientist from regions of conflict like Syria who have had to adapt to keep their research alive. Not to mention their very lives. Obviously scientists are only one small segment of the populations that are affected by these conflicts, but stories like this really help put a human face on things. The article provides the stories of four different researchers and the lengths they’ve had to go to to escape their home countries and rebuild their lives.

Women feel more pain then men? — According to new research from scientists at Georgia State University, women feel more pain on average than men because cells in their brains that process pain signals are more active than those in men.  Guys, I hate to say it, but this REALLY makes us look like wimps. During cold and flu season such as right now, there are plenty of stories of men being incapacitated for days by a virus, while the women in their lives soldier on and struggle through it without stopping their normal lives. I guess I had always held out hope there was some biological driving force behind the general wimpiness of men, but no, evidently even biology favors more pain-free lives for men.  We have no more excuses guys…we truly ARE wimps.


SuperB Owl Sunday – Drawn Owl Edition

And along with the photos, owls have been one of my favorite species to draw.  I haven’t really done all that many drawings since I took up colored pencil drawing about 5 years ago, maybe 30 overall, but I have drawn three different owl species.

Barn Owl Drawing - Tyto alba

Drawing of a Barn Owl, a species I’ve had glimpses of on occasion, but have never had a good photo opportunity. That was the reason behind many of my bird drawings…to fill a “hole” in my photo collection of species I had no photos for!

Boreal Owl - Aegolius funereus

A few years ago I made the 6+ hour drive to Sax-Zim bog by Duluth, Minnesota, to look for Boreal Owls. They’re a rare find in the lower 48, but that winter, a number were seen in the area. Alas, I struck out and didn’t find any, so I did the next best thing…come home and draw one.

Northern Saw-whet Owl Drawing - Aegolius acadicus

A Northern Saw-whet Owl. These are the little guys I tried SO hard to find a couple of years ago, and I was finally rewarded by finding several near Sioux Falls. Love these little guys so much that I thought I’d try drawing one as well.



Changing things up — Drawing “Oscar”

"Oscar" - Pencil drawing

“Oscar”, looking up from the carpet with his beautiful puppy-dog eyes. Click for a larger view.

I drew in high school, when I took elective art classes most semesters.  I drew a little bit in college, when during my “sports nut” phase, I mostly drew 1) baseball players, and 2) Nebraska Cornhusker things. They were all black-and-white photos, using just a basic #2 pencil.  And then…I stopped drawing, for 25 years or so.  It was 4 or 5 years ago I started, and it started out as a kind of way to “fill in” the gaps for the bird species that I didn’t have photos for. I’ve been working on getting individual species pages for all ~980 or so species that have been seen in North America. I have personal photos of about half of those, but needed images for my species pages for the other half.  I do often use freely available photos from other photographers, but I thought I’d also try personally drawing some of the species. I also started drawing in color for the first time in my life. It took some getting used to, but I started getting some bird drawings that I was happy with.

For the last 5 years, that’s all I’ve drawn…birds!  I thought I’d change things up and try something new.  We have the two sweetest rescue dogs on the planet…”Oscar” and “Felix”.  They are INCREDIBLY photogenic!  There was one photo in particular of Oscar that I thought make for a nice drawing.  He was sprawled out on the carpet napping, woke up, and looked up with his puppy-dog eyes.

This one took a while!  The better part of 2 days, mostly because I was trying things I wasn’t used to trying.  Dogs don’t have feathers!  I’ve gotten halfway decent at feathers, but it was a different ballgame trying to represent the features and fur of a dog. It turned out better than I thought it would…Felix is next up!

New Drawing – Bachman’s Warbler

Bachman's Warbler - Vermivora bachmanii

A male and female Bachman’s Warbler. Again, sadly, a drawing of a species I’ll never see. They went extinct 20-30 years ago.

I have SO loved the holidays we’ve had.  The usual festivities have of course been nice, but what made it even more special is that both my wife and I took off the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Lazy days, playing board games with our son, watching Harry Potter movies…just wonderful.  It was also a nice break that gave me time to do some drawing.  Since I started drawing 5 years ago, I haven’t done that much…maybe 25-30 drawings?  For 2016 I believe the grand total going into December was 2.  Over the last week, I’ve had the opportunity to do 2 more, first a Labrador Duck, and now over the last few days, a pair of Bachman’s Warblers.

Do you sense a theme?  Labrador Duck, Bachman’s Warbler, and in the past, I’ve also drawn Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Carolina Parakeet, and Great Auk. Yes, those are all species that have gone extinct.  Ever since I started drawing, my primary goal was to fill in the gaps for species that I didn’t have photos for.  Of all the things I’ve drawn, I believe there are only 4 species of birds I have photos for (Northern Saw-whet Owl, Blackburnian Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird).  All the rest tend to be rarities, extinct birds, or in some cases, more common birds that have eluded my camera lens.

Unlike most of the other extinct ones, Bachman’s Warbler are a species that I at least could have theoretically seen in my lifetime.  Confirmed breeding occurred in multiple locations up until at least the 1960s, and individual birds were seen up until 1988, when a unconfirmed report occurred in Louisiana.  They appeared to be habitat specialists that used canebrakes and palmetto areas, habitats that disappeared throughout much of the Southeast as commercial forestry and urban land uses converted natural habitats.

I don’t think I’ve done this before, where I’ve drawn both a male and female in one drawing.  Was pretty pleased with how it came out.  I admit I still suck at drawing habitat, trees, branches, leaves, flowers, or other background elements that might make the photo more aesthetically pleasing.  “Bird on a stick” seems to be my style right now!

New Drawing – Labrador Duck

Labrador Duck - Camptorhynchus labradorius

Colored pencil drawing of a Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius). Click for a larger view.

What a wonderful Christmas Eve!  Very relaxing with not much for any of us to do.  Well, other than our furnace conking out yet again, and having to wait for Mr. Furnace Fixing Dude.  Other than that though, it has been a fantastic day.  I haven’t drawn anything for a few months, so thought I’d draw while my wife and son cooked and listened to Christmas music.  I started drawing, and after awhile when my son was going to go downstairs to watch video games, I half-jokingly said “Want to draw a duck too?” Much to my surprise, he said yes!  I love it!  For his project, we simply typed “Draw Duck” in Google, and there were a number of beginner type projects that showed how to draw a duck. It was so wonderful, drawing with him by my side!.

For my project for the day, I chose something I’ve wanted to try for a while…a Labrador Duck.  Since I started drawing a few years ago, most of the birds I’ve drawn have been species that I don’t have photos for.  It’s a nice way to fill the empty slots on the species pages on my main website!  Labrador Duck is a species I have a web page for, but there’s a pretty obvious reason I don’t have an accompanying photo of my own…they went extinct in the 1800s.  One reason I haven’t taken on a Labrador Duck is that it’s hard just finding decent reference images.  There are a few photos online of some stuffed specimens from the 1800s, but given when they went extinct, there are no photos of a “real” Labrador Duck.  This is thus based on the stuffed specimens and some of the species descriptions I’ve seen.

It SHOULD be pretty accurate!  Plumage-wise, it matches the taxidermy specimens quite well.  The feet are tough (I hate drawing feet anyway), but one stuffed specimen had feet that were pretty close to this color, a dark muddy-deep-red with blackish webbing between the toes.

Fun drawing the Labrador Duck, even more fun doing it with my son at my side! Here’s wishing you all have an equally wonderful Christmas!

Picking up the pencils…

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Drawing - By Terry Sohl

Colored pencil drawing of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a honeysuckle plant. Click for a larger view.

Yeah, I haven’t blogged since May.  Yeah, I haven’t really worked on my website since May.  In fact, I just haven’t done much BIRDING since May, and no photography to speak of.  I took on some projects this summer that took FAR longer than I anticipated, and generally have kept busy with other activities.  It’s not the best timing, given that summer has come and gone and we’re now moving towards the cold, relatively birdless hell that typifies a South Dakota winter.  However, after a break, I’m getting back into the swing of things with the website, photography, and…even drawing.

I wish I were more motivated to draw. I enjoy the outcome, but admit that drawing to me sometimes seems like a chore, rather than a fun activity.  There are 3 competing personality characteristics that come into play when it comes to drawing: 1) a lack of patience, 2) a desire to finish an activity quickly, and 3) a bit of a perfectionist streak.  That’s not a great combination of attributes when it comes to drawing, as ideally, I’d be able to draw something very quickly, yet have it be of relatively high quality.  As I’ve improved in my drawing over the years (at least I’d like to think I have improved!), I find that I’m going slower and am more meticulous in trying to capture all the details in a bird.  Therein lies the comment about drawing sometimes seeming like a “chore”….I just can’t finish quickly any more, and I get tired of drawing after a little bit.

I did recently have a free Saturday, with no family around and no real tasks on my plate.  After about a 1 1/2 year hiatus, I did drag out the pencils.  Given that we are transitioning into fall, I thought I’d commemorate my long photography-, bird-, and blogging-free summer by drawing my favorite summer yard visitor, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  It’s usually around May 7th when they first show up in my yard, with males typically the first to arrive.  We’re on the very edge of their breeding range, but they do clearly breed here, as I have them around all summer, and by early July, I inevitably start seeing juvenile hummingbirds in the yard.  By mid-August, i typically stop seeing males, but young and female hummingbirds are still very frequent yard visitors. Numbers slowly trend down from there, and by the last week of September, I’ve typically seen my last Hummingbird for the year.

I’ve done all of our landscaping myself, and have planted a number of items that attract hummingbirds.  However, their favorite plants are the multiple honeysuckles we have in the yard. My favorite Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo is of a beautiful male, hovering in front of a honeysuckle blossom in our yard.  This drawing is a nod to that photo.

I admit that as is typical, my patience was wearing thin as I worked on this one.  I spent about 5 hours drawing the hummingbird itself.  It’s always the bird itself that I enjoy drawing the most.  I never am fond about putting in other elements, such as the honeysuckle blooms here.  Thus, after about 5 hours of working on the bird, I admit I rushed through the drawing of the honeysuckle. Once again, while I was generally pleased with how the bird itself turned out, by the end I just wanted to be DONE, and drawing had turned into a chore.

Which means it will probably be another  1 1/2 years before you see me post another drawing out here.  🙂

Saw-whets are a’ comin’!!! For now, a drawing…

Colored pencil drawing of a Northern Saw-whet Owl - Aegolius acadicus - By Terry Sohl

A colored pencil of drawing of a Northern Saw-whet Owl. I couldn’t wait until they arrived for the winter, so in the meantime sat down and drew one.

Last winter was a blast.  OK, that’s not something you typically say when you live in frigid South Dakota, but I really enjoyed last winter, and am looking forward to the cold weather again.  The reason?  Northern Saw-whet Owls!! Prior to last winter, I’d seen them on rare occasion, when I went to the Pierre area. It was a quite a few years ago when birders in the area started looking for them in cedar tree thickets near the Missouri River.  It takes quite a bit of work to find one however.  Looking for Saw-whet owls typically involves bush-whacking through dense cedar thickets, looking on the ground and on tree branches for the tell-tale “white-wash” that accumulates when the little owls use the same roost day after day.

When I say I’d seen them on “rare occasion”, it was literally ALWAYS finding a bird that someone else had found.  Oh sure, I’d given it the ol’ college try.  Prior to last winter, there were a number of times that I myself would go tromping through cedar thickets in Pierre, trying to find the little owls.  I was great at finding roosts where they USED to be!  As for finding a live owl?  Not so much.

I think people always suspected Northern Saw-whet Owls were much more widely distributed in South Dakota in the winter, but actual reports were few, likely due tot he effort involved in actually finding one.  Last winter I was determined to 1) actually find my “own” Saw-whet owl, and 2) do so right here near Sioux Falls, rather than making the 3 1/2 hour drive to Pierre, where they’re known to be found.  It wasn’t very encouraging at first.  And when I say “at first”, I mean there were probably about 10 fruitless trips trudging through cedar tree thickets, looking for owls.  The story was much like my attempts in Pierre…I was GREAT at finding owl pellets and whitewash, but wasn’t finding the owls themselves.

That all changed in January when I finally found my first Northern Saw-whet Owl in southeastern South Dakota.  It was at Newton Hills State Park, and he wasn’t alone!  On that truly magnificent day, I found not one, but four different Saw-whet Owls, all in the typical cedar thicket habitat that was similar to where they had been found for years in Pierre.  At least according to “eBird” reports, these were the first Saw-whet Owls reported in this part of the state.  The rest of the winter was great, going back to visit previously found Saw-whets (they tend to have roosting site fidelity, using the same sites for many days in a row), and finding new ones.  I ended up finding a few more at Newton Hills that winter, and then also started finding them  around Lake Alvin, just south of Sioux Falls.  For the winter, at least 9 individual over-wintering owls were found.

Just in the past few days bird banders in the area reported capturing and banding the first migrating Saw-whet owls of the season.  They’re here!  Or, at least they’re starting to arrive!  I’ll probably wait a couple of weeks before heading out to actually look for one, giving them a little more time to arrive, giving a little more time for the whitewash and pellet evidence to accumulate.  In the meantime, last weekend in my excitement for the coming winter, I did a colored pencil drawing of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, using a photo of one from last winter as a guide.

I can’t wait!  The owls are coming! The owls are coming!!  🙂

Back in the swing…

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger - Drawing by Terry Sohl

Colored pencil drawing of a Black Skimmer – Rynchops niger.

June of 2 years ago.  That’s the last time I’ve touched a pencil.  June 8th, to be exact.  I started a drawing of a Black Skimmer, a species I’d only seen a few times, and had never gotten a good photo of.  I thought I’d do a quick and dirty drawing for my website, so I started that evening. I got about halfway done before deciding to finish in the morning.

It was that next morning that I woke up feeling very achy, joints hurting, with my eyes stuck shut from being so dry.  Just like that, overnight, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Sjogren’s Syndrome.  All of my drawing equipment and my half-finished Black Skimmer drawing were put away in a drawer.  And there they lay forgotten for the next 2 years, 3 months, and 18 days.

No, “forgotten” isn’t the right word.  I occasionally remembered the drawing.  I occasionally thought about picking up a pencil and starting to draw again. But I couldn’t bring myself to do so.  Drawing, and this Black Skimmer image, were associated in my mind with the onset of Sjogren’s.  Every time I thought about starting to draw again, it brought me back to June 8th, 2013, and all the “fun” physical symptoms I’ve had since.  And thus the pencils sat for over 2 years.

This past weekend I picked them up again, and finished the drawing.  My biggest issue right now are my eyes.  Very dry, gets worse as the day goes on, which makes it hard sometimes for me to even want to keep them open, and also makes things blurrier and blurrier as the day progresses.  Not ideal for drawing, with either blurry eyes or closed eyes.  I think my drawing strategy will usually have to be doing it in the morning, or up to mid-afternoon at the latest, before my eyes start to get really bad for the day.

In any event, the pencils have been taken out of storage, the Black Skimmer has been completed (as has another drawing, which I’ll post later).

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