Above: 4.5 x 8.5 inch scrap of Fabriano Tiziano I grabbed to sketch (with a dry Staedtler Pigment Liner) the Laysan Albatross. With Daniel Smith watercolors. Click on the image to view an enlargement. (A detail of a portion of this page appears below.)
So the other day my friend Jennifer sent me a note about an owl nest-bird cam. I was up late and tuned in, and was rewarded with a very fun view of sleeping owlets in a nesting box, nightview, monochromatic. You get the idea. But cute, right?! Really cute. Breathing quietly. As only raptors can.
Distracted by all the buttons on the Cornell Lab site I started to click away. Soon I was looking at ospreys, and hawks, and just about everyone was ASLEEP. Which makes sense because it was about 11 o'clock CST here.
But you know who's not asleep yet at that time? Hawaii.
Left: Detail of portion of the opening image. Click on this image to view an enlargement. You can see the white gel pen strokes on the down of the chick and the pink on the adult beak was mixed with a little white gouache because I was working on yellow paper.
So I clicked on the Albatross chick cam. WOW. A really downy, scruffy little chick was lounging about on a lawn while chickens (really beautiful chickens) strutted by in the background, an adult slumbered nearby tucked into the perfect trapezoidal form, and there was a light breeze and 73 degrees. I grabbed a scrap of paper and started sketching. (Image opens this post.)
Then I started to come back at other times of the day.
If you've never sketched from a bird cam before it's great fun. As I wrote to my friend Delores, "When I was watching the Heron in the swamp all I could think of was at least my feet were dry and there were no mosquitoes." If you're a bird watcher you know what I mean. And maybe you still enjoy the soles of your feet peeling off from being wet for hours, but I don't. And I really appreciate indoor plumbing.
Left: The next day I went back to the Albatross site during a break and did these quick sketches. I'm particularly fond of the bottom sketch of the chick preening. I just grabbed a little project notebook that contained drawing paper from Hahnemühle. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
The camera does flatten the subject more than if you're sketching from life, but because the bird is moving you do get to see it from different angles, and you have to keep on your toes and work to build your memory for shapes. Also it seems in the case of the Albatross camera that every so often the camera is moved around and things zoom in or out. So you get a bit closer than you might get in the field, unless you're using a scope, and then that's really pretty much the same thing. So we're back to the whole indoor plumbing thing.
But by the time I finished this last page of sketches and returned to my work I began to realize two things: 1. I was becoming addicted to the Albatross bird cam and 2. the chick seemed dumber than a bag of rocks—I mean she sat out in the rain, she was always on the ground (what about predators, aren't there even rats in Hawaii?) and she had great difficulty getting up, or even sitting, without rocking violently and looking a lot like one of those plastic birds that bob and dip into water and cycle up and down again until they hit the water, and you get the picture.
I wasn't born yesterday. I realized I was attached. And I realized I'm not set up for misery if something comes along and gnaws on this chick. I mean talk about vulnerability.
Isn't anyone else concerned about this? I see that on the raptor videos they put warnings that all might not be suitable for children to view, but what about MY viewing? I don't want to get attached to a chick and then see some dog run off with it.
Left: More Staedtler Pigment Liner and watercolor sketches, this time in my 8 x 8 inch (approx.) handmade journal with Gutenberg paper. The first sketch has red ink because I grabbed a Nexus pen just to get something down before going in search of a better pen. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
By the time Dick returned home from work I had managed to get my work done but not without a whole lot of worry breaks. I peppered him with questions about Hawaii (he'd been there more recently than I had). I wanted to know about dogs in particular. He said he hadn't seen any. "Leashed or unleashed, what are we talking about here?" I demanded. "Either," he replied in his most calming tone.
"Don't they have rats? And small predators of some sort? What about feral pigs—they eat everything?" I asked with an hysterical tone that probably made my speech audible only to said small predators and dogs, because Dick didn't answer. He just shook his head and walked away.
I'm hooked, but I'm really, really worried. "Nature is red in tooth and claw." If something happens to that chick it's not going to be as easy as walking away from television show characters that I've become attached to (and we all know how that goes!).
I spent some time today trying to talk myself out of tuning in any more. Then I did, for just a short while. In fact as I type this the chick is sitting on the hill in what I guess is some sort of mound of twigs (at least moments ago when I started this post she was playing with twigs) and she looks calm, happy, and she has a very nice profile on display. The wind is blowing through the palm trees in the background and another chick is sitting up on the top of a hill (I'm not really attached to that chick at all, I think they call him Mango).
I feel like I'm going insane.
I'm torn between the feelings of:
1. "Gee I hope someone from Disney or DreamWorks is watching this bird cam because they totally need to make an animated feature about an albatross chick. Have you seen how awkward it is for her to unfurl her wings for the first time??? Shit. How many joints are there? Let's go look up the skeleton for an albatross."
2. "Where are her enrichment tools and toys?"
3. "Where are her bodyguards."
4. "How fast can I get to Hawaii?"
Oh, they just zoomed in on her, and some other random bird flew by. Gotta go.