Sketches From Spain: A Few Thanksgiving Birds

European goldfinches, Doñana

A flock of European goldfinches pick thistle seeds in Doñana National Park. Drawn through the scope, watercolor over pencil in Lana 1590 8 1/2″ x 11″ spiral bound sketchbook.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on Sevilla at the moment, where Antman is giving a talk and I am enjoying a few quiet moments of reflection and gratitude on Thanksgiving Day.

Red kites, Doñana

Red kites, Doñana National Park, drawn through the scope. Watercolor over pencil in Lana  1590 8 1/2″ x 11″ spiral bound sketchbook.

I’m thankful for our four-month Danish adventure and for family and good health. I’m thankful for the purple swamphen that flapped into view yesterday like a great feathered eggplant. I’m thankful for the benign wariness of the giant bulls of Doñana that allowed me to pass by, uncharged. And I’m especially thankful for the kind hospitality of our new Spanish friends in Sevilla.

Stone chat, Doñana

Stone chat, Doñana National Park. Drawn through the scope on 8 1/2″ x 11″ Lana 1590 spiral bound sketchbook, watercolor over pencil.

I’m thankful to you, too, for spending a little time with me at Drawing the Motmot. I’m happy you’re here.

Spotless Starlings, Doñana

Spotless Starlings, an Iberian endemic, Doñana National Park. Drawn through the scope on Lana 1590 spiral bound sketchbook, 8 1/2″ x 11″, watercolor over pencil.

White stork nest; dead cork oak, Doñana

White stork nest in dead cork oak, Doñana National Park. Watercolor over pencil, Lana 1590 spiral bound sketchbook 8 1/2″ x 11″.

Tonight we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with paella and delicious local olives and crusty bread. I’ll be sure to drink to the health of all, probably more than once. A glass of sangria sounds perfect right now.

Happy Thanksgiving.

They really do nest on chimneys, and although it looks it, this one is not a plastic lawn ornament.

They really do nest on chimneys, and although it looks like one, this white stork is not a plastic lawn ornament. At the Palacio, the biological field station in Doñana National Park, our lodgings for several days of wildlife heaven.

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Sketches From Spain

Stork nests, cork oak, and  Spanish not-so-wild wild horses. They roam at will, same as the spotted cattle, wild boars and deer herds. White storks cruised overhead, just to let me know they hadn't sublet the property. Watercolor over pencil, 8 1/2" x 11", Lana spiral bound drawing book.

Stork nests, cork oaks, and Spanish not-so-wild wild horses. They roam at will, same as the spotted cattle with the intimidating horns. Although it’s not nesting season, white storks cruised overhead and clattered their beaks to let me know they hadn’t sublet the property. Doñana National Park, Spain. Watercolor over pencil, 8 1/2″ x 11″, Lana spiral bound drawing book.

Cork oak in bright morning sun. Curlicue branches and deeply pleated bark, many slabs of which were scattered on the ground, colonized by ants. It's a fine-looking tree, and now that everyone's switching to screw-caps, maybe it can grow in peace. Doñana National Park, southern Spain. Watercolor over pencil on 8 1/2" x 11" Lana spiral-bound drawing book.

Now that everyone’s switched to screw-tops, maybe cork oaks can finally grow in peace. Doñana National Park, Spain. Watercolor over pencil on 8 1/2″ x 11″ Lana spiral-bound drawing book.

Flamingoes can feed on their feet in some deep water, and they do the coolest little two-step dance. Heads far underwater, pink toothpick legs moving back and forth in little steps, they look exactly like...Flamenco dancers. Yes. There's gotta be a connection. Give them a pair of castanets, and there you go. They already have the pink ruffled hem. Doñana National Park, Spain. Drawn through a scope. Watercolor over pencil on 8 1/2" x 11" Lana spiral bound drawing book.

Flamingoes do the coolest little two-step shuffle while they feed. Pink toothpick legs wave back and forth as they take fluttery little steps in place; they look exactly like flamenco dancers. I’d never made the connection before, but I’m drawing a line right through those two dots: give that bird a pair of castanets. Doñana National Park, Spain. Sketched through a scope. Watercolor over pencil on 8 1/2″ x 11″ Lana spiral bound drawing book.

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Art of the Day: Still Life with Danish Pastry

Another Danish food group: flaky breakfast pastries.

One of the major Danish food groups is breakfast pastry. These traditional pastries were made by an organic baker in the neighborhood who specializes in fine flaky treats and good strong coffee. Left to right: Tebirkes, a poppy seed-topped puff pastry filled with marzipan; two Kanel Snegle (snails) filled with solid dark chocolate; a white chocolate Flødeboller, a hard shell wrapped around a marshmallow fluff center that explodes messily at first bite; at far right, a Kokosmakroner, or macaroon, topped with dark chocolate and coconut shavings. And yes, they are very, very good, but not all at once. Pastel on sanded paper, 16″ x 14″

Greetings from Seville, Spain, actually, from a biological field station south of there in Doñana National Park. Just trudged in from a long day in the field, but had, for starters: wild boars, griffon vultures, sardinian warblers and a pink flock of flamingoes. And right now some owl is screaming outside the window. More tomorrow, but in the meantime, enjoy the sweets.

Happy Saturday.



Posted in Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Diversions, Food, Pastel, Pop culture references, self-indulgence, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sketch of the Day: A Fountain in Paris

Cuvier Corner, Paris. The couple on the scooter lingered long enough for a portrait. They seemed to be waiting f

Cuvier’s Fountain gurgles playfully at the rear of this typical Parisian tableau of motor scooters, smoking, and sociable fashionistas in their chic ensembles. Pencil in Moleskine 5″ x 8″

I meant to draw this but got side-tracked by real life. Cuvier was a French

Georges Cuvier was one of the big guns of early 19th century natural history, zoology and anatomy. His fountain is especially fine. I intended to draw it but got side-tracked by the street action instead.

Posted in Animals, architecture, Art, Culture, Drawing, Science, Sketching, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sketch of the Day: Warm Greenhouse with Corpse Flower

A tropical greenhouse is a good place to take refuge on a November day. A Victorian brooch of a greenhouse is pinned to the bosom of the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.

In Copenhagen today wind blustered and cold rain spit, but in the Botanical Garden’s greenhouse, palm trees, pitcher plants and tiny singing frogs offered a welcome as warm as a large cup of glogg.  Next to a pond stood a potted Amorphophallus titanum, a.k.a. Corpse Flower, growing a three-foot tall unopened floral spike. Titanum has the world’s largest unbranched flower that’s not only big, it stinks like a dead animal gone putrid. Which is fantastically attractive to its carrion beetle and fly pollinators. So, if you’re in Copenhagen this June, go the Botanical Garden and catch this spectacular flower in bloom. Or, give the Garden a wide berth and stay upwind, because something will smell rotten in Denmark. Watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn 8 1/2″ x 11″ Alpha Series hardbound sketchbook.

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Friday Sketchbook: Birding in Danish

Northern Lapwings, aka Vibe (Vee-bay).

Northern Lapwing, a.k.a Vibe (Vee-bay). The Danish name is charming, and suits it well. What’s a wing, lapped, anyway? Pencil on Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook.

Getting out with Danish birders is delightful even if you don’t speak Danish. Birding is an international language, anyway; just watching and listening will get you pretty far. Many Danes speak quite a bit of English, too. When that fails, there’s always barking and pointing at the sky, but it really helps to learn a few terms and names to follow the action. You’ll want to write down the words phonetically, too, so get friendly with a Danish birder who’ll let you take notes. Then, when someone calls out, “Rød glente flyvende venstre”, which sounds like, “royl glinta floon ven-streh”, you can look up and see a red kite flying left.

They're called buzzards here.

It’s not called a “hawk”, it’s not called a buzzard, either. In Danish, it’s called a “musvåge”, pronounced, “moose-vo”.

The Danes are first-class birders. They move quietly and efficiently in the field. They know their birds. They are low-key and nearly single-minded; hunger does not slow the mission. They eat with binoculars held just north of the mouth.

And of course, I’m missing 15/16ths of the conversation- the buzz goes straight over my head like a flock of migrating lapwings (pronounced, vee-bay). I’m sure there were plenty of discussions on field marks and such, and I think there may have even been talk that wasn’t about birds at all, because nothing about birds could be that funny.

Actually, I take that back.

Red kites, white tailed eagles, common buzzard.

Red kites flying, white tailed eagles (havørn,  pronounced “howr”) at their nest, a common buzzard sitting (siddende, pronounced “SIL-ena”)  on a farmhouse roof. Now, let’s all say it together.

On a recent bus tour to southern Sweden with the Danish Ornithological Society, while we scoped out a marshy lake, my birder friend began telling me that the smew (which we didn’t see) is called a lille skallesluger, “the small one that swallows shells” and pochard, which we did see, is called a taffeland (the d is silent). He translated this roughly to “the snobbish meal duck”, so-called because, once upon a time, a Danish King handed them out as favors to his rich friends. Knortegås is the brent goose, and unless my friend is pulling my leg, “putgås”is its cute Swedish name. It means “farting goose”. I’m afraid I giggled.

Reed buntings and a pied wagtail.

Pied wagtail (hvid vipstjert, pronounced, “vil vip-styert”) and reed bunting (rørspurv, and don’t even try it)

On a birding trip to northern Zealand with a few die-hard birders on a cold rainy day. No complaints, good birds.

A birding trip to the countryside an hour or so north of Copenhagen, with a few die-hard birders on a cold rainy day. Good birds, no complaints.

I’m so immature.

At lunchtime, the group sat on an old concrete foundation by a stream, alternately eating bites and scanning the kites floating in circles overhead. Suddenly the trip leader hollered and I turned around in time to see a jackdaw-sized black bird flapping past a line of trees. It clearly held its head out front on a longish neck and wasn’t a jackdaw. It was a black woodpecker, one of my most-wanted birds. I turned back to the leader and gave him the thumbs-up sign and a silly grin.

I just hope thumbs-up means the same thing in Danish as it does in English.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Adventure!, Animals, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Drawing, field sketching, natural history, Nature, Sketching, travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Soul Food for the Dark Times

Still Life With Danish Open-Faced Sandwich.

Still Life With Danish Open-Faced Sandwich.  Called “smorrebrød”, it’s eaten with fork and knife and usually features smoked or pickled fish and butter on a slice of the heavy loaf at left called “rugbrød”, which translates to “rye bread”. Two things: one, there’s no way to make a painting like this without filling the flat with fish odor that grows more withering by the minute, and two, if you aren’t born Danish, you have no hope of ever pronouncing “rugbrød”like a native. The word is spoken at the back of the throat, and if you’re good you can say it without moving your lips. I use the word all the time, too, since I like eating rugbrød. So I’m also becoming immune to embarrassment. I asked one baker if “rugbrød” could be the hardest word in the Danish language.  He just smiled and said, “Welcome to Denmark”. Pastel on Artspectrum Colourfix paper, 14″ x 16″.

We’ve fallen into Dark Times here in Denmark. It’s dark now at around 4 pm, and in midday the sun is so low in the gray sky there’s not much light seeping through the windows anyway. I was warned about the Dark Times. The Danish cure for it is to light candles, throw on another scarf and drink hot mulled wine from one of those little wooden huts just now popping up in all the town squares. And eat good things. Smorrebrød may be a year-round sandwich, but along with the Dark Times comes the season of Jul, or Yule, which has a cuisine tradition all its own. And the little wooden huts have popped up downstairs all along Nyhavn Canal, gently pushing back the darkness.

Posted in Art, Copenhagen, Culture, Danish Food, Denmark, Diversions, Food, painting, Pastel, Pop culture references, Still Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments