Darwin's Finches


December 13, 2012

No time for the kind of Tiny Aviary posts I miss doing, but here's a quick note to let you know I finally have a new version of Darwin's Finches up in my shop. In conjunction with its availability I am having one more holiday sale before I close shop between Christmas and New Year's ( Whew, don't we all need a break?!). So 15% off of your entire order with this code:


The code is good through Monday and will work in both my Etsy and Big Cartel shops.

I hope you are all having a lovely holiday season so far! Planning to be back here asap with a birdie post soon. 

New Etching Completed: 'Ghost Island'


November 26, 2012

I finally have a full image of my completed 5 color etching that I made with White Wings Press here in Chicago. Teresa James, artist, master printer and owner of White Wings Press recently contacted me to tell me that they are currently in the process of printing the edition. Teresa and her team were going to debut the print at one of the New York print fairs, but hurricane Sandy changed everybody's plans. Each color is a separate copper plate, and each plate is roughly 9 x 20 inches, so making a single print is a laborious process. My background is in intaglio, and for some years I worked as a fine art printer. It was a great opportunity to revisit this medium that I love so much. 

The imagery in the etching is influenced by a number of different things: Hiyao Miyazaki movies, island biogeography, and the general sense of awe I have for the natural world. I don't want to say too much about it, as I like there to be room for other's imaginations and interpretations.  It's not an entirely accurate photo, as the paper it's being printed on is a bit warmer white, and you can't see those wonderful embossed plate edges in the paper that are so indicative of intaglio. Anyway, you get the idea. : )

Andrew Bird Gezelligheid Shows Poster and Black Friday Sale


November 23, 2012

I've started work on a design for some screenprinted posters I will be making for Andrew Bird's annual Gezelligheid shows at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago and the Riverside Church in New York City. I don't focus so much on making posters these days, but am always happy to make new ones for Andrew. They should be amazing shows. I'll post when the posters are complete. 

Also, like the rest of the planet, I am having a Black Friday sale that will last through the weekend. 
15% off of your entire order in both my Etsy and Big Cartel shops with this coupon code:


Have a wonderful weekend!

Work In Progress


November 20, 2012

A gouache painting I started weeks ago, but haven't had the time to complete. I started working on it again today. I'll post when it's finished. It's inspired by an children's book illustration by Eloise Wilkin found in this book. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

New Prints!


November 19, 2012

Hello. Happy Monday! A quick post to let you know I have a couple of new prints available in the shop: Harvest and Stately Grace. Hope to get another post in this week before the holiday, but if not, have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Feodor Rojankovsky and Vintage Children's Book Illustration


November 14, 2012

Hello! I've been busy with illustration jobs, which is good for me, but bad as far as Tiny Aviary updates!

Following up on the last post, my good friend Rebecca lent me a fantastic book: 'Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way'. It's a beautiful anthology of the artists and writers of the Golden Books. It's been such an inspiring resource these last few weeks. There is a wonderful interview with the daughter of Feodor Rojankovsky, the artist of the Papa Bear illustration of the previous post.

Rojankovsky was born in Latvia. He lived in Paris until having to flee it in 1941 due to Nazi occupation of the city. His reputation as an artist was already established in Europe by the time he immigrated to the States. His lifelong passions were for painting and the study of nature. His love and keen observation of nature really shows in his illustration work. His daughter Tatiana said that they would often go to the zoo, and he was never without his sketchbook. I love this quote from her about her father:

"He was a firecracker - very quick and agile. He played the balalaika and love to dance and give parties. He was fifty-eight when I was born and even when I was in my teens he would start jumping up on tables, imitating a monkey!"

The bottom 2 illustration are by Rojankovsky. The top one is actually by another Golden Book artist, Leonard Weisgard. I think they're all incredible.



October 24, 2012

One of the many things I have enjoyed about becoming a mother is all of the time I spend reading books with my little girl. Aside from just the simple pleasure of snuggling up with her and sharing a book, as an illustrator it's been interesting to see both some truly amazing children's book illustration as well as the amount of really terrible examples of the art form. 

This weekend past, we found an old copy of a Golden Book of the "The Three Bears". This edition was illustrated by F. Rojankovsky. I don't know anything about Rojankovsky, so I need to do a little homework there. His/Her illustration of Papa Bear discovering that his porridge had been sampled by someone, blew me away. Aside from just being very beautifully painted, I love its feral-ness, its darkness. I feel like we just don't see this kind of illustration in children's books anymore. Are we too worried about frightening children, perhaps? Isabel, my daughter, wasn't afraid though. I think the illustration helped her to understand why Goldilocks wanted to hightail it out of The Bears' cottage!

Furthermore, the illustration represents, to me at least, some change in our relationship to nature. In many of the older children's books we have, there is an attention to detailing the natural world, that seems to be lacking in manycontemporary books.The bear in the illustration above is undoubtably a BEAR. Not a cute, cuddly cartoon interpretation, but a feral (albeit porridge eating!), grumpy, lumbering bear. The illustrator has allowed for his bear-ness. This is not to say that there aren't contemporary picture books and illustrators that don't dumb down the material, it just seems like one has to dig around a bit more to find them. 

I'm not sure I'm expressing all of this well, but I welcome any of your thoughts. I have been wanting to do some posts about how we represent and view the natural world currently, and in the case of those of us that are close to a little one (whether it be by being a parent, aunt, uncle, educator etc.) how we are passing that on to the next generation. 

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Regulus satrapa


October 22, 2012

This is sort of continuing in the same vein of the last post in terms of what is visiting my backyard this fall. I love Golden-crowned Kinglets, and they love my 2 Hackberry trees. This fall they seem to be particularly numerous. In fact, Cornell Lab's Birds of North America site says:

Formerly breeding almost exclusively in the remote, boreal spruce-fir (Picea-Abies) forests of North America, the diminutive Golden-crowned Kinglet has been expanding its breeding range southward at lower elevations into spruce plantings in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and into white pine hemlock (Pinus strobus-Tsuga) forests in eastern Tennessee, northeastern Georgia, and the western Carolinas. 

So the southward expansion of their breeding range may possibly explain why I have been seeing them with greater frequency in this area, which is just north of Chicago. Within this breeding range, R. satrapa is very much tied to old growth conifer forests. There has been a lot of rehabilitation of this type of habitat, and most likely this has helped their numbers in the eastern part (my part!) of the range. In any regard, when the leaves of the hackberries turn bright yellow in fall, I know to look up to find these little birds busily flitting about the branches. 

Yellow-rumped Warblers - Setophaga coronata


October 17, 2012

These guys have been flitting about my backyard for the last week. They're quite bold.  I swear that a few have deliberately swooped on to the fence or lower bowers of the hackberry trees just to get a better look at me. It took me a bit to identify what they were, as what I am seeing are most likely first year birds and adults in their drab non-breeding plumage. The telltale sign was the bright yellow patch on their rumps. As far as I know, these are the only wood-warbler species in the Eastern US that sport this feature.  The trees have been full of their 'chek, chek, chek' calls as they forage for arthropods and other invertebrates. I see them foraging on the ground a lot, too.

There's a reason that I have them filling up my yard. They migrate down from their coniferous breeding habitats up north in massive numbers. They are one the most numerous North American warbler species, and while their breeding habitat is pretty specific, they are more general in their foraging habitat needs. Hence, my hackberry treed, scrubby backyard suits them just fine.

Anyway, I was inspired to make a bird painting; something I haven't been able to do for a while. Notice that on my painting I have the scientific name as Dendroica coronata. After completing that part of the painting, I did some research. As a result, I just learned that all species formally placed in the Dendroica family are now being classified as Setophaga due to DNA work. I don't think this is that recent of a change, but for some reason I had forgotten about it. That might have something to do with owning a very old Sibley Guide.

Autumn and Projects


October 09, 2012

It's autumn; my very favorite time of year. I've been away from Tiny Aviary mainly because I am either outside soaking it up, or working on finishing this etching I started with White Wings Press some time ago. This photo is of the main intaglio press at White Wings with a bunch of proofs of my etching sitting on the press bed. The finished intaglio print will have 5 copper plates, and thus 5 colors. The color proofs you see here, have 4 of the 5 plates printed. We're currently working on finishing up the 5th plate this week. More photos as soon as we have final proofs!

I am hoping to get back to Tiny Aviary later this week, but in the meantime, here is a favorite Emily Dickinson poem for you and the season. I recently came across it on one of my favorite blogs: Our Ash Grove.

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown,
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The Rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown-
Lest I sh'd be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

Jane + David Print Pre-sale!


September 11, 2012

For those of you interested in getting an archival inkjet print of my painting Jane + David, I am now accepting pre-sales. It will be an edition of 20 (or less), and they would ship out late next week. The number prints available will be determined by how many pre-orders I receive. I am accepting pre-orders through tomorrow, Wednesday September 12.


Thank you : )

New Prints


September 10, 2012

Hello. Happy Monday to you.

I had a great weekend at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. If you read my blog, and 
came to my booth, I thank you heartily.

Just a little fyi that a new batch of digital prints are up in the store, as well as a couple of small stamp paintings left over from RCF. 

Hope you have a lovely week!

Jane Goodall and David Greybeard


August 30, 2012

I love Jane Goodall. She is my hero, plain and simple. I mean, I know, who doesn't love Jane? Like so many, I grew up watching her in National Geographic specials on tv, and reading about her and her beloved chimpanzees in NG magazine. Few have not seen those now iconic images of a young, blond English woman hiking Gombe, and living what seemed to be an idyllic life amongst the apes. 

When Jane began her research in Africa, she was not a formally trained scientist, and indeed this was one of the reasons Dr. Louis Leakey felt so strongly that she was perfect for studying chimpanzees. Her maverick (can I still use this word post Sarah Palin?) approach to studying these animals, led her to revolutionary discoveries that we now take for granted. The most famous being her witnessing tool use by the Gombe chimps. Dr. Goodall to this day quotes Dr. Leakey as saying "We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human."

In addition to all of Dr. Goodall's achievements, she is, above all an extremely compassionate person. Her undeniable empathy and compassion for chimpanzees and all other life, has influenced me and so many others in terms of how we think about the natural world and how we treat animals. And in her humility, Jane never credits herself for this, but instead credits the chimpanzees, seeing herself merely as interpreter. 

Over many years life has changed a lot  from those early idyllic times for Jane and the Gombe chimps. When she began her research, Dr. Goodall was of the mind that chimpanzees were just like us, but better: more peaceful, and loving. But as the years went on, she was to witness the darker sides of chimpanzee behavior: violence, infanticide and a bloody 'war' between two Gombe chimp groups that lasted 4 years, resulting in the deaths of every single member of one of the groups. In addition to these more troubling discoveries, she and the chimps have witnessed tremendous destruction of the habitat that surrounds the tiny 30 mile sliver that makes up the Gombe Reserve. Chimp numbers have plummeted due to habitat loss and a major spike in bushmeat hunting. It is for these reasons that Dr. Goodall decided to leave her beloved Gombe in the 1980s, to spend what now amounts to 300 days a year tirelessly working as an ambassador for the chimps and environment. 

I could go on, but will try to wrap this up. About my painting: David Greybeard was the first chimp that accepted Jane's presence. It was with him that she first observed tool usage amongst the chimps. She observed David and others using modified twigs to fish out termites from mounds. David Greybeard was a large, gentle male, distinguished by grey hairs on his chin, hence her name for him. Jane often was barefoot, but never without her binoculars and notepad. The bird is a Peter's Twinspot, a species that is found within the reserve. The painting is not for sale, but if there is enough interest I may make a very small (15?) print edition. 

Here's a reading list:

In the Shadow of Man (her early years in Gombe)
Through the Window (documents her later Gombe years)
Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man (good, comprehensive bio)
Me...Jane (wonderful children's book. Warning: it will make you cry, but in a good way)

Roots and Shoots (her great youth program)
Science Friday interview (Warning: it will make you cry, but in a good way)

The Backpack


August 29, 2012

Hello! I have been busy working away on a small series of paintings for Sebastian Foster. I had so much fun with making them. I worked on clayboard panel with gouache. I usually work on watercolor paper, so this was a good learning experience. 

The painting above is the last available. Normally, this time of year I am in Seattle and the San Juan Islands. The Pacific Northwest is one of our favorite places, and so not being able to go the last couple of years is a little achey. The image is kind of an homage to camping in the PNW, and hiking the mountains. I love corvids in general, but I particularly love Steller's Jays, Gray Jays and Ravens. When camping in the PNW, our sites were often visited by these curious, opportunistic birds. This is my idea of what happens if they happen upon a lost or abandoned backpack. 

The current plan is to keep Tiny Aviary going. It will be a bit broader in subject matter than it has been historically, but for the most part, work and posts and work will stick to the topic of nature and natural history, albeit a bit more loosely. I do plan on going back to volunteer at the Field Museum in a month or so, and thus hope that will result in more posts about museum work and collections. In the meantime, if you haven't done so already, for more up to date posting on my work, check out my FB page (link just under blogger header). 

Hope you're having a great week!

*"The Backpack" painting is currently available here.

New Facebook Page


August 16, 2012

Quick update to let you know that I now have a Facebook page for my work! There isn't a whole lot there at the moment, but it'll be a good way to get updates on new work and projects.


Dickcissel : : Spiza americana


August 13, 2012

Here's a little Field Museum work for you. I don't know how many follow my twitter or IG feeds, so if you do, this image might be redundant:

This is a female Dickcissel that I worked on a couple of weeks ago. I was told that they are not common occurrences in the Chicago area. It looks very sparrow-like, doesn't it? I thought for sure that they are related, but Dickcissels are currently placed in the family Cardinalidae which include grosbeaks, tanagers and cardinals.

S. americana is a bird of prairie and savannah habitats. While much of that type of habitat has been greatly altered here in the Midwest, there is evidence that these birds have been able to adapt to agricultural and secondary habitats. And indeed, they certainly have in their wintering habitats.

During the nonbreeding season, they form massive flocks in wintering grounds in parts of South America, specifically the llanos region of Venezuela. There, the flocks have earned them the reputation of a major crop pest. Since most of the Dickcissels' native habitats have been altered to agricultural use, they no longer are able to feed on native grasses, but have switched their diet to rice. The bird is known as the "el pajaro arrocero", or rice bird, in Venezuela.  There sorghum and rice farmers kill the birds in massive numbers, and this is believed to have had unfortunate effects on their overall populations (duh).

Ecological darkness aside, but not entirely, it's amazing to think that so many of the species I see during the spring and summer here, have come from far away and have been living this other, very different part of their life cycle. It's good to be aware that in terms of any type of conservation for a bird species, you can't just conserve one part of its range. It's no good to set aside habitat here in the north, if their wintering habitat is being destroyed down south. In many ways, birds are true global citizens, and remind us that its one planet, people.

On that note, courtesy the wonderful Cornell Lab of Ornithology, here's what a Dickcissel sounds like:

Ghost Bear


August 07, 2012


A bit of radio silence here, but I've been struggling with the fact that for some time now, and for at least several months to come, I am not able to go in the Field Museum of Natural History to volunteer in the bird lab. 

The initial intent of this blog was to document my experience of volunteering in a natural history museum, but as often the way, things change. Since then, my interests have grown along with my work and on top of it all I am now a mother. I'm finding it more difficult to post work on a regular basis that stays within that initial theme, especially when I am not able to go in to the museum on a weekly basis. 

Anyway, I've been considering starting a tumblr that would serve as a broader platform for my work and interests, but whether I do or not, I won't be shutting Tiny Aviary down. Just bear with me and my sluggish posting for the time being!

In the meantime, this is a new 6 color screenprint I made called 'Ghost Bear'. I've been really in to imagery from Hiyao Miyazaki films lately, especially Princess Monoke and Spirited Away. My daughter loves Ponyo and Totoro. Miyazaki's affinity for the natural world, and our impact on it is very much a part of all of the animated movies I just mentioned. 

The print is available here

Swallow-tailed Hummingbird : : Eupetomena macroura


July 18, 2012

Just a little hummingbird stamp collage for Wednesday. This amazing hummingbird is native to Brazil.

Mr. Charles Darwin and Galapagos Finches


July 17, 2012

I'm working on a new version of an older image. The last screenprint edition of Darwin's Finches sold out some months ago, so I am creating a new screenprint. This will be the third incarnation I have made of this image. It's kind of nice to have an excuse to draw Charles Darwin every couple of years. This is just the inked drawing. I'll post when we have the full color screenprinted version.

I know that so many different things factored in to Darwin creating his theory of evolution. The Galapagos finches did indeed have an influence, but there were other species on the Galapagos that probably had even more profound effects on his thinking. Knowing this, however, I still like this image of him with the finches. The finches are so iconic in terms of their connection to this shy man.

Cedar Waxwing - Bombycilla cedrorum


July 05, 2012

Cedar Waxwing populations supposedly have increased over the last 20 years. I am inclined to believe it, as I feel that this is a bird I would rarely see when I was younger, but now I hear its trilling, whistling calls on a regular basis. Part of the reason for this is that I live near a canal that connects to Lake Michigan. The canal has many fruit bearing trees upon which waxwings voraciously feed. Another quality of the canal that the waxwings are attracted to, is that it provides border habit. Trees bordering the water provide overhanging branches for the waxwings to launch in to their dips and dives after the many insects that hover over the water.

When I started making this watercolor, it quickly began to register as a Christmas-y image, with the greens and the berries. In the cycle of Cedar Waxwings, however, this is very much a summer image. Their diet is very reliant on sugary fruits. So much so that their breeding season is later in the summer to coincide with the abundance of fruit.

I've just always loved their coloring, and their little bandito masks. Their gregarious, active nature, gives them an air of mischievousness.

It's been hard to get outside to do much of anything here, birding included, due to the unbearable heat. I hope wherever you are it's not too hot, and if it is, you have power, or at least access to a nice swimmin' hole!

American Copper Butterfly: Lycaena phlaeas


June 28, 2012

I love making these little vintage stamp paintings. I've been including butterflies in the last 
few, because I have been trying to learn more about them. This one is an American Copper Lycaena phlaeas. Coppers are mainly found in northern regions of the north american continent. They're pretty tiny, but brightly colored. It is thought that the eastern populations were introduced from Europe. The larvae of the easterns mainly feed on sheep sorrel. I have seen these little guys flitting about my prairie patch in our backyard. 

The Paper Garden


June 27, 2012

I've been reading 'The Paper Garden' by Molly Peacock, a book I picked up while in NYC. At first I hesitated, because at a glance it seemed a bit quaint and precious. I must admit, I was little seduced by its cover. When I realized that the botanical image on the cover was not a painting, however, and in fact an incredibly intricate paper collage (or mosaick, the prefered term of its creator), I was intrigued. 

Mary Delaney born in 1700 to a British upper class family, created hundreds of these intricately layered paper botanical mosaicks. The botanicals, now housed in the British Museum, are extraordinary for their beauty, complexity and scientific accuracy. Even more astounding is that Delaney began to create them at the age of 72, four years after the death of her beloved, second husband.  Peacock weaves an elegant tapestry of Delaney's life, history, art, and the natural world. The resulting portrait is so vivid, that by the end of the book I felt as if Delaney was a long lost relative. 

The first and last images up above are 2 of Delaney's mosaicks. The center is a collage painting I made that was loosely inspired by her. 

Hyde Park Birding Prints Available


June 18, 2012

Hello, just a little head's up to let you know these prints are now available in the shop.

American Redstart : : Setophaga ruticilla


June 14, 2012

This is a species that I remember from when I was a little girl, and first started looking at a Peterson Field Guide. I couldn't believe then that a bird with such bright patches of orange could be seen in the Midwest. It seemed too exotic and tropical for this part of the world.

Now as an adult, I happily spot them quite often in Spring, with the most recent sighting a couple of days ago and steps from my home. Both male and female sport bright patches of orange (male) and yellow (female) on wings and tail feathers. They're extremely active little birds, flashing their wings and tails to flush out insect prey from tree foliage.

As you can see in my painting above, males have dark black plumage with bright orange patches, and the females are grey with yellow patches. I just recently learned, however, that yearling males have the same plumage as the females. Their breeding range covers a large swath of the North American continent, and wintering ranges cover areas in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Greater Antilles.

As far as the Chicago area, I have seen them at the Montrose Bird Sanctuary (aka the Magic Hedge), Wooded Isle in Hyde Park, and along the Northshore Canal in the Evanston arboretum.

Thanks for checking in and have a lovely weekend.



June 11, 2012

I am fascinated by the polar regions and Arctic cultures. I had this little vintage Canadian stamp, and used it as a starting point for this painting. Kimmirut is a very small town in Nunavut territory. It's one of those places I long to visit, but really, I have no idea what I would be getting myself in to. I know there is a lot of strife and struggle in these places, but the fantasy persists (in my mind) that people are able to hold on to their traditions and culture.

It's a sleepy Monday over here at Tiny Aviary headquarters. Hope yours is more caffeinated and alert!

Red Bat : : Lasiurus borealis


June 06, 2012

The spring bird migration is winding down here. Still many species coming through the Chicago area as they migrate to northern breeding grounds, but less so than a few weeks ago.

Bird are not the only critters migrating during the spring. There are several species of bats that travel through our area as well. One of the most common bat migrants is the little Red Bat Lasiurus borealis.
Red bats are so named for the reddish to orangish color of their fur, with the males being deeper in color. They feed on moths, beetles, ants, and other insects, and with the exception of migration and breeding seasons, they are solitary in nature. It's known as a tree bat, roosting in deciduous trees, and sometimes the occasional conifer tree.

Due to their use of echolocation, bats, unlike migrating birds, are less prone to colliding with larger buildings in urban areas such as Chicago. It does happen, though.  My daughter's baby sitter showed me a photo she had taken of a little red bat she had found sitting on the sidewalk near a friend's apartment in downtown Chicago. She didn't know what it was, and said that the poor little guy was just sitting there, a bit disoriented. Once we ascertained that it was a Red Bat, I spoke with a couple biologists at the Field Museum. One said that when bats collide with buildings, it usually just stuns them for a bit. But that if they end up on the ground, they can get cold and go in to a sort of torpor. When this particular individual would find one, he would pick it up and warm it up in his gloved hands. Once warmed the bat would come out of its torpor and fly off. I am by NO means recommending that anyone should pick up a bat, especially if they are not a trained wildlife professional, but it made me feel good to know that these little guys had someone out there helping them.

To learn more about bats in general check the wonderful Bat Conservation International site.

I will be at the Field Museum tomorrow (Thursday), and so if you follow me on instagram or twitter I'll be posting a few photos.

Prothonotary Warbler : : Prothonotaria citrea


June 05, 2012

I worked on a Prothonotary Warbler in the bird lab, last week at the Field Museum. Like everything else I work on, it was an unfortunate window kill. It was an adult female that was at least a year old. I had come across Prothonotaries in the lab before, but knew little about this species of warbler. They have amazingly bright yellow plumage, and thus their name refers to the yellow cloaks worn by Roman Catholic papal clerks (prothonotaries).

P. citrea prefers wet habitat: swamps, bottomland hardwood forests, and mangrove forests. It winters in mangrove forests of Central and South America, and breeds in bottomland hardwood forests mainly in the Southeastern US. They are supposedly the only wood warbler species that will nest in tree cavities, often using holes previously excavated by woodpeckers.

As they require pretty specific habitat, their survival depends on us preserving it. There have been nesting box programs that have some amount of success in boosting breeding populations. It remains to be seen, however, how the effects of loss of wintering habitat in Central and South America will affect their numbers.

Spring Birding in Hyde Park, Chicago


May 30, 2012

Way back in the beginning of May I went to visit a friend in Hyde Park, and we went on a birding hike through lovely Wooded Isle. We try to do this on a semi regular basis during the spring and fall migrations. We timed it well this time, because we saw a great variety of species. I don't need to explain further, as you can just check my painting above to see what we came across! I'm hoping to make a print edition of it, so will let you know if and when that happens.

In the meantime, I will be volunteering at the Field Museum tomorrow and will try to find some fun things to photograph and post to twitter and Instagram.

Prints of this are available here.

Cape May Warbler - Dendroica Tigrina


May 17, 2012

Lucky me I've been able to make it in to volunteer at the Field Museum 2 weeks in a row! I decided I had to go in today before everything gets crazyville here in Chicago because of the NATO summit this weekend. 

I'm leaving for a short vacation in NYC on Saturday, so I had no time for paintings this week, but wanted to share this photo with you. It's a Cape May warbler that I worked on today at the Field Museum. It's a male. SO beautiful, but alas an unfortunate window kill. His permanent residence is now the Field Museum bird collections.

Cape May Warblers get their namesake from where Alexander Wilson first spotted one in Cape May, New Jersey. It's interesting to note that Cape Mays were not recorded again in that area for another 100 years. They breed in coniferous tree in the boreal forest, and winter in the islands of the West Indies. 

Have a great weekend, and I hope to post some pics on Twitter and Instagram from the American Musuem of Natural History in NYC. I've never been, so I'm quite excited. 

Palm Warbler : Setophaga palmarum


May 09, 2012

I went birding this past weekend with a friend in Hyde Park. We made our usual rounds of Wooded Isle. We came across about 30 different bird species, including these little guys.

Palm Warbler, despite what its name would suggest, is not a bird that breeds in the balmy tropics. It prefers the bogs of the far northern most reaches of the United States, and the boreal forests of Canada. What my friend and I were witnessing was a wave of them combing through the Chicago area on their way to breeding grounds up north.

They were quite conspicuous in their foraging behavior. I am sure this is in part why we were able to spot so many. I'm not the best birder. If I can see it, that means anybody can.They seemed to prefer the lower shrubs and plants over the larger trees. I just learned that they will make their nests on the surface of a bog, usually underneath a conifer tree. They are difficult to study due to the remoteness of their nests, thus little is known of their breeding behavior.

I'll be at the Field Museum tomorrow, so if you follow me on Twitter or Istagram, I'll try to post a bunch of behind the scenes photos of the bird division!

Garlic Mustard: Alliaria petiolata


May 08, 2012

This past Saturday, I volunteered to spend a few hours removing invasive plant species from a small, local forest preserve. We specifically focused on Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata, a tenacious plant native to Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia that was introduced to North America around 1860 as a culinary herb.

I have noticed this plant for some years now, as it pops up in our yard, our neighbors' yards, and of course, as it carpets the understory of forests, choking out native plants. In its native habitat, it is kept in check by various fungus and insect species that rely upon it for food. Here, however, none of these fungus and insect species exist, and so Alliaria petiolata has nothing standing in the way of its botanical world domination.

The group I volunteered with has been meeting annually since 1989 at this little preserve to pull out Garlic Mustard. Their perseverance has paid off. The woman that lead the group told me that when they first started, it took about 2 days to clear out all of the Alliaria. Now, it took about 6 of us working for only 2 hours.

The real fruits of this labor is the startling diversity of plant life that now thrives within the preserve. While I worked away removing patches of the garlic mustard, all around me were large clusters of Prairie Trillium, Wild Geranium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and May Apple, to name a few. A woman that was helping out told me she had first visited the preserve 50 years ago when she was a girl scout. Back then, she said there were no trillium or Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and she was amazed at the change. While we chatted, I spotted a couple birding along one of the paths. They told me they had clocked in over 30 different species that morning. The preserve is no larger than a city block.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you have probably seen a few of the photos that I posted from the preserve while I worked there on Saturday. The painting above is directly inspired by what I saw while at the preserve. It's Prairie Trillium Trillium recurvatum and Jack-in-the-Pulpit Arisaema triphyllum. 

Northern Gannet::Morus bassanus


May 01, 2012

I've been using the iphone app Instagram for some months now, and I love it. One of the reasons is that it has connected me with the photographic work of many people that share my passion for birds and nature. Of these photographers, there is an individual that I follow that is a birder in the Netherlands. He regularly posts photos of gannets, and as a result I was inspired to do a little painting of these amazing sea birds.

Northern Gannets are a plunge diving sea bird that breeds in large, gregarious colonies on steep cliffs. Gannet pair bonds usually last for life, with both male and female engaging in parental duties. The female will lay a single egg, and this is kept warm by using the webbing on their feet rather than a brood patch. Nestlings fledge at an age of 13 weeks, at which point they will glide up to 500 meters down to the water below their colony site. If the birds survive their first year, they often return to the colony where they were born to breed. To think of everything that they must learn to survive in that first year of life, it is a wonder that any make it at all.

I found this amazing footage of gannets diving. These are Cape Gannets, as these were birds diving off of the coast of South Africa. Anyway, you get the idea. There must be a tremendous learning curve for young gannets to become proficient in this foraging technique.

Labrador Duck::Camptorhynchus labradorius


April 30, 2012

I was trawling through my Field Museums photos, as I have been in serious withdrawal. My life, currently, just simply doesn't afford me the time to go in to volunteer.

Anyway, I came across this photo I took of a Labrador Duck specimen a while back. I don't know when this specimen is from, but Labardors went extinct in 1871, with the last (known) one shot in Canada by a man named Simon Cheney.

It was one of  the first endemic North American species to go extinct. The decline of this species was so rapid and its habitat so remote, that reliable data from when it was extant is very scarce. Most of what is known is hearsay. Its species name (Labrador) references what was believed to be its breeding area, but even this cannot be confirmed. It could have been that its numbers were never very great, but there again, there is not enough reliable data to really know its former population.

Audubon did a painting of a male and female pair, and it was believed that he collected specimens on an 1833 expedition to Labrador. It's not one of his better paintings, in my opinion. Some of the awkwardness in the positioning of the birds that is apparent throughout his work, and normally doesn't bother me, is more exaggerated in this work. It's a little too obvious that he was working from something that is dead, and far from its natural habitat. It's as if he returned from Labardor and forgot how they move and fly.

Oof. Is this post a little too dreary? It's rainy and overcast here, and I think it's having some effect. I'll cheer up by the next post. Promise!

Carl Linnaeus and Systema Naturae


April 26, 2012

I made this portrait of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus a couple of years (yikes?!) ago. I recently had a couple of people interested in the painting, but it's gone, so I decided to make a very small print edition of it. Currently there are only a couple left, but if interested you may get the print here.

It's hard to imagine many scientists that have had the kind of long standing influence that individuals like Darwin and Linnaeus have had. Linnaeus is known as the father of modern taxonomy. His book Systema Naturae, published around 1735, is considered the beginnings of zoological nomenclature as we know it today. Although Linnaeus was not the first one to develop a binomial nomenclature system for flora and fauna, he was the first to use it exclusively. Before Systema Naturae, zoological nomenclature was a messy, unwieldy business.

I love Linnaeus. I hope to visit his home and garden in Uppsala someday. Something that I learned about him recently, that further endeared, was that when he was young he spent time amongst the Sami people. He went on expedition to Lapland in hopes of discovering 'new' plants and herbs, but he was also keenly interested in the Sami and their culture. I've always been very interested in the Sami, but only recently have begun to read up on them. I love this image of Linnaeus in traditional Sami dress, and holding a plant.

New Print: Star Map


April 24, 2012

Hello, just a little fyi:

'Star Map' is now a  giclee print edition, and available in my store.. You can read about its story here.  Also, I was honored to have it chosen as Image of the Week on Scientific American a while back. Thanks to fellow natural history blogger Glendon Mellow for bringing it to their attention!

Hermit Thrush - Catharus guttatus


April 23, 2012

Hooowee, it's been quite chilly here in The Illinoise. Everything is green and blooming, but the air has had a bit of nip to it. That doesn't mean, though, that my allergies haven't been going berserkersville. Ugh.

Spring migratories are beginning to roll in, and pass through Chicago. One of the signs for me that it is truly spring is when the Hermit Thrushes begin to appear in my back yard, and I have seen a few this last week. They have unassuming brown plumage with a slightly rusty red-brown tail. They can often be seen rhythmically wagging that tail whilst perched a top a branch, or lawn chair, as in my case.

Catharus guttatus is a forest dwelling thrush that lives up to its name by being a bit secretive in nature, and preferring to forage in the forest understory for arthropods. They winter in the Southern US and Mexico, and breed in the northern reaches of the North American continent. Their vocalizations are often described as haunting, melodious, and melancholy.

Seen any interesting migratory species where you live? Happy Monday to you!

Wandering Wolf


April 20, 2012

I've been sick and so have been able to watch more nature documentaries than I normally do. 

Recently I've had wolves on the brain. I've watched a couple of really great docs, and you can too. The most recent was this one about a couple living for a year in the Idaho Wilderness and tracking wolves. It's called River of No Return

And this one, which was particularly interesting, is about wolves and other wildlife in Chernobyl: Radioactive Wolves. It's a sobering reminder of the Chernobyl tragedy, but oddly hopeful about the resiliency of nature.

And if you are in the Midwest you MUST pay a visit to Wolf Park. Jay and I were lucky enough to be invited as special guests some years ago, and we're hoping to go back with our daughter Isabel in a couple of months.

The painting is a wolf themed stamp collage watercolor I just finished last night. 



April 12, 2012

My friend and fellow Field Museum volunteer Meera Lee Sethi has written a book. I am so pleased to share this with you, because I know that a lot of sweat, and love went in to this little project. 

Meera, like me, started out volunteering in the Field bird lab without any prior experience of preparing bird skins. Over time she has become very skilled at making study skins, and has contributed immensely to the integrity of the bird colletions. 

Not too long ago, Meera spent a summer in the mountains of Sweden working as a field volunteer helping to research the Great Snipe Gallinago media. Meera walked many miles through mountain wilderness, crossed white, roiling rivers, and endured the elements to track this somewhat elusive bird. She did all of this and even had time to stop and cuddle a couple of baby lemmings. Mountainfit is her collection of essays documenting this experience. 

Meera was kind enough to hire me to do the cover painting, and I was honored. The bird sitting on top of the mountain is a Snow Bunting; a bird that Meera encountered up at higher mountain altitudes. 

You can acquaint yourself with Meera's wonderful writing through her site The Science Essayist, as well as purchase a digital copy of Mountainfit here. I encourage you to do so. It' a little gem.

Unintended Hiatus and The Kindness of Strangers


April 11, 2012

Hello. Yes. I am still here. I didn't intend to stay away for so long. But sometimes, as you dear reader well know, life can overtake a bit.

I've been so busy wrapping up a job that I have been really excited about. I have been designing a series of skateboard decks for Habitat. I'll post more about that when they are released. Even though I never was a skater, my husband is and we're both big fans of the company. We have a deck hanging in our house from a great series that they did some years ago with Charlie Harper.

On another note, I have to post about this book that showed up in the mail some weeks ago. In my previous post, I wrote a little about my love of Joseph Cornell and how his work has been an inspiration, especially for these small, stamp collage paintings I have been making recently.

Someone that reads Tiny Aviary and bought one of the stamp collages, sent this book to me out of the blue. With it was a letter that relayed a story about the effect Cornell's work had on him. He spoke about going to see a small show of Cornell boxes and collages in NYC gallery years ago. The gallery owner took one of the boxes off of the wall to demonstrate its inner workings. Cornell's boxes were made to be touched, and often had moving parts, as with this particular piece; a piece that had been made by Joseph for his brother. That experience of seeing the Cornell box up close, left an indelible memory.

I love, love, LOVE it when people are generous enough to share their stories with me. It's all the more moving, because it is from people I have never met in person, and just know me through my work and this blog. Although I am not always able to respond directly, I read each and every comment left here, and I am always so interested in what you have to share.

Oh! And the book? How perfect is that? I can't wait to read it! I haven't had time to volunteer at the Field Museum for well over a month, and so this will help me get my natural history museum fix. Has anyone read this yet?

Anyway, I am planning on getting some new work up on Tiny Aviary, and to get back to a (semi) regular posting schedule.

My sincerest thanks to John. You are truly generous.

Joseph Cornell and Vintage Stamp Collages


February 29, 2012

I am still plugging away at the illustration job to design a series of skateboard decks. All is going well, but time has been really tight which means I haven't been able to volunteer at the Field museum for many weeks, including this one. When I need a little break from making line art for the decks, I have been making these litte collage paintings with some vintage stamps that I got from here

I've always loved vintage stamps, and collage art in general. One of my favorite artists, and a master of collage, is Joseph Cornell. Is it any wonder? So many of his collages included avian imagery. The Art Institute of Chicago has quite a collection of his boxes, and over the years I have visited them many times. They've always been these magical, holy relic-like objects to me. A wonderful biography of Cornell is Utopia Parkway by Deborah Soloman. 

I'll try an post a few more of my skateboard deck illustrations a bit later, but for now, I posted a handful of new collage paintings in the shop.

Hope you all are having a great week!

Burrowing Owl


February 22, 2012

I've been working on illustrations for a series of skateboard decks. That's been occupying most of my work time these last weeks. It been a great project so far, but I haven't been able to spare time to go in to the Field Museum recently. Hoping I can make it in tomorrow to work in the bird lab.

In the meantime, here is an ink drawing of a Burrowing Owl. I love Burrowing Owls! The series of decks will each be a different terrestrial animal. I'll post a couple more soon.

One last thing: I decided to make a giclee print edition of the Spring bear painting
I made to honor poet Mary Oliver. You can now obtain a copy 

For Mary


February 14, 2012

a black bear 
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain. 
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her-
her white teeth
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.


Spring by M. Oliver

Valentine's Day Sale


February 08, 2012

I am having a 15% off everything sale in my bigcartel shop until Friday.

There are also a couple new vintage stamp/bird paintings there too!

Use coupon code 


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