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.

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