Hello and Cyber Monday Sale


December 02, 2013

Hi there! I know not everyone follows my FB and Twitter feeds so posting this here: 

 I am having a 15% off sale until midnight today 

Use coupon code 


and the above image "Star Map" is now available again.

Happy Holidays!

Sale and Painting Give Away Contest


September 09, 2013

***Sale and Painting Giveaway have ended. Winner was announced on my facebook page ***

I'm having a 20% off sale in my BigCartel Shop through Wednesday noon. 

Just enter this code at checkout:


 All orders placed between now and Wed. will be entered in a drawing to win this 5 x 7 inch original watercolor. 

Thank you!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris


August 29, 2013

Recently, while out for a run, I came across the most amazing piece of little architecture. It was a lichen covered Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest, no larger than a small teacup. It was lying next to the bike path on which I was running. The fact that I spotted it at all is testament to just slow I am when I jog.

We get Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in this area but didn't realize that they nested here, so I was quite excited even beyond it just being a beautiful object. This is the time of year when they begin to migrate back south, so I will be putting out a hummingbird feeder in my backyard for the first time. Fingers crossed I will get some tiny, feathered visitors.

The little nest cup is entirely covered in lichen and it's one of the few lichens with which I am familiar enough to identify: Star Rosette Lichen. We have quite a bit of it around here on the trees. It's a pale green-grey foliose lichen. I love that silvery sage green color. If you want to see a photo of the nest, check out my Instagram feed. Above is the painting I made in the style of Francis Orpen Morris.

Off for another jog, but not holding my breath that I will find something this amazing today ; )

Monk Parakeet - Myiopsitta monachus


August 06, 2013

About a month ago I was walking by our rather tall public library when I noticed a few bright green feathers on the sidewalk. I examined the feathers, and then looked up to see a screeching Peregrine Falcon fly overhead and swoop up to its roost on top of the library. The green feathers were from some poor bird it had just made a meal out of, no doubt, and there is only one bird around here that exhibits such tropical coloring: the Monk Parakeet. 

Myiopsitta monachus can be found in feral populations throughout North America, as well as some countries in Europe, but they are native to Argentina and it's surrounding countries in South America. As it has become a popular pet, feral populations have been established via pet trade escapees. Indeed, we have quite a thriving population here in Chicago. I've seen them in Austin, TX too, and know of populations in Brooklyn, Connecticut, Houston, Florida, and even Wisconsin. 

People are always amazed to find that we have such a tropical species of bird that is able to survive our harsh winters, but in addition to being extremely intelligent, gregarious and resourceful critters, they are one of the few species of parrots adapted to temperate zones. During the winter months here, they mainly rely on feeder food. I had worked on a couple of specimens at the Field Museum and in both cases they had crops full of bird seed from feeders. They nest communally, and often times construct their large nests around power lines and transformers. 

This preference for building around power lines and transformers in cities has garnered their reputation as being a bit of an urban nuisance. More critically, though, they are considered a major crop pest in their native South American countries, and that has carried over to the U.S. Some states here have outlawed the sale and ownership of Monk Parakeets as pets due to their status as a agricultural threat. 

As far as crop pests, from my personal experience, I have a much bigger axe to grind with another invasive species, the Japanese Beetle. In the meantime, I'll continue to find charm in that flash of bright green in a chilly Chicago winter sky.

Bur Oak - Quercus macrocarpa


July 31, 2013

We just planted our Bur Oak sapling this past weekend. The poor thing had been waiting patiently in its container for too long for us to decide where to plant it. It's a relief to have it in, and now we're sending it good vibes in hopes that it flourishes. We planted it on the edge of our native wildflower patch. Our toddler daughter Isa, helped by tossing handfuls of peat moss in to the planting hole, and watering. 

We have few oak savannas remaining here in the northern part of Illinois, but they are some my most favorite habitats native to the area. Like all other oaks, Quercus macrocarpa is slow growing. Their acorns are the largest of any oak tree species in North America, but our little tree won't start producing acorns until it is 30 years old. So...no instant gratification here, but even as a small sapling its a beautiful little tree. 

Other news: Monk Parakeets! I'm working on a painting of Monk Parakeets that hopefully will be used in a very interesting book project I'll be participating in. More details soon. 

Eurasian Golden Oriole - Oriolus oriolus


July 24, 2013

Recently someone was so thoughtful and had sent me this beautiful Swedish postage stamp of a Eurasian Golden Oriole, and so I had to make it in to a collage painting. The male is depicted on the stamp, and I painted in the female.

Eurasian Golden Orioles have a wide range. They spend their winters in parts of Africa, and then in summer it can be found throughout Europe and Asia. They belong to the family Oriolidae which are Old World Orioles, and not related to our New World species. Orioles here in North American belong to the icterid family which includes grackles, cowbirds, meadowlarks and other blackbird species. Icterids are a really interesting family of birds, and include some of the most common and ubiquitous birds you will see here in Chicago such as the Common Crackle and Red-Winged Blackbird. Some icterids have evolved an adaptation that allows them open their bills very strongly. When foraging for food some icterid species will stab their bills in to the ground and then open them wide, prying open the ground; a behavior called gaping.

*painting is available here

Mourning Cloak - Nymphalis antiopa


July 22, 2013

This summer, I have been seeing high numbers of Mourning Cloak butterflies in and around our yard. Some years I don't recall seeing them at all. Last year it was all about Red Admirals, but this year their numbers seem low and the Mourning Cloaks are having their moment. 

I don't know much about butterflies, but I am trying to learn more, and I find them surprisingly difficult to paint well. At the very least I am trying to plant native flowers that encourage their visiting my yard. Seems to be working, because I have noticed a nice variety over the last couple of summers. 

Both Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks apparently belong to a family of butterflies referred to as "Brushfoots". Adult Mourning Cloaks can be longer lived than other butterfly species, topping out around 10 months. They hibernate through the winter and are one the first butterflies species to emerge in the spring to mate. The larvae like elms, hackberries, and cottonwoods; trees that we have a lot of in our neighborhood. 

Happy Monday to you : )

Going Native


July 02, 2013

Over the last few years I have been trying to educate myself via trial and error about landscaping with native plants. We live in an urban area, but our yard is quite large, thus plenty of room for gardening. I've made mistakes, but there have been small victories too. We try to have a good balance of a garden that provides food for us, as well as filling the rest with native plants that will feed and provide habitat for bird and insect, and overall, encourage biodiversity. 

Early on I was planting cultivars of native species, instead of investing in the non-cultivated versions. The differences to a native bird or insect that feeds on that plant can be significant, and so if the aim is for biodiversity, non-cultivated is the way to go. I initially planted cultivars of purple cone flower and monarda (bee balm). They're so pretty, but I never realized how different they were from their wild versions until I planted a 'prairie patch' in our back yard from wild harvested seeds. The cone flower and monarda in the prairie patch are much more modest and understated than their cultivar cousins, but just as beautiful. 

This year we obtained a lot of new plants from a local conservation group fundraiser. All the plants were from wild harvested seeds. Amongst other things we got American Elderberry shrubs, and Smooth Hydrangea, but the one I am most excited about it a little Burr Oak tree. I have always wanted an oak tree. A few years ago, before planting natives became so important to me, I hastily bought a Red-Spire Oak on sale. Red-Spires are hybrids between an English and White Oak created for the the nursery and landscaping industry. They are beautiful, and I love the flame red that the tiny leaves turn  in autumn. That said, I now kind of view that tree as a sterile ornamental; not sure it will even make acorns. Burr Oaks are native to the Illinois prairie savanahs that used to be common here in the northern part of the state. We're still trying to decide on a spot for it in our yard, but once in, I hope that it will thrive.

New Work


July 01, 2013

In the shop!

Idle Spots and What Is Missing


June 25, 2013

I recently read this NYT article on the artist Maya Lin and her current projects one of which is this website: whatismissing.net * not sure why, but site animation seems to be not working today. Keep trying! *   It seems that her work of the last years has taken on a decidedly environmental focus, and within that, the focus on raising awareness for the natural world that is literally under our feet whether it be here in Chicago, New York or the Midwestern farmlands.

Her What is Missing site has tiny wavering dots of light that you can click on to reveal various natural history facts and quotes relevant to a particular geographic area. One of the first dots I clicked on, of course, was for the Chicago area, and it opened to a 1948 quote from naturalist and conservationist Aldo Leopold:

"The shrinkage in the flora is due to a combination clean farming, woodlot grazing and good roads. Each of these necessary changes of course requires a reduction in the acreage available for wild plants, but none of them requires, or benefits by, the erasure by whole farms, townships or counties. There are idle spots on every farm, and every highway is bordered by an idle strip as long as it is; keep cow, plow, and mower out of these idles spots, and the full native flora, plus dozens of interesting  stowaways from foreign parts, could be part of the normal environment of every citizen."

Leopold was ahead of his time in teaching us to value these idle spots, as well as habitats that, at the time, were greatly undervalued: marshes, bogs, prairies. It's no secret that our environment is in big, critical trouble. Yes. There is a crisis. That said, I try not to give in to despair. What I find moving about the quote from Leopold (and Lin's site) is that it points to how even the most banal of spaces are worthy of our care, and can be cultivated for native habitat and allowed the potential to heal. When the big picture is pretty scary and overwhelming, not giving in to despair, at least for me, may mean focusing on how we can heal, value,  and cultivate what is right under our feet.

* Above image is a still courtesy of whatismissing.net.

Bringing Back Extinct Species


About a month or so ago, it seemed as though I was coming across many articles and talks like THIS about using technology to bring back extinct species, such as the Passenger Pigeon or the Thylacine, or even a Woolly Mammoth.  What an exciting prospect, right?

I for one would be completely enthralled to see a live Passenger Pigeon, Thylacine, or even a Dodo. Creatures that long ago, through humanity's actions, were wiped from the earth and since have gained iconic, and mythical stature. And then there is the comforting thought that extinction no longer has to really be final. Humanity can be forgiven our trespasses with nature and start over again. Right?

That would be nice, but one thing that I don't like, and this is especially the case of the TED talk linked above, is that the various pitfalls "de-extinction" are not being discussed thoroughly; at least not publicly. For example, in the case of the Passenger Pigeon, the habitats in which it flourished no longer exist. The North American landscape is so altered that there is this question: how could a species that used to live in such tremendous numbers that its flocks could blacken the skies for miles, exist in today's fragmented landscapes?

And if we are just going to bring a few back for the sack of novelty? No doubt that the process and technology required to do this, let alone "de-extinct" something is a very expensive endeavor. Wouldn't that money be better spent on flora and fauna currently at risk of extinction and preserving habitats? It might be better to accept that once something is gone...it is gone for good.

That said...I would really like a Woolly Mammoth as a pet.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Setophaga Coronata


April 22, 2013

I wrote about these little guys not too long ago, and we had many of them visit our backyard last fall. Their plumage was completely different at that time; much more drab. This is a male in breeding plumage and this what has been currently occupying my back yard this spring. They're so beautiful and a lot of fun to watch as they forage.

I hate that I haven't been able to post here much, but there's a lot going on; most of it very good. I have, however, been able to make it in to the Field Museum of Natural History to volunteer in the bird lab several times in the last month. While there I checked out this show, and saw this one in its NYC incarnation.

Have a lovely week, and I hope to be back here soon!

Spring Gathering


March 06, 2013


I've been looking at a lot of folk art these days, both American and European, and I love
silhouetted figures especially.  

Not much to say right now, other than I am SO ready for spring!

Hope you're having a great week.

Cosmic Bunny


February 25, 2013

I think we're all little bunnies. 

Happy Monday to you!

Bialowieza and the Zookeeper's Wife


February 21, 2013

I've been reading The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman. I've long been a fan of Ackerman. One of my favorite books is a collection of nature essays by her called Moon by Whalelight. The Zookeeper's Wife is about the Zabinskis, a couple in Poland during WWII that ran the Warsaw zoo. The husband was an active member of the Polish Underground resistance movement and the couple provided hiding and protection for many jews (and others) escaping the Warsaw Ghetto. It's an extraordinary story, and Ackerman tells it well.

The Bialowieza forest is mentioned quite a bit in the book. I have heard of it before, but this renewed my interest. Bialowieza is an ancient, primeval forest straddling Poland and Belarus. It may be the last remnant of an old growth forest in Europe. It has towering trees and an astounding amount of biodiversity, but one of the things it is famous for is its forest bison, or the wisent (European bison). They had been hunted to extinction in the wild with the last one in Poland being shot in 1919. Since then, however, they have been successfully bred from captive populations and released back in to the wild in various Europeans habitats, including Bialowieza. I was captivated by the image of these huge, dark, creatures strutting through this ancient forest. In addition to the bison, Bialowieza has wolves, lynx, deer, elk, wild boar, and many species of birds. 

This Guardian article on Bialowieza has some pretty great photos. And this is an interesting piece 
on some of the issues of reintroducing a bison heard back to the forest. 

Have great week and weekend!

Winter Survival Tips from Siberian Squirrels


February 13, 2013

These late winter months are the toughest, aren't they? We've had our fair share of snow, which I do love, but it has thawed and frozen several times over to make thick icy coatings over trails and sidewalks. I find that I rely heavily on 3 things to get me through this time: our wood burning stove, good tea, and the awareness of daylight stretching later in to the day.

Some weeks ago I watched this incredible Nature documentary about a Korean photographer that braved an extreme climate and isolation to observe and film Siberian Tigers. The Siberian wilderness is an austere, sparsely populated habitat. Aside from the mysterious, and majestic tigers, I was a bit smitten with the Siberian squirrels; those ear tufts! I am sure the squirrels have it as tough as every other creature that inhabits that cold landscape. Being squirrels, though, they had that little mischievous glint in their eyes. 

Gray Fox - Urocyon cinereoargenteus


February 07, 2013

A friend of mine that used to work at the Field Museum now lives up north in Marquette, MI. This person was the one that first connected me with the zoology department and I have been volunteering there ever since; something I will always be grateful to him for. The museum has been seeing some really rough times these last few years, and the research and curatorial staff have taken painful hits. As a result he and many others were let go. It looks like it's happening again, and you can read about new proposed cuts here, and sign the petition. 

Anyway I didn't really intend this post to be about that today, and will address it more fully in a later post. My friend that is in Marquette recently set up a night camera to view the nocturnal wildlife around his home, and posted a screen cap of a gray fox his camera had captured to his FB page. The fox looked like some ethereal night spirit, trotting though the falling snow. I had seen many red foxes, but never a gray. His photo was black and white due to the night vision of the camera, but the telltale sign that it was a gray fox was the dark tipped tail with a darkened stripe running the length of it. Grays are a different species from Reds. U. cinereoargenteus is a more primitive species of fox, and less widespread than the Red in the northeastern US. And unlike most other canids, it has the ability to climb trees. 

On another note, my daughter turned two at the beginning of January. I am so proud of her, and I am so proud to be her mama. One of the unexpected joys of becoming a parent, was the deeper connection I felt to the natural world. That primal instinct to nurture and protect one's offspring I now shared not just with my human family, but with so many other animals. 

Hope the rest of your week is lovely!

Flora and Fauna of the Midwest and Eloise Wilkin


January 30, 2013

Well, yes. It's been a long time since I've been able to visit this space, but here I am again. I hope you all had a great holiday season and that the first month of 2013 has been good to you. It's been a slow start on this end, but it finally feels like I am back in the swing of things.

I wanted to share this painting I FINALLY finished, after several months of starting and stopping, and then repeat.  Some of my more recent posts have been about art in children's books, and this painting was inspired by one of my favorites. I love the frontispiece from the old Golden Book "Wonders of Nature". Eloise's Wilkin's illustrations in this book have so much sensitivity and reveal a keen sense of the natural world. We have several vintage Golden Books illustrated by Wilkin. 

I'm not crazy about all of her work. Sometimes I really love the way she depicts children, and sometimes they kind of creep me out. If you are familiar with her work, I think you know what I am talking about. Anyway, Wonders of Nature, The Wonder of the Seasons, and Birds are all classic, wonderful first nature books for a child (and adults!).

That's all for now, but I plan on being back soon!

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