View Full Version : John's Bird Sketches

11-19-2012, 02:31 PM
Hi folks!

I was a regular here, but have had a very busy last few months, including a six-week cross-country and back road trip, and haven't posted for way too long. Rather than resurrect my old bird sketch thread(s) I figured I'd push the reset buttons and start a new one.

Here are a few recent sketches. The first two pages are two of the four pages of quick sketches I did while sitting in last week's master birder class (I am on the homework and exam committee and will be correcting the midterm exam that happens shortly). These are quick sketches of Fox Sparrows, a winter species for our area, based on some photos from a ornithological magazine. I was trying to get the variety of head shapes, which is always a challenge with birds (especially their bills, for me anyway). The second two pages I did last night with TV in the background and my Corgi in my lap. :) The first is of a Pintail drake (male) and the second is a Blackpoll Warbler.

These were all done in a 6 x 9 inch Robert Bateman sketchbook using mostly pencil, with some water soluble pencil added later on the first page.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome!


11-19-2012, 06:55 PM
John, good to see you back. I've missed your birds. These are delightful sketches.

11-20-2012, 01:36 PM
Great sketches. I like the notes.

11-20-2012, 01:45 PM
Thanks Debbie and Eileen!

Joan T
11-20-2012, 02:57 PM
I missed seeing your sketches! Good to see you back and that you haven't lost your touch. Great job!

11-22-2012, 11:07 PM
:wave: Welcome back! Enjoyed these & looking forward to more! Quite awhile back I tried a bit of bird sketching & it was not easy/simple. But the more I enjoy my feeder visitors, the more I'd like to do more sketches. Now that you are back maybe I will get a kick-start from you!:clear:

11-23-2012, 03:05 AM
Thanks Joan and Candace!

Joan - though I took sketching and painting gear on the trip, I barely got it out, since the trip wound up becoming a birding trip. I figured since I might never get back to many of the places I went, I would look for new (to me) bird species and paint from reference photos when I got back.

Candace - Yes, sketching birds, certainly from life, is a challenge, but even fom reference photos. Somewhat ironically, the better I get to know birds, the harder it is to draw them, because I'm more tuned in to the fine points of their structure and details...so a slight error in the drawing seems big. But, as with all sketching, every attempt is a learning experience and worthwhile for building skill. Birds are endlessly fascinating creatures.

11-23-2012, 03:25 AM
Love the page of Fox Sparrows all looking at us. I'g glad to see you're back :)

11-23-2012, 09:19 PM
Welcome back, John! Sounds like you've had quite the adventure lately. Wonderful bird sketches as always, especially like the drake.

11-24-2012, 10:01 AM
BTW. . . since moving to the new community I am amazed by how many birds are around! I may have to take up trying to identify them, in fact, I downloaded a checklist sheet of species in the area and its HUGE.

Funny thing was I have heard of but never really seen roadrunners and they are so cool. Especially the sounds they make! Some are quite similiar to the cartoon!

11-25-2012, 11:31 AM
nice sketches :)

11-25-2012, 04:09 PM
Thanks Jennifer, Rainy and Vivien!

11-26-2012, 10:43 PM
Earlier this year, I decided that I would sketch each bird species I saw during 2012, in the order they were seen. I did a few, then got going on other projects. Now I'm back at it again, but with a long way to go...I've seen over 200 species this year, and these sketches are numbers 15, 16 and 17. :eek: So maybe I'll finish 2012 sightings by the end of 2013. These are in an Epsilon Stillman & Birn hardbound sketchbook, and were started with pencil, then some water soluble pencil added. The Northern Flicker has a bit of watercolor added. I'm concentrating mostly on the heads, and trying to get a variety of perspectives for the foreshortening practice.




11-26-2012, 11:36 PM
Marvelous sketches. Good luck on this project.

Joan T
11-27-2012, 02:46 PM
Looks like we'll be in for a treat if you are only on #17!!! That sounds like a great project.

11-28-2012, 03:45 PM
Earlier this year, I decided that I would sketch each bird species I saw during 2012, in the order they were seen.
What a great idea. I am a local Audubon member here in Kitsap County, but I don't think I am ambitious as you. There is a heron who likes to stand on the boat house behind me that I'd like to sketch (if it ever stops raining).

I'm looking forward to seeing more of your sketches.

11-28-2012, 05:48 PM
Thanks, Philip! I'm bound and determined to finish this project, though I tend to get myself overcommitted at times. Mostly I'm a landscape painter and my primary medium is oil, but I got started in art (after never doing any) in 2008 as a result of trying to sketch birds for Seattle Audubon's master birder class assignments when I was going through the program. I'm involved with the current class with the homework and exams committee as well. My wife and I will be doing 3 CBC's this year - Seattle, East Lake Washington and Skagit County. Here's hoping for good weather...! :)

11-29-2012, 02:05 PM
great project!

11-29-2012, 08:26 PM
Thanks, Vivien!

I checked my records and it turns out I've seen 286 species of birds so far in 2012 (there is still a chance to pick up a couple more before the end of the year), so it's going to take some time to do this. Here are the next four species.

The Stillman & Birn Epsilon isn't really meant for watercolor, though I have used it a bit here, but mostly I've been using pencil and Pitt brush pens. This means, however, that the colors are not particularly accurate at times. I love Pitt brush pens (and Faber Castell's other products) but even with all the available colors, it's tough to get a direct match.

The first page is House Sparrow, an invasive species in this country. Next is the Black-capped Chickadee, Lincoln's Sparrow and House Finch. I should mention that the first 44 species for the year were all found on January 1st, during an annual 'Christmas Bird Count' (CBC) that Audubon runs all over the country. These counts have been done for decades and have been a useful tool in getting a big picture about changes in populations and habits.





11-30-2012, 01:13 AM
What an undertaking, to sketch every species you have seen... WOW! ;-) Your trip sounds awesome, I hope it was a good one!
Your sketches are so informative, and I love the small comments you add to them!

11-30-2012, 03:48 AM
wow, great project idea, hope you get through them all. More lovely sketches of birds here, love the sparrow profile, and the chickadees, such a lovely record...

11-30-2012, 06:11 PM
Wow, still on January 1. You've got a long way to go. These are marvelous sketches, with the different head positions and poses.

12-01-2012, 10:21 AM
Oh, I love sparrows. . . my favorite bird. Well done. That chickadee is just adorable.

I used watercolor in my epsilon as well as ink and wash also. I think it works fine so long as you use it lightly, at least it did for me. I went overboard on a few pages though, I admit.

You do your bird feet so well. . . that, to me, is the hardest part of a bird to draw.

12-03-2012, 08:40 AM
John, what a great way to keep your field list! Welcome back! I haven't been posting much either, but if I get a breather, I hope to come back on board as well!


12-03-2012, 10:35 AM
Thanks Jenny, Scatty, Debby, Rainy and Jamie! :wave:

Joan T
12-04-2012, 11:55 AM
Love the birds!!! Your detail is amazing!

12-04-2012, 02:06 PM
Oh yay! I had missed your bird sketches and am so glad you are returning to sharing them with us :)

12-06-2012, 04:42 PM
Thanks Joan and EP!

Here is the next batch of four pages. If I didn't mention, the Epsilon I'm using is A4 size.

The first page is Chestnut-backed Chickadees, a fun little bird that I love to see at our feeders. They were done first in pencil, then light watercolor washes were added. The second page is Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a dainty little species that stays in chattering feeding flocks that can be hard to hear due to their very high-pitched contact notes which some people can't hear. The watercolor on the top Kinglet is awful - it was late and I was watching TV and I got a (predictably) bad result. Oh, well. The third page is a Belted Kingfisher. This one is a female, because of the chestnut colored belly belt - males don't have these. Finally is our little forest wren - the Pacific Wren. These cheeky little birds always scold you when you are out walking along our neighborhood trails. And they make an incredible amount of racket for such a tiny bird. These are pencil drawings followed by watercolor washes.




12-06-2012, 10:42 PM
beautiful birds, John. I love the kingfisher. . . beautiful color and that face and expression - gorgeous.

12-07-2012, 08:49 AM
the attitudes are really lively and they feel as though they will move any second :)

12-07-2012, 11:48 AM
John, now I finally understand why you have such a huge interest in drawing birds. You're on the exam committee. You're the really very serious ornithologist! Very nice sketches.

12-07-2012, 07:16 PM
Marvelous birds, as always. I'm drawn to the kingfisher. You've done so well with that one.

12-08-2012, 08:59 PM
Thanks Rainy, Vivien, Sandra and Debby!

Here are three more species. The first is Downy Woodpecker, always fun to see. It's smaller than our other woodpeckers in the area. Next is the Bewick's Wren, which is our most common wren in most areas, except in the forests, where the tiny Pacific Wren is ubiquitous. Finally is the Great Blue Heron, which has suffered mightily in the last few years here from Bald Eagle predation. The Bald Eagle population is exploding and because Great Blue Herons nest in colonies in the very tops of trees, a single eagle or eagle nest near a breeding colony can wipe out all the young and/or scare off all the adults and completely shut down a breeding colony.

These were drawn in pencil first, then gouache was added.




12-08-2012, 09:27 PM
They are all really nice, but I especially like the singing wren! It is like I can almost hear it... :)

12-08-2012, 09:47 PM
What an unusual looking woodpecker with interesting markings. Love the little singing wren :)

12-09-2012, 04:15 AM
Wrebs always look so bossy :) I like the cranes with their piercing eyes.

12-09-2012, 11:29 AM
I don't know much about birds, but I know little birds can have big attitudes. That top wren looks like he's ready to show a cat who's boss.

12-12-2012, 04:07 PM
Thanks Jenny, Rainy, Jennifer and Aimless! Here is the next group of five sketches - that puts me at 33 of the 286 species seen in 2012. A LONG way to go yet, but I'm over 10% done at least. :lol:

Here we have the good old Mallard duck, with no explanation really needed since they're pretty much everywhere. The second is of Tundra Swans (one adult and two immatures). This is the least common of the two species of Swans that winter in our area every year. Trumpeter Swan is the other species, and the two can be difficult to tell apart - the yellow 'lores' (spots in front of the eyes) is the classic Tundra field mark if you're in a position to be able to see it through a scope. Then we have the ultra smart Common Raven, a bird held in very high esteem by Pacific NW Indians. The bill and head (and tail, not seen in these sketches) are slightly different from crows, and are used as the primary field marks (along with size). The fourth bird is the little Ruby-crowned Kinglet, whose ruby crown is almost never seen. Otherwise, it is a pretty drab bird, but with entertaining feeding habits and a beautiful song during breeding season. This species is almost entirely a winter species for my area. Last is the small falcon the American Kestrel, which catches a lot of grasshoppers and large bugs as its prey, but also it will catch small mammals and small birds. The males and females are differently plumaged (called sexual dimorphism).


12-12-2012, 06:40 PM
Beautiful birds again! Love the expression you give them!

Joan T
12-13-2012, 01:38 PM
Love seeing all the variations of birds that you find. Excellent sketches of them!

12-13-2012, 04:23 PM
Hello John. . . a beautiful array of birds! I love the detail on the first duck and also the angle at which you've captured bright green duck with his mouth open.

Those ravens are well done! You know since I moved into the new place, for a week or so straight we kept getting a huge flock of ravens come into the trees in the yard around dusk each day, very loud they were. Sometimes they would swirl up into the sky in like a whirlpool design that was interesting. When my daughter came over one day, she was a bit taken aback and asked what the heck those gazillion birds were doing. Last couple weeks, I have only seem small numbers of them though so I guess the big group has moved on.

12-13-2012, 05:48 PM
Wonderful bird sketches. Marvelous seeing the birds and the information on each one.

12-13-2012, 06:14 PM
Thanks Candace, Joan, Rainy and Debby!

12-14-2012, 12:00 AM
Nice work, John. I am learning as much here as I do from my field guide.

12-14-2012, 05:12 AM
The ravens are brilliant. They are very rare here in Germany and I was amazed at seeing them everywhere when I was in Utah this summer.

12-14-2012, 09:06 PM
Hi John
I am always amazed that you can capture so much visual information with the many expressions and angles in your creations. Thanks for sharing so much of your interesting knowledge and art.

12-17-2012, 07:47 PM
Thanks Philip, Jennifer and Steven! Here is another batch of six species. Some of these I think are pretty poor, but I'm posting every sketch of each of the species - 'good' or not. Brewer's Blackbirds are not an eastern bird, so people from the east who come out here looking for new 'life birds' always want to see one. The easiest place to find them is at outdoor food courts, scarfing up dropped food morsels. Not exactly exotic habitat...! The Merlin is a small falcon that was a favorite of high-ranking female falconers in medieval times (females were not allowed to use the bigger falcons, which were reserved for the king). The next page has Brown Creeper and Red-breasted Nuthatch, two small and busy/active birds. The Brown Creeper as its name implies, creeps along tree trunks and limbs looking for small insects in crevices in the bark, then flies down to almost ground level on another nearby tree and starts over. The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a great little bird that can easily walk DOWN tree trunks and is often seen feeding 'upside down'. Finally is the Steller's Jay (the worst of the bunch in terms of quality of the outcome, I think) and Double-crested Cormorant. Steller's Jays are smart, active and love peanuts - and will start banging their bill on windows to get people's attention if their bird feeder runs out of food. :) The Double-crested Cormorant is similar to the species used by Japanese traditional fishermen - they put a ring around the bird's neck to prevent it from swallowing the fish that it catches, then pull the bird up and take the fish from the bird once it catches something. In our neck of the woods, these birds have developed a very bad reputation for eating huge quantities of young salmon fry as they're heading to the ocean. Salmon is such a valuable commodity here, both commercially and for sport, that anything that interferes with the salmon runs is in big trouble. They're talking about reducing the population of the cormorants, capturing then killing them.




12-17-2012, 10:18 PM
more lovely birds. . . love all your notes. The stellar jay with the mouthful is my favorite!

12-18-2012, 10:54 AM
Thanks, Rainy! I realize I didn't ask you where you moved to. You mentioned having moved earlier in this thread and I neglected to ask where. Sounds like the southwest somewhere, based on having Greater Roadrunners around...?

12-18-2012, 06:38 PM
Love scrolling through your bird sketches John and always so informative too. Really liked the ravens.

Maybe you can answer a question for me... what is the difference between an raven and a blackbird? I think we have blackbirds here, not 100% sure.

12-18-2012, 06:51 PM
Nice sketches, John.
Merlins are beautiful birds. You are reminding me of the first time I saw one after joining the Audubon society.
We are also beginning to see Scrub Jays around here. Have you seen any?

12-18-2012, 07:20 PM
Delightful bird sketches. Thanks so much for the information concerning each bird. You'd think people would have figured out some way of getting their way without killing a species to get it. :(

Joan T
12-19-2012, 10:55 AM
Wonderful sketches and great info!!!

12-19-2012, 11:26 AM
Thanks everyone!

Philip - Yes, Western Scrub-Jays have expanded their range greatly over the past ten years or so. You can look at fairly new editions of Sibley's field guides, for example, and they are shown as rare or not even in WA state. Now, in certain areas and the right type of habitat, they are common. They don't like the foothills and more forested areas as much as open lowlands in western WA, so we've only seen them a couple times in Snoqualmie/North Bend, but they are definitely around and will continue to increase by all indications. The Seattle CBC is coming up on the 29th, and if I remember, I'll find out how many are seen during that count and let you know.

Jacqui - First, my disclaimer - I'm knowledgeable about North American birds (particularly western half of the US and Canada species) but not Australian. Among other things, common nomenclature may differ for the same or similar species from country to country and my aging brain just doesn't have room for remembering all the scientific names. That being said, here's the difference in the US and it may (or may not) apply to Australian birds.

Crows and Ravens are members of the Corvid (Corvidae) family and are larger birds (pigeon size or bigger). Blackbirds are Icterids (of the Icteridae family) and are smaller (robin/bluebird/thrush size). In addition to size differences, other structural and behavioral differences separate blackbirds from crows/ravens. (In England, another common name for crows is 'rooks' - hence the term you may have heard ('rookery') for nighttime communal roosts for large flocks of crows or other species. Habitat and food preferences are different as well.

In the US, most non-birders would not be able to tell a raven from a crow because the sizes are somewhat similar (ravens are larger) although the vocalizations are different. Most everyone would be able to differentiate a raven from a blackbird on size alone. Blackbirds tend to be seed and insect eaters, though they are a bit omnivorous (eat anything available) but ravens and crows are notoriously omnivorous, including being predatory on smaller birds (especially nestlings) and even small mammals when the opportunity arrives. In country where wolves are present in North American, ravens are often associated with wolves where they will feed on wolf kills. Interestingly, wolves seem to tolerate ravens and in Native American and Canadian First Peoples lore, they are held in very high esteem for their intelligence, cleverness and trickery. Our most common blackbird in North American is the Red-winged Blackbird which nests in marshlands primarily, but which will feed in other areas as well and sometimes forms large flocks. Other species of blackbirds are often associated with farms where they will feed around barns, in livestock pens, etc.

If you are interested in North American bird information to compare to your local species, try allaboutbirds.org, which is the bird information site for the Cornell (University) Lab of Ornithology, probably the most famous bird research location in the US.

I hope some of this bird nerd jabbering is of some interest and help. :)

12-19-2012, 05:44 PM
Thanks so much John I appreciate that. I had noticed that some are smaller than others and the beaks are a bit different. The, what I now assume to be, crows have a heavier looking beak. You have spurred me to look into it more. Thanks again. I'll go check out that website too.

12-19-2012, 06:27 PM
Yes, Jacqui - I should have mentioned the bill (beak) size. Blackbirds are relatively long compared to some other species, and are quite 'pointy' or 'sharp' typically. Crows and ravens have much beefier bills, which are not as sharp. The raven bill is bigger and bulkier than the crow's, by an incremental amount, and particularly at the base of the bill on top is bigger and has almost a 'feathered' look to it. I tried to show this in the sketch I did. So...size, bill size/structure, vocalization (crows 'caw' and ravens 'croak') are field marks. Another good one once you get used to viewing flying birds from below is the shape of the tail. Crows have a smooth 'fan-shaped' tail. Ravens have a wedge or chisel-shaped tail in flight.

And, as noted in my sketchbook notes, even though ravens and crows are quite similar and belong to the same biological family, they do NOT get along. Presumably this is because ravens would be capable of preying on crow nestlings, and would also out-compete crows for food sources - all other things being equal. Crows (as they do with hawks and other raptors) compensate for this by spreading the alarm quickly and in areas where crows outnumber ravens, the crow reinforcements quickly arrive and the group harrasses and 'mobs' the raven until it leaves the area.

12-21-2012, 12:22 PM
John, I always enjoy your beautiful bird sketches. :-)

12-21-2012, 09:47 PM
Thanks, Michelle!

Here are the next six species which finally gets me to (and one bird past) the species I saw on January 1st of this year (being on an annual official bird count helps the number go very high). 45 done out of 286, still a long way to go!

The first sheet has a Purple Finch and Common Merganser, resident birds in our area. The second is a Golden-crowned Sparrow and Western Meadowlark. Golden-crowned's tend in our area to be more winter residents. Western Meadowlarks are relatively common on the east side of the Cascade mountains, but not so much on the western side where I live, though they do show up on occasion. The last spread has a Short-eared Owl and Pine Siskin. Short-eared owls are regular winter visitors to our area, but mostly on the Skagit and Samish River Flat(s), which attract one of the best concentrations of wintering raptors anywhere in the continental US. The final species is the small finch, Pine Siskin, which is very nomadic (and therefore erratic in numbers at any given location each year). This year has been a banner cone crop year in our area apparently, because people are reporting very large numbers of birds. We counted 257 in our yard feeding as a flock just two weeks ago!




12-22-2012, 10:09 AM
Hi John,

Your birds are a delight. . . beautiful color on that purple finch and the details on the wings are great. Love the singing meadowlark

12-22-2012, 05:34 PM
More great birds. Love the owl swooping in at you, very dramatic. How can you count 257 birds in one go? I'd lose count and my spot in the flock... lol

BTW what are you using to paint with these days, is that gouache or acrylic?

12-22-2012, 06:54 PM
Beautiful birds.

12-23-2012, 12:51 AM
Nice sketches, John. My favorite is the Pine Siskin.
As I remember they used to like coming around the feeder for thistle seeds.

12-23-2012, 01:18 AM
Thanks Rainy, Jacqui, Debby and Philip!

Jacqui - It is gouache. I need to remember to write the medium used on each sketchbook page. For high numbers of birds like our big Pine Siskin flock, the numbers are an estimate of course. You can get pretty close, however, by doing what is called an 'area count'. For example, you estimate the size of a flock feeding on the ground (or flying) and count the birds in a smaller area/portion (say 1/10th) of the flock, then multiply that number by the number of areas that size which make up the total flock. Sort of like counting one row of people in an auditorium, then counting the number of rows and multiplying to get a good estimate of the number of people in total.

12-23-2012, 12:27 PM
better and better!

I'd lose count too :)

12-27-2012, 02:25 PM
Thanks, Vivien!

Here are six more species from the 2012 project. In the first sketch, there are two species of birds going in different directions. Evening Grosbeaks - very photogenic, always nice to see - are declining across the whole country for unclear reasons. Anna's Hummingbirds, however, have been expanding their range significantly over the last couple decades and actually winter over as far north as Vancouver, BC.

The second sketch includes White-crowned Sparrow and Varied Thrush. The sparrow is one of our most common sparrows in our yard and area during the spring, summer and fall. However, in the winter, they leave our yard (800 feet elevation) and either migrate south or head down into the lowlands where at least a few of them winter over in the area. Varied Thrush is a very rare bird anywhere in the US except for the far west, so we are very lucky to have them. A couple winters back, a Varied Thrush wound up in New York City's Central Park and stayed all winter. It was a very rare (and popular) bird while it was there - people came from all over the eastern seaboard to see it for their life lists.

The final sketch is American Coot and Canada Goose. American Coots are quirky, goofy birds that, among other things, perform a territorial display that involves 'mooning' your adjacent territory neighbor. They also have an ability not often seen in birds - recognizing the young of another coot. Coots will sometimes 'egg-dump' meaning a female will lay an egg(s) in the nest of another female. With most other species, the female whose nest was dumped in recognizes neither the 'invasive' egg, but also not the chick, even if it is of a different SPECIES (you may have seen Brown-headed Cowbird chicks being fed by a warbler parent half the size of the chick - that is because Brown-headed Cowbirds are 'brood parasitizers'. Their entire breeding strategy is to parasitize other birds' nests and let them raise the resulting chick. One theory as to why this evolved is that originally Brown-headed Cowbirds were nomadic, following the buffalo herds and feeding around them. If the herd moved on while the nest was being incubated, there was the danger of not finding sufficient food. Now, of course, cowbirds have plenty of farms and ranches to feed in so the need isn't as great. But they still parasitize nests - in some areas where rare warblers nest, cowbirds have been killed by wildlife department personnel because the nest parasitization was causing the warbler to head to extinction. (Mother birds typically feed the most aggressive chicks first, and sometimes this means that young which are too small or weak, and normal chicks that are less than half the size of the cowbird chick are out-competed and don't survive.)

Sorry for the long-winded digression...:eek:




12-27-2012, 02:31 PM
John, go ahead and tell us about the birds you are depicting. I find it very informative and appreciate the extra that goes with your wonderful bird paintings and drawings. These are great. I recognize the Canada goose in flight. I see them around where I live. Saw a flock coming in for a landing on the river Christmas day.

12-27-2012, 04:18 PM
More great paintings. Such a treat to admire and I love reading your great info about them. Love the canada goose in flight, so well done. Great expressions on all of them.

12-27-2012, 10:09 PM
beautiful color and form in all those birds! My favorite page is the one with the duck and the flying ones above. . . .GREAT page.

12-29-2012, 12:58 PM
there is a real understanding of the birds and their movements in these - lovely :0

12-30-2012, 02:36 PM
Hi, John ~ I didn't discover the great number of sketches until after sending you that note. Really enjoy looking through them. A very ambitious undertaking to go after all the 2012 sightings and a fine learning experience. Good for us! Dan

12-30-2012, 11:31 PM
Absolutely great pages!! I would love to see hummingbirds- they seem to me to be jewels with wings... The only bird of these I have seen is the canada goose. It's quite common in Finland.

01-03-2013, 09:43 AM
...good to see you are keeping up the bird sketches, it's too hard to pic a fave, they are all fab, love the notes too...

Joan T
01-03-2013, 12:04 PM
They all look so regal in their posture. Awesome colors!

01-09-2013, 06:03 PM
Here are the next six species of 2012 birds seen. These are numbers 52-57 out of the 286 I saw, so 'only' 231 to go yet! I'm already up to January 5th (last year, of course) of what I've seen. Lots of drawing, but I think it will be a big help pushing my ability on bird sketches (at least I hope so).

All these were lightly sketched in pencil first, then adding color (almost always gouache here)

The first page here is a drake (male) Hooded Merganser, a diving duck. As with many ducks, there is a strong sexual dimorphism in this species (males and females look different). I think the male Hoody is in my top four or five species in terms of the best looking drakes. Second bird on the page is our Glaucous-winged Gull which (along with many hybrids of Glaucous-winged and Western Gulls) is by far the most common gull in the Puget Sound area. It is a 'four-year gull' meaning that it takes four full seasons to go from juvenile to adult plumage.


The second page has a Bufflehead and a Ring-necked Duck. Again, the Bufflehead is a drake - the female is much more drably colored. This duck is a very small bird, and is one of our most common wintering ducks. It flies further north to breed. The Ring-necked Duck actually has a ring around its neck, though it's hard to see - birders all think that a better name would be Ring-billed Duck. It's actually closer to black when seen in normal light. The reference I painted from here was in very strong sunlight, which brough out the brownish tones in the bird.

Finally, we have a Hairy Woodpecker and a Cooper's Hawk. The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar in appearance to our Downy Woodpecker, but is more numerous in certain habitats (mature conifer or mixed conifer/deciduous forest). This painting was from a photo I took of a nest near our house a couple years ago. I got to watch the nest daily until the young fledged. Here, mom is bringing some tasty grubs back to the kids (the male would have a patch of red on his head). And then...the terror of all little feeder birds, the Cooper's Hawk. This species, and its other Accipiter species relatives, feeds on birds rather than mammals. As you would guess, it puts a real damper on what shows up at the feeders for quite a while after one of its high-speed, low-altitude attack runs which always scatter. We have a Cooper's visiting our feeders right now (usually we have one each winter) and it is a particularly effective hunter. An adult is pictured here - juveniles would have a brown-streaked white or beigeish chest and belly.


01-09-2013, 06:17 PM
Nice sketches, John. I think your skills are showing improvement.
Mergansers are among my favorites, too.

01-09-2013, 06:25 PM
Nice to see lots of water birds. Good looking gulls. I really like the hawk, great pose and intense look.

01-09-2013, 08:31 PM
More great bird paintings. That's an unusual pose on the Cooper's Hawk. Excellent job on the hawk eye. It looks like it's ready to take out something.

01-15-2013, 08:37 PM
Thanks Phillip, Jacqui and Debby!

Here are the next six species, taking me through #63 for 2012.
On the first page, the American Dipper is one of my favorites - and a very quirky bird. It lives along fast, clear mountain streams and dives (and walks) underwater, feeding on aquatic insects and small fish. A Passerine with feeding behavior like a diving duck...hmmm?!

I also like the woodpecker family, and the sketches here include Pileated Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsucker. The Western Scrub-Jay has been expanding its range into our state rapidly. Not too many years ago, it would have been a major rarity - now in places it's becoming common.


01-15-2013, 09:07 PM
Wonderful paintings. . . what is the paper these are on? Epsilon maybe?

Love that one of the American Dipper . . . just beautiful and sounds like an interesting fellow, too. The sapsucker is also amazing. Beautifully done birds!

01-15-2013, 09:23 PM
Great pages John. Love the Sapsucker and scrub jay esp.

01-15-2013, 10:46 PM
All my old friends. I have to get out and do some more birding.

01-16-2013, 02:26 AM
Thanks Rainy, Jacqui and Philip!

Rainy - yes, so far everything of my 2012 bird species seen project is in a hardbound Epsilon S&B. With one page for each of the 286 species I saw in 2012, the whole project when finished will occupy 2 and a part of a third journals. The next two I've got lined up are both Alphas if I remember correctly. The Epsilon is working ok with gouache, but of course it's optimized for dry media, not wet, so I suspect the painting part of the project will do better with the Alphas. Still going to take some time, as the last installment of 6 species got me to #63 for the year - 223 more to go...! :eek:

01-16-2013, 04:17 PM
Good for you John, continuing this project. The birds always look so lively in your sketches. I found the jay to be particularly endearing with the acorn in it's beak.

01-16-2013, 04:46 PM
These are fantastic. Simple and bold coloring, I love it! And each bird is distinctive, you've really captured their individuality with these sketches, look forward to more!

01-16-2013, 11:35 PM
They are all great- but the jay is my favorite! The color just makes it pop out... I would love to see one in real life!

01-21-2013, 06:59 PM
Thanks Debby, Alex and Jenny!

Here are the next six quickies. The Greater Scaup is your basic diving duck (other ducks that don't dive underwater for food are called 'dabblers' or 'dabbling ducks' - they just tip up in shallow water to reach food on the bottom, or they feed on land) and in our area prefers saltwater over freshwater, though they are seen on freshwater. This bird is a female - the males are a more dramatic black and white with a greenish irridescence sometimes noticeable on the head as well. The Peregrine Falcon was the topic of another thread of mine, and is the fastest animal on earth - when it goes into a dive after prey (other birds) it has been documented to reach 230+ miles per hour. Nothing else comes close.

The second page is Cackling Geese and American Goldfinch. Everyone is probably familiar with goldfinches, this one being a male in breeding plumage. Cackling Geese are generally very similar to Canada Geese, but are smaller by some amount (varies, as there are multiple subspecies of Cacklers) and have shorter, stubbier bills. Otherwise, to the beginning birder, they would just be seen as Canada Geese generally.

The third page has another diving duck species - the Common Goldeneye, the source of whose name will hopefully be obvious in the painting. There is also a very similar species - Barrow's Goldeneye - that will show up later in the journal and which looks fairly similar to Commons. Finally, is the Pied-billed Grebe, a (to me at least) pudgy, kind of goofy looking grebe species that stays almost entirely on fresh water. It is our most common grebe in most of our state.

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Jan-2013/165640-0126-G15-GreaterScaup+PeregrineSketches-Jan,13.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Jan-2013/165640-0127-G15-CacklingGeese+AmericanGoldfinchSketches-Jan,13.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Jan-2013/165640-0130-G15-CommonGoldeneye+Pied-billedGrebeSketches-Jan,13.jpg

01-21-2013, 09:46 PM
This is such a neat thread to follow. Great job on the birds.

01-22-2013, 05:45 AM
Fantastic work! Love the woodpecker and the water-birds

Joan T
01-22-2013, 02:43 PM
John, it is amazing how many birds you've drawn and the info you know about each!

01-23-2013, 04:35 AM
What a great thread. Thanks, John!


01-23-2013, 04:41 AM
John, it is amazing how many birds you've drawn and the info you know about each!


02-04-2013, 07:21 PM
Hi folks,

Well, I need to keep pushing on this project or I might not finish my 2012 bird species sightings before the end of 2013...! Here are numbers 70 through 75, leaving 211 yet to do. :eek:

The notes on the drawings :eek: give some facts about each species. Some additional info here as well. The Black-billed Magpie is a typical loud and brassy member of the Corvid family, and very smart. Rough-legged Hawks are quite variable in appearance, and are a winter visitor to our state, particularly east of the mountains. The Northern Shrike is known as the 'butcher bird' because it feeds on smaller birds, or grasshoppers, and after catching and killing its prey, it will hang it on a sharp branch or barbed wire, making for a strange and disconcerting sight when you come across one of these. And yet, the shrike is not a raptor - it is actually a passerine (perching bird) and is unique in that group for its predatory habits. California Quail are wonderful flocking birds that unfortunately have suffered a lot in our area from coyote predation. Rufous Hummingbirds and Tree Swallows are among the first spring arrivals in our area, and both breed near us as well.


02-04-2013, 08:37 PM
Gorgeous birds. Love the information on each.

02-04-2013, 10:31 PM
Wow, John! You have certainly seen a lot of different birds in a year, and that's a huge undertaking to paint them all. The sketches are wonderful too! How many have you seen so far this year?

02-05-2013, 02:29 AM
Thank you Debby and Michelle!

Michelle - so far in 2013, I have logged 85 species. Of course the further on in the year it gets, the harder it is to find new species. My 2012 total of 286 was the most I've had in any year so far, by about 20 species. My life total is a bit over 400 - would be a lot more but I've never taken a pelagic (seagoing) trip, and have not done any significant international birding.

02-05-2013, 04:06 AM
I hadn't realised how many you planned to present for us. Wow that is a big undertaking. You are putting so much work into this. You should put them all together as a book, you present so many great facts along with your lovely paintings.

02-05-2013, 09:34 AM
It's been a while since I last checked into the Art Journals forum and I have to say your bird sketches have significantly improved John. I especially like the Rufous Hummingbird.


02-05-2013, 11:09 AM
Thanks Jacqui and David!

Jacqui - I've actually put a fair amount of work into a book, but not one on birds, and I'm not sure at this point in my life that I'll ever get around to really focusing on the book project enough to get it to the point of publication. Also, interestingly, my current oil painting instructor/mentor wrote and illustrated a bird field guide for the Pacific Northwest some years ago (and there are a lot of other good books out there as well) - and the problem that created for him is that he got so tired of doing very accurate bird drawings that he literally hasn't drawn or painted a bird since he finished the book! :)

Joan T
02-05-2013, 03:54 PM
Your illustrations of the birds are great!!! Thanks for sharing all your information.

02-07-2013, 11:39 AM
It is always a treat to read about and look at at the birds you have seen... I'm learning a lot here!

02-07-2013, 02:50 PM
Lovely, especially the humming bird.

02-18-2013, 07:09 PM
Thanks Joan, Jenny and Vivien!

Here are the next four, numbers 76 through 79. Again, these are all quicky sketches, so are not intended to be 'finished' pieces. Though I might try a more serious painting on a couple species as this project gets closer to the end. 207 more to go...!



02-18-2013, 08:09 PM
Great sketches. Always like reading your notes as well.

Joan T
02-19-2013, 03:51 PM
Super job, John!

02-21-2013, 09:56 AM
lovely birds. . . wow, 207 more to go!!

02-21-2013, 12:04 PM
Great work! Especially the hawk!


03-07-2013, 11:14 AM
Thanks Debby, Joan, Rainy and Martina!

Well, I've been so busy working on oil (and some watercolor) landscapes that the quick bird sketches have been taking a back seat. Need to keep working on these if I hope to finish my 2012 sighting sketches before the end of 2013! Here are numbers 80 through 85, leaving 201 species yet to sketch. The hurry with which I did these shows in the quality, unfortunately, but the basics are here at least. I'm looking forward to finishing the Epsilon S&B that these birds are in (it will take me up to #118) because then I'll be switching to Alpha series books, which will be much more conducive to the water-based media I'm using here and hopefully will result in some improvement in the sketches.

Here we have Band-tailed Pigeons, a native forest-oriented pigeon in our area. This species has an incredible ability to eat you out of house and home once they find a feeder. Turkey Vultures are just now starting to be seen back in our area, migrating north as spring approaches. Green-winged Teal are small, fast-flying dabbling (non-diving) ducks in our area, and the Northern Pintail is such an elegant-looking bird in structure and plumage. I'm looking forward to the return of the first Savannah Sparrow to the meadow areas near our house - should be soon. So far this year in 2013, I haven't found a Hermit Thrush, which lives up to its name by being a shy, retiring bird that is tough to find even though they are not really a rare species in the correct habitat.



03-07-2013, 01:59 PM
Great information as always. Even in a hurry these are great sketches.

03-08-2013, 02:44 AM
Especially those last two

03-23-2013, 05:27 PM
super new pages, the hermit thrush looks such a sweet bird, well done on all of them...

Joan T
03-24-2013, 07:31 PM
I really like the one of the front facing sparrow. These are great!

03-27-2013, 08:54 PM
John I really enjoy your bird sketches keep up the great sketching. Have you ever seen any of Keith Brockie’s (“One Man’s Island”) book on bird drawing, I don’t mean to push books but I think you would enjoy it. Maybe your local library can find in through “library loan” if they don’t have it already. Most of his drawings and painting are done while in the field in Scotland.

03-27-2013, 08:59 PM
P.S. I saw the first bandtail’s of the spring just the other day in my backyard and vultures are now moving through also, on the coast the northern migration of shorebirds should start anytime now, keep up the great sketches. Take care, Greg

03-27-2013, 10:17 PM
Thanks Vivien, Debby, Scatty, Joan and Greg!

I'm overdue getting my next installment done, but should have them fairly soon.

Greg - yes, I have a copy of Keith Brockie's book. There are a number of great bird artists on the other side of the pond. Lars Jonsson, of course, and Tim Wootton, who recently wrote a book 'Drawing and Painting Birds'. Tim lives in the Orkneys. Then earlier artists - Eric Ennion and Tunnicliffe. Hope I've got the spelling correct from memory on the names here. :)

03-28-2013, 03:53 PM
Great job, John. I really like the buzzard. . . um, vulture. Are they the same thing? I guess I always thought of vultures as buzzards for some reason growing up.

03-29-2013, 12:51 AM
Hi Rainy,

Yes, in the US, buzzard is the commonly-used word for the Turkey Vulture, which is the official (non-scientific, non-Latin) name. When I grew up in PA, we called them buzzards or turkey buzzards.

Interestingly, in Europe (at least the UK) there is a species whose official name is Buzzard. Gets confusing...which is why scientists always use the Latin names, which are the international standard. I'm too old to memorize the Latin names, though...! :lol:

04-05-2013, 03:50 PM
Wow, can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post for the sketchbook. Too many classes, and too many things to paint. Still have a LONG way to go to finish sketching each bird species I saw in 2012, so have to get back to a higher pace. At least I'm closing in on 100 now. So here is the next batch of quick sketches. Here are species number 86 through 91.

The first page contains two small species - Hutton's Vireo and Orange-crowned Warbler. The Hutton's Vireo looks quite similar to a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, an unrelated species, and even though it's fairly common, it's not an easy bird to find and see. The second page contains two warbler species - Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's subspecies) and Common Yellowthroat (a male here, the female is very drab by comparison). Yellow-rumped's hang around in the winter in small numbers, but Yellowthroats all leave the area and will start to come back in shortly - a few have been reported already. The third page is of an Osprey (sometimes called the 'Fish Hawk') which I've been fortunate to study up close over the years on an annual float trip in Oregon. The one shown here is a young bird that has not yet fledged. It has an orange eye (adults in this species have yellow eyes) and has camo markings on its upper parts that don't continue into adult plumage. This bird was waiting for one of the parents to bring back a trout. Finally, the Sooty Grouse here is only partly finished. Since it wasn't intended to be a finished piece (none of the sketches in this book are) I didn't want to spend a lot more time adding detail that isn't really all that accurate anyway. Sooty Grouse used to be called 'Blue Grouse' but that species was then split into two independent species - Sooty Grouse and Dusky Grouse. On the west side of the Cascades, we have Sooty's.




04-05-2013, 08:54 PM
Thanks for sharing your bird sketches and info about the different individual birds. My favorite is the Osprey in this set…they are really fun to watch when they are fishing, especially in the surf amazing birds.

04-06-2013, 03:45 AM
That first one is my faVourite

04-06-2013, 09:07 AM
lovin these pages, the yellow throats looks a stunning little bird, and I have a soft spot for grouse, this one looks a delight...

04-06-2013, 03:37 PM
Cool bird sketches as always. Thanks for the information.

04-13-2013, 12:45 PM
Hello John, sounds like you are having a busy Spring! Hope you are enjoying your classes.

More beautiful birds. . . love the Ospreys. Raptors of all types are such interesting birds.

04-16-2013, 04:31 PM
John just doin some catchup. Your sketches and information are appreciated as always. I just ordered John Muir Law's book today so maybe I'll join you in painting birds soon. It's almost time for the hummers to return here, which always gets me out with my sketchbook.

Joan T
04-16-2013, 09:45 PM
John, I can almost hear them chirping away!!!

04-17-2013, 02:36 AM
Thanks Greg, Vivien, Scatty, Debby, Rainy, Margo and Joan!

Scatty - yes I really love Common Yellowthroats. Well, at least the males (my sketch is a male). The females are very plain, drab little things.

Margo - our hummers (two species - Anna's, which winter over, and Rufous which are summer residents and breeders) have been here for a couple weeks now. We've had 5 for sure, and possibly as many as 7, visiting our feeder. At the peak, I was going through a full 8 ounces (1/4 liter) of sugar water EACH DAY! Today it appeared a couple had possibly left the area because it was only down a half.

Rainy - classes are going well, except the time they take has precluded doing as much sketching as I would like on this project. Unless something drastically changes, it looks like my 2012 species-seen sketching project won't be finished until sometime in 2014. :eek: I'm determined to finish, though.

04-17-2013, 01:32 PM
Well, if yours are back John there may be some already here in my area too. Nights are still pretty cold though at 6,000+ feet. I did see one of the moths I call hummingbird moths last evening, so that means the hummers are here or soon to be, I'll put a feeder out today. Last summer I was going through a couple of gallons of sugar water a day, I was in absolute nirvana.

04-19-2013, 10:46 AM
I like your Osprey and Grouse page. There's a graphic feel to them.

04-19-2013, 01:36 PM
Margo - Wow, I thought 8 ounces a day was a lot, but a GALLON...!

Sandra - Thanks for looking. I continue to send prayers your way in your current fight, and have been periodically checking in on your blog. I admire your courage and am so happy for you that you are able to continue to do the art that you love. :heart:

04-21-2013, 09:46 PM
I'm glad you are still working on these, John.
They make me want to get out and do some birding more and also to paint more.