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Old 12-04-2010, 02:05 AM
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JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Hi everyone,

November was good portrait practice, but now it's back to my more comfortable subject matter - birds. For day 1 of 12, I opted for the Common Raven.

Ravens earn their reputation for being smart and tricky (Northwest Indian tribes placed the raven as equal to their most respected species of animals). They may look somewhat like crows, but crows do not like ravens (and vice versa). My wife and I attended a very interesting talk by the author/photographer for the book Salmon in the Trees on Tuesday evening. She spent two summers photographing wildlife with a focus on salmon in the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. She had a sequence of photos showing one Bald Eagle with a salmon it was eating. A second eagle came to try to steal the salmon. A raven was watching intently from behind the first eagle. A fight ensued between the eagles over the fish and while they were duking it out, the raven snuck in, lowered itself almost to the ground and snuck in under one of the eagles to grab some of the salmon. No wonder the Northwest tribes referred to the raven as the trickster.

This is an A4 Moleskine sketchbook, done in Pitt pens from a field ID reference.

C&C always welcome.

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Old 12-04-2010, 08:37 AM
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virgo68 virgo68 is offline
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

cool! I love the way everyone tackles these challenges so differently
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Old 12-04-2010, 10:35 AM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Love the raven, John. . . very nice. Good theme for you as I know they are your first love to draw. Also thanks for all the info on them, too. We have some crows or ravens (not sure which) that hang out near the back of the property & sometimes dive bomb my dogs. Little stinkers.

BTW, I read an article not so long ago that said that ravens are the most intelligent of birds and that they maybe be as intelligent as apes and dolphins. Did you see that?
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Old 12-04-2010, 12:20 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

So glad The Bird Man has returned! Great Raven. I have a lot of black birds, several species no doubt, but I am not sure which are which. I love seeing any birds, and don't understand why some people say they don't like crows or ravens or whichever. Superstitious? Methinks.
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Old 12-04-2010, 12:45 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Great raven and interesting story. he/she certainly seems as if he is on the lookout for something.

i look forward to seeing the rest of your 12 days of birds.
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Old 12-04-2010, 01:11 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Splendid raven. Thanks for the information.
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Old 12-04-2010, 04:36 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Great job on the raven!! Can't wait to see more.
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Old 12-04-2010, 05:06 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Thanks Jackie, Rainy, Candace, Elain, Debby and Joan!

Well, if the raven isn't the most intelligent bird, it's right up there. There are many examples. Here's one from a fellow naturalist in this area...

He was moving firewood from the outside stack into the house for the winter. This process usually disturbs some mice who have taken up a home in the firewood stack. A raven showed up while he was moving the wood and watched intently from a nearby tree. Sure enough, a mouse scooted out from the woodpile and ran under a sheet of plywood laying nearby. The fellow noticed that the raven clearly saw the mouse and appeared to be interested in it. So, he moved away a bit to see what happened. The raven immediately flew down and peeked under the plywood to see where the mouse was. The raven couldn't reach the mouse, so walked up on top of the plywood to an area where it was imbalanced and began jumping up and down on the plywood, which made noise and moved it a bit. The mouse ran out and didn't get very far until the raven grabbed it and flew off to enjoy the meal.

Ravens, like other intelligent animals (monkeys, for example) apparently enjoy playing for play's sake. I saw a video clip of this some time ago, made in the UK. Along the chalk cliffs at the coast, a strong onshore breeze created a powerful updraft along the sheer cliffs. Several ravens discovered this and began to use it for entertainment. They would fly out away from the cliff, then fly in toward the cliff and when they hit the updraft, it would blow them completely out of control, tumbling in the air current. They would then recover, fly out and do the whole thing again - sort of like a roller coaster ride at the county fair!
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Old 12-04-2010, 11:07 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Day 2 is the Lewis's Woodpecker, chosen because it is rare in our area on the wet side of the mountains. But I've beaten the odds on this species, as I've found at least four over the last three years, including one this year (all in migration) that showed up on a power pole behind our town's post office for a couple hours. This species is a bit odd-looking in that it has the pinkish belly and dark green back with the red patch on the cheek. Also, it relies more on catching bugs for food (while flying) than other woodpeckers. And the final bit of trivia for it is that its name came from Meriwether Lewis, who discovered and documented the species on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The two pieces are done in Polychromos colored pencil on an A4 Moleskine sketchbook page.

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Old 12-05-2010, 02:14 AM
WYSIWYG WYSIWYG is offline
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

These are fabulous! The ravens black is done so well and the expression on the face/eyes of both is super.
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Old 12-05-2010, 07:17 AM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

These are great! What fascinating information about the ravens. I'll have to read up now to tell the difference between ravens and crows!
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Old 12-05-2010, 11:50 AM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Thanks WYSIWYG and Leslie!

Leslie - telling the two apart is easy with experience but can be difficult at first for beginners. The primary differentiations are:

Size - raven is bigger, often substantially so, but size varies within a species and is tough to estimate without a lot of experience, so this is only one clue.

Head and bill structure - raven has a different shape to its face and head, with the bill being larger and appearing more prominent than in crows. In flight, the raven's head appears longer and more prominent than crow, which is more compact in appearance.

Tail - this is often the quickest and easiest way to tell in flight. Raven has a 'chisel-shaped' tail in which the tail feathers form a more angular wedge or chisel shape than in the crow, which has a smoother, fan shape. During molt, this can be confusing as well as birds lose tail feathers and are growing new ones.

Vocalization - The crow (at least the American Crow) has the familiar 'caww - cawww - cawww' as its primary vocalization. The raven's voice is more guttural, and is usually described as a 'croak'. The difference is obvious with experience. However, as with many field marks in birds, everything has 'usually' and 'but' attached to it. Crows are capable of, and use, a wide range of vocalizations besides the caww, especially young birds and during breeding season.

So...until you get the experience to quickly grasp the whole picture of field marks, after which time it's easy, you have to work at it a bit or be very sure of one particular field mark or behavior. For example, crows don't like ravens and so if you see a large black bird in a tree being mobbed by very agitated (and smaller compared to the mobbed bird), the big one is a raven.

For the international folks here, this only applies to American Crow and Common Raven - there are other species of these birds in different parts of the world.
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Old 12-05-2010, 01:43 PM
Elain Elain is offline
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Yes we have a version of the crow that is black and white so is called a magpie. I was surprised on our visit to England to see their magpies were smallish and slim.

great work on the woodpecker.
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Old 12-05-2010, 03:58 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Nice page, John. Love the way you did that with him on the tree pecking and then also flying. That is amazing that they catch bugs in flight!
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Old 12-05-2010, 04:30 PM
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Re: JTMB's 12 Birds of December Sketches

Thanks so much for your very clear descriptions, John! I have seen the wedge shaped tail in flight and also the fan shape-now I know which is which. I will also pay more attention when black birds are attacking a larger black bird. I hear the crows a lot- especially when a hawk is around. I hear the crows and see my rooster look up- then he's warning the hens and they run under cover. It's fascinating to observe.
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