Red-winged Blackbirds a week later

Blackbird2 Bright

One week later I saw three Red-winged Blackbirds, but heard a total five staking claims to the same territory, where only two were competing before. This week their scarlet epaulets were on full display, whereas last week only the yellow chevrons were showing.

Announcing Spring

Spring singing

This image is from last Saturday when I was on the morning exercise with the beagles and house dogs. If you carefully follow the top of the near fence line, you will come to a Red Winged Blackbird sitting on a post. If the image has not been too compressed you should be able to enlarge it enough to make out the yellow chevron of its wing epaulet. With the coming of spring (and the breeding season) the males regain their epaulets, which are not in evidence while they are flocked together during the winter.

      There was also a male on the other side of the road, which I could not see, but each was claiming its territory with song. They are the first ones I have heard staking claims this year. Their optimism about spring was not dampened by the morning dusting of snow.

Color:Value

Winter tree Bright 3
Winter Tree Bright

Despite not having much color, this image catches the eye. It is a very good example of the adage: “Color gets the credit, but value does the work.”

The importance of value (light and dark) is something we tend to forget about, given the ubiquity of highly saturated color photographs.  Yet it is the foundation of a good image. We just tend not to recognize value’s importance. One of my favorite examples of value is Unkoku Tōgan’s (1547-1618) ink on paper, Descending Geese.  He depicted a flock of geese coming in for a landing next to their compatriots on a sand bar. Here, value first directs you to the subject, then softening, creates both place and depth.
Unkoku Togan 1
Unkoku Togan Descending Geese

Snowdrops!

Snowdrops in December

I took this photo on December 15 just outside my studio. Yes, a snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) blooming in mid-December. It is not unusual for this to happen on the south facing bank in January, but unprecedented in December. A January warm spell can both cause snowdrops to bloom and be warm enough to tempt me outside to paint them. https://jclaytonbrightstudio.com/product/january-25th/

These snowdrops have me wondering – were they inspired to break dormancy by lengthening nights or did the November cold snap give them enough chill hours (hours of coldness) for them to believe spring was here when daytime temperatures rose into the 50’s and 60’s for a few days in December.        

I always marvel that when some snowdrops do jump the gun on the start of spring how they can survive the following snow and cold which makes very clear their optimism was misplaced.

Storm-Driven Oak Leaves

storm driven oak leaves

During my regular morning walk with the beagles, sometimes the rawest weather rewards me the most for being out. In this case rain squalls were sweeping across the valley below, pushed by a wind that was gusting to 30 mph. What looks likes birds fleeing before the wind were the last of the leaves being stripped from an oak tree. Oaks and beeches can hang on to their spent leaves until spring when the replacements push the old out of the way. Nonetheless, thiswind was stripping hilltop oak bare.

Like a flock of small birds, the leaves darted about the sky even as they move in a single general direction. Those that hit the ground flitting along, sometimes rising back into the sky. They brought to mind a belief from childhood – if you put salt on a bird’s tail, it would not be able to fly away and then you could catch it.

The groundling leaves reminded me of how birds used to stay just ahead of us kids when we tried the salt method. They always flitted along just out of reach, sometimes rising to land a little farther on. In this case, I was trying to catch some of the leaves so I could identify the type of oak trying so hard to retain its leaves. It was a probably a black oak (quarus velutina). But someone more of an expert than myself would need to sort out some of the oaks by their leaves alone, because the leaves from the wild seldom match the ones in leaf identification books.

All Herefords in a field look the same until you really get to know the herd.

Mutinus elegans

Mutinus elegans JCBright
Mutinus elegans JCBright

I have walked the same field almost daily for over thirty years and never noticed this fungus although I am sure it has always been there. Mutinus elegans did not recently hop off a shipping pallet from Asia – it was first recorded in Virginia in the 1600’s. I need to be more observant since its bold red, a strong contrast with the grass, makes it hard to miss.

Once tuned in I found several more. They first appear as slightly smaller than a golf ball bubble in tan. They hold hard at that point until the autumn rains and the temperature are to their liking.  Then stand back. These fungi grow to their full height (about 3 inches) in less than 2 days.  Within a few days they start to wither, fall over and totally disappear.

What looks like it might be a red leaf caught in the grass, is in fact a sweet sticky mass containing spores. Insects are attracted by the sweetness, at which point the spores tag along for rides to points unknown. 

Cyclamen in the Japanese Garden

cyclamen Japanese water garden Bright 1
Cyclamen in Japanese water garden – J. Clayton Bright

There is one section of our Japanese water garden that is barren and dry-looking throughout the summer. Then, in autumn, rains start and the first flowers of the hardy cyclamen (cyclamen hederifolium) appear, followed shortly by their leaves. They linger on for weeks giving the garden one last moment of glory.

Somebody occasionally snacks on a flower head. The browsers, I suspect, are mice, but they never seem to make a habit of it. Since each plant has enough flowers to be able to spare a few, there is no cause for concern. Besides the loss gives the cyclamen patch a feeling of naturalism, which is not altogether bad.  The cyclamens are at the garden’s edge where plants are not as controlled, so a little blending helps the transition.

Teamwork

Clayton Tom and Walter Moving The 10 ft Kick
Clayton,Tom and Walter Moving The 10 ft Kick

Loading the bottom 2/3 of the 10 foot Kick for its trip to the mold maker required teamwork. Tom and Walter already proved their teamwork skills this fall, when they helped rescue flood victims trapped outside their car, just before it was swept away.  Here they are at work again, showing that their teamwork has other uses. Thank you, Walter and Tom!

The Kick at Ten Feet

The Kick almost finished

Nearing the end of my summer’s project, The Kick is now 10 feet tall.  I disassembled the clay sculpture to allow for easier finishing before I trucked it to the mold maker. 

The KIck disassembled
The Kick disassembled

Finding the Unexpected

two striped grasshopper on Queen Annes Lace
Two striped grasshopper on Queen Anne’s Lace

I had a new, for me, sighting of striking beauty last week. A male Thomas’s two striped grasshopper (Melanoplus thomasi). We like to leave our road vergers un-mowed until all the wildflowers have had their say for the year. To some it looks a little rough and neglected but there is beauty there for those who look. I was collecting ripe seed heads of Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) for use in pepping up an area where it had a weak showing. There on a seed head was the grasshopper. His neon colors a striking contrast to the dull tans and browns of the seed heads I was clipping. It’s turquoise blue topside, with coral red legs and a lime green undercarriage, made it looked more like a gaudy item from a souvenir shop, than a bug in a field.

Goldenrod

goldenrod 2020
Goldenrod

In a moist, lower meadow where I often, walk the blooming of the Goldenrod (I am pretty sure Solidago gigantea in this case) is a harbinger of shorter days and the coming of fall. Its flower is one of the strongest yellows of any flower because it has just a hint of red mixed in. This flashiness trips up Goldenrod’s reputation, for few notice the Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) blooming nearby. Ragweed puts all its energy into creating pollen (of hay fever fame), so it has a very inconspicuous flower, leaving poor Goldenrod to take the fall.