Friday, December 30, 2016

Winter Harbor II Colors

Sometimes Karen comes home with photos having the strangest backgrounds — reflections of whatever lays beyond her subject — especially when she’s aiming her camera towards water.  Normally, this isn’t a problem in wildlife photography — unless you’re photographing a raven sitting on a green dumpster or you find some inconsiderate person’s beer can in the image’s background when you download it onto your computer.  

                              Petersburg's South Harbor offers a wealth of background colors.

The difference is — Petersburg’s harbors in no way resemble nature.  Here you find boats, mostly commercial fishing vessels, painted in a wide array of colors — from a somewhat menacing black to first-responder red to electric blue, even rust.  Should I include a pea soup-green fish-processing cannery?  Here, they turn reflections across the harbor’s water into a myriad of colors — definitely not something natural.

Now float a bird or even seal amidst those colors and viola, you have the most surreal wildlife photo.  In other instances our low-angle winter sun, maybe blazing onto a snow-covered mountain, or even our rare blue skies expand that varied palette reflecting off the water.  Add the ripple of waves and you have your subject resting in an abstract painting.

                                 A male Barrow's Goldeneye in the most unreal setting.

Of course Karen did not set out to capture unreal images.  The birds decided where she would photograph them, but you can be sure few of these images would make the cut in a photo book of Alaskan birds.  

Is this long-tailed duck (formerly known as oldsquaw until the group of poobahs who name birds decided to change it) backed by a boat or sky reflections?

And since I’m not good at resisting temptation, why not include a couple of  Karen’s photos of birds that, in themselves, provide an unreal level of color.  While the females of most waterfowl species are well camouflaged, this is certainly not the case with the males.  Since their role in propagating the species is limited to looking pretty for the “girls” — a couple of moments to pass on their genes, and poof, think I’ll pass on the parenting responsibilities — perhaps they’re more expendable.  It certainly seems a brightly colored mallard drake would be an easier target for a hungry predator than his camo-clad mate.

So here some of Karen’s latest colorful winter harbor creations.

                          Guess there's no question where Karen found this male long-tailed duck

   Low-angle sun shinning through morning fog created an atmospheric background for this bufflehead.

                           It looks like a bit of a mix of background colors for this pair of greater scaup.

                                         A another pair -- this time Barrow's goldeneyes.

         Two males, a surf scoter and a Barrow's goldeneye, emerge out of a sunlit foggy background

                       These barnacle-clad piling don't even need a bird to be appealing.

                                                         Then again, this great-blue heron helps

                It looks like blue sky for this surf scoter, but how can it hide with a bill like that.

                                       What lady duck could resist this American wigeon?

This mallard drake shows the trade off -- attract the "ladies" or predators.  Judging at how successful mallards are, it looks like the "ladies" win.

                       Then again put them in this harbor reflection and does it even matter?

Oh, bet you thought I forgot the raven.  Karen just zeroed in on a head shot.  Viola, no dumpster.  Now we're not sure about the white flecks on it.  We hope it hadn't been roosting below a pigeon. 


Monday, December 26, 2016

Winter Harbor Part I

Here in this corner of Alaska mid-December blessed us with an abnormal stretch of clear cold weather.   Combine that with Petersburg’s setting — one bounded by harbors that boats share with overwintering waterfowl and you have the recipe for a smile on Karen’s face despite cold hands and toes.  Multiple species of waterfowl that could be far to the south basking along sunny beaches dodging sunscreen slathered tourists, short circuit their migrations to remain here where they add color and life to our little burg.

At first glance, Petersburg's boat harbors look like they could have been taken anywhere in America -- er, make that Alaska.

Of course Karen has been making daily forays to commune with the harbor denizens with her camera.   And each day she brings back photographic treasures that are impossible to top -- until the next day.  While further south in wildlife refuges, and other areas popular with bird enthusiasts, she’d be shoulder to shoulder with camo-clad photographers vying for the best position, here Karen has the critters virtually all to herself — unless someone’s black Labrador retriever comes over to nuzzle her derrière while she’s zeroing in on a rare species she’s been stalking for half an hour.  Of course!  She might toss a stick.

OK, there are a set of different challenges for Karen, but she certainly rises to meet them.  Now she’s suggesting she would like to carry dog biscuits for her four-footed friends.  I’m not sure carrying such contraband would enhance her photographic efforts regarding the wild side of PetersburgBut, then Karen is not your everyday wildlife photographer.  She seems just as happy to bring home images of the domestic citizens too.

Actually both four-footed and two-footed friends can render an impressive stalk into an everyday scene around Petersburg.

Naturally Karen has been so productive that it is hard to include as many images as we would like in a single post. Thus, we'll break this one up into several installments. 

                      Barrow's goldeneye are a common resident in Petersburg's harbors.

Mallard drakes, so wary in areas frequented by waterfowl hunters find Karen about as threatening as a snowflake.

                        Three male surf scoters also consider Karen to be just part of the scenery.

For Karen common loons were one of the favorite parts of the north woods where she spent her childhood summers.  Now those north woods are down south in Wisconsin and the loon in winter plumage fails to match her childhood image.

 A female common merganser appears to have visited a local beauty salon.  Then again, with a natural coiffure like this, she didn't need to.  

                               A comparatively tiny female bufflehead paddles past Karen...

                                           And through a flock of snoozing mallards.

Karen was very excited to hear a hooded merganser was frequenting our harbor.  The sight of it didn't disappoint her.

 A great-blue heron looks like a grumpy old bird as it rests on one of the harbor floats.  This is the same species Karen has photographed in other pacific northwest states and, if she ventured all the way to Florida, she would likely still be aiming her camera at one.

                         Frost-covered grass kept distracting Karen, so she added it to her collection. 

This is but a sample of images Karen captured this month.  We plan to publish more very soon.  Oh, and about the cold toes.  It seems that when some footwear gets too cold it....EXPLODES.

                     Maybe that Salvation Army thrift store pair of boots was not such a bargain after all.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Family Portraits

This year I completed two family (or at least partial family) portraits.  In the first case I know the dad took part as the photographer.  In the second, I have my suspicions.  Thus, it’s thanks to them that the paintings exist.

Joy” began with a Christmas visit with a former Pastor of Petersburg Lutheran Church and my suggestion that I’d sure like to use his beautiful daughters as painting subjects.  It took about one day for his wife, Ying, to send me photos from their family vacation in China.  I chose my favorite, taken indoors in what, by clever sleuthing, I figure was some kind of place to connect with wifi.  At the risk of divulging by secrets, the key clue was a sign behind them that said..WiFi — in English no less with Mandarin lettering above it..  For the background I decided to go with an outdoor theme so I chased Mike and one of his daughters from another photos and used that setting as a reference.

                                Joy   18 x 24 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

In case you’re curious about the title, Karen pointed out that their names are Ying (the mom) and daughters Olivia and Joy, the first letters of which can be arranged to spell…

The Cheat” arrived as an email request from one of Karen’s cousins.  “Would I be willing to paint her daughter-in-law, granddaughter and their dog perhaps as an 8 x 10 inch painting”  Oh my, I’d need a magnifying glass to paint it that small.  “How about an 18 x 24 inch canvas?”  

The girls were playing the game “Sleeping Queens” with their golden retriever and it was obvious the dog was cheating.  If you see the painting up close the card stuck in the dog’s collar proves it.  In case you think I’m being overly untrusting, follow the pooch’s gaze.  See.  Now, I’m not sure I’m done with Leah, the granddaughter.  I’d love to paint a large portrait of her.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Wilds of Alaska in Our Back Yard

One of Karen and my favorite places around Petersburg bears a name that conjures up the mystique of Alaska.  Just voicing it bring sromantic images into anyones psyches — mountain majesty, wild rivers, wilderness, lonesome valleys, megafauna such as bears, wolverines and bald eagles.  Yet, it’s only about three miles from our front door as measured by rotations of our bicycle tires.  Yes, it’s City Creek -- a name that just grabs you and says I have to see it.  Maybe you should.  There you’ll often find Karen during the waning days of summer.

                         The last gasp of City Creek before it enters Frederick Sound

City Creek is a short watershed interrupted halfway through by a dam backing up a lake that provides a safety-net water source for Petersburg.  When I say lake, don’t think sandy beaches, and marinas full of happy fishermen hoisting creels sagging with the weight of record-size trout.  I use the term lake loosely because if you hike up to it you risk disappointment.  Think shallow pond decorated with the floating and standing remains of a drowned forest for much of it’s shoreline.

Above the reservoir City Creek drains a wild, rugged valley.  I once descended the ridge above it thinking it would provide a pleasant short-cut back to town.  NO!  Large tracts of overgrown wind-throw (huge old-growth trees laying on their side blocked my path.  If you’re envisioning a log such as you’d see in a saw mill, once again you’re wrong.  These trees still have their limbs providing a maze of now vertical branches to wiggle between as you climb up and over the log.  The challenge in getting to the next log — more than head-high devils club fills the gaps between them.  It’s scientific name, Oplopanax horridus, gives you the idea since the plant comes adorned with needle-like spikes — even on the leaves.  What a fun hike!

Finally, below the lake, City Creek cuts it’s “trail” through gentle muskeg and forest uplands until it crosses Frederick Point Road (our most frequent access point).  From there, it’s a quick jaunt to it’s intertidal outlet.

So, why is this creek a favorite spot on our island?   Consider these photos Karen took during the past couple of weeks.  

The Frederick Sound shoreline from Petersburg.  City Creek enters the Sound in just about the middle of this photo.

                    Waterfowl feed at the outlet of City Creek at high tide.

    The main attraction in autumn.  Pink, also known as humpback salmon returning to spawn.

A male humpback salmon shows why they bear that name.  Only a female humpy (as they're affectionately know here) could think they're cute.

Don't confuse humpback salmon with the other humpback creature Karen photographed off the mouth of City Creek -- Humpback whales.  They look a little different.

During one outing as Karen zoomed in on a pink salmon below the bridge, all of a sudden the viewfinder turned black.  Oops.  She doesn't think the bear even saw her.

Somehow the black bear missed this patch of red huckleberries on it's way down to the Creek.  Karen didn't.

You know when the salmon are schooling off City Creek when the predators show up -- in this case a smiling harbor seal.

Bird life also attracts Karen to the creek -- in this case a flock of molting and immature harlequin ducks that Karen snuck up on without them noticing.  Well, almost not noticing.

              She was more successful with this flock of Vancouver Canada geese.

Karen doesn't even need to find salmon, waterfowl or mammals, to discover photo subjects.  Consider these variations on an alder leaf theme.

           Even a foggy day excites Karen, especially when she's on the edge of it.

No outing would be fully successful for Karen without an encounter with a rodent.  In this instance she found herself bombarded with spruce cones.   What in the world?  Looking up she discovered her attacker -- a red squirrel.

Oh oh, this blog has exceeded my self-imposed length limits.  There are so many more photos to share, but I think it's time to go.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


After I painted McKenzie and Parker’s cousin, Anna Page, my “instructions” were clear.  I could not show bias.  After all, this is family.  Thus I “dove into” two portraits this past winter.  
The photos of both girls appeared to have been taken with a flash, but McKenzie’s image still showed her color and facial features.  My guess is the girls were in a restaurant with Parker’s arm around her younger sister.  It must have been winter because Parker had a glove on.  After gently extricating Parker’s arm I had fun getting to “know” McKenzie although the request came with one caveat.  Change her clothes.  The pink sweater came in another photo. I just had to be careful not to embarrass McKenzie as I executed her wardrobe change.

                                                McKenzie     12x12 inches     Alkyd on Canvas

Parker proved to be a greater challenge.  Her grandma sent me the image because it was her favorite photo of her granddaughter.  It was the hat — thus the title, “Parker’s Hat.”  Now, I hate to be critical, but my biased analysis suggests the image I received was a photograph taken with an iPhone of an already printed photograph, then sent to me via email.  Yikes!  I said no.  Then, one day, feeling totally uninspired I sat down in front of my easel and stared at Parker.  

Surely I was enough of an artist to be able to convert her yellowed lightly featured face into a portrait worthy of being hung in the Smithsonian.  After all, Parker is pretty appealing.  I’d just play with the hat.  Now, being one who feels that a moment spent on a painting cannot be wasted, I felt committed.  Yes, I convinced myself, I could do it.  I tried every conversion and manipulation of her facial features I could figure out how to do on Photoshop, but still she looked like a somewhat jaundiced model.  I think I painted Parker’s face six or seven times, but finally decided, if I can’t see it, I can’t paint it — unless it’s an abstraction.  I just quit and mailed it off.  Parker’s grandma says she loves it.  She did have a good summer tan after all.

                                                 Parker"s Hat     12'16 inches     Alkyd on Canvas

Friday, July 29, 2016

Karen's Babies

To say the maternal instinct runs strongly through every cell in Karen’s body would be a lie.  There’s one cell at the tip of her left little toe where it’s just moderately strong.  Otherwise…

As proof, during the time when Karen was nursing Mandy and she heard another baby cry, she lactated.  Whenever she sees a photo of a friend or relatives baby she calls me to come and see.  She can't get enough of them.  When I look at a baby I see a gooey, too fragile to touch, life form somewhat resembling a prune.  They all look alike.  In comparison, I think the sight of a prune could trigger Karen’s maternal instincts to bubble to the surface.

Thus, in these years when Karen’s opportunities to interact with prunes (I mean babies) are limited she spends copious hours in a quest to interact with young wild things.  To drive past a fawn by the side of the road without stopping would court marital disharmony.  Even a flock of fledgling crows descending on our deck to clean out our just-filled bird feeders in 7.3 seconds brings her enormous pleasure.  Me — I groan knowing they'll bring 50 of their best friends to our feeder all winter.

I previously blogged about Karen’s drawings, which include baby critters, on our almost nightly game of Upwards score sheet.  If the images aren’t something like a watermelon spitting seeds (her column) at a fleeing pig (my column) and she’s on a winning streak, the junior set will often appear.

This past spring when friends reviewed Karen’s artwork in our score keeping notebook, it didn’t take long for her to have a painting assignment — baby critters modeled after one of her drawings.  She certainly has the most fun with her whimsical side.  Me too.

                                                           The Gathering      12x16 inches      Watercolor

Of course the original inspiration for "The Gathering" comes from Karen's photography, her interactions with critters over the years and her fertile right brain.

Knowing it is well camouflaged by a couple of blades of grass, a Sitka Black-tailed deer fawn checks to see what that screeching of brakes was all about.

A juvenile raven pleads for a tasty morsel of an unidentifiable something that didn't look real appetizing to Karen -- something past it's prime that washed up on the shores of Wrangell Narrows very close to a where local cannery discharges fish processing wastes.

You'd think Karen was the mother robin from how proud she was of this nest of four.  She certainly worried about them as much as any doting mother would.

Fortunately the chicks had responsible parents who raided a blueberry patch that Karen had been eying  It looks like she'll just have to share. 

This baby red squirrel looks as enthusiastic about it's first bite as Don is about a steaming stack of pancakes slathered in butter and maple syrup .

Our anticipated bird house has found an unanticipated use as a squirrel feeder -- and occasional refuge for one young squirrel when territorial adults decide our deck is their private  property.  Note the smooth sanded rim of the hole modified by our squirrels to fit their overstuffed tummies.

                           I say it this fledgling Steller's jay can fly to this bush, it can feed itself.  Not so.

                                              Who could resist this somewhat fluffy ball of feathers.

Attentive Vancouver Canada geese parents protect their last two chicks.  Geese nesting in local muskegs face a daunting challenge in defending their eggs and chicks from marauding ravens and bald eagles yet, somehow, a few survive to maturity.

I think only Karen could have maternal feeling towards an immature bald eagle -- this one already at least a year out of it's nest.

               Leave it to Karen to spot a troll baby in the muskeg.  I suppose she'll be bringing food to it now.