Tree Swallow Transparent Watercolor & Time-Lapse Video

Tree Swallow (10x7 inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

Tree Swallow (10×7-inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

Tree Swallow (detail from 10x7 inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

Tree Swallow (detail from 10×7-inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

This was a quick watercolor-and-ink painting. I had been concentrating on doing highly rendered watercolor paintings for a while and thought it would be fun to whip off a less-detailed, quick, inked piece with bragged-up colors. This Tree Swallow was at the top of the “to be inked” list.

This particular bird was at Ottawa NWR sitting on a teak bench. We were on a family birding trip to Northern Ohio for spring migration in 2016. Since all four of us love wildlife, especially birds, we take day trips and occasional overnight trips to go birding during migration, seeking out birding areas wherever we travel.

When I was a kid our family vacations were fairly predictable. Aside from a few exceptions, we went to a beach for a week. My dad loved the coast, swimming in the ocean and sitting around reading books. My mom welcomed a week with a change of routine, but I think she still had more than enough on her plate, not the least of which included wrangling three boys. Since my grandparents and cousins lived in NYC and the surrounding  area, that often meant that we’d vacation on Long Island and visit with relatives as well.

I tended to get bored pretty easily at the beach. My brothers would read, but as a kid I wasn’t into books, unless you count B.C. and the Wizard of ID. At the end of the day I often had a lobster-deep sunburn and, after being tossed around in the surf for hours, a diamond-abrasive clump of 60-grit sand in my swimsuit. On the plus side, those beach trips let me enjoy seeing all sorts of shells, sandpipers, sanderlings. I also loved climbing in the dunes and looking at the storm debris that got washed up high on the beach, finding feathers, crab exoskeletons, fish and bird bones among the detritus. 

Seeing washed-up jellyfish was always cool, although when I was really young I’d give the dead cnidarians about four feet of cautious space. I was fairly certain they might spontaneously explode or perhaps come back to life, jumping on to me, ferociously attacking with deadly, fiery tentacles. Surprisingly, that never seemed to happen! My dad loved telling a story of going to the beach with his cousins while on family vacation. As young boys tend to do, he and his younger brother Joe discovered a “fun” game. They’d find a wooden slat from a sand-break fence, then use it to flick a small, dead jellyfish at their victim. Better yet, if needed, they would use their fence stick to section a bigger, putrefying jellyfish into an appropriate size, thus honing their future skills in the surgical field. Once on the end of the stick, they would flick the gelatinous corpse at the nearest unsuspecting youth. Supposedly a relative took a hit to the mouth once. The tale might be more legend than fact, but that never stopped me from asking him to tell it again and again.

We never did any wildlife-specific trips when I was a kid, but we would often have them tangentially. One of the more memorable was seeing sharks on the beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. If you see me in person, feel free to ask the long, convoluted story, which is way too long to share here. During that same vacation we went on a ranger-led hike that was fantastic. The Park Ranger explained the dune system and pointed out tons of interesting plants and animals. That was one of my favorite parts of that trip. We’d always go to zoos and aquariums wherever we went. I loved those day trips. No matter where we went, we always managed to have a lot of fun. 

The one bird-related event that was predictable and always greatly enjoyed when we were really young kids happened when we visited my grandparents in the Bronx. My grandmother would grab a loaf of old bread and ask in her thick Irish brogue, “All right boys, who wants to go to the cemetery?” Now a trip to see gravestones with a stale roll of pumpernickel might not sound like a great way to spend your day, but we knew better. This meant we would be going to feed the ducks that hung out there. Honestly, she seemed to enjoy it just as much as we did. It was definitely a different sort of “birding vacation,” but you have to start somewhere. Little things like that surely got me hooked.

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