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It's been a little over two years since I began making art on an iPad with the Procreate app but this certainly hasn't been my first foray into digital art. I spent hours in my younger years messing around with vector art on Adobe Illustrator and came away with a handful of logos and some fun art for small projects including some of the original art for my website (replaced with newer iPad art in 2019). However, I never spent more than a few days, maybe a week, on a digital project before Procreate. That has all changed dramatically as I just finished a project I've been dabbling with and learning on for over a year and a half. Whenever I had inspiration between field jobs, traveling, and the rest of life, I'd pull out the iPad and put some lines on the canvas. I used this piece as an opportunity to learn slowly, make mistakes, and figure out a style. It's been a long process involving a lot of sketches, mock-ups and re-do's, but I'm very happy with how it's happened.

Ocean Winter Birds in New England, Long-tailed Duck, Razorbill, Purple Sandpiper, Savannah Sparrow

The piece above depicts some of the coastal and offshore species we have here in New England in the winter. In addition to the birds in the spotlight I drew a handful of each of their most common food items. I can't lie, I did spend a very long time on the composition of this one. I tried as best as I could to swoop the lines around with the tail on the Long-tailed Duck, the wings of the Razorbill and the various seaweeds and sand lance. I probably put most of my effort into the composition on these pieces and at the end of the day I'm glad I do. It isn't always an easy thing to balance pleasing shapes with scientifically and accurately posed birds. It takes many hours of searching for images of these species in flight as I don't have easy access to specimens for those important details. Having seen and observed hundreds (if not thousands) of individuals of most of the species I've been drawing certainly helps me pin down what looks right and what looks wrong. That being said, since I don't have photographic memory, good reference photos are still an important lifeline, especially for those rarely seen underwing patterns.

Late Fall in New England, Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Swainson's Thrush with Virginia Creeper vine.

The piece in progress on the right highlights some of my favorite mid to late fall lovers of the Virginia Creeper here in New England. This group shows a Scarlet Tanager, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Swainson's Thrush. I also attempted to portray some of the wonderful variation in the foliage of the vine. I always look forward to their deep reds in November but there is an almost

absurd variation in the intermediate colors this species can show.

There are a couple artists that have given me tremendous inspiration for this development in my work. Zoe Keller (@zoekellerart) has procreate tips that helped me immensely and her style of digital work has also been a big inspiration. Karin Rytter (@karin_rytter_studio), although working mainly with linocuts, has brought home the importance of composition with her gracefully organic arrangements of animals and their surroundings.

I've always been one who spent a long time on composition and was afraid of color and working on a large scale. Instead of acting as a crutch in those aspects I think digital has given me the freedom to learn without consequence and has upped my confidence for future projects in any medium. Portraits of individual birds on a branch still have a place for me but I wanted to go beyond that and I'm very happy with where I ended up. I'm also pleased with my choice of iPad for this work. I considered the option of a tablet for a while but was put off by the dual screen aspect of drawing on one surface and seeing the art on another. That gave it a lack of immediacy and connectedness for me compared to any physical medium. The iPad bridged that gap for me and made me feel more comfortable with its simplicity. Its portable nature was also greatly appealing. The learning process has been enjoyable and I'm looking forward to where digital art will take me next.

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A white-striped White-throated Sparrow

One of the most important aspects of banding birds is figuring out how old they are. Most techniques on that subject involve looking for molt limits on the wing. A molt limit among the greater coverts on the Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers (below, left) is easy to see. A molt limit is the point within one or between two feather tracts where old (retained) and new (replaced) feathers meet. Many first year birds only undergo a partial molt and are easy to age in the spring as second year (SY) when they show the sometimes obvious product of a purposeful "half-molt". Five of the inner greater coverts on the top bird are replaced, showing black centers, blue-gray edging and bluish white tips. These contrast strongly with the retained feathers to the right which show paler gray centers, buffy tips and edging, and more pronounced wear. The replaced greater coverts also contrast with the primary coverts and flight feathers, all of which are retained (compare to this bird). The bird below shows a similar pattern, but only replaced two greater coverts.

The female Black-and-white Warbler (above, right) can be aged in the spring as an after second year (ASY) by the smaller alula feather which shows white wrapping around the tip and a black center that does not separate the white and reach the tip. Both sexes of Black-and-white Warbler can be aged using this trick (compare the same feather on this SY male). A uniformly dark wing, especially the very black primary coverts and primaries help to cement this birds age as an ASY.

Sometimes molt limits are extremely obvious, even in the field on a closed wing. Summer Tanagers are a fantastic example of this. After their first prebasic molt, SY males in the spring are left with a patchwork of red and yellow feathers. The bird below replaced its tertials, two outermost secondaries, and its greater coverts. It's almost easier to see on the closed wing. This bird was the second of two Summer Tanagers we caught on April 25th during a prolonged southern slingshot weather event that littered the south coast and islands with early warblers and more. We saw additional evidence of this at Manomet with a Blue Grosbeak, Hooded Warbler, and Common Nighthawk on the property.

Two more birds below that can show fairly straightforward molt limits are SY male Eastern Towhees and Northern Cardinals. This towhee shows brown retained primaries and primary coverts contrasting nicely with the especially black replaced greater coverts. The cardinal shows a more random pattern with the most clear limit showing in the greater coverts. The inner coverts are retained along with the tertials. These feathers contrast with the redder replaced coverts and several secondaries.

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Updated: Apr 6, 2019

My desk of late has been scattered with a rainbow array of pencils. You'd be surprised how many colors the "least colorful" birds hide within their plumage. My latest style begins with an underlay of pen for the darkest areas followed by layer upon soft layer of colored pencil.

For this Marsh Wren I went with a field guide-esque style with crisp borders and a side view. These little guys are always fun to find blending with fall colors in November as they chatter in patches of cattails or phragmites.

As obsessed as I often become with sparrows and their subtle textures and colors, I've been trying to think up some brighter subjects. The local wrens don't stray far from sparrows from a design point of view. I soon found out however, that orioles are definitely brighter. I delved into some pencils I'm pretty sure I've never used on a bird before.

This flashy Altamira Oriole from a trip to Texas a year ago fit the bill perfectly.

A splash of color was welcome but didn't hold me for long as I was soon up to my neck in browns, ochres, and blacks again. A sparrow had pulled me in again, but this time it sported the relative flashiness of the Ammodramus genus. I was lucky enough to have had the privilege to enjoy a LeConte's at close range at the turn of the new year, and this bird provided me with plenty of future study material.

There isn't much I appreciate more than the subtlety of a LeConte's Sparrow mousing through dried grass clumps or a Fox Sparrow kicking up crisp fall leaves. It's definitely the little things.

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