where the heart is

March 24, 2018

Our city, Kamloops, B. C., is a native word meaning ‘the joining of rivers’ (where the North and South Thompson meet), and was founded by the Hudson Bay Co. in 1812.  As it grew and developed it became a railroad city (one of two cities in Canada where both CN and CP intersect).  The most gentrified residences are found on St. Paul Street, where many bear historical plaques for passers-by to read and gain knowledge of.

Turn of the Century–c1904–homes are difficult to maintain and keep in tiptop condition, as many reading this can appreciate.  Keeping up any house is expensive and challenging.

I befriended a woman who has outlived her spouse and is just able to keep the basics going while having to block off the upstairs from heat in the Winter.  Budgeting simply to stay put and keep living in her beloved heritage house before facing the inevitable and dreaded ‘downsizing’, her joy is feeding Crows, Ravens and Starlings using cat kibble poured into oversized vintage bird baths.  This certainly doesn’t make her the darling of her neighbours, but has earned her the moniker ‘the crow lady’.

She’s never seen this painting because I fear it may upset her, yet it was painted with affection and as a tribute to her intrepid spirit and unwillingness to let go of that which she dearly and completely loves:

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‘Where the Heart Is’

watercolour on Arches 140 lb Hot Press Paper, 12″ x 16″, collection of J. Weisser

 

 

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Three Amigos

March 19, 2018

Chickadees have a gift many would love to have, which is the ability to hide seeds and other items in a large variety of places and remember each of them without a problem.  Some of us come across that well-placed but unfound Christmas present for Aunt Dorothy only when moving house or doing a major Spring cleaning.

They are also studied for their distinctive chick-a-dee dee call, with researchers noting that when it is a single ‘dee’ it indicates calm, but when there are multiple ‘dees’, it means the bird is stressed or senses danger.  It seems whenever I am refilling the feeder, our resident Western Chickadee fires off a dozen or more, while insisting on grabbing yet one more seed even as I’m lowering it to the ground.  Then it waits indignantly for the whole procedure to be completed while bombarding me with ‘dees’ as though from a miniature ray gun.

the three amigos, October 2016, 5 x 7

‘Three Amigos’, watercolour by Lance Weisser, 5″ x 7″, Saunders Waterford 90 lb Hot Press Paper, sold.

Raven Trio

March 10, 2018

Portraying moonlight is something of an intriguing interpretation for painters.  Some, like the famous American painter Frederic Remington, chose a greenish hue for its earthly glow….

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Others, like the American painter Maxfield Parrish, often used yellow as the predominant colour of moon glow….

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I’ve noticed other painters depicting the colour of moonlight in hues of blue.  And in this little painting of Ravens, my choice is sepia and white….

P6170541

Three Ravens‘, 8″ x 10″, Arches Hot Press 140 lb Paper, Sold

By including my own, I’m certainly not attempting to put myself in the league of a Parrish or Remington–but merely drawing attention to how our eye finds mystery in the way the moon reflects and illuminates the landscape.  When I go outside on a full moonlit night, I feel it is a blueish reflection on snow, and more earth-toned on our backyard mountain and rocks.  And even though I never quite manage to see moonglow  as green, I simply adore Remington’s moonlit scenes and illustrations.  He convinces me it really is green!

What is it for you?

 

Pinantan Country

March 5, 2018

Pinantan Lake is about twenty minutes from Kamloops, British Columbia, where we live.  It is a small community spread around the little lake’s perimeter and prides itself on being independent, artistic, and avant garde.

Although this painting is not of an actual barn or photographed scene, it attempts to capture the spirit of what the area looks like under a snowy mantle when viewed from the road leading towards the lake.  I’ve done it from my collective memory, rather than choosing to make use of photographs or while on location.

 

christmas 2017 a

‘Pinantan Country’, watercolour on Saunders Waterford Hot Press Paper 90 lb., 9″ x 12″ Sold

 

 

‘Raven Nights’

February 20, 2018

In keeping with my fascination over trying to capture night in watercolour, here’s another attempt at mood and texture:

raven mood 9x10 august 2107

‘Raven Nights’, watercolour on Saunders Waterford Hot Press 90 lb. paper, 9″ x 10″, Sold

It is snowing again, and is likely to continue through today and tonight and into tomorrow.  As my friend Shiela says, snow today is water tomorrow, meaning we live in a characteristically arid part of British Columbia (our backyard mountain ridge has many cacti plants) and so every source of water is cherished.  The snowmelt from the mountains is crucial to ensuring our lifeline, the Thompson River, is of normal size.

Around here, many people kind of roll their eyes and sigh when learning we’re getting another ‘dumping’, but I’ve always delighted in snow and can now sadly envision a day when there won’t be any.  Our living situation is such that I can handle clearing the driveway without much effort, otherwise I might be joining one of the eye-rolling crowd.

Here is the painting ‘Raven Winter’ that is now framed and ready to be presented to my friend Patricia Kellogg as a possible choice in our painting exchange deal:

 

stage 3 final painting of Raven Morn

‘Raven Winter’, watercolour on treated art board, 9″ x 12″

 

Stage Two: ‘Raven Winter’

February 14, 2018

The painting for my friend Patricia Kellogg is taking shape.  The treated surface of the mat board I’m using to paint on was/is achieved by applying a product by Daniel Smith called ‘watercolor ground’.  It comes in a jar and is painted onto any surface one desires, instantly turning it–once allowed to thoroughly dry–into one which can be painted on using transparent watercolour.  So, glass, metal, wood, masonite, anything of the kind can basically become a surface with the characteristics of watercolour paper.

stage two of raven morn

 

Stage One: ‘Raven Winter’

February 13, 2018

My watercolourist friend Patricia Kellogg [https://www.facebook.com/Patricia-A-Kellogg-357357001050096/] and I are doing a painting exchange.  I acquired one of hers of an artichoke plant in late autumn–that expressive form plants take when frost renders them lifeless, yet beautiful even so.  And because she has a couple of mine with ravens in them, she wanted one more and so here’s the first stage of it.

stage 1 of Raven morn

The surface for this painting is treated mat board and the medium is transparent watercolour.  It is a 9″ x 12″ piece.  Once it is finished I will enjoy taking it over to The Red Beard Cafe where we have our monthly coffee and seeing if she likes it.  I’ll also bring a couple of others with me to provide a choice.

1) They are named Waxing because they sport red wax-like accents on the tips of their secondary feathers;
2) Although they eat insects during Summer months, they thrive on berries the rest of the year and, in our part of British Columbia, go about in groups to feast on Mountain Ash berries;
3) If there is a cluster of berries hanging from the tip of a long branch that only a single bird can reach, sometimes the rest of the group will line up and pass berries beak-to-beak down the line allowing each bird the opportunity to feed.

Bombycilla_cedrorum_audubon
Audubon Print

Its fondness for the small cones of the eastern red cedar is why this particular Waxwing is called ‘Cedar’ Waxwing. (My first post is mistaken in assuming they are not found in Eastern N. America. They are–but I just wasn’t privileged to spot any when growing up in upper New York State.)

cedar waxwing progression a

Cedar Waxwing watercolour-in-progress, Saunders Waterford Hot Press Paper 140 lb.

[above facts gathered from Cornel Ornithological and Wikipedia websites]

 

As a child there was probably no bird I wished more to see than a Waxwing.  In on-location photographs they just looked so exotic and intriguing–their colouration and little tufted crowns–the whole package was and is so appealing.

In those days we lived in Eastern N. America where Waxwings aren’t found and so it took many decades–after I’d moved to British Columbia–for my chance to encounter these birds.  And it happened as I stood at our front picture window looking out at the Red Maple just beyond the glass–a tree which had nestled within it a deserted Robin’s nest.

Suddenly there appeared a large group of birds I’d never before seen, Cedar Waxwings, darting about the nest, examining it animatedly and calling to one another.  I watched in fascination as they systematically began dismantling this Robin’s nest, their little bandit’s masks seeming very appropriate to their deciding to make someone else’s home theirs for the taking.

 

‘An Ear-full of Waxwings’ — work in progress — Saunders Waterford Hot Press Paper, 140 lb.

 

A grouping of these birds is known as ‘an ear-full’ almost certainly because they go about in bunches and are constantly chattering in a distinctive, rather conversational voice that is more insistent than melodic or song-like, yet charming even so.

Robber Baron

January 20, 2018

From the Cornel Lab of Ornithology:

“. . . A large, dark jay of evergreen forests in the mountainous West. Steller’s Jays are common in forest wildernesses but are also fixtures of campgrounds, parklands, and backyards, where they are quick to spy bird feeders as well as unattended picnic items. . . ”

Stellar Jay 4x6 October 2016

‘Steller’s Jay’, watercolour on Saunders Waterford Hot Press 90 lb., 4″ x 6″, Sold.

 

When we moved from Quebec to British Columbia and went camping, it was startling to hear this loud, rasping, strident taunting from high in the trees.  Startling, because it was so like a Blue Jay, yet not–like a Blue Jay with the flu.  And then this amazingly blue-black jay bounded down to the ground, looking up at us as though wondering why we were occupying its picnic table.

After returning from swimming, we found three of them pulling at the packaging of wrapped food and helping themselves to whatever they managed to expose.  These are Blue Jays on steroids.

“. . . Steller’s Jays are habitual nest-robbers, like many other jay species. They’ve occasionally been seen attacking and killing small adult birds including a Pygmy Nuthatch and a Dark-eyed Junco. . . ” [Cornel Ornithology Lab]

But wow–how beautiful, how handsome, yes?

 

‘A Play of Jays’

January 13, 2018

We know the fun which comes from discovering how groups of birds are labelled and identified:

  • a convocation of eagles
  • a wake of buzzards
  • a parliament of owls
  • an exaltation of larks
  • an ostentation of peacocks

Jays have two possibles–a ‘scold’, or a ‘play’–and given their feisty nature, both can be true at once.  Here in Western Canada we have the Steller Jay, as well as the Whisky Jack or Grey Jay.  Eastern Canada is home to the more familiar Blue Jay.

A Play of Jays, watercolour, 8 x 30, Feb. 2017, for Visual Journey Show.jpg

“A Play of Jays”, watercolour by Lance Weisser, 8″ x 30″, 140 lb. Saunders Waterford Hot Press Paper. Sold.

… a little Junco

May 3, 2016

My observations are that birds which winter over are more agreeable in disposition than birds which come here to breed.  Case in point, Juncos, which winter over here and then head further North to breed.  They are such a delightfully polite and agreeable little bird, not taken to fighting over the feeders, but rather preferring to peacefully forage below them.

dark-eyed junco may 2016

‘Dark-eyed Junco’

 3″ x 5″, watercolour on Saunders Hot Press 140# Paper

On the other hand, birds which migrate here to breed, like the Common Grackle, dive-bomb me when I’m giving our dog Elmo his early morning walk, as though I am suddenly in my dotage going to start climbing trees to pull down their nests.

But blest be the birds which come here to winter over, like the so-lovely Common Redpoll and the Dark-eyed Junco.  Although extremely territorial when nesting, we get to see Juncos when sex is the furthest thing from their bird-brained minds and finding seeds on the snow is all they care about.

Some birdie facts:

  • Juncos are the “snowbirds” of the middle latitudes. Over most of the eastern United States, they appear as winter sets in and then retreat northward each spring. Some juncos in the Appalachian Mountains remain there all year round, breeding at the higher elevations. These residents have shorter wings than the migrants that join them each winter. Longer wings are better suited to flying long distances, a pattern commonly noted among other studies of migratory vs. resident species.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/dark-eyed_junco/lifehistory

 

 

 

….cedar waxwing

April 23, 2016

As a kid, having to enter the annual Science Fairs in Jr. High–the ones where invited experts walked around with clipboards trying to find possible prize winners–I had exhibits which were often concerned with birds–songbirds, usually–their migration patterns and predators, and fun facts.

I never won a prize.  That usually went to kids who electrocuted themselves voluntarily in order to prove water and wires don’t mix–or the kids who cross fertilized seeds and created vegetative freaks.

The shortlist I had then in the 50s (living in upper New York State) was to see any kind of Bunting (they looked outrageously colourful), our State Bird the American Bluebird (which I never did see, and still haven’t), any kind of Tanager, and of course, any kind of Waxwing.

cedar waxwing miniature 5x7 april 2016

“Berry Picking”

Cedar Waxwing, 4″ x 6″, watercolour, Saunders Waterford Hot Press 140# Paper

 

Having lived now in seven different Canadian locations, from coast to coast, I’ve been able to photograph a Western Tanager in our front garden, a pair of Mountain Bluebirds (astonishingly blue), and a group of Cedar Waxwings which descended on our Red Maple branches and began dismantling a Robin’s nest, rather than having to bother scavenging their own material.

The Waxwings were much smaller than expected, and every bit as fascinating as I’d hoped.  Their ‘bandit’s mask’ gives them an allure other birds lack, and their interesting ‘song’ and penchant for travelling about in flocks makes them worth having to wait 60 years to see them.

….Chickadee Miniature

April 21, 2016

This Winter along with the usual Mountain Chickadees at our feeders, we were pleased to have Black-Capped Chickadees as well.  Coming from Eastern parts, they are the ones associated with childhood and so have a special place for me.

Right now we are experiencing amazingly warm temperatures–85F (30C)–and gardening is ramped up as a result.  Dividing time between perennials and painting is a pleasure. As an Autumn and Winter person, I continue painting with that pallet of tones and colourations, and so ask you to cut some slack if/when I post snow scenes in April.

chickadee miniature

‘Pause That Refreshes’

 5"x 7", Watercolour, Saunders Hot Press #140 paper

Cool Facts

  • The Black-Capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items to eat later. Each item is placed in a different spot and the chickadee can remember thousands of hiding places.
  • Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment even with their tiny brains.
  • Chickadee calls are complex and language-like, communicating information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls. The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-deecall, the higher the threat level.
  • Winter flocks with chickadees serving as the nucleus contain mated chickadee pairs and nonbreeders, but generally not the offspring of the adult pairs within that flock. Other species that associate with chickadee flocks include nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets, creepers, warblers and vireos.
  • Most birds that associate with chickadee flocks respond to chickadee alarm calls, even when their own species doesn’t have a similar alarm call.
  • There is a dominance hierarchy within flocks. Some birds are “winter floaters” that don’t belong to a single flock—these individuals may have a different rank within each flock they spend time in.
  • Even when temperatures are far below zero, chickadees virtually always sleep in their own individual cavities. In rotten wood, they can excavate nesting and roosting holes entirely on their own.
  • Because small songbirds migrating through an unfamiliar area often associate with chickadee flocks, watching and listening for chickadee flocks during spring and fall can often alert birders to the presence of interesting migrants.
  • The oldest known wild Black-capped Chickadee was at least 11 years, 6 months old when it was recaptured and re-released during banding operations in Minnesota.

source:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/lifehistory

….House Finch miniature

April 16, 2016

It is so heartening to have requests from bloggers and site visitors who have arranged to have original bird miniature paintings sent to them.  The last posting of the Raven miniature, “Keeping Watch”, is currently winging its way to Hawaii, and the March 5th miniature entitled “Raven Moon” is sitting on Byron’s desk in Wisconsin.  Another of a wintering Chickadee is with its new owner, Cynthia the poet, https://littleoldladywho.net/ in Maine.

Some bird species are seemingly germain to just about anywhere, the House Finch being one.  When we moved from Eastern Canada to extreme Western Canada, there they were.  And on fellow blogging sites like H. J. Ruiz’ Avian 101 (https://avian101.wordpress.com/), there they are in the Peach State of Georgia.

house finch april 2016

‘House Finch’ — watercolour on Saunders Waterford 140# Hot Press Paper, 2.5″ x 4″

They are, along with wintering Goldfinches, the most frequent visitor to our feeders, and have such a delightfully melodious song.  Unlike the slightly larger Purple Finch which probably isn’t found in the West, they do not so much look like they’ve been dipped in raspberry concentrate, as they’ve stuck their heads in wild cherry cream soda.  Their disposition is mild, insofar as they aren’t pushy or argumentative when at the feeders.  If another species is bossy, they simply flit down to the snow and eat the remains below, along with the Juncos.

If you are ever interested in owning one of these posted bird miniatures, simply email me at: weisserlance@gmail.com and we’ll work out the arrangements.  Thank you to all who are so very supportive in comments and visits!

…..Keeping Watch

April 7, 2016

Our little Gallery in the small city of Kamloops, B. C.’s historic Courthouse (1911) has a Featured Artist offering every month and May will be my month to put on a display of recent miniatures.  So now it is a matter of working towards having a good showing.

Raven Watch

“Keeping Watch”

watercolour on Saunders Hot Press #140 lb paper, 4″ x 6″

I can’t quite explain why it is that depictions of Ravens sell so well, but they do.  So it is a pleasure to be able to comply and feed the need, so to speak.  They are indeed a very symbolic and ancient bird whose fame is heralded in many countries and cultural legends concerning them abound.

Out taking photographs of them this week, I came across a pair whose size was truly astonishing and whose throaty calls echoed off the nearby boulders and across the wide Thompson River.  Once that is accomplished, it is a matter of trying to place them in a scene which has definite mood and emotional impact.

….Raven rave

March 9, 2016

Having found a frame the perfect colour and size for a larger version of the Raven painting done a few days ago, this is turning out to be a Raven rave of sorts, this time a little more wintry.

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7″ x 7″ on Arches Hot Press #140 paper

….draw a bird day

March 8, 2016

Teresa Robeson reminded me of ‘bird day’ (https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/4736591/posts/949345080#comments) with her striking rendition of an exotic Araripe Manakin from Brazil.

Here is a far more humble (don’t tell it that!) species, but at least I’m doing my birdy duty this Tuesday morning…..

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1.5″ x 2″ on Arches Hot Press 140# Paper

I saw my first one two weeks ago–around the third week of February–which is so early for this region, it is nuts.  When they get here, they go for Mountain Ash berries and other withering, over-wintered types of fruit, until their usual fare of insects and worms become accessible.  They are in breeding mode preoccupied with all their parental preparations.

….Raven Moon

March 5, 2016

Ravens sell very well in this neck of the woods, partially because they figure so prominently in our local Native legends–and partially because they are, as a species, so singular and distinctive.  A customer pointed out to me that whereas Crows are very social (gathering together in great numbers), Ravens are solitary.  Perhaps one of you can verify this comment–or add a correction?

This painting is 2.75″ x 1.75″ and, instead of putting it behind glass for protection, the decision was made to spray it with a durable fixative so the piece has more immediacy when viewed.  I did include the glass in case the customer wishes to provide greater protection.

 

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These bird miniatures can also be purchased from me through weisserlance@gmail.com for $30US (postage costs additional) unframed, $35US framed.  Some buyers have chosen to select a suitable frame themselves locally and then email me the size the painting must be to fit their chosen frame.  Then it is simply a matter of mailing off the painting in an envelope–easy-peasy.  I have painted everything from someone’s favourite parrot (our late, great friend George Weaver’s prize pet) to exotic birds seen on a favourite trip and painted from a photograph supplied via attachment.

 

 

 

 

 

…. Robin miniature 2

February 12, 2016

It has been an unsettlingly warm Winter here in interior British Columbia, with Spring bulbs actually starting to poke up through the ground.  Unsettling, because being only mid-Winter, we might well suddenly get one of those Arctic inflows and see temps plunge to -20C, which would effectively ruin what shouldn’t have already begun sprouting, including fruit trees.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all to actually see Robins returning in February, when their normal return isn’t until mid-March.  Being such avid worm-hunters, I have wondered at their early returns here, particularly as to what they find to eat.  The answer is the Mountain Ash berry and other lingering berries.  The danger, apparently, is eating ones which have fermented, thereby becoming naturally alcoholic and responsible for killing birds who eat too many.

This miniature is of the British/European Robin, which doesn’t reside in Canada.  But English Robin miniatures are snapped up in our Gallery simply because they have established such a rich literary following, and also appeal to Canadian emigres.

The difficulty painting a bird the painter has never seen–and therefore isn’t familiar with–means it may not be true to how the bird actually looks.  However, this particular bird has so frequently been depicted in book illustrations and greeting cards, that its persona lives beyond its ‘real life’ comings and goings.  So here in Canada, getting the English Robin ‘right’ isn’t as stringent a matter as getting the Canadian Robin right–a bird everyone is familiar with, and therefore has to be flawlessly rendered.

They seem so very sweet.

 

It has become ‘belated everything’ for me lately…so why not this as well.

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2.5″ x 3.75″ watercolour on Arches Hot Press 140#

We’ve come to know this as the English Robin (at least here in Canada), though I see it referred to elsewhere as the European Robin (which of course no Brit would ever go for).

Here are some (possibly) little-known tidbits about it: “. . . The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin’s original name of redbreast (orange as the name of a colour was unknown in English until the sixteenth century, by which time the fruit of that name had been introduced). In the fifteenth century, when it became popular to give human names to familiar species, the bird came to be known as robin redbreast, which was eventually shortened to robin. As a given name, Robin was originally a diminutive of Robert . . . ”  [ Lack, D. (1950). Robin Redbreast. Oxford: Oxford, Clarendon Press. p. 44]

Personally, I have never seen this bird except depicted and written about in stories like “The Secret Garden”.  But whenever I paint a miniature of them, it is purchased very quickly, and usually by a homesick, transplanted member of a country ‘across the pond’.  It would be a treat to see them in their natural setting.

….snow

November 25, 2015

We received about 12cm overnight and now everything’s white, with temperatures starting to drop to around -10C (16F) under strong winds.

The birds are in the branches of the large Red Maple just beyond our big front window–at the four hanging feeders and suet cakes.  We get mostly goldfinches and house finches, chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, flickers, clark’s nutcrackers, pine siskins, ring-necked doves, occasional pileated and downy woodpeckers, grosbeaks, stellar’s jays, magpies, ravens, white-crowned sparrows, and when it gets really cold the sweetly-blushing redpolls come down from the Arctic (but not likely until January or so).

Occasionally we see a Northern Pygmy Owl which swoops in on the dining lot, lighting on a branch like a handful of fluff with alarming eyes and causes the rest to take off like an explosion. They are one of a few daylight-hunting owls, and for two or three days following, the feeders remain untouched, the memory of that fist-sized, feathered-danger keeping everyone away.

In honour of the occasion — the advent of real Winter — a wintry watercolour, not unlike what the countryside looks like presently.  The subject no doubt wishes the wind were less than it is….

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….but imagine the pleasures of fireplace and toddies once he gets back.

It’s an old painting–6 years–and approximately 8″ x 10″ on my favoured Arches Aquarelle Hot Press 140# paper.  It took approximately 30 years to finally discover the right paper, having gone through all the choices of surface, weight, paper-maker (brand), and so on.  Were it to be done again, the figure would be altered some, as there’s something anatomically odd about it.

…..photographic thank you

November 3, 2015

A number of months ago, coming across stunning photographs of Puffins, permission was sought from the photographer and world traveler, Rolf Stange, to use one of them for the painting of a miniature.

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Getting such spectacular images of these illusive birds takes persistence and resolve.  They spend nearly all of their lives in open sea, coming to shore only to breed.  Here is more about them…..

“. . . Iceland is the breeding home of perhaps 60 percent of the world’s Atlantic puffins. The birds often select precipitous, rocky cliff tops to build their nests, which they line with feathers or grass. Females lay a single egg, and both parents take turns incubating it. When a chick hatches, its parents take turns feeding it by carrying small fish back to the nest in their relatively spacious bills. Puffin couples often reunite at the same burrow site each year. It is unclear how these birds navigate back to their home grounds. They may use visual reference points, smells, sounds, the Earth’s magnetic fields—or perhaps even the stars. . . ”

source:  http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/atlantic-puffin/

s_Rolf_Stange-Rolf-2010

Rolf Stange ‘at home’ (which looks about as inviting as spending most of the year bobbing about the N. Atlantic nose-diving for herring)

Here is Rolf’s wonderful photo which was the inspiration for a watercolour miniature …..

puffin

http://www.spitsbergen-svalbard.com/spitsbergen-information/fauna/atlantic-puffin.html

“. . . The Harry Potter series borrowed ancient Celtic views towards the European Mountain Ash also called the Rowan Tree. The Celts and other people of early British Isles thought the tree had magical properties. Its powers were to protect you from witchcraft, one of two reasons why it is also called Witchwood. The other reason is a pucker at the end of the fruit reminds some of a pentagram which is associated with witchery.”

“As one might think, animals also know the mountain ashes as food. It is a favored browse of moose and white-tailed deer. Bears, fishers and martens like it as well as snowshoe hares, squirrels, small woodland rodents, the ruffed grouse, ptarmigans, sharp-tailed grouse, blue grouse, American robins, thrushes, waxwings, and jays. . . ”  http://www.eattheweeds.com/mountain-ash-rowan/

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“American Blue Jays and Mountain Ash”, watercolour on Arches Hot Press 140# Paper, original available for purchase $85US (unframed, excluding postal charges), 5.5″ x 11.5″

From Canadian Author Sarah B. Hood [http://www.sarahbhood.com/]

“. . . A couple of years ago I made the wonderful discovery that the common ornamental tree I know as Mountain Ash is the fabled rowan tree, revered in the mythology of northern lands for its protective and divinatory properties. I was told about it by the mother of a friend who also informed me that rowan jelly is the traditional accompaniment to twelfth-cake in the Christmas season.

I have since looked at many different recipes for rowan berry jelly, and note that most of them advise one not to make jelly until the berries have been frozen (either on the tree or in the freezer), since this makes them sweeter. Apparently raw mountain ash berries can be toxic (I remember my father complaining that they were so acidic that they could eat holes in cars), but heat and freezing both change the chemical structure of the acids they contain.

Here’s a recipe that I’ve used. It came to a lovely set and a great colour, like rosé wine. The taste is something like a cross between grapefruit peels and cranberries: bitter, but tasty.”

Rowan Berry Jelly Recipe
Makes about 3 cups

  • About 4 cups of berries which have been frozen (unfrozen berries are very bitter)
  • About 1 cup of water
  • ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • About 1½ cups of natural pectin from apples (You can substitute commercial pectin, but you’ll have to change the quantity of sugar according to their instruction for a similar recipe such as grape jelly.)
  • About 3 cups of sugar
Day One
  1. Rinse berries and remove stray leaves, stems and shriveled berries
  2. Barely cover them with water and heat them to the boiling point, then cover and simmer until they have completely dissolved. You can use a potato masher to reduce them to a pea soup-like mush, as pictured below.
  3. Strain through a jelly bag. Hang the bag overnight to catch all the liquid, but do not squeeze the bag.

Day Two
  1. Use a turkey baster or pour carefully to extract the rowan berry juice without any sediment that may have collected. It should come to about 1½ cups (top up with extra apple juice if necessary).
  2. In a wide, deep non-reactive pot, combine rowan berry juice, apple pectin, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a rolling boil. It may be rather scummy, so skim if you like.
  3. When it reaches the setting point, ladle into jars and process for ten minutes.
  4. Label and date the jars, and refrigerate any jars that don’t seal.
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