…. 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/

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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 …..

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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.

One Jay we do not have in the West is the Blue Jay.  The ‘why’ of this is puzzling simply because the weather and climate here rather mirror that of Eastern Provinces and States (minus the humidity, thank heaven).

As annoying as this bird can be, the sheer pleasure it appears to take in creating continuous drama — the screeching cry it passes off as ‘song’ turns the lovely silence of a Sunday morning into a birdie alarm clock — makes the Blue Jay an attention receiver (like that kid you always remember from Grade 4).

And….the Blue Jay–like most Jays–is beautiful.

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Their blue, black and white colouration is as dramatic as the Blue Jay personality.  They have the ability to turn any bird feeder situation into a Three Stooges food fight.  And for all these reasons, make a great subject for painting.

A favourite natural food in Winter is the Mountain Ash berry.

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These trees are in abundance here in Southern British Columbia, and grow very large, and are responsible for allowing the N. American Robin to return very early–often at the end of February–sustaining them until the ground becomes warm enough for pursuing worms.

Choosing both Blue Jays and Mountain Ash in Winter makes for great contrast in colour, and a lively composition for painting.

Now we’ll just have to see how it all turns out….

Draw A Bird Rewind . . .

September 1, 2015

Laura of Creatarteveryday has thrown down the gauntlet, and we’re rising to the challenge (even if it is a repost!)

So here goes, Laura. . . .

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Juvenile N. American Robin, done on commission for J. Leckie, Christmas, 2011

Your turn!  Follow Laura at https://wordpress.com/read/post/feed/32739058/794878009

The rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is a small hummingbird, about 8 cm (3.1 in) long with a long, straight and very slender bill. These birds are known for their incredible flight skills.  Some are known to fly 2,000 mi (3,200 km) during their migratory transits.

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Rufus & Allen’s Hummingbird miniatures, approx. 3.8cm x 5cm (1.5″ x 2″), Arches Hot Press 140 lb. paper

The adult male has a white breast, rufous face, upper-parts, flanks and tail and an iridescent orange-red throat patch or gorget. Some males have some green on back and/or crown. The female has green upper-parts with some white, some iridescent orange feathers in the center of the throat, and a dark tail with white tips and rufous base. Their breeding habitat is open areas and forest edges in western North America from southern Alaska to California. This bird nests further north than any other hummingbird.

The female is slightly larger than the male. Females and the rare green-backed males are extremely difficult to differentiate from Allen’s hummingbird.  (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rufous_hummingbird)

[In the photo above, the pre-dawn light produced a less-than-sharp picture. Photography is an artform unto itself.  This is a digital image produced by a Kodak Brownie-type picture taker.]

atlantic puffin

July 13, 2015

The Atlantic Puffin is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean and  breeds in Iceland, Norway, Greenland,Newfoundland and many North Atlantic islands, and as far south as Maine in the west and the British Isles in the east. The Atlantic puffin has a large population and a wide range. It is not considered to be endangered although there may be local declines in numbers. On land, it has the typical upright stance of an Auk. . .

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The Little Auk (Alle alle), is a tiny seabird, around the size of a starling

At sea, Atlantic Puffins swim on the surface and feed mainly on small fish, which they catch by diving underwater, using their wings for propulsion.

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‘Atlantic Puffin’, watercolour miniature, 12.5cm x 17cm,         (5″ x 6.5″), Arches Hot Press 140 lb. Paper                                           

The Atlantic puffin spends the autumn and winter in the open ocean of the cold northern seas and returns to coastal areas at the start of the breeding season in late spring. It nests in clifftop colonies, digging a burrow in which a single white egg is laid. The chick mostly feeds on whole fish and grows rapidly. After about six weeks it is fully fledged and makes its way at night to the sea. It swims away from the shore and does not return to land for several years. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_puffin)

(reference photo for painting from:  Rolf Stange…www.spitzbergen-svalbard.com)

…..draw a bird day

July 8, 2015

Kwakiutl First Nation is a First Nations government based on northern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, focused on the community of Port Hardy, British Columbia in the Queen Charlotte Strait region.

A Kwakiutl Native legend has it that the eagle once had very poor eyesight. Because it could fly to the highest treetops, however, a Chief asked the eagle to watch for invading canoes. Anxious to assist, the eagle convinced the slug, which in those days had excellent vision, to trade eyes temporarily.

The slug agreed, but when the eagle’s sentinel duties were finished, the eagle refused to trade back eyes. Thus, goes the legend, not only is the eagle’s sharp vision accounted for, but also the slowness of the slug.

source: [http://www.baldeagleinfo.com/eagle/eagle-myths.html]

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‘Golden Eagle’, watercolour, 9cm x 14cm (3.5″ x 5.5″), Arches 140 lb. Hot Press Paper

Laura, over at www.createarteveryday.com announced a challenge to draw birds today.  And ‘Monday,Tuesday,Wednesday’ ‘s contribution was The Nevada State Bird, the magnificent Mountain Bluebird.  Kirk’s contribution is The Baltimore Oriole, another gorgeous bird.

tiny robin

June 28, 2015

There is a woman named Robin who comes to the Gallery looking for namesake treasures.  It is my personal pleasure to keep her mission accomplished.

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N. American Robin‘, 4cm x 6cm, (1.5″ x 2.5″), watercolour miniature, sold

I have a niece named Robin.  What’s cool about her is that she is married to Peregrin.  And the relieving detail is that they chose not to name any of their three children after birds.

I went to school with a girl named Candi Barr.  When I was a kid, our next door neighbour’s maiden name was Olivia Greene.  Fortunately, none of my (known) relatives ever named their son Bud.

Please provide some examples of your own known ‘unfortunate’ names.  We could all do with a smile.

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee uses lots of fur in making its nest, with fur or hair accounting for up to half the material in the hole.

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nwnature.net

Rabbit, coyote, and deer hair are most common, but hair from skunks, cats, horses, or cows appears in nests as well. The adults make a layer of fur about a half-inch thick that they use to cover the eggs when they leave the nest.  (source: allaboutbirds.org)



chestnut_backed_chickadee_nest© René Corado / WFVZ

What’s not to like about these chittery, agile, and nimble bits of joy–so accommodating, they’re willing to eat out of an uplifted palm.  At feeders, they flit in, impetuously seize a seed, cock their heads and in a mercurial moment are pounding the life out of their shell-encased prize, hammering against a solid branch.

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“Chestnut Chickadee”, 2.54cm x 2.54cm (1″ x 1″), watercolour on Arches Hot Press Paper, sold

When annoyed, they chee-chee-chee-chee at any feeder chaos, curtly muscle back in, and sprightly dart back up to pummel their sunflower seed in privacy.

Northern Mockingbird

June 12, 2015

TODAY MY BLOGGING COMRADE, H.J. Ruiz of ‘Avian101’ ( https://avian101.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/law-and-order-2/) features his stories and photographs of The Northern Mockingbird, a bird I was asked to do a miniature of, but not a bird which we (to my knowledge) have populating the Interior of British Columbia (it is probably just too cold here).

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The Northern Mockingbird, 2″ x 3″, watercolour, L. Rice-Sosne Collection

I HAD TO RELY ON REFERENCE PHOTOS and see from H. J.s photos that its feet are quite a distinctive size relative to the body.  And it seems from photos to be a very sharp-eyed, inquisitive, decisive–almost wary–garden ‘defender’, as H.J. declares the Mockingbird to be.  I’d perhaps have made its wings a degree darker had I had his photos before me, but I’m okay with the results.

OF COURSE, BOOMERS LIKE ME grew up hearing Patti Page singing ‘Mockingbird Hill’, as well as Inez and Charlie Foxx’s ‘Mockingbird’  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g47_NI1CWNQ — which my parents hated and I loved ).  It was, to me anyhow, later perfected by James Taylor and Carly Simon — watch here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmnTcBdpbHI . So all I really knew was the lore, rather than the bird.

AND I HAVE OVER THE YEARS, come to associate The Northern Mockingbird with The Old South, whether warranted or not, I just don’t really know.

barn swallow

June 9, 2015

A FEW INTRIGUING FACTS about Barn Swallows:

(source: allaboutbirds.org)

  • Although the killing of egrets is often cited for inspiring the U.S. conservation movement, it was the millinery (hat-making) trade’s impact on Barn Swallows that prompted naturalist George Bird Grinnell’s 1886 Forest & Stream editorial decrying the waste of bird life. His essay led to the founding of the first Audubon Society.
  • According to legend, the Barn Swallow got its forked tail because it stole fire from the gods to bring to people. An angry deity hurled a firebrand at the swallow, singeing away its middle tail feathers.
  • The oldest known Barn Swallow in North America was 8 years, 1 month old.
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‘Male Barn Swallow‘, watercolour, 7.5cm x 12.5cm, 3″ x 5″, Arches Hot Press 140# Paper, L. Rice-Sosne Collection

Barn Swallows don’t come to seed or suet feeders, but they may take ground-up eggshells or oyster shells placed on an open platform feeder. If you have a suitable outbuilding, leaving a door or window open can encourage Barn Swallows to build a nest inside. Providing a source of mud will also help with nest building. Barn Swallows may use artificial nest cups attached to an appropriate surface.

Barn Swallows also drink and even bathe on the wing, dipping down to take a mouthful of water or touch their belly to the surface for a quick rinse. Males defend a small territory around the nest site and aggressively chase away other males, even grabbing them with their feet and tumbling to the ground. Individuals or groups of Barn Swallows mob predators such as hawks, gulls, or grackles that approach nests.

finch miniature

May 28, 2015

THE HOUSE FINCH IS A RECENT INTRODUCTION from Western into Eastern North America (and Hawaii), but it has received a warmer reception than other arrivals like the European Starling and House Sparrow. That’s partly due to the cheerful red head and breast of males, and to the bird’s long, twittering song, which can now be heard in most of the neighborhoods of the continent. If you haven’t seen one recently, chances are you can find one at the next bird feeder you come across. (source: Cornell Ornithology)

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‘House Finch’ 7.6cm x 11.4cm, (3″x 4.5″), watercolour on Arches Hot Press 140 lb. Paper 

WHEN WE LIVED IN QUEBEC it was easy to tell the difference between a House Finch and a Purple Finch, simply because one was red and the other was the shade of pickled beets. Truly, to me at least, the Purple Finch was the more impressive, whereas a House Finch sort of came across as a Sparrow who’d fallen into some cherry koolaid.

IN WESTERN CANADA we do not have Purple Finches.  The House Finch has become a delight in its own right, particularly because it is indeed attractive, and has truly a most melodious and lovely song.  They are not overly aggressive and take turns at the feeders with their usual companions, the Goldfinches.

showstoppers

May 22, 2015

SOME BIRDS ARE JUST LOOKERS.  Here in the Southern Interior of British Columbia we have a few worthy of stopping traffic.

NOT BEING MUCH OF A PHOTOGRAPHER–a person who snaps pictures, really–I can only share my photos of some of our local showstoppers, the first being a …..

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Western Tanager in the front garden

Tanagers come here to nest, as do many songbirds

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Spring, 2011

ANOTHER LOOKER OF A BIRD is the …..

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Pileated Woodpecker, January, 2011

AND A GREAT FAVOURITE OF MINE IS a. . . .

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Mountain Bluebird, Summer, 2012

THE MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD is found here in our abundant grasslands, and are encouraged to remain by our local people building and mounting birdhouses meant especially for them.  And truly there are no blues quite as brilliantly displayed as on a male Mountain Bluebird, who, while I was snapping away and adjusting my lense, remained surprisingly still and unperturbed, as though enjoying (and deserving) the attention.

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Male Mountain Bluebird, Kamloops, B. C., 2012

RECENTLY I WAS ASKED TO PROVIDE A MINIATURE of a Male Northern Cardinal, a bird not found in Western Canada.  Having to rely on images not my own, and hoping the result would do justice to the actual bird itself . . . .

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Northern Cardinal’ watercolour, arches hot press paper      9cm x 6cm (2.5″ x 3.5″)

IT IS BEING SENT OFF TO a patron in New York City, where I believe a Northern Cardinal might be seen gracing the beautiful environs of New York’s Central Park.

The Gleaners

April 30, 2015

THE GLEANERS is a renowned painting by Jean-Francois Millet, finished in 1857.

Jean-François_Millet_-_Gleaners_-_Google_Art_Project_2

It was controversial in France for its depiction of the lowest classes of society, picking from the fields what little was left after harvest.  Prior to this, paintings of people were usually paintings of people who were rich enough to have their portraits done.

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE GLEANERS, as we know.  And each of us, in our own way, were often taught by our parents to make good use of every last bit of something, including the meal(s) in front of us.

The Gleaners a

IN THE ANIMAL WORLD, Ravens are gleaners supreme, going after what little remains of just about anything left behind, tossed aside, or just there for the taking.  Yesterday I encountered one in the parking lot of our local Mall, hopping about a garbage can with a broken wing, waiting for someone to provide some slim pickings.  Its noble bearing and size–the gloss of its plumage, the inherent dignity–only added to the poignancy of its situation.  And yet, it wasn’t exhibiting signs of pain or discomfort, just a keen willingness to take what it could get and survive.  And glean.

name that bird . . .

April 25, 2015

SOME LONG WHILE AGO now (years)–through this blog–I received a request by email from a blogger to complete a miniature of a bird, which I did, and sent off to his/her satisfaction, receiving back in the mail remuneration.

THE DIFFICULTY FOR ME in this moment is that I still have the image of that little bird painting the way it looked when I was working on it . . . here it is . . . not a very sharp photo. .

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. . . BUT MY PROBLEM in displaying it here, is that I no longer have a clue what kind of bird it is.  All I can recall is that it is a species from a tropical region, and probably in the Central Americas. It is not a bird I have myself ever seen with my own eyes, so it lacks my personal experience, and therefore lacks a place in my memory bank . . . so . . . I’m asking . . .

DO YOU KNOW THE NAME of this bird?

THE COMMON RAVEN is amply represented in British Columbia and enjoys the distinction of co-existing with people for thousands of years, to the point where–in Haida Nation tradition–the Raven has god-like qualities.  It was the Raven which released the Sun from its little box–made the stars and moon–and even brought people out of the earth in order to populate a party being thrown.  But in traditional stories Raven doesn’t actually create (make things out of nothing), so much as steal, exchange, rearrange and redistribute and generally push things around into new combinations.  If that isn’t humanlike, I don’t know what is, lol.

 

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“Spring Thaw”

watercolour on art board, 20 cm x 28 cm (8″ x 11″), sold

In Kamloops it is against the law to feed them, as well as crows.  A buyer of my work named Joan pours bags of cat kibble into her elaborate and large cement bird baths in the Winter and revels in their continuous, noisy presence.  The neighbours?  not so much.  When they report her, she just pays the fine and keeps at it.

New bird miniatures

April 6, 2015

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The image sizes here are approximately 5cm x 8cm (2″ x 3″).  I use a pair of rather strong magnifying glasses when working this small–the kind you find on display at pharmacies (around here they’re referred to as ‘cheaters’).  So when working on a tiny miniature they are an enormous help, until I turn to go check on something in the kitchen and walk into the wall, lol.

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Moral:  don’t mess with Mother Nature (or the Ocean Man).

~~~~~

Aneleise (Ane) at her Grandparents’, age 8. . .

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