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]

 

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…. 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.

“. . . 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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