Many of the people I know consider the Red-tailed Hawk to be their favorite bird, and Red-tails are certainly one of my favorites as well. Since they are the common large raptor seen throughout the country, they are familiar to many people. They are bold raptors, full of charisma, and very colorful with that brilliant orange-red tail. I wanted the tail to be as brilliant as possible, so I painted the Red-tail from above, with the tail spread, set off against a deep blue sky and the darkest blue-gray color in the clouds. I chose to keep the clouds as large shapes rather than adding too much detail, so as not to detract from the hawk. This could be a summer day when the cumulus clouds are billowing up because of the heat, or a fall day at Hawk Ridge when the clouds are drifting by and the hawks are migrating. This is not just any hawk, this is my hawk, screaming its defiance to the world, born out of a boyhood spent climbing to hawk nests, and a complete fascination with raptors.
From a local raptor lover's point of view, there are probably few more desired sightings than an adult Northern Goshawk on a crisp fall day at Hawk Ridge in Duluth. For many years I was the counter at Hawk Ridge, so the scene is loaded with memories. From a painter's point of view, there is probably no better way to set off the gleaming blue-gray back of a goshawk than the oranges of fall color, since blue and orange are complements on the color-wheel. It also helps the painting that the blue-gray color from the sky is pulled down into the hawk, and that adult goshawk's have deep red eyes to match the fall color! As I worked on this painting, I often thought about the historical perspective of seeing an adult goshawk at Hawk Ridge. They used to be seen by the thousands during "invasions" that occurred every ten years due to cyclical shortages in their food supply, mostly Snowshoe Hares and Ruffed Grouse. The adult birds, who would normally stay further north during the winter, would be forced south in search of food during these periods. These invasions were documented at Hawk Ridge in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but lessened by the 1990s and 2000s, and then by the time I came to Duluth in the 2010s, the invasions no longer occurred and we were lucky to see a few hundred goshawks all season, mostly immatures. So in a lot of ways, this painting is also a sort of "memoriam" to what must have been a truly amazing sight: to see hundreds of these fierce, ghostlike raptors passing by "The Ridge" in a single October day!
I have spent a lot of time in the winter at my family's cabin on Elbow Lake in northern Minnesota, and one of the highlights of being there is watching the local ravens, even to the point of feeding them road-killed deer! I wanted to show an intimate view of this pair of ravens as they strut across the frozen lake, all puffed out and displaying to each other. They are shown life-size and at eye-level, almost as if we are another raven on the lake, right there with them. The stark white surroundings, including the snow-covered trees and the cold winter sky, help to give contrast with the black ravens, and make it seem like you could reach out and touch them. This frozen wilderness is their home.
Common Loons are stunningly beautiful in all poses, but I chose to show this loon from the back during a wing-stretch to really show off the fine pattern of black-and-white spots. I even zeroed in on just the most patterned part of the plumage so the loon would totally fill up the canvas, and the bird is shown larger than life-size in this painting, which makes it even more eye-catching. One of the definitions of "larger than life" is exceptionally striking and colorful, so this gave me the idea for the title of the painting. The water quickly fades into a deep blue background, which helps to set off the striking pattern of the loon, and gives the painting its peaceful mood.
A pair of loons taking off from a Northern Minnesota lake is a very dramatic affair as they run across the water to get airborne, with lots of foot pattering, wing flapping, and splashing water. I tried to capture this action with a looser style and a lot of impressionistic dots. I hope you like it!
Although I have only seen this a few times, a pair of Bald Eagles doing their courtship sky dance is an amazing sight as they lock talons and spin in dizzying circles, all the while tumbling rapidly toward the ground. I tried to capture the circular motion of the birds with long, loose brush strokes.
One of the most remarkable migration events in the country is the northbound flight of hundreds of thousands of Pacific Loons along the west coast in April. On the biggest days, continuous large flocks pass near shore, forming what appears as a virtual river of loons, all in their striking black-and-white breeding plumage, and all coursing across the crashing waves
This painting was done as a commission for Essentia Health, who wanted something similar in size and color scheme to "Redpolls." I chose to show a flock of Bohemian Waxwings taking off from a mountain ash tree, with all the dynamic movement of birds taking flight. The red mountain ash berries and subtle gray of the background help to complement the beautiful colors of the waxwings.
“0ne swallow may not be the summer”, but the piercing, trebled notes of a Golden-crowned Kinglet ringing through a flaming yellow forest is the fall. Having spent so many years watching birds, it is easy now to associate certain bird sounds with particular times of year or even particular places. So for me, whenever I hear a Golden-crowned Kinglet, I think of October in Duluth watching bird migration, and discovering that these tiny little birds migrate in the morning not so much by flying above the trees like most other birds, but rather through the trees, stopping on branches for a split second before continuing on their way.
I have had this painting idea in my mind for what seems like forever, and then one day I just up and painted it! There's a famous quote from Henry David Thoreau about how "the bluebird carries the sky on his back", and then somewhere along the line someone added the part about the earth on his breast as well, so I wanted to paint this theme of the bluebird having the sky above and earth below
A pair of loons floating peacefully in green water is the epitome of summer in northern Minnesota's lake country. I deliberately chose the solid, vibrant green background because of its soothing, tranquil mood, and posed the pair of loons with their chick to show harmony and connectedness.
In this painting of a loon stretching its wings, I was mostly trying to convey both light and movement. The strong back lighting was used to help highlight the splashing water and the pattern of white spots on the loon’s back
I painted this Black Hawk-Eagle for my host in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Cesar Romero has been extremely generous by inviting me to stay at Bocas Ridge Hotel and Residences while counting the amazing raptor migration that moves through the area in both spring and fall. The local Black Hawk-Eagles are frequently heard and seen from the hotel, and this one that I painted was the first time that I had ever seen one perched.
I have spent a lot of time in Panama recently, and the hotel where I am staying has a large dead tree that attracts multiple Keel-billed Toucans every day.. The toucans seem to like to gather here to socialize, with lots of calling and animated posturing.
Pine Grosbeaks are one of my favorite winter birds. Even on the coldest January days when the temperature is far below zero and the sky is that impossibly brilliant blue, the Pine Grosbeaks sound cheerful. They seem to have a gentle and confiding nature, and of course their beautiful rosy plumage is a welcome sight in mid-winter.
I found this Peregrine perched on a beautiful cedar stump and immediately wanted to paint it. The soft pastel background sets off this falcon’s subtle blue-gray tones, and gives the painting its tranquil mood. Although the Peregrine has turned to engage the viewer, it seems to exude both peaceful complacency and sardonic fierceness.
One of the first birds I can remember ever seeing was the Pileated Woodpecker that came into our wooded yard where I grew up, and it’s fair to say that this is the “spark bird” which set me onto a life of birds. The gradation of color in the background from the dark forest green almost obscuring the body of the bird, to the pale yellow at the top of the painting is used to show upward movement and striving forward in life. The two branches on the birch tree mirror the open beak of the bird, speaking to my ongoing hunger for nature.
This painting is based on a magical evening I had photographing a Short-eared Owl flying very close to me in evening light, with the tawny colors of the owl’s wings perfectly matched by the grasses where the bird was hunting.
My favorite warbler is the Blackburnian, with its flaming orange throat. In this painting I used the muted greens and blues of its pine forest habitat to really set off that orange throat, and I purposely left the background abstract so as to not detract from the bird. I’ve offered a zoomed-in view of the Blackburnian, allowing the viewer to peek into its habitat as if unnoticed, while the warbler looks humbly downward, completely unaware of his beauty.
The sun has just risen on a brilliant summer day on the prairie, and this Chestnut-collared Longspur is singing its delightful song while doing a little hover-dance in flight, pouring out its joy for all to hear.
I had a very intimate experience with this Broad-billed Motmot while hiking in the rainforest in Panama. The bird was very tame and confiding, and I followed it about as it hunted, sometimes having to back up so that I could fit its long tail in the frame as I took photos. Something about the unexpectedness of the encounter, and the pleasant, curious demeanor of the bird, made me realize how much I just worship these angelic birds.
During the winter many Bohemian Waxwings feed on the buckthorn berries in our yard in Duluth, and I used this painting to showcase these colorful birds. The composition of the birds shows not just their interactions while grabbing berries, but intentionally has all five birds arranged to to be moving toward the center and downward, giving the painting its dynamic feel.
One of the most delightful and haunting sounds of the north woods is the song of the White-throated Sparrow, so full of energy and emotion. This was one of my first attempts at a truly abstract background, and I was really trying to capture how that song can make me feel, almost as if I were crying colored tears of joy and sadness the whole time I was painting.
Thousands of Blue Jays migrate through Duluth in September, often in continuous flocks of hundreds of birds tightly packed together. This painting attempts to capture an oncoming flock with the blue of their wings blending into the sky, almost becoming the sky, and brush strokes purposely used to show the movement of the birds.
On a birding trip to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah, I saw many flocks of White-faced Ibis heading to roost low over the marsh, and was struck with how their colors blended into the vegetation and the coming darkness. All the elements of the painting, including the sky, the mountains, the marsh, and the arrangement of the flock of ibis are used to highlight how the birds are heading away from the viewer into the distance.
When I was growing up in North Oaks, the Great Crested Flycatcher that sang every dawn outside my window was my alarm clock. The outward reaching composition of the trees captures my youthful hope that was seemingly embodied in that dawn chorus, while the downward curving branches show the inevitable sadness that comes with the end of youth.
Oftentimes, just a single bird deserves our full attention. Here, I’ve highlighted a Bay-breasted Warbler, giving viewers a chance to really make eye contact with this bird. I used the ochre background to complement the warbler’s colors, and left the lower portions of the bird unfinished to focus on just its personality. He appears almost as if he knows a secret that no one else does.
Inspired by a large flock of Black Simmers swirling around at sunset in New Jersey, this painting was an experiment in making the background pastel colors more prominent than the birds themselves in an attempt to show movement. The bands of colors blending in with the wings of the birds gives an almost wave like quality, and an overall lyrical feeling to the painting.
During a birding trip to Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island in Florida, I encountered these spoonbills wading and preening with their wings outstretched, and the scene seemed like the perfect painting with the pink of the birds contrasting with the green reflections in the water.
When Common and Hoary redpolls visit Minnesota in the winter, they often forage on weed seeds near the snow covered ground. This painting captures the dynamic movement of a flock of redpolls flying in to feed.
During a birding trip to Hawaii, these two tropicbirds flew by the spectacular mountains over looking the famous Na Pali coast, as seen from Koke’e State Park. These two birds sweep across the sky in tandem, with their long tails flowing, mirrored by the sweep of cirrus clouds, the rolling ocean, and the lines of the mountains.
While visiting a Black-legged Kittiwake colony on a huge vertical cliff in Alaska, I was struck at how small of a ledge some of the kittiwakes would cling to, and that made me think about the precariouness of life. The kittiwake has its wings open as it tries to balance on the tiny ledge, and I purposefully put the kittiwake at the bottom of the painting to show the full weight of the cliff bearing down on its desperate attempt to hang on to life.
Thousands of Blue Jays migrate through Duluth in large flocks, and this Peregrine Falcon is in hot pursuit of them as they scatter to avoid the oncoming falcon. Both the jays and the hunting falcon, prey and predator, are equally compelling.
I encountered this Northern Hawk Owl hunting low over a northern Minnesota bog in winter, and tried to capture the mystery of its hunt by leaving the ground and lower portion of the bog invisible.
During a winter owl invasion, my neighbor stopped by our house to tell me a Boreal Owl was just down the road, so I went over to take photos, and eventually did this painting. I was particularly struck by how the owl’s plumage blended into the lichens on the aspens.
Merlins often hunt dragonflies on the wing, capturing and eating their prey without landing; in this case, a Common Green Darner. Their migration through Duluth has been shown to coincide with large numbers of dragonflies that also migrate at the same time. The falcon is shown at sunset, with orange light reflected in the tail.
During a birding trip in Alaska, I was lucky to be photographing these Harlequin Ducks when they all took off at once. The ensuing chaos—flapping wings and churning water—begged to be painted. The colors of the birds blend so well with the dark water, and the wings are blurred into the background to show movement.
Owls are masters of disguise, so in this painting I highlighted how the Long-eared Owl’s plumage is matched by the bark of this California Pepper Tree, and even the long compound leaves of the tree seem to mirror the owl’s ears.
Some of the best Rough-legged Hawk migration in Duluth occurs during heavy snowfall, and so in this painting I wanted to show how the hawk blended into the falling snow, with just the belly band and carpal patches visible, and the rest of the bird obscured.
Thousands of nighthawks migrate through Duluth every August, when they can be seen flying low overhead in large flocks during the evening. I tried to show their erratic flight with the erratic lines of the background.
This painting shows one of my favorite raptors soaring effortlessly over the Florida Keys while eating a dragonfly. During my first visit to Florida, I was struck at the tropical, almost weighted southern sky and how it differed from the northern skies I know so well, especially the pastel pink and turquoise colors that I hadn’t previously seen anywhere else.
The famous Palisade Head cliff on Lake Superior’s North Shore has nesting Peregrine Falcons every year. The view here is from the water, which makes the cliff look even more imposing, and the shadow of the peregrine on the face of the cliff helps to give the painting depth.
A pair of loons rest peacefully with their chick between them on a northern Minnesota lake. As with most of my paintings, I am always intrigued by how birds fit into their environment, and in this case I placed the loons near the top of the painting to emphasize the reflections in the water.
Although I have seen thousands of Bald Eagles during my career as a hawk counter, I still remember my very first Bald Eagle sighting. I was a young teenager keenly interested in birds, and my brother and I were on a canoe trip in northern Minnesota. We had just portaged around some rapids on a gray morning, when this Bald Eagle took off from a tree bordering the small pool below the rapids, its white tail gleaming against the dark surroundings.
Ovenbirds have always intrigued me because they are normally quite shy and reclusive, living mostly on the ground in heavy forest, but in summer they have a fascinating habit of launching into the air above the trees and delivering a spectacular flight song that is much more wild and crazy than their normal song. My reverence for the Ovenbird's display, and for all of nature, shows in the vertically uprising composition, giving the painting an almost transcendent quality
Where I grew up in North Oaks we were lucky to live directly on the southbound flyway of hundreds of Tundra Swans, and seeing them coming over the bare November oaks was always one of the highlights of the year.
Although the subject matter for this painting was inspired by my many visits to a Herring Gull colony on Lake Superior, the painting was never about the bird itself, but about a particular mood I was trying to portray. The gull is pushed to the top of the painting and screams in frustration at being boxed in by the rocky cliff, while behind it is an angry, flaming orange background
Although Northern Goshawk are usually very shy and secretive, they are notorious for fiercely defending their nest, and will often attack anyone who ventures too close. This painting captures the experience of an attacking gos coming head-on. Always looking for repeated patterns and ways to show motion, I painted the hawk's tail bands to mimic the dark spots on the trunks of the aspens, and blended the flapping wings into the branches of the trees.
While canoeing in northern Minnesota lakes in late summer, I often see gatherings of adult Common Loons like the ones shown in this painting. The interactions between the birds is fun to watch, and the beautiful black and white pattern of each bird really lends itself to an intriguing design.