"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Leaf of the Day: Can Moorhens Count?

This is rather a belated post but wanted to let you know that I left Orlando on Monday with a clear conscience having rescued a tiny little moorhen chick from a certain early death. On Sunday we saw a little black smudge of fluff wandering lost and alone by the lake, cheeping loudly and plaintively.

I am no bird expert but remember being told it is best to leave baby birds to be found by their parents, but it's hard to hear that pitiful little cheeping and do nothing. So after half an hour, as the ospreys were circling overhead and the great white egrets had turned their steady gaze in its direction and were sharpening their rapier bills, I went off to look for the family.

They were pottering about, much further down the shore, quite oblivious to this missing baby so I gathered it up and took it along to join them. It was all feet and fluff, wriggling its huge feet in my hands, weighing nothing and pecking so ineffectually at this its most benign captor.

The reunion was predictably sweet and affectionate (thank goodness). The mother did a double take, was she counting up the others? ... then rushed over to reclaim this odd little thing which chirped, splashed and waved its skinny little red featherless wings in sheer delight ..it would melt the very hardest heart.





She immediately started looking for some food for the prodigal ....
This I think is a snail being offered.



Then a fish, which 2 chicks tugged at for a while until she reclaimed it and fed it whole to one chick. I thought it was a bit like us having to swallow a whole cod.



So the question is, can moorhens count? Do they even notice if one chick is missing? Do they normally go searching or is this moorhen just a feckless and inattentive mother. Last year we watched 6 goslings reduced to just 2 over about a month. I hope these 7 will still be together when I return.



Sunday, 3 May 2009

Leaf of the Day: 80% Crown Flower and the Optimistic Gap

I am almost finished but have also run out of time. Tomorrow I leave to go home to the UK for almost a month, to do some very tedious things including renewing visa and passport all of which require a mountain of absolutely 100% correct paperwork, undamaged fingertips (it's a good job I am not gardening at the moment) and enormous patience.

The crown flower has been very slow, particularly this time because it had to be correctly detailed for identification purposes rather than artistic ones, so everything I did had to be measured and very careful. I don't really enjoy the measuring but can see its importance, and at times like this, a microscope would have come in handy.
I have also had some more ant problems, not of course from "Ant" who remains my faithful companion, but from an army of tiny ants who career about the drawing and smudge themselves into the surface of the paper. They appear from nowhere, love the milkweeds and lodge in every nook and cranny of my desk. At the slightest movement they employ scatter tactics and fan out across everything. Fatalities have occurred, mainly it seems on pristine parts of my white paper. My greatest aim, so far on the course, is to finish a submission with unmarked paper... some hope...


Super photo of the pod ( do I really need my own real, live one??) by Ram Thakur from Trek Nature here

The pods are typical of the other milkweeds and, to me, are one of the more interesting parts of this curious plant.

I am beginning to understand a little more about the paint handling for this very exacting style of work and am very keen to get onto some subjects of my own choosing and design. I hope to get to Kew while I am in the UK as there is an exhibition of botanical work referencing plants that have an economic value.. that's my kind of plant! Beautiful and useful.
I have had to leave this unfinished as, despite having returned to the plant 5 times over two weeks there are still no seed pods.. and so there remains an "optimistic gap" for the pod.

"Optimistic gaps" are very useful things generally in life and some of my very favourite things. They hold the promise of perfection and are generally much better left as gaps than filled.
The next 3 weeks are definitely an Optimistic Gap, as I am still not quite sure what I will be doing or exactly where. After working so hard this year for the exhibition, freelance work and assignments I do feel in need of some input time. Time to just look at the world that exists beyond the 4 corners of my drawing board to which I feel I have been somewhat unwillingly chained recently.

I am optimistically taking my sketch book which I hope won't remain an empty gap.

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Crown Flower 80%






Friday, 1 May 2009

Leaf of the Day: Crown Flower, stages one and two

I decided not to post each step-by-excruciatingly-slow-step of this assignment but today have put a couple of stages together. I only have 2 more days to get this done so, if it all goes wrong I just won't have to worry too much.

I have spent quite some time looking at the flower with a magnifying glass and dissecting bits here and there. I have had two trips to the gardens this week for more specimens and today I watched the insects which delight in hanging out on this curious flower, but could not see any exciting pollen transference going on. These lovely red milkweed bugs are always around and are important pollinators.



and I was rewarded with a nice stripy monarch caterpillar too.



I would really like to add these two insects to the drawing as they are all inter dependent; the monarch butterfly only feeds on milkweeds and the red bugs are expert examples of "co- evolution"
"The relationship of milkweed to all the milkweed insects - a relatively small guild of orange and black insects that advertise the fact by their coloration that they feed on a noxious plant that makes them unpalatable - is known as co-evolution.
Through the pressure of herbivory, plants are selected to become more toxic, by so doing they leave behind some of the herbivores (in evolutionary time) but not others. Those herbivores not left behind are those that are capable of overcoming the plant defenses and in some cases, such as the milkweed feeders, are able to incorporate the plant defenses as part of their own defense against predators."

There were ladybirds as well...I am not quite sure how they fit into milkweed world.



And I did some painting too, Stage one and Stage two. It's all very slow! Magnifying glass in one hand, paintbrush in the other... Hmmm not really me.
It's quite a big painting, 16 x 11 inches.
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Crown Flower: Stages One and Two