Date: 3/19/17 7:38 pm
From: Herschel Raney <herschel.raney...>
Subject: The Renderings I Cannot Do
If you want to judge a bird artist, just look at his (or her) Wood Duck.
Either sex will do (artist or duck), but clearly the male image is a
daunting undertaking. A pair landed in a tall oak in my back yard this
morning, and though nervous, they stayed while I went in for the scope
and set it up. Both birds could be seen in the field of view: the yellow
rim of the female’s eye and the bright red rim of the male with the red
actual iris on the male. The female’s eye just looks dark inside its
yellow rim. Highlighted further by the white orbicular feathering that
fades back in the line towards her nape. They stayed for an hour or
more, same branch. I kept the scope on them the whole time. And I went
to get Sibley to hold next to the scope. And the Third Edition of Nat
Geo Birds.

In the scope, of course, there is no hope for an artist. Against several
million years of design, a duck made of stardust and time, I would kick
over my palette and go have a drink. And in Nat Geo, the Woodies were
done by Cynthia House. I know nothing else of her. People forget the
fine Nat Geo book has over twenty artists working on it. Sibley, on the
other hand, did them all. Every bird. Good Lord is what I say again to
this fact.

The male is a wonder of subtle color blends in the scope. And both
artists go a little too yellow on that long flank patch. Miss House
perhaps wins there though neither captures the intricate fine barring
inside the cream patch. The feathers above this are a looping row of
black and white offset, coming to delicate overlapping tips. Behind this
is that striking deep purple area with three, count them, three orange
streaks coming down to highlight this purple zone. These are poorly
rendered by Miss House. Sibley has four dashes of orange there. But they
are really fine clusters of hairs gently curving down over the purples.
Long triangles of eyelash, a fineness likely not reproducible in
ordinary art.

And the head of the male is a complete other matter. Sibley seems to
miss the yellow ring on the female’s eye. He does better with the
blending of blues and greens on the male head above those triangles of
orange and red up right and left from the beak. The stark white linings
of the neck and face are well done in both. The white streaking in that
handsome fall back tuft of erectile feathers is frankly impossible to
recreate outside the eye, outside reality. In my opinion. It is a bird
to stare at and forget again and again in all its details. And a dead
one in hand surely does not express all that this animal can be.

It inspired me after they left to go rescue my duck box. It has been on
an oak tree on the west side of my swamp for years. But this
multi-hundred year old tree cracked across its rotten heartwood in the
wind recently. And this brought the box down to head high, the remnant
tree leaning in all its previously wondrous spiring against another oak.
I took off the screws and gave it a new rook plank, cleaned its inside
and moved it to the east side, where I can see it from the road. It will
be among Barred Owls, I hope this does not make a duck family uneasy.

I heard the duck pair whistle back into the swamp at dusk this evening,
with the frog chorus starting back up and the four Barred Owls
chattering to each other with wild echoing cacks and whoops and monkey
cries, the quizzing about the cooks gone mad and frenzied. These mad
owls were feeding before the sun went down, dropping into my leaves,
fluttering up into my cedars. The owls may already have young mouths to
feed. The woodies, well, I await further word.

(All respects to House and Sibley for even making any efforts at putting
such birds on paper. )

And if you can stare at a Wood Duck in a scope anytime soon. Do it. Do
it and be amazed again.

Herschel Raney

Conway AR

(Thanks to the birdlist peoples who sent me notes this week.)

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