Thousands of snow geese at Loess Bluffs
This year I have decided to change how I do my Backyard Biodiversity Posts. For one thing, doing one each month is a bit of work, but also, I thought I could combine one of my goals for this year with these blog posts. That goal is to do more artwork. I loved drawing as a kid but for the past 20 years I have done very little. So, my goal this year is to post a blog post once every 3 months quarterly), and instead of just taking a picture of what I want to talk about, I must also add some type of artwork.
So, to start off with, a couple of years ago I asked Andrew for a print making kit, because I wanted to try doing some block printing (linocut), I had done screen printing before and remember doing block prints in high school art class. I also follow a shop on Esty that makes really cool stamps and prints, usually of animals (Belette Print, linogravures originales | Facebook). Well, I tried the kit once but did not put much more time in it, I still like the idea of it, so for this post, I decided to do a more elaborate (for me) print. The subject I chose was the snow goose based on a trip we made to the National Wildlife Refuge, Loess Bluffs in December (Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov).
The day we were there was as estimated 400,000 snow geese. Loess Bluffs lies in the Mississippi Flyway, a major bird migration route, and during the late fall and early spring thousands of birds and waterfowl move through Loess Bluffs on their way to their respective winter or summer homes. That day we also saw trumpeter swans, American coots, mallards, northern shovelers, white fronted geese and several bald eagles. Bald eagles are also known to have high numbers at the refuge during the migration, with an abundant supply of waterfowl to eat. We saw 5 immature eagles playing in the wind and 4 adults taking the more serious strategy of hunting or just basking in the sun. The snow geese however were the stars of the show that day.
Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) are medium sized geese weighing up to 116 oz (1600-3000 g) with a wingspan of 54 in (138 cm). As their name implies, they are mostly white but have black wingtips that are readily visible when flying. The bill is pinkish, orange and has a black “lip” or dark line across it. There is also a dark morph (morph being a different type) sometimes called blue geese, with a white face but dark brown body. Their legs are pinkish orange as well. They breed in the high arctic, Greenland and far northern Canada and pats of Russia (Wrangel Island) and then, migrate through the United States to winter in the southern United States, all the way down the coast of Mexico, parts of northern Mexico, parts of California and the east coast.
Snow geese populations were once very low but due to a reduction in hunting and changes to agricultural practices their populations have boomed with estimates of 6 to 7 million. The increase in agriculture of cereal and grains in the Midwest led to a shift of their winter range inland to use this source of food. Now they are a very abundant species with large migratory flocks, gregarious winter groups and dense breeding colonies. They feed mostly on vegetation and especially like to dig up rhizomes (a term called grubbing), spending most of their time grazing for food. During migration they also scavenge for waste grain in agricultural fields. Unfortunately, their grubbing tendencies has led to declines in environmental quality of their feeding, breeding and wintering grounds, and it has been suggested that this may start to limit their numbers.
So to make my linocut, I started with a sketch. I decided to make a simple sketch, with minimal lines and shapes, taking inspiration from the work of Charley Harper (Official Charley Harper Art Studio | Home Page | the source for artwork from Charley, Edie, and Brett Harper).
From there I used trace paper and pencil and copied the image to the linocut material, I had already used up the linoleum that was in the original kit, and I could not find more in the store, so I purchased another block printing material, this soft, pink stuff. I then took my linocut tools and carved the print.
I did not have any special ink or paint, so I started using my own acrylic paints. I rolled it on with the brayer and then placed a piece of regular white paper onto the block and pressed with my hand. I went through several copies, as I was testing different paints, consistency of paints, papers and pressing methods, none of which really gave me the end result I was looking for. I guess I will have to keep at it. Who thought art would be so difficult.
This one I rolled the blue paint on for the sky with the brayer and then used a paint brush and painted on the black paint for the geese before pressing. Of all of them I like this one the best.
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