Egrets, Herons, Cranes and storks are often confused in folklore and real life. These long legged wading birds alternate between elegant graceful shallow water walking to awkward wing flapping squawks. The fascination with them is real. Does it matter which one is which in the world of folklore? Some stories are generalized and some are very specific such as the stories of storks delivering babies even though many times the stork very closely resembles a great white egret.
The Chickadees have once again gathered in the branches of the old pine and are joyfully watching the antics of Emily, the Great White Egret, as she gleefully stirs up the water in the spring fed pool at the base of the Valley. Emily’s sleek white feathers and bright yellow-orange beak contrasts beautifully with the crystal blue water. Emily is having a fine time churning up the water and making the droplets fly all around as she goes about her fishing exhibition.
Up in the old pine tree, the chickadees can be heard chattering away. They are having a fine discussion of which symbol of heron folklore Emily must be an example. Caroljean Chickadee is leading the chatter as usual but Cindy and Charley are not hesitant to throw in their two cents worth. Celeste Chickadee is pondering whether Emily will make a great model for the Chickadee origami-making group. They are working up to 1000 origami birds and are always looking for inspiration.
Oblivious to the chatter, Emily goes on slowly making her way through the tall grasses on the edge of the Valley pool and trying to decide to stay here or follow the stream from the pool on down through the Valley to the river beyond. In no great hurry to decide, Emily goes on gently splashing the droplets into the air with each dip of her beak as her long legs quietly lift up through the water with each elegant step.
It was a sunny afternoon in the valley when the Chickadees all swooped in to take a break in the old pine tree. They had all had their fill of red berries from a shrub up on the hill. Now it was time for a story. Always one for a good story, Caroljean Chickadee began her latest tale. Catherine, Caroline, Celeste and Charlotte gathered round, perched on the branches in rapt attention. Caroljean’s stories always held the most important info disguised as an incident or some other intrigue. The trick was to figure out the meaning of the story to figure out what was the absolute latest events or happenings going on.
Sometimes Caroljean would tell a story with a moral to it. Other times she might weave a bit of intrigue to point out the need to pay attention. Occasionally, Caroljean’s soliloquy could cause quite a stir among the flocks who hang out in the valley. You never knew what could happen when the Chickadees began to chatter and spread the latest drama from the beak of the most infamous chatterer in all of the chattering of Chickadees.
Word would go out that Caroljean Chickadee was chattering another great chapter from the cantons of chickadee wisdom. The valley would soon be echoing with the sounds of other flocks as they descended into the trees surrounding the old pine. (The old pine was considered to be the undisputed territory of the Chickadees.) Cardinals were usually the first to catch the sound of Chickadee Chatter but you never could tell who might arrive first. The cardinals pecked around on the ground beneath the old pine, where they could eavesdrop in relative obscurity.
Stay tuned to discover what Caroljean Chickadee chattered and who was the first to catch the gist of the chapter as it unfolded. Were the cardinals the first? Maybe it was the herons down at the pond? One thing you can be sure of: the mockingbirds would be mocking within moments of the momentous meanderings. Howie Hawk will hang horrendously near the happy little group. They better be on the look out!
“When cardinals appear, Angels are near.” From a poem by Victoria McGovern
Cardinals are a favorite for me. I love painting them. Their personalities are never quite clear. There is nothing like seeing that beautiful bright red on a snowy day or a day when the leaves have all gone brown. At this point, they are probably the bird I’ve painted the most. People seem to have an almost spiritual connection to them. They frequently tell me that a cardinal is a message from a loved one passed on. When they see a cardinal, it is a visit from the loved one. To see a painting of cardinals is to keep that loved one near always.
There are a number of places to read about where the story started about the cardinal’s relation to someone in the past. One such place is the Wild For Birds blog. A nice description on the site covers the high points of the meaning behind the cardinal as the main messenger bird. Most sources give the origin to the saying, “When cardinals appear, angels are near,” from a poem by Victoria McGovern. Read the complete poem on Bonnie Lecat Designs website.
I’ve painted so many of them that I have my paint colors down to a short list. My favorite red is Winsor Red from Winsor & Newton. It is more transparent than the cadmiums and does not have their toxicity. Indian Yellow brightens up both male and female bird when used in transparent layers. Payne’s Gray is my choice for the masks. I try to never use black if possible and Payne’s Gray will achieve the darkness I’m seeking but occasionally I’ll add a bit of Hooker’s Green to the Payne’s to create a little drama to play off the surrounding red. Zinc White or Mixing White are my lightener colors. Titanium White is too opaque and chalky for my tastes. A more transparent white is my preference. Occasionally, a bit of Lemon Yellow is needed to brighten up the lightest spots on the birds. Really only a few colors are needed to paint beautiful richly colored cardinals. The only other colors needed are your choice of background color and some Burnt Sienna and Naples Yellow for the twig.
Have fun painting a few “messenger birds!” Let me know if you get any messages!
Like little sprites flitting around in the trees, chickadees look like miniature fun guys. I can’t help but smile when I see them with their little black caps and collars,with snowy white scarfs around their necks like their ears are always cold. Just a dab of yellow creeps up their otherwise snowy chests brightening up the lack of color in their choice of attire. How do they keep the white bits so clean and bright? I don’t see them very often in my bird bath so they must be taking their suits to the cleaners on a regular basis.
Chickadees are always chattering in the trees. They seem to never be at a loss for things to say. When I paint them, I find myself imagining what they are saying to each other. Are they gossiping about what Cindy Chickadee wore yesterday? Or maybe Charlie Chickadee ate all the good seeds from the feeder again. You know how he is! Or the others are wondering if Cindy and Charley are whispering sweet nothings to each other because of all those long starry eyed gazes they are sharing.
The Chatty Chickadees could be saying just about anything since I can’t translate Chick language. Can you? They could very well be saying, “I wish that crazy lady would put down her paint brush and refill the feeder! That pesky cardinal has been at the sunflower seeds again.” At least that’s what Clarence, Connie, Carly and Cassie are saying. Cindy and Charlie are still starring deeply into each other’s eyes.
So if you are out and about, and you hear chattering going on above your head, look up. It just may be the Chickadees. Ask them what they’re saying. But don’t be surprised if you get the same kind of a look like Calvin Chickadee over here is giving my camera. Don’t worry about it though. Calvin doesn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Neither do any of his buddies. They must like to get all soggy. Evidently, rain won’t make them melt.
“I want to paint the way a bird sings.” Claude Monet
Sometimes I wish I could compose beautiful poetry. If I could, I’d write some lines about the beauty of a bird in flight, the graceful curve of the wing, the focused determination in the eye, head down, feet up. There is just something magical in the sight of a bird soaring through the air that begs for poetry.
If I could be a storyteller, I’d make up a story about the birds chattering in the trees and swooping down to the feeder to snatch a morsel or two. I wonder if they talk to each other? They make funny little noises when they congregate in the trees around the feeder. I imagine them gossiping about who’s hogging all the seed or who flew off for a few days and didn’t tell the others where they were going or whose feathers were looking a little shabby. Can cardinals understand the chatter of chickadees? Do finches converse with sparrows?
Since I am not a poet or a storyteller, I paint birds. Sometimes I paint the single bird in a stance I believe to be a pose for the camera. At other times, I paint them in groups or pairs and arrange them as though they are conversing. While I paint them, I imagine what they are thinking and what would they say if they could talk? Maybe they do talk. I just don’t understand bird language.
Since joining the American Birding Association, I am learning more about different birds and bird behavior. My camera has become a constant companion as I wander around searching for subjects to paint. Every now and then, I capture the image of one I don’t know so I go to the ABA’s bird identification Facebook page, “What’s this Bird?” I post the image. The identification returns quickly and my bird knowledge expands.
As I learn more about which bird is which and why one swoops and another soars, I’ll go on wondering if they talk amongst themselves or if they concentrate on each flight and not on what their companions are doing? Maybe a story will come to me. Or possibly some lines of poetry will pop into my head. Perhaps a painting will be a poem one day or possibly tell a story. Paraphrasing Monet, I hope to paint like birds fly. In the meantime, I’ll just keeping painting.