Lately I’ve been thinking about my long career as an ecologist and climate change scientist and the subtle ways it seems to be driving me to paint seabirds as a sort of antidote to the unrelenting onslaught of bad environmental news. My thoughts were amplified recently on a trip aboard Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Orion from Tahiti, through the Tuamotu Archipelago, to the Marquesas Islands and back. The trip was fantastic.
The atolls we snorkeled and the islands we visited are out of the way, mostly undeveloped, and when populated at all, only lightly, by people living close to the land; no wonder Paul Gauguin chose this place to paint and be buried. The young naturalists on board enthusiastically located, pointed out, and identified nearly every species of coral, fish, and bird with amazing alacrity with little reference to climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, accumulation of plastic debris, and other environmental ramifications of the growing human population that currently fill the scientific literature. It felt good to celebrate what we have rather than bemoan what has been lost, and it is the business of cruises like this one to seek out the best wild areas in the world where degradation is minimal.
Approaching Mo’orea near the end of the trip I spent hours photographing Great Crested Terns swooping from 50 feet above the bow waves to pick flying fish from the air as they tried to avoid what must have seemed like a very large predator. These large terns fly so fast and change direction so abruptly that they are hard to photograph, but when you get one in focus they are compelling.
This barn owl (named by the Audubon Society Eyes in the Sky project) is housed in their facility at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and comes out in public every afternoon. I painted her with an eponymous barn and an imaginary friend using primarily transparent acrylics, finishing the painting with several coats of matte acrylic varnish, which give the it an ethereal quality.
These three curlews were striding together along Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara when I photographed them in this great pose. I painted them with a white background with just a hint of reflection to emphasize the birds themselves.