On the morning after the July 4th holiday here in the United States, I decided to visit Mount Trashmore for a session of plein air painting or painting outside on location directly from life. I have fond memories of going there with my father as a child with him and my cousins and as an adult to reminisce during his final years with us. The park was packed the day before with families out to celebrate the holiday and see the fireworks. The City of Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation staff was out en masse before my arrival and did a great job of cleaning up after yesterday's fireworks, and they loved having me there.
I found a beautiful quiet creek to paint that just off the park. It was shaded and peaceful. Perfect for capturing the spirit of a lazy summer morning. My primary goal was to work on distilling a complex scene into one unified composition and painting trees with atmospheric perspective.
I captured a short video of my surroundings while waiting for paint to dry. It gives you a feeling of what the surroundings were for the majority of my time painting. You should be able to hear the sounds if you turn up the volume.
I seemed to have attracted a lot of birds around me (unsurprisingly) as everyone was commenting on how they've never seen and heard so many birds in one spot as they went by. Attracting birds around me have been a lifelong habit of mine. It's also why it was darn near impossible to sneak in or out on them. The birds excited to see me always gave me away.
The bird on the video that turns and looks at you is a Great Blue Egret. It’s one of four Great Blue Egret “painting buddies” that were hanging out in that canal within 20 feet of me for most of the morning. My four painting buddies stayed with me standing guard, making quiet alert calls whenever I stopped painting for too long. While painting, I have a habit of leaning in and out while standing reasonably still, so I can imagine that they thought I was trying to imitate them fishing. They flew away only when I took down the easel after finishing my painting.
The video did not capture all of the wildlife action.
When I arrived, I set down my bag and began to do a quick thumbnail sketch to work out the composition of the painting. A few seconds after I started, a majestic Great Horned Owl landed on a pine tree about ten feet from me and about 15 feet in the air. He/she sat (hidden to people but not nature) looking over my shoulder the entire time I was painting.
As soon as the owl flew in, several Red Winged Blackbirds began to lose their minds over the apex predator being there. They eventually settled into a routine of alarm calls and dancing in and around the various treetops. The owl was unfased by this.
While this was going on, about 50-60 crows began to do an intricate dance in the sky with lots of vocalizations. They also were trying to scare away the owl who, yet again, was unfased by this. As my dog trainers carefully coached me while I was taking my toy poodle through dog obedience training when you are genuinely the alpha, you don't have to go around saying you're the alpha to anyone around you. Especially to tiny white dogs. For this reason, the owl sat and rested while the Red-Winged Blackbirds and Crows were on high alert.
But, not all of the birds. There were, in my opinion, too many Canada Goose hanging out unthreatened by the owl as they had a lot of sleep to catch up on from the fireworks and people of the previous day. Several pairs of Mallard ducks were trying (very unsuccessfully) to nap on the banks of the lake to the right of me and periodically announcing their anger and displeasure at having been woken up yet again. The Mallards anger came out mostly when either a truck or a child squealing with laughter and glee passed them.
There were a lot of dragonflies round (red meadowhawk dragonflies, great blue skimmer dragonflies, and saddlebags dragonflies if I identified them correctly). They were doing a LOT of mating as dragonflies tend to do.
I hope you enjoy a few minutes of what it's like to be outside with me painting.