June 23, 2010

237: The Tanager

So, the other day I was in the cafeteria lineup at work next to our resident naturalist (and all-around bird expert, who also leads Friday morning songbird banding, for which my camera and I are most grateful).

In typical bird-nerd fashion, I asked her where I could go in the area to improve my odds of spotting a scarlet tanager, one of the most vibrant and colourful songbirds around these parts. Since my early childhood days of bird geekdom, I've still only seen them in field guides.

She told me, essentially, what I already knew ­ tanagers like deep forest and high tree canopy, largely away from prying eyes.

But it got me to remembering my apartment-dwelling days. I spent upwards of four years in a fourth-floor suite overlooking a city park through the canopies of huge boulevard elms. And every May for a few short weeks, the treetops outside my windows would be filled with brilliant and wonderful little birds passing though during spring migration. Warblers, thrushes, kinglets and thrashers; from street level I'd have had zero idea they were even up there. Probably, much like that elusive scarlet tanager.

I created this digital illustration in homage of my search. I'm often hard-pressed not to look at a big fat tree and think of what's up there, out of sight in the leaves. But they're obviously there. The field guides say so.

This is almost an entirely digital concoction. The bird and leaves are scanned outlines, vectorized in Illustrator. The tree itself was originally a high-contrast silhouetted photo, inverted and simplified. The background is a tinkered-with scan of faux-wood panel. The leaves were repeated in an analogous array of greens, rotated and bunched for copy-and-paste sessions in Photoshop. For a closer look at the overall piece, you can click here.

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