Sunday, January 31, 2010

Elfin Saddles

There are quite a few Helvella crispa, also quaintly known as Elfin Saddles, fruiting around some Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) at Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. I've made several attempts to draw or paint them, all thwarted, until now.

The first time, nearly a week ago, a dog came up the hill where the fungi are fruiting and where I was drawing with my dog, Chloe keeping watch. Chloe got a bit territorial but I had managed to settle both dogs down nicely when the dog's human arrived and began doing a complicated dance right over the fungi as she tried to capture the dog, who wasn't interested in being captured. Both dog and human were neatly missing the fungi, but when I asked her, calmly and quietly, to try not to step on them down her foot came, right smack on the fungi. Sigh.

The next time I thought I'd try to work on my watercolor skills, or lack thereof. It began to rain. I learned that misty rain makes a very nice texture in damp watercolors. Big blops of rain do not.

A couple of days later the rain stopped and I went back. This time I decided to stick with the tried and true and began work on a ball point pen sketch. I really shouldn't have had that large cup of cocoa before leaving. I packed up my half finished sketch and went home envious of the ease with which men can relieve themselves in nearly public places. Grrr. I brought a couple of the fungi with me to paint in more detail. The first two are monochrome and the one on the right shows the actual colors of the helvella. Today I finished the  ball point pen sketch from memory.

Who says you have to travel to find adventure?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

(Partly) buried treasure

The unceasing rain has mashed down most all of the mushrooms this past week. Now there are just piles of gooey, smelly remains of the lovely fungi of a week ago. After two days of that at Howarth Park, I decided to walk up to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery and see if there was anything interesting going on, fungally speaking. I saw a few of the aforementioned waterlogged mushrooms and had pretty much let go of the idea of finding fungi. My dog, Chloe and I were enjoying the day and wandering about when I spotted this tiny (1.6cm wide by 3.2cm) tall beauty. Finding fungi that I've only seen pictures of is always a cause for celebration, but finding a screaming red cup fungus made it feel like I'd found a treasure. Or won the lottery. I got all excited and stopped just short of jumping up and down. I think I may have said "Yippee!" once or twice. This cup fungus is called Sarcoscypha coccinea  and fruits on decaying sticks and branches. Sometimes, as was the case this time, the wood is buried, making it look as though the fungus is fruiting on the ground.

Unlike mushrooms, whose spores are formed within gills or tubes, then forcibly ejected, cup fungi distribute their spores passively. The spores are formed on the upper surface of the "cup" which is designed so that raindrops can splash the spores out of the cup in such a way that the wind is able to catch and disperse them effectively.

The Australian government has an excellent website about fungi where you can read more about how mushrooms disperse their spores . The same website also explains about other spore dispersal methods. They also have an informative article about cup fungi.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lucille's blewits

Last week my neighbor and friend, Lucille Miles, stopped by and handed over a bag of blewits that she'd found fruiting under the Redwood in her backyard. They were a beautiful shade of lavender, almost purple and I was practically salivating at the thought of painting them. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to paint for three days, at which time they had changed color and gone a bit brown. Still, they were quite lovely. Blewits (Clitocybe nuda) are easily found where I live. They often form beautiful fairy rings, under oak as well as redwood, around my area, and are considered edible.

According to Wild About Mushrooms, the cookbook of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, the word blewit is an old English contraction of "blue hat". There are some delicious looking recipes there, too, for those who are so inclined! I don't eat the mushrooms I find. Perhaps I'm a coward, but I'm happy just to be in their presence and to draw or paint them.

An article at Wikipedia Clitocybe nuda  can be found in Europe and North America. Apparently, they've been exported to Australia, as well.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rainy day sketches

For much of last week, it rained too much to go out and sketch. I spent a good deal of my time parked at the kitchen table, sketching the birds that came to our feeder. We've had a feeder in this spot for many years but I never really paid attention to what goes on there until I started sketching.

I knew that House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) were our most frequent flyers at the tube feeder, and I'd noticed the stealth feeders, the Oak Titmice (Baeolophus inornatus), formerly known as Plain Titmice. Because we regularly put seed on a tray attached to the tube, a few California Towhees(Pipilo crissalis) and Mourning Doves(Zenaida macroura) also came around. A few weeks ago I put up a dedicated tray feeder which has attracted White- (Zonotrichia leucophrys) and Gold-Crowned (Zonotrichia atricapilla) Sparrows. The other day I looked up to see a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) cock it's head in my directions before bolting. Since I began sketching I've also seen North American Robins (Turdus migratorius), Yellow-rumped warblers (Dendroica coronata auduboni), American(Carduelis tristis) and/or Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria), Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) and Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).

Watching these birds come and go in driving rain and bitter cold made me think of how easily we humans complain about bad weather, in spite of our ability to wear clothing and use tools (like umbrellas) to protect ourselves, cars and homes that are heated,  allowing us to draw while the weather rages on the other side of a piece of glass. I'm really not going to complain about bad weather ever again. Really!

It's still darned difficult for me to look at a bird and retain the image before me. I've begun to be able to get bits and pieces but still find myself failing miserably to get all that I intend to capture. I guess it's a good thing that I so enjoy watching the birds and getting to know them. About time, isn't it?

Next week I'm going to the local bird store and getting a suet feeder. I understand the woodpeckers and nuthatches might come to eat rather than just pass by. I wonder who else will be drawn to suet? Stay tuned!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Slime mold. Again.

I found these all over the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery last week, before we had several days and inches of rain. These slime molds are called Leocarpus fragilis. When they first fruit on decomposing plant material the little egg-shaped fungi are neon orange and nearly impossible to miss in the woods. As they mature the dry out and become burnt orange then basic brown. Eventually they burst open and release their spores. In the past I've tried to collect fresh ones but they disintegrate into a puddle of neon orange goo when disturbed so it was fun to find them dried out and easy to transport.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A shaggy mushroom

This scruffy mushroom, Lepiota magnispora, was one of the first that I was able to identify when I began getting to know the mushrooms in my area. They seemed to be everywhere and they like to hang out in wooded areas so they stand out, even from a good distance, which makes them very easy to find. I haven't seen many in the past couple of years, so it's been a real pleasure to find them lurking around nearly every corner of the woods this season.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Under an old Douglas fir

It seems that each time I start to write one of these posts about a mushroom I've painted or drawn I start with something like, "This is one of my favorite mushrooms...". I'd done it again when I realized what an indiscriminate floozy I must look like; oohing and aahhing over every mushroom I see in the woods. The truth is there aren't many fungi that I don't like and I'd have a tough time picking out one favorite. I'm fascinated by the rather complex lives these little organisms seem to lead. Some like oaks, some like conifers. Some like any old place and sprout like weeds. Several are covered with slimy mucous. In fact, one of those frequently found where I live is called Cowboy's Handkerchief (Hygrophorus eburneus). Some have gills while some have pores. Mushroom spores come in a surprising variety of colors and, if you happen to have a microscope, shapes. And even the most ordinary mushrooms can surprise and delight when you come across them on a neighbor's lawn or fruiting from a decaying log in the forest.

These small and smaller mushrooms were fruiting under a huge douglas fir at Howarth Park. The larger one is called Tricholoma myomyces and fruits in little groups, pretty regularly, every year around this tree. This one was only 4.5cm (2 inches). It's mouse brown cap blends in very well and makes it very easy to overlook if you don't know to look for it. The small white mushrooms are probably some kind of Marasmius and are easily found sprouting up in the woods right after it rains.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Conflicting schedules

The house finches and I were on different schedules the past few days so this was the first day I had a chance to draw them. I've never really noticed how skittish they are. If someone walks by they fly off, often before the pedestrian appears in the window. UPS and FedEx trucks also cause them to leave. Because the feeder is in our front yard and there's a fair amount of coming and going by humans, the birds do a lot of coming and going as well. Usually, I'll try to have a mushroom painting going at the same time and I switch back and forth depending on whether the flock is at the feeder or not. Today, I had no mushrooms to paint so I drew what was on the kitchen table while waiting for the birds to return.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jack o' Lanterns

This is a fairly common around here and yet I've missed several chances to draw them since they began fruiting in late fall, even though they tend to persist longer than many other mushrooms. They fruit on decaying wood, although, in this case, the wood is buried. Although I've never seen it, Omphalotus olivascens also has gills that glow green in the dark. It's a poisonous mushroom that bears enough resemblance to a chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) that another common name for it is False Chanterelle. You can read more about this and related mushrooms at Mykoweb and MushroomExpert. There are several photos at MushroomObserver.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

At Ragle Ranch

Yesterday I had some time to kill in Sebastopol, a town about 15 miles from Santa Rosa, so I packed some lunch and took Chloe along to see what we could find at Ragle Ranch Park. Because my usual haunts are oak, douglas fir and monterey pine, I find muhsrooms that associate with those trees. A small redwood grove in Ragle has, in the past, provided me with some mushrooms that I don't often see. However, there was very little in the way of mushrooms or other fungus so I did a couple of sketches of live oak trees. It had been cloudy and cold all morning and the sun just burst out of the clouds, creating wonderful light that I wanted to capture.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A very mellow yellow mushroom

This mushroom perfectly fits the description of Tricholoma flavovirens except for one teensy little detail, which is that it was fruiting with live oak rather than conifer. Which really isn't a teensy detail at all when you consider that many mushrooms form very meaningful relationships with trees. And most of them tend to be picky about the trees they bond with. Hmmm. Well, it's a real pretty mushroom, whatever it is, and I enjoyed painting it. I've been watching for it because I found some two years ago in the exact same spot. Of course, with that color it's an easy mushroom to find. And it's big, too. The cap was 9.5 cm across, which is a little under 4".

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fairy Fingers

I have a special fondness for this fungus, commonly called Fairy fingers and scientifically called Clavaria vermicularis. Because of it's ghostly white color it's an easy fungus to spot, so it was one of the first fungi that I became familiar with. I tried, for years, to photograph it but never could get the exposure right because the bright white fungus against the dark leaf litter always caused confusion in my digital camera and the picture would either be way too dark or the white fungus would be completely blown out. It was a perfect candidate for a black and white sketch.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How to draw when your subject isn't interested in posing for you. In fact, you scare the heck out of them and they just want to be as far away as possible.

I've been interested in drawing birds for a while but couldn't figure out how anyone could draw such fast moving targets. I've found a couple of dead birds that I've drawn and I was fascinated to be able to be so close to them but it only made me more interested in drawing live birds.

When I first began to draw from nature I found two books by Clare Walker Leslie that helped me begin to understand more about this entirely new-to-me way of drawing. The Art of Field Sketching is pretty much as the title suggests, giving great general instruction on how to go out and draw what you see. Nature Drawing: A Tool for Learning helps the artist figure out how to turn those field sketches into more carefully worked out drawings and paintings. Both books mentioned a Scottish artist and professor named John Busby who, I found, has written a book devoted solely to the art of sketching birds. Well, I received Drawing Birds for Christmas and set out to conquer.

On Christmas day I went and drew some water birds at Howarth Park. They hang around all day waiting for people to feed them and are pretty tame, so I got some fairly stiff, but not horrible sketches of mallards and gulls.

Now, we happen to have a bird feeder outside of our kitchen window that attracts a large gang of house finches along with scrub jays, some warblers and some goldfinches. There are also towhees and mourning doves and some sparrows that lurk about so I'm adding a platform feeder to entice them to hang around even more and invite their friends.

I believe this will be the perfect venue for me to learn about drawing birds. They come around at least three times a day and aren't too skittish about having me stare at them from the other side of the window. I've vowed to fill a sketchbook page every day with sketches. They're usually around after breakfast and after lunch and often in between. It's fairly easy to drop what I'm doing and draw. As you can see from my first page, I have a lot to learn. It's all I can do just to get the shape of the bird. Forget about flying birds. Forget about markings, mostly. Anyway, I'll post pages from time to time and maybe there'll be some progress. I hope!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pretty in pink

I found this mushroom (Leptonia sp.) on December 27, 2009 but it spent a bit too much time in my refrigerator before I got around to painting it. I found it fruiting with a small group of others just like it under a madrone. If I'd painted it while still fresh the gills would be white which still would've been pretty, but it released it's pink spores, coating the gills. I wonder why fungi spores come in so many different colors? Of course, it helps us humans to identify them more easily but that can't be the (only) reason for the color variety.