In case you wondered, there was a purpose to my journey to the Amazon rainforest. Three purposes, actually. Purpose one was (and is) to collect material for my upcoming exhibit at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH for short), opening next October 9 and running through January 17, 2010. A multi-media presentation with drawings, paintings, sounds, specimens, video clips (watch me draw! watch strange tropical birds peck my art supplies!), writing and spoken commentary, it will take visitors on a journey through the jungle along with an artist(me) to show them how an artist ( that would be me) sees a tropical rainforest.
The buzzy snaps on the sound clip are made by the white-bearded manakin’s wings. Listen carefully:
Purpose two: the Eckelberry Fellowship. An annual grant for bird artists to hone their craft in the tropics, working directly from living birds in the field. I was honored with the Eckelberry in 2008; it allowed me this magnificent experience. Can you imagine being given the gift of three weeks of drawing birds in Peru? It was overwhelmingly wonderful, rewarding, and ultimately essential to my work. There were times when I felt the great Don Eckelberry himself was looking over my shoulder.
Purpose three: I’m working on three color plates for John O’Neill’s upcoming revised edition of the Field Guide to Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. My trip to the Amazon allowed me to see and draw many of the birds I’m illustrating right there in the wild rainforest. One plate I’m working on depicts the owls; I succeeded in finding and sketching a fine spectacled owl, what luck.
The sounds of the rainforest are wonderful and there are a couple more sound files I’d like to share with you (Gunnar, can you tell us what these might be?). One is something I recorded in low vegetation streamside at ACTS and is the longest continuous song I’ve heard outside of a German Roller canary.
The other is a Lawrence’s thrush, a close relative of the American robin, and its song is a collection of mimicry, innovative phrases, car alarm sounds (there are no cars in the jungle, so this would have to be convergent evolution) and the opening notes of the Hallelujah chorus from Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Or so it seemed to me at the time.
Sound file: Lawrence’s Thrush