Mysterious Sounds, Wondrous Sights, and Birds, Birds, Birds!

A Buff-rumped warbler wags and bows streamside; it's joined by a Coraya wren.
A Buff-rumped warbler wags and bows streamside; it's joined by a Coraya wren.

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.

While sketching vegetation in the understory, a white-bearded manakin popped in for a few moments. Listen to the sound file to hear what this bird sounds like when displaying on its lek.
While sketching vegetation in the understory, a white-bearded manakin popped in for a few moments. Listen to the sound file to hear what this bird sounds like when displaying on its lek.

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.

Yellow rumped caciques hung out with the oropendolas and competed for title of Most Ubiquitous and Noisy Bird in the Jungle.
Yellow rumped caciques hung out with the oropendolas and competed for title of Most Hilarious Display Postures.

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.

Drawing this owl from life was a rare opportunity. That facial pattern is hard to figure out from photos (or skins, for that matter). Seeing it from every angle showed me how it was put together.
Drawing this spectacled owl from life was a rare opportunity. That facial pattern is hard to figure out from photos (or skins, for that matter). Seeing it from every angle showed me just how it was put together.

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.

The talented Lawrence's Thrush, singing a symphony.
The talented Lawrence's Thrush, singing a symphony.

Sound file: Lawrence’s Thrush

13 thoughts on “Mysterious Sounds, Wondrous Sights, and Birds, Birds, Birds!

  1. Ken Januski says:

    So do you think SNOMNH will set a new attendance record? It really should be some show. The wealth of sounds and sights, particularly the great drawings, should make for a really exceptional experience.

    It sure is a great antidote to a gray wintry day here in Pennsylvania. As always the sketches are a pleasure to view.

  2. TR says:

    Wow! You take blogging to a whole other level! Beautiful writing, beautiful drawing and now these rare sounds of the jungle brought to life with a click of the mouse pad. You are such an inspiration!!!

  3. Mike says:

    Amazing! I’ll congratulate you on your good fortune to find so many excellent reasons to escape to the Amazon, but at the same time I’d like to express how lucky I and the rest of your readers are to be right there with you in a matter of speaking. It looks like you’re having an incredible time!

  4. Julie Zickefoose says:

    DRE is looking over your shoulder and holding the pencil, apparently. Those oropendolas! That owl!

    I can’t tell you how much the sound files enhance the experience of reading this. Great work.

  5. Pam says:

    Ditto to all the above comments! Perhaps other natural history museum will pick this show up. I sure hope so!! Would love to see it in SC 🙂

  6. Diane C. says:

    Loved your post! How thrilling to be drawing in the Amazon rainforest. It was nice of that spectacled owl to stay put long enough for you get a good look at it.

  7. Larry Jordan says:

    Debbie, I am overwhelmed with this incredible post of your trip to the Amazon rainforest! You obviously deserve the Eckelberry Fellowship and have given all of us the benefit of your talent.

    Your drawings are wonderful and the sound clips put me right in the forest. I am going to come back and listen to them again, several times, with my eyes closed just to visit the rainforest again.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience!

  8. birdingperu says:

    Debbie

    The mystery call is an Elegant Woodcreeper. Do I get a link to my blog as a reward?
    Great sketches as usual. Loved the baby Spectacled Owl you posted on your facebook.

    Gunnar Engblom
    Kolibri Expeditions
    Peru

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