This spring, the Grenville Land Stewardship Council commissioned a watercolour of a Least Bittern, as a "Species at Risk", to be given as a prize to someone who responds to a questionnaire about their SAR educational campaign. And it wasn't very long before a suitable subject presented itself!
On August 3, we picked up a DOR ("dead on road") Least Bittern on Highway 43. At the time I wrote: "Fairly fresh, but I couldn't get to painting it immediately as we had a full day of Sunday visiting yet to do. It's photographed and in the freezer now. I'm not sure what I'll do with it - maybe make a watercolour portrait..."
Fred commented: "It's a very interesting process, watching how the modern Audubon works." (and he speaks as my Lucy). "First we find the Bittern DOR, waypoint it, bring it home for exhaustive photography, and laying out on a tray for freezing, e-mail the MNR to say we've found a 'Species at Risk,' and then wait for a year until the Stewardship Council wants a painting... Then there's a scramble to find the photos on the drive, and the Bird in the freezer, and a google to find various poses of Least Bitterns, select one that's in the best pose, stretch the paper, immobilize the artist in front of the specimen and the computer by cajoling & threats, and hope for the best..."
But that exhaustive photography sure was useful! I spent an entire afternoon drawing the legs and feet from my macro photographs, and it's a whole lot easier and more satisfying than trying to interpret feet from indistinct photographs in other positions and the feet of a freezer-dried specimen! Having the photos I took of this individual, freshly road killed, is next best to painting it from the fresh specimen!
The reason Fred compared me to Audubon is that this is the way I did the Sparrows for the Green Bird Network, so it's an established practice. We imitated Audubon's methods of posing freshly collected Birds in the "Birds of the West Coast" trip, but it was the "specimens + internet" method that made it so easy to do the Sparrows.