Sandhill Crane Chick (watercolour 5 x 5 in.)

1 June 2014 found me exploring a wetland on a tributary to Sand Lake, 9.5 km south of Tolsmaville, on Cockburn Island, off the western tip Manitoulin. It was a cool sunny day and we stopped at a marsh where a team of visiting biologists had seen Painted Turtles and mating Snapping Turtles the day before, still hoping to find a Blandings Turtle. Beavers had piled mud and sticks against a grating that had been propped against the mouth of a culvert to baffle their attempts to stop the flow. Water was still flowing through the culvert in spite of the Beavers' efforts. Fred and the others noted three Painted
Turtles, one adult Toad. I picked up a large Ramshorn Snail from a submerged stick near the culvert, and photographed and released an adult Spring Peeper. I was just admiring the golden tips on green-fronded sprays of spring Royal Ferns on the wooded side of the road, when my attention was turned back to the marsh. Louis was returning from his perambulation through the muck out among the cattails, carrying a fresh dead Sandhill Crane chick, which I decided to dry until it was fluffy again, and paint in watercolour, before returning it to Louis as a specimen.

When we returned for supper, the other team of researchers reported having rescued a live Sandhill Crane chick from the middle of the road, to the loud consternation of its parents. But our chick did not survive the adventure of its first day out of the nest. Its hind end had been removed, probably by a Snapping Turtle, which Louis' approach had scared away from finishing its meal. Just a few days before, on our way across Manitoulin Island, Fred and I had seen our first Sandhill Crane chick. These magnificent birds are all over the Islands in Georgian Bay. Their chicks are all having adventures in the first days of following their parents about in the wide world, and one hopes that most of them will survive.

Whenever I find a fresh bird or small mammal to paint, I must begin immediately, and the order in which I proceed is determined by how quickly certain features are affected by post mortem change. I photographed the eye immediately, then sketched its portrait in the truck as soon as I had dried the down on its head. Upon our return, the beak (with egg tooth still attached) was painted on the deck of the house that some of us were billeted in, and then after supper I finished painting the eye from the photo I'd taken while it was still fresh and bright. I finally completed the full fluffiness of the head and painted the neck while visiting my parents in British Columbia a few days ago. Travel (back from Cockburn and Manitoulin, and then packing and flying to British Columbia) takes time away from painting, and I have yet three paintings to finish and post here with my journals!


  1. I am glad this poor baby was memorialized in such a beautiful way!


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