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Around North America In A Year.

Sketchbook by Peter Olson

By Peter Olson

During 2002, I endeavored to keep a sketchbook/journal that chronicled many of my bird encounters, from the finches out the windows at my home in Illinois, to the birds I traveled around the United States to see. I used colored pencil (a medium I hadn't used much before) in a handmade book that I had bought in Chicago. To make the images more widely available, I made high-quality archival digital prints of the sketchbook pages. My work has been included in many solo and group exhibitions, including "Birds in Art" for the past three years. Some of my other artwork (drawings, collages and woodcuts) can be seen at
Feb. 16. On a trip to Duluth, Minnesota with several other birders from Illinois I saw several "lifers" including Great Gray Owl and Gray Jay (it's rather "Gray" up there in the winter!) and Boreal Chickadee. I love drawing any bird, but to draw something for the first time heightens the sense of discovery and becomes a kind of mini-ritual of familiarization.
May 10. The Chicago lakefront is a fabulous place to bird, and one of the best spots during spring migration is Jackson Park's Wooded Isle. The warblers always leave a lasting impression, especially an otherwise drab Orange-crowned Warbler who had just bathed, revealing his seldom-seen rusty-orange cap. I also like to draw similar birds - like these two thrushes - side-by-side to focus on the unique qualities of each - drawing is a great learning tool!
May 15-17. In Ohio, across the lake from Point Pelee, is a place that many folks prefer for big migration waves. It's a great place to see and hear Black-throated Blue Warblers. After visiting Crane Creek and Maumee Bay, I went south to visit my parents in Worthington, Ohio. A resplendent male Summer Tanager was there, at about the northern edge of its breeding range.
May 27. In late May, some rarities show up 5 minutes from my apartment - several Red-necked Phalaropes (in a flooded ex-agricultural field). They seem oblivious to human presence, and allow breathtaking close views. Even better, they stay for over a week. By now wrens have begun to settle on territory, and I draw Sedge and Marsh Wrens together to sharpen my awareness of their differences.
July 5. I go looking for some of the less-common breeding birds of northern Illinois, Henslow's Sparrow and White-eyed Vireo. Both are more easily heard than seen, making "unfinished" quick sketches an appropriate way to represent their tenuous presence.
July 17-19. Over the summer Janean and I go out west to visit her family. We drive through Nebraska along the way, and are knocked out by places like Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Orchard Orioles are much more common here than in Illinois, and in the Black Hills of South Dakota we are struck by the visibility of Yellow-breasted Chats, rare skulkers in northern Illinois.
Dec. 23. I return to Montana over the Christmas holiday, and find hordes of waterfowl below the Yellowtail Dam. As luck would have it, the first bird I focus the binoculars on is a rare Barrow's Goldeneye. Hundreds of Common Goldeneyes are close by for comparison. As I drive around the Yellowstone River Valley, the most common raptor is the Rough-legged Hawk.