“Strafe at Low Altitude”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
“With the beautiful studio you have, why do you bother to paint out doors? I mean, packing all that paraphernalia, the water, the sketch books, an easel, a chair and so much more! What a drag!”
Yes, I go out almost every week to paint out doors. Maybe this story will help you understand why I do. In short, there is so much more to it than just painting or having to worry about moving all that equipment . . . . . .
I wrote this last week to some email friends. It pretty much sums up the “extra goodies” waiting for outdoor painters.
Plein air painting again yesterday. We went north of town about 20 miles to a big beach where the outlet of a creek (Wadell Creek) enters the ocean. What made us stop there was an enormous ‘lake’ that had formed on the beach and a beautiful shaped headland at the end of the beach shrouded in a mysterious mist. It was in the morning hours when we arrived. The weather was a pleasant 68 degrees with an ever so slight slight breeze. While painting I began to notice flights of pelicans floating over the waves and how they would fly very close to the face of the wave and just glide along. As the morning progressed, more flights would show up, until flights were coming down the beach every 20 seconds with something from 10 to 30 birds in each flight. As I began to take notice and look more carefully, I realized that all these birds were landing into the lake at the far end of the beach, almost out of sight. As the birds poured in from every direction, I was beginning to think that something was really “up.” So many many pelicans and they just kept coming and coming! They fly in formations that are remindful of fighter jets as they fly low and strafe the wave tops.
Eventually, I could take it no more. I had finished my painting and decided to walk down the beach to investigate. As I drew closer (very slowly) I could see that the pelicans were bathing in the lake, then, when finished, they came out of the water to sit on the beach with their brethren. . . . . . . . .and there were thousands of them sitting there looking out to sea and preening. What an incredible sight!
Pelicans are anything but small. A normal adult bird, when sitting, will stand three feet tall to the top of the head. With thousands of birds on the beach, all one could see was a forest of heads and beaks! It was just a blur of these strange looking, fuzzy ‘stumps’ sticking up for nearly as far as one could see! I only got within about 50 yards of them when they began to get agitated and took flight, which was another of those OMG moments because there were so many of them lifting off at once . . . the sky nearly black!
I walked back to put my painting gear away and to head home. My buddy and I loaded the car while we watched more and more birds pour into that spot, while others took flight and headed southward along the beach and parallel to the highway. While we drove down the highway, we noticed that there was a flight of about thirty pelicans immediately to our right and keeping pace with our car!! Scott looked at the speedometer to see that we were moving at 50 mph and those crazy birds were staying right with us . . . . . .and so effortlessly! They were merely gliding! They hardly flapped their wings.
What is so cool about watching these guys is that they follow the edges of the cliffs that face the ocean and fly just above the edges. The breeze coming in from the sea forces an updraft there which sustains the birds’ altitude and they simply slide along at 50MPH !
And people wonder why I am so crazy to be going out doors to paint when I have such a fantastic studio!!!
Apparently, these big birds migrate north from Mexico. Where they go, I don’t know. For now, there are enormous schools of anchovies in our bay and these birds are swarming to grab their share of the extra chow. They are being aided by whales, dolphins and sea lions chasing the tiny fish to the surface. It is a sight to see pelicans diving out of a cloud of birds into the water to gobble up the tiny fish!