As we approach the summer solstice next week, I am completing my self-directed assignment to record in painting the spring birds and flowers that arrive here at Sunwise Farm and Sanctuary. The Red Winged Blackbirds started showing up early in March, soon they were coming by the thousands, no exaggeration. They were bachelors, I learned, who came first to find their territory in advance of the females.

Why here? They were gathering each dusk to roost in our two bamboo forests. The gathering took about half an hour, in which time they sang as a symphony, there was such a variety to their melodies. It was so loud, that all we could do is sit on the porch and observe how they would flock from one nearby tree to the next, eventually taking the dive one by one into the forest. A scout would fly around the perimeters calling any stray.

We stayed until the last one was tucked in, almost dark. It was the highlight of the early spring, we had gatherings with our neighbors to enjoy the phenomenon. After they found their territory and their mates arrived they roosted no longer. We hear individuals still, but we miss our special concert.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Sunwise Blackbird", gouache, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Sunwise Blackbird”, watercolor, 2019

Robins came next, and filled the dawn air with their wake up song. About this time I started studying a medium I had never tried, gouache, opaque watercolor. Painting this way took me back to my days painting in oils. The advantage of this medium is that it is blend-able. After it dries it is soluble again when wetted, so you can add more paint, even white. It surprised me that I enjoy the detail work, and using tiny brushes, something that drove me away from oils twenty years ago.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Sunwise Robin", gouache, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Sunwise Robin”, gouache, 2019


© Kathleen O'Brien, "Sunwise Mourning Dove", watercolor, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Sunwise Mourning Dove”, watercolor, 2019

Cardinals are here all the time, they are Kentucky’s state bird. But this spring there were so many more, and they were nesting close to the house in the Viburnum bush.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Sunwise Cardinals", gouache, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Sunwise Cardinals”, gouache, 2019

Our reliable Carolina Wren arrived to create her nest in the cornucopia basket on top of the garden closet. We have named her Brown Betty. It is thrilling to see her brood fledge as they hop out of the basket, then do their awkward first flight to the call of her song in the lilac bushes.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Brown Betty", gouache, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Brown Betty”, gouache, 2019

It was auspicious to see a Baltimore Oriole on the Buddha full moon in May. It is a rare sighting, in fact I only saw the one. We do see their nests hanging, as they weave them from horse hair from the many horses we have in the neighborhood.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Wesak Oriole", gouache, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Wesak Oriole”, gouache, 2019

It’s always thrilling the day the Goldfinches arrive, adding their sulfur yellow to the predominantly green backdrop of the trees. We have just enough thistles to satisfy them, but not so many that they take over.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Sunwise Goldfinches", gouache, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Sunwise Goldfinches”, gouache, 2019

As the spring winds down, barn Swallows show up just in time to consume our insect population, gratefully. They love to perch on the fig tree branches so close to the house. They swoop under the porch ceiling, they seem to be fearless of us.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Sunwise Barn Swallow", gouache,

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Sunwise Barn Swallow”, gouache, 2019

I’ve always loved drawing birds. This one I copied from “The Bird Encyclopedia”.

© Kathleen O'Brien, "Parts of a Bird", drawing, 2019

© Kathleen O’Brien, “Parts of a Bird”, drawing, 2019

Next post will be about the garden flowers.