Great Blue Heron Oil Paint Portrait

•April 20, 2023 • 11 Comments

During my time of creative inertia I left many images unexamined for possibility. This is one that I deemed too dark and didn’t take a second look at was taken on gray on my birthday in 2019 actually. I’d posted other images from that shoot and had selected mainly wood storks out of the group. But, that day the Great blue herons were actively nesting also with chicks ranging from helpless nestlings to fledglings. This bird is standing on its nest and had a couple of tiny chicks in the nest just not really showing here. I’ve been interested in doing a series of different kinds of bird portraits trying out various oil paint filters in Photoshop…to do what I can’t do….paint!! Sometimes I think it is a great idea and other times forcing something into being what it is not. I just like the way oil paint effects will smooth out things in such a pleasant way. Digital photography has a way of capturing great detail but not always favorable detail. Even a bird can use some flattering smoothing of harsh details at times. Digital has certainly not been my friend when it comes to pictures of me!! Nope!! LOL!

With this image I quite simply loved the birds face and the flipped up windblown head plume and so decided to do something with it. I must have had the camera at a tilt too as I engaged in a bit of rotation to stand him back up properly. Photoshops oil paint filter has quite a few sliders to tailor the effect. With this one I went for stylized smooth strokes with moderate brush detail and nothing of the shine slider to keep it soft and a bit flat in appearance. Shine adds light to the brush strokes and you can make it very harsh or very soft if you have it at 0. I went for soft. If you click on the image to see it bigger you will see brush strokes. I like the effect on the bird and the sky but the jury is still out on what it does with the branches.

Just wanted to share the idea and the bird is a beautiful bird. I had other shots of the same bird but loved the face angle on this one best.



Black Vulture Painterly Portrait

•April 9, 2023 • 13 Comments



I found this a rather thoughtful pose of the American Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus. This individual was found in Big Cypress Preserve in a solitary stance against the green shadows of the swamp. Its species name, atratus, means ‘clothed in black’ and sometimes available light makes the feathers appear to absorb all light in a cloak of darkness. But, sometimes the sun reveals there is in fact a warm highlight to the dark feathers not unlike its own warm brown eye color. I find the bird inquistive and placidly friendly despite its cleansing role and disposition of decaying matter.

To give the image the sense of portraiture, I applied an oil paint filter in varying degrees to the image and set a texture filter over the background to simplify, darken and allow the face of the bird to show its expression. While I did not end up where I intended exactly with this portrait, I thought a handsome profile nonetheless and wanted to share it so far.


The Glades Eternal – as encountered along Loop Road, Tamiami Trail, FL

•March 2, 2023 • 14 Comments


“I am temporary. Nature can be cruel, but the alligators, the Everglades, and the dead are eternal.”
— Mira Grant


While Mira Grant’s quote has an apocalyptic feel to it I know that our individual 100 years is a blip on the radar of the universe. Earth itself maybe too, but it is the most permanent thing we have to enjoy, explore and care for in our time and for the generations to come.  Let’s hope that the mystery of the glades, which is eternal, extends to physical nature as well. If not the birds and cypress trees, certainly the sight of an alligator in the filtered light of a swamp takes us through a modern portal to a primeval world. This is what visiting the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp really gives us, even if only a day trip bouncing along a dirt road in a pickup truck alert to every beautiful and evocative scene that comes our way.

These images are from my birthday trip out to Tamiami Trail and Loop Road, a year after the images of my last post. We had the pleasure of sharing the place and the day with friends who hadn’t had the opportunity to see these wild places yet. Fun to show it all off. And, I must say the alligators were particularly cooperative and in great abundance. Generally, you will see alligators more often when it is cooler sunning themselves. In the summer heat they seem to prefer staying under the cool water. Having spotted some young gators, I think maybe it is breeding season and so best be observant of protective gator moms. I wasn’t careful as I should have been in that focusing on a bird I didn’t see a gator sunning near me until I heard the splash of its rapid departure.

Loop road has a variety of scenes involving the cypress forest and swamp. So the images of the Little Blue Heron in the cypress forest have much more light than the scenes in the swamp and shadowy areas. The cypress forest often has gray and muted lavendar hues, but the swamps and strands often have bright green foliage and aquatic plants and golden light coming through the canopy.


Little Blue Heron in Cypress


Great blue heron stands on a decayed tree encrusted with Tillandsia airplants. I cannot see a nest or platform there but I always find the bird and Tillandsia evocative.


Alligator swims amid leafy reflections.


White egrets in Big Cypress swamp appear luminous against the shadowy background.




Alligator rests at the feet of cypress trees and knees.



Alligator with interesting cypress knees and a cypress branch over head with bright green leaves.


This gator floats over some aquatic plants with its nose in the reflection of blue sky. I was fond of the eye on this one.


May we all enjoy such retreats and get the chance to recharge our emotional and spiritual batteries after our hectic workaday lives.




Out Tamiami Way

•February 19, 2023 • 17 Comments


Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) up in Cypress Trees in Big Cypress Preserve.

The images submitted today are from almost exactly a year ago. For several years my birthday has been an excuse for a trip out Tamiami way to see the birds, gators, trees and any natural surprises along Tamiami Trail, Loop Road and Big Cypress Preserve. Even a nice stop in Clyde Butcher’s Ochopee Gallery and a diner for lunch in Everglades City are in the offing. I look forward to repeating the adventure this coming weekend. You really never know what you will see and every time is both predictable and surprising. Generally a day spent peering through dense foliage or exploring intermittent ponds or strands puts the world aright correcting the sense of doom most media instills. Nice to remember that there is a domain full of beauty, sweet smelling air, and echoes of bird calls where survival is the essence of existence unfettered by the generalized worry that we humans do endure.

Walk along the trail of Big Cypress and see what you see……….I await another adventure……

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) up in Cypress Trees


Turkey Vulture Face (Cathartes aura) ….a zoom in to show the interesting face and warm inquisitive gaze of this commonly seen vulture in South Florida. They are among the Wood Storks as favourites to see for their interesting expressions and textures.  While Wood storks have a more superior demeanor, I find Turkey vultures more friendly and warmer in expression.


The anhinga ( Anhinga anhinga ) has many names such as snakebird,  American darter, or water turkey and is common here in sunny South Florida.  The word anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language meaning snake bird or devil bird. Devil not sure I personally understand but the undulating long neck with the quick head motions of the bird are quite snake like. This makes them tricky to photograph in the wild though. With my small group of images from which this one is chosen getting the face in focus was challenging. They don’t stay still for long.


The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is not an uncommon sight in Big Cypress but always fun to see and evocative of more primitive times. This fellow is dappled with shadows of branches and leaves on its textured skin.

This scene in Big Cypress, Loop Road or along Tamiami Trail is a very typical and part of the ambiance of the swamp. The Great Egret ( Ardea alba) is a  common bird to see but always lovely to catch in the shadowy environs of the swamp.



I am always partial to cypress knees and have taken so many picures of their textures and shapes. Sometimes when looking for birds in the swampy depths you see rather magical scenes like this cluster of cypress knees lit by sun through the foliage. Seems like a secret garden of young growing cypress.

Until Waiting is Filled,


January Wood Storks

•February 4, 2023 • 14 Comments


My trip to Wakodahatchee on January 28th yielded pictures of a variety of species. Given the dark, rainy day though the lighting was rather inconsistent. Overcast skies often have lots of dark and bright spots when birds are framed against the sky, or a muted less contrasty feel when against dark foliage. When you take your camera out you just have to enjoy the lighting you get rather than thinking about what you think you want. I tend to enjoy sunny late day conditions with its flattering golden glow…with maybe a thin cloud layer to soften the shadows. Everything looks great through a viewfinder though and the challenge is for the capture to show what you did see through that portal. Not that there is a rule than you can’t change the temperatures of things in processing so the image looks entirely different in condition or time of day.

These however do show that we had weather coming in. I am sure if I went out today things would be similar as we have even colder air today with lots of gray clouds with wind and intermittent rain. Today though, I sit at my computer living a little in last weeks birding adventure.

I’ve written so many times in this blog of the wood stork (Mycteria americana) which at the beginnings of my interest in birds was a rarity to see. Smart conservation has given the species a comeback here in Florida and now they are readily visible on the scene. These large wading birds are always a welcome and fascinating sight. While the only chicks I heard and barely could see in the distance were those of Great Blue Herons, the Wood Storks had many pairs nest sitting. Should in interesting in a few short weeks.










White Egrets in January

•February 1, 2023 • 9 Comments

These images were taken on Saturday the 28th of January this year. The day was windy, overcast but not raining, just generally dim with low contrast lighting. The breeding season for the big herons and egrets was evident with many Great Blue Herons egg sitting and the clamor of nestlings emanating quite loudly from one nest in a distant tree island.  Only concentrated scrutiny revealed the movement of fuzzy little heads through the leaves. There were Woodstorks, Louisiana Herons, Anhingas, Cormorants, White Ibis, White egrets and others gathering in the familiarity of the home rookery. Not all on nests yet but getting there. So it is a busy time and will be for a few beautiful months to come.

The White Egret pictured here is most likely a male as he was engaged in an ever changing dance and display of his aigrettes in order to attract a mate. Males and females are very similar and both feature the lovely ornamental plumes during breeding season. But it seems the role of the male to attract his mate. Once paired up they share all the duties pretty equally. I thought this bird was the most striking and beautiful thing to observe on Saturday with its luxuriant aigrettes on display and caught by the wind. The bright green lore and colorations of the bill also indicate bird hormones in high gear.

Despite the serenity I feel observing such beauty, my mind often returns to the days of the plume hunters and how the egret population was decimated to procure those delicate feathers merely to decorate ladies’ hats. Killing breeding parents means the chicks have no protection and so it is easy to see how quickly the next generation would be destroyed as well. It is hard to separate the admiration of this wild beauty and sorrow for its near loss for the sake of owning beauty.

I ran across this interesting Carl Sagan quote from Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. It does address our human arrogance and the finite nature of things. I like to think we have learned.

“Darwin had been lured to South America by the prospect of discovering new birds and new beetles, but he couldn’t help noticing the carnage the Europeans were inflicting. Colonial arrogance, the institution of slavery, the extirpation of countless species for the enrichment and entertainment of the invaders, the first depredations of the tropical rain forest—in short, many of the crimes and stupidities that haunt us today—troubled Darwin at a time when Europe was confident that colonialism was an unalloyed benefit for the uncivilized, that the forests were inexhaustible, and that there would always be enough egret feathers for every millinery shop until the Day of Judgment.”


In appreciation or our natural heritage and may the birds always come home.




AI Birds – Shall we fear or embrace the new algorithms of creativity?

•January 26, 2023 • 12 Comments




prompt: Great White Heron wearing armor with fierce expression and muted leafy background

I thought I’d launch into 2023 with a new post of bird portrait images. Now this is not very unusual for those who know me, my love of photography and making bird portraits. These however deviate from my normal workflow of capturing portrait compositions in the field, waiting for the perfect pose and as perfect a background as I can capture in nature’s wild tangle where I have only so much control.  Then, perhaps using photoshop to refine the capture into something artistic or painterly.

These works of art were made by my son, David, who is creative by nature, loves photography, but is also very well versed in the language of computers. These images were created by algorithms and the perception and synthesis of machines with the only human ask being a few word prompts and a world wide web of source material to draw from. This is AI art.

Should we fear that a machine can perform abstract creative tasks or is machine AI just the newest tool for human artists to push their dreams, visions and boundaries. What does it all mean? Steve Jobs considered his machines not just extensions of us but were us!! While machines generally are devices to extend our abilities and enhance productivity, they can never be more US than if they can create art. I can think of nothing more organic than that from a machine.

My son showed me some of his creations then asked if I wanted to send him some prompts. Naturally birds were on my mind. So I asked for a Great White Heron wearing armor with a fierce expression and a muted leafy or mangrove background to start with. I suppose the human creativity begins with how well you can articulate your request, what words, what mood you create for the AI engine to work on. It is like having a dream in that your brain has the raw information, but as you know with dreams, the output isn’t always exactly what you expect.


prompt: Great White Heron wearing armor with fierce expression and muted leafy background

You can see how the same prompt can produce a different image.


Prompt: Great White Heron in the style of Boris Vallejo


Prompt: Great White Heron in the style of Boris Vallejo

A second image with the same prompt. As AI draws from images in unpredictable ways, this lovely bird has some extra toes giving it a rather other worldly feel.


Prompt: Great White Heron as a Victorian scientist with a condescending expression wearing a lab coat working in a vintage laboratory, photorealistic.


Lastly this prompt was by my little grandaughter who asked her father for: yellow cat wearing a yellow squid hat

Too cute eh?

Lastly, these were created using the AI Engine of MidJourney which is a creative site with a subscription service. When you subscribe all the images you create are yours to do as you wish with them.

At you don’t have to be a member to click on the Community Showcase block and view some beautiful work by their members.

Love it or fear it AI Art is here for better or worse and dang it does look addictive. I have all these still lifes in my head perhaps I can dream up the elements with a little help from a machine?

Happy 2023 !

As Ever,




In answer to my thought that AI art being derived from web available sources of many types might be considered ” derivative’ art….Dave replied with the following way to look at it:

“I don’t know that derivative work is right. Imagine if you loved Boris Vallejo and you knew the art really well and practiced to create your own work close to his style. I think that is closer to what this is. The difference is that it’s like I am hiring a virtual artist to take my direction on themes and produce an original image. I kind of look at this like Dale Chihuly who is a renowned glass blower, but he was in an accident and for many years now he can no longer lift any glass blowing equipment. But he still has a studio where he directs a team of strong workers to implement his vision. He selects the glass colors, tells them what type of object, the technique/pattern and then he monitors and provides guidance as they are blowing the glass. Those resulting pieces are all original “Chihuly” glass, but he never picked up the blowpipe. I see this art some somewhat similar.

To be really clear, this isn’t chopping up peoples work and redistributing them, it is literally dissecting the elements of all art, what does armor look like, what does a crown look like. Then when it builds a scene, it figures out which variations on those themes and composes them. So it’s just a really advanced artist that can consume every painting Boris Vallejo ever made and every great heron photograph ever made and then use that as inspiration.

As I understand it, a lot of the “people” training model data is naked images. When building a character, it needs to know the naked form, then it literally learns how to put clothes on that form. This is why you can put armor on people, or any outfit you want. You can actually watch the AI building the image from a raw blurry mess to multiple levels of adding detail and sometimes you can see it starts with a mostly naked kind of image, then fleshes out the details. (no pun intended).”

Dave’s Instagram of ai images is f412ai   The instagram link is: for some of his work

Great Blue Heron & Wood Stork Portraits – January 2022

•January 23, 2022 • 17 Comments


Intense expression of Ardea herodias the Great Blue Heron

In a sub-tropical environment such as offered here in south Florida, the breeding season for birds starts early. I’ve noticed the great herons building their platforms on some ideal spot in a rookery and trying to attract a mate as early as December in past years. After a long absence from the rookery at Wakodahatchee I finally made my way through the highways and byways of Broward and Palm Beach Counties to reacquaint myself and spend a little time at this favourite spot to just watch nature unfold. Even watching the other watchers provides relief as the expression of wonder is so palpable in the demeanor of other visitors that you feel kindred. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2022 is to spend a lot more time watching birds go about living, waves swirling along a shoreline, or clouds float by than watching our ever-distressing stream of TV news.

I felt incredibly rusty photographically speaking as there have been so few outings in the last couple of years. That is however my own inertia as there is always beautiful light and interesting objects animated or inanimate all around us, all the time! The images I picked for this post are just to show that nature does go on. Included here are pictures of a Great Blue Heron pair and a Woodstork pair. Both early season and seeming to have selected each other but with the nest building and chicks yet to come. This visit was exactly mid-January on the 15th of the month. February, March and April will be very active with the air saturated with the plaintive cries of hungry chicks. I couldn’t resist making a painterly portrait effort of the intense concentration on the Great Blue Heron face. It is peering into the depths of wetland waters for the movement of prey. Wood Stork faces are endlessly fascinating for me, it seems, and I did a black and white treatment of one of them with a combination of paint brush effects to give it a portrait appeal. With Wood Stork portraits I generally like the ones with feathers blowing in the wind or bunched up at the neck, beneath the bill. They always look so commanding.

Great Blue Heron drops in on its significate other as the afternoon wanes.

Great Blue Heron pair attentive to each other. I believe it is the bird on the left which just dropped in.

Despite one of these Wood Storks looking a little aloof…or maybe self-satisfied…they seem happy. Wood Storks always do have that aloof, commanding look though. Time will tell if there is a nest next time.

Wood Stork , Mycteria americana, portrait in profile with paint brush effects to enhance the image as a portrait.


Happy 2022 Everyone!!





Coragyps atratus – Florida’s Black Vulture

•June 29, 2021 • 18 Comments


The American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) is one of the two vultures found in South Florida. The other is the red-faced Turkey Vulture. Compared to some more esoteric taxonomic names, those assigned to the Black Vulture are descriptively perfect. The word vulture comes from the Latin, vulturus, meaning ‘tearer‘ describing the feeding behaviour of a carrion eater. From the Latin, ater, meaning black, comes the species name, atratus, meaning ‘clothed in black.’ Likewise, the Genus name Coragyps means ‘raven-vulture’ from combining the Greek corax (raven) and gyps (vulture). The Black Vulture is a member of  the family Cathartidae meaning ‘purifier.’ (Wikipedia) This alludes to the cleansing role of a carrion eater and scavengers without which dead carcasses would remain a grisly platform for disease and germs. For the similarity of coloring with the feathers of a crow, Audubon called this bird the Black Vulture or Carrion Crow. Unlike the shining iridescence of another black bird, the Boat-Tailed Grackle, the vulture’s black is quite dull and seems to absorb all light without reflecting any at times.

The American Black Vulture is considered a New World bird and while similar in appearance to the Old World Vultures of Europe, that similarity is thought due to convergent evolution, different ancestors, but similar roles. While Old World Vultures are related to eagles and hawks, our New World Black Vulture is thought to be related to storks rather than hawks and eagles. And here it is surprisingly interesting to me to see some of those similarities. Such as, the vultures having dusky looking white legs. Just like the Woodstork, the black vulture deposits urine and feces on its own legs. As the water in the mixture evaporates, the legs are cooled. Also, like storks both male and female care for the young and feed their young by regurgitation.

The words above are lifted from my own past post on the subject with other images you could see at: The Purifier – Clothed in Black

I have a fascination for these oft’ unappreciated birds whose very necessary function is a bit morbid for most attracted to lovelier birds such as breeding white egrets with their gauzy train of aigrettes. Perhaps it is a natural contrast in sensibility between our dark ‘purifier’ and the ‘purity’ of the lacy white egret aigrettes. The earth and its inhabitants constitute an interconnected organic living thing with many ‘jobs’ to keep the whole healthy. And so…the vultures.

This selection is from my day in 2020 on Loop Road – Big Cypress Preserve.

Black vulture busy at work concentrating on this rather dessicated looking fish along the side of the dusty road.


Jared Diamond on the subject:

“Bird taxonomy is a difficult field because of the severe anatomical constraints imposed by flight. There are only so many ways to design a bird capable, say, of catching insects in mid-air, with the result that birds of similar habitats tend to have very similar anatomies, whatever their ancestry. For example, American vultures look and behave much like Old World vultures, but biologists have come to realize that the former are related to storks, the latter to hawks, and that their resemblances result from their common lifestyle.”

Cypress Preserve – Loop Road

•June 23, 2021 • 7 Comments

A dapper male anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) sits in the bright green glory of a cypress tree branch as anAmerican Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) glides beneath.


Loop Road , a 24 mile natural drive which loops off of  the westerly bound Tamiami Trail and rejoins Tamiami Trail at Monroe Station, is one of my very favourite places to go with my camera and to spend some time immersed in nature. I have done a number of posts of images from the area and always enjoy a chance to visit. Certainly if you enjoy the sweetness of the Cypress Swamp with all of its varied birds, gators, varieties of fern, cypress trees and knees this is your place. Whether it is a day busy with wildlife and birds dropping in and gators sunning in plain view or a quieter day with gators lurking beneath the water and birds just tantalizing calls from deep within the shadows of the cypress forest, there is always magic there. In a way I favor those days, birds sight unseen, but evocative, haunting sounds opening that time portal into earlier, less developed times when only the likes of Audubon dared tread in quest of knowledge.

See the bottom of this post for a map of the area and beneath the map a link to learn more of the history of this unassuming dirt road.

The images are some representative shots of what you’d see as you drive along and wait to see who drops in and is one of only two nature trips I took in the very strange year of 2020.

Male anhinga sunning in the Cypress Swamp.

A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) strolls in the peace of the Cypress Preserve.


The stately Great Egret (Ardea alba) with aigrettes trailing in the dark water disappears into the sunlit forest.



Loop Road - Cypress Preserve Map


Click on: Loop Road – Miles of History to learn more of the area these images were taken.

Loop Road aka County Road 94 was described as a “quiet dirt byway off the Tamiami Trail” in the August 1976 Edition of National Geographic Magazine. This 24 mile scenic drive loops off of Tamiami Trail winds through various Cypress Preserve habitats exiting again by Monroe Station. See the map above for some detail and click on the link above for some very interesting history.



Can’t wait for another Cypress Preserve hit…umm in the cooler temps of the fall!!