great blue heron

Posted by Ellen

Americans know the birds of John James Audubon from prints of his work bound into books, notably Birds of America (1838). The prints were based on watercolors painted by Audubon over a ten-year period beginning in 1827; for some reason, all the paintings are owned by the New-York Historical Society, which rarely displays any of them.

We were able to see some of the watercolors, however, during a recent exhibition celebrating the sesquicentennial of their purchase by the Historical Society, and the great blue heron above caught our eye. It seemed awfully blue; the great blue herons we have seen in real life are all much more grayish; the color reference in their name always struck us as more of a wish than an observation. Audubon, of course, was a world-class observer.

Well, we looked this stuff up on the internets, and the internets all insist that, gosh, the mistake was ours, not Audubon's. The bird above is a little blue heron, painted in Louisiana and native to coastal marshes there and elsewhere around the Gulf of Mexico.

Audubon's great blue heron, below, is properly gray in color, and very, very cool.

Posted by Ellen

The Russian painter Ivan Shishkin was illustrating scenery in Poland in 1890, when he completed this painting of the swampy forests of the Pripyat, or Rokitno, marshland. Today, the spot where he set up his easel could be in Ukraine or Belarus or Russia or perhaps extreme eastern Poland.

But the scene he painted may or may not look much the same. The marshes of Polessia remained lightly settled throughout much of the twentieth century; the forests there provided years of cover for partisans fighting for and against the Nazis and the Soviets.

Then came the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, which devastated much of the countryside, leaving large stretches radioactive and uninhabitable. Not all the wildlife has returned. Although herons have again been reported, "mushrooms and berries," it is said, "set Geiger counters screaming."