Food webs and other ecological relationships illustrated in ink and watercolor
Great Blue Herons in the wetlands
Great Blue Herons use a variety of habitats and consume a wide array of prey items including fish (here, the Three-spined Stickleback), mammals (here, the Western Harvest Mouse), and frogs (here, the American Bullfrog). While herons will hunt just about anywhere there is prey, they are closely associated with wetlands. In California, wetlands often include cattails growing in shallow waters.
Condors in California
California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) play an important role in cleaning up the remains of a wide variety of species across the ecosystems of the Western U.S.. Along the Pacific coast, they consume dead sea mammals that wash up on the shore, like this California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus). Inland, condors feast on the carcasses of many land animals, including Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus). And as both the birds and fish return to their historic ranges, condors may also feed on the remains of salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) after they spawn.
Inspired by my residency in the Plumas National Forest in 2018, this piece focuses on the creatures that inhabit the wet meadows of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges. Coming upon a wet meadow in the dry forests of the Western U.S. is similar to finding an oasis in the desert. A unique community of plants and animals depends on the year-round water there. Leopard Lillies (Lilim pardalinum) and Shooting Stars (Primula jeffreyi) both require wet places to grow. Sierra Nevada Blue Butterfly caterpillars (Plebejus podarce) eat Shooting Stars and Hunt's Bumblebee (Bombus huntii) pollinates many different flowers. Sierran Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris sierra), Mountain Garter Snakes (Thamnophis elegans elegans), and Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are each both predator and prey in this complex ecosystem.
Otters and Eelgrass
This design is inspired by my time as an Artist in Residence at Elkhorn Slough in March 2018. I had the great pleasure of observing Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) in the wild. I was able to spend time with researchers and scientists learning about the incredibly important role that otters play in both the Monterey Bay ecosystem and the Elkhorn Slough ecosystem.
In this piece, the focus is on the role of otters in the health of the eelgrass beds of Elkhorn Slough. Otters eat crabs, which reduces crab predation of sea slugs. Slugs feed on algae, which improves the health of the eelgrass beds. Eelgrass provides habitat for a variety of other organisms, including bat rays and English sole.
Otters in the kelp beds
Another piece inspired by my time as an Artist in Residence at Elkhorn Slough! Out in the Monterey Bay, otters feed on a wide variety of organisms, helping to keep the kelp beds healthy and the ecosystem in balance. This piece includes a favorite otter food - Pacific Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) - as well as the endangered Black Abalone (Haliotis cracherodii), Northern Kelp Crab (Pugettia producta), Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus), California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher), and Bat Star (Aserina miniata). All of these creatures (and many, many more!) share the beds of undulating Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) that line the edges of the Monterey Bay.
Willets in the Pickleweed
This painting was inspired both by my Artist-in-Residence at Elkhorn Slough and by Younger Lagoon, which is part of the UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserve System. As I continue to learn about the unique aspects of our coastal ecosystems, I’m coming to understand the important role that saltmarsh plays in protecting our coastline. In both Elkhorn Slough and Younger Lagoon, pickleweed is a key feature of the saltmarsh. And there is a huge number of species that occupy the various habitats that saltmarsh provides. The willets, shore crabs, anchovies, waterboatmen, and jaumea featured here are just a few.
Desert Willow and moth
This moth, Eucaterva variaria, has unique color variation. It's appearance can range anywhere from almost completely black to almost completely white. The adult moth drinks nectar from a number of plants in the American Southwest. The caterpillar feeds on Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) as it grows.
the White-lined Sphinx Moth and associated plants
The White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) uses Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) as a host plant in the larval stage. It then transforms into a pupa and lives underground until it emerges as an adult moth. The adult moth uses a variety of plants for nectar, including Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium).
Barn Owl and rodents
A single Barn Owl (Tyto alba) can consume hundreds of rodents in a single year. Some of their favorite prey items are the deer mouse (here - Peromyscus maniculatus) and pocket gopher (Thomomys sp.). These species are known to humans as disease vectors (particularly hantavirus) and garden or landscape pests. Instead of poisoning rodents, we can make sure that owls and other predators have ample space to live, breed, and eat - providing important rodent-control service! The use of rodenticides often travels up the food chain and kills owls, hawks, foxes, coyotes, and other animals that prey on rodents. It is our responsibility to look out for these creatures. www.raptorsarethesolution.org
California's foothills are blanketed with vast swaths of shrubbery, also known as chaparral. This dense growth provides habitat for a number of animals. Buck brush (Ceanothus cuneatus) is one of our dominant chaparral shrubs. It is eaten by caterpillars of the Ceanothus Silk Moth (Hyalophora euryalus). California Thrashers (Toxostoma redivivum) use their long, curved bills to dig for food in the leaf litter beneath shrubs and perch atop them to sing.
Prairie Falcons in the ecosystem
Although California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) are often considered pests, they play an important role in the ecosystem. They disperse the seeds of native plants such as lupines (here - Lupinus nanus) and the acorns of Blue Oaks (Quercus douglasii). They also consume invasive plants like Erodium cicutarium. The ground squirrel is a major source of food for many predators, including Prairie Falcons (Falco mexicanus), a species of special concern in California. One of the threats to Prairie Falcons is the presence of rodenticides in the food web.
Jeffrey pines in the ecosystem
Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) needles are eaten by caterpillars of the Pandora Moth (Coloradia pandora). In turn, the caterpillars are food for the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis tenuissima). The moth pupae ("piagi") are a traditional food for the Mono people of the Eastern Sierra. Many indigenous people also eat Jeffrey Pine nuts.
Myotis bats and insects
If humans could hear in the ultrasonic range and see in near darkness, we would have a deeper appreciation of just how many bats are out flying around us. A single Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) eats hundreds of insects every night. Some of the species a bat eats include mosquitos (here - Aedes sp.), the Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana), owl midges (Psychodidae sp.), and mayflies (Ephemeroptera sp.).
Anchovies and their predators
California condors in the ecosystem
California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) once ranged over much of the Western United States, but by the 1980s they were at the brink of extinction. With our help, their numbers are now rebounding. Condors feed on the carcasses of marine mammals, such as California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus). Research also shows that condors historically fed on carcasses of Tule Elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes) and salmon (here - Oncorynchus tshawytscha) and many other animals. To ensure that condors continue to survive and thrive, we must protect both their habitat and their sources of food. That means restoring elk herds, salmon runs, and other wildlife populations throughout their range. It also means preventing their exposure to toxins such as lead and rodenticides in the environment.
Joshua Trees in the ecosystem
Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia) are an iconic plant of the Mojave Desert. Their existence is threatened by climate change and while the plants themselves may be able to move northward in their range, the whole host of creatures that depend on them may not be so resilient. Some organisms that are closely tied to Joshua Trees are: the Yucca Moth (Tegeticula synthetica) which only pollinates this species of Joshua Tree; the Desert Night Lizard (Xantusia vigilis) which uses fallen branches as shelter; the Yucca Weevil (Scyphophorus yuccae) whose feeding behavior gives the Joshua Tree its branched shape; the Yucca Giant Skipper (Megathymus yuccae) whose caterpillars feed on Joshua Trees; and Scott's Oriole (Icterus parisorum) which builds its nest in Joshua Trees.
Lepidoptera host plants
Moths and butterflies laid over fields of their larval host plants. Illustrated on Duralene with gouache and colored pencil.
White-lined Sphinx moth and Elegant Clarkia
Hyles lineata and Clarkia ungiculata
Feralia februalis and Blue Oak
Feralia februalis and Quercus douglasii
Saturnid moth and Flannelbush
Saturnia albofasciata and Fremontodendron californicum
Proserpinus lucidus and Clarkia purpurea
Clark's Day Sphinx and Evening Primrose
Proserpinus clarkiae and Oenothera deltoides piperii
Annaphila moth and Miner's Lettuce
Annaphila decia and Claytonia perfoliata
Pacific Fritillary and violet
Boloria epithore epithore and Viola ocellata
Euproserpinus moth and Mojave suncup
Euproserpinus sp. and Camissonia campestrus
Parnassian and Bleeding Hearts
Parnassius clodius strohbeeni and Dicentra formosa
Illustrations with gouache and colored pencil on Duralene.
Monarch butterfly lifecycle
Monarchs depend on milkweed as a host plant for their larvae. Females lay eggs on the leaves and the caterpillars feed on the plant as they grow. An important part of protecting monarch populations is also protecting the plants and habitats they need to complete their lifecycle.
West Coast Lady
West Coast Lady is one of three “lady” butterflies in California. It has several flights throughout the year and is often seen on open ground. It is a strong flyer and will generally retreat quickly when approached. The West Coast Lady larvae feed primarily on nettle (Urtica sp.) and Cheeseweed (Malva sp.).
Common Buckeye often patrols trails and other open areas that resemble stream beds. The large eye spots on the wings can be used to scare predators away by positioning them in such a way that they look like the eyes of a much larger creature.
California Sister butteflies use oaks as their host plant and can often be found patrolling around dappled sunlight near oaks.
condors and friends
A series of watercolor illustrations used by the National Park Service to share information about California Condors and some birds that share their habitats.
A comparison of the California Condor, Golden Eagle, Turkey Vulture, and Common Raven wingspans.
The heads of an adult and a juvenile California Condor.
Golden Eagle, Common Raven, and Turkey Vulture for comparison to California Condor. Feathering (or lack thereof!) plus bill shape and size are excellent identifying characteristics.
From top to bottom: California Condor, Golden Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Common Raven. Though a Condor is the largest land bird in North America, its feet are not nearly as strong as those of a Golden Eagle.
birds at a carcass
When birds are perched together, the size difference is a little more obvious.
These drawings are from a series of books about the history of a private ranch in northern California. The ranch is held in conservation to protect both the cultural and natural resources there. It sits in the Sierra foothills, just above the convergence of three rivers, and features a wide variety of important habitat. Some of the cultural artifacts on the land indicate that humans have occupied this territory for perhaps thousands of years.
Grey Pine (Pinus sabiniana)
From a series depicting the characteristic plants of the Sierra foothills.
California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Crotalus oreganus - the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake - is an abundant resident of the western states. Rattlesnakes have a key role to play in ecosystem balance.
These baskets are currently housed in the Sutter County Community Memorial Museum. They were made by the indigenous communities of the Sierra Foothills near the confluence of the Yuba and Feather Rivers in California.
From the indigenous people of the Sierra foothills, at the confluence of the Yuba and Feather Rivers.
Seed beater basket
This basket was used to collect seeds from native plants. Indigenous women were the primary tenders of this critical food source. This basket was likely made by a woman living in the Sierra foothills at the confluence of the Yuba and Feather Rivers.
Norther Pintails (Anas acuta)
Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa)
California Quail (Callipepla californica)
Male and female pair of the California state bird.
In the Sierra Foothills, just above the confluence of the Yuba and Feather Rivers, the presence of these mortars indicates a thriving community of people living in this area. Mortars were used to grind nuts, seeds, and fruits. This area has one of the largest concentrations of bedrock mortars in the state of California.
Valley Oak (Quercus lobata)
From a series of books about the natural and cultural history of a ranch in the Sierra foothills of California.
Native bunch grasses
Another from the series depicting native bunch grasses of California. This features Creeping Wild Rye (Elymus triticoides) and Purple Needlegrass (Stipa pulchra).
Periodically, I’ll add sketches to this page. I like sharing sketches because they often are different from my more polished or finished work. They can reveal something about my process toward a final work or they can demonstrate a more loose and free style that I like to practice.
Blue Oyster mushrooms
Inspired by the opportunity to participate in an exhibit focused specifically on fungus/mushrooms, I whipped up a few quick watercolor sketches.
These delicious mushrooms can be found in the redwood forests of California, as well as many other places throughout the world. This little sketch will be featured in a fungus-themed exhibit in Santa Cruz, CA during the annual Fungus Fair.
This mushroom grows in decaying wood and can be found in Douglas Fir forests. As our rainy season begins, I look forward to seeing what mushrooms I’ll find while I’m out and about.
Turkey Tail fungus
Inspired by the first real rain storms of the season, I did a few quick sketches of some beautiful fungus. I just love the varied color of turkey tail fungus.