Kauai albatross cam map 2015 by rowntreestudio.com

Albatross Season is Here!

Once again the Laysan albatross have gathered to breed on the north shores of Kauaʻi, and once again the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is running a live camera at a good nest site. Iʻm very excited to be volunteering again this year as a cam operator. Weʻve got two nests visible this year plus chicks at two other nests, on site but off view.

I’m torn between going on and on about these incredible birds and just handing you the cam link and telling you to check them out yourself. (Here it is! http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/41/Laysan_Albatross/) They start off as adorable fluffy chicks and over five months grow into elegant birds with seven-foot wing spreads, graceful in the air and a little goofy strolling on land. They are tranquil and affectionate but real show-offs when it’s courtship time.

Since we have multiple nests in view this year we thought it would be helpful for volunteers and the public to have a map of the area. We wanted to protect the anonymity of the site (which is private property) while still making key elements of the site clear. We also talked about making it a book-style map like you might find in the end papers of a fantasy or children’s story. It sounded like an interesting project and a bit different than my usual work so I took it on.

Cam map rough draft rowntreestudio.com
A very rough early map.

We started off by building a clear understanding of the site through very rough maps. I was lucky enough to visit the site last summer while on vacation but alas I’m very far away from it now. Volunteers on site help with photos and explanations to make the layout clear so I could start drawing.

I knew I wanted to use watercolor with ink lettering in the final piece but after experimenting with that I decided to do ink illustrations for the whole thing with watercolor added. Rather than draw out the whole thing perfectly I drew all the elements, sometimes taking a few tries to get something right, then scanned the drawings and assembled them with Photoshop. That’s especially helpful when someone looks at a rough draft and suggests that nest four should really move over to the right a few inches!

Crow quill nib and artwork by rowntreestudio.com
A crow quill nib and artwork.

I did the drawing and lettering with Noodler’s Ink in Bulletproof Black and a crow quill (Hunt No. 102) pen nib on Strathmore Bristol plate paper. That nib is probably my all-time favorite. It’s a variable-width nib with just the right about of spring for my taste. (For a similar feel in a larger nib I recommend the Tachikawa G nib, available through John Neal Bookseller.)

After the drawings were all assembled I printed the image on cardstock and painted the print. It’s not the best paper for watercolor but it worked well enough. I then took that painted version and scanned it. I brought together scanned handwritten text, the map and additional texture and color in Photoshop for the final image.

The map is now available to download through this Cornell site: 2015 Albatross Cam Map.

I would love to read comments and suggestions about the map from cam viewers! Is it helpful? Are there confusing elements or things youʻd like to see included? Your answers will help all of us on the cam team as we plan for the remainder of this season and next.




kaloakulua's nest site photo by Hob Osterlund

Kaloakulua Prints: Follow-up

posted in: Birds | 0

I fell in love with Kaloakulua the Laysan Albatross. After she fledged I made a little piece of artwork celebrating her time at the nest. I sold prints of that artwork (and one original, Albatross Pair II). Today I gave the Cornell Lab of Ornithology all the profits from those sale: a donation of $940. This is amazing to me.

I’m not surprised that other people love KK too. She is the most loveable bird I’ve ever seen, and I never even met her in person. What is amazing to me is that so many people were excited about the artwork that I had to reorder prints from the printer three times (so far). I had no idea what kind of response I’d get when I made the prints available and I have been blown away. I love what the Cornell Bird Cam program does and it’s hugely exciting that other people connected with both the birds and my artwork and gave me this chance to support the cams.

If you love watching the bird cams and are able to donate, please do. It’s very expensive to stream HD video 24/7 and the program relies heavily on donations to keep the cams running.

Thank you to everyone who purchased a KK print and to everyone who wrote to share their delight in KK and her family. It’s been pure joy to share this adventure!


(Above: at the empty nest site with my husband, photo by Hob Osterlund.)

Albatross Art

posted in: Birds, WIP | 0

Update 7/15:

I underestimated the demand for KK prints. The first run ran out in just two days! Don’t worry if you haven’t gotten one yet. I’ve ordered more from the printer and hope to have the listing up on Etsy again later today. This is not a limited edition print, so everyone who wants to purchase a copy will get one eventually, even if I have to go back to the printer over and over again. I’m delighted that there’s so much interest and it’s certainly great for the Cornell Lab!

Update 7/11:

Prints of Kaloakulua and her parent are now available through my Etsy shop. This link will take you there: KK on Etsy.


webs up by Elizabeth Smith
Very rough draft

As mentioned in a previous post, I couldn’t get enough of Kaloakulua and the other birds of Cornell’s 2014 Laysan Albatross Birdcam, and I’m celebrating the end of the breeding season with art. One piece is finished and I have a few more in mind. I’ll post updates here as additional pieces and prints become available.

Welcome and thank you to everyone who watched KK along with me!

(Pictured above is a very, very rough draft!)


Many thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Kauai Albatross Network.

Albies by Elizabeth Smith of rowntreestudio.com

The Laysan Albatross Birdcam

posted in: Birds | 0

This has been an amazing year so far with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live streaming birdcams. I was sucked into these cams two years ago when Cornell started streaming HD video of red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, ospreys and other birds, and two years later I’m just as hooked. I could go on and on about the birds and the cam program but I’m going to spare you that. Watch them and there’s a good chance you’ll be sucked in too!

This year Cornell teamed up with the Kaua’i Albatross Network and installed a cam on private property on the north shore of Kaua’i, streaming the amazing lives of a family of Laysan albatross. This year we watched Kaloakulua grow up, raised by her parents Kuluahine (Mom) and Kuluakane (Dad). She was born in late January and fledged on June 24th. Over those months we saw her explore her nest under trees and bushes on the edge of a lawn, then gradually increase her range until we sometimes needed people on the ground to go figure out where she was hiding out of cam view.

It was my great privilege to volunteer as a camera operator. I came into it late, but I joined an amazing group of people just as obsessed with the albatross as I am. I hope that next year we have another wonderful chick to follow!

The cam is off now for the season but should be back up in the winter.  If you’d like to see many, many screenshots and videos from KK’s months as a chick, check out my Twitter feed and the cam’s official Twitter feed. You can also check up on another chick (Mango) still in the area and find out about albatross news through the cam’s website.

I’m celebrating the Laysan Albatross Cam’s first season with artwork. So far I have one completed piece and I hope there will be more. The piece pictured above shows a very young KK with one of her parents. It’s meant to capture the sweet bond these birds share. The piece is small, only five by seven inches, and done in watercolor and colored pencil on paper. I’ll be making prints of this piece available for purchase with all profits going to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Cam program. Stay tuned – I’ll let you know when the prints are ready to go.