Monday, July 28, 2014

Painting a kestrel in flight

Remember the kestrel chicks I was watching via nest cam? Well they have now all fledged successfully and are coming into the garden daily to feed.

I tie mice or day-old chicks (a by-product of the egg industry) to this branch in the garden and then sit back and watch as the adult kestrels bring their chicks in for dinner.

The chicks are great fun to watch - and lately there has been some extra drama as they have been trying to pinch food from a family of stoats that I also feed in the garden.

So far the stoats have had the upper hand.

The habit of feeding kestrels from this specially adapted bird table all began with this male kestrel (pictured above). I've been feeding him here since 2006  and this year  he and his mate nested near the garden where I was able to train a webcam on the nest.

He has made a great painting model.

I've been particularly keen this year to get a painting of a kestrel in flight. In the picture above the chick is trying to balance,but I think my sketch below captures the action.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Barn Owl Chicks Fledge

The five barn owl chicks I have been studying have now all fledged.

I have watched these chicks via nest cams from the moment the first egg was laid and it is great to see them now fending for themselves.

All five chicks have survived, mainly due to the fact that throughout the breeding season I put extra food out for the parent birds. Barn owls here on the Yorkshire Wolds didn't breed very well, if at all, last year so I'm hoping these five will go on to repopulate this area.

The fledglings are now feeding from a landing post I put out for them just 12 metres from my hide. Sometimes they all arrive at the feeding post together and jostle for position!

Their regular appearances here gives me the opportunity to photograph them often. Above is a shot of the adult female posing for my GoPro video camera.

You can watch the footage here:

I use the photographs that I take throughout the year as studies for my paintings. Below is a painting of the female hunting earlier this year.

Last week I cleaned out the nest box, which was very smelly, and relined it with wood chips. The male and female (pictured below) both went in shortly afterwards.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a second brood!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tawny Owl Chicks

The pair of tawny owls that feed in my garden every night have begun to bring their chicks to the bird table and this week I had all eight at once, balancing on the branch outside my living room.

I managed to capture five of them in this one shot. They are incredible to watch, they are such characters. It makes me smile to see the way they bob up and down.

This pair actually had four chicks of their own and are surrogate parents to four more after I was given four extra chicks by a rescue centre.

I put food out in my garden for tawny owls every night and each year they nest in a line of sycamore trees just below my house.

So when I was asked by the Ryedale Rehabilitation Centre to care for a clutch of four owls I knew that the tawny pair would cope because I supplement feed them each night.

It's been incredible watching them thrive. There was one hairy moment when the chicks fledged during a torrential downpour.

Their feathers stuck fast and they were unable to fly back up to the safety of the tree canopy.

I scooped them up and brought them inside to dry them off. I had to rescue them two more times that week!

Now of course they are almost ready to fend for themselves. It's been great watching the parent birds take them out on hunting trips, but by mid-August the adult pair will begin to shoo them away.

Tawny owls are devoted parents and look after their chicks for a long time, but by Autumn they turf them off their territory to fend for themselves. It can be a noisy time and with eight young owls I'm expecting it to get very loud.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Goodbye Galapagos

They say all good things come to an end and today my three-week long exhibition on the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands draws to a close.

But before I pack up my paintings and put away my photographs, I thought I would post one last blog on the wildlife of this incredible Pacific archipelago.

I've picked out some of most iconic photographs from the trip and also some pictures of wildlife that is just as abundant and breathtaking, but that I haven't had time to mention.

Galapagos penguins are endemic to the archipelago and I was captivated by the way they were so agile in the water.

This vermilion fly catcher is, however, very rare. I spotted it on Rabida Island and it is believed to be the only one!

But this yellow warbler was relatively common.

These swallow tailed gulls are nocturnal. You see them during the day but they hunt at night.

I captured this flightless cormorant as it sunbathed.

And no report on these incredible islands is complete without a mention of its eerie beauty.

The coastline is spectacular.

And the volcanoes and red volcanic sand give it an other-worldly look.

Everywhere you go you literally trip over absurd creatures like lava lizards or marine iguanas.

 So, goodbye Galapagos.

UNLESS!!! Like me you can't quite bear to say farewell and then of course please contact me at the gallery on 01759 368355 to book a place on my next trip there in 2016.

The video below gives you an idea what to expect.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Painting Galapagos

My video studies for the paintings below are among the most interesting of my footage from Galapagos.

These are magnificent frigate birds. During the breeding season the males puff out their throats a bit like toads to create incredible displays. But the way in which the females seem to snuggle up to these inflated red chests is so tender. I wanted to capture the intimacy of this ritual in my painting, above.

And the painting below of a pair of a pair of blue footed boobies was the result of hours spent watching these comical birds performing their courting ritual,which in contrast is quite dispassionate. 

Their name comes from the Spanish word for clown, bobo, and that's exactly what they look like as they pick their way across the sands in those oversized baby blue flippers. They behave as though they don't really know what those huge blue flippers on the ends of their legs are!

The video below of a pair courting is interesting because of the listless way in which the male offers the female a stick. It's almost as though they can't really be bothered!

I wanted to capture this indifference alongside the comical element of these birds in the mood of my painting.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Framing Flamingos

Flamingos are rare in The Galapagos Islands, so when I came across some greater flamingos feeding in a brackish lagoon I felt very privileged.

I spent some time trying to get this shot of an individual feeding when all of a sudden these two males challenged one another.

It was fascinating to watch as each tried to get its head higher than the other.

Then after a flurry of pink it was all over. But not before I managed to capture the magical moment when their necks joined to make a perfect heart shape.

Not far from this lagoon I spotted a great blue heron. It looked fairly similar to our grey heron, only bigger. 

The heron was flying low over a sand bank above the beach. It landed and began stalking around, pausing every so often to look down at the sand inquisitively.

It didn't take me long to work out what it was up to. The sand was pockmarked by craters left by turtles laying their eggs and the heron was listening for the sound of hatched turtles moving under the ground. Every so often it would start stabbing at the sand with its powerful beak. I knelt down to capture some photos of the heron as storm clouds built up behind, complimenting its colours beautifully.

Not long after I noticed some frigate birds circling over head, clearly also looking for baby turtle morsels.

They began to swoop down in relays and grab beak fulls of baby turtles. It was quite horrific to see a baby turtle, its little flippers going like crazy, hanging out of a beak.

Frigate birds are beautiful, but as I watched them bombard this turtle nest they reminded me of pirates, right down to the bandanna-like swathe of red at their necks.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Land Iguanas

The best place to spot land iguanas on The Galapagos Islands is on Santa Cruz Island up the aptly named, Dragon Hill.

Santa Cruz is a beautiful island and the day I landed to climb the hill it was flush with green growth after recent rain fall.

The lush new grass was good news for us since it meant that the dragons of the island were out grazing. These huge, bright yellow and orange land iguanas were everywhere, taking advantage of the greenery.

Usually the land is dry and they live on tough prickly cactus plants. I videoed one as it tackled a cactus, rubbing the thorny spines off with its great claws.

It was great to see these iguanas wading through the bright green vegetation. I saw over 20 on our walk and they were all slightly different. 

Some were old and battle scarred and all had slightly different colouration.

The walk was quite a challenge since we had to traverse huge boulders, but like everywhere in the Galapagos it was well worth it – especially when we got to see the view from the top.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Galapagos Penguin Finds its Wings

Galapagos penguins are endemic to the archipelago and are very different to those found in South Georgia. I have tried to capture their endearing nature in my painting above.

But what struck me most about these flightless birds was how they moved underwater. On land they can look so awkward but I will never forget the first time I saw one swim.

I was snorkelling with my group when a penguin appeared quite suddenly. It was chasing a shoal of fish and gliding through the water, its wings propelling it along with such speed.

As it twisted and turned its wings were spinning through the water like a wind up toy. It was so agile looked as though it was flying when it was underwater.

But as my group watched in amazement it bumped right into my father-in-law, hitting him in the chest with its bill!