‘Hoo’s’ Looking at You?

I’ve been a bit busy doing some work around the house recently, still painting but wielding a much larger brush, so have neglected my art at little. In addition, we have seen some excellent birds, locally, too- Spring is definitely ‘sprung’ around here and the rare and scarce birds have been arriving, on some days, thick and fast. Our own feeders have provided sustenance for Blue, Evening and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings and a Baltimore Oriole, a veritable rainbow of colourful birds just begging to be painted (it’s happening!).

On one of our sorties further afield, we were privileged to see a pair of Great Horned Owls, not particularly rare but difficult to find and always special. These birds have been nesting and already have three well-grown owlets. One has even left the nest and is perched on a nearby branch, although still being cared for by Mum and Dad. A brood of three owlets, this early in the season is an excellent count and a testament to the hunting ability of the parent birds.

Mark took an excellent shot of the male owl in the early evening sun.

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That gaze is quite mesmerizing! I thought this would be a nice challenge to try and paint, and it was excellent fun. In fact, the almost excess of detail in the plumage made the painting almost easy, I find is much more difficult to get a realistic effect in smooth, plain-plumaged birds as it is harder to define the shape. This one was an overdose of detail, really. The low evening sun really brought out the orangey tones in the plumage, a feature of the eastern morph of Great Horned Owl. Lots of tones of ochre did the trick. I admit to taking a few artistic liberties with the foliage; as you can see, the original branch was far more lichen-covered than my version, and there were a couple of misplaced feathers on the bird that I decided did not need to be! I was pleased with the final picture, though.

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‘Great Horned Owl’, 8 x 12 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran D’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold-press watercolour paper (Canson XL).


Talking Turkey

Some people might think that Turkey Vultures may have faces that only a mother could love, but I’ve always had a soft spot for them. After all, they do a necessary job, places would sometimes be a lot nastier without them, and they are often quite sociable. In this part of Nova Scotia, right on the southern tip, they have become year-round birds and the Yarmouth/Chebogue peninsula area often has quite large numbers circling and gathering, even in snowy or icy weather.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I were taking a tour around the local birding hotspots, and took a trip down the Chebogue peninsula, just in case. There were no surprises, except for a house, quite near the end, which seemed to be covered in Turkey Vultures. There was apparently one on every fence post, several sat on the lobster traps in the yard, and a couple cavorting in the back of a flat bed truck on the front drive. I don’t know what was in the back of the truck, but it was certainly attracting the birds and I don’t envy the owner his clean-up job! The birds were a bit splattered, but Mark was able to take lots of photographs and I was certain that I could make a good picture, as long as I worked around the splatters on the plumage (white streaks, can’t think what they are). They were obviously resting up and digesting whatever they had found in the back of that truck, before they went off to clean their plumage.

I chose four of Mark’s many excellent photos to combine in my scene. I had four birds in mind as a sort of homage to the Disney vultures, with Liverpudlian accents, in the original animated Jungle Book (apparently called Buzzie, Flaps, Ziggy and Dizzy, and based on The Beatles). For some reason they were in my head throughout the preparation of the picture, despite the fact that New World vultures are not related to the Old World vultures depicted in the film, and I doubt very much if they have any accents at all, certainly not Scouse.

The birds were all facing away, but in a variety of angles and all looking over their shoulders at the viewer, so I was able to compose a pleasing arrangement. Other than the bright pinky-red heads and little ivory/pink bills, the plumage is primarily browns and beiges, and surprisingly colourful. It’s easy to think of them as ugly, but they are actually handsome, when in a good light, and were very enjoyable to paint.

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Talking Turkey’, 10 x 13 inch, watercolour pencil on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper.



Falcon Fun

In our earlier years, we would think nothing of heading out on a long twitch, sometimes driving the length of the country (in those days, the UK) to see a rare bird. Nowadays we are a bit more circumspect (well, it’s a lot bigger country!) and it can sometimes take quite a while  before we commit to a journey. This was definitely the case when a Gyrfalcon pitched up in Joggins, Cumberland County, right on the border of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This is a long journey for we ‘banana belt’ birders but the spectacular photos being posted daily of this unusually confiding bird finally persuaded Mark that he had to go see it. It coincided with a Townsend’s Solitaire just past Dartmouth, so a two tick trip (NS ticks anyway) was possible.

To cut a long story shorter, we did not get the Townsend’s Solitaire but, after a overnight stop in Amherst, we did connect with the Falcon on February 27th, along the fossil cliffs overlooking the Cumberland Basin and at it’s favourite spot, by the sewage works in Joggins. It allowed surprisingly close approach for photography, even I got some images, but for this picture I decided to use one of Mark’s much more professional portraits.

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This one, we thought, really gave a feel of the majesty of this amazing bird, more normally found in arctic regions. We think we were amongst the last people to see the bird, since it was not reported again after that date. how lucky that we did not delay any longer!

For my portrait, I did simplify the power-pole perch a little, although I rather like the juxtaposition of the industrial, man-made, pole with the natural plumage of the bird. Lots of subtle greys, browns and blacks in the plumage meant that those pencils got a pummeling again! The blue-grey colouration of the cere (the area above the bill) suggests this is a young bird.

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‘Gyrfalcon at Joggins’, 8 x 10 inch watercolour pencil on 90 lb cold press watercolour paper.


This young Merlin paid a brief visit to our garden back in December, causing consternation in the visitors to our bird feeders. It took up a commanding position on our weathercock, perhaps dreaming of heading south, and I was able to take a quick photo through the office window. I do like the juxtaposition of the bird and the hard steel perch. The background of the original photo was a mixture of dead branches, blurred due to the focus, and I wanted to give some impression of that without taking too much away from the main subject. I almost left the background white, but in the end am glad that I went for some colour.


The original photo, with our rather battered weathercock. Apparently we were enjoying a south-westerly wind at the time.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I like to work in watercolour pencil and am quite addicted to collecting new sets. I mentioned my new Derwent Graphitint pencils in the last post, but didn’t say that, when ordering them, I was also tempted by a set of 72 Derwent Watercolour pencils. They arrived in the same package. Initially, I was not overly impressed, when I did my colour chart (a grid of the colours, wetted, on watercolour paper so that you can see the true colour of the pencil) they seemed scratchy to use. However, I persevered and found that, for this picture, they were my go-to pencils. I think they needed a little work to get the true pigment going. The set is quite rich in browns, though not in greys, but my Marco Renoir set makes up for that. I really think I’m getting to a good place with the pencil sets (and maybe even won’t need any more for a while!).


‘WeatherMerlin’, 6 x 8 inch, watercolour pencil on lightweight watercolour paper.