This post is about my efforts to take photographs of birds.
To be a bird artist you need pictures of birds, ideally ones you have taken yourself. I have occasionally managed to take a half decent photo, but wanted to do better.
Slightly fuzzy blackbird
First of all let me say it is not a simple thing to do. The experts make it look so easy! My biggest problem is patience – it runs out very quickly when faced with a view from a hide with absolutely no birds in it.
I recently arrived at a hide to find no room to sit down with my camera. I could however see that there were birds a-plenty. Looking good so far – chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, marsh tits, nuthatch and a greater spotted woodpecker. I was already planning future paintings in my mind. Yes – you guessed it – by the time I found a place to sit and set up all the birds were gone!
What have I learnt so far apart from “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again”? Well first of all to just sit, relax, appreciate your surroundings and listen to the birdsong. Birds will not arrive to order, but that is the exciting thing – you never know what you will see. Now when I look at a photo of a bird I think about the effort the photographer went to. It does make you appreciate them more.
Slightly less fuzzy
I have not painted a blackbird yet, just a preliminary sketch to get ideas. They do seem more willing to pose for photos than most birds!
The swallows are here, the swifts have arrived this week and I heard my first cuckoo this morning. I get shouted at every time I go to the shed by a Great Tit fiercely defending the offspring, and the baby blackbirds get in the way when I am moving compost out of the heap. It is an easy way for them to find food. Oh what a lovely time of year it is!
Swallow – Hirundo rustica
Even the baby rabbits munching on the young hydrangea leaves within their, somewhat limited, reach are something to smile about. Well they deserve it I think. They have such a struggle with myxomatosis and the new RHD2 which is wiping out thousands of rabbits. They are such lovely creatures and get such a bad press because they eat what we are trying to grow.
There are several nests around the garden, but I am concerned about upsetting them so I leave well alone.
I have been getting ready for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for several weeks now. I always like to feed the birds in the garden in the winter, mainly to help them, you understand, but it is wonderful to be able to watch them so closely. As the Birdwatch date approaches I find myself watching that bit closer and finding tastier morsels to put out in the hope of being able to record something unusual.
This last week I have been fortunate to see a female siskin and two bramblings along with the usual visitors. What excitement! However I think it must have been the low temperatures we were experiencing then, because come Birdwatch time and higher temperatures there was no sign of them. Do they know we are trying to count them do you think? Well that’s just how it is!
Here is just a selection of the birds I see in my garden:-
Coal Tits on a Cherry Tree
My aim is eventually to have a go at painting all my local birds. There’s a long way to go but the research will be enjoyable!
The nuthatch really stands out in the crowd! Not only because of its beautiful colouring, but also because it is the only british bird that creeps down a tree. The tree creeper and the woodpeckers all search for the insects they feed on under the bark by going up the tree, but the nuthatch will go up or down.
I am not fortunate enough to have seen a nuthatch where I live in Norfolk, although this does not mean they are not there. I do not have the patience to wait for birds to appear, although it is very exciting to see something new. I can remember a few years ago, whilst walking in Derbyshire, we stopped en route for a coffee. There were several bird feeders hanging near the door to the pub, which were very much in use. On one which contained peanuts was a nuthatch, completely oblivious to the comings and goings of the pub just a few feet away. Where birds accept and feel safe around humans it is so much easier to watch and appreciate them!
With its beautiful colours and markings it just cries out to be painted! This time I have gone for a smaller piece – just 6″ x 6″ (15 x 15 cm).
Oh what a beautiful bird is the peregrine falcon. It is the fastest of our native falcons and can reach 120 mph when hunting. During the last century numbers in this country fell to around 400 breeding pairs, thought to be caused by persistent pesticides. Thankfully this trend has reversed and there are now around 1,500 breeding pairs.
One success began in 2011 when peregrines began to nest on Norwich Cathedral. A platform had been put up by the Hawk and Owl Trust after peregrines had been sighted in 2009 and 2010. In the wild peregrines nest in mountains and cliff ledges, so the Cathedral spire was thought to be ideal. This proved to be the case and the public can now view them at a watchpoint in the Cathedral Close. http://upp.hawkandowl.org/
My peregrine watercolour was conceived whilst looking at the pictures of the Norwich peregrines. I will be taking him and others to the Art and Craft Exhibiton at Wymondham Arts Centre in Norfolk, UK at the end of this month.
As I write we have less than two weeks left of summer here in the northern hemisphere. Autumn officially begins on 22nd September this year and you can already feel the beginnings of change. The light is starting to mellow from the harsher sunlight of summer and the foliage on some trees is starting to change.
We count ourselves very lucky to have a pair of swifts come every year to raise a brood under our roof edge, but they have long since left to spend their winter in Africa. Their arrival in the Spring is awaited with great anticipation – will they make it this year? It is such a relief when they finally arrive and a joy to see them swooping and screaming through the air on summer evenings.
Swallows no longer seem to be attracted to our part of the village but I could not resist painting one after having seen several in the air round me as I worked one day.
They are still around but it is a sign that summer is finally over when they begin to congregate on the telegraph wires in preparation for their long flight south.
In May we went for an ‘Owl Experience’ at Baytree Owl and Wildlife Centre in Lincolnshire. We were booked for one person to ‘experience’ and one person to observe. I was the observer with my camera. Although I am not very proficient at photography I just wanted to capture an owl with personality that I could paint.
We met a selection of different owls from the very small one named Frost – a white faced owl with a huge personality – to the very large Eurasian Eagle Owl. It was a fascinating day – I hadn’t thought about what a large range of owls there are in the world. Throughout the visit we learnt such a lot about the lifestyle and habit of the owls and even saw many of the young that are reared there. Unfortunately I couldn’t make a note of the names of all the owls we saw (lack of organisation on my part) but here are a few of the photos:-
There were also many other owls which flew on different days that we could see in their pens. Of these I managed to photograph a very obliging Tawny Owl who posed for me very nicely.
It was definitely a day to remember and well worth a visit.
I’m still having internet problems! At least now its not a problem of no internet, just very, very slow internet. It is very frustrating and makes you realise how much you have come to depend on it.
I have been having a lovely time lately. Gardening work ceases for me at the end of December and doesn’t begin until March so I can concentrate more on my painting. Having more time means that more thought goes into a painting and in my case I try to give more attention to composition. This has always been difficult for me as I am too impatient when I have an idea of what I would like to paint. I know it is best to plan a painting carefully, but if I am enthused by an idea I usually plough straight in and worry about the setting later. This usually results in either too little space or too much to put in a realistic background.
Feeding the garden birds in winter is such a joy as you get wide a variety of birds on the feeders. I have been watching some coal tits and decided to paint them as they waited in the ornamental cherry tree which hangs over our garden from next door.
Coal Tits on a Cherry Tree
They are such lovely birds, as are the long-tailed tits which come in gangs about 4 o’clock in the afternoon almost smothering the fat ball holder
One bird I hadn’t seen this winter was the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, but at last today it was there on the peanuts. It is such a magnificent creature, although the other birds do not seem to appreciate it. They all keep well away when the woodpecker is around.
Greater Spotted Woodpecker
The warmer weather this year seems to have had an effect on the winter visitors. I have seen no bramblings or siskins on the feeders. Such a shame!
I have not posted for a while as I have been unable to get internet access for almost seven weeks!! This has been quite difficult as it made me realise how much I have come to rely on it.
I do a lot of research on line before I start a painting, for ideas and to make sure I have the details correct. It is interesting to see how other artists approach a subject and whilst it may not be your style, it can lead your imagination on to other ideas.
Blogs are another thing I have missed. I read a lot of other blogs, particularly those on botanical art. Some are factual, which helps and inspires the learning process, and some are friendly chat about all things botanical. Painting can be quite a lonely business and it is lovely to feel that there are other people out there with the same issues as you.
I have recently become interested in painting birds. I have always loved watching birds and would like to be able to catch their character in watercolour. Once I have painted the eyes in it brings the painting to life. Depicting feathers is quite a challenge, but I have found plenty of advice from other bloggers.
This Robin was my first attempt
Blue Tits came next
and then the Wren
I apologise for the brevity of this post, but I am not totally confident that my internet connection is now Ok and I wanted to make sure I had posted.