It is barely light as I ease myself out of the door of our chalet and step into the cool dawn. Red-winged and Pied Starlings call from the tree outside and I hear the chatter of weaver finches nearby. Walking down to the headland overlooking the water, canaries sing in the trees as I pass and across the dam, distant calls of Hadeda Ibis.
High up, cirrus clouds glow in the morning sun, a faint pink etched against the blue - the sun has yet to crest the hill to the East. Fiscal Shrikes are already active and in the reedbeds, Long-tailed Wydowbirds (the males still in Winter plumage) flutter to and fro. The air is full of bird calls and as I gaze across the distant landscape, a lone Blesbok lopes away. Up on the ridge nearby, I spot 3 Ostrich - two males and a female - they would soon join us below! A cool breeze called for a jacket this morning but as the sun rises, it soon warms up. By now I have reached the hillside overlooking the water and the view is magnificent. A White-breasted Cormorant flies along the shoreline heading for deeper water and close in are hundreds of Red-knobbed Coots. The surrounding landscape is simply stunning - more so when coloured by the rays of the sun as it crests the ridge. I am already planning paintings in my mind and am almost overwhelmed by choice. Yet another spectacular morning in Africa.
Painting above - Wattled Crane, watercolor on Arches paper, 12" x 9" (30cm x 23cm). Notes above from my Qwantani diary. Photos: (1) Looking across Sterkfontein Dam, (2) Pied Starling and (3) Red-winged Starling (both these species along with Black-eyed BulBuls, weavers etc were hoping to join me for breakfast).
After relaxing for a few days, we decided to drive to Qwantani resort and managed to get booking online. This would give us a few days out of Johannesburg and also a chance to gather reference for my paintings, and to do some serious birdwatching. There were many wonderful scenes on the way down and I saw the rocks shown in the painting above on the way into the park (8"x 10", oil on canvas). What interested me so much was the interplay of evening light and shadow against the cooler blue of the sky so I knew I would have to do a study of it.
This watercolor painting above was done in my sketchbook and is typical in the area as being one of the many such landscape features we passed on the way down - I'll probably do an oil study of this scene later on. Never having driven this way before, I found this part of SA fascinating and began to see more mountains as we approached the Drakensburg. I could see that this type of scene would be one that I would return to often in my SA paintings.
Along with the spectacular landscape were many birds. Apart from the more usual roadside birds, we also saw a large flock of Long-tailed Widowbirds. At first I had no idea what they were as in Winter, the males resemble the females so it took us a while on the side of the road to figure that one out. Driving on a little further, we were very excited when we came across a party of Ground Woodpeckers (Steve Pearse photo above). They are endemic to Southern Africa and were very happy to add them to our rapidly-growing bird list. Next, a new dawn in the Drakensburg!
In the previous post I mentioned looking out over the lake as the sun rose in the African sky. Later in the morning, birds dropped down to the exposed rocks near the middle of the lake to bathe and to drink. The balcony was an excellent spot to just sit and see what turned up - before I took this photo, Blacksmith Lapwings had been busy at the waters edge feeding and preening. When they took off, the Indian Myna's arrived followed by the Moorhen. The two Cattle Egrets had been there for some time and were later joined by another. Hawking insects over the lake were Lesser-striped and White-throated Swallows along with a few Rock Martins. Weavers were busy at the lakeside reeds and an early male Stonechat was joined by a female just below where I was sitting.
There were plenty of other birds around at that time of the morning - mostly common winter species but as it was warming up to an early Spring, many were nest building. Later walking around the estate, we found the nest of a White-bellied Sunbird - the male singing nearby. The female once stuck her head out before retreating again. Stonechats (male pictured above) were seen most mornings feeding in the garden and amongst the dried grasses and rocky areas to the right of the house.
I did the painting above as another example of the South African landscape - just a typical scene one would come across driving around the highveld in Winter. I'm not trying at this point to do anything too adventurous as I'm still feeling my way in so to speak and I don't expect to be able to come close to what I feel about what I am seeing around me. 'Near Harrismith' is an oil on canvas, size 5" x 9" (13cm x 23cm).
Our visit back to South Africa was to be a family event and while I was not looking forward to the more than 15 hour flight, it passed quicker than I had hoped. We arrived in Johannesburg just as the sun was setting over the African landscape. Surprisingly it felt like coming home as I haven't set foot in Africa for over 20 years! As they say, "Africa gets into your blood", and for me that certainly is true. We were to be staying with my brother in his large and quite wonderful home overlooking a lake, so early the next morning I woke before dawn and walked downstairs to the second floor balcony so that I could watch the sun come up.
The winter sky was almost clear of cloud so this, the first African dawn for a long time, was to be a very special one. In the photos above, the sun has yet to rise over the horizon but the colours were amazing!. The first photo shows where Hadeda and Sacred Ibis were roosting in the large Gum trees just to the right of the house along with about 35 Helmeted Guineafowl. It was wonderful watching them leave the roost and take off in different directions for the day - spectacular against the colours of the dawn. If you look closely on the right you can see a few Hadeda Ibis in flight - their loud calls adding to the mood. This day was to be the start of a very special trip back the the country I once called home.
Later driving around I noticed that not much had changed except that most of the roads were in better condition, although there were certainly more people than I remembered. The area around Johannesburg is mostly grassland with the occasional rocky outcrop (kopie) and one of the things that I had always found interesting was coming across small stands of trees - sometimes appearing in the middle of nowhere - which added a distinct character to the landscape. Usually these plantings were of Eucalyptus trees and the sight of them were something that had always epitomized South Africa for me. So it was this feeling that prompted me to paint the small canvas shown above. I had the idea to set the scene in the early morning with some cloud cover as added atmosphere and tried to capture something of the essence of South Africa in this study. With the dried grasses and lonesome trees, I felt very satisfied upon completing it. 'Roadside Trees' is in oil, size 8" x 10" (20cm x 26cm) .
Not sure if I posted a pic of this painting, I completed it awhile ago and for once I was happy with the finished painting. It took many layers of watercolor to get to this point but I felt that all the work was worth it in the end. It was fantastic to work on a painting with the real bird right there in front of me. These large owls are one of my favorites and I do plan on completing more studies of them someday. In the meantime I have been very busy with other work which I'll get to in my next post.
Eagle Owl, watercolor on Arches paper, 7.5" x 11". SOLD.
Working slowly on the back and wing, I completed that section then moved around here and there darkening some areas and adding more details as needed. I tidied up the eye a little then added the finest shading to some of the markings and also along the breast as I wanted to define that line a bit more. At this time, I'm still not sure what pose the bird will be in when it comes time to do a watercolor study but have just finished another light drawing on watercolor paper of the bird in a slightly different pose than this one so that will most likely be it. I have certainly enjoyed making studies of this most impressive Buteo - I'm sure they won't be the last. Finished drawing is on Arches paper, size 15" x 11" (38cm x 28cm).
Here I am well into the details of the back and wing, trying all the while to capture the rather intricate plumage and feather structure. Since this study will only be in black and white, I am more concerned about the tonal values as they have to read correctly across the image. Another pass over the top of the head brought up some of the markings there. Next I'll add the final part of the wing and a few smaller details here and there.
I am an artist living and working near Washington DC in the USA. I was born in the UK but have lived abroad most of my life. I paint mostly landscapes and birds but have many interests so you never know what will turn up. Most of the paintings shown here are for sale so please contact me at jeremypearse (at) gmail.com if interested. Thanks for visiting!