Friday, September 25, 2015


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!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


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).

Friday, September 11, 2015


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) .