Monday, May 31, 2010

Our voles are just too cute!

Rodents are rodents? No, definitely not, I have promised to stand in the way of anybody trying to disturb the bush where my nearest little voles live. They live in dense thorny bushes where they make tunnels. These bushes are part of the original fynbos of the West Coast, and not something we planted here. Of course these clever animals think ahead and love multiple exits. Strangely enough the little Cape Robins seem to share these tunnels with them, as they are in and out, "visiting" or maybe "boarding" as there are no trees for birds on the coast. Something else I have noticed about these "buildings": like the ancients in Crete and Athens, the entrances of the abodes face East!

Voles are extremely shy and will not enter the house. I have the greatest problem taking photographs. They love sitting in front of their tunnels in the winter morning sun, but scatter if you as much as pass by a window inside. A vole is stouter in body than a mouse and also much larger. Voles have shorter tails and bigger ears. I am sure Beatrix Potter would have been enchanted to see them and would have made up little characters!

I needed depth for this painting and painted the background in watercolour over which I then glazed a layer of thinned down white acrylic. The vole and foreground was done in acrylics.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The African Black Oystercatcher

I have painted a pair of "tobies" flying low above the water line where they forage for food. The long orange-red bills are also used to pry oysters and mussels from between the rocks and they can push that bill right into the sand to find little fauna underneath. These birds also feed by night! African Black Oystercatchers or Haematopus moquini, called tobies in our area, mate for life, the pair remaining loyal throughout their potentially long lives of up to 35 years.

Black oystercatchers are the most precious birds on the West Coast, being on the Red Data list of seriously endangered birds with less than 5000 in the world. There is a sign at Kabeljoubank warning visitors not to disturb these birds. (visitors to these beaches and rocks are luckily very few) Tobies are not very scared if you keep your distance, and I can sit quietly about 10 meters from them for a long time.

Their nesting habits are problematic as they scratch a shallow nest into sand and sometimes line it with a few bits of shell. With only one to four eggs lying in the open, the dangers are many! The eggs can be trampled, found by dogs or grabbed by other birds and animals. It is a known fact that the conservation people who watch and count the birds will not even tell a well-meaning person where a nest can be found! Human curiosity may just lead a person to try and take a peek and later on someone's dog may follow the spoor!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Cape Cormorant

We are very fond of these large black birds that are so poised and upright! I think they hold the moral high ground too, as they are not scavengers of domestic food like the seagulls. (There is one seagull visiting in the painting.) They are known for forming long lines over the sea, rising higher and lower as they search for shoals of pelagic fish like pilchards.

Phalacrocorax Capensis is its Latin name and it refers to the chrome yellow patch on the throat at the base of the bill. This patch is brighter in breeding season when these usually quiet birds get quite vociferous, shouting gheeee and ghaaaa, where they breed on the islands off the West Coast.

We once found a dead cormorant that was ringed. The phone number was that of the Pretoria Zoo who referred us to the University of Cape Town. We learnt that the bird was ringed at Dassen Island 6 months previously! Why we care, is that on the IUCN Red list of threatened species Cape Cormorants are listed as "near threatened", the greatest dangers being oil pollution and predators as well as disease.

This was one of those absolutely wonderfully warm autumn days. I went overboard taking photos but will just show the one where they stretch their wings to dry in the sun after fishing. My palette was ruled by white and black, Indian red and Prussian blue for the grays in the clouds, rocks and birds. I added cerulean blue to this limited palette to paint the sky.

Friday, May 14, 2010

After the Rain

There is so much to see here at the seaside after heavy rains. I always go down to observe those enormous waves, heavy with water after the previous day's deluge. This little guy is sitting here like a statue. Shall we try to guess his thoughts?

Maybe he is thinking of NATURE, the immense power of the storming waves. He can watch the seagulls diving down for all the "fast food" like "storm-crushed mussels". He can watch that brown mass in the water which is kelp that has been uprooted and will soon be thrown out on the pebbles to rot. He can count the waves and wait for every 7th one, which is always the big one!

He can also consider HISTORY! This exact spot claimed The British Peer in 1896. (Wikepedia made one mistake. It was not at Saldanha but at Kabeljoubank where it wrecked!) The ship's ballast consisted of small red and yellow Victorian facebricks. Nowadays, when somebody collects pebbles and shells they will find the completely rounded "brick pebbles" as a reminder of that large wreck. The boy may also think sad thoughts of family tragedy. I once met an older couple sitting here, who said that their son had an accident in a little boat here. This, unfortunately is something that can take place on the West Coast!

But, knowing boys, I think it is GEOGRAPHY on his mind, of leaving one day for places far away. Ask a local person what you will find over the water and they answer "England". The English arrived along these shores when they attacked the country in the beginning and again at the end of the nineteenth century, so maybe that planted the idea. (But if our boy travels as the crow flies he will reach not Britain, but Uruguay!)

After the rock painting, I remained in the mood for subjects of limited colour, so I will search for one of our local "wildlife", a Cape franklin, vole, mongoose or tortoise to paint next. The colours waiting on my palette are black, white, yellow ocre, Indian red and the one I can never do without: Prussian Blue.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rock Solid!

I will not describe our Cape introduction-to-winter weather! Suffice to say it is known as The Cape of Storms/Cabo des Tormentos! I do not venture far out on the West Coast and rather paint the scenes that are close by. This very square old rock thrones over many low rows of jagged serrated points. I see it every time I can get my lazybones out of bed to take a beach walk.

After doing the painting, I found among my photos of the last five years many different images. There it stands, darkish, split into three layers so very long ago! The side that is always facing the sun looks as if it has been bleached a lighter colour. Over the top and down the sides, like icing, runs the white lines of calcified guano left by the visiting local seagulls and black cormorants.

The scene changes. Birds come and go, the tide ebbs and flows, the mists come down and lift again, but it sits there proudly, patiently! I think I will name this painting: "Rock Solid".

Sunday, May 2, 2010

More about Paternoster

West Coast autumn days have many faces, but a lovely clear almost-winter day is like a tonic for the soul. It is 12 noon and on the beach at Paternoster everything is peaceful. Clear turquoise water, a gentle low tide, boats resting and parents probably having a cooling drink on one of the verandas!

Aren't you painting too many boats, the family wants to know....but I still have a story to tell about the small fishermen, the subsistence guys who are really at the bottom of the hierarchy as far as fishing rights are concerned. During the last century, people were free to fish, but things do change for many reasons. Fish become scarce. Crayfish is no longer poor people's food but an important export product. A fisherman is allowed to bring in 4 crayfish per day, and a small amount of fish,which means to live he has to go out daily and face the dangers of the ocean.

Large factories can buy bigger concessions than the small guys, and they have to. They must pay salaries to thousands of factory workers. And also, the population now need many tons of frozen fish, tinned fish, sardines, crayfish and cat food which a large company with large trawlers and refrigeration is able to deliver.

It is sad to listen to the very real fears of some of the 30,000 local subsistence fishermen. They can go to work in factories and the steelworks , but that means travelling to Saldanha, and have a divided family with old values under pressure. Children also loose respect for parents not able to provide for them and get involved in bad habits. West coast tourism, luckily, is growing and will hopefully provide jobs as people discover the joys of this peaceful area. How nice it is to be in a place that is not rich, not opulent, but so very tranquil and naturally beautiful!

After many months, I have to add this bit of news: This is the top painting on my blog! I watch the polls, and the paintings move up and down, but "More about Paternoster" stays in the first place!