Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We are the Custodians of Nature

"Man, the Hero" is sitting on his pedestal. How big is his task to reign over the earth, yet he looks quite smug and loves to be admired! As consumers we are so totally responsible for the balance in our world. Of course we may use certain things, but how much can we safely claim for ourselves? As consumers and travellers we need the oil that is transported in huge amounts over the oceans. How can it be done more safely without spoiling our beautiful planet? We all know how a great spill can effect our birds!

We have little control over the harvesting of hundreds of thousands of seabird eggs yearly in societies where it is the main source of protein for humans. Closer to home, cats, with the blessing of their vets, insist on their favourite brands of tinned food, while at the fish factories fleets of boats are going out to trawl the oceans for the tons of fish needed to be processed as pet food for the supermarket shelves, leaving less for our seabirds!

For tourists and photographers, visiting the gannets is a breathtaking experience, yet care must be taken while large stone buildings are erected for people to watch birds from. Busy, noisy and dusty human activities can be stressful for the birds indeed. Tourism provides the funds needed for caring and monitoring the birds, so we hope that the pros outweigh the cons when we build these bird hides! The habits of the birds can be carefully monitored from here, but sometimes selected birds will have to carry a ring with data inscribed in it. Scientists have noticed that the ringing of a gannet can put the pair off breeding for a whole season!

My big-headed little man on his pedestal! I hope he can keep the balance! (The cartoon was done in great haste and from the imagination as I had to leave the West Coast for my solo exhibition in Pretoria.) I would love to hear your thoughts on this sensitive topic.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Gannet Colony

They are up with the first light in the morning and the daily choir of thousands of decibels hit the morning air above Bird Island. I suppose each shouts out his own hunger and intentions for fishing, and with such a crowd, there may also be a lot of admonitions to little ones not to get lost! Speaking of that: it is amazing how the parent gannets land back in their own space after flight and always know their own little black blobs from the surrounding chicks!

With creatures living so close to each other, there is apt to be some tension. Gannets relieve the tension by doing the neck-rubbing ceremony with the birds working on their nerves. It is not a mating ceremony. In this large painting, I have painted this beautiful and graceful movement. Well, here we have a lesson from the gannets: if a guy or lady grabs the parking spot we were already entering (!!!!), maybe we should shake hands or give them a little hug! See? The tension will be gone!

Further in this panorama, you will see the largish chicks, the hesitant flyers and the airborne ones. In the final and 5th post on this theme (which may only appear in ten day's time unless I get an internet connection where I am going), I will post the last of this series on the gannets of Lambert's Bay! The theme will be MAN and his relationship with the threatened birds.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fear of Flying?

This post comes to you from Pretoria where my West Coast exhibition takes place this week. The last week before leaving I painted enough gannets, photographed them and put them on disc. How easy it is to put your work in your purse nowadays!! The same cannot be said of all the paintings we hauled up here!

The time watching the gannets from the bird hide on Bird Island at Lambert's Bay was one of the most exciting times of my life. One can never get enough of that lovely mass of soft yellow heads, interspersed with the black "Pacman"-like, feature-less baby gannets! Soon, however, I started focussing on the spectacle of their flying.

The soil where they trample around is very hard, and they have a strip that they use for taking off, with many bodies actually walking through it. So to find a clear few yards to run before rising from the ground is difficult. Again and again they try, lose courage or halt to avoid a wanderer in their way and go back to try again. Flap-flap goes the feet designed for swimming over the hard crusty earth. I promise you that an onlooker can become utterly nervous! The eventual take-off is not very smooth but quite faltering!

On the edges, where the rocks are, others peek over the precipice before throwing themselves into the air. There are akward moments when they almost hang in the air, trying to find the proper movements. As if my readers are not upset enough by this time, I also have to tell you that the landings on those enormous feet looks like a great plopping down! I was saddened but not surprised to read in Nelson's book on seabirds that some gannets can injure or kill themselves in flying accidents! Here, close to the earth they have their worst close shaves with danger.

But of course, what takes place in the first moments of alighting is absolutely forgotten the moment they stretch out in the air, and form a single line from beak to tail, while the wings unfold to an enormous, finely tipped wingspan. Suddenly they are the most gracious and effective of flyers who are able to divebomb the sea at such a speed that it carries them down a full ten meters to a supply of fish who never saw it coming! Yeah, for the gannets, can you feel the relief and freedom of those flyers as they do the auronautical tricks they were born for.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Looks count!!!

For the next two posts I have painted a set of bright decorative canvasses, of 8x10 of which this painting is the first. With so many shows coming up, I am going to need smaller paintings. But I am also working on a large painting of a gannet colony, so it will be back to normal soon.

Almost everything in the physical appearance of the beautiful gannets have a function! Strange that such lovely birds have these really large chicks with absolutely no facial features besides their loud-loud mouths! Imagine a dark charcoal grey Pacman!

The gannet is brilliant white for the purpose of attracting lots of others when they dive for the fish. From the depths of the ocean, looking up towards the sky, the colour white is not easy to see. So when a lot of these birds hit the ocean, there is great confusion among the fish and they don't have much of a chance!

I could not find a function for the soft yellow heads, maybe it's only for decoration. Now the eyes! A gannet has binocular eyesight. The pale blue eyes are most impressive, and have strong black lines all around, which is naked featherless skin with a cooling function. I have painted so many of these gannets that I see another little bird on each side of the face. Can you see it too? Or is it supposed to mimic the shape of a fish when the gannet dives?

The beak is something to be reckoned with. Liz wrote to me regarding the beaks: "Gannets! I remember washing them during an oil spill! Vicious beaks! " Well done, kind and brave, Liz! Today I also post the photo of the friendly-looking gannet behind the glass of the bird hide, so that you can see the nicks made by these beaks! I love this almost magical photo with the markings and feather-dust and the light filtering through. I took it a few years ago and has been entering it in countless photo competitions but I seem to be the only person liking it!

Down the neck is a gracious black line, and again it is naked skin with a cooling function. The wings of the gannet does not lie flat like in garden birds, but they have thick folds. When the gannet unfolds its wings, the very wide wingspan is a wonder to behold, the width is unexpected. There is a black spot on each wing and the end feathers are black.

Last to inspect is the amazing grey fully webbed feet. Great for standing in the colony, for landing flatly, and can be folded out of the way when flying and diving. In the next post I will discuss their flying in greater detail!