Monday, 1 December 2008
For the last seven months or so I have been training and flying a female Peregrine. Her background is that she came in to my hands via my friend and fellow artist Dave Scott. Dave called me knowing that I was not flying a falcon at that time and told me he had been handed the bird, but with his own falcons to fly he could not put the time into her that was needed. She had come from a well known and carefully watched sight in the area and had got caught up in anti Pigeon netting on a building near the site. She was found by one of the volunteers hanging and obviously quite distressed entangled in the netting . A quick phone call to one of the registered ringers and she was rescued forth with. She was taken to a local vet who then evaluated her condition as unreleasable because of feather damage. She then found herself being cared for over night and put through the chain of registered and listed rehab individuals one of which is Dave. I had also had the experience of flying a previous male peregrine which I'd released back into the wild. At this point I was, to be honest a little reluctant to take on such a bird knowing that the vast majority of birds that come into captivity have little chance of making it back out especially a very young falcon and the the work involved . However i agreed to look at her and then make a decision. As I pulled up outside Dave's place I had already started to think how i was going to manage such a bird. Dave took me into his studio where the falcon was being kept in the dark in a box. We very carefully opened the top and there staring at me was a beautiful dark eyass Peregrine (meaning from the nest) .Her cheeks flared in threat posture and puffing herself up like harassed cobra about to strike she hissed at us . At that moment something switched in me and I instantly knew that I should take her on and help her no matter what it took in time and energy. Some things happen for a reason and I'm a great believer in fate . Its kind of weird that I should get this opportunity to help an injured falcon after loosing Missy my last Peregrine to a fence line in 2006 . We took her out of the box and put a hood on her to calm her then set about checking her over to asses the damage to her feathering and body. She had numerous creases and breaks along the primaries (the long finger like feathers on the ends of the wings) on both wings and although not snapped of completely they had been severely compromised in strength and lifespan. It was clear that she would need some extensive Imping ( replacement feathers grafted into the old quills still in the bird) . She also showed a quite obviously dropped left wing with a cut on the leading edge where the netting had cut into her. We carefully attached anklets and jesses and I took her home. I slowly went about the process of taming her down and getting her used to the sights and sounds of human life. the Kids took their job of exposing her to the garden comings and goings very seriously. Children very quickly get a Falcon absolutely bomb proof tame. If a bird can put up with kids tearing past and shouting , bouncing on trampolines etc they can put up with anything! within a week I had a visit from one her majesties inspectors to ring Megan as she had now been christened by Maisie my daughter. Soon she was flying loose and it was'nt long before we needed to get the feathers imped as she would not progress beyond coming a 100 yrds . I took her to a friend in Cambridge who had imped birds before successfully and she soon had a new set of wings to play with. We used the traditional method of imping using bamboo as the splint that slots inside the replacement feather then is glued and slid into the remaining quill coming out of the bird. This is a painless operation as the quills have no nerves and are like our fingernails . The difficulty is holding the bird down steady (casting) and keeping the stress levels down as we had to do each wing and the tail separately. I could now really start to push Megan's training on. I decided as I had done with my last Falcon to Kite train her. This involves sending the falcon up to the kite to get a lure hanging from the line off the kite in no time the bird is going up to about one thousand feet and is a very effective way of getting a falcon supremely fit. It also has the benefit of giving you the chance of teaching a falcon the very important lesson of the advantage of height . Megan took to the kite with no problems at all and was soon doing 800 ft climbs to the lure. I recently changed my set up from running the kite line down to using a parachute method where the falcon gabs the lure which is attached to a parachute that releases from the line and drifts down with the falcon. Unfortunately the rapid progress that I had enjoyed with Megan was relitively short lived and soon she started to loose the imped feathers put in to her wings . I tried to replace them as they came out but seemed to be fighting a loosing battle. Megan loves a bath and as such I feel it unfair to deny her that pleasure so every day without fail she is offered one . This unfortunately was the undoing of the bamboo imps put in because of water ingress into the glued shafts the bamboo swelled and split the quills both sides then as it dried ,shrank , then they became loose and Megan in the course of preening removed the feathers completely. I have since found a more efficient way of imping but the damage had been already done so unless I wanted to continue stressing her by repeated casting to refit new imps I had to call it a day on this season and be content with having given Megan some really good conditioning Physically and remind her that she is a Killer of birds.
As far as her cut in the wing this healed but there is still a drop to that wing after a work out.
I have also noticed that she is showing some slight signs of imprinting on People. She talks to me when she is picked up and is a little possessive of her food. These are not real bad problems at
the moment but will have to be watched . I feel really good about her progress in general especially the physical development that is so crucial for a first year bird. We will have to see what happens next year . For now she is going to be left to moult into a new set of feathers and then we can pick up where we left off.
Monday, 10 November 2008
How long does it take you to paint a picture like that?
That's a popular question, infact someone asked me it on the falconry forum just yesterday.There's not a definite answer though. It depends on the subject and background, whether it's something I'm confident about painting, the size, and whether it's a piece I'm enjoying painting. Some pieces take days others weeks. Generally once I start a piece I work on it until it's completed but sometimes I get stuck or fed up with a piece so will leave it for a while to work on something else then come back to it with a fresh eye.
What sort of paints do you use?
I use acrylic paint, which is water based, it dries fairly quickly and once it dries is water resistant. This means it's convenient as brushes and palettes can be cleaned with water, and it allows me to easily build up layers of paint on a picture . It also means I can add washes of colour over an entire piece or an area of painting without disturbing what's already there. On occasion I have used oil paints but this requires a different way of working and the oils take a long time to dry which is not always convenient when you've got a deadline to work to! Though I will be doing more oil painting in the next little while.
What do you paint on?
I use 6mm MDF, which I prime with at least 2 layers of gesso, but often up to 4 layers, and between applying each layer with a roller I sand the board smooth to ensure a good base for my work. This preparatory work is time consuming but necessary to ensure a good finish. Occasionally I have on canvas and plan to again in the future especially for really large pieces.
Where do you get your ideas?
I do a lot of sketching, and take a huge number of photographs- thank goodness for digital photography- it used to cost a fortune getting numerous rolls of film developed!Then once I have gathered all my material I play around with ideas for compositions taking elements from different sketches and photos and combining them. The ideas are worked in pencil on a small scale in my sketchbook and sometimes i will try adding colour at this stage to give me a better idea of how the finished piece might look. I make use of technology too using adobe photoshop to change parts of the composition and alter the scale etc. I get a lot of ideas when I'm out in the countryside flying my falcon, and also when I'm involved in the small scale gamekeeping and management of partridges that I do. Sometimes I arrange fieldtrips like the recent one to Skomer, but from time to time I just go out to favourite spots with a scope and sketchbook, and see whats there.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Monday, 13 October 2008
Sunday, 28 September 2008
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Anyway so what have I been up to .
On the day I took a lot of photos and did some pencil sketches (see earlier post )which I worked on when I got back to the studio, trying out different compositions until I came up with something I was happy with. It’s always difficult to narrow it down and pick one painting to do from a trip like that, I’ve got plenty of material to work with and I’m sure I will come back to it some time in the future and create another painting from it. Here's teh finished painting from the day.
If you’d like to find out more about skomer and it’s wildlife here’s some useful links
Friday, 1 August 2008
Thursday, 17 July 2008
Skomer is the largest of three islands of the Pembrokeshire coast and is home to vast colonies of sea birds including Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and of course the star of the Skomer the Puffin . After a brief but funny distraction of photographing a family of swallows that were nesting in the gents toilets ! We boarded the boat service that runs from Martins Haven . The boat carries about fifty people about three times a day to Skomer between May - Sept and is only a few pounds . The weather was ok but rain was forecast for later so we took water proofs . The swell was not to bad and we soon started to encounter Auks on the surface of the sea, mostly Razorbill’s and a few puffins taking off . Other birds started to appear like Kittiwakes, Herring, Greater and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Then we were rewarded with a few Gannet’s passing over the boat no doubt from nearby Grass Holm , which is the second largest Gannet colony in the U.K. These truly are huge birds when one see’s them up close.
Within ten minuets we were coming into the small harbour of Skomer , surrounded by rafts of Puffins and Guillemots and Razorbills .
After a brief talk by one of the resident wardens we spent the first half an hour trying to obtain some flying shots of the puffins coming in from the sea. This was like trying to pick up sand with a sieve!! Almost impossible . The puffins would come streaking past then land in amongst the bracken and taller grasses on the slopes above us. However despite the odds we did claim a few usable shots. Thank God for digital cameras! A wren sang noisily from the bracken which proved an easier target !
We decided to head for the Wick which is the best place on the island for getting up close and personal with the Puffins . On the way we stopped occasionally to take in the wonderful views of this wonderful island . Lesser Black Backs patrolled the wind above our heads and the evidence of their activities didn’t take long to find as on one of the paths that we were on we came across the carcass of a hapless Puffin that its battle with the Black Backs. Although this kind of predator prey relationship is just the same as any that may be played out across the planets different ecosystems . The Puffins certainly don’t seem to be affected by the Gulls on a population level. This is being affected more by our indirect actions and the falling numbers of sand eels around our coasts . Nationally the numbers of Puffins are dropping although when you come to a place like Skomer its hard to picture that. Other birds that inhabit this group of islands that are unique are the Manx Shearwaters that also nest in underground burrows that polka dot the grass covered slopes . The vegetation seemed quite high on our visit and there was no evidence of the burrows although the warden did ask us not to stray from the paths as the Shearwater nests were everywhere and we could collapse the tunnels if we went off trail. We stayed on course and followed the winding track towards the Wick . I stopped to watch a Sedge warbler through the Bino’s but couldn’t get a snap of it before it disappeared into the dense marshy vegetation that we were passing through. We then passed through a more open area and on some higher ground you could see the nesting colony of the Lesser Black Backs only yards away from the Puffins of the Wick. The Wick is a small elongated cove with sheer cliff face on the left side as you look out to sea and sloping dropping stained rock leading up to grass covered slopes on the other side. The view point at the top of the Wick is dotted with puffins burrows and the Dapper little birds walk right past your feet quite unfazed by your presence allowing great photo opportunities , and for me to sketch them at no distance at all . There seemed to be a constant stream of adults coming in with sand eels , some whizzing past your head as they came into land just short of there burrows. Others seemed to be still collecting vegetation for there underground nests. With birds being this close and confiding it gave me to study them in real detail. I noticed many of them had badly worn primaries and secondary feathers bleached by the sun. At the time I could not tell the sexes apart and am sure not many people could but on reading from “ The Auks, by Anthony J. Gaston and Ian L. Jones and beautifully illustrated by Ian Lewington” I found out that the males are bigger especially their bill size and this grows with age in both sexes . The British subspecies of Puffin are the smallest and those of the Arctic are the largest. Another way to tell the age of individuals is the number of grooves running down the outside of the bill . Its amazing to think that these very birds in a few months will be far out to sea facing storms and huge swells in places far away as Newfoundland . These are tuff little birds !
Not much is known of there movements out in the vast oceans in winter, yet they return here every breeding season . This makes our coastline a very special place indeed.
After spending some considerable time with the Puffins we decided to head towards the Farm that once worked the land here. We passed through the Lesser Black Back colony and discovered a lost little soul on the path. A very young rabbit with a white spot on the top of his head. It took some convincing on my part to stop Vicky from taking him home ! As we walked on we noticed Starlings amongst the rocks gathering for the evening. Two pipits having a dispute then quite unexpected a Manx Shearwater foolishly past through the Gulls air space which immediately induced an attack from the Gulls . The Shearwater was knocked into thick undergrowth and did not reappear thank goodness as I think it would have been killed. We prayed that it would re appear at dark to get to its burrow. Swallows flitted around the old farm buildings and we pushed on towards the harbour . A little owl flew up from the track onto one of the many tumble down walls that criss cross the island and then flew on in typical bounding fashion to another dry stone wall further on . A Curlews plaintive call directed us to its flight path across one of the fields where it put in , presumably on a nest.
As we got closer to the harbour we were treated to yet more Puffins congregating to roost ,some on a high exposed rock posed for our cameras . What is it about these birds that people find so endearing. I think its simply that they have so much human like character in them . There was a constant stream coming and going . As they left with quick fluttering wing beats they reminded me of little moths with their flight style. We missed the 3.00 pm boat so had to wait for the next one but no one was complaining ! Puffins ,Guillemots , Razorbills in their hundreds started to arrive for the evening all around us and the noise level from this many birds started to rise. Fulmars wheeled around on stiff wings riding the air currents effortlessly . Looking up the air was filled with tiny fluttering sea moths all coming in to dazzle us with their smart summer plumage and brightly coloured bills. Its no surprise they are called sea parrots by the people of Newfoundland. Its then that I realize how much my face hurts not from the wind or sun burn but from grinning so much all day!
For me and Vicky it was a great day and a special experience , one that everyone should see. As a farewell for two falconers a tiercel Peregrine appeared . Announcing his presence with a loud EE CHUPP….EEE CHUPP!! Which alerted I and Vicky to his position high above amongst the wheeling mass of Auks . Such a day wouldn’t have been complete without seeing a peregrine . But today the Stars of the show were most definatly the Puffins.
It was a real pleasure to see these four young Tiercels at liberty and as I was visiting on one of the early day’s they seemed very reluctant to leave the safety of the hack chamber. I took numerous photo’s of them and in the days after my visit kept fully briefed of their progress. Sadly two did disappear last seen giving chase to a Heron of all things ! Certainly not lacking in courage those two and lets hope they are doing well and now fending for themselves . The remaining three were caught up after giving my friend a magical experience of seeing young falcons chasing each other and any bird that came into their airspace around his property
I asked my friend if he would do it again and it was a resounding yes
He has Kept back one of the tiercels for himself(blue) and it will be flown as a game hawk alongside the rest of his team of other falcons.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
We're also in the process of choosing which images to launch as the "premier collection", one of them will definately be a cheetah image, which we will be donating a percentage of the profits to a cheetah conservation organisation.The premier collection will be very exclusive , signed and numbered ,canvas giclees- only 25 of each image will be produced, so when we launch an image you like, you'll need to snap it up quickly.
Finally, the "puffin pursuit " canvas which is available on the site, has nearly sold out- only about 10 copies left- so if you're interested in buying that one you need to place an order quickly so as not to miss your chance.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Friday, 23 May 2008
Continuing on a similar theme is a Golden plover piece that I have wanted to paint for a long while. The inspiration came whilst out feeding my Partridge feeders on the ground I fly my falcons on. We always get large flocks of wintering Golden Plover there . Its a very open high plateau of ground near the coast that the plover seem to like and you can see the Moor which they also frequent from this location too with uninterrupted views straight across the beautiful Devon countryside. This Particular day it was towards the end of the day and I had finished topping up feeders and was about to drive home when my eye was caught by the typical wing stretch of a Goldie on the plough of one of the exposed fields on the top ground. I stopped the truck and glassed the individual which revealed a mass of plover all roosting on the plough there cryptic camouflage blending them perfectly in the young winter wheat. I did some sketches using the scope and then tried to stalk closer for a few shots with the camera. I managed to get some distant shots but nothing fantastic and I just lay on the field watching them sleeping,preening and moving about amongst one another . It must have been high tide and this or the more is where they come to await the turning of the tide. Soon some unspoken signal filtered through their ranks and they all took to the air to head out to the estuary. Because I was already low to the plough I got some good shots of them coming straight towards me and then passing to my right across the low now Golden sky . The sound of their piping calls and the rush of hundreds of wings speeding past is an unforgettable experience.
Another piece I have just recently completed is of the Cann Quarry Peregrine female. Its amazing how attached one gets to individual wild birds that you come to know . This female and her mate unfortunately failed this year to hatch fertile eggs and as I type this they are still at the site but not incubating any longer. I have not been able to visit the site for sometime but I am kept informed about how they are doing by friends that are on the watch team that monitor the site. These are generally a successful pair in recent years and its puzzling why they have failed .However these things do happen and I'm sure they will succeed next season.
Thursday, 22 May 2008
Since getting back, I've been working on a large commission for a client via the Halcyon gallery, and Donna is researching which events we should exhibit at over the next couple of years. We went to the Devon County show last week and are looking into the possibilty of having a stand there next year. We will definately be at the falconry fair and the falconry festival next year, and we're looking at the CLA and possible trade shows for next year or 2010. We'll keep you posted, and once we know we're definately going to be at a particular event we will add it to the relevant page on the website.
We're also busy looking at possible images to use for new sets of greetings cards, and of course the new premier collection of giclees will be released in the next few months , so we are considering which images to use for them. When the decisions have been made and release dates organised we will let you know.
And of course on top of all that we've been getting lots of enquiries and sales via the website to deal with, so sorry it's been so long since the last post, but now you can hopefully see why. I'll do my best not to leave it a month before I'm back again.
Hugh, one of Carl's good friends entertaining me and Chris Gilchrist with a tale from last seasons hawking. It was good to catch up with so many good friends.