Friday, December 26, 2014

From Kenn's Drawing Table: African Fish Eagle

Kenn Writes: 

Work in progress: African Fish Eagle
Related to the Bald Eagle of North America; somewhat different in structure and notably different in voice, with loud, ringing cries. Last month in Kruger we saw these eagles almost every day, but I had only a few good opportunities to study and sketch them at close range.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

From Kenn's Drawing Table: Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

Kenn Writes: 

Work in progress: Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
In Kruger last month, I took several opportunities to study and sketch this bird because I was intrigued by its facial expression. Its odd bill shape and garish pink and yellow touches are certainly distinctive, but "beautiful" isn't the first word that comes to mind. "Interesting," though, that definitely fits. (Actually, "in progress" is the wrong term also; this painting has reached the point where I'll ditch it and start over, because some details of structure are wrong and some of the colors are irretrievably muddy. Still adjusting to these new oil paints. But I thought I'd share it anyway.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

From Kenn's Sketchbook: African Harrier-Hawk

Kenn Writes: 

Random sketchbook: African Harrier-Hawk

The name "Harrier-Hawk" is unfortunate; this broad-winged, big-headed, loose-feathered raptor isn't remotely similar to a harrier. But it's so structurally interesting that I couldn't resist sketching it. We had several good studies of this species in Kruger National Park, including this adult near Pafuri.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

South Africa Trip, Day 19: Heading for Home

Kimberly Writes: We're carefully planning our last precious hours in South Africa. So with thoughts of home streaming in around the edges of a dream trip, we're going outside.
We're going outside to bask in the South African sun - 
like this Laughing Dove.

We're going to keep our eyes and ears open to the world 
of possibilities - like this tiny new elephant.
And we're going to enjoy being together -
like these lovely Blue Cranes.

I am deeply, powerfully, and immensely grateful to Kenn for planning a stunningly flawless trip for us. It has been absolute perfection every single day, and I will cherish the memories of the gift of this trip for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

South Africa Trip, Day 18. Cape Town Area: Blue Cranes and Black Harriers

Kimberly Writes: Today, we had the distinct pleasure of birding with Callan Cohen, owner of Birding Africa Tours, and one of the authors of the Southern Africa Birdfinder guide! Our dear friend Ethan Kistler works for Callan, and together with Ethan's girlfriend Billi Krochuk, we spent the day in some really superb birding spots. If you're interested in a trip to Africa focused on birds, I highly recommend this company!

When we started out this morning, I mentioned three species we really hoped to see: Black Harrier, Blue Crane, and Verreaux's Eagle. And with impressive precision, Ethan and Callan found us all three, plus so many more amazing birds (and some mind-blowing insects, too)!

Blue Cranes are among the most elegant birds I've ever seen. With soft, curving lines, elongated wing feathers that flow behind the bird like jet-black ribbons, dancing and swaying in the breeze, and movements graceful enough for the finest ballet, it isn't hard to understand why this is the national bird of South Africa!

After enjoying great views of several Blue Cranes, we made a very special discovery. 
Look closely at the bird's feet. What do you see?!?!

Just when you thought you'd seen every cute baby animal in South Africa...
BOOM, a Blue Cranelet!  It's hard to imagine that this adorable little bundle of fluff will grow up to be one of the loveliest birds in the world!

Here's a short video I shot of the crane family.
You can hear the adults calling those supremely wild, haunting notes.

Black Harrier
Photographed from a long distance, but even so, you can see what a dramatic and impressive figure they cut as they power through the air.

It was a long distance view, but there are two Verreaux's Eagles perched at the base of this green bush. Verreaux's Eagles are birds of mountains, where they feed mainly on Rock Hyrax, which are a bit like huge Guinea Pigs.

This stunning European Bee-eater posed for us  in the most scrumptious 
light and in the perfect setting on a strand of barbed-wire.

I just had to include this image of the extraordinary Koppie Foam Grasshopper that Callan found for us! Not only is this thing colored like a mad entomological fantasy, it's also HUGE! These grasshoppers are highly toxic, able to ooze a noxious foam when threatened, and apprently their venom can kill something as large as a small dog, EGADS! But, oh boy, what a gorgeous grasshopper!

This was our last full day in South Africa, and I can't think of a better way to spend this precious time than seeing wonderful birds with great friends. Our flight doesn't leave until early evening, so we're going to try and spend our last few precious hours outside tomorrow, so we might have a few bonus photos to share!  

Monday, December 1, 2014

From Kenn's Sketchbok: African Penguin

Kenn Writes: 

Random sketchbook: African Penguin

This bird has a limited range, and I'd never seen it before -- this was my 14th penguin species. I had done field sketches of other penguins in the past; they often sit still (which is good) but they're often in very cold places (not so good). When I was sketching Chinstrap Penguins in the Antarctic, for example, my hands were so cold that I couldn't feel the pencil, with or without gloves on. So it was a pleasure to watch these African Penguins in shirtsleeve weather at Boulders Beach, south of Cape Town, when Kimberly and I went there as part of our anniversary celebration.

South Africa Trip, Day 17: Anniversay on the Cape of Good Hope

Kimberly Writes: Today is our anniversary, and it was the kind of day that dreams are made of. We had perfect weather, perfect scenery, and perfect birds. And I had the perfect company! 

It's been just the two of us this entire trip, which has made this trip very special for me. But today, we spent some time hanging out with a few other couples who were also celebrating love and romance!

This handsome pair of African Black Oystercatchers was resting on the edge of the ocean. We thought they made a beautiful couple.

This Glossy Ibis couple was looking particularly fetching as they stood close to one another in the morning sunlight -- on the edge of the sewage ponds!

A Greater Flamingo couple that we hung out with this morning!

Water Thick-knees (sometimes called Water Dikkop), are such cool birds! Aptly named for the fact that they have thicker knee joints than most birds their size, they're usually most active at night, so we felt certain that this couple came out today just to help us celebrate love on our special day!

An African Penguin couple celebrating love and romance!

We drove down the coast today to visit the Cape of Good Hope, which is just as lovely as it sounds! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and, as if the crashing waves, cloud-draped mountains, rocky outcrops, and wind-swept fields weren't enough, there were Cape Sugarbirds! (I'm not making that name up!)
Sugarbirds feed on nectar, and the marvelous male has a glorious streamer for a tail!
A closer, cripser image of the Cape Sugarbird
(You just can't see all of its fabulous tail.)
A close-up view of the protea flower that the sugarbirds were going for.

On our way down the coast, we stopped to visit the African Penguin colony on Boulders Beach near Simon's Town. (What a thrill to see flamingos and penguins in the same day!) 

One small portion of the African Penguin colony against the gorgeous ocean backdrop! 

The African Penguin is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa. The colony on Boulders Beach was established in the 1980s, and it's become quite a popular tourist attraction.

My sweetheart sketching the penguins

Thanks so much to all of our friends for sharing such sweet and kind anniversary wishes! It was a beautiful day, and we're feeling very blessed to have each other, and to have so many wonderful friends! ♥

Sunday, November 30, 2014

South Africa Trip, Day 16: Cape Town Sewage Ponds

Kimberly Writes: We woke early today, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the lovely Howard's End Manor, our home for the next few days. Our wonderful hostess, Bronwen Dawes, made us feel so welcome, and we highly recommend this place to anyone planning a trip to Cape Town!

After breakfast, we headed for the beach. Well, sort of. We headed in the *direction* of the beach, but drove past all the people soaking up the sun, on our way to a much better place! 

We were headed for the Strandfontein Sewage Ponds! 

This waste water treatment plant is actually a famous birding spot, and if you think that sounds a little crazy, you might want to take a look at today's photo album and see the birds that we found there!

The bizarre yet beautiful Greater Flamingo. 

Greater Flamingos are the largest and most widespread species of the flamingo family, and here on the sewage ponds, there were flocks totaling in the hundreds.

Sitting still, they're beautiful, but at the same time, somewhat gangly and a bit awkward looking. But in flight, they are breathtaking! 

And when the entire flock takes to the air at once, 
they scoop your heart and your imagination up and take them along for the ride!

Flamingos weren't the only birds at the sewage ponds today. We also saw several of these adorable little birds.

Okay, first off, this is a cute little member of the grebe family, which 

makes it a winner without knowing anything more. BUT, then you find 

out that its called a "Dabchick," and...SquEEEEEE!!!!

I love stilts, so I was thrilled to see Black-winged Stilts today. 

There were hundreds of these lovely Cape Teal on the ponds today. 
Their voice, a sweet high whistle, suits them perfectly.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

South Africa Trip, Day 15: Last day in Kruger

Kimberly Writes: Trees play a vital role in the way of life here, for the people and for the wildlife. We've spent some time trying to learn some of the common trees of the region, and we'd come to recognize and admire a few of them, like the Baobab and the Mopane. But today, our appreciation for the trees was taken to a whole new level, as they provided the backdrop for some of the most sensational discoveries of the trip.

During a stop at one of the camps to stretch, and replenish our water supply, we discovered a small group of Epauletted Fruit-bats roosting in a large tree!

I love bats, and have spent a great deal of time watching Little Brown and Big Brown Bats at home in Ohio. It was wonderful to see larger bats, roosting in a spot that allowed for great observation, and I even got some photos!

A close up up one of the Epauletted Fruit-bat reveals a 

cute, dog-like face! How could anyone not love bats?!

You don't drive through Kruger expecting to see a big cat. You hope, but you do not expect. These are elusive animals, mostly active at night, and some of them are very secretive. We'd had mind-blowing encounters with lions and cheetahs, and for that, we were deeply thankful. But we had failed to connect with a Leopard. 

Until today. 

That changed in the form of golden eyes staring down at us from high up in a tree. Set in a face awash in spots, it was not the piercing look of a fierce predator. No, the golden eyes stared down at us with sleepy indifference, but it was enough to make my heart slam against my chest, and make me give thanks for living in a world where something so extraordinary exists.
Sprawling on a limb, high in the tree and deep in the foliage, our first Leopard gazed at us with drowsy indifference. But even looking relaxed and sleepy, it was an impressive beast, as if someone took the best attributes of the lion and of the cheetah and blended them together into one fabulous big cat!

We felt certain that the Leopard was the discovery of the day. But late in the afternoon, with time running out before we had to be inside the camp gate, the trees provided one more very special gift: a stunning adult Bateleur Eagle! 
It was in a perfect spot for observing, and we spent more than an hour watching, photographing, sketching, and falling in love with this amazing bird! As the light shifted into that golden afternoon glow, it gave the bird an aura that was a sight to behold.

This is a place of magic, where distance isn’t measured in miles traveled, but by the ocean of golden savanna grass whispering in the breeze. By the vast mopane woodlands that sweep across the landscape and color the world a bright and brilliant green. 

Here, time passes in a different fashion, 
and all sense of time vanishes in the sweet, sweet face of an infant Vervet Monkey...

...and is lost in the soulful gaze of a wise old elephant.

I am sad to leave Kruger, but now we look forward to the last leg of our journey and adventures in Cape Town. Bring on flamingos and sugarbirds!  

Friday, November 28, 2014

South Africa Trip, Day 14: Olifants Camp, KNP

Kimberly Writes: During this trip, we've been blessed to spend time with some of the most spectacular mammals on the planet. But birds will always be at the heart of my interest in nature. They sparkle and shine, they flit and they soar, and they sing and dance in ways that I find endlessly captivating. Birds are a doorway to the natural world that introduces people to the diversity that exists - if you simply go out and look for it.

So today's post highlights just a few of the wonderful birds we were fortunate enough to see and photograph! 

We've seen Crested Barbet in every camp in Kruger National Park. 
And that's just fine by me, because they're just so totally cool!

Our fourth roller species of the trip, the European Roller! 

(We've also had Lilac-breasted, Purple, and Broad-billed.)

This dapper Mocking Cliff Chat was a life bird for me AND for Kenn 
(something that doesn't happen all that often!).

And, another view of the retina-burning Violet-backed Starling! 
I just can't get enough of this bird!

Red-billed Hornbill

Green-winged Pytilia

Jacobin Cuckoo 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

From Kenn's Sketchbook: Goliath Heron

Kenn Writes: 

Random sketchbook: Goliath Heron

 This huge bird, the largest heron in the world, lives only in Africa. It was one of the species that I particularly wanted to study on this trip for a future painting, but the few we'd seen had been very distant. Today Kimberly spotted one along the river near Oliphants, and we were able to watch it through the scope for a long time. The Goliath Heron can be up to 50 percent larger than the Great Blue Heron of North America, and I was trying to capture those elements of shape that create its ponderous and massive appearance.

Happy Thanksgiving from South Africa

Kimberly Writes: I am thankful each and every day for the love of family and friends, for my health, for my job and the amazing people I work with, and for the blessing of spending my life with the man of my dreams. 

Today, I am particularly thankful for the renewal of life. It touches my heart to see these fresh new faces, and it fills me with a deepened sense of commitment to conserving the natural world and its bountiful gifts.

Yes, these are baby giraffes. And, yes, I cried my
eyes out when I first laid eyes on them! 

There's nothing much sweeter
than a tiny baby elephant!

It stayed very close to mama and was always hidden
 in the tall grass, but this little baby Rhinoceros
was utterly delightful!

Even baby Warthogs are adorable!

A tiny newborn Impala.
They seem so fragile and vulnerable at this stage.

A very young, very precious Chacma Baboon with a 
little treasure that  it found along the road
Without question, one of the most adorable
 babies I've ever seen! 
Now, tell the truth, you said "awww"
when you saw this picture, didn't you!?!
I think my heart actually melted when I looked into the
sweet, sweet face of this Vervet Monkey!

Today, I am especially thankful to be sharing this South Africa adventure with Kenn -- just the two of us -- has been one of the most extraordinary things that's ever happened to me. Sitting quietly at his side as he sketches birds brings me more joy than I could have ever imagined.

Today, I watched him sketch the Goliath Heron, the largest heron in the world, and my heart could barely contain all the love I was feeling.

Wishing you all a wonderful and joyous Thanksgiving!