Monthly Archives: June 2020

Bay-winged Cowbird

Bay-winged Cowbird

Bay-winged Cowbird (Agelaioides radius), watercolour on A4 paper.

This one was painted from reference photos taken in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have seen these in the Pantanal region of Brazil though according to the Birds of Brazil app that I have on my iPad its range extends only to the south of Brazil.


Red-whiskered Bulbul

Red-whiskered Bulbul

The Red-whiskered Bulbul, also known as the Crested Bulbul, (Pycnonotus jocosus), is a bird that I often saw when I lived in Hong Kong many years ago.

At that time I lived in the Mid-Levels and would walk to work in Central in the morning. If the weather was fine, and not too humid, it was a pleasant walk that allowed me to see, every day, 23 species of bird. This bulbul was one of the regulars.

Watercolour painting on A3 paper (42 cm x 29.7 cm).

I have always been keen on birds. When I was about 6 years old I, living in Yorkshire, I remember searching hedgerows for bird nests. We lived on a farm so I had plenty of opportunity to see my feathered friends. Quite how I managed to do so without getting lost remains hidden from my memory but having spent a good part of my pre-adult life in the countryside I spent a lot of time birdwatching.

As an adult I would buy bird guides in the various countries in which I lived or visited. I would annotate the books and mark the species that I had seen personally. This pre-computer system worked well for me until now. A month ago, however, my house (and many other houses where I live, was attacked by termites. The first I knew of it was when I heard a scratching noise coming from my bookshelf as I reached for one of my many bird reference books.

Image left: The entire wall as damaged by termites – all wood and paper (books) removed. Image right: All of these books were destroyed by the termites.

Among my library of reference books, most on birds and nature, had been attacked. The entire set of wall cabinets, drawers and shelves in my office area was destroyed. I managed to save what I could but only 16 bird books remained. I had lost all but one on my Hong Kong bird books as well as a book on world birds that I had owned for decades. The sadness about losing the HK bird books is that it contained all by bird notes, including trips into the New Territories. C`est la vie.

#watercolour painting #watercolour #painting #bird #birds #nature #art #ornithology #redwhiskeredbulbul #crestedbulbul #pycnonotusjocosus

Shoot Stock


View of the clouds at the top of the Graciosa trail (approx 1000 m above sea level – the mountain peaks reach 1500 m above sea level)

I’ve often mentioned the Graciosa road or trail when writing about some of the birds I have painted, so thought it would be a good idea to describe this wonderful area in more detail. This is where I have seen most of the tanager species that became watercolour subjects.

First of all I should put it on the map (a map link is provided below). The road is situated about 40 minutes drive from the city of Curitiba, capital of the state of Parana in the south of Brazil, on the side of a mountain that forms part of the Mata Atlantica or Atlantic Rainforest.

Shortly after the Portuguese first settled in Brazil over 500 years ago they explored the coast for wood, gold and other valuable resources. A settlement had been established on the coast which was later named Paranagua, now a busy port. The indigenous population had already established a series of paths along the coast which where then used by the Portuguese in their foraging trips.

The trail near the top of the mountainside

Over time a path was built from the coast to a village on the plateau behind the mountain’s edge. This village became Curitiba, a place that grew in importance as a staging point between the coffee and cattle regions of the south and the settlement of Sao Paulo in the east.

The trail was developed to permit the transportation of goods between Curitiba and Paranagua. It fell into disrepair in the 17th century but was rebuilt in the 19th century and is now an important tourist attraction and nature reserve.

Along the road there are places to stop, have a picnic, leave the car and walk, and to enter the forest (but take care … there are insects and reptiles and the paths may be difficult and slippery. I have taken a couple of bad falls on slippery rocks). There are several places that offer fabulous views towards the coast.

One of many picnic spots along the Graciosa road.

What to see

The area is teeming with all manner of flora and fauna. Among the plants are orchids, bromelias, and a wide range of plants, bushes and trees. The diversity of birdlife is amazing: tanagers, hummingbirds, toucans and trogons are the species that I like best. I used to visit in the early morning with a few friends, arriving at dawn and having a picnic breakfast after a few hours of birding.

Animal life includes frogs, snakes, lizards, wild cats (including oncas, ie panthers, though rare to see now) and monkeys.

One of the larger waterfalls near the road

There are waterfalls and streams at various locations along the road, all feeding into the Nhundiaquara river. The water is cool and drinkable.

Bromelias of various types can be found on the trees
One of many flowers that provide colour in the forest
Flowers like this seem to reach out to attract attention
The flowers and seed pods of this plant look like decorations
Even the fruit are colourful – this blue one may not be edible but there are wild strawberries in the area
One of my favourite trees, the araucaria pine, is found in abundance. The tree is protected as it is Critically Endangered.
Large caterpillar of some sort. There are plenty of butterfly species in the area including Morphos that flap, flashing and glinting, along the road
Violet-capped Woodnymph, one of several species of hummingbird in the area

At the bottom of the trail on the river is the small town of Morretes – a centre of tourism famed for its bareado, a meat dish cooked in clay pots and served with mandioca (manioc) flour. Very tasty and worth trying.

The small town of Morretes at the bottom of the Graciosa road

As the area is within the rainforest it is quite often shrouded in mist In the early mornngs. This is the coolest time of day. Temperatures can fall to zero in winter, in fact the last time I was there in August, 2009, there was frost and ice on many plants. In summer it can get quite hot, between 30 and 35 celcius. Take drinking water and sunscreen.

Where is it

In Brazil, in the southern state of Parana, on the road between Morretes and the main highway from Curitiba to Sao Paulo. There are parking and picnic places along the road as well as a number of waterfalls (small ones). The road is mainly cobbled and sinuous, becoming slippery when wet either from the rain or the mist, so care is needed when driving. It is not permitted to pick or take plants or flowers and there are regular police patrols to ensure no-one abuses the environment.

For more information about this region, please feel free to contact me.

Heads up!

King Vulture, watercolour

While I was in Sicily at the end of last year I painted a few head shots of birds. One, the Hoatzin, was sold even before the paint had dried but I still have a couple that are ready for delivery once the coronavirus lockdown ends.

Horned Screamer

The birds

All three are birds that I have seen in Brazil while on my Real Amazon Experience Tours of the Amazon and Pantanal regions of the country.

The King Vulture is one of the five vulture species that occur in Brazil. I have seen all five. Although the King Vulture is supposedly resident throughout the whole of the country I have only ever seen it in the Amazon.

The Horned Screamer is a large bird that is seen close to rivers, though more often visible when perched away from danger in tree tops. This is another bird that I came across in the Amazon region, though it can, I believe, be found in the Pantanal region too.

The Hoatzin is a very unusual bird. It is slightly prehistoric in appearance, scruffy but in its own way colourful and lovely. Its young have claws that enable them to climb. When danger presents itself the young ones dive from their nest into the river below and then climb back when it is safe to do so. Their Brazilian name, cigana, translates as gypsy in English. This is another bird found predominantly in the Amazon region.

The paintings

The three portraits were painted in watercolour on Daler-Rowney A4 paper (21 cm x 29.7 cm) and the paints were Winsor and Newton professional paints in tubes. I find that the tube paints provide better results than those in pans, particularly in landscape subjects (which I have not yet mastered!), though for bird paintings I work with both without problem.