To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kruger Park, Second Time Around

A lot of beautiful creatures revealed themselves on a sunny winter August day in Kruger National Park (South Africa).

I somehow didn't publish this post back in September!  So here it is now.....

The South African "Watch For Wildlife" signs are much like ours in the U.S., but instead of deer they feature springing spiral-horned antelopes, which I found quite charming.  And watch for wildlife, I DID.

A game drive vehicle
We went in a game drive vehicle like this one, and glory of glories, there were only four of us that morning, and I claimed the entire rear seat to myself ~ which meant that I could slide from side to side to see whatever was to be seen. The hardest part was to NOT spend my entire time behind the camera snapping photos. It is so easy to get so involved taking photos that you have to look at your photo albums later to be able to see your vacation....

Mom baboon and her kidlet
So here are some of my prizes, snapped between actually LOOKING at them: 
I saw baboon families, with the mothers carrying or escorting their exploring babies ~ this youngster had dismounted to look around, but finding itself in the tall grass it leaped back up on its mom's back for a free ride and a much better view.

kudu buck on point
The kudu buck is the antelope pictured on the Watch For Wildlife sign: I noticed several kudu bucks like this, posed motionless for minutes at a time. Our guide said that the biggest bucks do this to show that they are dominant, that they don't HAVE to assume ordinary poses like the young bucks.  Maybe so.  They stand so still they seem to be carved from stone.

It was hard to NOT get great photos of many of the animals, as they allowed us to pull up rather close to them without wandering off. The vehicles in the park must remain on the road (or on the shoulder) so there was no roaring off across the plains to find a good picture site. And because they aren't chased by cars, the wildlife tends to ignore them entirely.
Zebras are picturescue
Most of the animals, like this zebra, were quite blasé about being stared at. I love how the South African zebras are not "black and white," but "black, white, brown, white, black, white, brown...," the brown being a lovely cinnamon red on many of them.  It's amazing how they actually blend beautifully into the scenery. 
warthogs on parade
And of course, being a connoisseur of warthogs, I was very appreciative of this married couple which trotted across the veldt in front of us.  Aren't they charming? Don't they have a saucy air about them?  Aren't their tails jaunty? Love 'em!

A blasé Scops Owl
We stopped for lunch at a gift shop and restaurant in the center of the park where I noticed a sign touting "the most photographed Scops Owl in the world" next to the ladies room. Searching about, I finally found this tiny owl, barely six inches tall, perched in a bush only inches away (maybe 20") from the passing crowds. As I watched, it opened one eye to check out a yowling child, then closed it again. It apparently lives there, and was completely unconcerned about its safety. Of course, I took its picture, adding to its tally.  
Lizard on poker plant
 And I also discovered this little lizard perched on a flowering "red-hot poker" plant on the grounds of the restaurant.  There were all sorts of birds flying about in the chartreuse-barked fever trees, too, and I added several more to my list.
This is a starling!
(By the time I flew home, after 21 days of part-time birdwatching, I had checked off 101 South African birds in my bird book without much effort on my part.)  

There are many colorful birds in South Africa, but one of my favorites is the yellow-billed hornbill, about as common, and about the same size, as a crow in the U.S.  They are everywhere, and seem to be curious about human doings. 
Yellow-billed hornbill, my favorite
They approached to watch me sketch numerous times. I think they weren't used to seeing people sit in one spot clutching a stick (pen) and scratching at a piece of paper.
I mean, who DOES that?

There were so many things to draw, even in winter.  These gorgeous red-rimmed flowers were on the restaurant grounds, so I'm not sure they're native ~ but they're sure pretty, and a bright touch in the sere, dry winter environment on the veldt.
There were seven lions here, including half-grown kittens
Right after lunch, we were delighted to discover this pride of lions lying in the shade of some scrubby trees. Actually, we didn't find them ~ we found the clot of cars and game drive vehicles parked beside the road and looked the same direction everyone in the vehicles was looking. 
Giraffes are gorgeous.
A lying lion is very flat. Would we have driven right past if the others hadn't seen them and stopped to look?  Maybe that waving white foot would have caught our attention.....

I am particularly fond of giraffes. I could watch them all day. There is something amazing about that long neck topped by a delicate fuzzy-horned head. An 18-20" prehensile tongue definitely adds to the allure ~ and don't forget the long, beautiful eyelashes! What's not to like about a giraffe!
an elephant teenager - check ear size
But for sheer excitement, there is nothing to compare with being approached by a herd of elephants.  This teenager was romping with its friend just below the road in the river bottom.  You can tell it's young by comparing the size of its ears (large) to the size of its head. Also, it's only half the size of the adults.  The mom elephant in the other image had just finished pushing over a small tree, and was cruising our way looking for something else to eat.  
Mom elephants is still hungry
This was WAY different from watching elephants in a zoo or circus. They are incredibly graceful and majestic in the wild. 

Apparently not a "moveable feast"...
Our last sighting of the day, just as the sun was touching the horizon, was this pair of hyenas.  The one on the left was chewing happily on something while the one on the right was keeping an eye on the traffic. I got the impression, very strongly, that they KNEW when that sun went down we would have to leave, and they were going to wait it out. 
No WAY were they going to abandon that lovely bit of roadkill they had found at the edge of the road.  These two pictures are among my favorites ~ the sidelong glance of the one hunkered down on the road's edge is a real hoot.  

I thought you might enjoy seeing my sketch of the hyenas ~ of course, there was no chance to sketch in the game viewing vehicle so I drew it later that night from my camera screen. This is a combination of two photos I had, one with the left hyena looking back over its shoulder and the other standing as shown in the image above. I moved them closer together to make the image work a little better.  
More later ~ but I'm going to be traveling next week, so I can't guarantee how soon that might be. I have a lot to do to get ready (including briefing the house-sitter), then I'll be on the road awhile, visiting, going to a wedding, etc.  

So until......

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cuttining Loose

The Coyote Trails Expedition was finished, and now I was cut loose to make my own way in South Africa.

Miss Pretty, my hostess
I had made careful plans, so I wasn't nervous, and I was getting into the idea of "letting go" and "going with the flow," which is a good thing, because things immediately went awry. 

I was scheduled to spend the night at Marc's Treehouse, so the good people at Moholoholo had called ahead and arranged for the Treehouse transport van to take me there. But when the van got to Marc's Treehouse it was clear that I was unexpected, and in fact, my treehouse had been rented to someone else for that night.  
My room at Tremisana
I argued and protested to Miss Pretty, the hostess, but when it became clear that things couldn't be changed, I put a pleasant face on it and got back in the van with a group of other folks to be driven some 30km north to Tremisana, a completely different lodge, for the night ~ nice enough, but very ordinary and NOT a treehouse. 

In a way, I didn't mind, as this meant I got to see more of South Africa, and in the end, by way of apology, I was taken on a terrific 3-hour bush walk the next morning, and later that day, on a game drive. 

The beautiful Balule River
Explaining dung uses
The bush walk was a great deal of fun, and I'm afraid I was swift in sliding in directly behind the guide after every stop to inspect a pile of rhino dung or a sandpaper bush leaf, because from that position I could ask all sorts of questions and also hear the guide's "travelogue" as he led us along.  
Hippo trail
We were led down into the Balule (Elephant) River bottoms, slogging across sand braided with hippo trails and bird tracks, screened much of the time from the river by 6- to 8-foot-tall reeds which rustled in the breeze.  
Tall reeds along the river

It was slightly spooky walking through the reeds, wondering what might be hanging out, only a few feet away but completely hidden. All kinds of tracks criss-crossed the sand, and Patrick, our guide, was very alert. 
Hippo sketch, drawn from my digital camera
After about an hour of walking, he spotted a bloat of hippos (that is the correct term for a group of hippos ~ honest!), and we crept up on them, emerging on a high bank above them only about 100 feet away (30 metres). After staring at us for awhile, they decided we were bad news and made for the water.  

Hippos take to the water
Patrick said this was a leopard
Being in a group of about fifteen people moving along at a brisk pace between stops, there was no opportunity for me to sketch, but I took lots of photos which I used to draw these hippos in my sketchbook later.

After getting track training at Moholoholo, I was very interested in the varied tracks we saw along the way. Patrick was startled but happy to accommodate me, and pointed out numerous tracks, including what he felt was a leopard track (with no claw marks ~ cats have retractable claws) and the dust was so fine that it picked up fur impressions at the front edge. What a perfect print! 
Waterbucks and vervet monkeys
Later that afternoon, we went on a game drive with a different guide, but didn't see much of interest except these husky waterbucks (with their white-circled rumps) keeping company with a troop of vervet monkeys.  
Add caption
Returning to the lodge, I surprised another vervet in the dining room next to last night's menu. It was boldly inspecting the table decorations Aughhh!.

Finally the van was ready to take me to my REAL lodgings.  But upon arrival I was told by Miss Margaret, my other hostess, that MY treehouse was still occupied, so they were going to put me in an even nicer one.  Well, I complained that I wanted MY treehouse, but to no avail.  

Miss Margaret, my hostess
At this point, I had a choice to make.  I could create a stink, or I could experience an ADDITIONAL cool treehouse and get my REAL treehouse later, as well.  So I allowed Miss Margaret to escort me to my alternate treehouse, balancing my bag on her head.  I don't really think they were responsible for the glitches, since the booking is done at a different location and they just try to make it work.  
I stayed at Marc's Treehouse for several days (much longer than the average stay) and I got to really like them both. Although they don't usually serve lunch to guests, they always made sure I had fruit to eat, and we got along very nicely. Margaret taught me how to text on her phone, and I promised both of them that they'd be included in the downloadable sketchbook when it is finished (see what those are like here).  

So here's a sketch of my "even nicer" treehouse. Quite handsome, isn't it?  It perches in its tree high above the river, partially supported by stilts to make it solid. I could sit on the deck and sketch, watch birds or scan the river banks below for wildlife, which I did to my heart's content for the rest of the day.

But in the morning, I was told I was scheduled for a game drive, leaving immediately after breakfast.  This was news to me, since I hadn't realized that my occupancy of a treehouse entitled me to game drives, but I cheerfully trotted back down the dirt path and clambered up the many steps to get my binoculars and water bottle, and we were off for Kruger Park.
But I have flat run out of time today, so I'll have to continue in the next post. I saw some Really Cool Critters!  Thanks for stopping by ~ how am I doing? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Moholoholo Activities

Hand-carved and decorated bowls
As part of the South Africa Expedition, Coyote Trails wants to introduce students  to the Shangan culture, so on August 7 we climbed into the rental car and traveled to the Shangan Cultural Village.  On our way we stopped at several points to view the scenery, and to do a little bit of shopping for lovely things to bring home. I was much taken with these handsome bowls we found at one stop. 
The Three Rondevels
Moholoholo Reserve is under the eastern edge of the Drakensburg Escarpment (a steep uprising along a fault), and the village is up over the top and to the west.  The scenery was awesome, including this view overlooking The Three Rondevels (a rondevel being a small round, thatch-roofed African house).   
A eucalyptus plantation

Along the way we saw eucalyptus plantations, from which are logged the slim poles used in building houses and other structures. The poles are the trunks of the spindly trees, 2"-5" in diameter.

We also stopped at a place called The Potholes, if I remember correctly, a magnificently carved stretch of stone carved by the Blyde River (that's pronounced Blee-deh) into swirly shapes. Be sure to click on the image to enlarge it.
The Shangan Cultural Village

Arriving at the Shangan Cultural Village, we were given a tour of the village, including a talk on the family structure of the village, which consists of a chief, his many wives and their children.  
The Shangan shaman
The photo shows the communal cook house and one of the lesser wives' houses, I believe.  I could envision a swarm of children playing amongst wives pounding maize to make "pap", a sort of stiff polenta porridge). 

But there were no children there ~ only our guide, the chief, and the shaman, whom we were taken to visit.  After our tour, we were served a traditional meal, which we were advised to eat with our fingers. I  enjoyed scooping up the pap (it's pretty bland, but not bad) cooked vegetables, and other food, then licking my fingers ~ it does create much more of a connection with the food, somehow.
House with a rondevel in the rear

On our drive back, I noticed that many of the small houses, many of them built square with wood and with metal roofs, had small round rondevels in the back yard as a connection with their old village roots.  You can see one in this suburb of Klaserie (I think that's where I took it).

I examine the dung beetle for sketching
Sandy studies tracks on her laptop
That night, tired but driven by our respective agendas, Sandy studied tracks which she had uploaded to her computer, and I sketched the dung beetle Joe had found earlier. This picture was taken by Sandy, as I examined the beetle under magnification with my botanical loupe. Both of us were snuggled down into the covers on our beds. By the way, if you want to see more of Sandy's photos, look here:  Sandy's Photos 
The boat down the Blyde

Another suggested activity for the Expedition  was tubing down the Blyde River.
The Three Rondevels from the river
Johann, Alessandra and I weren't into tubing, (well, Johann might have been), and we decided to check out the river via a boat trip. The water was a luminous green and the scenery was spectacular. 
Cormorant nestlings
 I particularly enjoyed the colony of nesting cormorants at the far end of the trip under the cliffs.  Even though it was winter, they were raising their young in nests perched on the limbs of dead trees.  The water was warm enough for tubing, I think, although cool and bracing, for sure!

Nyala buck and doe at waterhole
 Our time was almost over at Moholoholo Mountain View. Joe and Sandy had earned their tracking certificates; Johann and Alessandra were scheduled to return to the States; and I was booked at Marc's Treehouse for my 11th day in South Africa. 
Giant millipede sketch
I spent my last morning frantically sketching whatever I could, including this giant millipede Sandy had found in several pieces out in the bush. 

Grey Duiker at the rehab center
 And then, I was driven down to the Moholoholo Rehab Center, where I had some time to photograph this sweet little grey duiker (DIE-kur) female and draw the beautiful Serval cat while I waited for my ride to Marc's Treehouse to arrive.   

And that's the end of today's entry!  Next time you can come along with me to dwell in a charming treehouse high above the Klaserie River.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Visiting Moholoholo Rehab Center

Track ID sheet
So far, we had spent our time~
except for our one-day circuit through Kruger National Park in the rental car ~ at Moholoholo Mountain View practicing tracking skills and photographing the beautiful wildlife (are warthogs beautiful? I think so!) ~ .  There was much to learn, much to photograph and sketch, and we all made the most of it in our individual ways. 

baboon tracks
Colin used some remarkable laminated sheets with track illustrations on them to help us identify the various tracks we saw. The sheets pointed out the many things to watch for to assist in identification when looking at tracks. 
The image above shows vervet monkey tracks on the left and baboon tracks on the right, so they can be compared.  So when we ran across these tracks in the dust near the waterhole, it was pretty clear, even though the tracks weren't absolutely perfect, that they had been made by baboons ~ the size being one giveaway.
the viewing platform

I was spending more time, now, sketching busily away as the others perfected their tracking skills.  

Papa warthog comes to drink
The opportunities seemed endless as I watched at the viewing platform for guinea fowl, monkeys, nyalas, francolins (an African quail), mongooses, and other obliging wildlife, who showed up to eat and drink throughout the day.  

Sketching en plein aire
 The warthogs provided endless entertainment as they "hogged" the resources, being at the top of the pecking order. I couldn't get enough of them.  But there were many other sketching opportunities too: 

I found the seedpods intriguing, with their curious attachments to the pods. Their thorny host trees provided endless entertainment as I forever seemed to be shifting into reverse to extract myself from thorns as I pursued fascinating flanged vines (see the image) or camouflaged monkeys).  

a peculiar flanged vine
On August 6th (I think), we visited the Moholoholo Rehab Center where we became acquainted with a young black rhino, invited vultures to land on our arm (enclosed in a heavy leather glove!). 

Joe interviews a black rhino calf
We got to pat a cheetah, and got close-up views of honey badgers, hyenas, lions, a whole array of eagles and vultures, and other animals brought to the center after sustaining injuries or unscheduled separation from their parents.

Cape Wild Dogs are endangered

Johann holds a vulture on his arm
Many of these are returned to the wild after they are mended or rehabbed.  Some, however, can't be returned if they wouldn't be able to sustain themselves, and serve as educational tools for the public.  I was particularly taken with the Bateleur Eagles, who were so calm and friendly that one of them would alight next to a visitor and solicit a neck rub! I took lots of photos of them, and observed for a long while. 
Bateleur Eagle study

But there was no opportunity to sketch during the tour, so this drawing was done a couple of days later when I had more time. 

One of my favorite places to work was on the porch of the cabin Sandy and I shared. It was pleasant most of the day, being on the shady south side of the cabin, and as I drew I was frequently visited by a pair of tree squirrels which lived nearby.
A Tree Squirrel supervises sketches

Wherever I went, I pocketed potential sketching subjects, and by now I had quite a collection. If something couldn't be moved, a knobthorn acacia tree with twining vines, for instance, I would draw it on the spot. Then later, on my porch, I would add drawings of such things as wild cotton pods and a catfish head I found by the pool.   

Okay, that's all I have time for today.  Later on, I will make my sketchbook into a downloadable book which you can buy from my website here.  I hope/think you'll find it very entertaining. 

Here's a grab-bag of other entries...

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