bird watching

Owls of the World: Short-Eared Owl

Six years ago or so, up on the railroad tracks in rural San Luis Obispo county is where I found my first owl while exploring in California.
The eyes were a striking yellow. We looked at each other for a second that sat like an hour.
It flew away to my left without the slightest sound of wind over wing. More like a ghost than anything I’ve ever seen.

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The Short-Eared Owl, Asio flammeus.
Preferring to live in open prairie and fields, this owl can be easier to find than some of the more reclusive owls like Strix nebulosa.
Their range is much of the top half of North America. They have lost a lot of their range in the south due to loss of habitat.
These owls do most their hunting at dawn and dusk. Locating small mammals by ear while in flight. They kill prey with a bite to the back of the head.
Their smaller ear tufts are often not visible. My model for this painting didn’t  seem to have any at all.
Some research I read said they only show when they feel threatened.
I cant confirm that, as my model was a series of photographs from an excellent book.
“Owls” by Floyd Scholz, photographs by Tad Merrick. Stackpole Books. Over 380 pages of awesome. If you love owls, its a great book for you.
I painted this one all the way through while enjoying the livestream from Dead & Company’s show in Washington. Hard to beat having a band like that in your ear while hanging out with an owl.
me
Thanks for joining me again to look at birds. There’s some messed up shit happening out there. I’m glad  we could share this together.
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Falcons of the world: Madagascar Kestrel

This small and mighty falcon is about the same size as the American kestrel. It’s endemic to Madagascar and the atoll of Aldabra.
It prefers open country to forest, and has benefitted from deforestation, nesting under the eaves of homes in populated areas.
They usually still hunt from a perch. While they will take mice and small birds, insects comprise 75% of their diet.

Thank you for looking at and learning about these wonderful birds with me.

Black Barn Owl

I still remember the first time I encountered a barn owl. It was a sleepless night in Southern California. I walked outside the house barefoot and walked towards the closest streetlight. I’m not sure why. I found the moon and then walked into the grass. I got close to the large palm tree in the neighbors yard and from within its branches came the most abrasive screech.

And it took off. With not even a whisper.
I couldn’t think of anything to say which was convenient because barn owls don’t speak much English.
Some eight years later that sound brings me so much delight to hear. It only rings in to me in the dead of night. My on going soundtrack to living. Through the window in Oakland or a quiet neighborhood in Berkeley. It’s like a letter in the mailbox from that friend you have that’s always traveling. Or like hearing a song that you listened to once with someone special who later drifted away for one reason or another. So many roads since then.

They still show up though when we break out the paint.

This Barn Owl is a melanistic variation. It has excessive pigments in the feathers making it darker. This occurs in many species in the animal kingdom, not just in birds. The first Barn Owl I saw was not a Black Barn Owl, but rather a white one as is usually the case. Black Barn Owls dont survive well in the wild as they don’t blend in. No camo, no cover.

5 black barn text
Thank you for joining me in looking at the wealth of amazing birds around us.
Learn, Love, Respect, and Protect.
Every day is Earth day, and every day is a good day to draw a bird.

Falcons of the World-Alaska/Arctic Circle

Good golly how about that ride from Santiago, Chile to Anchorage, Alaska eh?
7,890 miles as the Toyota crow flies.
We made it though, but I’m still bummed you threw my “80’s dance hits” mix tape out the window while we were flying over Mexico.
And so now here we are in the great beautiful North. Home of the largest falcon of North America, the Gyrfalcon.
In the summer Gyrfalcons can be found from around 60 degrees to 79 degrees North. Their breeding range covers parts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, and Siberia.
Winter time ranges of Gyrfalcons is still largely unknown. While some birds remain on their breeding range others winter south. In North America occasionally in the United States and in Asia as far south as Central Asia.
Their favorite meal is Ptarmigan, who can blame them? But studies have found they can take just about any other bird it comes across.
Even short eared owls have fallen prey to a Gyrfalcon. With a bill sharp enough to sever the spine of any bird, the menu is bigger.
They are incredible hunters. Utilizing several different techniques to capture prey. From low fast flight, chasing and tiring the prey out.
To breaking the preys breastbone by forcing it into the ground. They strike prey in the air rather than grab with their talons.
They repurpose Ravens nests and tend to a clutch of 3-5.
Gyrfalcons tend to occur in three different morphs, a dark, a white, and a grey. Shown here is an adult white morph.
I really enjoyed the literature study for this painting. The gyrfalcon is really an incredible bird. I recommend Falcons of the World by Tom J. Cade
It has stunning artwork by R. David Digby and well detailed information on each fascinating member of this incredible group of birds. Falco.
Well The flying Toyota is packed up and I made a new mix tape. “Mo-Town Jams” if you throw this mix tape out the window, were stopping till you find it.
We’re heading to Australia to look at an owl there. I’m not sure which one we’ll decide when we get there.
It’s only 7300 miles.
We got this.
Hold on tight.

Owls of the World-South America

Now we venture to South America to visit with the Magellan Horned Owl also known  as the Lesser Horned Owl. In Chile, it is called Tucúquere, for the rhythm of its song.
This owl resembles a great horned owl but is more lightweight. It was once thought to be a subspecies, but now genetic evidence suggests that it’s a separate species all together.
It hunts from a tall perch for medium sized mammals and birds, preferring rabbits and hares.

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This was a very fun painting to make, I found the ear tufts on these owls can be tricky to do right otherwise it looks like a mutant robot cat or something. Anyway, before we go to Australia to look at an owl there, we have to go to the Arctic to look at a falcon. I’ll see you when we get there.

-Ben.

Owls Of the World-Africa.

Pharaoh Eagle Owl.

Bubo ascalaphus. This mysterious owl is found across Northwest Africa. They’re found in arid rocky landscapes. From the desert to mountain sides.

They hunt primarily at night. Feeding mostly on gerbils and gundis, or desert invertebrates like, scorpions and locusts.
They can take prey as large as Fennec Foxes and hares. Little is known still about the pharaoh eagle owls population trends and total numbers and range.

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This was very interesting bird to read about as well as paint. While I try to use a true to nature approach in my style it was impossible for me to not put a little Egyptian in the eyes.
Perhaps a slight exaggeration but hey that’s art right?

So now onwards from Africa were heading across the Atlantic to Chile in beautiful South America where we’ll look at the Magellan Horned Owl.

Thanks for joining me.

Fall raptor migration in my livingroom.

This fall I started a series of raptor paintings.
I broke them into groups. Tonight I finished the first group. Six buteos common to North America.
I learned a lot about the birds while working on these. Taking weekend trips to Hawk Hill in Marin, Ca. to watch the fall raptor migration. Aided by the great people at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, I learned how to better distinguish these birds in flight. And spending hours looking at photographs and painting color studies, I improved my technique for laying them out in a suitable fashion on the page. I’m excited to learn so much more.

A labor of love for learning about these amazing creatures and sharing their wonder with those around me.

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