Wildlife in Watercolour

The Devon Artist

Photographing Pied Flycatchers on Exmoor for a Painting

Female Pied Flycatcher photographed on Exmoor

Back in 2013 we were very fortunate to be helping a licensed bird ringer monitor and maintain his bird boxes in a wood near Exmoor.  He was particularly hoping to encourage Pied Flycatchers to his boxes.  Aware that their numbers were in serious decline he was hoping to boost the population.  At the same time he was helping with the data collection on these stunning little migratory birds.  6 years later and his efforts have been rewarded with the take up of his boxes growing year on year.  Indeed the number of Pied Flycatchers in this particular area is seemingly on the increase once more.  He commissioned me to paint a pair but there was one proviso.  I had to take my own photo, and the birds needed to be nesting in one of his boxes.  This blog is all about how I went about photographing Pied Flycatchers on Exmoor.

Pied Flycatcher nest
Pied Flycatcher Nests

Fortunately the nest of a Pied Flycatcher is very different to that of the normal inhabitants of woodland bird boxes (Blue Tit, Great Tit & Nuthatch).  Therefore we knew exactly which boxes they had taken up residence in.  So it was just a matter of time whilst we waited for the eggs to be laid and the chicks hatched.

Pied Flycatcher Eggs

The eggs are really lovely, a beautiful pale blue.  They take approximately 12-13 days to hatch and then the parents get really busy.  We knew this would be the best time to try and get a photo of them, on or near the box.  Filming day came around and armed with my camera and tripod I set up the gear close to the box.  I then retreated quite some distance away with a remote switch that operated my camera.  The birds were not bothered at all, and were readily flying to and from the nest.  I captured them in my photos with all manner of insects and tasty treats.

I took over 200 photos.  In some the light was too dark, in others the light was too bright.  I had images of birds coming out of the box, going into the box and hanging on to the box!  But, ideally we wanted both birds in the photo.  So after a lot of deliberation we eventually narrowed it down to a few possibles.  Finally we decided on the following image as the one I would use for the painting.

Photographing pied flycatchers on Exmoor
Natural instead of Man-made

Herein lay the next problem as no one particularly wanted the birds painted on a bird box!  So we looked around for a few trees that may make a nice background and decided on this bit of gnarled bark and ivy.  That is the good thing about a painting.  You can simply add in and leave out elements as you want.  Indeed there is a sort of natural hole within the bark of this tree which looked like it would be more than ideal for our purpose.

Artistic licence, changing wooden box for bark

Having been successful photographing Pied Flycatchers up on Exmoor.  And then deciding upon the photo reference material for the project, I was ready to begin.  Check out my blog next week to see how I tackled this project and see the painting come to life.
Until then, keep your brushes wet.  Paul

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