What’s the Story?

Tobermory

The picture is of the harbour at Tobermory (or Balamory if you are under seven), the main town of Mull. The rainbow tells the story of my week there, the weather was changeable but the experience; totally brilliant. My wife and I hired a camper van and straight after the exhibition at Fountains we headed north. September is not the month you would choose if you were intent on seeing the greatest range of Mull’s birdlife but as the permanent residents include Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles we kind of hoped it would provide a memorable moment or two. We visited the famous Sea Eagle Hide at Loch Frisa on our last full day more in hope than expectation. The Warden met our group and escorted us to the hide and began with an interesting overview of the Sea Eagle project. Despite a couple of false alarms (Buzzards) the Sea Eagles refused to put in an appearance but the Warden did a super job, with anecdotes and a DVD to educate and entertain. Between showers I went outside with Helen, a visiting RSPB warden, to scan the skies, when a beautiful Golden Eagle flew slowly over the top of the hide! I will never forget the thrill of seeing this bird which was not a speck in the distance but just above the treetops. The Warden called everybody out and just about everyone (except my wife) saw the Goldie before it dropped below the tree line. My holiday was complete, since then I have mentally re-played the sighting again and again.

Osprey

The Exhibition at Fountains was just as enjoyable as my first, and this time I included some pencil drawings, these seemed to create quite a bit of interest so I started a drawing of an Osprey. Although the drawing is still to be completed I include a detail of the work in progress.

Eve of Exhibition

Just returned from hanging my wildlife paintings at Fountains Abbey ready for the start of a weeks show, doors open at 10.00 am tomorrow (Friday). If it is remotely as successful as my first show there I will be delighted. Everyone at Fountains is so welcoming I feel like a football team playing at ‘home’. I intend to set up my mobile studio again because I felt people enjoyed seeing the process of producing finished artwork as much as I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on painting. Just managed to squeeze in a painting of a Mallard duckling thanks to John at Turners Framers in Harrogate who did his usual heroic turn around. The duckling painting is a Gouache and I am currently painting a Grey Wolf in the same medium, I must say I really enjoy the switching of mediums and I feel it gives a freshness I would otherwise lose. This time I have included some pencil drawings which have an appeal of their own.

Duckling

If you are interested in seeing my latest work I would be delighted to see you at Fountains during the next seven days and remember my exhibition is at the main entrance so no admission fee is required to come and have a chat; I will be delighted to discuss all aspects of my painting.

An Invitation to Harewood House

No this wasn’t an invite for a tete a tete with his Lordship, rather it was a Red Kite Event at Harewood House for which I had to fork out ¬£10.00. It was money well spent; despite dismal weather I had a great time. The evening was hosted by Doug Simpson MBE who is the project manager for the Red Kite release in Yorkshire. It was a fascinating talk; Doug’s enthusiasm for the subject was very evident. I won’t try to relay all the statistics of birds succesfully introduced to Yorkshire nor the sad stories of the birds who fell foul of the appalling practice of poisoned bait left out for foxes and crows (allegedly) but please visit the web site www.yorkshireredkites.net for a comprehensive account of this stunning success. Contrasting with this is the seemingly inevitable general decline of our wildlife. There are many reasons for this sad tale of attrition, suffice it to say that the recent Badger culling experiment is the latest example of wildlife sacrificed for dubious reasons. I say dubious because this practice has been rejected by Scotland among other regions as being counter productive and many farmers are concerned by the public reaction to the shooting of such an iconic creature, especially as the jntended effect on the spread of Bovine TB is far from clear.

Eider Ducks

A recent trip to Aberdeenshire presented me with the chance to see large numbers of Eider duck, despite the birds largely being in moult and not their usual handsome self I was thrilled to get quite close to them. On the way from the beach back to the car I chanced upon some fledgling swallows; guessing the adult birds would be along soon I settled down to wait. Sure enough they appeared and despite my presence began to feed the youngsters. Brilliant! I noticed when looking at the photographs that one of the adult birds had only one leg, plucky little bird.

My second exhibition at Fountains Abbey is set for Friday 26th August for a week and I am really looking forward to it. Last time I really enjoyed being able to speak to people about my work and with my easel and paints; enabling those interested to see work in progress. After my inspiring evening at Harewood I fully intend having a painting of a Red Kite finished for the exhibition.

The Baby Boom

Open wide

This is the season where our wildlife does it’s damnedest to ensure it’s survival with an explosion of new life. The air is full of young birds demanding to be fed. The feeders in my garden require almost daily replenishment with a frenzy of feeding. The payback for this chore is the wonderful sight of young songbirds and woodpeckers who provide a daily soap opera which rivals TV’s Springwatch. I suppose I am fortunate in where I live, on a recent early morning walk I lost count of the Wrens, Goldfinches, Tits and Finches I saw or heard. The ability to recognise specific bird species by their song or call is a skill I am struggling to acquire. Apart from the birds which I can see regularly in the garden I cannot identify individual birds calls as I walk through woodland or by the reedbeds at our local RSPB site. The almost mystical skill of people who can suddenly stop and say ‘listen; a Wood Warbler’ leaves me envious because the birds we can hear far outnumber the ones we can see. I have obtained a CD of bird calls and intend to make this my required listening when driving, we shall see whether this pays off in future.

Open wide

The Birdfair at Tamworth was not a huge success from my perspective, too few visitors combined with wildly flapping marquee walls meant that I, along with many other exhibitors, packed up early on the Sunday and put it down to experience. In an attempt to put that behind me I arranged to re-visit Fountains Abbey for a week; taking in the August Bank Holiday. If I enjoy this as much as the last exhibition there I will be delighted, it is a great venue (with a great cafe) and the staff are really nice.

I am currently painting a pair of Canada Geese, these birds are a common sight and as such can be overlooked for more exotic wildfowl but they look majestic and I hope my painting will capture their almost muscular elegance.

The Post Exhibition Blues

I must admit to a sense of sadness now that my one man exhibition at Fountains Abbey is over. I took great pleasure from the comments I received and enjoyed the opportunity to speak to people about my work. The level of interest in my paintings was surprising given that most people had visited to enjoy the Abbey and grounds. When you consider that very few of those who came would class themselves as bird watchers or twitchers, it appears to me that almost everyone is more aware of our birdlife than we realise and that they derive significant pleasure from wild birds. I am not even sure that we recognise the positive influence they have on our daily lives. I was asked several times why I had not done a painting of a Red Kite, this would not have happened before the reintroduction program at Harewood and is a measure of the pleasure the residents of Yorkshire feel on seeing these wonderful birds. The RSPB represent more than just the interest of birdwatchers; they are the guardians of a fragile resource which is under pressure from many directions, a resource that the vast majority of us consider important.

Fountains Abbey

The highlight of my week was a seven year old from Durham who chatted away about how good my paintings were and then suggested I might be a candidate for the ‘clever table’ at her school, surely the ultimate accolade.

It is often said that the only barometer of success for an artist is the public putting their hand in their pocket to confirm their approval, I don’t actually subscribe to that because sometimes the cost of a painting is prohibitive when people have other priorities. Happily I exceded my expectations for sales but will remember the many kind comments for a long time.

Next stop the Birdwatchers Spring Fair at Middleton near Tamworth Saturday 21st. and Sunday 22nd. May. Time I got painting!

No more mister angry

Grasshopper Warbler

One of the things I have noticed since my rather late arrival to the ranks of bird watching is the attitude of my fellow birders. The pleasant demeanor and helpful attitude on first meeting as we peer through the hide slits is in marked contrast with my experiences while driving or shopping. All the aggresion and conflict that we all meet and I dare say feel ourselves is completely absent, when going into a hide I find people smile; squeeze up to make room and will often point out something interesting but barely visible. Is it something to do with the values of people who relate to wild creatures, my wife and I as dog owners would often say how nice someone we met was and put it down to the fact they were also owners of a dog. In the same way that one of the first signs in anti social and violent people is a tendency to cruelty in animals, perhaps the reverse is true. I had a terrific visit to Blacktoft Sands RSPB on Saturday, the weather was lovely and I saw my first and probably last Grasshopper Warbler. This bird is not what you would call showy, it is understated in everything except it’s call. The name says it all, I was on route to Singleton Hide when I heard what sounded exactly like a very loud grasshopper and only yards away this little bird was chirping away for all he was worth, he continued to do this for at least an hour on and off. Soon an audience gathered and people smiled at one another like we shared a secret that somehow made us friends, as others turned up they would have the object of our attentions pointed out to them and I noticed photographers made room for the recent additions to the ranks. Is this effect the real gift that wild creatures give to man, if so it more than compensates for anything we do for them by way of conservation.

Marsh Harrier

My exhibition at Fountains Abbey is only days away and I feel happy that I have a decent body of work, the last painting to be included is one I have wanted to do since my first sight of the Marsh Harriers at Blacktofts and I hope it captures some of the magic I feel when I see these magnificent birds quartering the reedbeds.

Spring in the air

Romantic Grebes

It was evident on my last visit to Blacktoft Sands that Spring had well and truly arrived. We had two pairs of Avocets establishing their territory and defending it aggressively, these birds really punch above their weight! Black tailed Godwits were to be seen from Xerox and a solitary Red Breasted Merganser in need of a mate.

I stayed till late in the afternoon in the hope that the Harriers would make an appearance and a female Marsh Harrier made a brief appearance but I was just thinking the show was over when a pair of Great Crested Grebes began displaying at Singleton. My 400mm lense was not up to the job so the photograph is pretty rubbish, a couple of people had lenses like oil drums and they captured some brilliant shots which I am sure will feature on the Blacktoft website.

Tree SparrowI am painting a series of watercolours for my exhibition at Fountains Abbey, it runs for one week from Saturday 30th April; it was scheduled to commence on Friday 29th but Kate and William asked me to delay. A Royal Command Performance, anyway it is in a great area near the cafe and you do not need to pay admission to Fountains to attend my exhibition so if the Royal Wedding leaves you in need of a bit of light relief join me I will be delighted to talk about how I work and birds generally.

The little study of a Tree Sparrow is part of the body of work for Fountains Abbey.

Blacktoft Sands RSPB

I have enjoyed two visits recently to this site, the first time was one of the most memorable bird watching experiences I have ever had. I knew, courtesy of the excellent web site, that Harriers frequently hunted the reed beds and late in the afternoon gathered to roost. So I picked a nice day a couple of Sundays ago and poled up about mid-day, after settling into the ‘first hide’ I soon had a distant view of a Marsh Harrier, a really nice start. Then only about twenty minutes in a male Hen Harrier appeared very close to the hide and spent about a minute gliding effortlessly in front of the hide so close that binoculars were really unnecessary. The presence of this beautiful raptor was so stunning I did not even think to pick up my camera; not wanting to miss a second fumbling with gear. A photograph would have been nice but the image of this bird is imprinted on my memory so I will make do with that! Now this is like winning the lottery with the first ticket you buy, I felt like I should just give up and leave. Anyway I stayed and enjoyed chatting to everyone else who had seen ‘my Hen Harrier’ and although that was clearly the highlight I did enjoy watching about a dozen Snipe sunbathing right in front of the Xerox hide.

Brambling

I reluctantly delayed a return visit due to the murky weather but yesterday with the weather promising better; I again set of for Blacktoft Sands. It could only be an anticlimax I was sure and for most of the day it was, ‘very quiet’ was what you heard all the time but I hoped the evening roost would provide some excitement. Sure enough the Marsh Harriers started to appear; I feel bad saying it but somehow they seemed like plain fare after my last visit. Then late in the afternoon as the light started to fail the male Hen Harrier swept in from the Trent, he kept his distance this time but was close enough to distinguish the black wing tips and lovely grey plumage, fabulous.

The last blast of snowy weather had the birds visiting the feeders in the garden and I am very lucky with the wide variety of birds we get here. Last week the Siskins returned and for the first time in my experience we had a few Brambling visit the garden, I dashed to my hide (the upstairs loo) and snapped of some pictures, the one below shows the lovely orange flashes on the wings.

Birding at Fairburn Ings

Reed BuntingI visited this RSPB site for the first time last Friday and wondered why I had neglected it for so long. Only a 40 minute drive from home it was a pleasant surprise, despite it being a bitterly cold day I spent the afternoon wandering from hide to hide. On route I was rewarded by a good view of one of the resident Kingfishers and it is always a pleasure to see this iconic bird. Some of the paths were in a bit of a state due to heavy plant traffic but after wading through the mud I had some quite distant views of ¬†Teal; Tufted and Goldeneye ducks. At the feeding stations I watched a pair of Bullfinches which I don’t often see at home but I had lost all feeling in my hands by this stage and headed back to the car when I saw someone with an impressive long lens photographing something down at the bottom of the boardwalk near the car park. Now sadly we can never resist sidling up to see if other photographers have spotted something interesting, I could see the birds he was photographing and I could see they had a distinctive white moustache and a bib but I had to ask him what they were (always embarassing) he kindly informed me they were Reed Buntings. I spent some time trying to get some photographs but they rarely stayed still for long. With the white moustache these little birds reminded me of a Colonel Blimp type character with a handlebar moustache and whiskers. Check out the sketch and see if you can see what I mean. I have added some watercolour paintings to my web site and I am still enjoying the spontaneity of watercolour as opposed to the more photographic quality of my usual style.

Joys of Water

Blue TitsBut not in whisky, I refer to watercolour of course, I have recently started a series of watercolour studies of songbirds and I must say I am really enjoying a sense of deja vue as I spent many years painting exclusively in watercolours. I wanted to paint the birds I see daily at the feeders and the intention was to paint in a more expressive and looser style. There were two reasons for this; firstly I felt I needed a change from highly detailed paintings which take days to complete and secondly there is a charm to the more simple rendering that watercolours encourage. I usually begin an acrylic painting by completing a sketch in watercolours and my wife often prefers them to the finished acrylic, now over the years I have learned to never dismiss her views; particularly her thoughts on my work. When I complete my series of songbird studies I will add a watercolour section to my web site and visitors to the site can judge whether my wife was right yet again. I have included below two of the most common and charming of garden visitors, the Blue Tit and the Great Tit.

Great Tits