The decision to fit winter tyres on the car left me with some time to walk around Helmsley. With the temperature so low I was interested to find how the local birdlife is coping. I had only just left the garage when I heard Waxwings. A flock of twelve descended to a hawthorn very close to me giving some remarkable views. The flock soon departed but I caught up with them again near the A170 bridge. They shared a supply of hawthorn berries with some Blackbirds and several Redwings. All the birds in the hedge were puffed up to the extreme. The Blackbirds and Redwings were looking very sluggish, hardly moving and gaining what warmth they could by sitting in the strong early sunshine. I had super views of the Waxwings again in bright sunshine but I couldn’t help feeling for these birds as they fight to survive the extreme cold. I thought about the length of the night they must survive, roosting at about 4pm and waking at about 7am they had just endured a bitter night 15 hours long culminating in a temperature of at least minus 11 celsius- astonishing.
I spent some time working in the snowfields today. I trudged through fields a foot deep in snow to find a good spot to paint. The challenge is great but very rewarding. I cleared a patch of snow to sit and used snow to make an angled drawing board. I even made a small snow shelf on which to put my watercolour box and water pot. The brushes were simply stuck into the snow. The whole set up worked very well. Then the challenge of painting. Within about five minutes ice formed in the water pot the water on the brushes froze and the paint on the palette turned solid! Still I battled on using the water and breathing on palette and brush to keep them ice free. As I started to paint snow fell hard and this produced some really interesting results. Melting snowflakes made lovely marks on the pigment. But the best part of painting on location is that sitting still wildlife moves around you. Blackbirds and Redwings came to a small patch of moving water. A gorgeous male Bullfinch fed nearby on dock seeds. You also notice how fleeting skies are. I saw pewter coloured sky with driving snow, blue sky and approaching Cumulo nimbus clouds- magic. I must say though, despite layers of clothes after a few hours I was cold. Painting in gloves is not easy so my fingers were constantly exposed and I certainly enjoyed my game soup when I returned home.
There were three Woodcocks present in exactly the same area this afternoon. Two of them seemed to be deliberately feeding very close to each other. Perhaps two working the same patch clears the snowy ground more efficiently and attracts more worms to the surface?
An ambition fulfilled today. I found a pair of Woodcock feeding in the snow below a hedge. I sketched them in driving snow showers until I could barely feel my fingers. An opportunity to sketch Woodcock is extremely rare and certainly a first for me. One fed in a very small area(about one square metre) for the whole afternoon. It takes hard weather to force Woodcock to feed by day and we have certainly had that. About ten inches of snow covers the ground. We have had snow cover and continuous frost for 7 days now. It was a great priviledge to watch these beautiful and elusive woodland waders. I have flushed many and seen them on their roding display flights in Spring and Summer but I never expected to have such superb views of one feeding by day. It will be interesting to see if they are in the same spot tomorrow.