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December 8th- common and black-headed gulls at Newburgh Priory Lake

I had a productive morning sketching gulls at Newburgh Priory Lake. The light was beautiful under high cloud, bright but not sunny. I don’t sketch gulls very often but they are a great subject; their structure and very subtle colour is quite a challenge to get right. There were only five black- headed gulls present and just one common gull. They all thought I had brought bread with me and flew straight over to the lakeside layby where I parked. They hung around expectantly, often squabbling.

I worked fast in pencil and watercolour, first painting a view of the lake and sky, then moving on to the faster moving gulls. The black-headed gulls are very elegant birds and such tame life models. The single common gull was always more shy. This species is a favourite of mine. It is rather misnamed for it is certainly not the most common gull in most areas. They breed further north and winter here in variable numbers. There are far fewer of both species this winter than last.

The day turned wet after lunch, but it remained cold. Back at home birds, especially tits were absolutely piling in to feed on black sunflower seeds. I love watching them and sketching them. If you really look carefully their markings are so variable and some individuals can be quite easy to recognise. The intensity of yellow on both blue and great tits can range from extremely pale, even greenish to the brightest cadmium yellow. Blue tits vary so much in the intensity of blue with some almost pale grey blue and others, probably older males, the most intense cobalt.

The days have become so short now. On a dull afternoon like today the school run takes place in the equivilent of twilight. By the time we are home it is nearly dark. Most birds have already gone to roost. The marsh tits are always amongst the first and last few visitors of the day so they must roost somewhere near. They have a final feed from the feeder on our lounge window, lit more from the light inside the house than the remaining traces of daylight outside. It is a reminder of the length of time small birds spend roosting at this time of year. A marsh tit may feed first at about 8am retiring to roost at 4pm. As I write (4.18pm) these tiny birds have just started their 16 hour night.

December 8th- Newburgh Priory Lake
Black- headed gull hunkered down in cold wind.
Black-headed gulls squabbling
Common gull studies

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