I stood in Helmsley market square this morning, my sketchbook on the car bonnet, gazing skyward. I was watching and sketching Swifts. It is wonderful to see that crescent shape in the sky again after nearly nine months. The Swift watching lead to another, much more unusual observation- three large birds, just white specks against the blue sky were Spoonbills, three of them moving North. I later discovered that three Spoonbills left RSPB St Aiden’s reserve near Leeds, heading North East a little over an hour before- the same three? This sheet of studies was painted in Ampleforth this morning. The sky was cloudless and this modest first arrival of Swifts should be joined by many more in the coming days and weeks. In summary I counted 9 over Helmsley, 4 over Ampleforth and none in Gilling East.
Recent watercolours on location. The Eiders were sketched at Hartlepool. Wonderful to be so close to these gorgeous sea ducks. The drakes were displaying and making their “ahhooooo” call to the females. The light was fantastic for painting.
Then on to Skinningrove where an Eastern Black Redstart has resided on rocks near the jetty since arriving in the Autumn. This is a race of Redstart which should be thousands of miles East of here at the moment. This stunning little bird has entertained hundreds if not thousands of birders over the Winter. This morning I had him mostly to myself. He approached within 4 feet at times. He can be seen in the top left of one picture.
Both paintings for sale on GALLERY page.
The Waxwings are on their way back to Finland and Russia. This is giving me a second chance to sketch them. I had many sightings as they moved west before Christmas. But now they are on their return journey. They have been seen around Ampleforth College orchards over the last week or so. Strangely this orange rowan still has a heavy crop of berries. Waxwings are truly beautiful. Some winters there are just a few in the country, but this has been a Waxwing winter and they have filtered West across Britain in their hundreds. They gorge themselves on berries in smash and grab raids, filling a pouch beside their throats, then retiring to digest them in a nearby tree. The current Ampleforth flock will be eating any berries they can find and in warm weather catching insects on the wing which they do with grace and agility, ahead of their North Sea crossing.
Waxwing sketch available. 13″x 11″ £300 unframed email: email@example.com
I will never forget the day I first saw a Great Grey Shrike. I was kept from attending school due to a virus, a bonus day to catch up on some birding from the lounge window! Suddenly the Greenfinch flock on the lawn scattered. Well, all except one unfortunate individual which was pinned down under a Great Grey Shrike. This was and still is a very uncommon garden bird, but was one of those moments which reinforced my life long passion for observing birds. Today I saw another at Acaster Malbis near York. A Great Grey Shrike is a true winter delight, cloaked in bold, crisp white, black and soft grey plumage. Ever watchful for prey, I did not have to wait long to see the shrike pounce on a vole. It carried the vole off, probably to impale it on a thorn. Shrikes do this to store food, hanging their prey on the the thorns as a butcher hangs meat on a hook, hence their other name butcher bird.
I paint in watercolour and oil and often swap from one media to the other in a single day. Here are two recent pieces, painted within 24 hours, which show two extremes of my painting range. The first is from sketches of Sansdend, near Whitby on a stormy day. It is an oil painted with palette knife on canvas and measures 30x30cm. The second painting is a fast pencil and watercolour sketch of an Eastern Black Redstart seen yesterday at Skinningrove, North Yorkshire. Measuring 30x27cm this is a quick reaction to a lively bird. This stunning looking Redstart is from the Eastern race and breeds in Central Asia. It has spent the whole winter feeding underneath and around a small area of boulders near the jetty at Skinningrove. Both paintings are now available to buy. Please email me for further details firstname.lastname@example.org
I am used to watching Pink- footed Geese under huge Norfolk skies where some of them spend the winter. I see them every autumn in high flying ‘tick’ shaped skeins as they navigate their way down the East coast, fresh from their Icelandic breeding grounds. But last evening, creatively held back by two days of constant low cloud and drizzle, I heard pinkfeet from the comfort of the lounge. I ran outside and in the drizzly, still air it sounded as if they were about to alight in the garden. They were so low I could hear individual geese shaking the moisture off their plumage. There was a roar of displaced air as flocks, unseen, passed low overhead, seemingly disorientated and flying in different directions. The noise started at about 6.30pm and continued long enough to lull me to sleep around 11pm. All the while that magical call reminded me of days sketching with numb fingers in a Norfolk winter.
As the evening went on friends contacted me to tell of similar experiences in nearby Stonegrave, Wombleton, Kirbymoorside and Helmsley. So where were the geese going? It seems that a large movement of pinkfeet, perhaps from the Humber estuary or Norfolk, were starting to make their way North towards their breeding grounds in Iceland. But why so many hundreds if not thousands of birds found themselves disorientated over such a wide area is a mystery.
I rarely travel far to see birds, but having spent a lot of time observing bird migration on the East coast of Yorkshire this October, the appearance of the first Siberian Accentor on the British Mainland seemed to me to be the culmination of what has been one of the most exciting autumns I can remember. Thus on Friday morning I found myself amongst hundreds of birders at Easington near Spurn Point. The bird approached to about ten feet at times, though I found myself climbing a tree to see over other birders. This gave me the space and time I needed to sketch. Whilst the pencil sketching was done at height the watercolour work was finished at ground level. A really beautiful subject.