Daily blog from Gilling East, Sketchbook

5th April- whimbrel, song thrush and 7 spot

I had another session listening for common scoters yesterday night. The waxing gibbous moon was high and bright with a ruby halo. I listened hard, local tawny owls and nearby displaying lapwings occasionally punctuated the silence. Then at 11.20pm a loud, rippling whistle, unmistakably a whimbrel on its way North, followed shortly by a bright meteor. I didn’t hear any scoters but it shows, you never know what you might see or hear.


I am sure many of us are taking a fresh look at the everyday pleasures of the natural world. We dug a new flower bed in the back lawn and retreated to watch birds find food in freshly turned ground. Soon down was a song thrush. What a beautiful bird- warm brown upperparts and those triangular and arrowhead shaped speckles on an rich yellow ochre background. A pair explored the sepia soil finding plenty to eat. In the early morning and evening they serenade us with loud clear song. As I watched the song thrush this morning, a small flock of redwing flew over- will this be the last redwing sighting of Spring? Will October be the next time we see redwings…?

My seven year old son Ptolemy is brilliant at spotting all manner of animals and deserves equal credit for this blog! Today, his spot or 7 spot of the day, was a pair of 7 spot ladybirds mating on the garden table! Wonderful to see this species well as the non-indigenous harlequin seems to account for most ladybird records these days. A small white butterfly flew through the garden, again spotted by my son. We hoped for our first swallow today, but that pleasure still awaits us.

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Daily blog from Gilling East, Sketching outside, Uncategorized

April 4th- Winter Visitors Departing

Yesterday evening I spent an hour or so in the back garden listening for a species of sea duck. Many birders have reported hearing common scoters over their gardens. Perhaps fuelled by a lack of freedom in this current C19 crisis they are trying hard to see and hear as many new species as possible from the confines of home and garden. Many have now added common scoter to their lists. I heard two flocks around 10.40pm. In the very still air I heard their fluty calls. Staring at the bright waxing gibbous moon I tried to visualise these flocks as they flew from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. From there they will journey onwards to their breeding areas around the rivers and lakes of the boreal forest of Scandinavia.

This is a time of great transition. As Spring migrants begin to arrive there is a lag as Winter visitors leave. I have seen redwings today, lingering before they make the journey across the North Sea back to Scandinavia where they breed. They too migrate under cover of night. I will miss these beautiful small thrushes and look forward to seeing them again in October. Watching birds gives me a great sense of bearing in the year. There is always something to look forward to and when Summer ends and my beloved swifts depart there will be the promise of Autumn and the passage migrants and wintering species that the season brings.

Redwing- watercolour
Daily blog from Gilling East

Tree sparrows nest building

Welcome to the first of my daily blog posts on natural history in the garden. You can sign up to receive these posts daily by clicking on the link in the bottom right corner of your screen. 

The tree sparrows are very active around the nest boxes in the first half of the morning. We have an impressive population of tree sparrows in Gilling East and they provide me with constant inspiration. Their bold facial markings and warm brown tones make them a great subject to paint. The prospecting birds are fascinating to watch. The male(presumed because sexes are alike) will lead a female to the nest box, enter quickly himself and then leave to let the female have a look. Meanwhile the male will sit on the top of the nest box and puff his feathers up to the extreme. Tree sparrows have suffered a serious decline across the country in recent decades, but here at least they are thriving again. We have at least 5 pairs breeding in nest boxes. 

There was panic this morning as a starling prospected a tree sparrow nest box. This prompted an instant gathering of tree sparrows(10+) who surrounded the starling and called with great alarm. The starling has so far ignored a nearby specialised starling nest box!

These pencil and watercolour sketches were made from observations with my binoculars from my studio this morning.