Long-tailed Duck

I realised today I’ve never drawn a long-tailed duck, and that needed to be remedied. The reason is probably that my first sighting, of three individuals off South Landing at Flamborough, was a double lifer, as I had Little Auks for the first time. Since then I have come across them at several places. They are arctic ducks that are occasional winter visitors in our area.

Lesser Redpoll on Birch

I saw a lone Lesser Redpoll feeding on a birch tree. It used its foot deftly to hold a birch catkin in place while it fed, like Goldfinches do. Redpolls have beautiful faces, their bills are tiny and their eyes are framed on a dark mask giving them a slant-eyes expression. Watercolour and pencil on wacom tablet.

Bewick’s swan portrait

This week I saw my first Bewick’s Swans, a lifer in birder parlance, at a local nature reserve. A family of two adults and two young. Bewick’s swans winter in smaller numbers in the UK than their large relative, the Whooper Swan. They have been the subject of a very long study, as Sir Peter Scott, the founder of the Wetland and Wildfowl trust at Slimbridge. He managed the reserve to encourage the swans, creating roosting lake and providing supplementary food. Sir Peter found out that the marks in the bills of these swans are as individual as a fingerprint, allowing for individual identification. Hundreds of individual swans were followed across years over a 50 year old period. Male and female swans form stable partnerships that can last over two decades, although the odd ‘divorce’ has also been recorded. The individual identification and strong bonds with the offspring born that year, which travel with their parents to the winter grounds, also allows to follow family lines through the years. I based my drawing on photographs of this species, and the bill pattern is based on a particular individual, called ‘Croupier’, a regular of Slimbridge, which reached the good old age of 26.

Wheatear stance

Wheatears have a very distinctive upright stance, legs stretched and body almost vertical. While going through my Twitter feed, I came across a post by Rose Stephens, who had shared some photos of Stonechats and Wheatears at Wanstead Flats. One of the photos captured the upright stance beautifully and inspired me to sketch it in pencil on paper, and then finish it in ink for Inktober.

Gannet bow

A sketch of a non-breeding gannet at a club, based on a photo I took at Bempton Cliffs in early September. Clubs are areas where immature and adult gannets that haven’t got a nest site congregate. During this time at the colony they become familiar with the best fishing areas by following individuals foraging and they develop their social skills, including their behavioural repertoire. The bow is a behaviour advertising site ownership, the Gannet, wings half open, bows repeatedly, often touching the ground between their feet, then raising its bill and head shaking. Bryan Nelson, in his monograph on the Gannet, speculated that this behaviour is a ritualised nest building, the individual will place nest material in the nest, and then shake its head to dislodge any remaining material.