On Monday, in a trip to the Flamborough Headland, I watched my first Little Auks. They are small, but solid little birds which breed in the High Arctic and winter in the North Sea. There were five of them, swimming into a south facing bay sheltered from the northerly wind and cold showers. I drew them in my Wacom tablet using pencil and watercolour and a simple two colour palette.
Fulmars are fascinating birds. Unlike other cliff nesting seabirds, they can be seen on the cliffs for most of the year. They leave the cliffs in September, after their single chick fledges, but they are quickly to return, often in December, where they might visit their nest site intermitently. Fulmars are long lived and form social ties with a partner for most of their lives. They return every year to same nest sites and can often be individually recognised by their bill markings. A couple of weeks ago I visited South Landing, a beach at the bottom of chalk cliffs in the Flamborough Headland. A loud staccato noise attracted my attention. Two Fulmars, presumably a pair, were sat on a cliff ledge, excitedly chattering, facing each other, bills open, calling. They settled, chests almost touching, and watched, moving their heads from one side to the other at the same time, as another Fulmar flew round and round near the cliffs. Fulmars often fly like this, an effortless glide by their nesting sites, whose purpose seems only to fulfill the easiness with which they fly and looks almost like a game, and in any case it seemed to provide entertainment to the onlookers.
I had thought about sketching a Great Auk for a while. The Great Auk, a flightless and much larger relative of the Razorbill which used to live in the North Atlantic has been extinct since the mid 19th century. Stuffed specimens and paintings don’t convey the velvety look of the thick cover of feathers of living auks, which changes with the light from black to chocolate brown. Even the Natural History Museum stuffed specimen is standing on its feet, something auks don’t do, they usually sit with the whole leg in contact with the ground, to balance their body on legs which are positioned at the back of their body to help with swimming. I hope I have succeeded in giving my portrait a more lifelike feel. Pencil on the Bamboo Wacom tablet.
I remembered today one of the best nature spectacles in the UK: the Grey Seal colony at Donna Nook. One of the things that struck me the most was the presence of Great Black-backed gulls feeding on placentas and dead seal pups. Crows were dwarfed by these awesome top predators, but joined in the feast for juicy tidbits.
A little group of Audouin’s gulls were regulars on the beach of Port de Pollenca, about five adults and a few subadults. During the day, they would mostly be loafing about on a line of rocks off the beach, at dusk, when the beach was quieter, they would patrol looking for scraps amongst the parasols, by groups of people having a picnic or on the tide line. Despite their approachability, Audouin’s gull is a vulnerable species, only present in the Mediterranean, with some discrete breeding colonies, some of them in Mallorca. Compared to Herring gulls, their dark eyes give them a gentle expression, and the colour of their mantle is paler. Overall, they look rather elegant. I based this watercolour on one of my photos, taken from the shore.
It had to be a Razorbill this week, after my very close encounter with one of this amazing birds. I had the chance of examining its surprisingly yellow mouth close by, and I based this sketch on the behaviour of one bird threatening a neighbour on the cliff.