On my drive to the airport on the way back from Spain a couple of days ago I spotted the shrike on a bush by the side of the road. One of the fondest memories of my early years was to spot the shrike on its post on the way to or from the beach during our summer holidays. Shrikes will sit on it’s favoured almond tree, bush or telegraph post wire for hours watching for prey. Shrikes are a family of predatory perching birds, with hooked bills similar to those of raptors. It’s mask and white eyebrow give the Iberian Grey shrike a fierce look. Grey shrikes mostly feed on large insects but they also hunt lizards, mice and birds. They often cache surplus prey on spines and thorns of bushes. I remember coming across my first mole cricked as an impaled prey of a grey shrike.
When reviewing photos of past holidays I found some distant shots of a male stonechat near Morston, at the North Norfolk coast. I was amazed at the vivid colours of the breeding male, quite used now to the more subdued autumn and winter tones of the bird. Just after moulting, male stonechat feather fringes are tan, and hide the bright black and orange tones that will be revealed when the feathers are abraded by use by spring. If was a sunny, late April morning and the saltmarsh was dotted with the bright yellow gorse bushes in bloom. The male stonechat appeared atop one of the bushes and I only had time for a couple of shots before it flew off. Pencil and watercolour on my Wacom tablet.
For day 7 of 30 days wild I have drawn a Yellowhammer. I love drawing and I wish I did it more often! I drew the yellowhammer based on a distant photo of mine, which I took at Kiplingcotes, a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve where they are plentiful. Yellowhammers glow yellow on top of a hedge, where they sing their cheerful ‘little bit of bread and no cheeeeese!’ phrase. Pencil and watercolour on my Wacom tablet.
Many sea birds expose the inside of their mouth in their courtship displays. The Gannet’s mouth is surprisingly black, the Kittiwake’s carmine red, while the Shag’s is yellow, with intense yellow spots on their jaws contrasting with their black, iridescent and scaly green feathers. Add to this the odd tuft of feathers that they can raise or flatten at will and their bottle-green eyes and they may look either elegant or truly comical, but decidedly reptilian. I was inspired to draw these Shags after reading Adam Nicholson’s ‘The Seabird Cry, which I recommend, with beautiful and simple illustrations by Kate Boxer. I took many photos of shags in the Farne Islands a few years ago, some of an incubating individual, panting in the sun, very close to us. Pencil, watercolour and ink on my Wacom tablet.
I watched Goldeneyes displaying and courting a few days back at Far Ings, a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve. Goldeneyes males and females engage in eye catching displays even at their wintering quarters, and this is one of the most striking. The males throwing their heads back while keeping their heads quite stilted. They also call at the end of the display, which I have represented on the drawing. Watercolour and pencil on my Wacom tablet.
I went to see the Little Tern colony at Beacon Ponds, near Spurn Head on Monday, a very warm, sunny day. The Little Terns fished back and forth from the sea and the lagoon to the shingle beach where they nest, sometimes hovering for a while before diving head first. Some were sitting on nests. At one point, something spook them and they all took flight in a compact flock and circled around before settling again. A pencil and watercolour sketch.
I was lucky enough recently to see some Little Owls in the Yorkshire Wolds. One of them sat on an old, gnarled oak, well camouflaged. The only give-away its rounded silhouette in the fading light. It stared to the camera, unsure, before flying off. Watercolour and Pencil on Wacom tablet.