Last week I was in the Peak District. I woke up early to explore a local nature reserve, RSPB Coombes and Churnet Valley. I took the longest circular path, and as I approached a stream, I heard an unfamiliar song and searched for the bird. It was a male Pied Flycatcher. It sung persistently and have a quick visit to a nest box nearby. I have known this species for a long time, as it was a regular migrant in my local park in Spain when I was a teenager, and I have seen it in migration as well in Spurn. The song reminded me of a Great Tit, although more thrilling and diverse. Pied Flycatchers breed in mature beech and oak forests, habitats that are pretty scarce in East Yorkshire. It is red-listed in the UK, due to severe recent population and range declines. Watercolour and pencil in Wacom Tablet.
After a mild winter, spring is well on its way. Some resident species are feeding chicks, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are in song, I’ve seen my first Swallow and in the wetlands of local nature reserves, the first Little Ringed Plovers are back too. They are often in very contrasting light, which helps with their camouflage on bare pebbly ground. In typical plover fashion, they stand still bobbing lightly every now and then, watching the ground intently, and then quickly darting forward to pick some tiny morsel from the ground.
I watched my first one last week at Tophill Low Nature Reserve, and decided to sketch it, trying to grab the contrasts the harsh light of the middle of the day on their plumage. Wacom tablet using pencil and watercolour features.
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.