On Sunday I had the chance of watching some Shelduck displaying and chasing. Shelducks are truly spectacular ducks, large, with very striking plumage and bold behaviour. The males displayed raising their body outside the water, neck outstretched, showing a dark band down their chest, and then quickly bowing down. The females, which look similar to the males but lack the know in their bill and are noticeably smaller, bowed and moved quickly following their preferred male and enticing him to chase the other with pointing movements. All this activity was accompanied of much noise, a cackling call in between a duck and a gannet, reminiscent of a laugh. In this scene the female, in between her partner at the front, calling, and an intruder swim together before the resident male gave chase and the intruder flew away. Watercolour and pencil on Wacom tablet.
In mid November in a local park, I had the chance of watching a Mistle Thrush guarding a patch of small rowans laden with berries. The thrush would rattle to fend off a couple of blackbirds that dare land on its tree. Every time it called its rattling call, it would lean forward and flash its tail and wings, displaying its white underneath. It worked! After a while, it settled amidst its bright red bounty. When set to sketch the bird, I was thinking of one of my favourite wildlife artists, the late and inimitable John Busby, who could convey behaviour with a few pencil lines and watercolour washes, and who illustrated the book Birds and Berries by Barbara and David Snow.
As they are unpredictable in their appearance, it is such a thrill to see Waxwings. Today I watched a small flock as they fed on the last berries of a line of rowans by a busy road in the middle of the city, and try to drink from a little puddle, the only available liquid water as it was a frosty morning. They seem to always be in a rush, and at some point the flock became agitated, flew to the top of a tree and they off they went in search of more berries. The whole experience was just about ten minutes, and my photos weren’t that good so I was encouraged to draw one in the same posture of the first one we spotted. Watercolour, ink and pencil on Wacom tablet.
In a recent trip to my hometown in Spain I visited my childhood park a few times. I spent many hours birdwatching there in my teenage years, before the arrival of the Collared Dove, now extremely common. In my last visit, I watched a Firecrest feeding atop the pine trees: hovering briefly in front of bunches of pine needles in search of minuscule insects and spiders. I drew the bird with its little crest erect, face on, to highlight how colourful they look in comparison with Goldcrests, the black eye stripe flanked by white highlighting its dark eyes. Watercolour, inkpen and pencil on wacom tablet.
This is my favourite lifer of 2016, the tiny, Goldcrest-like Yellow-browed warbler. I heard it and saw bits of it at Filey, but the following week I watched more at Spurn, while they fed atop some sycamores. It’s no coincidence that I’ve seen this warbler species, native of Siberia, without trying very hard, as it was an exceptional year for them: during the end of September and early October they were more common than other native warblers in the East Yorkshire coast. They were accompanied by an influx of Eastern rarities that followed persistent Easterly winds. As usual, sketch in my wacom Bamboo tablet.
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.
Inspired by the book cover of Bird brain: An exploration of animal intelligence, I decided to sketch a Raven using pale pencil over black canvas on my Bamboo tablet. I used metallic purple pencil of various tones.