Turnstones Some of these little birds run around in a local harbour in the winter and it is fascinating to watch them, literally, turning over shells and small stones that have been sea-washed into smooth and interesting shapes. The Turnstones also 'plough' their heads under piles of seaweed as the tide goes out and catch their food consisting of marine invertebrates. In this painting I have shown them in the harbour among the mooring chains and ropes surrounded by a huge array of coloured stones and shells that are particular to the surrounding beach and rocky cove.
Bewick's Swans The smallest swan in Europe.Birds have irregularly shaped yellow patches at the base of the bill which allows them to be individually identified when observed closely. The birds that are depicted in this painting were studied at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, one of their traditional wintering sites. This painting won the 'Bird Art and Photography' magazine award in 2010 at the National Exhibition of Wildlife Art.
Blackcaps The inspiration for the painting came from my observation of a female bird (her 'cap' is chestnut in colour) as she sat in the vivid butter yellow of the autumn Field Maple leaves in my hedge at home. The male bird visited the garden daily thoughout the winter feeding at the bird table and spending a lot of the day in the hedge. Blackcaps like to be in the cover of vegetation or dense branches. The bird has a melodious and rich song which led to it's folk-name of 'March Nightingale.'
Sedge Warbler Heard rather than seen, walking around the edge of reed-beds in Devon, the rasping little notes of this bird sometimes give away it’s approximate position in the dense reeds. If you are lucky you can catch a glimpse of them as they perch briefly in the higher vegetation.
St. Cuthbert's ducks I think that Eider ducks are particularly handsome creatures and was inspired to paint this picture after reading about St. Cuthbert and his great affection for them. St. Cuthbert is a saint from the early Northumbrian church in the Celtic tradition. He was a monk, Bishop of Lindisfarne and a hermit and was associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne. While on the Farne islands, St. Cuthbert gave the Eider ducks 'Saint Cuthbert's peace' as a means of protection and said that nobody should harm them in any way. He proclaimed his 'peace' for them forever. The female Eider has subtle mottled and barred brown plumage which gives remarkable camouflage while sitting on the nest. When the young hatch, the female takes them immediately to the sea where they often join with other ducklings to form large 'creches.' These are overseen by numerous 'aunties' who take care of them. They are a coastal duck, usually fairly close to shore. The males are very distinctive, with their bold, black and white markings with patches of olive or warm, lime green on the head and a pink flush suffusing their breast. Both male and female have a wedge-shaped head and bill.
House sparrows The house sparrow can easily be taken for granted but their numbers have declined dramatically in the last few years. Only when seen close up, the variety of colours in the plumage is truly appreciated. The young birds will cluster together by the parents and flap their wings so rapidly they appear only as a blur in begging for their next mouthful of food.
Shelduck I see these beautiful ducks around the estuarine marshes and
muddy scrapes near the coast. They methodically work their way across the sand
and muddy shore looking for molluscs and crustaceans which make up their diet,
which they sieve through their bill, as they cross the estuary.
Shelduck have a striking pattern and colouration of plumage
made up of dark green, chestnut, black and white. The drake and duck have
similar markings but can be distinguished by the distinctive shape of the
male’s upper bill while the female has a small amount of pale feathers around
the base of her bill, which is plain in shape. The female is slightly smaller
than the male. The bright plumage and bold pattern can be seen, very
effectively, when the birds are in flight.
The painting shows a drake, on the alert, as he and the
female work their way across the sand as they feed.
The painting shows a small group of geese on a winter’s
afternoon. They are part of a much larger flock which has settled to feed and
await the time to depart, with the others, as they head off to roost for the
evening. Shown, are Brent geese, Barnacle geese and a couple of Red-breasted
geese that have joined the flock.
I was inspired to paint this work after seeing Red-breasted
geese who had joined a huge flock of other geese, mainly Brent, to feed on some
marshes near a river estuary. It took some time to find the Red-breasted geese
but I located them by slowly and methodically looking across the flock with
Although slightly smaller than their companions, they were
very distinctive with their red, black and white plumage. It was exciting to
see them as only rare stragglers reach these shores and are, invariably, found
among flocks of Brent, Barnacle or White-fronted geese.
A winter’s afternoon walk along a nearby estuary is often
accompanied by a low, but steady, sound of Brent geese as they utter their
contact calls. They are, otherwise, unobtrusive with their muted colouration as
they feed across the open mudflats on a dull day.
In contrast, Barnacle geese have a very distinctive
creamy-white ‘face’ patch which seems to differ, very slightly, between
individual birds. They are seen, as winter visitors, arriving in October and
leaving for their breeding grounds in March.
Shoreline In the painting a group of Dunlin, Turnstone and Ringed Plover feed along the shoreline as the tide recedes to slowly reveal the rich mud from which they catch their food that consists of small worms, shrimps, molluscs and marine invertebrates. Some of the birds wade along the water's edge to feel any hidden food and stir the mud with their feet as they methodically work backwards and forwards. On the estuary of the River Exe, in Devon, many different waders can be seen in large mixed groups as they feed together. In this picture, I wanted to capture a sense of the focus and activity with which the birds seek their food between the tides.
Red Kite Much of the Red Kite's plumage is a rich, rusty red colour with the head being a pale, contrasting grey. The wingtips are black. Red Kites are impressive in flight and soar, effortlessly, on their long, angled wings while constantly tilting their deeply forked tail to give directional control over wooded valleys near farmland and open country. I was delighted to see Red Kites for the first time as they glided in numbers over larger gardens, near Henley-on-Thames.
Greenfinches When walking along a stretch of my favourite river I stopped to lean on the rail of Whitebridge and checked along the reed margins to see if there was anything of interest, there usually is, however small. My attention was caught by some Greenfinches working over the Autumn branches which were clothed with their turning colours, ripening rosehips and a host of other berries. I am captivated by the tangle of branches along the river footpaths with Dogrose, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Honeysuckle, wild Clematis and Blackberry among them. The bursts of pattern and colour across each leaf as the chlorophyll retreats seem to be unique and extremely diverse. The green of these lovely birds was complemented wonderfully by the many different hues of red around them in the branches.
Fieldfare and Redwings I painted this picture after a small mixed flock of Fieldfare and Redwings visited my very small garden during the hardest part of last winter. The beauty of the grey-blue colour of the Fieldfare’s head and the bold chevron patterns on the breast were very striking. The Redwings with their beautiful rusty red underwings made short work of the Pyracantha berries on the shrub under my kitchen window. They had stripped all the best berries within a couple of days but it was worth it to gain such close views of these timid and infrequent visitors to my garden.
Blue Tits. Our commonest tit, easily identified by its small size and blue and yellow plumage. The crown of the head, wings and tail are blue with the rest of the back being a lovely, soft green. In spring the colours are very bright with the underside of the body a soft, sulpherous yellow. Often, these birds come into my garden - sometimes feeding in a mixed party of other tits including Long-tailed and Coal tits. They perch in the most acrobatic way, searching for food, on any stem that is strong enough to support their weight. They are always on the move and go from branch to branch giving their characteristic calls. Sometimes adults bring their fledgelings in to search for food and explore. The juveniles can be distinguished from their parents by their much paler colouration.
Stonechat The painting shows the male bird. I watched him for quite a time as he flew a short distance from one stem of brambles to another. The warm, rust colour of the male's breast and the distinct markings around the head and neck show up in a striking way. I think that this is a bold and handsome little bird. They often perch on a single branch at the highest point of any scrub, making their distinctive call that sounds like two small stones being struck together.
House Sparrows with young Where I live, in the summer season of 2011, the House sparrows had a late brood of chicks.As can be seen in the painting, the berries of the Rowan tree in my back garden were well developed and starting to ripen. I had placed a flat, ceramic dish as a feeder quite near the house so that I could observe them closely. The juveniles, with their parents would gather around the dish and the young would clamour and push their way forward to be fed. I noticed, in many cases, it was the male sparrows that seemed to do a lot of the feeding duties while the young would sit, open mouthed, waiting for the next beakful and chirping when not swallowing. They were often in pairs of chicks that each adult would alternate between as the demands from the juveniles became louder. The remains of the yellow edges around the gape of the juveniles beak could still be seen aswell as differing lengths within the tail, as the feathers grow into place in sequence. Sometimes the parents would fly into the Rowan tree with the young in pursuit, where they would continue to jostle each other along the branches.
Yellowhammer and sloes These handsome farmland birds are members of the bunting family and the male has striking yellow and chestnut brown plumage. They are currently undergoing a major population decline. Outside the breeding season yellowhammers tend to gather in small flocks. I am able to see some of these charming birds, particularly in winter, where they can gather in mixed flocks with Cirl buntings as they feed across crop stubble in fields.
Feeding Party In the painting I have included blue tits and a long-tailed tit gathered together in a feeding party that has found a small hole in a branch to investigate for potential food. It is interesting to see mixed flocks of the tit family as they systematically work through branches, looking for food, especially outside the breeding season. Often, there can be great, blue and long-tailed members of the family in the same flock as they check the underside of leaves and holes or cracks in branches as they travel.
Black-tailed Godwits I am able to see a good number of these birds during winter as they gather on and around the river Exe estuary and on some neighbouring river estuaries and marshes. They feed on the wet meadows and across the estuary mud as the tide recedes. They gather together and feed across the mud flats, moving forwards and probing the mud with their long bill. The birds that I have observed and depicted here made interesting and beautiful reflections across the still water as they fed.
Starlings These gregarious birds are particularly beautiful in the breeding season with a multi-coloured sheen across their feathers. The young birds in their plainer brown juvenile feathers are demanding and noisy, providing much entertainment to the observer.
Blue tit Agile and acrobatic, the blue tit works its way, sometimes along the very finest of branches hardly bending them to locate its wide variety of food. With its bright blue crown, pale lemon breast and distinctive eye stripe his is one of our prettiest garden visitors.
Buzzard Often seen perched on convenient telegraph and fence post around Devon and Cornwall, the buzzard also evokes ultimate freedom when seen, effortlessly soaring, in the blue, cloudless summer skies.
Bali starling This beautiful and intelligent snow-white bird has black tips on the wings and tail with the bare skin around the face a vivid shade of blue. Also known as the Rothschild’s mynah, it is critically endangered and on the brink of extinction in the wild. Many zoos and associated bodies around the world are attempting to prevent its extinction through captive breeding programmes.
Kingfisher Most often seen as an azure flash as it retreats along the riverbank. The sandy banks of the River Otter in East Devon provide an ideal habitat for these little birds to excavate their nesting tunnels. Sometimes a shrill, piping call lets you know that they are near.
The last swallow of summer This painting depicts all of the frenetic activity of these little birds during their short but busy nesting season in Britain. They can be seen swooping low over fields and ponds to catch the thousands of insects a day needed for their chicks. The last swallow of summer is seen, on the right hand side of the painting, leaving for it's epic journey to Southern Africa. The last swallow is depicted in ghostly white.
Long-tailed tits This painting was inspired by a party of long-tails foraging for food along the bare stems of Blackthorn (Sloe) and reeds on the edge of the River Otter in East Devon. These mice-like birds with their 'fluffy' faces can usually be heard before they are seen. Their delicate, 'peeping' contact calls to each other as they work along the trees and shrubs of the river bank indicate where to find them, providing their acrobatic display before flying on to the next area of their search. They make attractive, domed nests from moss, sheep's wool and other small pieces bound together with spider's webs. Long-tailed tits are sociable within their family groups, often the offspring who have not paired in the following breeding season will help their parents raise their next brood of youngsters.
Resting gulls The inspiration for this painting came after studying a large group of probably 300 Herring gulls on a river-island as they sat out a Southerly gale in January. Settled down, very low and close to the ground, the gulls did a little preening but mainly sat with their heads into the wind or with them tucked around and under their wings, asleep. This captures a quiet and less usual pose for these birds in complete contrast to their animated and noisy image, more common when we see them jostling for a discarded ice cream cone. This painting, for me, evokes a more serene and truly wild moment in these birds lives as they sit, rain and salt-lashed, in the middle of the estuary.
Starlings -Winter Light Following an amazing 'fly past' over a number of Winter evenings, I wanted to evoke the whirling and spiralling flocks of these most energetic and athletic birds. The flock that I observed probably held a few hundred birds as they circled over the reed beds in the closing light of day during the mid-winter. Their movement is mesmerizing as they fly for another circuit over their chosen site at high speed. The mass of birds seems to move almost like a fluid in the air, silent, except for the rush of countless wings in flight before they start to drop - a few to begin with then the rest , almost en masse into the reed bed for the night and a safe roost on the water. From then on their myriad chatters, whistles and varied vocal sounds rise above the reeds like the noise of a city centre.