On the Monday morning I awoke to the sound of rain lashing against the roof window of the cottage. Somehow my sleep fuddled brain had managed to lock onto the fact that it was monday morning and there was a small moment of panic as it went into autopilot; 'You must get up now! You'll be late for work!' ...It was 4.45 a.m...
The comfortable surroundings of the cottage and the warmth of the bed soon stilled the unfriendly thought that had sneaked unbidden, into my mind and I laid back and savoured the delicious moment. This was monday morning, it was raining and I could simply lie in bed until I wanted to get up.
After a few more minutes of blissful sleep I realised that the rain had stopped drumming its chaotic rhythm on the window glass and the urge to get out into the freshly rain soaked fields soon saw me dressed and closing the door behind me. By this time the rain had started again but now it was a gentle drizzle that smudged the landscape and muted colours. I made my way round to the little owl tree and immediately spotted the little guy sitting right out at the end of a gnarled branch like some kind of guardian gargoyle. His usual spot was occupied by a large woodpigeon and the owl really didn't look happy about that. He shook rainwater off his head and gave the pigeon his fiercest glare. The woodpigeon, for his part, glanced back at the owl with a totally vacant expression and then proceeded to ingnore him.
Woodpigeons have always seemed to me to be the dimmest of birds, the very epitome of the 'bird brain'. I have seen them at the feeding station I have set up in my garden desperately trying to work out how they can get from the tray part over to the actual seed dispensers which are designed specifically for birds much smaller than a woodpigeon. They cock their heads a thousand different angles, lean forward and lean back. You can almost hear their tiny little minds whirring as they peer over at the unattainable. If they could make it onto the seed feeders then the small birds wouldn't stand a chance of a look in as the woodies would hoover up the entire seed supply in minutes. Eventually they give up and hop to the ground beneath the feeders. That's when it finally dawns on them that they have entered pigeon paradise where food falls like manna from heaven in an almost constant stream as the sparrows drop seeds while stuffing their own beaks and bellies.
The drizzle was unpleasant but bearable once I reminded myself once again that it was monday morning and here I was sharing time with a little owl in a field in Norfolk rather than sitting in a traffic jam somewhere on the wrong side of the Blackwall tunnel. As I moved down toward the fishing pond there was no sign of either fox or muntjac and I confess I was a bit disappointed when the drizzle began to upgrade itself into proper rain. Monday mornings can be depressing and rain doesn't usually help the situation. This particular morning though I had a different kind of monday morning blues in mind as I headed for the fishing pond and its resident kingfishers. Both juveniles were again perched close by one another but on a branch of a different willow to before. This time they were more difficult to spot. It's amazing that these brightest of birds can be so difficult to see sometimes. They are only small birds though, roughly starling sized and their colours can appear quite dark especially in the gloom of a rainy monday morning. The intensity of their colours is down entirely to the light conditions that they are seen in. This is because the kingfisher's colour is not a result of pigment but irridescence. Light is broken up and refracted as it filters through the structure of the feathers, this is known as structural colour. I sketched the most visible of the birds as the rain upgraded once again from rain to heavy rain until I thought it best to take shelter for the sake of my camera if nothing else.
I tucked myself under some trees and into the shelter of a large ivy covered wall. This is a remnant of the architecture of a manor house that stood on the estate until the 1950s when it was demolished. It was dank and dark under the foliage, a land inhabited by spiders, mites, woodlice and other unspeakably long leggedy beasties. I sat on a rotting log that was relatively dry and comfortable and wrote my notes. The sound of the raindrops as they pit-pattered through the leaves was soothing and I dozed off for a while thinking what a contrast it was to a 'usual' monday morning. I woke as a mother moorhen wandered past with two well grown chicks in tow, they seemed unaware of me and I sat without moving until they were out of sight. The rain had slowed a little and I left the wall for the lighter cover of a guelder rose which was dripping with rain and intense red berries like glace cherries. A movement at my feet caught my eye and I watched a tiny, perfect toadlet as he struggled through the wet grass.
As the rain eased still further I made my way out to the paddocks and was rewarded with some close, but brief, views of the female barn owl as she hunted her way back to roost in the old stag oak. Thoughts of tea and toast were impossible for me to resist and I decided to call it a day and make my way back to the cottage for breakfast. In the sky overhead I heard the frantic chittering of swallows and, on looking up, I saw the reason for their calls. A hobby was approaching across the paddocks like a missile locked onto a target. Against the dramatic sky it powered into an attack run with breathtaking speed. These determined and beautifully streamlined falcons are the only british bird of prey that have the speed and agility to regularly hunt swifts and swallows. The hobby zoomed overhead and swallows scattered and swerved. I saw him jink and tuck into the tail of a swallow too slow to be out of danger. The swallow made a dive toward the ground with the hobby close behind and closing the gap. I saw the deadly talons swinging forward before the two combatants disappeared from view behind the trees. I didn't see the outcome of the chase but I suspect that the swallow won't be returning to Africa.
The rain continued into the morning and my younger son Ben beat me soundly at table tennis. I have always had the upper hand but this year age must be catching up with me and the student has become the teacher. By lunchtime the sun was shining strongly and fishing by the pond was wonderfully serene. The insects buzzed soporific tunes and every so often the kingfishers flashed by to the excited peeps of the juveniles. Dragonflies and damselflies skimmed the water on gossamer wings and they even landed on my arms to soak up the sun with me. By the early evening the clouds had begun to gather and I took my easel, paints and canvas out where I completed an en plein air study of one of the oaks that stand isolated in the fields.
Visiting Artist Residency: Woodson Art Museum
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