Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Spring towards summer part deux

The birds of summer have taken over from the winter visitors. The huge flocks of wigeon are gone and the brent geese have returned to Greenland, Canada, Russia and Siberia to breed. Our greylag geese remain as they are resident, but I always think of them as a winter bird even though I can see them all year round. Their stocky, sculptural build makes them great subjects to sketch.

Brent geese sketches.

Greylag geese sketches.

Little owls are resident here too, although they’re more difficult to see in the summer when the foliage bursts out on the trees. As anyone who has ever read this blog or looked at my website before will know, I’ll always sketch them if I see them, they are such great characters. Another great bird that is difficult to see at the best of times is the tawny owl, in the summer, hidden close to the trunks of trees and obscured behind leaves they are almost impossible to see at their day roosts. Luckily I know of a pair that are regularly in the same group of trees and every year, before the buds break into leaf, I visit them to see them and, hopefully, their chicks once they branch.

Sleeping little owl sketch. Spring tawny owl, acrylic on illustration board.

The lapwing flocks of winter have dispersed and individual birds have paired and are breeding. The first chicks appeared a couple of weeks ago and now all through the rough grass little balls of speckled fluff scurry about, watched over by their ever vigilant parents. The youngsters look like they’re made from woolen balls stolen from the tops of knitted bobble hats from the ‘70s.

Lapwing sketches.

There have been flocks of Mediterranean gulls on Elmley reserve lately, sometimes up to c150 birds. They are a handsome looking gull that used to be pretty scarce in the UK. Indeed, up until around the 1950’s it was a decidedly rare bird. Their range has been expanding rapidly over the past twenty or so years and now, at times, they seem to outnumber the more familiar black headed gull. They’re very welcome as far as I’m concerned, the sound they make is distinctive and, as I said, they are a very handsome gull.

Black headed gull sketch. Mediterranean gull (front) and black headed gull (rear).

The scrapes are now totally dominated by the avocets and the sound of their constant bubbling chatter fills the hides. In the early morning the sunlight slants across the water and the strong shadows it makes help to describe the avocets’ delicate forms. Avocets are a really beautiful bird, elegant and refined to look at, all flowing lines and smooth curves. But their personality belies their looks, they are aggressive and irritable and, at breeding time, they won’t tolerate any intrusion from any species it seems.

Avocet sketches.

Amongst the best of the delights of summer on the marshes are the abundant yellow wagtails that flit around in the grass, on the road, and on the gates and fences that pepper the grazing fields. When the sun hits them from a clear blue sky they glow the brightest and purest of yellows. Less welcome for me are the swarms of mosquitoes that gather over the water or over my head! The wagtails must love them though as they represent a copious and ever present food for them and their chicks.

Sketches of the first yellow wagtails of the year and a male in strong sunshine from last week.

Yellow wagtail and mosquitoes,
acrylic on illustration board.