Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Target acquired

There are something in the order of ten types of Kingfisher listed for Singapore including the European species that I am familiar with from home. One of the more common ones on the island is the White Throated Kingfisher, but the most commonly encountered has to be the White Collared Kingfisher. I would probably say that I saw them just about as often as I would perhaps see magpies in the UK. They seem to be present just about everywhere, including the urban environment. Despite the moniker of Kingfisher they will eat a variety of prey alongside fish, including reptiles, crabs, insects, worms and frogs. Their ‘squeaky toy’ call is a normal accompaniment to any trip onto the hill and I don’t think I have ever visited there without seeing one and, at Sungei Buloh they are predictably numerous. They are a very handsome bird that at times in the sunshine, can shimmer between green and blue as they change position. I have many sketches of them because I find them hard to resist. There is also this small work which began as a field painting then was embellished and finished later in my friend’s studio, so it is now what I think of as a ‘worked up sketch’. I left this with my friend as part of what can only be considered as a somewhat inadequate Thank-you. In the pipeline there are two paintings featuring this bird but, as always, there are so many ideas and simply not enough time to bring them all to fruition.

Lovely as the White Throated and Collared Kingfishers are, there is a third species which I was keen to get into my sketchbook; The Stork Billed Kingfisher. I had seen this magnificent bird in 2011 but only fleetingly, or obscured by vegetation or both! As part of our holiday we were lucky enough to spend a few days in Indonesia on the island of Bintan. I was keen to explore as much as I could and rose early each day to wander around for a couple of hours on my own before breakfast. Behind our Hotel was a large, ornamental Lily pond that attracted all sorts to it including; Striated Herons, Monitor Lizards, White Breasted Waterhens, and White Throated Fantails (Along with more than its fair share of mosquitoes!) I was  watching this pond when, at the far end, I saw a flash of blue and orange disappear up into a pondside tree. I didn’t dare to hope but, with trembling hands, I focused my binoculars and there was my Stork Billed Kingfisher, and sitting beside it, a second one! I could not believe my luck. I had searched Sungei Buloh for hours and seen barely a glimpse of theses birds and, here I was, not 100 yards away from my hotel room, in the company of not one, but two, of the tangerine, chocolate and blue beauties! I hurried around the pond for closer views and one of the birds must have flown off before I got into a good spot but the other stayed for a while before it too flew off into an inaccessible wooded area. But those views had made my day I can tell you!

I had put a couple of quick, not very good, sketches in the book and, now that I knew where I could find them, I hoped I could get more.  I went back to the pond the following morning and located one of the birds fishing from a pondside tree. I discovered after a couple of sessions that the birds were quite confiding and I was able to watch, photograph and sketch them as they went about their business from fairly close range without disturbing them in the slightest. One day in particular, my wife and daughter went off jet-skiing whilst I elected for the more sedate option of sitting by a pond with a friend, a sketchbook, a Stork Billed Kingfisher and roughly 30 million mosquitoes. Stork Billed Kingfishers are fabulous birds and watching them was one of the highlights of my Singapore/Indonesia adventure, despite the incredible heat and the necessity of applying mossie cream every 20 minutes! I’m sure there will be a larger, more considered painting at some time in the future, but for now here’s some sketches and a quick study I did, purely because I could.