Friday, January 29, 2010

Don't forget it's the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend.

It's the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend. I'm going to go over and spend an hour with my two nephews and neice, ticking off the birds we see in their garden. But, for the sake of consistency with last year's efforts, I also plan to do it again when I get home.
The RSPB has run this event for 30 years and last year up to half a million people took part. It helps to create a 'snapshot' of bird numbers in each region, giving a good indication of where there are serious dips in bird populations.
The results of the bird watch this weekend, then, is vitally important. It can be the first step to help aid a species recovery.
All you have to do is spend an hour, at a time to suit you, watching and recording the birds you see in your garden. Should be fun! To register and record your findings click here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seen anything otter?

There are three otters in the enclosure at Slimbridge, where the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) are working to safeguard the recent return of the species to our waters, and they really are characters.
This one, who is called Mo, climbed a tree close to the enclosure boundary whilst we were there. We thought she was planning her escape until she settled down in its branches and promptly fell asleep.
Workers at WWT have put this unusual otter behaviour down to teenage rebellion. To read more about it follow this link to the WWT website.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Heron Feast

The main draw to Slimbridge is the duck and geese population, but I ended up focusing on herons.
It was unusual to see them so tame. These birds are usually wary of humans since, because of the damage they do to fish stocks, they are targeted.
But the herons at Slimbridge clearly feel safe and were readily approachable.

Enter heron, stage right.

'Welcoming the public?' No, actually it's flexing its beak in preperation for spearing a fish.

Hunting for fish.
Taking the plunge
Ready for the next one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WWT Slimbridge rocks!

This weekend I travelled down to Gloucester. I had a meeting with the curator of Nature in Art Museum in Twigworth. I was really impressed with the collection of wildlife paintings and sculptures that they had and hopefully my work will appear in one of their exhibitions in the not too distant future!

The following day I went to WWT Slimbridge where there is a fantastic network of wetlands on the river Severn. There were wildfowl from all over the world in the ponds, but I decided to focus on the native British species.

This was a favourite shot of a Bewick Swan as it came into land. Many of the birds close to the visitor centre are pinioned, but this one clearly wasn't! It had been attracted in by the calls of the others. Bewick Swans overwinter in Britain and come in all the way from Arctic Siberia.
I stayed all day photographing the ducks and birds. I took this shot as the sun set. I headed off back to where I was staying, with this kind moorhen showing me the way home!
I returned the following day, to take some more shots which I'll post tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Grigin Farm

I had the opportunity to go to Grigin farm in Mid-Wales last month. Mid-Wales was once home to one of the last remaining red kite populations. There has now been a population explosion there, helped by feeding stations such as the one at Grigin farm.
I saw up to 400 red kites coming in to feed. The way they swirll and swoop in to snatch the food is spectacular.

The experience has inspired me to work on a painting of a red kite this year. For more information on Grigin farm and its continuing work to protect red kites click here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Red Kites Come Home to Roost

I watched 20 to 30 red kites fly in to roost near Nunburnholme the other day. What a magnificent sight! One of the birds had a tag on it so I guess it must be one of the original one's released from Harewood House as part of the recent programme to bring this beautiful bird back from the brink of extinction.
It's heartening to think that so many of them have come to the Yorkshire Wolds. There was a time when I thought I would never see red kites here in my lifetime.
To find out more about red kites in Yorkshire, follow this link.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wise Woodpecker!

Whilst the cold snap has brought the birds into our gardens in increasing numbers, it has also brought the predators - among them the ever-controversial sparrowhawk.
A fast and single-minded killer, most of us are only ever aware of a sparrowhawk ambush after the event - when we spot a chilling pile of feathers on the lawn.One winter I saw a woodpecker dodge one. The incident became the subject of the painting above. For more on the story click here to link to my latest column in The Yorkshire Post.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Field frenzy!

I've got loads of fieldfares in the garden at the moment. They're easily tempted in with old apples now that their natural food source is almost depleted in this long cold period that we're having. They're so hungry at the moment they're even eating dog rose hips. I've never seen any bird eating these before!
I'm going to be starting a colourful painting of a fieldfare soon with apples.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hunkering Down

The icy weather has made it easier to spot and photograph wildlife, although things are very tough for the animals and birds themselves. I took these pictures as the snow thawed.
But it wasn't long before we had another fall, and again the hares were less well camouflaged. This can makes them vulnerable to predators such as foxes.
And as it got worse you could easily see how difficult it is for wildlife at this time.
Peepo! When the snow is this deep, hares have to resort to feeding off the branches of low hedges and bushes - this makes them very unpopular with farmers.
This hare is hunkering down in a form, scratched into the snow. It keeps them out of the icy wind.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Red alert for red list birds

The RSPB has warned that the savage wintry weather is the single greatest threat to wildlife this millennium. This week the society launched emergency action to help threatened red list species survive the icy blast.
It is calling on us all to feed the birds in our gardens to help get them through the icy grip. Several red-list birds use our gardens as refuges in winter, including house sparrows, starlings and song thrushes.
The RSPB claims that the icy weather is also bringing further red-list birds to suburban gardens including redpolls, yellowhammers and tree sparrows.
Please, please get out there and put some food out for them. From apples, to seeds, nuts and fat balls, these rations will help the UK's bird population face off the biggest killer this millenium. For more information click here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Christmas Quacker?

I'm thinking of making mallards the subject of one of my Christmas cards next year and so I drove up to Fridaythorpe yesterday to take some pictures on the frozen pond.
It's ideal weather for photographing them, not just because the white scenery is what you need for a Christmas card, but also because the pond is frozen and so you can see their feet. Usually the ducks are bobbing on the water and you have to wait for them to come out to get a good picture of their legs!

I won't actually begin painting the picture until the summer, which will feel odd at that time, but I need to get the pictures now whilst I can and then of course I'll have all that time to get the perfect pose and work on the composition!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow Beginnings

I took a break over Christmas to be with my family, but the snowfall made me keen to get back to work and I have spent this week out and about taking some landscape photographs which I will eventually use as backgrounds for my subjects.

I paint directly from photographs that I take, but I don't necessarily use the same background and will often cut a subject out of one background and paste it onto another if I think it works better that way.
The snow scenes will obviously work well in paintings for next year's Christmas exhibition, or may possibly turn up in future Christmas cards.