Thursday, November 25, 2010

Talk cancelled due to snow

The snow looks very picturesque, but unfortunately it has meant I've had to cancel my talk on the migration in Kenya's Masai Mara tonight. Although the drifts are nothing like those we had last year, and plenty of visitors have braved the roads and visited the galley today, I was a little worried about encouraging another 40 cars on the road tonight.
I'm going to postpone it until Thursday night, December 2nd, when hopefully the snow will have cleared.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Peregrine Falcon Swoops over Birdwatchers

Those of you who went on the two bird watching walks this weekend came back delighted. I hear the walk to find winter migrants on Saturday was a success. Michael Flowers, who led the walk, reported spotting fieldfares, yellowhammers and bullfinches as well as a very good view of redwings - and of a kestrel to boot.
And the walkers who took the trip on Sunday to find red kites also spotted a peregrine falcon, a buzzard, a green woodpecker and flocks of fieldfare.These walks are so popular I definitely feel they should become a part of all my exhibitions in the future. Tomorrow I will be giving a talk myself about my trips to see the wildebeest migration in Kenya's Masai Mara - I've been digging out the photographs all day in preparation.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zoo Vet

Zoo vet Matt Brash gave a fascinating speech to our audience last night.This TV vet's talk on how he cares for some of the world's most dangerous animals was both funny and exciting - especially his descriptions of how to castrate a hippo!
Matt Brash said that much of his time is now taken up with supporting the RSPCA on prosecutions for badger baiting - it is still surprisingly common.
He and I donated the money taken for the evening to Ryedale Rescue in Malton, where Jean Thorpe rehabilitates injured animals and releases them into the wild.
We are fully booked again for our walks to see winter migrants and to watch red kites this weekend so let's hope the visitors see plenty of birdlife!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Waxwing Glut

Waxwings have been arriving from Scandinavia in record numbers this year to take advantage of a bumper harvest of rowan berries.These beautiful birds migrate to the UK when food stocks further north begin to run out. The first birds land in huge flocks on the north east coast and so we are ideally placed to see them here. It's only when you photograph these birds that you can see what the human eye misses. They toss the berries up in the air before gobbling them down whole.
I spotted this mistle thrush getting in on the act, presumably before the berries are all gone.
Large flocks of waxwings can strip rowan trees of their berries in minutes. Rowan are native to Scandinavia and tend to be their first choice of winter food, but they go on to hawthorn and other berries once they've stripped the rowans. When they can get them they also eat insects, catching flies on the wing like flycatchers.
Waxwings get their name from the red tip to their primary wing feathers which look as though they've been dipped in sealing wax.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Exhibition Walks and Talks a Great Success!

So far the exhibition has been a great success. We had more than 1,000 visitors during the opening weekend and today a group of 30 from Pocklington U3A.
The birdwatching walks with Michael Flowers (pictured above) were great. The group looking for winter migrants on Saturday saw fieldfares, finches, a redwing and 20 golden plovers heading south. As a bonus they also spotted a water rail, a little owl, a yellowhammer and a kestrel displaying.
Whilst on Sunday the red kite watch saw 13 red kites coming in to roost - as well as a green woodpecker, a pair of marsh tits and a redwing.
Everybody came back pleased with themselves and I think they enjoyed the exhibition of paintings all the more after having seen some of the birds in the wild first.
Of course I'm happiest of all - I've sold eight original oil paintings!
I'm also really pleased with the way the evening talks are going. Last night the gallery was packed for Gilda Brader and Jennie Palmer's demonstrations on how to make Christmas decorations.

And tomorrow night's talk by the zoo vet Matt Brash should be good. He's a very entertaining speaker and very knowledgeable about wildlife.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Game's On

My Christmas exhibition opened this morning with all the usual flurry of activity. The theme of the exhibition is game birds and my latest painting of a partridge covey seems to have gone down particularly well.
The focus on game birds got me thinking about how common it is to see pheasants sparring at this time of year, even though their breeding season doesn't begin until the spring.
Do look out for today's Yorkshire Post in which I concentrate on this subject in my monthly column.
The exhibition runs until November 28th and it is already shaping up to be a good one - if wildly busy. There are various events taking place throughout the fortnight.
Later today we have a walk to spot winter migrants with experienced birdwatcher Michael Flowers and tomorrow there is a walk to find red kites on the Yorkshire Wolds.
On Tuesday night my neighbour, the gardener Gilda Brader and the couture designer Jennie Palmer will be showing visitors how to make floral and fabric decorations for Christmas. This event has already sold out!

Friday, November 12, 2010


I've been out photographing waxwings this week and I have some cracking photographs. This is just one of them, but the best are still in my camera. I'm too busy getting ready for the exhibition, which opens tomorrow, to load the rest up just now but watch this space!
The professional bird watcher Michael Flowers will be taking visitors to my exhibition on a walk tomorrow to try to find winter migrants on the Yorkshire Wolds.
I travelled to Kirkbymoorside to see the waxwings and I saw about 120 birds. I hope the visitors find a few because they really are such beautiful birds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finishing Touches

I've been hanging my new original oil paintings today in preparation for the Christmas Exhibition which opens the day after tomorrow.
There's quite a trick to getting them looking right on the walls.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lily Spots a Sparrowhawk

My two-year-old daughter Lily is getting quite adept at spotting wildlife. The other day she picked out a sparrowhawk before I did.
Although she didn't identify it correctly, I was impressed.
She and I watched the sparrowhawk as it tried to find its prey hidden in the grass. Click here to read my column in the Ryedale Gazette & Herald on the story.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Kingfishers King of the Waterways

Wasn't it good to read this week how the number of kingfishers spotted along Britain's rivers and canals have more than trebled this year?
There had been some concerns that these beautiful birds could have been badly hit by last year's harsh winter, so it was heartening to know that a wildlife survey by British Waterways showed they have been seen in record numbers this year.

According to the survey, the number of mink has simultaneously declined - which could have something to do with the boost in the kingfisher population. British Waterways has claimed the credit for the boost, pointing to its improvements in water quality and habitat management. I hope it continues. Getting the right colours to paint these birds is always a challenge but these two paintings are among my most popular.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sneak Digital Preview of My New Paintings

This is the front cover of a new digital book featuring all of my new original oil paintings. If you would like a sneak preview please click here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Autumn Display

I've been so busy finishing off my paintings for the exhibition that I haven't had time to go out and get any photographs of the wonderful autumn display we've been having. And then when I finally did get out this morning the storm we had last night had blown most of the leaves off!
The dry weather we've been enjoying recently gives you just the chemical reaction you need to turn the leaves to such beautiful russets and golds.I particularly wanted to get pictures of leaf litter because this is something I often need as background for my paintings, like in this one below.I often have to work on getting photographs for paintings a year in advance because the wildlife window is so short.
There have been quite a few sightings of waxwings this year, including more than a 100 spotted at Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham at the weekend, and since there were none at all last year I really do need to make sure I get out and get some more photographs of them for next year.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Green Woodpecker

People often ask me how long it takes me to paint a picture, from start to finish, and I find it a difficult question to answer. This painting, for instance, began life 18 years ago when I took a really good photograph of a woodpecker.
Then, about seven years ago I took a photograph of a stump of silver birch.
But it wasn't until just last week when I was thinking about green woodpeckers that I suddenly had the idea to put the green woodpecker onto the silver birch stump.
And once I had formed the idea for my composition I was keen to get painting.
I'm now working day and night to get it finished in time for my exhibition which opens on November 13th!