Monday, June 30, 2014

Waved Albatross

Among the most incredible sightings I had on Galapagos was when I went to see the world's only waved albatross breeding colony.

These beautiful birds only nest on one island on the archipelago, Espanola. 

The day I visited was breathtaking. We walked ashore just as dawn was breaking.

The marine iguanas were lined up on the beach trying to warm up in the early morning sunshine.
Sally Lightfoot crabs, thought to be named after a nimble Caribbean dancer, were tip-toeing across the sand.

We left the shore and walked inland through dense bushes. Very soon I could hear the strange sound of albatross' clacking their beaks and emitting a haunting ‘whoo hoo’ sound. We rounded a corner into a clearing and suddenly there were several pairs performing their elaborate courting ritual right in front of us.

Waved albatross stand at nearly one metre high and sport waved markings across their breast.
During the breeding season, pairs greet each other by rubbing their bills together tenderly. 

This is followed by one or both of the birds standing bolt upright. 

Then they often either stand with their beaks pointed towards the sky, emitting the strange wailing sound that I’d heard earlier or pose alert with their beaks wide open, before continuing to rub bills again. 

Sometimes, they clack their beaks rapidly like a pair of castanets then stop abruptly to preen over their shoulders or to move their head fluidly from side to side in a comical manner. Then they might take a break or attend to their nests before resuming this unusual behaviour once more.

Albatross are quite cumbersome on land but up in the air they were majestic. I watched as a male with a 7.4ft wingspan circled overhead looking for somewhere to land. Finding a space big enough for that vast shape took some planning!

Taking off was also incredible to watch. The wind was blowing onshore so the albatross would walk towards the cliff edge and then start running hard into the wind. They looked like men taking off in hang gliders.

My video footage of albatross performing their elaborate courting display is currently on show at my exhibition in my gallery at Thixendale until 13th July.

Above is my new painting of waved albatross in acrylics.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Super Dad Diego

Now that my exhibition is finally underway,  I can put down my paintbrushes and at last begin the series of blog posts on my trip to the Galapagos I promised.

I saw so much that took my breath away it is difficult to know where to start but on reflection I think the above portrait in acrylic paint of the giant tortoise, Super Diego, ought to headline my Galapagos blog series.

Super Diego's story is also the story of the success of the incredible breeding programmes run by the Galapagos scientific institution, The Charles Darwin Research Foundation, which turned 50 this year.

This 133 year old saddle-backed Espanola tortoise is thought to be solely responsible for bringing his subspecies back from the brink of extinction after fathering an estimated 1,700  baby tortoises since being acquired by the Foundation in 1977.

Super Diego had been living in a zoo in San Diego, California, since 1930, but was returned to the Galapagos Islands to join a crucial breeding programme. At the time there were just 14 Espanola tortoises left in the world.

Everybody has heard of Lonesome George, whose death in 2012 rendered his subspecies the Pinta tortoise extinct. But Super Dad Diego has ensured the survival of his species.  

The giant tortoises in Galapagos are unique to each island and you can identify which species belongs to each island in this way.

I saw giant tortoises on my very first day in Galapagos at a farm on Santa Cruz Island that was entirely given over to tortoises.

Farmers in Galapagos compete to attract wild tortoises and the tourists that they bring by making their land as appealing as possible and this one had a number of muddy wallows for them to cool off in.

Although I knew the tortoises would be large, I wasn't really prepared for how large. They really are huge. 

I knelt by the edge of a path until the day cooled off and the tortoises started to come out to graze. Two large males ambled past me. They were so close I could hear them creaking under the weight of their shells.

Then one met another male heading in the opposite direction. Each began to try to lift its heads up higher than the other. They opened their mouths and hissed at one another, trying to gain dominance over the other.

I was so absorbed in sketching and photographing them I hadn't noticed that I was kneeling in the path of a fire ant colony until I felt the sting of their poison burn my legs, but at least I had got some great photographs to inform my paintings.

My exhibition of wildlife from the Galapagos runs until July 13th at my gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wildlife Art Exhibition and a walk on the Wolds

My new wildlife art exhibition opened on Saturday with a lot of interest in my new paintings inspired by my trip to The Galapagos, like the waved albatross pair pictured above.

It was a busy day and visitors who joined the first of our wildlife walks on the Yorkshire Wolds reported some great sightings.

Experienced naturalist Michael Flowers, who leads these guided walks for me, took some great photographs and so for today I thought I would invite him to be my guest-blogger.

Please note Michael's next guided walks are on July 5th. The first is to Allerthorpe Common to look for adders at 10am, book by clicking here, and the second is to Wharram Percy again at 1.30pm, book by clicking here.

Below is Michael's account of the wildlife spotted on our opening day. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

June on the Wolds

To coincide with Robert Fuller's Summer Exhibition yesterday saw the first day of a few wildlife walks in the Yorkshire Wolds.  In the morning we met in Millington Wood, and we walked along the road to the pond.  We heard a few Willow Warblers, and a Blackcap, plus a very distant Whitethroat.  Of these we had a brief view of the Blackcap, but better views of one of the Willow Warblers.  When we reached the pond a large Tawny Owl flew out from a hawthorn and flew quite some distance to some far Ash trees on the lower hillside.  She perched low down in one of the trees and we were able to observe her for quite some time.  She spent some time hunting, by dropping on to prey from her perch to the long grass below, but we weren't able to see what she caught.

Stoat with Vole
 Willow Warbler
Around the pond itself House Martins and Swallows flew around, and Moorhens fought each other.  Bullfinches were heard, as were Linnets and Goldfinches.  We walked up the valley, and in the final hawthorn an immature Yellowhammer was perched for a few seconds before disappearing into the scrub to our right.  We climbed up the path and had close encounters with Yellowhammers and Meadow Pipits flew just above the grass level.
Tawny Owl
 Tawny Owl chick
 Immature Yellowhammer
 Marsh Tit
 Marsh Tit
 Red Admiral
 'Dancing' Brimstones
We made our way back to the road and spotted a female Swallow drying herself off in a dead tree.  Along here we saw a mixture of birds before someone spotted a Tawny Owl chick in another Ash tree, so that's why the female Tawny was there.  It bobbed its head from side to side as it wondered what we were doing watching it!  We walked as far as the Yorkshire Water compound, and here we had a good view of a male Marsh Tit.  On the way back we kept having to move onto the grass verge to avoid cyclists and motorists, but looking back a Stoat was running towards us with an item of prey hanging from its jaws.  Eventually, it became aware of our presence, stopped in its tracks, looked in our direction before deciding to cross the road and disappear into the long grass on the opposite side of the road.  This was probably the highlight of the morning walk.  When Ben and I drove back to the gallery we slowed down at the old Little Owl nest site.  We could see plenty of bird droppings at the entrance hole, and then we could just see beyond the leaves obscuring the hole that 2 Kestrel chicks were looking out at the world outside. 
At lunch time my nephew and I visited the Robert Fuller Gallery, after looking at the new paintings, where we also marvelled at all the live cameras.  We arrived in time to see 2 young Kestrels in a different nest looking out, and Ben even saw the penultimate chick leave.  We were also able to see young Stoats in a hollow log tugging at some tied down Rabbits.  Meanwhile highlights of the Kestrel chicks was playing on a loop on the gallery front desk.  Tree Sparrows and the usual garden visitors were on the feeders. 
Common Blue on Common Spotted Orchid
 Butterfly forcing Moth off its orchid!
 Green Sawfly  (thanks Barry Warrington)
 Green Sawfly
 Marbled White
 Clustered Bellflower

At 1.30 o'clock we shared cars to Wharram Percy.  For many details of what we saw, please follow this link to Thursday's visit: Here  The Redstarts and spotted Flycatchers near the ancient monument were much harder to locate, although we did see the female & at least one immature Redstart.  Our viewing was hampered by some over-inquisitive cows and lots of human visitors.   However new things seen included Spotted Flycatchers both in and near Wharram Quarry.  There were more Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Common Blues, Small Heaths, and Marbled Whites around, a very strange green and black insect, which Barry Warrington has kindly identified as a Green Sawfly. 
 Immature Willow Warbler
 Spotted Flycatcher

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wildlife Walks and Talks

I'm hosting lots of exciting wildlife events during my Summer Exhibition and I've been flat out organising them.

There will be nature walks and bird watching tours of all the local wildlife as well as landscape photography workshops and children's falconry events here in the gallery courtyard.

My friend and colleague Michael Flowers who is a very knowledgeable and experienced naturalist will be running the bird watching tours for me.

He will be taking groups to Allerthorpe Common, where you can see adders, green woodpeckers, green warblers and small copper and common blue butterflies, as well as to Wharram Percy where orchids grow in a disused quarry.

Michael will also guide a group through Millington Pastures which hosts a wonderfully varied habitat that includes ancient ash woodland, meadow pasture and ponds.

So many visitors to my gallery are also keen photographers so I'm also going to lay on a number of intensive courses with professional photographer George Stoyle. He will be taking small groups over the Yorkshire Wolds to show them how to take great landscape and sunset shots.

There are also plans for family falconry courses and we've got some fun events taking place for kids in the gallery too. In keeping with my new collection of Galapagos-inspired paintings, the company Sam's Safaris are bringing both desert and jungle creatures for children to hold and to learn how they have adapted to their environment.

And I am busy checking that the owls and badgers that live in the nearby valleys are all in good health for my own tours of their nesting sites.

My guided owl safaris are already fully booked so I need to be sure the visitors get some good sightings.

I'm also going to be giving a talk all about my trip to the Galapagos Islands so I'm going through my best pictures and writing down all my experiences for the slideshow. It's all go at the gallery until the opening day on the Saturday 21st!!

Below is a full list of what's happening when:

Millington Magic
Experience the essence of the Yorkshire Wolds and the wildlife it has to offer in this breath-taking tour of Millington pastures. Expert naturalist and birdwatcher Michael Flowers leads this tour through ancient ash woodlands, meadow pasture and picture perfect ponds where kingfishers and water rail dart among the reeds. 
Tickets: £10
Venue: Meet at the car park at Millington Wood.
Date: Saturday 21st June 
Time: 10am session
Click here for further information and to book

Wharram Wildlife
This disused quarry is now a haven for wildlife and professional naturalist Michael Flowers knows just where to find it. 
As you tour the site he will point out rare orchids, butterflies and a wide variety of birdlife that now abounds in the grassy quarry bottom. 
Date: Saturday 21st June & Saturday 5th July
Time: 1.30pm
Meet at The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale
Tickets: £10 
Saturday 21st June Click here for further information and to book 
Saturday 5th July Click here for further information and to book

Photo the Wolds
Take landscape photographs like a professional. Celebrated photographer George Stoyle runs a photographic course showing you how to take the perfect shot of the wolds. You'll be out in the open taking photographs under George's expert tuition. Please bring your own camera with you.
Date: Saturday 6th July 10am-12 noon
Venue: meet at The Robert Fuller Gallery, Thixendale before venturing out to take photographs. This events is suitable for adults and children aged 14yrs+
Tickets £15.00
Click here for further information and to book 

Process like a pro
Find out how to edit, crop and manipulate your digital images on the computer.
Date: Saturday 6th July 12.302.30pm
Venue: meet at The Robert Fuller Gallery, Thixendale.
This events is suitable for adults and children aged 14yrs+
Tickets £10.00
Click here for further information and to book

Photo at Dusk
Learn how to capture sunsets with your camera and take advantage of the golden hour of light on the Yorkshire Wolds in this workshop by expert landscape photographer George Stoyle.
Date: Saturday 12th July 7pm-9pm
Venue: meet at The Robert Fuller Gallery, Thixendale.
This events is suitable for adults and children aged 14yrs+
Tickets £15.00
Click here for further information and to book 
Galapagos Adventure
Talk and slide show by wildlife artist Robert E Fuller. Find out about his recent adventure in the Galapagos Islands. See photographs of blue footed boobies, marine iguanas, giant tortoises and the Galapagos Penguin and find out why he became known as the artist Darwin never had.
Date: Saturday 28th June
Venue: The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale, Malton YO17 9LS
Time 7.30pm Click here for further information and to book 

Wild Allerthorpe
A walk through deep wooded glades at Allerthorpe common with expert naturalist Michael Flowers. Let him point out adders, green woodpeckers, garden warbler, small copper and common blue butterflies as well as all the other wildlife as you walk.
Date: Saturday 5th July
Meet: at Allerthorpe Common - exact location to be confirmed on booking
Tickets £10
Time: 10am session
Click here for further information and to book 

Owl Prowl:
Children will love the chance to handle the owls on this exciting falconry course - especially the snowy owl, Hedwig, who is understood to have been one of a number of snowy owls used in the popular children's films, Harry Potter.
Expert falconer Danny Carpenter has a remarkable collection of owls and will show you how to hold them and teach you all about what they eat and where they can be found. Afterwards try your hand at becoming an owl detective by dissecting real owl pellets. Expect to find the tiny bones of small rodents and see if you can piece them together to find out what the owls have been eating.
Date: Sunday 22nd June 
Venue: The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale, Malton YO17 9LS
Tickets: £10
Time: 10am session 
Click here for further information and to book 

Kids Discover Galapagos
Let your children find out all about the Galapagos Islands from our experts at Galapagos Conservation Trust and learn all about this exciting archipelago and the amazing wildlife that lives there through fun educational games and treasure hunts.
Date: Saturday 28th June 2pm & Sunday 29th June 10am
Venue: Meet at the Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale, Thixendale, Malton YO17 9LS
Tickets: Child £4 Adult £6 
Click here for further information and to book

Fly a Falcon 
Learn all about falconry and handle an array of beautiful birds and fly your own fabulous falcon under the expert guide of Eagle Eye Falconry.
Date: Sunday 29th June
Venue: Meet at the Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale, Malton YO17 9LS
Tickets: Child: £4.00 Adult: £6.00. 
Time 10am 
Click here for further information and to book 

Falconry Academy

Learn all about falconry how to feed and care for birds of prey then handle an array of beautiful birds and fly your own fabulous falcon under the expert guide of Eagle Eye Falconry.
Date: Sunday 6th July
Tickets: Adults £6 Children £4.00
Venue: The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale, Malton YO17 9LS
Time: 10am session 
Click here for further information and to book 

Desert Animals
Come, meet and hold, a leopard gecko, a berber skink, bearded dragon and other desert animals. Learn about what they like to eat and how they protect themselves in the desert at this fun family event run by Sam's Safaris.
Date: Sunday 13th July
Venue: The Robert Fuller Gallery, Thixendale
Tickets: £6.00 adults £4.00 children
Time: 10am session 
Click here for further information and to book 
Desert Bushcraft
Learn the basics of survival in the desert. From fire-lighting to making a shelter, bushcraft expert Brian Bates covers the essentials at this fun family event.
Date: Sunday 13th July
Tickets: £6 Adults and £4 Children
Venue: The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale
Time: 11.30am 
Click here for further information and to book

Jungle Animals
Come and meet some jungle creatures at this fun family event. There will be stick insects, giant millipedes, tree frogs, gecks a yellow tortoise and even a python to hold or touch.
Date: Saturday 12th July
Time: 10am 
Venue: The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale York
Tickets: £6 Adults £4 Children
Click here for further information and to book 
Jungle Bushcraft
Learn the basics of survival in the jungle. From fire-lighting to making a shelter, expert guide Brian Bates covers the essentials at this fun family event.
Venue: Meet at the Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale YO17 9LS 
Date: Sunday 13th July 
Tickets: £6 Adults £4 Children
Time: 1.30pm
Click here for further information and to book