It may be midwinter but I am busy getting together the sketches for my August book and they transport me back to bold blue skies and summer grasses.
You can see redshanks throughout the summer though in less numbers than in winter . . .
I don’t expect all of these redshank sketches will make it to the book but some will.
They race past the spit and along the edges of the salt marsh. The spartina, a salt marsh grass and one of the first plants to colonise a salt marsh, is festooned with ripening seeds.
On a low tide the August sun streams down into the depths of the muddy creek. The light plays on the patterns of mud and draws shadows around the redshank.
I love watching the redshank deep in the creek.
What a pose this redshank struck with a strong tailwind ruffling its feathers and giving the impression of upending the bird. An altogether charming sight.
I settled down one afternoon to watch this group of redshank and pair of black-headed gulls. The redshank were backlit by the afternoon sun which outlined their shape and eliminated detail . . . sometimes it is better not to see every feather.
These sketches were done using ultramarine, cadmium red (mixed together they give a wonderfully powerful black-brown) plus yellow ochre and cobalt turquoise light.
Updated 3 April
On the face of it you would not expect to see dunlin and roe deer together but that is what greeted me this morning.
There were two deer, a doe and a young buck, by the water’s edge in front of Denny Island with hundreds of dunlin flying behind them. I was downwind of them but feeling very conspicuous standing out in the middle of the marsh and expected to be spotted at any moment.
The young buck looked past me towards the docks.
A handful of dunlin – there were hundreds here this morning.
To my surprise there were 2 more deer a few hundred yards further down the marsh. . .
. . . a more mature buck with a yearling doe. I recognised this group of four from a previous visit.
Both bucks were sporting velvet covered antlers.
It was great to watch the deer but even more enthralling when accompanied by the aerobatics of hundreds of dunlin – a very special sight in front of the Firefly navigation buoy.
The storm raged at Battery Point as the sunset lay across the bay.
Hardly able to stay upright in the full force of the gale a lone figure on the headland leaned into the wind.
Intermittent sheets of near horizontal rain blew across the salt marsh. The stinging rain lashed my face and blurred my vision but I could just make out a small flock of dunlin on the wing.
Their progress was painfully slow head on against the ferocity of the gale but when they veered in the direction of the wind they were swept out of sight at breakneck speed.
I was struggling to steer a straight path in this buffeting wind so quite a feat for these featherweights to stay on course. Nevertheless they made repeated forays fighting their way across the tops of the surging waves at the very edge of the salt marsh.
Updated 21 February 2014
Usually there are plenty of places around Battery Point for these little waders to rest and feed. As their name suggests they search for food under the pebbles and seaweed in the rocks at the far end of the salt marsh. This is a watercolour and oil pastel sketch of turnstones at low water – I have had so much fun with my 40 year old oil pastels that I have just treated myself to a set of Sennelier oil pastels and this is their first outing!
It was one of those enormous spring tides when the sea rises so high that landing places for the turnstones are in very short supply. With a 14.6 m high tide the salt marsh and most of the rocks are underwater so the turnstones fly back and forth looking for a spot to land.
At first they jostled for a place on a raft of flotsam swept against the promenade wall . . .
. . . but then repaired to the top of the wall to promenade with the rest of us.
Promenading on the sea wall is unusual for the Bristol Channel bunch as they are typically wary but today they had little choice.
On the same high tide a bird-watching friend saw a flock of turnstones cadging a lift on a large tree trunk floating up the channel (you can see the photo on his excellent local bird watching blog http://avonbirding.blogspot.co.uk) . . . and on another occasion I heard a report of a channel navigation buoy festooned with turnstones on a similarly high tide.
Sketching birds as a part of the wider landscape is quite a different challenge to a detailed study of birds where they are the main or only focal point and the background is either non-existent or secondary. I learn so much doing these preparatory sketches, which, of course, is the whole point of the process. The end sketch may not always be what I had intended, and all too often leaves me with some angst (must do better), but frequently it is those from which I learn most.
Joining these 2 sketches gave an added perspective between the foreground and middle ground birds and indeed the overall panorama (the joined sketch is near the top of this page).
At low tide the walls of Portishead pier are revealed in all their textured, rusty splendour and the redshank rest on the glossy mud below . . . a study in ochres. There are some great paintings using only ochres and the pier is certainly an inspiring tonal subject but today I could not resist the sight of the redshank flying past the yacht’s blue rigging. I love the asymmetry of the mast and the delicious combination of “cerulean” and “cobalt turquoise light” amongst the ochres.
. . . and that was not the only blue in Portishead hole – lying in the mud was an old oil drum masquerading as a mooring buoy.
The reflections from the pier, yacht, buoy and redshank bounced off what little water was left . . .
. .. and when the sun shone wonderful blue “mud shadows” were cast. . . not so much ochre after all.
Updated September 2014
Last summer the greenshank was missing from my sketches of summer waders but this year I was lucky enough to spot this one in Chapel Pill . . .
Also in the pill at the same time was one adult and one juvenile Grey Wagtail – this is the adult . .
Updated 23 September 2013
Well summer is over and I can feel the cool breath of autumn so this is my last update on summer waders. Over this period I have been able to sketch redshank, ringed plover, oystercatchers, curlew, whimbrel, common sandpipers, turnstones, dunlin and black-tailed godwits. There have been reports of other waders in the area such as greenshank, though I did not see them myself so my list of sketches remains incomplete.
COMMON SANDPIPER AND TURNSTONES
I often see one or two pairs of common sandpipers bobbing rhythmically in the muddy pills at either end of the salt marsh as they look for food. Continue reading
Seen 30 March 2013
The best time to see purple sandpipers here is at high tide when the only rocks still above water are those close to shore.
Battery Point is a great place to see ships passing within feet of the shore, or to get a good view of wintering purple sandpipers and this morning I was not disappointed on either count. It was actually a sunny morning but oh gosh it was cold with such a bitter, bitter easterly wind blowing a gale it felt like mid winter instead of spring.
When the whimbrels arrive on passage from Africa to their northern breeding grounds and the Scurvy Grass bursts into flower it is a sure sign that spring has arrived on the marsh. Continue reading