Okay so its nearly August but my mind is in March as I gather together my sketches for the March book. I love the simplicity of pencil sketches.
The distinctive shape of cormorants – wonderful birds to sketch.
Teal in flight – there will be more of these, I can’t resist a teal at full pelt!
Then there is the Wheatear a spring visitor all the way from central Africa.
It has quite an upright stance with a bandit face mask, grey back, black wings and tail, a white rump and a reddish flourish under its beak.
It perched just a stone’s throw from the redshank, not birds you would expect to see together – except on a salt marsh.
On a May dawn a wedge of swans flies across the sunrise their white plumage painted a delicate pale blue in the early morning light . . .
They pass the towering dockyard cranes
and the Severn Bridge.
It was a treat to see a pair of gadwalls deep down in Chapel Pill at low tide.
The male boasts some exquisitely barred brown-grey plumage whilst the browner female is very similar to a female mallard.
In flight their white wing patches help to identify them . . .
. . . and the male has some glorious chestnut-russet wing feathers which positively glow in sunlight.
It may not be as striking as a teal or wigeon but I still have a soft spot for this “somewhat low-profile” duck.
Updated 30 April 2014
This very striking duck is often on the salt marshes and at this time of year the males are in courtship mode.
This is a low tide view of a pair of shelduck at Battery Point. The freshly exposed mud is streaked with the blue reflections from the sky.
This male was not about to let his female out of his sight and pursued her enthusiastically up and down the salt marsh.
A simple study in pencil and wash . . .
. . . and here with the background added.
Sexes are similar but during the breeding season the males are easy to distinguish by a prominent red knob above their beaks. In between seeing off other males he displays to the female by drawing his head backwards and then performing and exaggerated bow.
These are striking, boldly marked ducks that are easy to spot both on the marsh and in flight. Their chuckling like call is also distinctive which you can hear on the RSPB website.
The first rays of morning sun cast a gorgeous pink hue across the marsh and lit upon two handsome roe bucks with velvet covered antlers. This wonderful sight was accompanied by the song of a skylark emanating from high overhead and I stared skywards for some minutes searching the dense blue for distant specks of larks.
When I turned my attention back to the deer one of the bucks had moved towards Chapel Pill and surprised me by wading into the water and swimming across the creek. I had heard that deer swim across here sometimes but had never actually witnessed it.
A lone curlew flew out of the creek but the shelduck, wigeon, Canada geese and oystercatchers had obviously seen it all before and gave scant regard to this featherless swimmer amongst them.
The second buck who had been browsing in the corner of the marsh by the dock fence decided to follow suit and ran down the edge of the creek to the favoured crossing point watched by his compatriot on the opposite bank. Once across they both headed slowly towards the docks until out of sight.
It had been one of those “good to be alive” mornings and I headed home contented and with an appreciation of how lucky I had been to see and hear so much whilst bathed in the warmth of the early spring sunshine.
I used permanent rose watercolour to suggest the pink hue that lay across the marsh along with raw and burnt siennas, sap green and cobalt turquoise light . . . plus indian yellow in the righthand sketch.
An oil pastel sketch of a male wigeon out on a flooded salt marsh.
This rather engaging duck with its distinctive whistling call is a winter visitor here, usually from October through to March.
From the front they are enchantingly round and cartoonish, as if freshly dunked up to their midriff in a bucket of whitewash and with the male sporting a rather fetching yellow “mohican” forehead.
A pair of wigeon snooze in the depths of Chapel Pill at low tide – watercolour and oil pastel sketch.
These wigeon suddenly flew out of the late October shadows into the sunlit, sienna grasses above Chapel Pill. It seems their hasty departure was as much a surprise to this Canada Goose as it was to me . . .
. . . and as I watched a roe buck at the water’s edge in November a small company of wigeon startled us both.
Their white bellies are a great help in identifying them in flight, as are the male’s white wing bars (top left).
Visit the RSPB website to hear the whistling call of the wigeon www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/w/wigeon/index.aspx
. . . perhaps the collective noun for wigeon should be a “whistle” of wigeon, but a “raft”, “trip” or “company” are usual.
The salt marsh is so rich in plant life that it is hard to know where to start especially at this time of year when everything is flourishing.
In May the raspberry ripple buds of sea thrift (above and below) are plentiful . . . Continue reading
This water vole dwells just a few metres away from the top of the marsh in the rhynes (drainage ditches) of Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve.
This hamster-sized, furry bundle with shiny eyes of jet black beads was breakfasting on a succulent blade of grass by the bank.
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
Half submerged in the gloopy mud soup of Portishead Hole on a low spring tide were some very mucky teal Continue reading