Thursday, 9 December 2010

Winter Visitors.

Even the severest winter weather has its compensation and this year has been exceptional!
Vast flocks of scandinavian and Icelandic invaders have landed on our shores and been pushed ever further south in search of food. Back in january I watched large numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares on my local patch as they hungrily devoured crabapples and berries in a 'beserker' type frenzy! Everywhere was thick ice and snow and the flakes swirled through the air in a 'maelstrom' of easterly wind! This arctic spectacle was exhilarating to witness and inspired me to create the sketches shown here now. Recently the birds have returned to feast on a new crop of berries, the result of a rich autumn harvest.
Drawing and sketching in a blizzard is not for the faint hearted and only practised by masochists and the insane! I suspect many wildlife artists and photographers fall into this category? As the water freezes on the paper and you can no longer feel any life in your fingers it is usually time to call it a day! Take as many photos as you can no matter how crap they are and then head home or to the nearest pub! I can keep the scene in my head and re-create it later and I use the photos for reference. The important thing for me is that I can feel inspired to let my creative juces flow (once they have thawed out!) and I remember the experience and the thoughts and feelings that were surging through my body at the time! Rough sketches can be re-worked and made more presentable, hopefully without losing the spirit of the moment or looking contrived? When I look at the paintings later I can re-live the encounter and the memories come flooding back!
The resulting images become very personal and emotional and hopefully very real? This is what I saw! This is what happened and now I would like to share them with you! Please try to make an effort to go out in all weathers and experience these encounters for youself!
I absolutely love the many varied poses and expressions on the faces of these birds and they are so colourful and dynamic! They are large noisy thrushes that just can't help but attract attention wherever they go! More so in urban areas and some of these birds were observed at an old people's residence not far from where I live. I think I caused a certain amount of curiosity by crawling along behind some bushes, trying to creep up on the flock! I had to go to great pains to reassure the old ladies that my purpose was innocent! and that the binoculars were strictly for the birds!
Every so often the flock would be disturbed and disappear and I would have to trawl the streets in order to locate them again! It can be frustrating sometimes and ultimately you might have to concede defeat and call it a day! After all! Some of us have to work for a living!

The following sketches are of another colourful thrush with a taste for berries, the 'Redwing!'
I see these quite regularly throughout the autumn and winter sometimes in company with Fieldfares, sometimes not! These particular sketches were inspired by an encounter at my local supermarket on a grey morning shopping trip with my wife Lynn! She loves birds as much as I do and so what would normally have been a rather mundane, routine expedition suddenly brightened up! I returned later and got fantastic views as the Redwings foraged among the shrubbery next to the petrol filling station. White, eye flash stripes and orange underwings are a perfect foil for the deeply marked and streaked breasts! They were oblivious to the constant stream of traffic and plundered the banquet of berries many of which lay spattered and red on the icy ground like splashes of blood! A true viking raid and enough to take my breath away!

I think I may have saved the best till last? These are one of my favourite winter visitors and they always cause great excitement wherever they appear! True 'Star birds' with an 'X-factor' that few other birds can match? I'm talking about Waxwings! Plunderers from the far north and Russia! 'Cossacks', riders of the wind with a silvery song that no-one understands but which sounds like a shower of tiny bells! They are absolutely stunning and a joy to paint! I have been lucky enough to see them on many occassions and always find them enchanting! One of the most memorable encounters was by chance in the high street of a local town called 'Letchworth'. I had just turned the corner when I heard the familliar song and looked up to see 50 or more perched on the arials above the shop roofs! They would take off , circle around and land in a berry laden Rowan tree of which there was a whole avenue the length of the street. I watched for a while and made an educated guess as to which tree they would land in next? I stood under the tree and, sure enough I was rewarded with dozens of these exquisite creatures chattering and alighting around my head! They were so intent on gorging themselves that I could have reached up and plucked one from the branch like a ripe apple! It was amazing! I ended up covered in berry shit! but hey! what the heck? I was ecstatic! I had niether pencil or camera with me but I will never forget the encounter and it remains vivid and unforgetable! The Rowan trees were cut down recently and the waxwings have not returned! Nor will they! I fear? Sad really!
As its coming up to christmas and the festive season I thought I'd end this little chapter with a sketch of one of my favourite birds as seen recently among snow encrusted fruits! I was particularly pleased with how it turned out and I am  interested to find out if anyone else is too? Why don't you let me know? Any comments are welcome but please be kind!
All the best!

Monday, 25 October 2010

A Norfolk Birding Weekend.

I always look forward with great anticipation to any chance I get to visit Norfolk and this was also an excuse to indulge in some migration watching and relish the spectacle of thousands of birds stopping off or passing through at this time of year. My heart always skips a beat as we approach the turning at Dersingham having just skirted the edge of the Royal estate of Sandringham and we stop off for a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea at Snettisham. Its quite a walk out to the mudflats and we never seem to catch the high tide at it's peak but nevertheless there is always still plenty to see. Several thousand Knot are just within range of my telescope and closer to us are host of other waders. Redshank, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Curlew are combing the muddy creeks and pools and several little egrets flash brilliant white against the grey horizon. There are wildfowl in good numbers and a skein of barking brent geese pass low overhead followed by a large flock of Barnacle geese honking loudly. Teal, Mallard, Widgeon and Shellduck congregate in small scattered groups and through the telescope I can pick out an odd Pintail here and there. I am suddenly aware of the sound of rushing airwaves and thousands of whooshing wingbeats and as I look up I see a cloud of in- coming blurs. The flock wheels round and changes formation, white underwings flashing as the sunlight breaks through. Plaintive cries and hundreds of tiny voices take me immediately back to the mountains of Scotland in the summer where the high peaks are alive with the breeding calls of Golden Plover. Lynn recognises this familiar sound and we can't help but smile at the sheer joy of it all! The Plover land not too far away and begin to feed almost straight away. Its good to be back here again and as we make our way to the first hide I feel elated and glad to be alive.
From the first hide I can train my scope on some of the smaller birds that are foraging among the shingle and scattered vegetation at the high tide mark and there are good numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Small flocks of passerines are active including Linnets, Goldfinches and Snow Buntings. I have also been watching a wheatear that seems to be roosting among the dead seaweed and marram grass. I think it may be newly arrived from Scandinavia or eastern Europe because it looks exhausted and barely moves?
I managed to take some good photographs and do lots of sketches which I later made into the following watercolour study.
There are lots of birds in the pits and the air is filled with the raucous din of Black headed gulls squabbling amongst themselves. Cormorants stand like dark gargoyles along the far bank and tucked in to the near side and well within view are a small group of half a dozen preening Greenshank. Surely one of the most elegant waders and certainly one of my favourites! I turn my attention to the seaward side once more and in the distance a large dark shape glides into view! Lynn and I confirm it to be a Marsh Harrier! It is followed by another and then a third and as they sail slowly out into the wash they sweep everything before them. A huge panic ensues and suddenly the sky is filled with thousands and thousands of nervous waders. From horizon to horizon the wheeling flocks turn and scatter, break and re-form in desperation as they seek the safety of the many at the cost of a few!
By the time Lynn and I have visited the other hides and ticked off our tally of species, time has caught up with us and we must make tracks for Hunstanton and some refreshments! As we make our way back to the car we catch sight of a female Redstart as she dances among the brambles flashing her tail every time she flits from perch to perch! A good excuse for a painting?
Fish and chips at Hunstanton and a cup of tea and as its bustling with seaside day trippers, we only stay long enough to say hello and to try and seek out a visiting Wryneck by the lighthouse.

I am tempted to call in at Holme reserve to check out some of the hundreds of migrants that have been reported but time is tight and we press on to Titchwell! The reserve is undergoing some drastic changes forced on this part of the coast by sea level rise and erosion and it takes one by surprise on arrival! All for the good in the long term however and even through the disruption there are still lots of birds to see. My attention is drawn to a group of Ruff on the freshmarsh and to a pair of Little Stint that give good views close to the hide. Godwits, Redshank, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Lapwing are among the many species here today. On the brackish marsh is a Spotted Redshank and a lively Greenshank and on our way to the beach we see Whimbrel and Curlew and flocks of Meadow Pippet and Linnet. Several species of Gull are here as well as Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Bar tailed Godwit and Sanderling and just offshore are some divers and grebes. Back at the car park the trees and shrubs are alive with finches and warblers taking full advantage of the fruits and berries on offer and they pay little attention to the hundreds of birders that have come to pay homage to their kind at this most prestigeous and famous of reserves! I reluctantly tear myself away and take to the coast road once more eastward towards our final destination as the afternoon sun sinks lower in the sky!

Titchwell provided lots of tempting photo and sketching opportunities and as usual there were lots of photographers in action all over the reserve! I have selected two sketches that gave me very pleasant memories of this occassion even though I have enough to fill a whole volume? There were the Little Stints that entertained so beautifully in front of the hide and some elegant Black tailed Godwits that still had traces of summer breeding plumage!

As we pass the Burnhams and Holkam gap there are hundreds of Pink footed geese and Widgeon in evidence and as the flocks cross overhead they 'whiffle' so as to loose hight and make a noisy landing on Holkam freshmarsh. As tempting as it is I can't stop! I have to press on and it is late afternoon by the time we arrive at the village of Hempstead. We could not have timed it better and as we approach the drive to the farm we are greeted by the local Barn Owl which is sitting by the side of the road on a post! We are frozen for a moment in time and just stare agape at this ghostly presence before it fixes us with a knowing gaze and dares me to reach for my camera? As soon as I move, the spell is broken and the phantom vanishes into the twighlight! The moment is captured in my memory and will never be forgotten! Superb!

Sunday 3rd October.

Today we went to Cley and visited several of the hides taking in the wonderful views of hundreds of birds on the various scrapes and making observations on their characteristics and behaviour! Lapwings were very noisy and easily disturbed in their nervous state and were quick to rise for fear of any large bird passing overhead. Little Stint and Dunlin probed the shallow pools in small groups and darted here and there like animated clockwork toys! A flock of Golden Plover alighted among late marsh flowers and cast a golden hue that sparkled in the sunlight. Teal and Widgeon were preening and dabbling and on a small island in the middle distance were a dozen or so roosting Avocet shimmering with reflected light from the water. A shower came and went and the wind started to increase from the south and by the time we reached the East bank it was a very stiff breeze. Our attention was drawn to a winchat clinging to the bare branches of a solitary shrub that raised it above the surounding reed bed. Arnolds marsh was alive with feeding Curlew, Dunlin and Oystercatcher and there were small flocks of Linnets and Snow Buntings flitting along the shoreline. We got very close to a Little Egret for some great views and it did'nt seem to mind being the focus of so many birder's joyful attention. A cup of tea and a bite to eat in the visitor's centre rounded off our day and we still had time to explore the village before we went home. My sketch shows the Winchat we saw that afternoon.

Monday 4th October.

On our way back home we stopped off at Welney Wildfowl and wetlands trust reserve and were greeted with the news that a 'Wilson's Phalarope' was giving good views in front of the main observatory! A superb little bird and one which drew the attention of hundreds of twitchers! A great little earner for WWT as well! Needless to say there are always vast numbers of wildfowl to see and I was particularly pleased to find some gorgeous Pintail in among the flocks of Mallard, Widgeon and Teal. Waders were very strong too and included Godwit, Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Ringed Plover and we even had an early Whooper Swan. Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk tormented the host and there was even a late pair of Swallows still feeding young in a low hung nest in the Lyle hide! All in all we managed to see over one hundred species over the weekend and had a wonderful time despite missing a few rare migrants and a Short Eared Owl somewhere on the reserve! Ah well! There's always next time?

Thursday, 23 September 2010


I always think that Lapwings are great value and very obliging in every way! They are so easy to recognise and are still one of our commonest and most widespread waders. Having said that, they are nowhere near as common as they used to be! I used to see them regularly in the fields in Hertfordshire years ago, especially when we had more animals on the local farms. They will eat any type of invertabrate and are brilliant at getting rid of soil born pests. I have to go to the Lea valley to sketch them now or to Norfolk where I sketched some breeding pairs and their young earlier this year. I have to be discreet and keep a respectful distance otherwise I risk upsetting the birds and being mobbed! I must admit that I really enjoy watching the aerial acrobatics as a passing Marsh Harrier is seen off or a pair indulge in courtship display!
I love the widely ranging variation in plumage that can result in the most gorgeous gilt edging to the feathers, especially among juveniles and I can't resist slopping the wet washes over the paper and mixing the colours wet in wet to try to capture the iridescence and sheen! Greens, bronzes and purples of every hue that change constantly as does the light, are a real challenge.

I also love the infinite variety of poses that provide some challenging sketching exersises and result in some strange and bizzare shapes as the birds preen and stretch! Great fun!               

I leave you with a watercolour that I did of a Lapwing sitting on eggs as seen in Norfolk this spring. It does one's heart good to hear the plaintive cry of the Lapwing as it dances overhead against a brooding sky and I am fortunate to have witnessed this on many occassions from the mountains and moors of the north and the rugged coasts, and to the flat marshes and mudflats of east anglia as well as my own patch in Hertfordshire. Long may it continue!                            

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Let me introduce myself.
My name is Steve Kershaw and I live in Hertfordshire in southern England. I earn my living as a musician and guitar teacher but my passion is wildlife and especially wildlife art. I have been painting and drawing since I was about 3 years old and I love the medium of watercolor. I even manage to sell some of my work but mostly I give it away to friends and family. I would dearly love to be able to make a living from art but for the time being it remains my dream?
I heard about this 'Blog' or 'Blogging' that seems to be very popular at the moment and so I thought I would give it a go? I hope you find it interesting enough to read? and I hope you enjoy the paintings and sketches as well?

A bunch of Cherries!
I have a cherry tree in my garden that I planted over 20 years ago and it now stands 25 feet tall. We always have a good crop of fruit and any that we don't use are usually left to the birds.
They have been much sort after recently by many feathered visitors and all through July and August a family of Jays have been entertaining us daily. I have observed their acrobatic antics and comical dance moves with great interest and I have shared many intimate moments while discretely sketching and painting their behavior.
Other species have been recorded with pencil, paint and camera including a party of four Blackcaps, up to 7 Blackbirds, several Song Thrushes and a Garden Warbler, all in the garden at the same time!
As the fruit ferments it attracts butterflies, hoverflies, wasps and other insects and I saw a Jay catch a wasp, wipe it on a branch to discharge the sting and then proceed to swallow it! A male Blackcap also did this with great relish!
 Woodpigeons swallow the cherries whole, stone and all and then roost with fat bellies and bulging crops. Robin, Dunnock and Wren all join the feast although they tend to skulk in the herbage beneath the the canopy.
Amixed flock of tits dart from branch to branch, chattering ceaselessly, snapping up insects as they go. They scatter in all directions as a Magpie crashes the party and rattles off a raucous curse, tail cocked and eyes wide! It grabs a chunk of bread from the birdtable and exits the rear as swiftly as it arrived. Almost at the same moment an alarm call alerts the host to the ominous presence of a Sparrowhawk passing overhead and as it glides effortlessly by, the garden falls silent! The spell is broken and I find myself alone once more!
Some of the sketches and paintings from my observations in my garden during August.
The weather was variable and mixed to say the least and in the worst of the rain I had to finish the watercolours indoors!

I noticed that the Jays were partial to opening their wings and spreading their feathers out in a very exagerated way and this made for some very contorted shapes! Very interesting to watch and challenging to draw! I came to the conclusion that because the fallen Cherries were infested with Ants, this instigated behaviour known as 'anting'.