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!