Friday, 31 May 2013

50. Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

The Ruddy Duck is an American species which has become established in the UK after escapes from wildfowl collections. It is similar in appearance to the closely-related White-Headed Duck but has a more extensive, neater black cap and a less massive bill. 

The fact that it is closely related to the White-headed Duck has caused the UK population of the Ruddy Duck something of a problem in that it has been subject to widespread culling by DEFRA to try and prevent it spreading through Europe and interbreeding with the endangered White-headed Duck. You can see the logic in theory of doing this, but in practice it's been pretty farcical, as the Ruddy Duck had already reached Europe before any culling started in the UK, and the cost of the cull has mounted in to the millions, money which could probably have been much better spent elsewhere.

Ruddy duck, ©Neil Mishler/USFWS Mountain Prairie, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Ruddy Duck sketch.

I started this drawing last night but didn't quite finish it as we went out to see Marnie Stern. She was awesome! So I may have finished it during a particularly quiet afternoon at work today. Don't tell my boss. 

This is the 50th bird I've drawn; it says in the front of the Collins guide that there are 713 species in the main section so I calculate that I have drawn around 7% of them now. Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

49. White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala)

The White-headed Duck is classed as endangered by the IUCN due to recent rapid declines in its population. Within Europe it is only resident in Spain, but is also found in the Middle East and towards Central Asia. In Spain its population has been brought back from the brink of extinction in the 1970s to a healthy population of a few thousand individuals thanks to concerted conservation efforts, good work Spain!

White-headed Duck, ©milesmilob, via Flickr Creative Commons.
White-headed Duck sketch.
Went off the edge slightly, oops. I didn't quite get the bill right either, the base of it is really swollen in appearance in real life, maybe I was worried about overdoing it slightly but it has led to mine looking slightly deflated!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

48. Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

If there was a bird punk I think it would be a Red-breasted Merganser, with their mad 'hair' and red eyes I think they look a bit disreputable. They can be confused with Goosander especially the females, for me I find the easiest way to tell them apart is the bill, Goosander's is much thicker at the base. The crazy red eye is a good clue too if you can see it!

Red-breasted Merganser, ©zenbikescience via Flickr Creative Commons.
Red-breasted Merganser sketch.

Fairly quick drawing tonight. Going to do some Yoga now!

Monday, 27 May 2013

47. Goosander (Mergus Merganser)

I wanted to draw the female duck for a change as I think female Goosanders are just as handsome as males, in fact maybe more so. And I chose this photo as she's got chicks! Which I've never seen before, we get plenty of Goosanders at Sandwell Valley in winter but I've never seen them in the breeding season.

Goosanders, ©Stefan Berndtsson, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Goosander sketch.
I'm quite pleased with this one, think I'm getting better at drawing fluffy things - something I find difficult.

I also found this whilst searching for a photo which gave me a chuckle - it made me feel better about my struggles to get everything in proportion in my drawings! Ornithological illustration has come on a lot since 1889!

©BioDivLibrary, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sandwell Valley - May

Time for my monthly volunteering jaunt at RSPB Sandwell Valley, which I'd been looking forward to particularly due to the fine weather forecast. As the hide was well-manned for the morning, Alf suggested we go for a walk around the reserve to see what was around, he was hoping the sun would bring out some butterflies as well as the birds. He was not wrong, we saw a fair few Peacock, Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and White (not sure which - afraid I'm a bit hazy on them, must try and improve) butterflies.

Peacock butterfly enjoying the sun....
....and tucking into a dandelion.
We had a good walk, it was pretty Warbler-tastic with Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Willow, Reed, Sedge, Garden and Cetti's Warblers all putting in appearances (or nanosecond fleeting glimpses in the case of the Cetti's). The Garden Warbler was our highlight, my first of the year, he sang his head off while perching very prominently for us, brilliant!

The River Tame, near the start of our walk.

Alf in his natural habitat.
 I spotted some plants whose identities I had a vague idea of, but wanted to double check.

I think this is Bugle (Ajuga reptans).
I thought this was probably Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).
I knew this was a member of the pea family, I thought probably some kind of vetch. There are rather a lot in my key! Going to take a punt at Common Vetch (Vicia sativa).
We spent the afternoon in the hide, where we had good views of the 4 Lapwing chicks and 2 Oystercatcher chicks on the island, the Oystercatchers are very attentive parents and don't let their offspring out of their sight, but the Lapwings' parenting appears rather more lax. The Little Ringed Plovers don't seem to have had any breeding success so far, but we did see the male doing some interesting displaying where he fanned his tail out very wide. No breeding success for the Common Terns either, although that didn't stop them seeing off a Lesser Black-backed Gull or two.

I'm quite pleased with today's drawings, I think they are the best I've done in the field so far, although that's not saying much. They're certainly an improvement on the pathetic efforts of my last trip!

Sketches of Lapwing chicks & Common Terns.

The Common Terns looked like they were really enjoying the sun. The Lapwing chicks are quite forgiving to draw, they are so fuzzy you can just make any mistake into some more fuzz!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

46. Smew (Mergellus albellus)

Smews are scarce shy and flighty ducks that are found in the UK in winter only - these birds then go on to breed in northern Europe. It's always exciting to see a Smew!

Smew, ©chapmankj75, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Smew sketch.

Friday, 24 May 2013

45. Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)

Similarly to the Harlequin Duck, the only part of Europe where Barrow's Goldeneye is usually found is Iceland which I guess is why the binomial name includes islandica. I didn't see any there though, alas! Apart from that it is mainly found in North America. It can be told apart from the similar Common Goldeneye by the head shape - Barrow's is more of an elongated bizarre wedge-shape - and shape of the white mark behind the bill, which is more of a crescent in Barrow's and closer to a round spot in Common Goldeneye. It's a bit trickier with females though! Seems like the main thing to look out for is a bit more yellow on the bill, and a rounded rather than peaked crown.

Barrow's Goldeneye, ©Thom Quine, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Barrow's Goldeneye sketch.
For some reason I have drawn him really small and rather more petite than in the photo - again slightly cartoonish in style.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

44. Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Another duck which for the most part visits the UK in winter, but does breed in a few spots here. We always know winter has well and truly arrived when the Goldeneyes appear at RSPB Sandwell Valley, needless to say suburban Birmingham is not one of the places they choose to hang around in once spring arrives!

Common Goldeneye, ©ahisgett, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Common Goldeneye sketch.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

43. Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Maybe I'll make Harlequins my honorary favourite duck. They are pretty special - the only part of Europe they occur in (except for the odd vagrant) is Iceland - they also breed in Greenland and parts of North America and Siberia.

Harlequin Duck, ©omarrun, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Harlequin Duck sketch.

This gives me an excuse to reminisce about one of my favourite recent birding experiences and show off more holiday snaps! I went to Iceland last year, it wasn't a birding holiday but we travelled to a few different areas so there were good opportunities to see a range of species. The time of year (September) meant that the adult male Harlequins were in eclipse, but it also meant we were able to experience the below encounter....

The first place we visited was Þingvellir National Park, the location of Iceland's ancient parliament and also the site of some pretty amazing geology, loads of rifts where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are drifting apart and some lovely lava flows.

Þingvellir National Park.
Öxarárfoss - created by rifts opening as the tectonic plates move apart.

Lava flow.
We were walking over the bridge in this photo when suddenly there was a splash in the water below us.

Þingvellir National Park.
Right below us in the water were 3 juvenile Harlequin Ducks! They were unconcerned by our presence and seemed happy for us to watch them diving and foraging, then resurfacing like bobbing corks. The water was completely clear so they could clearly be seen underwater. They seemed quite keen to stick close together, doing everything in unison and making little cheeping contact calls when they resurfaced. Even my non-birding friends were excited and watched the Harlequins for a good 10-15 minutes! What a great start to the holiday!

3 juvenile Harlequins! O joy!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

42. Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

I mentioned in a previous post that I have 2 favourite ducks, and here is the second! Long-tailed Ducks are so smart, check out this guy getting himself spick and span for the ladies, love this photo. They're super hardy too (like many ducks), breeding in Northern Europe and the Arctic.

Long-tailed Duck, ©Tormod Amundsen/Biotope
Long-tailed Duck drawing.
This took way longer than intended. I'm fairly pleased with it though, I wouldn't want to have bodged one of my favourites.

The first time I saw Long-tailed Ducks was in Svalbard in 2009, in big rafts on the sea from the boat we were cruising on. It was the first time I'd been to the Arctic too, I'd been fascinated by the polar regions for a long time and when I inherited some money I decided to spend some of it on my dream holiday. Since then I have become somewhat obsessed with the Arctic! It would not be an exaggeration to say it was a life-changing experience, as it was the trigger for me decide to start studying again, for my second degree (in environmental science). Which is the reason I never have any free time these days, but I'm over halfway through the degree and it's going well so far! 

Here are some of my favourite photos from that holiday.

Ice from Esmarkbreen.

The Russian mining town of Barentsburg.

The good ship Noorderlicht (our home for the duration of the holiday) in Van Keulenfjord.


Monday, 20 May 2013

41. Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

The Surf Scoter is an American duck which occasionally turns up here in the UK. No shortage of great photos today to choose from! Apart from the white markings on the head, the rest of the Surf Scoter's plumage is all dark with no white in the wing, in comparison to Velvet Scoter's white wing panels. The heavy head and bill and white eye and head markings help tell it apart from Common Scoter. What a mighty bill, amazing!

Surf Scoter, ©winnu, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Surf Scoter drawing.
Coloured pencils again today. Pleased with the colours, but I've made the bill a bit too short and chunky, and the neck a bit too slim. It's a bit like a cartoon version of a Surf Scoter, although with that bill I think even the real Surf Scoter is verging on cartoonish!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

40. Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca)

It was quite hard to find good photos (without violating copyright law) of Velvet Scoters, I guess because they're so often seen floating a few miles out at sea so are not easily photographable. I've picked 2 photos for today's drawing(s), for the purposes of highlighting the key ID features.

Velvet Scoter, ©Jimfbleak, via Wikimedia Commons.
Velvet Scoters, ©ajmatthehiddenhouse, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Velvet Scoter sketches.

In flight the obvious white wing panel is the best way to tell Velvet apart from Common Scoter, this is often visible on swimming birds too. At a distance the white mark under the male's eye is hard to see, but the pale marks on the females' faces are much more obvious, as in the second photo. These patterns can however vary, but are always less obvious than the female Common Scoter's pale cheeks and contrasting dark cap.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

39. Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra)

Usually seen (by me at least) in flocks around the coast of the UK outside of the breeding season, it would be great to see Common Scoter in their northern Scandinavian breeding grounds. It's a bird I don't get a chance to see frequently, so this is a good chance for me to brush up on Scoter ID. More tomorrow....

Common Scoter, ©jvverde, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Common Scoter painting.

Another more portrait style picture today, and I've done it in acrylic paints (didn't fancy my pencil's chances with all that black - it's starting to get rather short). Reflections from the shiny paint surface during scanning has marred it slightly, and as always with paint it took longer than I was expecting, but I'm fairly pleased with the result despite my Scoter looking a bit on the angry side.

Friday, 17 May 2013

38. Steller's Eider (Polysticta stelleri)

The Steller's Eider is a true Arctic duck, breeding in parts of Alaska and Russia, and is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN due to rapid declines in its Alaskan population. Part of the Russian population winters around Varanger and I feel very privileged to have seen these amazing ducks whilst at Gullfest.

Steller's Eider, ©Tormod Amundsen/Biotope.
Steller's Eider sketch.
Time for another drawing of a bird in flight today. I've made him a bit fat and misjudged the amount of space available for wings, oh well! Think I've got the wing length more in proportion to the body at least compared to previous attempts.

Here are some more of my Gullfest photos with a Steller's Eider theme!

I was walking down Kaigata in Vardø on the first full day of Gullfest starting to think about lunch (which happens a lot) when I bumped into Ian Lewington, who told me there was a Steller's Eider in the harbour, only a few metres out! As I had never seen a Steller's before I shot down there pretty quicksharp.

My first ever Steller's Eider, just metres away in Vardø harbour! Thanks Ian!
Another one from the King Eider vortex:

The King Eider vortex - spot the Steller's.
One of the best places to see Steller's Eider was the beautiful and slightly desolate Kiberg harbour, which was a short drive westward from Vardø along the Varanger peninsula:

Kiberg harbour.
Kiberg harbour.
Raft of Steller's Eider in Kiberg harbour.
Amazing light at Kiberg harbour.
Now whenever I think of King and Steller's Eiders, they are synonymous in my head with Vardø and Varanger. It's no surprise that Destination Varanger have made the very special and iconic Steller's Eider into their logo:

They should make badges of this. I would totally buy one.