Thursday, 27 June 2013


Unfortunately our scanner is kaput so I'm unable to upload any drawings at the moment :o( However that doesn't mean I have stopped drawing, so whenever we eventually manage to fix the scanner/buy a new one, I will have amassed a backlog of drawings to upload. It's going to be a bird drawing bonanza....

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

68. Double-spurred Francolin (Francolinus bicalcaratus)

I am back after a cracking weekend of music and fun at ATP! Dan Deacon and Steve Reich + the London Sinfonietta were my favourites. I didn't let the epic winds hamper my between-bands beach birding, highlights included Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Common, Sandwich and Little Tern, woo!

Back to the real world now, I have reached Double-spurred Francolin. Another member of the pheasant family, it is widespread in parts of East Africa and there are a few isolated populations in parts of Morocco. Its heavily black-streaked underparts are the most distinctive feature that tell it apart from the same-sized Barbary Partridge (which I will be drawing sometime next week) which also occurs in the same area.

Double-spurred Francolin, ©jvverde, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Double-spurred Francolin sketch.

This was a pretty quick drawing, I actually did it on Monday night (have been tardy posting it!) so was quite tired after the weekend. Despite that I don't think it's too bad, the plumage patterns are very vague and the angle is not quite right but the overall shape is OK I think.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A brief hiatus

I won't be doing any drawing over the weekend as I'm going to All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Deerhunter, at Camber Sands in Sussex, where I will have the pleasure of seeing some top notch beat combos! I should hopefully have the chance to do a bit of morning pre-band beach birding, Camber has a rather nice beach and last time I went (December, good times) there were a fair few gulls and waders around:

The dunes.

The beach.

Sanderling & Herring Gull.

Bar-tailed Godwits.

It'll be interesting to see what's about in summer. If I had my own wheels I'd go down the road to Dungeness, one of my favourite places! Or check out Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, unfortunately it doesn't look particularly accessible from Camber as the River Rother is in the way. The beach is lovely though, it will probably be busier at this time of year (although maybe not, looking at the weather forecast), even if I don't see so much it's still a great way to spend the morning before the music starts!

67. Black Francolin (Francolinus francolinus)

The Black Francolin is a small slim member of the pheasant family, but its upright posture can make it appear larger. It prefers fields and plains close to water, with plenty of scrubby vegetation to hide in. It is found in parts of the Middle East, from Turkey across to India and Bangladesh.

Black Francolin, ©Tarique Sani, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Black Francolin sketch.

OK, so I may have chosen this photo purposely as the angle shows the Francolin's relatively plain breast, and not its intricately patterned wings and back! I'm happier with my drawing as a result although I have made his neck a bit on the short side.

66. Caspian Snowcock (Tetraogallus caspius)

Similarly to the Caucasian Snowcock, the Caspian Snowcock is another endemic species, this time to mountainous parts of Turkey, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan. It has a very similar appearance and habits to the Caucasian Snowcock, however there is no overlap in their ranges, so not likely to be any risk of confusion. The main differences are that where the Caucasian Snowcock is finely vermiculated on its breast and mantle, the Caspian is a much more uniform pale grey, with sparse mottling on its breast, and also has weaker, paler flank stripes. Its nape is grey, where the Caucasian Snowcock's has a rusty tinge. It is also found at lower altitudes, typically 1800 - 3000 m.

Caspian Snowcock, ©Soner Bekir, via The Inked Naturalist.
Caspian Snowcock sketch.
I'm a bit happier with this one compared to my Caucasian Snowcock drawing, I think the shape is slightly better, still struggled with the intricate plumage and it took quite a long time, but overall, not too bad.

Thanks to Soner Bekir for giving me permission to use his awesome picture of this seldom-photographed bird! I came across it on The Inked Naturalist, if you don't already know of him please take a minute to check out his excellent website and consider supporting his Walking for Turkish Wildlife appeal. He will be walking the length of Turkey(!) to raise funds for Birdlife International's Turkish partner Doğa Derneği, and to raise awareness of the destruction of Turkey's natural heritage - something that has gained somewhat wider attention lately with the recent Turkish protests sparked by plans to build over the last green space in Istanbul.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

65. Caucasian Snowcock (Tetraogallus caucasicus)

Another elusive endemic of the Caucasus region, the Caucasian Snowcock is a large member of the pheasant family. It lives in very remote spots at altitudes of around 2000 - 4000 m, which has helped protect it from poaching to some degree. Like many members of this family, they are not keen on flying and prefer to run if if at all possible! They have a beautiful ascending haunting call, imagine hearing that echoing off the mountains.

Caucasian Snowcock, ©Rami Mizrachi, via
Caucasian Snowcock sketch.
I really like this photo, the Snowcock looks like a proud sentinel of the mountains, what a handsome fellow! I thought I'd add the yellow eye patch to my drawing, but realised whilst drawing there are a lot of subtle brown and blue tones in amongst that grey that I should really have included to do it full justice. I've always thought grey and yellow was a particularly smart colour combo in birds, Grey Wagtail springs to mind primarily.

Whilst looking on the internet for Caucasian Snowcock info, I came across this wonderful video. Enjoy!

Monday, 17 June 2013

64. Hazel Grouse (Tetrastes bonasia)

The Hazel Grouse is a small sedentary (like all the grouse species covered so far) grouse which lives in damp coniferous woodland. It is very widespread across Eurasia, occurring in northern, central and southeastern pasrts of Europe, but due to its cryptic plumage and secretive nature can be quite hard to see.

Hazel Grouse, ©Snowmanradio, via Wikimedia Commons.
Hazel Grouse sketch.
Oh dear, not happy with this one at all. The problem is when I see complexly-patterned plumage like this it tends to make me panic about depicting it accurately within the given time (which is pretty much impossible, but a passable approximation is probably doable) and thus cock up the drawing.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

63. Caucasian Grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi)

I've reached the part of the Collins guide containing a whole bunch of Grouse and Partridges I know virtually nothing about - the next few pages are all species that are very unfamiliar and mysterious to me, so I'm looking forward to finding out more about them. It turns out that the first one, Caucasian Grouse, seems to be just generally quite mysterious to many people! I had a lot of trouble finding a photo - nothing much on Creative Commons - I then had a look at ARKive which informs me that 'The Caucasian grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi) is one of the most elusive and least studied of all grouse species'. No shit ARKive. Eventually settled for this photo, from the website of what appears to be some kind of weird Russian pet shop?! With a bit of help from Google Translate, I found that the price of a Caucasian Grouse is apparently 'negotiable'. Ermmm.......!

Anyway! The Caucasian Grouse is very similar in appearance to the Black Grouse, but it has no white wingbars, a longer, straighter, forked tail and black rather than white undertail-coverts. The female Caucasian Grouse is greyer than the female Black Grouse, with a longer tail. Caucasian Grouse are endemic to the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain region and are found mainly in Russia and Georgia.

Caucasian Grouse, source:
Caucasian Grouse sketch.

This isn't great - I've made his head a bit too big among other things. I used my new 7B pencil for most of it, along with a harder pencil for some of the lighter bits - I haven't really mixed up my pencils before now mainly because I didn't really have much of a range of pencils to play with, but I think I will from now on.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

62. Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix)

Black Grouse is somewhat similar to Capercaillie in appearance, with a similar distribution (although it's more widespread in the UK). The females are particularly similar; the main difference is the size - Black Grouse is smaller - and also the markings with female Capercaillie being more coarsely barred with an orange-brown unbarred throat whereas Black Grouse's is barred. Males are more distinctive with their flamboyant lyre-shaped tails. They make excellently spooky noises - the song is an lovely eerie bubbling, and they make a weird, slightly unnerving, hissing call while they are lekking. One of my favourite bird sounds!

Black Grouse, ©Rainbirder, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Black Grouse drawing.

I know I always say this, but I'm so much happier working in colour, really enjoyed doing this one. Impossible to get that blue shade right with my pencil crayons, it's fun to try though!

Friday, 14 June 2013

61. (Western) Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus)

Capercaillie is the largest species of grouse in the world, and is found in mature coniferous forests in northern and central Europe. They just look incredible, especially when the males are displaying as in the photo below - imagine coming across that in the forest, unreal! Hopefully one day I will see one!

Capercaillie, ©dpalmer_md, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Capercaillie sketch.

I only had just over half an hour to do this but am fairly pleased with it considering.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

60. Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

Rock Ptarmigan looks similar to Willow Ptarmigan, and their ranges overlap in northern Europe - both turn white (with the tail remaining black) in winter, but the male Rock Ptarmigan has black lores whereas Willow's are white (females are trickier!). Their habitat preferences can also be a clue with Rock Ptarmigan generally found on mountainsides, tundra and rocky terrain and Willow preferring forests and scrubby tundra. In summer the Rock Ptarmigan's upperparts turn grey-brown with fine barring, not as red-brown as Willow Ptarmigan's.

Unsurprisingly after yesterday's efforts, today I have chosen a photo of a Rock Ptarmigan in its white winter plumage with the hope that I'll be able to make a better job of it in the limited time available.

Rock Ptarmigan, ©omarrun, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Rock Ptarmigan sketch.

Hmm, I think it's a slight improvement on yesterday.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

59. Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus)

I've decided to draw Red Grouse as it's the local race of Willow Grouse/Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus lagopus) that we get here in the UK. Willow Grouse is found throughout northern Europe, Siberia, northern Canada and Alaska. Red Grouse differs from Willow Grouse in that its plumage stays uniformly reddish brown all year round, whereas Willow Grouse's turns white in winter - and even in summer it retains its white wings and underparts.

Red Grouse, ©tarkamerl, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Red Grouse sketch.
Blargh, not too happy with this one. I've accidentally given it a tiny head, and bodged the plumage trying to do it quickly, that intricate patterning is quite hard to get right especially when you're pushed for time. Perhaps I should have drawn the Willow Grouse instead in its pure white winter plumage!

Monday, 10 June 2013

58. Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

It's the last of the ducks today - the Hooded Merganser is another North American duck that occasionally pops up over here. Tomorrow I start on the gamebirds! I've enjoyed drawing the ducks very much, as they are a morphologically varied and colourful bunch.

One of my own photos today - this is the Hooded Merganser that used to hang around at RSPB Radipole Lake in Weymouth - I think he was an escapee from a collection. Don't think he's still around though...

Hooded Merganser at Radipole Lake, 09/04/2010.
Hooded Merganser sketch.

When I showed my dad the photo above, he nicknamed it the Mekon Duck, after the uber-villain from the Dan Dare comics - due to the Merganser's apparently massive head (actually created by the male's feathered crest, rather than his huge Mekon-sized brain!).

An uncanny likeness? What do you think?

Marvellous Minsmere

Time for another outing with the West Midland Bird Club, this time to RSPB Minsmere. The trip got off to a good start with a sighting of one of the BT Tower Peregrines just minutes after setting off, whilst driving through Birmingham city centre. After a long drive we arrived at Minsmere around 11, and straight away were directed by the helpful staff to the Stone Curlew pair with chick in the field beyond the Visitor Centre. They were skulking around right at the back on the edge of some woodland, maybe due to the very enthusiastic Stoat that was bouncing around in the field!

Home of Stone Curlews (and Stoats).
Whilst watching the Stone Curlews I noticed lots of this plant around in the short grass, another new one for me to learn:

I think it's Common Storks-bill (Erodium cicutarium).

We proceeded onwards to walk a circuit around the scrapes where we were treated to birds galore! Straight away we found Spoonbill - only the second time I've seen this species, and the first ones I saw were bleeding from gunshot wounds (in Malta) so this was altogether a more pleasant experience. 

Dreadful record shot of Spoonbill.
Some of the other highlights of our walk round included Garganey, Sandwich Tern, Little Gull, Kittiwake, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Marsh Harrier, Cetti's Warbler and Black-tailed Godwit - a few year ticks for me there! We also encountered some ringers who had caught a whole family of Whitethroats, nice to see these in the hand - one of the adults had leucism leading to a few white feathers in its wing which was interesting.

A pair of Sandwich Terns.

I was pleased too to see Barnacle Geese (my favourite goose!) aplenty, didn't know that they bred at Minsmere as I assumed they'd all be further oop north. We also heard, but did not see, Bittern - we ran out of time unfortunately and only had a few minutes to look over the reedbeds.

Up on the beach there was lots of this plant, I often see it on shingle beaches and wonder what it is:

Sea-kale (Crambe maritima) - of course, it looks so cabbagey! Edible as well, but I think it's best cooked - probably wouldn't have survived the journey back to Birmingham.
Lovely shingle beach.

I did a couple of very quick drawings, I've found it's a bit trickier to fit in when I'm out on birding trips and we have a limited amount of time, compared to when I'm at Sandwell and spend all day sitting in the hide! So these are a bit brief and rubbish, still better than my attempts from the last Bird Club trip to Wales.

Rather oddly-proportioned Sandwich Tern and chunky Barnacle Goose sketches.
All too soon we had to leave Minsmere, it's the only problem with travelling from Birmingham - I would love to have stayed longer for a more extensive foray to find even more awesome birds!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

57. Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

The Bufflehead is a small cute North American duck, with the best name of all the ducks! (I am easily amused by funny words). I've been looking forward to drawing a Bufflehead....hopefully one day I'll see one, the iridescence on their heads looks incredible. Until then I'll just have to please myself by repeatedly saying Bufflehead. Bufflehead Bufflehead Bufflehead!

Bufflehead, ©flythebirdpath~}~}~}, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Bufflehead drawing.
I couldn't resist having a stab at the iridescence, am fairly pleased with the result.

Friday, 7 June 2013

56. Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)

Canvasback is another American red-headed Pochard-like duck. Like the Pochard and unlike the Redhead, it has a red eye, but can be told apart from Pochard by its paler grey body, longer neck, slightly larger size and longer bill, with the most sloping wedge-shaped profile of all three ducks.

Canvasback, ©JAC6.FLICKR, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Canvasback sketch.
Think I've made his head a bit too big, and bill not quite sloping enough. I blame Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which we were watching while I drew this. Hadn't seen it for years, was still great fun!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

55. Redhead (Aythya americana)

Redheads superficially resemble Pochards, but they are slightly larger, with a more rounded head and steep forehead (where Pochard's is more sloping), a less wedge-shaped bill with a different pattern, and a yellow rather than red eye.

Redhead, ©USFWS Mountain-Prairie, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Redhead sketch.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

54. White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi/stejnegeri)

Due partly to the paucity of White-winged Scoter photos that I can reproduce here with the permission of the author, and the need for me to separate these 2 subspecies from Velvet Scoter (thanks to Tim for alerting me to this in an earlier post!), my drawing is slightly different today. I've copied the illustrations from Collins to highlight the differences to myself.

White-winged Scoter sketches.

The main difference between deglandi (northern North America) and stejnegeri (East Siberia) in males at least is the bill pattern and shape. stejnegeri has a more angular bill knob and a yellow strip on the side of its bill, with less black along the edge of the lower mandible.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

53. Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

Black Scoter is very similar to Common Scoter, but look at that big yellow blob! That is your main difference, right there - in Common Scoter, the base of the bill where it joins the forehead is black (although there can be some variation in the size and spread of their yellow bill markings) but in Black Scoter, the bright yellow always extends right up to the forehead.

Black Scoter, ©Aaron Maizlish, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Black Scoter sketch.

Very pushed for time tonight so only a quick sketchy drawing, hopefully I'll have more time for tomorrow's drawing. I added some yellow to show I made at least some effort.

Monday, 3 June 2013

52. Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

The Lesser Scaup resembles a mini Greater Scaup (although I think unless I saw the two together I would find it difficult to judge the size); apart from size, the other main differences are head shape and colour of wing bars. As visible in the photo below, Lesser Scaup has a peak at the rear of its crown similar to a female Tufted Duck, and it also has a less extensive white wing bar than Greater Scaup - in Lesser only the inner of the wing bar is white with the rest being grey-brown, whereas white extends out towards the primaries on Greater.

Lesser Scaup, ©omarrun, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Lesser Scaup sketch.
I've made him a bit chunky again in what appears to be my developing signature style!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

51. Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)

I'm coming towards the end of the ducks now - have reached the vagrant wildfowl pages for those which are very scarce visitors to Europe, mostly from North America.

The Green-winged Teal looks very similar to the Eurasian Teal, but the vertical white bars on either side of the breast of the male are the key difference to look out for. It's much harder with the females, sometimes a rust-coloured wing bar is visible at the top of the speculum, but I don't think I'd be confident making the judgement!

Green-winged Teal, ©David-Mitchell via Flickr Creative Commons.
Green-winged Teal sketch.

This took longer than I had intended, so many spots, so much vermiculation....

OU field trip to the Malverns

I've had a very busy few days hence the lack of drawings. One of the things I've been up to was a field trip yesterday to the Malvern Hills, as part of the OU module I'm currently studying towards my degree. We don't get much in the way of field trips due to the whole distance learning thing, but they are always highlights - really enjoyable and anything learnt seems to stick in my head a lot better than if I'd read it from a textbook. I didn't do any drawing, no time for that! But I learnt some new plants so thought I would do a quick post about them.

We went up to the Herefordshire Beacon first and had a look at the landscape, along with info about the geology, to work out how it had influenced the surrounding landforms. The Malvern Hills are a ridge of mostly intrusive (coarse-grained) igneous Precambrian rocks that formed as part of an ancient volcanic island arc, they are some of the oldest rocks in England, AWESOME! There are also some slightly more recent (Ordovician) extrusive (fine-grained) volcanic rocks toward the southern end of the ridge, here is a cave there that has been created by quarrying basalt.

Supposedly this cave is called the Giant's Cave. I can however confirm that the person standing in it is of normal stature.
Also towards the southern end, some of the rocks have been deformed into a gneiss-type texture by metamorphism, we didn't get to see these so I really want to go back and check them out, I love metamorphic rocks!

After that we did a bit of surveying of the plants growing on the slopes, this was my favourite bit! The plants were all really small due partly to the fairly thin soil and grazing, I liked how the more closely you look, the more different types of tiny plant you could find. I don't know much about classifying vegetation types yet but it seemed heath/grasslandish, fairly neutral and dryish. Some of the plants we found there were Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum), Mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum) and Common Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium). Another group were also doing a transect down the slope to see how the soil depth varied, I had a go with the auger on a hummock near the bottom of the slope, the soil was pretty deep there!

In the afternoon we relocated to Castlemorton Common where we had a go at measuring the cross-section of a stream, and the speed of its flow, before some more plant surveying. This was more of a damp meadow, there were lots of rushes and things and some pretty confusing buttercups! I found what turned out to be a Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) while we were eating lunch, and some other plants we came across were Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus), Common Mouse-ear (Cerastium fontanum), Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Tormentil (Potentilla erecta).

Mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum) and Heath Bedstraw (Galium saxatile).
Tiny Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)!
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), and Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus).
Common Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium).