Wednesday, 31 July 2013

96. Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

Manx Shearwaters breed in burrows on island cliffs in the north Atlantic, and winter on the sea throughout the Atlantic. They are the most familiar shearwater for most UK residents, I remember seeing my first ones at a young age from the ferry to Ireland when going there on holiday. They are a medium-sized shearwater and fly low over the water on stiff wings, alternating shallow flapping with long glides. They are most similar to the Yelkouan and Balearic Shearwaters but those two species lack the Manx's white crescent extending up from the throat behind the eye.

Manx Shearwater, ©Cristián Pinto, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Manx Shearwater sketch.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

95. Macaronesian Shearwater (Puffinus baroli)

The Macaronesian Shearwater looks like a smaller version of a Manx Shearwater, with shorter, broader, more rounded wings, white extending up from the cheeks around the eye, and a more delicate bill and rounded head, which it sometimes raises in flight. Even the Collins guide describes this bird as cute! It breeds on islands in the north Atlantic such as the Azores, Canaries and Madeira, and is not often seen north of its breeding areas outside of the breeding season. More taxonomical jiggery-pokery here, as some authorities split this into 2 species, the Barolo and Boyd's Shearwater, whereas others consider them conspecific.

Macaronesian Shearwater, ©Rafael Matias, used with permission.
Macaronesian Shearwater sketch.

It was difficult to find good photos of this species, so many thanks to Rafael Matias for giving me permission to use his excellent Macaronesian Shearwater photo! It's funny how when you're drawing, you worry about one bit being wrong and it's actually fairly OK, but you don't realise it's distracted you from the bit you've actually cocked up - I kept thinking I had the bill too short, when I should have been more concerned about the head shape!

94. Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis)

The Great Shearwater is nearly as large as Cory's Shearwater, but flies with stiffer, more rapid wingbeats a bit like a Fulmar. Its dark brownish grey cap contrasts with its white collar which may extend all the way round the back of the nape, and it has dark markings on its underwings and belly where Cory's is pretty much all white. Its bill is narrow and dark. It breeds on islands in the south Atlantic, then winters on the sea in the north Atlantic east of North America (during the Northern Hemisphere's summer). Its southward migration takes a more easterly route, and it is during this time that it can show up in western European waters, sometimes off the southwest coast of the UK.

Great Shearwater, ©JJ Harrison, via Wikimedia Commons.

Great Shearwater sketch.
Argh, proportions all over the place, that top wing is very shonky! Seems like drawing birds in flight is something I particularly struggle with...

Monday, 29 July 2013

Weekend in Devon!

I didn't do any drawing over the weekend as I was away visiting friends in Devon. We had a super time! Our friends Andy and Ellie had moved to Barnstaple a few months ago to start new jobs and this was the first time we'd been to see them in their new home. I'm pretty jealous, they live right in the middle of the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, so designated due to its range of wildlife-rich habitats and cultural heritage.Here are a few of the cool things that we saw:

This Bottlenose Dolphin was something of a local celebrity, hence the crowd of admirers. It had been hanging around near Watermouth for a while.
The Bottlenose Dolphin in front of our boat. We also saw a few Harbour Porpoise on this trip.
Lovely dark iris on this juvenile Herring Gull in Ilfracombe Harbour.
Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) in Ilfracombe.
Very pretty Sand Spurrey (Spergularia rubra) on the cliffs at Ilfracombe.
Saunton Sands had been invaded by Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita)! The highlight here though was a small flock of around 10 Dunlin which flew past, still in their breeding plumage :o)
Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) at Braunton Burrows.

Lovely Hare's Foot Clover (Trifolium arvense) at Braunton Burrows.
Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae) caterpillar on Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) at Braunton Burrows.
Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) at Braunton Burrows. I did try a bit (once I had ascertained its identity), it was rather salty but not unpleasant.
Barricane Beach - I love how rockpools are like little miniature self-contained worlds.
Miniature rockpool landscape on Barricane Beach.
Geology time, yay! Barricane Beach looked pretty slaty to me, with the rocks showing pronounced slaty cleavage and a high mica content - the flat surfaces were quite reflective, showing that low-grade metamorphism had cause the platy minerals to align. I looked it up when I got home, apparently these rocks are the Upper Devonian Morte Slates. Nice!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

93. Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)

Cory's Shearwater is our largest shearwater, being around the size of a Lesser Black-backed Gull and quite heavily built. It has long, flexible wings, held bowed in flight, which it undertakes in a more leisurely fashion compared to the other Shearwaters. It breeds on rocky islands in the Mediterranean and east Atlantic, and most birds winter in the south Atlantic, but in late summer/early autumn birds often turn up north of their breeding range around the coast of western Europe. The very similar Scopoli's Shearwater is considered by some to be a subspecies of Cory's Shearwater and by others to be a separate species; Scopoli's has more extensive white and a narrower dark border at the tip of its underwing than Cory's.

Cory's Shearwater, ©ah_kopelman, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Cory's Shearwater sketch.
A bit crammed in today, the body is somewhat on the stubby side - I should have allowed more space!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

92. Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

I have now reached the shearwaters and petrels which I am quite looking forward to drawing, especially all the different petrels which I don't know much about. Today is a much more familiar species, the Fulmar. It comes in two colour morphs but there is a bit of a continuum between them, the birds we get here in the UK are at the paler end (seen in the photo below), and further north darker ('blue') Fulmars are found. Fulmars breed in loose colonies on sea cliffs around the coast of western Europe, and spend the winter on the sea. They are easily recognised in flight by their relatively short, stiff wings which they glide on, often close over the waves. I like Fulmars as they remind me of mini albatrosses, and I like their 'stern' expressions.

Fulmar, ©Ian A Kirk, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Fulmar sketch.

Still struggling with proportions for birds in flight - length of wings etc, I think they are a bit short. I ran out of time to finish both wings - when I showed it to Chris he said for this reason I could not get ful-marks. GROAN.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

91. Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

Red-necked Grebes usually turn up the the UK only in winter around the coast, as they are migratory, breeding in parts of central and northern Europe. So we don't normally get to see the smart breeding plumage or cute stripy-headed chicks as in the photo below (although I think all grebes have cute stripy-headed chicks!). In winter, the plumage is more muted, with the red neck fading to a diffuse grey-brown collar and a white breast. Its cheeks become more dusky, contrasting with the winter plumage of Great Crested Grebe with its sharp contrast between black crown and white cheeks; Red-necked Grebe also has a shorter chunkier neck than Great Crested.

Red-necked Grebe, ©winnu, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Red-necked Grebe sketch.
Not quite right, but it was fun to draw the chick!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Sandwell Valley + bonus Rowley Hills!

Today was my monthly volunteering jaunt at RSPB Sandwell Valley, but it was actually 2 months since I last volunteered - I had to skip it in June due to being too busy with my studying :o( So it was great to be back there today with summer now well underway! I also got rebranded with a new blue RSPB t-shirt!

Although the quiet time is now upon us, with many birds hiding away in thick foliage and no longer attracting attention by singing, we did fairly well considering. The hide was well manned for the morning so Alf and I went for a walk around the reserve, we had a good start with a Kingfisher and around 16 Tufted Ducklings with their parents on the River Tame. We also heard the Ring-necked Parakeets but they were scared off by a couple of loudmouth dog walkers before we could find them. Not to worry though as we later saw one in the top of the trees by the visitor centre!

The reserve was looking particularly verdant (although water levels were getting low in the marsh and lake) and I spotted a few new plants to try and learn.

The marsh.
This one had me puzzled, I think it could be Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Possibly.
Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) I reckon.
I think this is White Bryony (Bryonia dioica).
I was amazed by this plant's small beautiful flowers. We had a wild flower book in the hide with which I attempted to make an identification, I thought it looked closest to Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), which the book said smelt unpleasant. There was only one way to check the ID, and I can confirm that this lovely plant did indeed smell BAAAD.
Whilst on our walk round, we heard and saw juveniles of many species, including Reed Warbler, Robin, Whitethroat, Great Tit, Little Ringed Plover and Blackcap, as well as birds such as Song Thrush carrying food to chicks. The low pressure conditions (it was rather cloudy with the odd spot of drizzle) brought Swifts and House Martins right down to whizz past our heads as we walked along the path between Forge Mill Lake and the River Tame.

From the hide, we had nice views of the juvenile Little Ringed Plovers which had probably bred elsewhere, as there'd been no sign of them breeding on the reserve. Kingfishers were very active flying back and forth, and this Coot had its feet out for all to see, always fun to see Coot feet!

 Outside the hide I practised my butterfly ID skills in preparation for later on.....

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus).
Back in the hide I think my field drawing skills are slowly improving:

Sketches of Lapwing, Starling, Coot and Little Ringed Plover.

After Sandwell, Alf and I were not yet done! Since catching a glimpse of my first Marbled White butterfly in the Clent Hills a couple of weeks ago, I've become a bit obsessed with seeing more, and just generally trying to learn more about butterflies. So I had mentioned to Alf that I was keen to check out the Rowley Hills, an area of species-rich grassland in the Black Country between Birmingham and Dudley, and Alf liked the sound of it too, so off we went. 

The Rowley Hills.
The Rowley Hills, showing their very urban setting in the background.

Neither of us had visited before, and within metres of entering the site, we were already enjoying some fine butterfly action. The sun had finally come out (after struggling for most of the day) and the conditions were pretty excellent for a butterfly quest! Soon enough we didn't know which way to look, there were so many Marbled Whites around! They were quite hard to photograph, being very busy and seemingly not stopping to rest much, but I did manage some OK photos:

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea).
Marbled White (Melanargia galathea).

As well as these, we also saw Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Large White, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Ringlet, Comma and Small White, brilliant!

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina).
Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris).
We also saw tons of what I think might be Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moths (possibly - not great on moths, they could be Five-spot Burnets, am making the assumption based mainly on habitat), along with their empty chrysalises:

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae). Probably.
Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae) chrysalises.
And this caterpillar, which I think might be that of a Peacock butterfly:

Peacock (Inachis io) caterpillar.
What an excellent place, Alf and I thoroughly enjoyed our walk around and I will definitely be going back there! A small part of the site has recently been bought by the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country as it was threatened by development, and they are trying to buy more to secure its future. I think I might make a donation to their appeal :o)

Saturday, 20 July 2013

90. Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

A familiar bird of lakes and reservoirs (and the sea as well in winter), the Greated Crested Grebe is the largest and most common of our grebes. It is resident in the UK and parts of western Europe, and migratory in parts of northern, central and eastern Europe. Its size and fancy crest (in summer plumage) make it pretty unmistakeable, and it is renowned for its rather lovely courtship dance - I came across this excellent video of it (soundtracked by Lemon Jelly too, nice!):

Anyway enough of that, here is my drawing!

Great Crested Grebe, ©Stefan Berndtsson, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Great Crested Grebe sketch.

89. Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

As the name suggests, the Little Grebe is the smallest of the grebes. Its preferred habitat is lakes and ponds with plenty of vegetation (reeds, sedges etc.) to hide in as it is quite shy. It is distributed quite widely throughout Europe, although is resident in some parts of its range (including the UK) but migratory in others. This photo shows the breeding plumage, in winter it is a much plainer brown and buff.

Little Grebe, ©Derek Keats, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Little Grebe sketch.
Fairly pleased with this one, I like Little Grebes and their fluffy bums! Posted a bit late as we went to the cinema last night to see The World's End, happily I enjoyed it very much (had been trepidatious as I think Hot Fuzz is POOR), obviously it was no Shaun of the Dead but then what is?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

88. Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)

The Black-necked Grebe breeds in similar habitats to the Slavonian Grebe, but its range is further south, stretching across much of central Europe. It breeds in small colonies, some of which can be found in a few places in the UK. It winters around the coasts of southern and central Europe. In winter, its black and white plumage looks similar to that of the Slavonian Grebe, but it can be told apart by its relatively steep forehead with a peak at the crown over the eye, thinner more pointed bill with no pale tip, and less contrast between the black crown and white cheeks - in Black-necked Grebe, there is more of a dark bulge extending down behind the eye onto the cheek, where in Slavonian this is a straight line.

Black-necked Grebe, ©Marek Szczepanek, via Wikimedia Commons.
Black-necked Grebe sketch.
Hmm, a bit shonky today - head too small, body too chunky!

Budget Bucket List competition!

I thought I would have a go at this after finding out about it from Tristan's entry over on The Inked Naturalist. are running a 'Budget Bucket List' competition in which they would like to read about bloggers' bucket lists - the things they most want to do before they kick the bucket - and the idea is to write about one 'budget' bucket list item, and one completely extravagant, money-no-object, item. There's a prize of £1000 on offer for the winner, which will rise to £2000 if over 50 people enter the competition!

And so without further ado to my budget bucket list item......


One of the things that makes me uncomfortable about travelling outside the UK is the carbon emissions associated with flying. I love to visit new places and experience the natural history and culture, but it disturbs me that that actions I take in order to enjoy nature are contributing to the diminishment of future generations' ability to do so. It's partly why I tend not to venture outside of Europe (also I generally can't afford to!), and when I do fly I usually make a donation afterwards to Atmosfair offsetting the flight - it doesn't 'undo' the carbon emitted by my flight, but does go towards funding renewable energy projects in developing countries, so that they can make the leap straight to renewables and not cause further carbon emissions. Therefore my budget bucket list item would involve travelling entirely by train and boat to my destination, with the help of the excellent Man in Seat 61. This wouldn't normally be a 'budget' option for me, but if I won £1000 I'd be laughing! The travelling would take a while, but it's all part of the fun - I would get to pass through several super-cool European countries, enjoy the scenery and relax with my headphones and a novel. Lovely stuff. I would of course also blog about it to hopefully raise some awareness of low-carbon travel! I would keep accommodation costs low once in Finland by staying in hostels.

I'm a bit obsessed with the Nordic countries, having visited bits of Iceland, Norway, Denmark and naturally Finland is next on my list! The other main reason for visiting would be that Finland is known for its owls - there's the potential for a serious OWL BONANZA, with Eurasian Eagle Owl, Great Grey Owl, Ural Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Tengmalm's Owl, Eurasian Pygmy Owl as well as Long-eared, Short-eared and Tawny Owl on the cards. Owls were the first birds that captured my imagination at a very young age - my walls were covered with owl pictures when I was little and for a while I was pretty sure I was an owl (that phase has now passed), so although I don't get to see many owls it's always mega-exciting when I do, they have a special place in my heart! Look at all these lovely owls........

Northern Hawk-Owl, Hökuggla, ©Dan Frendin, via WIkimedia Commons.
Eurasian Eagle Owl, ©Sonja & Roland, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Great Grey Owl, ©westfortwarbler, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Ural Owl, ©Salmando, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Eurasian Pygmy Owl, ©snowmanradio, via WIkimedia Commons.
Tengmalm's Owl, ©Mdf, via WIkimedia Commons.

Now for my completely extravagant item.....

Patagonia. FLIPPIN' PATAGONIA! Look at it!!!

Cavalli Al Pascolo Ai Piedi Del Massiccio Del Fitz Roy, Patagonia, ©Annalisa Parisi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Patagonia Alive, ©Stuck in Customs, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina, ©Luca Galuzzi, via Wikimedia Commons.
Patagonia's Profile, ©Irargerich, via Flickr Creative Commons.

'Turquoise Mirrors', Argentina, Patagonia, Parque Nacional Los Glacieres, Lago de las Tres, Mt. Fitzroy, ©WanderingtheWorld (, via Flickr Creative Commons.
I actually don't know an awful lot about Patagonia other than it looks amazing, which is why I would like to go - it's currently a mysterious and intriguing place to me and I want to find out all about it by visiting! Some things I do know about Patagonia include:

  • There are albatrosses (several species! Joy!) there. Like many people (e.g. my Mum), seeing an albatross is obviously also on my bucket list.
  • The geology is AWESOME. The mountains! The glaciers! The caves! The volcanoes!
  • There are Welsh people there! Well the descendants of Welsh people, who settled there in the 19th century. The documentary film Separado!, in which Gruff Rhys goes to Patagonia to track down his long lost uncle, is a most enjoyable watch covering the history of the Welsh settlers set within the wider context of Patagonian culture, with some smashing music to boot.
So those are my budget and extravagant bucket list items. Both of them centre around exploring and learning about the natural world and other cultures - what is most important to me in life is to experience and enjoy the huge variety in our world as much as I am able, there's a lot of things I would like to do and see but I think these two are pretty high on my list at the moment!

Three other bloggers who might be interested in entering this competition are: