Thursday, 29 August 2013

114. Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

The Great Cormorant is a very widespread species, being found on all the continents except for South America and Antarctica. In the UK it breeds around the coast on cliffs and sometimes in trees near the sea or lakes, and outside the breeding season it disperses to water bodies across the UK. It eats mostly fish which it is well-adapted to catch - its lack of waterproofing means it is less buoyant so can dive deeper, but it has to spread its wings out to dry once back on land in its characteristic and familiar pose.

Great Cormorant, ©omarrun, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Great Cormorant sketch.
Cormorants make great portrait subjects, I think they are very expressive!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

113. Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus)

Dalmatian Pelicans breed in small isolated colonies in parts of eastern Europe, as well as across Asia as far as Mongolia. Like the Great White Pelican, some of these populations are resident, and some migratory, wintering in parts of Greece, Turkey, southern and coastal parts of the Middle East and China. Compared to the slightly smaller Great White, Dalmatian Pelicans have an orange bill-pouch, which is pinkish yellow in juveniles and gets paler outside the breeding season, and unkempt tufty-looking feathers on their heads. Their pale iris gives them a less 'friendly' look than the Great White Pelican's nice beady black eye! It likes similar habitats, such as coastal lagoons, swamps, deltas and shallow lakes.

Dalmatian Pelican, ©Pbrundel, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dalmatian Pelican sketch.
I worked in this in quite a disjointed manner and didn't get it finished due to various things going a bit pear-shaped yesterday evening, that considered I don't think it's too bad.

Early work...

The blog's been fairly quiet over the bank holiday as I went to York for my birthday (which was last Thursday) and to catch up with friends and family. I did manage to find my old watercolour paints so expect to see those making an appearance soon, and I also received from my parents as a birthday gift John Busby's 'Drawing Birds', it's brilliant and I can't wait to start incorporating the excellent advice therein into my drawing and birding, hopefully they will improve as a result!

Another thing I dug out whilst at my parents' house was a bunch of my old bird drawings and paintings, I thought I'd post them on here for a bit of fun! A lot of fond memories are associated with them and it makes me feel happy to see my youthful enthusiasm clearly visible in the work. Although I only started getting seriously into birding after I finished my first degree in 2006, I was always interested in looking at and drawing birds and nature for as long as I can remember, and I think this early work demonstrates this!

I've arranged them in chronological order, here are the first bits. My mum used to stitch together these little paper booklets for me to make into 'nature books'. I don't remember making this one but as the young me has helpfully written 4 on the front and back, I assume this is how old I was at the time.

Front cover.
Inside pages.
Inside pages.
Inside pages.
Back cover.

My slight obsession with owls is already clear at that young age. I drew them always in pink as it was my favourite colour at the time! Also appearing in the book's haphazard assortment are Chick, Blackbird, Robin, Budgerigar and Tiger. Kudos to the young me for spelling Budgerigar correctly, not sure I could even manage that now - I must've copied it from somewhere!

No date on this one, but I reckon it was probably inspired by an early trip to Slimbridge, or possibly slightly closer to home, the bird garden at Harewood House which was a favourite family day out destination at the time.

Felt-tip flamingoes!
Here's a few paintings and drawings all done in 1993 when I would have been 8 years old.

Peregrine drawing, I remember being pretty pleased with this one!
Kestrel watercolour painting. I remember being less happy with this one than the peregrine!

Lake scene watercolour painting, includes several (just about) identifiable bird species - Canada Goose, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Coot, Grey Heron, Barn Owl, Pheasant and I think that's a tiny Mallard in the nest in the reeds, for some reason?!

Blue Tit watercolour painting in an interesting simplified style.
Another undated felt-tip pen drawing which I rather like, I obviously ran out of patience/blue pen for the sky though.

Blue Tit felt-tip pen drawing.

And finally a couple of drawings from 1999, when I would have been 14 years old.

Kittiwake pencil and felt-tip drawing.
Horned Puffin pencil drawing.
Interesting to see how my work has developed, the last two aren't a million miles away from my current drawings although I'd like to hope I have progressed at least a bit since 1999!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

112. Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

The Great White Pelican breeds in very localised colonies in parts of southeast Europe, across as far as Kazakhstan; these populations migrate to Africa outside of the breeding season, but there are also resident populations in Africa, India and Pakistan too. Its preferred habitat is coastal swamps and large shallow lakes. It nests colonially, sometimes alongside the slightly larger Dalmatian Pelican which it can resemble in flight, but the Great White Pelican has blacker undersides to its wing flight feathers which contrast strongly with the white of the rest of the underwing.

Great White Pelican, ©Tarique Sani, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Great White Pelican sketch.
I got the proportions of the head a bit wrong, but the body is OK.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Cannock Chase birthday fun!

Today is my birthday and as such, a day spent enjoying nature was in order. Now Chris has wheels, and perhaps more importantly the qualification to drive them, our options have expanded hugely! So we went to Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, one of my favourite spots due to its extensive heathland.....I love a good heath! Here are a few things that we saw.

This was in the ladies' toilets at the visitor centre. Which meant I could watch a Swallow chick being fed whilst doing a wee. A unique experience.
Things were fairly quiet on the bird front but we did get excellent views of a Hobby flying by in a leisurely fashion while we ate lunch, Chris's insistence that we sit at the top of a hill for lunch paid off there. There were SOOOO MANY butterflies around though, we saw 12 species, the most exciting one was definitely my first ever Clouded Yellow, amazing! I didn't get a picture as it didn't land within photo range but it was brilliant, no mistaking its bright golden colour and thick black borders! Here are a few pictures that I did manage:

Comma (Polygonum c-album).

A very worn out Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus).
More excitement, Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)!
I ate a few Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) with my lunch, there were also plenty of Lingonberries around the place, I like seeing them as it reminds me of Sweden where Lingonberries come with pretty much everything!

Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).
YUM (Stockholm 07/01/2011).

Can't wait to go back to Cannock Chase :o) Chris even expressed an interest in going on a Nightjar walk there next year, need to try and encourage his minimal interest in birds wherever possible, heh heh heh......

Lovely Cannock Chase, mmmm.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

111. Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris)

The Black-browed Albatross is the most widespread and numerous of the albatrosses, hence its inclusion here - although it is usually circumpolar in the southern oceans, breeding on islands there, it has been known to roam as far up the Atlantic as northwest Europe. A few have been known to return in successive years to gannetries off the UK coast. Imagine scanning through the Gannets to suddenly encounter the severe frown of a Black-browed Albatross, HOLY MOLY! That would be pretty awesome! Although Gannets seem to be their preferred chums in these parts, and they are of fairly similar size (the Albatross is slightly larger), in flight the Black-browed Albatross looks most like a gigantic Fulmar, with its stiff-winged gliding flight.

Albatrosses are having a pretty tough time at the moment, with 17 of the world's 22 albatross species threatened with extinction due to a combination of factors including various harmful fishing techniques, consumption of plastic debris and introduced predators. Read more about it and donate to help albatrosses here!

Black-browed Albatross, ©Liam Quinn, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Black-browed Albatross.
Quite like this, although I've accidentally made the chick bigger than in the photo. I'll just pretend it's grown a bit.....

110. Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)

The Brown Booby may be seen in Europe as a vagrant in the Mediterranean and off the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal and northwest Africa, but it breeds mainly on islands and coasts in the tropics, including in the Red Sea and Cape Verde Islands. It could be confused with a juvenile Gannet, but is smaller with a black throat and chest and brown belly whereas the juvenile Gannet is fairly uniformly streaked grey-brown or white below, depending on its age.

Brown Booby, ©Mike's Birds, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Brown Booby sketch.

I'd got a bit behind with my drawings due to going to see Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa on Monday, good to see Alan near the beginning of the film waffling at some length about the success of Osprey reintroduction in England, haha! I'm fairly pleased with my Brown Booby drawing, there is something fun about the boobies and gannets, I think they have a lot of character.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

109. Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Time for (Northern) Gannet, a familiar seabird in the UK which is not surprising, as over 70% of the world's population of Gannets breed around our shores. The species name bassanus comes from Bass Rock, one of the most well-known Gannet breeding colonies, which is an island off the southeast coast of Scotland. Their range is large, stretching across the north Atlantic from the east coast of America to western Europe and northwest Africa, as far north as Norway and Greenland. Adult Gannets are unmistakeable with their large size, smooth plumage, yellow heads and long, pointed, black-tipped wings. Juveniles can be a bit more challenging with dark brown speckled plumage; at a distance they might resemble one of the larger shearwaters, but Gannets have a longer head and neck and more wedge-shaped tail. Their diving behaviour is also distinctive and spectacular!

Gannet, ©squallidon, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Northern Gannet drawing

Doh, the bill is way too short! I'm quite pleased with the colours though. I've gone for a self-indulgent portrait in colour today, the kind of drawing I like doing best, as a treat after a very busy weekend attending another wedding and getting a bit stressed out about not studying enough. I managed to catch up pretty well this afternoon though and just about finished my current assignment :o)

Thursday, 15 August 2013

108. White-faced Storm Petrel (Pelagodroma marina)

White-faced Storm Petrel is the final storm petrel in the Collins guide, and is the only one you could potentially see in Europe that has white underparts. It's also distinctive in having rather broad wings unlike the other storm petrels, which it can fan out into a round paddle shape, and even longer legs than Leach's Storm Petrel. Apparently if you are particularly imaginative, you could even confuse it with the phalaropes! It breeds on Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands in the north Atlantic, and also a few other islands in the south Atlantic and Pacific; outside of the breeding season it roams these oceans and also the Indian Ocean.

White-faced Storm Petrel, ©Seabamirum, via Flickr Creative Commons.
White-faced Storm Petrel sketch.
Yet again, on the chunky side. Reckon if I just compressed it a bit vertically it would probably be spot on!

107. Swinhoe's Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma monorhis)

Although Swinhoe's Storm Petrel is very similar in size and morphology to Leach's Storm Petrel, it is told apart by its uniformly dark brown/black plumage with no white rump. This means it could also be confused with Bulwer's Petrel, but Bulwer's is larger with a longer tail generally held in a narrow point, compared with Swinhoe's shorter, forked tail. Swinhoe's Storm Petrel is usually found around East Asia, but it does occasionally turn up elsewhere, in fact I believe that there is one loitering around Fair Isle at this very moment.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel, ©Francis Yap, used with permission.
Swinhoe's Storm Petrel sketch.

Many thanks to Francis Yap for allowing me to use his great Swinhoe's Storm Petrel photo! Hmm, I got the lower wing a bit too narrow and the body a little chunky in my drawing.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

106. Madeiran Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma castro)

Madeiran Storm Petrels breed on a few east Atlantic islands including the Azores, Madeira and the Canaries, as well as several other rocky islands in the Pacific ocean. Outside of the breeding season they are widespread across the Atlantic and Pacific around the tropics and subtropics, and as far north as offshore from Portugal. They are most similar in appearance to Leach's Storm Petrel, but with less of a contrast between the pale upperwing patch and black wingtips, a less deeply-forked tail (although this can vary in Madeiran and it seems like it may be further split into separate species in future) and a white rump patch that appears more wide than long, and extends further under the tail than in Leach's.

Madeiran Storm Petrel, ©Martin Lofgren, used with permission.
Madeiran Storm Petrel sketch.

Thanks again to Martin Lofgren for allowing me to use another of his great photographs.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

105. Leach's Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)

Leach's Storm Petrel is fairly large as petrels go, and although it can appear similar to the European Storm Petrel, there are a few differences (aside from the size). Leach's has a long pale panel on its upperwings which contrasts strongly with their black tips, whereas the European Storm Petrel's wings are fairly uniformly blackish brown, and Leach's white rump is more v-shaped and does not extend as far underneath the tail as the European Storm Petrel's. Leach's also has a more powerful flight due to its larger size. It is widespread, breeding in the Northern Hemisphere and heading towards and beyond the Equator outside of the breeding season, reaching as far south in the Atlantic as South Africa. In Europe, it breeds on rocky coasts and islands around the north UK, Iceland and Norway.

Leach's Storm Petrel, ©C. Schlawe/USFWS, via Wikimedia Commons.
Leach's Storm Petrel sketch.

Admittedly this photo doesn't show the ID features of Leach's Storm Petrel at all well, but there weren't many with a Creative Commons license, and as you may have guessed by now I am a bit of a sucker for a cute bird photo every now and then!

Sandwell Valley - August

I was back at Sandwell Valley on Sunday, volunteering in the hide - we were a bit down on volunteers so I spent the whole day in there but I didn't mind missing out on a walk around the reserve, as there were some rather abrupt heavy showers in the morning! Always like being in a hide in the rain, a nice cosy feeling. The weather didn't put off looooooads of House Martins though, they were out in force over Forge Mill Lake, along with a couple of Sand Martins. Swifts were conspicuous by their absence though! Bird-wise, things were as expected for the time of year, pretty quiet. Highlights included a few Kingfisher fly-bys and a passage Common Sandpiper who'd been loitering for a while, it kept popping up here and there occasionally. It was also nice to see two watchful female Tufted Ducks doing very well with their creche of nine chicks - whilst on the water it was impossible to count them as they were constantly diving and resurfacing, but once they came out onto the island for a preen and a rest, we got a good look!

I know there are only eight Tuftie chicks here. This was before the last and smallest one propelled itself out of the water at high speed to join the rest!
Also amusing us with its antics was a very officious male Mute Swan who was very keen to round up and herd a large group of juveniles to a certain part of the lake, for reasons unknown.

The juvenile Mute Swans paddling with some urgency past the hide......
.....followed seconds later by this big fella.
I found some more plants to try and identify:

For some reason I thought this might be something different, but I think it's just our old friend Common Bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
Growing in the damp area under the hide swingbridge, Water Mint (Mentha aquatica).

Loads of this in the grassland areas on the way down to the marsh screen, Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis).

Another one growing in the damp area under the hide swingbridge, I was very intrigued by this one! After some umming and aahing I've decided it's Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata), due to its location and more rounded leaves (you can't see them in this photo - but I did check them!)
There were plenty of butterflies around, including Large White, Gatekeeper and these two:

Peacock (Inachis io).

Small White (Pieris rapae).

With all the House Martins around, I thought I'd have a go at drawing some - my efforts leave a lot to be desired though! Was a bit happier with my wonky/jaunty Common Sandpiper, would have liked to have done more but it disappeared and was not to be seen for the rest of the day. I spent some time on the Lapwing and quite like it although the legs are pretty shonky.

Sketches of House Martin, Common Sandpiper and Lapwing.