Sunday, 22 December 2013

343. European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

European Turtle Doves are small, slim doves with intricately patterned plumage. Their preferred habitat is open lowland woodland with undergrowth, often near agricultural areas. They are summer visitors to the UK, migrating to spend their winters in subsaharan Africa. It's well known that Turtle Dove numbers have declined massively in the UK (by 93% since the 1970s), meaning that there is a real possibility they could soon be lost as a breeding bird in the UK if this trend cannot be reversed. They used to be fairly widespread here but are now mostly restricted to parts of East Anglia and the southeast (I myself have never seen one). The causes of their decline are not fully understood but are very likely to include factors such as loss of suitable habitat, both breeding and wintering, and severe hunting in the Mediterranean, through which they pass on migration. To understand these causes more fully, Operation Turtle Dove has been set up by a coalition of partners (the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England); their aims are to:

  • build on research into the Turtle Dove breeding grounds in England;
  • establish feeding habitat over core breeding range through advisory and farmer initiatives;
  • research factors operating during migration and at wintering areas.

Turtle Dove, ©trebol_a, via Flickr Creative Commons.
So why have I skipped ahead and chosen to do Turtle Dove today? I haven't lost it, or run out of brown paint from doing all those eagles, and it's not anything to do with Christmas. In fact, it's to draw your attention to Dove Step, a fund-raising adventure to raise money for Operation Turtle Dove! The Inked Naturalist Tristan Reid, Jonny of the Pacific and Sir Rob of the Arctic are planning on walking a whopping 300 miles next March, covering the summering Turtle Dove range in the UK from East Anglia to the North East! It's both a bit barmy and brilliant, and I am looking forward to reading of their adventures on the Dove Step blog. Please consider sponsoring them on their JustGiving page, to help fund vital research into conservation efforts to help the Turtle Dove before it goes the same way as the Passenger Pigeon.

Turtle Dove painting.
Seeing as it's a special one, and also my last one of the year (I'm going to have a break over Christmas), I chose a slightly more challenging pose and have spent rather longer than usual on the painting. Happy Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

147. Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga)

Greater Spotted Eagles are unsurprisingly, most similar to Lesser Spotted Eagles in appearance, but they are darker, with a larger bill and a dark brown eye. In flight the flight feathers appear lighter than the coverts, the opposite situation to Lesser Spotted Eagle. They often (but not always!) have a prominent white patch at the base of the primaries. The juveniles are dark purple-brown with lots of spots - white tips to their wing feathers. Greater Spotted Eagles are migratory, being distributed further east than Lesser Spotted Eagles - they have bred in small numbers in parts of eastern Europe but are mainly found in Russia, spending the winter in parts of Africa, the Middle East and even Greece and Turkey. Their preferred habitat is large damp forests with lakes and swamps, and sometimes more open areas.

Greater Spotted Eagle, ©Вых Пыхманн, via Wikimedia Commons.
Greater Spotted Eagle painting.
I clearly jinxed myself by saying that my new bigger sketchbook would mean I didn't go off the edges of the page any more....

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

146. Lesser Spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina)

Lesser Spotted Eagles are pretty uniformly brown in adult plumage, with darker flight feathers and paler whitish patches on the uppertail coverts (visible in the photo), and also a small white patch at the base of the primary flight feathers. The juveniles are the spotted ones, with white-tipped wing feathers and a more extensive white patch on the primaries. They are migratory, breeding in parts of eastern Europe although reaching as far west as Germany and Austria; they winter in Africa. Their preferred habitat is damp forests with clearings, usually lowland, and also sometimes grassland outside of the breeding season.

Lesser Spotted Eagle, ©Radovan Václav, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Lesser Spotted Eagle painting.

Quite pleased with this one! Got a new square-format sketchbook so hopefully no more going off the edges too...

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

145. Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti)

Spanish Imperial Eagles are very similar to Eastern Imperial Eagles, being closely related, but with larger white shoulder patches and a white leading edge to their wing - kind of looks like they've been snowed on. This photo is of the juvenile plumage, the lighter parts of which are a richer more tawny colour than on the Eastern Imperial Eagle. Their preferred habitat is variable, but can include plains with scattered trees and small patches of woodland, also marshes, and higher mountain slopes where suitable lowland habitat is not available. Their range is very restricted - they are classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN as they only occur in parts of central and southeast Spain, and also a very small part of Portugal; their population seems to be increasing though which is good news!

Spanish Imperial Eagle, ©Vlaskop, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Spanish Imperial Eagle painting.
Hmmm, not too shabby, maybe I am getting better at birds in flight (famous last words....). I was away over the weekend so didn't get any paintings done - we were at House Christmas, where our group of friends (we all used to live together in the same house, hence the name) have our own Christmas day, before actual Christmas. We don't even all live in the same city any more but it's always a highlight of our year, good times!


Thursday, 12 December 2013

144. Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)

The Eastern Imperial Eagle is most similar to the Golden Eagle, but with a shorter tail which it often holds folded in flight (as seen in the photo) and more evenly broad wings. The adult is very dark brown, with small white shoulder patches and a pale nape. The juvenile is a paler sandy colour with dark brown streaking and dark flight and tail feathers with white tip; when it is in plumage intermediate between juvenile and adult it can be quite mottled as the dark feathers start to grow. Eastern Imperial Eagles are found in parts of Eastern Europe and the the Middle East, being resident in some areas and migratory in others. Their preferred habitat is steppe or open plains with some trees or patches of woodland, and sometimes forests. However they have also been pushed to higher altitudes due to persecution and habitat loss.

Eastern Imperial Eagle, ©Sergey Pisarevskiy, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Eastern Imperial Eagle painting.
Another attempt at a bird in flight, and I don't think this one's too bad actually, although I've not got it dark enough on the flight feathers, and I think the head's a bit on the large side.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

143. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Within the UK, Golden Eagles are found mainly in Scotland due to historic persecution, but in recent years there have been breeding attempts further south.....they are widely distributed throughout Europe though, being resident in most parts of their range except for the far north where they are migratory. They are found in a variety of habitats, often inaccessible or undisturbed areas where persecution by humans occurs, such as mountains and hills and large upland forests. Juveniles can be distinguished from adults by the white patches on their wings and inner tail, which become progressively smaller as the bird matures. In flight Golden Eagles have long, broad wings but with narrow bases where they join the body, a fairly long tail, and wings often held in a shallow V or sometimes flatter or slightly arched.

Golden Eagle, ©Arne Kuilman, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Golden Eagle painting.

I actually did this over 2 nights, the colour was taking me a while but I thought it was worth persevering as it seemed to be going well. Looking at the finished sketch it's much redder than in the photo, hopefully it's still a plausible Golden Eagle colour though! Sometimes I wish I had longer, it's all very well restricting myself with a time limit, but I feel like with more time I could come up with something really proper!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Wintery Wicken Fen

Yesterday I was off once more with the West Midland Bird Club, this time to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, in search of its very exciting winter visitors along with whatever else we may encounter! En route, I was having a very enjoyable snooze on the coach with some Joanna Newsom in my headphones, when I was rudely awakened by a loud exclamation. However 2 words I don't mind being woken up by are 'RED KITE!', and we had a great view of one flying alongside the road, a nice start to the day.

Upon arrival we noticed some strange fruits growing on a tree near the Visitor Centre which on first appearance looked a bit like green grapes! However when we looked closer they seemed more plum-like and Andy M (acting in his capacity of taster of mystery fruits) tried one, confirming that they were indeed plum-ish, being quite tasty with a small stone.

Mystery fruits!
There's that stone.
A bit of Googling has revealed that they are probably a subspecies of Prunus domestica, although which I am not sure. I waited a few hours to ensure Andy experienced no ill effects, before sampling one myself ;o)

We set off in the opposite direction to the rest of our group to avoid overcrowding of the small hides! The weather was great if a bit breezy and the fen was looking lovely:

Wicken Fen.
Wicken Fen.
Wicken Fen.

Reeds in front of one of the hides.

We made our way round stopping in the hides and soon found ducks aplenty, including Pintail, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler. We heard a fair few Cetti's Warblers too and also outside one of the hides, Bearded Tit - frustratingly they sounded quite close, but we never got a glimpse, I think they were keeping low out of the wind. We had amazing views of a female Marsh Harrier flying towards us over the reedbed, then right over the path we were standing on - brilliant!

Unfortunately I didn't have much time for drawings and I only managed these brief sketches of Teal. Thought I'd have a go at one swimming towards us, I need some practice at that by the looks of things! 

Teal sketches.

Here's a few other things spotted on our way round, although it is harder in winter to find new plants to learn, I haven't forgotten and at least berries are something distinctive to look out for and try to ID:

This soft hair was caught on a very low fence in a spot that seemed inaccessible to larger animals - we thought it might be from a Muntjac?
A deer footprint; as the visitor centre said that both Roe and Muntjac were around on the reserve, we thought the size of this probably made it Roe.
More mystery berries to try, our food taster's verdict was that these were not as delicious! I think they are probably Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). Looking at that name, it's a good job Andy spat them out...
More ginger fence-fluff, this was higher up and very coarse, pretty sure it's from the Highland cattle that graze the fen.
Further on, we saw Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit, and in the distance beyond some farm buildings we could see a huge flock of  several thousand Golden Plover along with Lapwing and starlings. Luckily this was on our route so we could see them much better, along with a small herd of Roe Deer in one of the fields. By the farm buildings we also found Pied Wagtails, Collared and Stock Doves. Back near the visitor centre, we had excellent views of two Water Rails under a feeder from one of the hides.

Close enough for me to get this record shot!
After that the light was starting to go so we made our way back to the windmill to keep watch for those special winter visitors....

Wicken Fen in the fading light.
The windmill.
We were of course waiting for the Hen Harriers to come in to roost in the reedbed! While we waited I spotted a Kingfisher shoot out of the reeds and away over the trees. Then from over the trees, we saw our first Hen Harrier fly in, a stunning male in gun-metal grey! He didn't go straight into the reeds though, instead flew around a bit then disappeared back over the trees. Over the next half an hour or so we saw 2 males who came and went several times, putting on a marvellous display flying over the reeds like slatey blue ghosts. The closest and best views of Hen Harrier I've ever had! To top it all, there was also a pretty epic sunset!

Spot the Hen Harrier (it is there!)
There's one here too!

What a spectacular end to the Bird Club's year!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

142. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

The Osprey is a fish-eating eagle, which breeds in the UK but winters in Africa. Due to historical persecution in the UK Ospreys are not common, but they are becoming more widespread, slowly recolonising former breeding grounds. They are very widely distributed throughout the world, being found on all continents except Antarctica. Their preferred habitat is freshwater lakes with plenty of fish, and tall coniferous trees for nesting in. Ospreys are quite unique in appearance, their slender wings in flight sometimes make them look a little like a large gull and unlike other eagles their wings do not have prominent 'fingers' at the tips. The juvenile looks similar to the adult, but with pale mottled upperparts and dark streaks on its white crown.

Osprey, ©mikebaird, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Osprey painting.

I've not done any paintings/drawings for the past few days as I've been busy trying to get an assignment done which has been bamboozling me! I made quite good progress on it yesterday though so had a bit of time this evening for this Osprey; it's a bit on the chunky side but considering I got up at 5am today to go birding at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire (more on that to follow) I don't think it's too shabby.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Sandwell Valley - December

On Sunday I was once again volunteering at RSPB Sandwell Valley. Upon arrival in the car park the first thing we noticed was REDWINGS, they were everywhere, wolfing down the Rowan berries on a tree by the gate and making a racket in the trees behind the temporary visitor centre - some were quietly burbling an almost-song which I hadn't heard before, nice. For the rest of the day, we saw Redwings everywhere we went, there must have been hundreds on the reserve!

As there were plenty of volunteers for the hide in the morning, Alf and I went for a wander around the reserve. We had a good start seeing three Little Grebe together on the River Tame.

The River Tame.
I managed to get better views of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll than on my last visit, although they were still very mobile - we were able to sneak up on some in Alders by the marsh screen, in the poor light it took us a while to see what was what!

The unreliable light at least made for some nice views.
The island in the middle of Forge Mill Lake has been reprofiled and is now islands! It was pretty exciting to see the changes, the islands have been created to make more shoreline which will hopefully attract more waders, and they've been profiled so that they fan out from the hide - which means you get a great view down the channels between islands. So hopefully we will get better views of more birds, will be great to see how this develops over the coming months! These pictures aren't great, and unfortunately I wasn't able to find any good photos of how it was before, but hopefully they give an idea.

Looking towards the hide from the opposite bank.

View from the hide.
View from the hide.
The islands were mostly bare mud but we managed to find a few Snipe in or near some remaining vegetation. The Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls seemed to have adjusted to their new arrangements with no problems!

Before we went down to the hide for the afternoon, we stopped by the old visitor centre where a couple of ringers were working. While we were there they caught a Reed Bunting and a Magpie, a beautiful bird when seen close-up! Magpies are great, if they were rarer people would love them, they are dead handsome and charismatic!

Magpie in the hand.
Down in the hide, things were fairly quiet bird-wise - some of the usual ducks weren't around, we didn't find any Shoveler or Wigeon for some reason. I still haven't seen a Goldeneye at Sandwell yet this autumn, sure I've usually had one by now - I think they have been seen intermittently but not regularly. Maybe when it gets colder....... Still plenty of noisy Water Rail action, we didn't see any this time but they were fairly vocal.

Here are my drawings from the afternoon!

I overdid it on the Teal, don't like that one very much. So I decided to go the other way with the minimal Gadwall which I much prefer! Mostly happy with those Lapwings too although the middle one's body is a bit weird.
The gulls for the most part kept quite still which made it easier to draw them. For the most part so far, as a beginner, I have been sticking to more stationary birds, occasionally though I am attempting more active ones too - I tried to draw this Magpie really quickly as it foraged around next to the hide.
After closing the hide, we saw one of the ringers again on the way back to the visitor centre - this time with an awesome female Bullfinch which he kindly allowed me to take a few photos of:

Female Bullfinch in the hand.
As it had been a while since I'd bought an RSPB pin badge I thought I'd treat myself! There were some great new designs that I hadn't seen before, there was a nice Barnacle Goose and a Reindeer. I always wonder who designs the badges, I think that would be a really fun job :o) Anyway, I liked the look of the Long-eared Owl, and when I looked more closely and noticed that it appeared to be slightly cross-eyed, my mind was made up!

My new cross-eyed Long-eared Owl! I guess its eyes should really be orange too....