Wednesday, 29 January 2014

162. Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)

Rough-legged Buzzards are the most northerly-occurring of the buzzards - they breed in northern Scandinavia and Siberia, and winter in parts of central Europe. They occasionally occur as passage migrants in the UK. Although their plumage can vary somewhat, they are generally pale (compared to the other buzzards at least) and their most obvious feature telling them apart from the other buzzards is their white tail with a dark edge, and usually a few more dark bars too in the males. The wings are pale below with barring, dark carpal patches and a dark trailing edge. The female has a dark patch on her belly. Juveniles are a more yellowy buff on their underwing secondary coverts, head and breast, and have a dark belly patch, diffuse trailing edge to their wings and tail, and on their upperwings pale bases to their primaries. Rough-legged Buzzards are larger and longer-winged than Common Buzzards and tend to hover more; when gliding they raise their inner wings and keep their primaries flat, bending at the carpal joints - Common Buzzards tend to keep their whole wings flatter with less of a bend. Their preferred habitat is open areas, both lowland and upland, such as tundra, mountain valleys, marshes and farmland.

Rough-legged Buzzard, ©Aquila-chrysaetos, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Rough-legged Buzzard painting.
Mmm, pleased with this one - portraits are my favourite!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

161. Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

As the name suggests, Common Buzzards are pretty easy to see - in the UK they are currently the most numerous bird of prey. It's still always exciting to see a mighty Buzzard soaring over the landscape! They are resident across most of western Europe, being migratory in the northern part of their range. They are pretty chunky, broad-winged raptors with highly variable plumage, which ranges from pale to dark with intermediate phases; in the UK most of our Common Buzzards are dark. Juveniles look quite similar to adults but have dark streaks, rather than barring, on the breast and only an indistinct dark trailing edge to the wings and tail where the adults have a thick black band. Common Buzzards like a wide range of habitats, including open areas (farmland, moorland, marshes and meadows) with woods or scattered trees, and hilly terrain.

Common Buzzard, ©Marek Stefunko, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Common Buzzard painting.
I attribute any shoddiness in this to the fact that I had a mild migraine whilst doing it.

Friday, 24 January 2014

160. Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus)

Now for the buzzards, a group I find particularly confusing - hopefully painting them will help provide some elucidation! Long-legged Buzzards breed in a few areas in eastern Europe e.g. Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, and are also found in parts of the Middle East, extending further east across Asia. In the more northerly parts of their range they are migratory, and further south populations are resident. They are large, eagle-like buzzards, closest in size to Rough-legged Buzzard. Like most of the buzzards, its plumage can be highly variable,with three colour morphs - pale, rufous and dark. They all have a thick black trailing edge to their wings and large black carpal patches which contrast with bright white bases to the primaries. The pale and rufous morphs have a plain pale rufous tail, and the dark morph has a finely barred tail with thick black edge. Apart from the pale, finely barred tail and flight feathers, the rest of the dark morph is very dark brown. Pale morphs have a pale head and get progressively darker towards the feet, I think the photo is probably of one although I think there can also be a lot of overlap between pale and rufous morphs! Rufous morphs sometimes have this pattern, or sometimes they have a brown head too. Juveniles are generally very pale below with a finely barred tail, and usually some degree of dark carpal patches. Long-legged Buzzards' preferred habitat is open areas with some vegetation such as steppe, semi-desert and also mountains.

Long-legged Buzzard, ©Tarique Sani, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Long-legged Buzzard painting.
Quite pleased with this one! It'll be my last painting for a couple of days as I'm off up to York tomorrow to celebrate my Dad's 60th birthday and retirement :o) I'm going to try looking for the Two-barred Crossbills at Broomhead Reservoir on the way, fingers cross(bill)ed!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

159. Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

As the name suggests, Pallid Harriers are pretty ghostly - well the males at least. Look how pale this guy is! They have a similarly slim build to Montagu's Harrier but much more uniform plumage - no black bands on the wings, and a narrower wedge of black at the wingtips. The females look very similar to female Montagu's, but lack the black band at the base of the secondaries on the upperwings which Montagu's has, and have darker brown secondaries below. I had wanted to try painting at least one female from the harriers, but, er, I saw this photo and loved it so afraid that's not happened! Pallid Harriers are rare birds in Europe - they breed no further west than Romania and Ukraine, although occur on passage in parts of southeast Europe en route to the various bits of Africa and the Middle East that they spend their winters in. Habitat-wise they like agricultural land, grassland and marshes, steppe and semi-desert.

Pallid Harrier, ©Tarique Sani, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Pallid Harrier painting.
Darn it, if I'd got the eye in the right place this would be OK - it's too far back though!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Sandwell Valley - January, with a mini-twitch!

Yesterday I was back at RSPB Sandwell Valley for the first time this year. However when Alf picked me up in the morning, he told me he'd had a text from Mike I. asking if we'd be interested in a short trip up the road from Sandwell to see the Glossy Ibis that's been loitering near Brownhills for a little while now. Of course the answer was yes! So once we arrived at the Valley, we jumped in Mike's car and were off on a mini-twitch in search of the shiny creature, which would be a life tick for Alf and I!

When we arrived at the wet paddock that the ibis had been frequenting, it was nowhere to be seen, however we could see a crowd of birders further up the track alongside the fields. Within only a couple of minutes though the Glossy Ibis had taken off from where they were watching it, and come in to land right in front of us - cheers ibis! The tide of birders duly followed, and we spent the next half an hour or so enjoying watching the ibis busily feeding in the deep mud, working its way along the pools of water until it was quite close. It looked great in the bright sun, here are a few photos:

Glossy Ibis in the paddock just after we arrived.
With a hooved friend.
Getting a bit closer.
My partner Chris gave me a Moleskine sketchbook for Christmas for field sketching, which I had been looking forward to starting - alas I didn't have time for more than a few very sketchy lines at the paddock!

Feeding alongside the ibis we also saw both Pied and Grey Wagtail, the latter's plumage looking especially bright and fresh, and several Buzzards soared and called overhead. Eventually the ibis was disturbed by someone from the stables coming into the field to fetch some ponies, and it flew off. But I can't imagine it minds that disturbance too much overall as it keeps coming back to the same spot. Well pleased with this morning's birding, we headed back to Sandwell and went down to volunteer in the hide for the afternoon.

I think the continuous mild weather we've experienced this winter has maybe caused a reduction in the numbers of wildfowl we're used to seeing at Sandwell over the winter normally - although we counted 25 Goosanders, there were hardly any Teal, Pochard, Shoveler and Wigeon around. 

Mild and pleasant weather at Sandwell Valley!

There were Lapwings aplenty though as usual, and probably the highlight of the afternoon was a Kingfisher that Mike spotted landing in overhanging vegetation at the far side of Forge Mill lake. Although it wasn't visible while perched, the Kingfisher dived repeatedly from this vantage point, returning to it each time, and we could observe this behaviour clearly - don't think I've ever before managed to watch a Kingfisher hunting for this length of time.

I did some more sketching, a bit more successfully this time:

Looks like Lapwings are becoming one of my favourite subjects, definitely need a lot more Gadwall practice though!

I decided to try and have a go a drawing some behaviour - this Lesser Black-backed Gull was enthusiastically ripping away at the corpse of what looked like a Teal which I thought would be an interesting subject. I also tried to draw its winter plumage head-pattern.

Once we'd locked up the hide, as it was still light Alf and I decided to end the day by dropping in on the juvenile Great Northern Diver that had been hanging around at Swan Pool! Brilliant! It's been a few years since I last saw one, I forget how big they are, especially that super-sharp bill - a serious fishing implement. The diver was soon to be found, and we found a good vantage point on the bank to enjoy views of the diver in the light from the setting sun. Its behaviour was very regular - it would surface for around 10 seconds, have a look around, stick its head underwater a couple of times to look down there, then dive and remain underwater for 30 - 40 seconds. The only differences in this pattern were the distances it travelled underwater - sometimes resurfacing very close to where it had dived, other times (like when some irresponsible dogwalkers without leads on their dogs let them splash around in the lake) resurfacing much further away. The poor light meant that this shoddy record shot was the best I was able to get!

Distant Great Northern Diver!

However the sunset was slightly easier to photograph :o)

Swan Pool. Obviously.

158. Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)

Montagu's Harriers look similar to Hen Harriers, but have narrower wings, which makes them look proportionally longer compared to the body, and as a result a more buoyant flight. Male Montagu's Harriers' plumage is like the male Hen Harrier's, but with a black line across the secondaries on the upperwings, and two black lines on the underwings. I chose this photo specifically to illustrate this! The female looks very similar indeed to the female Hen Harrier, the shape is the best way to tell them apart. Juveniles Montagu's Harriers have plain rufous underparts where the juvenile Hen Harrier's are streaked. Montagu's Harriers are migratory, with a scattered breeding population across parts of Europe - they are a very rare breeder in the UK - and wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. Their preferred habitat is open country, such as heathland, moorland and grassland, and also arable land and marshes/reedbeds.

Montagu's Harrier, ©Cks3976, via Wikimedia Commons.
Montagu's Harrier painting.
Quite a quick one, I probably could have been a bit more generous with the blue - was worried it could end up a bit lurid.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

157. Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

The story for Hen Harriers in the UK is alas very different to the recovery shown by their Marshy relatives. Last year not one pair of Hen Harriers nested successfully in England, and the long-term decline that has led to this is thought to have come about due to intense persecution by gamekeeping and shooting interests. Hen Harriers prey on Red Grouse among other birds, and some shooting estates see them as a threat to their stock, which are managed to artificially high levels so that toffs can come and shoot them in the name of 'sport'. It's not hard to guess which side of the debate I'm on.

The photo is a male Hen Harrier, a very handsome chap. He is pretty distinctive but does look similar to some of his relatives (more on that in the next couple of posts). The female is brown with darker streaking and barring; both sexes have white uppertail-coverts but these are more obvious in the female, contrasting as they do with her darker plumage. Juveniles look similar to females, but with less streaking below and slightly more rufous-tinged underparts. Their preferred habitat is open country, such as moors, heaths, grassland, marshes and bogs. They are very widely distributed in Europe, and in fact the whole Northern Hemisphere, being resident in parts of western Europe and migratory in other areas, breeding in parts of Scandinavia and wintering in southern and eastern Europe.

Hen Harrier, ©Radovan Václav, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Hen Harrier painting.
While I was doing this I felt like I was really struggling to nail the colours, but on reflection they don't seem too far off actually.

Friday, 17 January 2014

156. Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

Western Marsh Harrier populations are on the increase in the UK, having previously been at a very low ebb due primarily to habitat loss - they are reedbed specialists, so now they are benefiting from large-scale habitat recreation and are starting to recolonise areas they'd formerly been absent from. Like other harriers they show very striking sexual dimorphism - the bird in the photo is a male, with his rich brown body, pale creamy head, black-tipped pale grey wings and pale grey tail. The females can vary quiet a lot but are usually dark brown with a creamy coloured throat, crown and forewing. Juveniles look similar to adult females but are generally darker brown. Western Marsh Harriers are widely distributed throughout Europe; populations in the south and west are resident, but the rest are mostly migratory, spending the winter in Africa.

Western Marsh Harrier, ©Boldings, via Wikimedia Commons.
Western Marsh Harrier painting.
Aharr, I don't think this is too bad at all.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

155. Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

Black Kites are similar in appearance to Red Kites, but as the name suggests, darker. They are also a little smaller, with shorter wings and a shorter, less deeply-forked tail. The photo shows a juvenile; the adults are darker brown without the pale head and their underwing pattern appears much more uniformly dull than on Red Kites'. They are very widely distributed across most of Europe, except the UK and the Nordic countries, and are for the most part migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. Like Red Kites they are carrion eaters, and are more closely associated with water, liking woodland and open land near rivers, lakes and seashores. They may also be found close to human settlements due to the easy pickings food-wise!

Black Kite, ©birdsaspoetry, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Black Kite painting.
I've made it a bit tall and thin but quite like it nonetheless.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Strong start to the year at Rutland Water!

Yesterday kicked off the West Midland Bird Club's new year of field trips; this one was our annual outing to Rutland Water in Leicestershire. We usually see loads of great birds there and this was no exception!

Our first stop was at the dam, where it was still very frosty:

The dam at Rutland Water.
View towards the dam.
As well as the usual ducks and loads of Great Crested Grebes, we managed to pick up on an elusive Black-throated Diver from the north end of the dam, then from the south end Black-necked Grebe, Black Redstart, Kingfisher and Red-crested Pochard! The highlight for me was the Black-necked Grebes - a close-knit group of 4 in stunning winter plumage with the sun bringing out the contrast between the black and white plumage and bright red eyes. They were good and close too, not always the case with these birds! There were also large numbers of Little Grebes around which allowed for a nice comparison.

After that we went to our main destination, the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre, already feeling we'd got our money's worth from the day! On the feeders outside the centre were several Marsh Tits along with Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinches and female Pheasants. We made our way round checking in at some of the hides, picking up Golden Plover, Snipe, Smew, Goosander, Goldeneye, Pintail, Green Sandpiper, Redshank and Egyptian Goose among others. We also saw a mobile and fair-sized flock of Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Goldfinch tucking into Alder seeds, and had lovely views of a Treecreeper - one of my favourites! I was very glad of my wellies as the paths were underwater at a couple of points. 

In the afternoon we sat in wait for the Barn Owl to emerge. While we waited, we saw hundreds of Common Gulls, a small flock of Curlews coming in to roost, and a Stock Dove chobbling around on one the islands. We were keeping our eyes on the distant Barn Owl box across the marsh, which had a promising-looking white blob on the front of it! As it was so distant though it took us some scrutinising before we accepted that it definitely was the Barn Owl! We were left in no doubt when it took off and started flying around :o) After a few circuits though it had obviously had enough, or maybe already found its dinner for the day, as it retired back into its box; the light was going too so it was home time for us too. What a smashing start to the year!

Waiting for Barn Owls.

Not many photos this time, and I wasn't able to do any sketching - however I'm hoping these are matters which will improve very soon, when I start using my new Nikon ED50 scope - just waiting for the eyepiece to arrive now! I will be able to get a much better look at birds for sketching, rather than just quick glimpses through Andy M and Mike P's scopes (thanks guys!) and am hoping to have a go at digiscoping too......can't wait!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

154. Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

Red Kites are an oft-cited example of a conservation success story in the UK, and why the hell not - at one point they were restricted to a small area of Wales, and now thanks to various reintroduction programmes around the country they are plentiful once more. I remember seeing one in the Black Mountains in Wales on a family holiday around 1990ish and being MEGA EXCITED, now I still get excited when I see one but it happens a lot more often! In fact it's more than likely I'll see a few tomorrow en route to, or at, Rutland Water. Hurrah!

Red Kites are very distinctive, with their long narrow wings, deeply forked tail and bright colours - a black-streaked silver head and rufous underparts and tail. They feed on carrion so don't need to be bulky and muscular to catch prey, so they are quite slim. In Europe, they are quite widely distributed but mostly in central and southerly parts, and the more northerly populations are migratory, although they don't go far - to southern Europe or Morocco. Their preferred habitat is hilly country interspersed with woodland.

Red Kite, ©Wilfbuck, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Red Kite painting.

Friday, 10 January 2014

153. Bonelli's Eagle (Aquila fasciata)

Bonelli's Eagle is distributed sparsely around parts of the Mediterranean and north Africa, with Spain being its stronghold in Europe; it is resident for the most part and does not migrate. It is a medium to large sized eagle which can sometimes look similar to a buzzard, but can be told apart by its feathered legs. In flight the adult is distinctive, with a pale body, dark wings and a broad dark square-ended tail tipped with a thick black band. The juvenile is pale rufous below with finely barred underwings and tail with no black band. Its preferred habitat is usually mountainous, sometimes open woodland or forest edges.

Bonelli's Eagle, ©Paco Gómez, via Wikimedia Commons.
Bonelli's Eagle painting.
Slightly funny shaped head here!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

152. Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)

Booted Eagles come in 2 main colour morphs, a dark and a pale. I've chosen the pale as it's the more common towards the west of the eagle's range. They breed in parts of the Mediterranean (Spain, Greece) and also in France, and more widely in parts of eastern Europe; they winter in sub-Saharan Africa. They are small Buzzard-like eagles, but with 6 'fingers' in the hand instead of the buzzards' 5 so that the wing appears less narrow towards the tip; most Booted Eagles also have small white patches on their forewings either side of their head ('landing lights') which buzzards lack (although very occasionally Honey Buzzards can have these too). Juvenile plumage is quite similar to the adults'. Booted Eagles like a mix of open ground and forests, hills and mountains.

Booted Eagle, ©JohnBWilson, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Booted Eagle painting.
I think my watercolour style is probably currently best described as 'enthusiastic' - basically throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't! Hopefully over time and with more practice I will develop a more consistent style. For now though I think this one worked :o)

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

151. Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Short-toed Eagles are quite widely but sparsely distributed across parts of southern, central and eastern Europe; they breed here and spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa. They are quite pale and often appear 'big-headed' when perched. They can look very similar to pale Common Buzzards in flight but are larger with only a few thick bars on their tail (Buzzards have fine, dense barring) and no dark carpal patches (which Buzzards do have). Short-toed Eagles are sometime called Short-toed Snake Eagles, as their favourite food is snakes. Their preferred habitat is variable and dependent on where they can find prey, but includes arid and heathland areas with hills or mountains and scattered woodland; further north they may also inhabit river valleys and forests.

Short-toed Eagle, ©MarioM, via Wikimedia Commons.
Short-toed Eagle painting.
This gets worse the further you get from the head - I ran out of time and patience to some extent. Still, fairly pleased with the head and breast!

Monday, 6 January 2014

150. Verreaux's Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)

Verreaux's Eagle is found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are a few populations further north, in Sinai, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is very large with black plumage and white windows on the primary flight feathers, and a pure white rump and distinctive white V or U shape on its back. The juvenile is more colourful, with a rufous nape, pale buff upperwing coverts and underparts with black speckling, and a white trailing edge on the wings and tail. I have chosen this photo to illustrate the wing shape - the exaggeratedly narrow wing base and bulging secondaries are very distinctive. Verreaux's Eagle lives in remote mountainous areas, and also semi-desert and savanna - anywhere it can find its favourite prey, Rock Hyrax.

Verreaux's Eagle, ©Jerry Oldenettel, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Verreaux's Eagle painting.
Not too shabby.

Friday, 3 January 2014

149. Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax)

Tawny Eagles are closely related to Steppe Eagles and look quite similar, however they are slightly smaller and chunkier and generally paler. Their wings and tail have no black trailing edge and are densely but finely barred, which appears indistinct compared to Steppe Eagles' heavier barring. Tawny Eagles also have a paler iris and the bill's yellow gape extends less far back. The juvenile plumage is also similar to Steppe Eagle but much paler and without the thick white band on the underwing. Tawny Eagles are found in small areas of Morocco and Algeria, and are more widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. Their preferred habitat is mountains, woodland, savanna, semi-desert and steppe plains.

Tawny Eagle, ©Lip Kee, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Tawny Eagle painting.
Again, colours a bit all over the place and proportions not too great either....hopefully I will improve once I get back into the swing of things (or just pick birds that aren't flying, heh).

Thursday, 2 January 2014

148. Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis)

Steppe Eagles occur occasionally in Europe but breed further east than this - their usual distribution starts in southern Russia north of the Caucasus and Caspian Sea and extends across Eurasia from there. They winter mostly in Africa, with a few in parts of the Middle East. They are large and long-winged, and can look very similar to the Lesser and Greater Spotted Eagles, but have longer wings, and if you get a good enough view (!) oval rather than round nostrils and a heavier bill with the yellow gape reaching further back under the eye. The flight and tail feathers are coarsely barred, more extensively than in the Spotted Eagles, and have a thick black trailing edge. The photo is of an immature bird; they are lighter brown with dark flight feathers separated by a white band and the flight and tail feathers have a white trailing edge. Their preferred habitat is lowland steppe plains, foothills and semi-desert.

Steppe Eagle, ©Tarique Sani, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Steppe Eagle painting.
Darn, I must be a bit out of practice from having a break over Christmas - ran out of time to finish and the colour's a bit lurid.