The past few months have been a blur with illustration work and commissions taking up a ridiculous chunk of my life, but from time to time I’ve allowed myself the indulgence of sneaking off to do some field study. Ducks come in many shapes and sizes but they are always challenging (and occasionally rewarding) to work from. An unprecedented number of pintails congregated at the Lock of Brockan during the early part of the year and, although very distant and quite wary, I managed a few sheets of drawings from my concealed vantage point in a low ditch 100 metres across the water.
February also brought waxwings to Stromness; somewhat later than is usual for this Scandinavian visitor. The suggestion that their homelands were providing a glut of berries on which they feed, encouraging them to stay in the north for longer seemed logical and a small party of four adults and a juvenile finally arrived at a time when we could normally be expecting them to be making the return trip. For a few days they brightened up a grey and cold February – a couple even making it into my own garden; an exhilarating sight. This watercolour is of one of the adults in an ash tree.
Two long-eared owls also decided that they would behave extremely co-operatively and showed beautifully in a bare-limbed sycamore tree in St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay. I made a few sheets of drawings and paintings on a freezing afternoon which culminated in this watercolour of one of the birds. It is destined to appear elsewhere at a later date (to be continued) . . .
I also started working in a slightly different manner recently. To try and keep a stronger element of drawing in my colour work, I resorted to a black ink marker pen; a tool which makes lines so far removed from anything in nature that it renders the pursuit of ‘realism’ obsolete. This allows me to concentrate more on exploring the structure and character of the birds, their behaviour and interaction and the elements of pure design in the work. And, although all the birds in the pictures are based on direct observation and drawings from life, they take on a fresh and contrasting personality through this medium.
May – the most exciting month of the year! Long absent friends return to breed, a few special winter visitors linger on and every now and then there’s the odd VIP who decide to drop into the isles on their route further north.
Last year I finally managed to connect with very long-lost friends; dotterels and, checking the ‘Rare Bird Alert’ distribution map last week I noticed there was a healthy sprinkling of these diminutive and exotic waders throughout Britain. Calling all ‘Orkbirders’ to arms I felt there was a really good chance of getting this species again. Hmmm – except I forgot Sally and I were already destined to make a weekend trip south. While I was enjoying a luxurious whirlpool bath in the hotel room a text message beeps through on the mobile – ‘Dotterels in Tankerness – NOW!’
Oh Shagggitttt!!! – not-a-fecking-gain! I know how lucky I was last year in connecting with this, my second favourite species, and were it not for the highly organised Orkney Rare Bird Alerter Mr Paul Higson, I would never have seen the seven in Tankerness in May 2009, but here he is on my mobile giving me the best news at the worst time. Ah well, nothing I can do but enjoy the short break and try to ignore the weekend’s football results.
On my return to Orkney I immediately check on the status of dotterel. None around! Anyhow life must go on (apparently) so off to the gallery I trudged. Halfway through packing a couple of paintings, I get a phone-call from Eric Meek – Mr. RSPB; ‘Tim, I’m watching these dotterels now – they’re in Tankerness’. Oh baby, baby – I hastily flick the ‘Closed’ sign in the window, chuck the‘scope, bins, sketchbook and a St Christopher in the car and a license-risking drive across the county puts me smack in front of the perfect foursome – 2 males and 2 sparkling females. The drawings don’t do anything like justice – but they are a viable account of the afternoon.