Thursday, 2 August 2012

You Gotta Roll With It

In this summer of Olympic achievement and dreams being realised, one of my own came true!  Birds and bird-art are deeply engraved into my psyche, mainly through exposure to ‘Thorburn’s Birds’ as a four year old child – several decades ago.  Of the birds beautifully depicted in watercolour on those complex yet superbly designed colour plates, many stuck in my mind, but the one with woodpeckers on it also contained a very special bird indeed; the European Roller.  I’ve wanted to see one of these kaleidoscopic wonders ever since.

We are very lucky to live in Orkney – it’s a place of wonderful landscapes and fabulous birds and, from time to time, some unusual ones find themselves off course and on the islands.  We are also lucky in that many folk are tuned in to the wonders of the avian world and news gets circulated via our own birding grapevine ‘Orkbird’ ( and a very special Orkney Rare Bird Alert texting service.

When the local quarry-owner’s wife reported that she had just nearly run-over a parrot in Finstown, it didn’t take long for the bird to be relocated and (correctly) identified as a European Roller.  The news spread like wildfire and on Friday 27th July, I first connected with this long-awaited beauty.  I managed a brief but very satisfying view on my way to label the exhibition at the Loft Gallery ( and returned later that day to begin fieldwork. 

Over the next few days I spent as much time as family and work would permit (the gallery in Stromness may just have been closed a little earlier than usual) and by the time the bird finally left the site, I had a few useful colour sketches of the bird and habitat and I finally managed to bring the whole experience round full circle with a fully-fledged watercolour painting depicting this most memorable and long-awaited event. 
'The Orkney Roller'
watercolour, 27"x22"

So – a childhood dream has come true for me.  And now I can only hope this magical bird, having finally found me, can now find its way back to southern Europe and re-join its kin in warmer climes.  And a footnote to this 45-year story;  on the very same plate which Archibald Thorburn painted almost exactly 100 years ago, tucked away in the top-left corner is a wee bird which I still remain to see – lesser-spotted woodpecker.  Hmmmm – any chance one of THOSE can make it to Orkney . . . . . ?


Unknown said...

Great text to support your usual beautiful images. Wonderful.

Sharon Whitley said...

They certainly are beautiful birds and what a thrill for you to see one on your territory like that - wonderful sketches and final painting - I've got some lovely ref photos of the lilac breasted roller they have at Chester zoo which is on my ever growing list of birds to paint - what colours!! Not the same as seeing them in the wild of course but next best thing! How wonderful it must be to live up where you do - a long way from Wales!!! but certainly plan to visit one day - my friend has just returned from a holiday in Shetland lucky thing! Apologies for this rambling reply to your post, great blog and love your artwork!

Nick Derry said...

well what a brilliant batch, I can only imagine what my first roller will be like, but I hope it's every bit as disgustingly good as the last page of fieldwork - even if it's only half as exciting, I'd be happy as a pig in muck.

john said...

Wonderful artwork, like usual. I have enjoyed seeing these rollers in South Africa, and Uganda.
Here in Alaska, we have a similar yahoo bird group. From it I have been able to see some good Eurasian strays like, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redwing, Dusky Thrush, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Widgeon, Red-necked Stint and more.

Fran A.H. Alvarado said...

Great pictures of European Roller. I´ve seen this beautiful bird on the lamp posts on the road when driving near Seville, in the south of Spain.
It´s fantastic one of them has gone to your Island.


Valéria Souza said...

Estou encantada com tanta harmonia em tuas aquarelas. Belíssimo trabalho, parabéns!

South Africa News Online said...

It is a great art painting the pictures of the animals with nature like the birds with the moving trees. I love this art very much and learning it.