Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Lurking In The Shadows

We have all had that feeling when we are being watched, where the hairs on your neck tell you something sinister is lurking amongst the shadows. It is a sense that serves us well and evolved for good reason – predation. Predators such as the Goshawk not only bring balance to the food chain, they also breathe fear into an environment. There is a German saying that you know the goshawk is there ‘because you don’t see it’. An arboreal jaguar, the Goshawk is as adept at striking fur as feather and a perfect example of a calculating opportunist. Bang…this bird hits like a hammer and has the skill and nerve to match its lust for killing. It has a wide range in culinary tastes that enable it to take mammals as large as hares (the female Gos is much bigger than the male, so this is gender dependant) to rabbits and squirrels. Feathered quarry range from pheasant and wood pigeon, to corvids and crossbill (yes, I once found the remains on a nest site plucking post) and everything in between.


For such a bold apex predator, very few people have ever seen one. Countrymen with serious knowledge and experience rarely get more than a glimpse if they are lucky, and that includes having the field-craft to even know where its home range lies. Its an apparition, a flash of barred steel grey, an ephemeral glimpse, even then your brain has to try and process the data to comprehend it was what you thought it was, or maybe just a dream-like fantasy where you convinced yourself it could have been a Goshawk? It’s like a Sparrowhawk on steroids - very similar in design but so much larger and bulkier. In contrast to the Spar, the Goshawk in flight has a much deeper chest, rounded tail and more conspicuous head and neck. A true Olympian of the hawking world and if you were to put both the Gos and Spar on the podium, it would be like the clash of the titans between Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu in their heyday!

Certain species evolved over millennia for one purpose only and that's to kill for survival. Predators play a vital balance in the eco-system, and while many people cannot relate to the bloodlust of certain creatures, I have always been fascinated by their intelligence and ability to survive. I have noticed through observation over many years that most predators are more intelligent than herbivores. This is not a given with some of the largest primates like gorillas and orang-utans being highly intelligent, but on the whole it seems to be the case. Regarding food, if you think about most herbivores' requirements, they have not had to develop the skillset to outwit their chlorophyll prey (granted though, they must evade capture). Vegetation grazing at ground level or any other kind of plant matter is a simple process not requiring wit, cunning or premeditative tactics to meet your daily nutritional needs. On the other hand a predator has to make calculated judgements every time it wants to feed, with no two scenarios the same it takes a highly intelligent creature to perform this task each feeding time. Oftentimes, predators such as the Goshawk have no more than a few milliseconds to make an adjustment to achieve success (or failure) resulting in the greatest price for its prey - death. The fear it brings to its environment can also be a good thing as it keeps clever egg and nestling opportunists such as magpies and crows on the move and looking over their shoulders. It is interesting that small birds such as the Goldcrest have been documented breeding extremely close to Goshawk nests due to the protection they afford from such opportunists – obviously they are too small a meal!




The Goshawk embodies all the attributes of an excocet missile and to watch one flash through a woodland glade, ride or boundary edge is nothing short of hair-raising. In fact its turn of speed through close wooded quarters can appear to defy physics. To try and depict this bird in any other way would be an injustice and a complete lack of understanding on my part, it’s like the velociraptor of the bird world...in fact mention the word ‘Goshawk’ to anyone in the know and their response would say it all I guess! If one bird were solely designed for killing its victim with precision and lack of empathy, the Goshawk would be close to pole position. As a sprinter its short broad wings and long tail aid acceleration, pursuit and manoeuvrability in both deciduous and coniferous forest. Combine these attributes with stout legs and extremely powerful talons and you have the recipe for a bird designed for ambush tactics using speed and skill to bring down prey with a very high success rate. I have been more than lucky in my time to witness wild hunting and nesting Goshawks, but on most occasions, nothing more than a ghostly flash. I even have footage of a first year bird with its prey on the ground, along with other close encounters I have witnessed, which have left long lasting memories.

The piece I have put together is 740mm x 340mm (drawing Size)on grey-toned art-board, with mix media consisting of ink pen, graphite and white chalk. I wanted to try and capture elements of the Goshawks energy, from the glazed look of a serial killer, to the ghostly outline passing through a woodland glade, along with powerful talons that show the sheer power this hawk possesses in that pounce of sinew, bone and hook. The piece is for sale professional mounted and framed. 
                                                                
                                                                     Priced £370





I have also been sketching to try and work out the composition for a large Sparrowhawk drawing I have in-mind this year. This sketch piece is also for sale on A3 paper (drawing Size 190mm x 100mm)                                                           
                                                                          Priced £120




The last drawing for sale is a Peregrine study, once again on A3 paper (Drawing Size 330mm x 290mm) and this time something a little different with an internal border added to the paper - it’s something I have been playing around with and you will be seeing more of this feature incorporated into future pieces. The reference for this drawing was gathered from a wild peregrine that had been injured, which allowed me to spend a day with the bird just before she was released.
                                                                    
                                                                     Priced £200


I hope you enjoy my latest works focused around birds of prey, but once again a big jump on the board over the last month and I'm back drawing fish and fishing related subjects!
PLEASE REMEMBER TO CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO VIEW A LARGER IMAGE, GIVING A BETTER PERSPECTIVE OF THE ORIGINAL PIECE.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Flash Of Blue

When I think of my time spent wandering the river bank, a bird that first springs to mind is the Kingfisher. No other bird is more synonymous with angling, and no other angler is more consistent at catching fish than one of my favourite waterside birds. When you get the wonderful opportunity to view this beautiful bird at close quarters, it is like Mother Nature went overboard with the colour palette, such bold and striking colours. Combine those colours with late evening sunlight and it is hard to describe in written words the brilliance of that electric blue central stripe cresting the length of its back from mantle to tail - nature at its most beautiful.



Over time I have become accustomed to the high pitched single note that announces the Kingfisher’s presence. Often produced in flight and lasting less than a few milliseconds, each note precedes that iridescent flash. With just enough time for the call to register, you pause and look up from the float as he powers past with conviction. Banking hard to one side like a fighter jet, he twists and turns following the contour of the land, all the while tracking the stream like a rally driver co-pilot using an ordnance survey map. After what can only be described as a moment in time, you refocus back on the stick float which is no longer present, only to bump the fish due to not striking the hook home....Arrrrrrr! I never have worked out how that happens, or coincides with turning to your rucksack for a flask or sandwiches only to miss that single bite of the day....I'm sure these fish are watching us.








Towards the end of last year I started working in watercolour and thought the Kingfisher being so bold & beautiful would provide the perfect range of colours for which to try my hand. To be honest, I found it quite instinctive and soon got to grips with controlling a brush instead of my usual pencil - the difference in speed is staggering and much more fluid. I soon realised that mastering a pencil is far more demanding and painstakingly slow compared to working in watercolour. Nonetheless, graphite develops essential skills and is equally rewarding. I haven't worked in oil yet, but I have been building up to that moment and will start this year, so keep tuned for a change in my future works. Instead of a static pose, I wanted to express the Kingfisher’s motion in watercolours; this resulted in a 3-stage piece blending from graphite pencil into partial colour, with the final bird presented in full colour. Maybe this was a transition stage in my mind from pencil to paint, either way I was really pleased with the resulting effect, which is something I do not say very often.



 

                                                                          
                                                                                  SOLD

After a couple of recent attempts in watercolour, I swung back to graphite pencil for my latest piece, a Kingfisher on an anglers rod tip...why would it be anything else! I had chosen a lovely old cane rod to maintain a traditional feel to the piece. Using strong side light, I could add a nice dark shadow to the underside of the bird to produce maximum depth. It is not an easy subject to depict in graphite because your mind subconsciously links this bird to colour, so it was important for me to try and achieve a large tonal range to provide the illusion of colour.





For sale priced at £250, double cream mounted. Actual drawing dimensions 300mm x 110mm Graphite on Artboard. SOLD







Raptor blog coming soon!

Monday, 6 March 2017

A Frozen Tail

It has been some time since I last posted on my Art blog. This is not to say I haven't been busy, in fact just the opposite, but this is my first blog for 2017 and tailored for the angler rather than artist. It’s a post I have wanted to put together for a while and the perfect situation had arisen over the course of the winter. I have to harvest fish stocks every two years from our fishery business and I have seen numerous examples of what I'm about to explain. However, I never managed to gather any photographic evidence to prove it so when I have recounted the story to fellow anglers in the past, I have noticed a look of disbelief and sniggering, whilst all the while I try to convince them it’s the truth and not another ‘old wives’ tale’. Of all the fresh water fish I have had to deal with over the years nothing can compare to the Tench for being the toughest of all.....it’s almost indestructible!

If you can imagine, when you drain a lake you are left with lots of little puddles of water on the lake bed and these frequently contain very small fish, anything from roach to perch fry, along with tench and the odd small jack pike. Most of these fish will not survive more than a few hours and that's if they can evade the Heron & Egrets capitalising on the easy free meal. In the past I have observed Marsh harrier working the lake beds, along with night raids from Boar, Fox & even Pine Marten. Once the bulk of the fish have been removed a team of men will then work the remainder of the lake bed in a grid fashion just to make sure nothing has been missed.

 Unfortunately with fingerling size fish it’s almost impossible to save them all and I justify this by the bird life capitalising on the free meal over the harsh winter period so nothing is lost or wasted....which is always the case with the natural environment. One year all the tench had been harvested and graded into large tanks that are loaded onto a pickup ready to be transported. This particular evening the weather had been cruel and the fish dealer arrived late, so we worked into dark with hands the colour of blue steel and core body temperatures that felt like the inside of a chest freezer. With the job complete, we retired for the evening, cold and wet and tired. The following morning we awoke to -4oC and a hard frost carpeting the outside world.....after slipping back into the frozen waders and preparing for the daily events, I noticed a small tench no longer than 4" long frozen to the pickup bed. It was frozen solid to the steel and I could not prise it off. As I stopped and took a close look, pitying my mistake, I thought its eye moved slightly within its socket.....it cannot be I thought, so I gathered a bucket of water and poured it over the fish to defrost it off the steel floor. After quickly transferring into a bucket of water, within 10 minutes that fish was swimming around. Now I know that's hard to believe because that fish had spent a minimum of 12 hours out of water and was then frozen solid in -4 oC temps and it still survived! Unbelievable and just goes to show when a lake freezes in winter and the fish bed down into the soft silt to enter a dormant state, they have little to worry about compared to that poor chap.


This winter a similar scenario happened, only this time a small tench was missed underneath the weighing scales when fish had to be graded and weighed. You might think ‘how careless’ but when you are talking of 1000s of fish that require grading it’s very easy to lose or miss something as long as your hand. Nevertheless, this little tench lay there all night frozen to the trailer which I inadvertently stumbled across in the morning when the steel scales were moved - as can be seen in the first picture with the grass and mud frozen to his flanks.

Once again his little red eye swivelled in its socket, I placed him into the bucket to defrost, washed his flanks to remove the frozen debris and as can be seen from the series of pictures you can see how miraculously it comes alive and swims away to fight another day. Now if that's not one of nature’s miracles!


This is a story I really wanted to share, it doesn't tie in with my artwork very well but gives you a little insight into my working life outside of art. It is a small indication of how the natural world can still leave me speechless after all these years. I have drawn the tench on numerous occasions; my last attempt was in a different medium using Ink on scraper board for the illustrations in the wonderful book ‘A Coming of Age’ by Stuart Harris, a gifted writer and angler. I'm afraid this drawing is now sold along with my other tench works, but I'm sure it won’t be the last one now I know the magical powers this fish possesses.

I hope you enjoyed the story; my next blog is linked to water but this time a little more colourful!


 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

"A Coming Of Age" By Stuart Harris

I have been quietly working away on a lovely project for an angling book that is now ready to be published in the next month and available on pre order now. It is available from ‘The Little Egret Press’, which is a small bespoke angling publication company that specialises in limited edition books and exquisite leather bindings! It has been anything but work and something I feel grateful to have been involved with, enjoying every minute reading each enchanting chapter, and trying to link my artwork with the wonderful written words. The aim has been to ensure the reader gains a visual connection throughout the book, which I feel, is an important link.

You may not have not heard of Stu who carries the pseudonym ‘The Sweetcorn Kid’; his real name is Stuart Harris and this is his second book. Stu’s first book is ‘From Carbon to Cane’ and it’s a fantastic read in itself, highlighting that angling enjoyment can be found by returning to basics, in other words, leaving the mountain of modern day tackle behind! The book reveals that angling is so much more than just catching fish - for Stu it was a pilgrimage that led to reverting back to tackle used more than 50 years ago, and through this journey, becoming the angler he is today. His second publication ‘A Coming of Age’ is based on a full season diary of events, fishing all manner of venues from the Legendary Redmire Pool, to far more discreet venues that in some ways are even more mysterious and exciting than Redmire itself. Stu is a very accomplished all-round angler, more than happy fishing the pin and cane for monstrous Gudgeon, chasing dark, scaly shadows that inhabit ‘The Moat’, or summer days float fishing for the most ancient of Crucian Carp, winter Grayling and spring Tench....the list goes on!

For better and worse, angling has changed significantly over the last 10 years and it's becoming increasingly more difficult to find natural venues, unspoilt by the passage of human feet and interference...hence the inspiration for this book....and like the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ it contains tales that take you on an enchanting journey into another world. You flit from one venue to the next and become immersed in the underwater world of angling, along with wildlife that most anglers have the privilege to enjoy whilst spending time on the bank side. Rest assured, this is not just another glory book of ‘look at me holding another lake record’ influenced by nothing more than lbs, ounces and self-gratification.

For those who know me, my time is limited through various commitments, therefore it is imperative I enjoy my art and for those reasons I have stopped taking on commissions of subjects I don't connect with. I believe this is quite a natural progression for many artists, and fortunately I don't have to pay the mortgage from my work, so without this pressure I have the freedom to enjoy what I do. This year I have been asked to illustrate for a number of books, but getting involved with ‘The Sweetcorn Kid’ was something I dearly wanted to do. It's all about the passion for me and that's what is evident about Stu and his angling...beaming smiles with every shot, enthusiasm for his venues and tackle, appreciating all fish regardless of size and stopping to marvel at the flora and fauna along the way. That's the essence of angling right there and it’s why I have always been a lifelong fishing addict. For too many anglers these days it's a job....and nothing is more obvious than a deadpan look while holding another carp like it's another day at the office......well deal-me-out and ‘stop this ride because I'm getting off’. The day the passion is dead I'm taking up golf!

I won't go into any more detail regarding the book and I don't do cheap plugs....but if like myself, your passion is for the things I have mentioned above, then go buy yourself a copy. Along with Stu's great storytelling, he has this inherent ability to capture an image with the camera....I have other friends who are gifted at taking pictures and it's purely a natural skill....you either have it or not! With every turn of the page you will be spellbound by the images which complement this book greatly. Beautifully written words enhance the visual element of the images and art, enabling you to break through the meniscus into angling heaven, and this is where my part is played in this wonderful book.

Stu requested at the beginning that the 22 chapters were to be accompanied with a drawing....treading carefully with his words knowing it was a huge undertaking for myself, and not wanting to be cheeky, well let's just say that the final count amassed 45 drawings (the fact he has a grip like Giant Haystack's had nothing to do with it, honest). It was important for me that the illustrations connected with each chapter, not just a random image with no meaning. I started by reading each chapter and when images jumped from Stu’s writing into my imagination, I would scribble down ideas and combine these with input from the man himself. Eventually, after bashing ideas back and forth, we managed to come up with the chosen drawings. Stu was very keen on the idea of ink drawings, preferring black and white images over graphite pencil or colour, and also being heavily influenced by some of the past great angling books and his own hero's! With this in mind I wanted to try a new technique and use ink on white scraper board, i.e. the one used by "BB" himself, and another of my favourite artists Charles Tunnicliffe. The surface is not paper but card with a very thin coating of china clay applied to the surface. This allowed me to both illustrate in ink pen and apply ink washes with a brush to the surface, but the magic is created by scratching the surface with a sharp implement to remove specific areas of ink and reveal the white under layer. Whilst this is not so obvious to many (thinking it's just ink on paper) it allowed me to develop very fine detail in areas that can add a third dimension to the work. Even though it's a very old technique that some of the great illustrators have used extensively in the past, I very much wanted to add my own style after finding some of the older works a little one dimensional in some cases. Hopefully you will enjoy what I have put together and if it encompasses Stu's written words and enriches the book, well then I have played my part well!

 


Most of the works will be available to buy, I will add a few to this blog to give you an insight of the pieces, but in the meantime if you have any questions please feel free to contact me via the blog email or from my Facebook Art page ( Adam Entwistle British Wildlife & Angling Artist).

 

All works are ink on A4 White scraper board; they will be double mounted along with backing board ready for framing. Priced on average at £120 each, with some of the more detailed works £150 and smaller pieces £90. Each piece is totally unique, with no prints or reproductions available they will become small collection pieces in the future and hopefully grow in value.

 

Just to kick things off the finest fisherman of all........




Monday, 18 July 2016

Darwin's Theory

Blogs have been thin on the ground this year due to primary work pressures leaving me less time to concentrate on my art. On a positive note I did not let my artwork slip and have been enthusiastically beavering away in the background honing my skills. I have however completed 5 large drawings this summer for a property company in London, who are looking to base their advertising around birds of the Galapagos Islands and Darwin’s voyage of discovery. I was reluctant at first to take the project on because of the non-British species, which are my passion. Having loosely studied Darwin in the past, I whole heartily agree his findings provide us with an understanding of the basis to life on this planet. Charles Darwin was an English naturalist who whilst embarking on a 5 year voyage around the world, diligently studied the rich flora and fauna that culminated in his ‘Theory of Evolution’. If you have not read "On the Origin of The Species", and are averse to deep religious doctrines, it’s a must to for explaining how each species has adapted over millennia to evolve from basic living organisms into complex animals like ourselves. This he called ‘Theory of evolution by natural selection’.  Regardless of whether you agree, it is certainly thought provoking and if you look closely, you will see it is mirrored in every corner of the natural world. On this premise alone I thought it was worth the effort. While voyaging, Darwin discovered the Galapagos Islands and noticed how the islands Finches had wide variations in beak and claw size, which had adapted to the local food source. This became the basis for his work and the Tanager’s Finch (Oreothraupis arremonops) was named after Darwin, becoming known as ‘Darwin’s Finch’ and one of the subjects that would be the main focus of the project.



With only 3 weeks to produce 5 detailed A3 size Graphite works, it was no mean feat, so alas, day & night it was to be if I was to stand any chance of completing on time! The project was clearly defined and the design team knew exactly what they had in mind. After a few email discussions and rough sketches to outline the pose of each subject, I started with the first bird - the Blue Footed Booby (Sula nebouxii). As comical as the name is, please take a look at any image of this bird and its clear to see why they should be a child's cartoon character! Its hilarious walking movement reminds me of a sergeant majors frog march, combined with a gannet-like head and bright blue webbed feet; they are a curious work of nature.

After studying video footage to obtain the character of the species, I set about depicting one stood on a rock boulder, which seems a favourite pastime of this bird. I wanted to capture the ‘colour without colour’ which is an oxymoron in itself,  but by emphasizing the tones in graphite I hoped to achieve a balance that would display the bird in all its glory – a lot to ask from a basic pencil!


Second on the list was the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), a bird I'm sure you have all seen at wildlife parks and zoos. A regal bird of elegance and beauty with its stunning salmon pink coloration, and unique bill designed for filter feeding in shallow lagoons, it is like no other bird on the planet. Its long slim legs are designed for wading in water whilst keeping its body clear of the surface and they move like dancing ballerinas......but once again, I had to depict this beauty without colour, so bold shadows and highlights where required to breathe life and depth into the bird.




Next on the list was the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) which is virtually identical to our Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Apart from a few slight colouration differences on areas of its feathering and legs, you can see the very close resemblance, so I had no issues drawing this one. Whilst it retains the typical Heron stance when stood still, flying or hunting, it certainly lives up to its name as its 4.5ft tall with a huge 6.5ft wingspan!

The 4th species on my list was by far the most difficult to draw - the Magnificent Frigate bird (Fregata magnificens). To look at, it’s a very unusual bird indeed with its marauding hawk-like flight and long forked tail and scimitar wings. Black in colour with a slight oily sheen, they snatch prey from the surface of the water and do not dive like other species. Its beak is a very sharp hook designed to aid in the catching of its prey, and combined with an 8 foot wingspan, it is a master of the air. It also has a very dramatic courtship display with the females flying overhead in search of a mate, while the males remain perched on a branch inflating a football-sized blood red neck pouch. It has a strange looking fleshy air sack that is almost heart-like in shape, looking somewhat perverted (maybe that's just my obscure imagination). Either way, a quick look at any photo reference and you can clearly see this defining scrotal feature which was a damn pain to render in Graphite! As a thin membrane of skin covered in small veins and akin to a party balloon, it is the one feature I knew of all the species that would test my patience and skill.

With the 4th piece now complete I was looking forward to the final subject, the one bird which exemplified Darwin's work, so I dearly wanted to do it justice. Replicating Darwin's own drawing of the Tanager's finch (one of 13 in the family), I also wanted to present the bird in a more accurate fashion than the original work, whilst retaining the heritage of his most famous subject. Hours were spent researching and taking cuttings of plants that would represent the bird’s ideal perch. I completed the final drawing just within the allotted time frame and was more than happy with my attempt. I hope you have enjoyed this blog; it is of greater magnitude than my small existence. In the process it has taken me on a voyage to understand Darwin's work a little more, and appreciate how the way we view the world today is based on this one man's theory.

 

All drawings completed in Graphite pencil on A3 sized, slight cream toned paper to give a more authentic feel to the works.

 

Strict copyright on all images.

 

My next blog will be based on kingfishers in watercolour and a fishing book project containing 25 chapter drawings, which has been a privilege and very enjoyable too!


 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Curlew Walk

I received an email last week from a good friend who is more than a dab hand with a camera! We had been talking about all things bird related and he forwarded on some lovely Curlew photos. I know I can say this about many birds, but this species is one for which I have really fond memories. A lady named Mary Colwell-Hector is using the images mentioned, as she is currently in the process of raising funds to highlight the plight of the curlew another iconic species that has been placed on the red list. I looked into Marys campaign and soon realised this ladies passion for the Curlew, as she is soon to embark on a 500 mile fund raising walk from the east coast of Ireland to the east coast of England. Yes, thats right, 500 miles is a long way indeed for anyone to walk, and this prompted me to put pencil to paper to try and help in someway.

 

The family business is currently very hectic, however I have managed to set time aside each evening to put together 3 drawings based on these fantastic Curlew images; 2 in ink and 1 graphite. By my reckoning, if someone is prepared to go to those lengths to help raise awareness about the Curlews predicament, the very least I could do is show some support.

 

The Curlew is just one of many birds that are in decline and its numbers have dropped by 90% in the last 20 years in Ireland alone. That is a staggering figure indeed, followed by an 80% decline in Wales and a further 50% throughout the rest of the UK. At this rate it could be lost for good if no measures are taken to help in someway. Some might say so what, its just another brown bird on a long list of animals that are in danger world wide, but sometimes we have to look closer to home, because these once common birds could be pushed to the point of extinction. What we dont understand, we wont help preserve. Its not all about Rhino, Elephant and big cats yes, they are equally deserving and require protection for future generations; however, its the call of the wild closer to home that pulls on my heartstrings. Species I have seen with my own eyes and observed in their natural habitat will understandably resonate more personally. The Curlew is a bird that takes me back to the wild expansive hills of the Derbyshire Pennines. Its call is like no other bird in the British Isles and I clearly remember the first time I heard its song many years ago in late May a haunting signature, rising and drifting over the moors on a warm wind. Its a call that is almost impossible to render in words, but it begins as a succession of low, drawn-out liquid notes, that build momentum slowly into a loud high-pitched crescendo of bubbling trills. It truly is an evocative call that once heard you will neither forget nor mistake with anything else. I know a small area of moorland where a few pairs faithfully return each year to nest, and have observed them many times on their breeding ground whilst sat amongst the heather with flask, binoculars and sandwiches at hand, listening to the Bilberry Bumblebee (another declining species) buzzing over the heather on a warm still afternoon. Around me the male Curlew calls to the female, all the while acting-out his display flight, with the pair enjoying the solitude of the wild moors far away from the disturbance of man.

 

The Curlew is the UKs largest wader, a tall bottle shaped bird with typical long wader legs and a very long curved bill, which is used for foraging earthworms, molluscs and crustaceans in soft coastal mudflats and moorland peat bogs. Its primary colour pattern is pale beige interspersed with chocolate brown streaks over the crown and nape, then progressing along the mantle and breast, terminating with a white rump and darker tail. What the Curlew lacks in bold colour, it more than compensates with charm, gracious contours and the most beautiful feminine facial features. With long strutting legs, they stand boldly upright and give the impression of a catwalk supermodel. They are a timid bird, shy and wary, and tend to take flight if approached; flying high with a slow wing beat that often planes for some distance before landing. They can be gregarious outside of the breeding season, grouping in flocks near shorelines and estuaries, but will move inland during periods of high water.

 
It would be heart breaking to lose a bird that has inspired generations of writers and poets, along with naturalists and hill walkers alike. Anyone who has had the pleasure to observe this unique bird will surely understand it deserves all our attention. So what can you do? Its not just a simple case of sticking your hand in your pocket, we have a million and one charities for all manner of subjects, which try to pull on your heart strings and encourage you to donate. Forgive my cynicism, but I do sometimes wonder how much reaches the intended target, but as you have read this far, I will ask you to take a minute to read Marys page http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-curlew-walk and make up your own mind. If you think it is worth donating to help what I think is a very worthy cause, then let me put it into perspective - the price of a pint these days, along with fish and chips will cost you a tenner, so save your waistline the pain of those extra calories, and give both Mary and the Curlew a much needed boost to which only good can prevail.


 

The 3 drawings I have put together will be donated to Marys cause and auctioned to the highest bidders. You will effectively be donating 100% of the funds to the project. In turn, you get the chance to hopefully enjoy a piece of art that displays the charm of this charismatic bird.

 



I really hope this blog strikes home and highlights the Curlews current dire situation, but perhaps more than that, it makes you appreciate some of the finest flora and fauna the UK has to offer. Best of all it is right here on our doorstep, so as spring approaches, pick-up your binoculars, get out, and blow off those cobwebs...it beats daytime TV any day of the week!

 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Keeper’s Nemesis

I have just completed a life study of a dead Jay, I know, that sounds macabre, but it’s a subject we can all relate to, life & death. As a young lad growing up exploring the countryside at every available opportunity, I was always fascinated by anything I found dead on my travels. Those creatures ranged from shrews to dead birds, or black & orange Sexton beetles feeding on carcases that the keeper had strung-up on his gibbet! Just like a criminal investigator it would provide me with the chance to analyse the scene - most of the time very quickly and instinctively for clues as to why it had died...which is all exciting stuff as a young lad. You never really get the opportunity to admire those fine details of an animal or bird until its up-close and personal. Yes, I have seen the Jay a 1000 times with its slow rowing wing beat as it passes from one tree to the next, never straying too far from cover, or that distinctive harsh raking call, but to admire its beautiful plumage in your hands is something else. Personally, I think they are by far the most beautiful corvid family member, with an array of bold colours that somehow seem to blend into their surrounding environment. The Jay has a black moustache and white throat, and a speckled crown that can be raised like a crest when excited. Its underbelly and flanks are painted with subtle salmon pink and cinnamon hues, whilst a white rump and (almost) black tail finish off with bold blue, black and white barred wing coverts that make for a really stunning looking bird.
Like all other members of the corvid family, it is very intelligent too. They are great mimics and I have heard them on many occasions perfectly copy Buzzard, Crow and even Goshawk calls. They have a habit of hiding acorns in the fall just like a squirrel, the term is ‘caching or hoarding’ which stems from the French word ‘cache’ which is ‘hidden or hide’. The key difference with the Jay is it possesses a more accurate memory, which helps when retrieving the acorns later in the winter period; unlike the squirrel, which seems only to locate a percentage of its treasure!

You do hear Jays calling to one another as they skulk from cover to cover, but rarely do they sit out in the open for long periods like the Crow or Magpie. The latter will happily walk an open field for long lengths of time looking for all manner of food items. I think because of the Jays secretive nature, its general habits go unnoticed by the public. Everyone knows what a Crow or Magpie looks like, but the habits of the Jay make it more inconspicuous. The first time I found one of the blue-barred feathers, I stuffed it into my pocked and rushed home to show ‘Dad’ this exotic parrot feather I had found! As a youngster this first encounter left me feeling perplexed as so few British Bird species have blue feathers at all. These natural little jewels have been highly prized for fly tying, and many a trout angler would have something in their fly-box that would contain the magic blue feather of the Jay. It was also common practice to see one worn in the headband of a countryman’s trilby.

 

During early part of the 19th century the Jay (like many of the corvid family) was culled by Game Keepers countrywide, not just for game bird egg and chick predation, but they will happily consume all manner of other birds offspring with gusto. I have watched individual birds locate the nest site by watching the adult bird give the game away very easily when to-ing and fro-ing to the nest with food for their chicks. When a victim bird is incubating her clutch, the male, depending on the species, will sometimes sit close by quickly changing over at dawn and dusk to relieve the female of her duties. This is the time I have watched Jays with my binoculars waiting very patiently to pinpoint the site, only to swoop in and raid the nest like a perfect high street robbery, all in what seems like a split second moment. If unsuccessful they will return daily until they have fulfilled their mission. I know some will say “well, that's nature” and to some degree that is the case, but with the current scarcity of many top apex raptors/carnivores, this has created a significant rise in mid-level predators/opportunists. Like other members of the corvid family, this is one of the reasons they are so abundant in the UK. They have adapted well to life in towns and gardens, living in close proximity to humans; their success has allowed numbers to steadily rise. Keepers were well aware of the Jays behaviour, but would also remove raptors at the same time, so maybe it was counterproductive to some degree.

 

I hope this gives you a little insight into the Jays behaviour, and if you look around any local park or large garden, or deciduous woodland or old hedgerow, you will be sure to observe one with patience. Listen out for that screeching alarm call as they communicate with each other, not too dissimilar to a pack of arboreal mobsters.

 

Love or hate, it’s a beautiful bird that has been part of the British landscape for millennia and last autumns acorn planting sessions will mean the Jay efforts will help germinate more oak trees than all the UK human population put together, now there’s a thought.

 

Drawing is life sized and in Graphite pencil.

 

For Sale £200

 

My next post will be all about a predator of real power, agility and presence...one that was traditionally regarded as the top woodland hunter and kept the Jay numbers in balance.