It’s a while since I tried to paint a bird, but a couple of things have inspired me to have another go, the first being my friend Martin’s painting of a peregrine falcon, and the second being the Allonby Art Fair which is on this weekend (the last in July) – the 34th held in aid of the Village Hall restoration project, and jolly fine it is too. So many gifted local artists, all creating great work to display and potentially sell. Its all very inspiring. So here’s my humble painting of the wonderful small raptor that is a merlin. I’ve left it as it came out of the box, complete with raindrops, as this painting was done outdoors at one sitting. There’s alterations/additions I could make to perhaps improve it, but I like the faulted spontaneity of it so its getting left in peace! Hope the same is true for the merlins themselves.

Seeing things anew ………

The Solway today was quite a dramatic place to be. The recent stormy weather had abated a little but the signs of instability could be seen in the cloud formations. Over Scotland it was clearly still raining but the clear blue skies to the west heralded more promise. A flock of c90 lapwing passed overhead as the oystercatchers and curlew hugged the shoreline in their irrepressible way. Our two Estrela dogs were keeping our eyes and hands busy. Meanwhile I had a new lens to try out – a Yashica ML 35mm. This is, in fact, an old lens that had been used, as originally intended on film cameras. These days I mainly shoot with film but the Yashica had been rebuilt and converted for use on Canon digital SLR. The man responsible for this clever tweak is Eddie Houston aka The Lens Doctor. Eddie specialises in giving wonderful old lenses (often optically superior to their modern counterparts) a new lease of life. Its basically recycling – and hats off to  Eddie for doing such a terriffic job. The lenses he sells have all been restored to a professional quality, fitted with a converter and chip to offer compatibility with Canons and offer great value.

The shot above is a bit blurry – but I love the richness of the colours and the contrast between sky and land.

Lunch with a Great White Egret

Another day in Cumbria and a birdwatching trip with Martin into the hinterlands that lie north west of Wigton. As you cross the Maryport/Carlisle bypass headed towards Kirkbride it is akin to entering another world. A slower world where the houses merge into the low margins of saltmarsh and roughland. Hugging the mist we made our way towards Bowness-on-Solway, calling in on the RSPB reserve at Campfield Marsh. Now we had heard about the Great White Egret that had wintered on the Solway, but we had no expectation of seeing this iconic bird. It was much to our surprise then when, upon stepping out of the car, the egret came into clear view, fishing from a pool approximately 100 yards away. After five minutes he flew off towards the coast and we carried on walking around the reserve watching all kinds of ducks, waders, and raptors, and generally having a grand time. As the hour crept round to midday, hunger started gnawing at the fabric of the day, We baled out and continued a little way down the single track road that leads to Anthorn, to lay up by a coastal saltmarsh pool for lunch. Sandwiches and flasks came out, and then, the realisation that we were not alone. Harassed by a couple of herons above us, the Great White Egret was once again in view. He settled down with the competing herons to engage in some serious fishing whilst we, sitting in the car, pulled on our sandwiches, enjoying the sublime beauty of this very special moment.

The Great Divide

It cropped up a couple of times yesterday. The Great Divide. Firstly, whilst I was out watching owls, discussing the various reasons that people enjoy watching birds with some others These reasons generally fall into two categories. The first is what we may term “romantic”. In this case people simply love birds. They love them for what they are. They do not feel a need to know every detail about a species or individual bird. They are  not overly concerned with photographing, cataloguing or tick listing them. To look is sufficient. To share a magic moment with a wild creature, whilst admiring its grace, power and beauty is the holy grail.The birds themselves will always be distant, magical and mystical creatures.

The other category is what we can call “scientific”. Here people follow birds because they are interested in their  behaviour. They count them, ring them, put trackers on them, photograph them, identify, classify and study them. They want to know as much as they can about the birds, through direct observation and record.

Of course this is a gross simplification, and there’s probably a bit of both categories in all of us, but it’s an interesting question as to which side of the divide you edge more towards. Instinctively I’m a “romantic” through and through. What about you?

Later on in the evening we were being interviewed/filmed for a promotional film in aid of Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team. We fell into another debate about birds, on similar lines. This time the discussion centred on the reasons why people stuff birds. It’s a bizarre thing to do, if you ask me, but the argument was put forward that people can learn a lot from studying stuffed birds.  I can remember my parents/grandparents taking me to Whitaker Park Museum in Rawtenstall on many occasions and as a child being freaked out and intrigued by the many stuffed animals/birds on display there. Can’t say I learnt much about them at all.

So this old debate continues. (Here’s an interesting take on CP Snow’s classic tale of two cultures). As a leaning romantic I have to respect the scientists, and encourage them to see that science has to work within a framework of morals.

Meanwhile – here’s a romantic view of the Solway taken originally with my Canon A1, and then snapped with a digi whats its name……………