Our run of bad luck with seeing beasties had to come to an end soon, surely...... So it was with confidence that we set off with friends to Blandford, to watch wild otters - in the daytime!
We arrived at the River Stour, wandered around, encountering kingfishers, little egrets and grey wagtails. All very nice, but no otters. We bumped into a local chap who informed us that he had just seen two further along the river at the weir, just ten minutes ago! We dashed off expectantly, but to no avail. Then the heavens opened and it chucked it down.....eventually it abaited and the search resumed. We met many other locals who enthusiastically retold their otter stories. We listened politely, but the portents were there, another opportunity missed! Blarst!
And then in the blink-of-an-kingfisher's-eye, it was there right in front of us - astonishing, one of nature's shyest creatures doing ottery things without a care in the world.
For the next hour or so we watched, sketched & photographed this confiding beast. It mainly spent it's time fishing and very good at it, it was too, catching numerous bullheads. Occasionally stopping to have a look at it's growing audience, at one point just ten feet away from us! Eventually it was joined by a larger dog otter, who quickly had a few joice words with the youngster. And then they were gone.
It was clear that the local people are proud of their otters and it was a privilage to share these trusting otters with them. I only hope that we don't betray their trust.....
For years I've saved first county sightings of certain species of bird, for enjoyment at my local patch only - Glossy Ibis is one of those. When news of one frequenting the meadows at Titchfield Haven NNR filtered through, I looked forward to drawing this enigmatic bird feeding in one of my favourite landscapes. Fool that I am! Cutting a long saga short, over the weekend I failed.
This morning was to be our last ditch attempt to see it (which is probably where it spends most the time hiding). Rosie and I were out at dawn checking the northern meadows for any sign of it and this time.......proved no different, not a hint of gloss anywhere.
However, during this search things havn't been fruitless. One of the aspects of nature that inspires me is the odd juxtaposition of species. This morning, while we were enjoying very close views of a Cetti's Warbler singing from a bush overhanging the canal, it was joined by a Treecreeper, an odd combination indeed.
On the sunday, we came across a newly arrived Short-eared Owl, hunting over the water-meadows. It performed majestically, with a Black-headed Gull in close attention for about 10 minutes, before dropping into the meadow and out of sight. Let's face it, all things considered, it's a lot smarter bird than an Ibis!
The weather was superb on Saturday, so it was off to the Forest to visit friends and take a stroll around the lagoons at Keyhaven to see what was there. Many species of wader were on display. But it was the strong light silhouetting a feeding greenshank that inspired, the only light on the bird forming a creamy glow on it's back and under-tail coverts . Turning a hundred and eighty degrees the light was completely different and a group of resting ringed plovers bathed in sunlight created a visual contrast to the greenshank and proved difficult to resist, I didn't and they hopped onto the page to join the elegant greenshank.
Rosie and I are just working on some watercolours for the forthcoming HOS bird report 2010. Should be published soon. Thought you might like to see some of the results of our work, more to come.
We were out collecting sloes for our gin yesterday - anyone know of any recipes? When I noticed a pair of jays going about their own harvest. Their antics proved too much to resist, so I stopped one harvest for another, spending a few minutes gathering a few shapes for my sketchbook.
Another watercolour born from recent days in the field. This one completed in the hide at Titchfield Haven NNR. The light was nice, the birds relaxed - the scene had to be painted. This study along with other notes made at the time will probably turn into a studio painting in the near future.
A chance encounter with a first winter Grey Phalarope at Hook-with-Warsash LNR. This enchanting bird was feeding frantically, just a few yards away, blissfully unaware of our presence. What made the scene for me was the stream of Swallows whisping along the old golf links into the head-wind. Sometimes coming within inches of the Phalarope, who never missed a heartbeats feeding time to look up at the Swallows, who were at the start of their long passage to Africa.
Virtually all our work evolves from in-the-field experience, with inspiration coming through the behaviour of the subject or a moments change of light.
The beach at Hillhead is one of my favourite places to paint. On a low-tide granite sarsen stones (deposited during the retreat of the last ice-age) are exposed and the area around them becomes a feeding area for shorebirds, in this case Ringed Plovers. The essence of this picture came from strong dramatic low-light bouncing off birds, seaweeds and rock, sometimes merging them as one and for a brief moment the Plovers become just pebbles on the shore.
We're still potty training the site and it's getting there....slowly!
Workwise we're busy painting illustrations for several books. One, a third edition of the Arctic guide with Tony Soper, published by Bradt. The others a couple of books on Bulgarian wildlife; a site guide, plus a look at the dragonflies to be found there. The Arctic guide should be published in the new year, the others a little later.
Thanks again for all messsages of support and sales. Special mention to Mike Creighton, who sowed the seeds and put together the framework for the site. Check out his lovely photography at http://www.chalkhilldigital.net
Ok the site is a couple of weeks old now, still not fully potty trained yet, but we're learning! I've been told by my manager that I have to blog frequently, not entirely sure what that means..certainly not something pleasant. I always do as I'm instructed, so for now thanks to you all for your messages of support and sales so far.
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.