Saturday, 28 February 2015

How To Draw: Garden Birds

Drawing wildlife will help you learn about them. It teaches you their anatomy and the details that defines each species in order to identify them. Drawing has a lot of benefits. But for many people, drawing can be off putting. It takes years of practice to be an artist, but less to be a good enough drawer. In fact, anyone can draw if they put their mind to it. So today, I have decided to give you a few tips in drawing garden birds. All you need is paper, a pencil, a pen (I use a biro) and some colouring pencils. It is easy. Why not draw along with me?

Stage One
First, draw a rough circle for the head and an oval for the body. This is the basic way to start a bird drawing and it is like the drawing's skeleton. Don't worry about it looking like anything at this stage, it is only there to mark out the basic shape and size of your drawing. You can make the bird face any direction and have a big or small head or body depending on what bird you are drawing.

Stage Two
Next, using the shapes you have roughly drawn as a guide, draw the basic structure of the bird. Make a triangular shape for the bill and wings, a rectangle for the tail and simple lines for legs and feet. I am drawing a blackbird, so the bill is slightly pointed and elongated compared to other birds like finches. The tail is long, but not too long like a magpie's.

Stage Three
Add basic detail to the wings using simple lines to mark out the primary feathers and wing structure. Draw features like the eye and draw around your basic legs to show some thickness to them (or wait until stage four like I have done). A male blackbird has an eye ring and I just simply drew a circle and shade in a black blob in the middle of it. Make sure you make the eye ring a little wider than it actually is as you will see it better when it comes to stage five.

Stage Four
Draw over your pencil guide lines with a black biro. If you think parts of your basic structure needs adjusting in some way, now is your last chance as once the biro is used, it is there permanently. Don't worry too much though, I use the biro to do the adjustments with. A steady hand can be helpful at this stage, but with years of practice, I am not that worried if I make tiny mistakes.

Stage Five
Rub out the pencil lines, they have done their job. Now is time to shade in our blackbird black. Be careful around the eye (which is why I made the eye ring a little wider) and leave a very tiny space of white along the top edge along each primary feather on the wing.

Stage Six
Finally, I colour in the bill yellow and legs brown. My male blackbird is complete. You can add a perch for your bird to use or ground for it to stand on or even any background colour. It is up to you.

Blue Tit as a line drawing
 If you are drawing a bird with more detail or colour pattern, like this blue tit for example, here is what I did. I devided the bird up into sections when I was at stage three of my drawing to show each section of the blue tit's plumage pattern. The cap, the nape, the back, etc, all devided into simple shapes. Then it was a case of drawing over in biro. The feeder, by the way, was just simple lines and the peanuts was a light rounded scribble that defines the shape of each peanut without taking all day on them (the detail is made when I colour them in).

The finished illustration
Colour each section that you have devided; yellow for the breast, blue for the cap and wings, etc. Use the biro to add a bit of definition, just simple light marks (don't press down on the paper too hard for this) to show downy feathers all over the bird's body and shade in areas that are darker over the colour you used (like I did with the nape of my blue tit - I used a dark blue and then shaded over it in biro). I made blobs of various shades of colour to create my peanuts with a little bit of biro for definition.

And that is how to draw garden birds. If you think I have helped you at all comment below. I might do more of these How To Draw posts in future covering birds in flight, butterflies, flowers, etc. Tell me what you think and tell me what you want me to draw next time? Good luck with your drawings!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Feb 25th Strumpshaw Fen

It is pretty much a day of the harrier today at Strumpshaw. They are extremely active as the sky dancing displays continue. I arrived even early than usual and the sound of male harriers carried to me as I made my way to Fen Hide. At least 4 birds were in view at once. Two were males, which are paler than the brown females that have cream-coloured caps, and they were busy showing off in the air.
Marsh Harrier

Reed buntings were also displaying their fitness at Fen Hide, but through song. The repetitive sound of 'zip-zurp-zip' came from every direction around the hide. Finding the bird itself is pretty easy. Follow the direction of where the song is coming from and look for a little white blob with a black head sitting on the tops of bushes or reeds like an angel on a Christmas tree. This is the male, a handsome little bird and very territorial. I spot at least 3 singing males and a few others flying by in this small area of the reserve. There was also a song thrush singing loudly by the river and I could hear his three noted phrases from the hide.

On the way back to Reception Hide, I saw a bright red male bullfinch and a jay. They didn't hang around for long though, as they fled as I was about to lift my camera for a photo. Same goes for the bearded tit at Reception Hide. It flew across the broad from one reedbed and vanishing into another. More were secretly pinging from the reedbeds, sounding like an old cash register. 'Kerching! Kerching!' Gadwall, teal, mallard, Canada geese, greylags, herons, mute swans, Cobber the black swan, sparrowhawks, fighting coot and a Chinese water deer were also about today.

Canada Geese
Coot preening itself
Female Gadwall
Chinese Water Deer
But it was the marsh harriers that I enjoyed watching the most. One male soared really high over the hide, calling away. There were females about too, including one with green tags on it's wings and the white bellied female which I have decided to call Lilly.

Marsh Harrier
The green tagged female
Male Marsh Harrier sky dancing high in the sky 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Feb 24th Salhouse Broad

Great Crested Grebes Dancing
Strictly Come Dancing has nothing compared to what I am hoping to see today. I am at Salhouse Broad to watch one of the most elegant of courtship displays in nature; great crested grebes dancing. Around February and March, these beautiful birds with red and black tufts and crests get together as a couple to pair up. They show their bond for each other in a display of subtle movements that can rival those of a ballet. I have seen it all before, but I have never managed to photograph it.

'Mirroring' Routine

Salhouse Broad is the perfect stage for this event. The water is calm and the weather is behaving nicely. I also found at least two pairs of great crested grebes to watch, though on either end of the broad. I decided to follow one pair that was closeby first. They led me down a channel connecting to the broad alongside a boardwalk which I can use. Both birds growled and grunted at each other in a passionate mannor and began to copy each others movements. If one preens, the other preens. If one shakes their head, the other shakes their head. This was part one of the routine called 'mirroring'.

Next, they swim up to one another, face to face and breast to breast. They raised the necks up tall and waved their heads from side to side and lifted their bills up and down, taking it in turns. This is what I call 'advanced mirroring'. After this, they swam along parallel to each other, until they decided to split up and do their own thing for a while. There is one part of their routine I wanted to capture the most, the weed or 'penguin' dance and I was hoping that this short split up was building up to that. What I was hoping for was that they went off to find something like a piece of weed and come back almost sprinting low across the water at each other and stand up on the surface, belly to belly and waving their piece of weed at one another. It didn't happen.

'Advanced Mirroring'

I was still watching and waiting for them to reunite as a couple, but while watching, I notice a dart of blue behind them on the far corner of the channel. A kingfisher! Just like most kingfisher sightings, though, it didn't hang around for long. Eventually, my grebes got back together and took me back to the main body of the broad. They did more of that 'advanced mirroring' and then split up once more. It was time for the solo dance moves to come into the routine. One of them stretched their neck and bill out along the surface of the water. Another fanned their wings upwards and the crest was stretched outwards. Those grunts and growls were audible throughout the display. By the way, I'm making up the names for these moves shown below.

Solo move, 'The Lowdown'
Solo move, 'The Fan' or 'Partial Butterfly'
'Parallel Swimming'

I was having no luck with this first pair, so I went down the other end of the broad for the other pair. They were much closer despite hiding their display from me behind a few trees half the time. They were performing most the moves I have seen already, including 'mirror diving', but no weed dance. There was one promising moment when one of the grebes went to pick up a bit of weed, but nothing happend. It was soon discarded to do other parts of the routines again. My time watching them was coming to an end and I had to go home. I was so close!!! Oh well! Maybe next time I will get the shot I want of weed dancing grebes, but I am still happy with what I did manage to capture.
An unknown solo move, the 'Head Rest'

Also today were lots of tufted ducks, pochard, mallard, black-headed gulls, greylags and a common gull (a small gull with a yellow bill and legs and black wingtips with white mirror spots).
Common Gull
Female Mallard
Tufted Duck
Female Pochard

Monday, 23 February 2015

Feb 23rd Waterloo Park

I went for a short walk at Waterloo Park while it is nice and sunny (though a bit breezy). Armed with my camera and aided with perfect lighting conditions, I got some great shots of the park's bird life.

Feral Pigeons
Blue Tit searching for food within lichen

 I also heard some house sparrows in the gardens nextdoor and starlings and goldcrests were hidden in the trees somewhere. It wasn't a long (about less than an hour) or exciting walk, but I still got to see a few good common species and had fun playing around with my camera.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Feb 19th Walsingham Abbey

Have you ever had one of those days where it was nice and sunny when you set out to a destination, then it becomes a wash out when you get there, while walking around snowy ground? That is exactly what happened to me. Well, tell a lie, the snow part wasn't actually snow but snowdrops. Thousands of snowdrops, covering 20 acres of land. I have come for walk with my parents around Walsingham Abbey, renowned for its amazing snowdrop display.

When we left for Walsingham, the weather was bright and cheerful. It was looking promising. As we got there, clouds began to form and started to rain. The rain got worse and worse as we walked around the snowdrops. We got a bit wet. But enough of the weather. The snowdrops are the main talking point here. The sight of a carpet of fake snow across 20 acres made you forget about the awfulness of the rain (well until it got really bad anyway).

There are many variaties of snowdrop in this vast display, all mingled together. The majority of the spaces between the trees was covered white. A stream cuts through them and under a small arched stone bridge. It was almost a perfect snowy winter scene if it wasn't for patches of yellow winter alconites.
Me in snowdrop heaven

Winter Alconites
Taking a closer look at snowdrop level, the appearance of the blanket of snow melts into individual 'flakes' elevated on the ends of green stalks. They now become transformed into a million fairies with petals like delicate white butterfly wings, bouncing slightly whenever a breath of wind hits them. Trees become giant towers from a snowdrop point of view and the stream becomes as wide as  the English Channel with snowdrops waving from the otherside. If it wasn't for the rain making me feel wet, I could stay on this level for a while longer.

My parents on the bridge to more snowdrops

Walsingham Abbey

The Abbey and Snowdrops
Leaves of Lords and Ladies
Bracket fungus of some kind
Hazel catkins

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Feb 18th Strumpshaw Fen and Norwich

Strumpshaw is packed with families today as it is half term this week. We have an interactive trail set up for the children to do around the woodland trail. Starting at the Reception Hide, they must look for as many birds as they can from the hide, then in the woods, they had to count the bird boxes, watch woodland birds at a stump, make bird nests and make bird noises (banging wood like a woodpecker, that sort of thing). They could also blow onto a bottle to make the noise of a bittern and wear a pair of marsh harrier wings made of cardboard. I helped out by showing them birds from the Reception Hide. It was busier than usual but it was rewarding.
Girl watching a Robin
Day dreaming about birds

Before the first family arrived this morning though, I did manage a quick walk to Fen Hide and back. There wasn't too much about except for a Chinese water deer, goldfinch and the sound of woodpeckers drumming, sounding like a machine gun battle between 2 - 3 individuals.
Chinese Water Deer
Greylags from Fen Hide
Back at Reception Hide, however, it was pretty busy and I don't just mean visiting families. Outside the hide, there were a lot of greylags (including 3 white ones) with a single Canada goose amongst them. I also showed them mallard, gadwall, teal, a little grebe, coot and four male pochards. But there was one bird I was ordered to search for the children, marsh harriers. They were easy enough half the time, though a bit distant. I was told that I should show them the marsh harrier 'skydance'. I only found it once today (and only the parent could really see it).

Marsh Harrier
A marsh harrier skydance is a courtship display. A male harrier has to show off his fitness to the ladies. To do this, he soars higher and higher in the sky, until he reaches a certain height. Then he plummets downwards, then up again, then back down again like a rollercoster. Inbetween the rises and falls, he adds a few fancy flaps of his wings and produces whistled calls to his potential mate. The male I was watching was successful as she joined in with the dance. She flies close to him, almost close enough to join wingtip to wingtip. Then they both vanish into the reedbeds and I lose sight of them.

While waiting for the train home at Brundall Station, I watched a pair of jackdaws investigate an old woodpecker hole in a tree adjacent to the station. One went in surprisingly easily. It's partner waited it's turn before it too went in. It appears that I have found a nest site or at least the beginning of one.

Back in Norwich, I decided to see if the grey wagtails were around (see yesterday's post). Still no sign of them. However, there was something even better perched on a branch nearby. A kingfisher! My first urban kingfisher in fact as I have never seen one in the city before.