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  • Writer's pictureRoo

Bird art escapism in 40 years of my logbook

Birdwatching and natural history in general wouldn’t be the same for me if I didn’t keep an illustrated logbook. I started when i was 14 and diligently recorded every trip since then. Species lists were accompanied by initially horrifically bad sketches, but over time I've improved! I've kept a logbook with all my sketches and notes on all sightings every year now for 40 years. It adds hugely to the hobby for me. I spend hours on dark cold winter evenings going back over old sightings, planning new trips for the coming year and mugging up on identification. Those photos of Pyrgus skippers in the Pyrenees have certainly kept me busy learning about identification features from books and websites. It not just for the logbook though, the escapism is best when I pour a single malt and hide away from everyone to paint a recent bird sighting. I’ll not get in the Tate, but it makes the sighting a whole lot more real for me. Here are a selection we’ve scanned (we only have an A4 scanner so the larger pictures wont fit!), although over 40 years there are rather a lot more!

From way back, a winter Ross’s Gull in Lowerstoft Harbour, January 2006 during a weeks break in Norfolk. Back in those days it was word of mouth or ringing “Birdline” on a public phone box to get latest sightings. We did this from a payphone in Cromer and couldn’t resist dashing down to see this lovely gull.

Another gull, but from last year in Cardiff Bay, a Little Gull with Black-headed Gulls. A quick sketch but sometimes these work best to recapture the memory.

It seems hard to remember snow in a proper winter at the moment! But back in 2012 we were snowed in for a few days and the garden came alive with birds. No less than 52 Brambling were on the back lawn amongst 160 Chaffinch. This Brambling and Blackcap perched up right outside the bedroom window to take sunflower seeds on a bare patch in the snow.

My favourite bird from 2018 was the local Penduline Tit at Newport Wetlands. Superb views next to the visitors centre of this tiny imitation Red-backed Shrike! I’ve seen 4 or 5 in the UK, but the others didn’t show anywhere near as well; two at Minsmere I could only see when standing balancing my scope on top of a picnic bench to see far enough into the reeds. Not overly relaxing!

Living in Wales we have such a range of wonderful places to visit, and one of our favourites is the stunning Elan Valley. It seems that in late Spring and early Summer you can escape to woodland walks and hardly see another person all day. It’s wonderful to simply walk off and watch nature quietly doing its own thing. This is a sketch of a Pied Flycatcher in the same bush as a Wood Warbler. Both were nesting within 100 feet of where I sat making for wonderful close views.

Another picture from a while back during a trip to Norfolk. This one is a White-crowned Sparrow which was in a garden in Cley. You could stand at the end of the driveway and watch it feeding on the gravel driveway. I remember everyone politely waiting in turn to get the chance to have the right angle to see up the path. I went back the next day and there was no-one there! I’ve seen these since on trips to Canada, but that was way too easy!

I rarely twitch anymore, but a fairly recent new species for me was the Brunnich’s Guillemot down in Portland Harbour. I drove down and had superb views of this amazingly tame bird that had presumably strayed down from Iceland. This is one that was more fun to see in its native haunt however; I saw 100s on the cliffs of western Iceland in 2018 with Humpback Whales offshore and Harlequin Duck and Gyr Falcon on the same day!

So what would get me to twitch again? Well maybe one of these (Wallcreeper, Ramnagar, India, 1996).....

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