Nothing much like autumn up north for the time being, but in spite of temperatures of around 30 degrees in most of the country, the adult waders have started migrating. I spent a few days at Mølen last week, and saw Knots, Curlew Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwits, Wood Sandpiper, Golden Plovers and Whimbrels. I managed a short sketch of the latter. The Red-crested Pochard is a request from a friend, and the first-year Grey Plover is commissioned work.
Good things are worth waiting for. Yesterday, a 40 year old dream came through, when I finally got to see a wild Great Grey Owl in Norwegian nature. The opportunity came with the sudden growth of a population in Hedmark, just two hours north of Oslo. Just a decade ago, this huge owl was considered a regular, though extremely rare resident only in the far north of Norway, in Finnmark. Things have changed, and rumours have it that more than 40 pairs are now breeding in Hedmark.
Even though we weren't too close to the nest, and the birds seemed very comfortable with us there, we didn't want to stay for to long, and I only had time for a few short sketches.
A few more birds from the Eilat sketchbook. The abundance of Yellow Wagtails (gulerle) around the Yotvata sewage ponds held us there for a long time on our first visit to the place. There were several subspecies present, but feldegg was by far the most common. Two Citrine Wagtails (sitronerle) were also present, a male and a female, and I had a chance to sketch the male. The bird is impossibly yellow! I sat there trying to mix the right colour, all the time thinking "surely, it can't be this bright?" As it turned out, I didn't get it bright enough.
Shrikes, on the other hand, were not abundant, although both Woodchat (rødhodevarsler) and Masked Shrikes (hvitpannevarsler) were fairly common. Shrikes are among the cooperative birds for a field sketcher, and the female below sat in more or less the same pose for as long as it took to draw it. I haven't done much investigation into sub-species of Woodchat Shrike, but as far as I can understand, the bird in the sketch is probably an Eastern WS (Lanius senator niloticus), the most striking features being the complete lack of black on the forehead (apparently quite frequent in niloticus) and the large patch of white at the base of the primaries. By the way, it was surrounded by 3-4 Isabelline Wheatears (isabellasteinskvett). A nice place to spend a little time!
The Yotvata circular fields was one of the places we returned to quite often during our stay, not at least because of the good chances of studying migrating and hunting harriers. At one time, we had female Hen, Pallid and Montagu's hunting around us at the same time - what better way to learn a thing or two about harrier ID? Also present on the fields were a few Collared Pratincoles (brakksvale), not at all scared of Norwegians. They were heavily photographed by people with camouflage dresses and very, very long lenses. One guy spent most of his time lying flat on the ground, shoving his enormous equipment in front of him. After a while, he stopped moving for a long time, and we became worried that he had perished from a heart attack under the sheer excitement, but eventually he stood up and walked away. Maybe he just fell asleep there for a while.
Flycatchers are certainly among my favourite birds, and during our stay in Eilat I finally found the most handsome of them all - the male Collared Flycatcher. The bird fittingly spent the morning hunting insects around the main entrance of the birdwatching centre in Eilat. It was stunning bird, at least in its third calendar year, with no juvenile feathers in the wing. Later on, Kjell found a semicollared flycatcher outside our room at Kibbutz Lotan, a bird we had to work with for a while before we could identify it. It was a 2nd cy bird, with the same amount of white on the forehead and in the primaries that you would expect in a Pied, but the final give-away was the white tips to the median coverts. Eventually, we also saw a couple of Collared F's in and around the kibbutz, but we never found a singel female of any of the black-and-white species. A shame, as they would have been very interesting to compare to each other.
The only field-sketching quality of the painting in this post, is the fact that I did it sitting in the sun - not while watching the bird, I'm afraid.
Spring came very early for me this year, as I went to southern Israel to welcome the masses of birds migrating north from Africa. Eilat has been high on my list for years and years, and I was thrilled when NSKF, the Norwegian rarities committee, decided to stay for a week at Kibbutz Lotan from March 29th. We did a lot of work going through new and old reports, but we also spent many rewarding hours in the field.
I didn't really know what to expect, other than very good numbers of migrating raptors and passerines. The raptors were definately there, in good numbers, but we struggled a bit to find the right spot to observe the migration from, as they constantly changed their course with the shifting winds. Other birds were more accessible, and the highlight for me was to wander around in the patches of dry woodland, enjoying the masses of warblers passing through. The most common phylloscopus was the Eastern Bonelli's Warbler (furusanger), but the Willow Warblers were just starting to arrive as well. One of the most beautiful birds of the trip for me, was the male Rüppell's Warbler (svartstrupesanger), which was actually (at least for us) the third most common of the sylvia warblers, after the Lesser Whitethroat (møller) and the Blackcap (munk).
I managed to do some sketching, and I'll post a bit more in the near future. The sketches here were made in the field, but in some of them, I added the colour after returning to the Kibbutz. Painting with watercolours in 30 degrees is a bit of a challenge, as the paint dries really quick, and I couldn't sit for too long as I was part of a group of non-fieldsketchers!
Anyway, the birds in this post are Black Kite, Rüppell's Warbler and Bee Eaters. The last ones flew around above me as I was eating my lunch at Lotan.
My brilliant job has again allowed me to do some artwork during working hours. We've arranged an art workshop, with different printing techniques as the main focus. I have tried drypoint myself, carving the motive into a plexi-glass plate with a sharp metal tool, smearing the plate with black ink, and then removing the ink - except for the ink remaining in the the carved-out lines. In the eagle print, I have mixed two techniques. I put som watercolour on the paper before I made the ink print on top of that. It's a rather long process, but once the plate is ready, the advantage is that you can make as many copies as you like. I also like adding the colours, because each copy then at the same time becomes unique. Also, it's essential to put the colours on the paper first - trying to paint with water colours on top of the ink print would leave a terrible mess.
This is definately something I'll try again, the result reminds me of the pen drawings I made when I first started drawing birds, ages ago.
By the way - I just returned from Crete, where a pair of Bonelli's Eagles in one of the southern gorges was a magnificent birding highlight!
So, I'm back on track again, at least temporarily. I've hardly done any field work during the last year, and not as much studio work as I wanted to. However, a few days ago I got to spend a few hours at Mølen again, and I really enjoyed drawing and painting in the open again. There are always birds to study at Mølen, at any time of the year, and this time I enjoyed the company of three juvenile Great Black-backed Gulls. I did quite a few quick sketches while they were moving around, and one more detailed study of one bird resting. Hopefully, I'll be able to do more work like this in the months to come.
I have been watching birds for as long as I can remember. I used to draw a lot as a child, but hardly touched a pencil for 15 years, until 2005, when I gradually became more interested in nature art again. I started to experiment with colours a few years ago, and I find this increasingly rewarding.