After the dance

When I chanced upon and illustrated this ballet clip, I was already thinking about courtship through dance.  In late April I observed the final act of the ritual between a pair of mating grebes, but looking at the birding websites, I think the dancing had gone on through March.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself opposite a grebe nest with two chicks and remaining eggs unhatched.

201306 GCG 01 (2)

201306 GCG 07

The male returned periodically and fed the chicks with feathers.  In so  far as I can tell, this serves as a stomach lining, protecting against the sharp chitinous exoskeletons in the infant diet.  The chicks took frequent outings on the mother’s back or struggled to hide beneath her wings when she was sitting.

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The following week, they had all moved on.

I have illustrated grebes previously.

Snow and mist

I follow many blogs.  A favourite is posted by a bloke called Jason who translates Spanish poetry and paints.  One thing I have copied is his use of the long vertical format for his images.  He achieves intense colours and a rich light that I find I cannot emulate.

Last week in the Yorkshire Dales, I found a simple subject: the snow had built in the lee of the dry stone walls on the distant fell across the valley.  Mist cloaked the heights.  In the foreground, islands of richly coloured coarse grass stood out against the snow.

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After painting this, it dawned on me that the curling lines made by the walls were following the landscape.  This karst slope comprises  shelfs and drops made as hidden water eroded the rock from beneath.  I tried a quick sketch.

Buckden Out Moor looking west (24)

Jason paints “directly from nature with my arse in the mud and my hands getting cold“.  This too is how I like to paint.  Except I worked standing, drawing into paper dampened with snow, with water soluble graphite and an inktense black crayon.

Distant buzzard

I am always excited to see a predator.  On this day, I watched a peregrine recovering height following (I am told by the person who first spotted it) a failed dive onto a curlew.

In a distant tree, through the scope, I watched a roosting buzzard.

Hams Hall Buzzard (3)

Hams Hall Buzzard

I am working on my field technique, capturing the jizz of the bird.  This experiment in wash and conti pencil was from memory.

Hams Hall Buzzard (4)

And these sketches were done quickly from photographs on the Birdguides site in an attempt to simulate direct observation, exploring the rapid use of line and wash.

Hams Hall Buzzard (5)

 

Spirituality

                     

Like the other major religions, Birding seems dominated by men with beards.  I, who am clean shaven in the week, need two days growth before venturing to a hide.

 

Birding cathedrals are reserves clawed back from the human landscape: flooded quarries, salt marsh, the remnants of once great woodlands, heather moors and grass downs long stripped of their dominant oak forests.

  

Fanatical birders chase rare species and keep lists: like all religious zealots, they twitch.  But birders are mostly inoffensive people: they don’t bless guns or systematically abuse power.

  

Birders are not evolution-deniers, for their witness is of feathered dinosaurs, extant not extinct.  For those so minded, the holy doctrine is cladistics: evidence-based and probablistic in nature and therefore neither holy nor a doctrine at all.

  

Unfortunately, one thing all major religions have in common is intolerance.  And the next person who comes into a hide and chatters …