Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Contrasting seas and a bulb that might “see me oot”

March 10, 2017

I’m very lucky not only to  be living by the sea but having an uninterrupted view of the sea from my back door. Each morning when I open the blinds in our conservatory, I see something different and, of course, unique. The tide will be fully in or fully out, but more usually at some stage in between. The uniqueness of the sea – that individual wave will never been seen again, although its almost identical siblings will – and the sky – those clouds will never be seen again and if it’s a clear blue sky, that shade of blue will never be exactly reproduced. It always looks similar but it’s never the same. There are rocks that emerge on the outgoing tide and they attract a variety of birds, which I view through my scope. This morning, there was a small group of dunlin (includes video). These are energetic little birds (see video) and pitter-patter amongst the rock pools, constantly feeding. I also see groups of maybe 20 dunlin take off and fly around. As you watch them they turn and flash their white bellies. It’s like a magic trick as first you see birds flying, then you see an aeronautic display of little white shapes. I hadn’t realised – until I did a search on a well known search engine – that you can see murmurations of dunlin, as in this spectacular video.

What I see out of my window depends, of course on the weather and last week, on consecutive days, I had contrasting views of the sea. On one day, as in the photos below, the sea was universally grey, apart from the white waves, and the rain battered the balustrade. I took the photos in a slight lull, when the rain had eased off a touch. For most of the morning, the rain spat angrily at the sea, the land and our house. It was driven on by its pal the wind, which blew off the tops of the waves. So going for walk was not an option. However, there’s a certain pleasure to be had from watching the wind and rain from the calm interior of your house. I found it interesting when I lived for a while in Australia, that people there would still have corrugated roofs on very expensive houses, as they liked the sound of the rain on the roof.

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Grey seas in Dunbar

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Grey seas and sky in Dunbar

The next day, the outlook was completely transformed. The storm had worn itself out, the rain had gone elsewhere and the wind – an angry old man yesterday – was now a twenty-something breeze, bringing warmth and calm. In the photos below, the white waves really are white against the blue sea and there’s a lightness about the sky, so different from yesterday’s heavy and almost indistinguishable clouds. I find it interesting that we would mostly see the 2nd photos as containing more beauty than the first two. Is that because we are conditioned to see light as more beautiful than dark?

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Spring pots on the decking, blue sea and sky at my back door

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Blue skies and blue sea in Dunbar

Last week, we had to replace the bulb in our bathroom and my wife returned with a new bulb. We have a solatube light fitting, which brings in natural light during the day from the roof and is fitted with an electric light for night time. The light – photo below taken in daylight – looks as if it has 4 bulbs but it has only 1.

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Solatube light source

When I got the new bulb, I looked at the packaging (below) and I noticed 2 things. Firstly, not only does it use 85% less energy and you save lots of money BUT it claims that it will last 23 years! There’s a Scottish expression which people use, usually in a jocular fashion, addressed to someone of a certain age – “Aye, it’ll see ye oot” (will see you out). This means that a person who has bought e.g. new furniture may die before the furniture is replaced. Now, I’m hoping that I will still be here in 23 years time, although as a Scottish male, certain statistics may be against me i.e. it might “see me oot”. The second thing I noticed was the wording at the bottom right of the photo below i.e. that the bulb will “deliver a colour matching the warm and comforting feel of an older incandescent lamp”. It was the word incandescent that intrigued me, as I’d never heard of an “incandescent lamp”. Looking it up, I discovered the history of such lights which  were a real breakthrough in their time. The original incandescent lamps were, according to this website ” Not energy efficient (90% of energy goes to heat, 10% makes visible light”. So now I know. I knew what incandescent meant, in terms of someone being, for example, in an incandescent rage, meaning that they were furious. By coincidence, reading this morning’s Guardian Sport, one article begins “Jose Mourinho was left incandescent after a UEFA official appeared to laugh off his concern…” This of course made me think about what an incandescent lamp might be like. A lamp so mistreated by its owners that it refuses to light up except when they leave the room and go to bed? A jealous lamp, following the arrival of a new lamp in the room, switching itself off and on constantly? Okay, I know that a lamp is an inanimate object but, can you prove that your lamps don’t light up when you’re not there?

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Light bulb packaging

 

Falling Awake and birds at Belhaven Pond

March 3, 2017

The Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn 2016 was Alice Oswald’s  new book – Falling Awake. This is an astonishing book of poems and has won some literary prizes. In the book, Oswald is not just close to nature, but inside it, and she demonstrates how elements of nature are interlinked, and how nature affects our lives , but also has a life of its own. The first poem A Short Story of Falling begins “It is the story of the falling rain/ to turn into a leaf and fall again/ it is the secret of a summer shower/ to steal the light and hide it in a flower”. These dramatic images – a shower stealing the light – continue in all the poems. In Fox, the narrator hears ” a cough” in her sleep and it is ” a fox in her fox-fur/ stepping across/ the grass in her black gloves/ [which] barked at my house”. In other poems, we hear of a badger “still with the simple heavy box of his body needing to be lifted” being “hard at work/ with the living shovel of himself”. In “A Rushed Account of the Dew”, there’s an amazing image of water on a plant, as the poet imagines the dew “descend/ out of the dawn’s mind”, and affix “a liquid cufflink” on to a leaf. In Shadow, the poet describes the shadow as having ” a flesh parachute of a human opening above it” – as you see, there’s a vivid imagination at work here. There are many more images of falling in the subsequent poems. I’m only half way through the book and will return to it in the blog. I agree with the Guardian reviewer that “I cannot think of any poet who is more watchful or with a greater sense of gravity”.

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“Falling Awake” by Alice Oswald

This week, we’ve had cold, but very bright days, especially in the morning. Having cycled past Seafield Pond (good photos) on Monday and seen a gathering of ducks on the grass verge, I ventured back there on foot on Tuesday – in the morning sunlight. The ducks were gone, but over the wall on Belhaven Beach, there was a scattering of seagulls, some oystercatchers and curlews, but also 2 little egrets (photos, video and bird call). As I got my camera ready, there was a sudden squawking, a brief flurry of wings by both birds, and one took off for the pond. I managed to get two photos of the constantly moving little egret. They are not the clearest of photos and maybe, I should have used a sports setting on my camera. However, they do show the elegance of this bird, with its long beak, tiny eye and large yellow feet, which help them to steady themselves on the slippery sand below the water.

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Little Egret on Belhaven Beach (Click to enlarge)

In second photo, I like the shimmering reflection of the bird’s body in the water, its shadow (with flesh parachute of a bird opening above it, as Oswald might have put it) and the corrugated sand.

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Little Egret and reflection on Belhaven Beach

While the egrets and oystercatchers are nervous birds and will fly off if you get anywhere near them, the swans on Seafield Pond simply float towards you. OK – they are looking for food, but I also think that swans are narcissistic birds. They glide toward you, inviting you to photograph their haughty serenity. They move slowly, like elegant models on a catwalk, then dip their heads in the water. The first photo shows 2 swans coming towards the bank, where I’m standing at the water’s edge. There are other birds, such as coots, but these have swum away in panic and have hidden behind the tall reeds (2nd photo). See the causal elegance here, with the swans more interested in their own reflections than the presence of a would-be photographer.

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Elegant swans at Seafield Pond

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Coots behind the reeds at Seafield Pond

The first swan pushed its head under water a few times and after several attempts, I managed to get a shot with water dripping from its beak. Look at the perfect outline of its body, the giraffe like neck and its body like a small iceberg. You can watch swans all day.

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Swan with dripping beak at SeafieldPond

The Fishermen and the Sandpiper

February 3, 2017

The title of this week’s blog looks as if it might be a story for children but it is two different topics. I’ve just finished reading The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. It’s a novel which is set in Nigeria and features four brothers who decide to go fishing in the local river, despite warnings from their parents not to do so. On returning from the fishing one day, they meet Abulu who is described as “a madman” and often goes around naked and dirty and is described as smelling of “.. rotten food, and unhealed wounds and pus and of bodily fluids and wastes”. It is believed that Abulu has the gift of prophecy despite being mad and he predicts that the eldest son will be killed by “a fisherman” i.e. by one of his brothers. This is a tragic story of love, hate and revenge and there is an ambiguous ending which may give some hope. Despite the tragedy, the book is enthralling to the reader, as the tale is told from an account by Ben, the youngest of the four brothers, who looks back from an adult perspective on what happened to his brothers. The long suffering, but supportive mother and the eccentric (and sometimes arrogant) father have high hopes for their children. The father works for a national bank and the family is reasonably prosperous compared to their neighbours. Nigerian politics appears in a startling incident when the boys, who have skipped school, meet with one of the presidential candidates in the town and have their photographs taken with him. Obioma is an accomplished writer, although this is his debut novel, and the story is very well constructed, with excellent dialogue. Obioma can sometimes overdo the metaphors he uses but he does produce some startling phrases throughout the book, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015. I found my copy in a charity shop, so look out for your copy and you will not be disappointed. You can read the first chapter here.

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

In the latest edition of Scottish Birds, there is an interesting article on the Western Sandpiper at Aird an Runair by Brian Rabbitts, who describes the bird as having “.. startling white underparts and rich rufous upper scapulars”. This immediately took me to the dictionary as “rufous” and “scapulars” were new words to me. The word rufous comes from the Latin rufus meaning red and is used to mean reddish-brown. Scapulars are shoulder feathers on birds, although a scapular, in a religious context,  can be “a sacramental object made of two small panels of woven wool (the required material)” or a short cloak worn by a monk. When you look at the superb photos below – generously sent to me by Brian Rabbitts – the feathers could be seen as a kind of cloak. I had a feeling that The Sandpiper was a piece of music, so I looked it up. There maybe music with that title, but what I was recalling from the dim past, was the film The Sandpiper (video) with the famous tune The Shadow of Your Smile.

In the first photo below, the bird’s scapular is shown clearly but I think that in this picture, the colours in the kelp outshine the bird.

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Western Sandpiper – photo by Brian Rabbitts (Click to enlarge)

In the 2nd photo, you can see the bird’s dagger-like beak and legs that might be of steel welded on to its body, plus the scapular which reminds me of tiles on a roof.

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Western Sandpiper – photo by Brian Rabbitts

In the third photo (cropped by me), I like the stoical look on the bird’s face, waiting patiently for food to swim by. Also, the swirl of the incoming wavelet compliments the flow of the bird’s feathers. You almost want to stroke this bird’s back.

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Western Sandpiper – photo by Brian Rabbitts

 

Chris Rose exhibition and a scene he might have painted

December 21, 2016

The latest exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady, home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club is by Chris Rose, whose previous exhibition was featured on this blog in 2014. With no disrespect to  the other excellent wildlife artists who have exhibited at Waterston House, Chris Rose is – by a country mile – the most accomplished. This is another stunning exhibition, featuring new work as well as prints of his previous work. Chris very kindly sent me photos of 3 of the works which are available for purchase at the exhibition. The first is entitled Little Egret and if you think that the clarity in the photo below is very impressive, when you see the painting itself, it is one of these moments in an art exhibition when you find yourself staring at the picture and admiring the beauty of it. There is much to take in when looking at this painting. Firstly, there is the photographic realism – this is a perfect depiction of a little egret, a statuesque bird about to strike an unassuming fish. The shimmering reflection suggests that the water is not quite still. I love the angles in this picture – look at the beak and the legs – and the bird’s patient poise. Like herons, the egret has an admirable ability to wait, then angle its head toward the water, then wait again, then strike lethally. It was interesting to watch other people’s reactions when they entered the main room of the exhibition and saw this painting. They had the same raised eyebrows and staring eyes as I had, the same smile of appreciation and the same slight shake of the head- how does he do this?

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Little Egret by Chris Rose (Click for a larger, and better, image)

The second painting (below) is entitled Shrimping and features a black-headed gull (which in fact has a brown head) but when I first saw this painting at the exhibition, it was the delicate colours and contours of the sand which caught my attention. Then you look at the gull again and its reflection and the eddies in the pool made by the bird paddling furiously to get the shrimps to surface – all so expertly done. Then you see the bird’s shadow and the shadows cast by the seaweed. So what at first looks like a simple depiction of a black headed gull paddling for its meal, becomes a multi-faceted picture whose elements draw your eyes up and down and across the frame.

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Shrimping by Chris Rose

I usually only feature 2 paintings by exhibiting artists but the chance to show three examples of Chris Rose’s work is too good to miss. The 3rd painting (below) is Silver Light which is a magnificent display of light on water and seaweed. Again, there is birdlife which is superbly portrayed, but the painting’s title is very apposite i.e. you see the shimmering light on the water first. I’m not sure how long it takes Chris to perfect these images – I would think it’s a very long time – but this veritable display of talent and skill could not be achieved quickly, this layman assumes. We will certainly go back to see this exhibition before it closes in January as it’s impossible to appreciate the variety of images and the mastery on show in one visit. If you can get to the exhibition, you will be richly rewarded.

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Silver Light by Chris Rose

A few days ago, in mid afternoon, just before the onset of the crepuscular light which I so much enjoy, I went for a walk from our house along to the nearby Dunbar Golf  Course  which stretches next to the seashore all the way out to the White Sands. I walked along the side of the 4th fairway to the little beach just around the corner and when I got there, a pair of elegantly coloured shelduck flew off across the water. On the way back, I could see (and hear) redshanks and oystercatchers taking refuge in rocks further away from this transgressing human. Then the Chris Rose moment – about 8 curlews appeared out of nowhere and landed on rocks in front of me. The birds’ long beaks could be seen as they stood on the rocks and below them, the light was shining on the still wet rocks – an image seen in some of Chris Rose’s paintings (e.g. here). I didn’t have my camera and I would have needed the long lens to capture the scene – another great photo that might have been. It was a startling image, having been to Chris’ exhibition recently. I’m lucky to live near the sea and come across vivid examples of wildlife just along the road.

 

Harbour reflections and making Minestrone

December 14, 2016

I took my camera for a walk along to Dunbar Harbour (good photos) last week. The day was so wind free that the water in the harbour hardly moved and the wee boats, which are usually swaying gently to an unheard waltz tune on the accordion, were statuesque. It’s very unusual not to have any kind of wind in Dunbar and at one point, it looked as if the sea had given up coming into the harbour, as the water appeared – very briefly – to be motionless. Then a gentle ripple spread from the entrance to the harbour across to the boats.

The two photos below are taken at the east end of the harbour and the perfect reflection in the 1st photo shows how calm the water became. There’s a hint of movement in the water in the 2nd photo and the wee boat looks isolated. This is because all the small yachts that lie in the harbour in the summer have been removed for safety. I like the way the harbour walls are reflected in the water in the 2nd photo.

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

The next 2 photos are taken at the castle end of the harbour. In the first photo, the reflections look as if they might come from an impressionist painting e.g. the squiggly lines in the castle walls’ reflection. It was a cold day but the colours in the boats and in the fish boxes on the quayside inserted a warm feature into this walker’s experience. In the both photos, the castle ruins still show the white patches left by the nesting kittiwakes, who visited in the summer. The kittiwakes have featured on this blog more than once e.g. here. In the 2nd photo, the wider angle shows the castle ruins and the narrow entrance to the harbour. Another unusual feature of this visit to the harbour was the absence of birds on the water, as you often get small groups of eider duck. On this RSPB site, you can listen to the gurgling, whoo-hooing of the eider duck, and you can usually hear this from the harbourside.

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Fishing boats near Dunbar Castle

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Reflections of the ruins of Dunbar Castle

Having made lentil and vegetable, tomato and lentil, and parsnip and pear soup recently, I thought that it must be the turn of minestrone. The term minestrone comes from the Latin minestra meaning soup with pasta (and/or other ingredients) and one as a suffix meaning large, thus giving us a soup with big vegetables. The soup is mentioned in a cookbook by Apicus (the whole book from Project Gutenberg here) published in 30CE, so it has ancient traditions. You could spend the rest of your life looking at the myriad of minestrone recipes on the web i.e. almost anything goes as long as you have vegetables and pasta in it. Almost all recipes include tomatoes. Today, my minestrone has a large leek, 3 stalks of celery, diced turnip (aka swede) and carrot, dried basil and oregano, a tin of tomatoes, 2 tbs tomatoes puree and a litre of chicken stock. I put a little oil in the bottom of my large soup pan and added the basil and oregano. I then sweated the leeks and celery, and added the turnip and carrot until it looks like this:

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Sweating the vegetables in the making of minestrone

I then added the tomatoes, tomato puree and broken spaghetti, brought it  to the boil and simmered it for c20 minutes. I always find that you should never eat minestrone soup right away – let the flavours develop for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. You can then have a colourful, tasty and winter warming soup which served up will look something like this photo from last year. Have it for lunch with crusty bread and if you are lucky like me, go for a walk along to the harbour with your camera afterwards.

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A plate of minestrone soup with basil leaves

Huntly Castle and Mac the Mandarin

November 1, 2016

On a recent family trip, we stayed at the delightful Craigellachie Hotel which boasts the world’s best whisky bar. The Quaich (good photos) has over 900 malt whiskies and at this time of year, you can sit by an enchanting log fire with your favourite malt. I tried a Bruichladdich 1998 which was superb. My wife’s home town of Huntly (good photos) is a half hour drive away, so we went for walk around the town and down memory lane – to where my wife used to live and where she went to primary school. We were joined by our son, daughter in law and 3 grandchildren at Huntly Castle (good photos) and we bought tickets and went inside this very impressive edifice.

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Huntly Castle exterior (Click on photo to enlarge)

Inside the castle, there are many useful panels explaining the use of the various rooms. There are three floors to the castle and from the top, you can see the commanding view that the Earls of Huntly had. They could see enemies approaching from all sides of the castle, which also has outer and inner moats. The castle is build of rough stone but is no less attractive for that, with the huge round tower and some elegantly designed windows on the top floor. The autumnal trees next to the castle helped to highlight its features as shown below. The castle sits next to the River Deveron which was clear and fast flowing on our visit and reflected the autumn colours in the trees – see photo.

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Huntly Castle and autumn trees

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River Deveron near Huntly Castle

In the latest edition of Scottish Birds which I receive as part of my membership of the estimable Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, there is an article by Harry Scott entitled Mac the Mandarin. The article tells of how this mandarin drake was seen by Harry Scott in Aberdeen and on investigation, he discovered that the bird had been ringed in Norway and also found out that few mandarin have been known to travel between countries. So, an interesting tale but what brought this bird to my attention was its superb appearance. I emailed Harry and he kindly sent me two of his photos to use here.

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Mandarin drake – photo by Harry Scott.

The photo above is superb not just for its colours but the reflections of the bird in the water. The mandarin to me seems to be composed of a set of shapes and patterns, each with an elegant colour – pink, yellow, green, blue, brown, white and black. It’s patchwork quilt of a bird but none the less attractive for that. The distorted reflections of the mandarin and the  trees in the river give the photo a surreal element and there is a sense of serenity about this almost magical bird as it glides effortless through the water.

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Mandarin drake – photo by Harry Scott

The second photo has the same elements of the first and when I saw it, I thought that it would make a great subject for a Lisa Hooper print. Lisa’s birds tend to have shapes of solid colour as well as flowing lines denoting the shape of the bird and the sections of feathers. It would be interesting to see how Lisa, as a printmaker, would represent the beard like flow of brown feathers at  the side of the bird’s head. Mac the Mandarin  – the name given to the bird by Harry Scott – is certainly an autumnal visitor as some of its colours can be seen in the leaves and trees at this time of year, as well as in the stones in the Deveron River photo above.

 

Lisa Hooper exhibition and Milan (1)

October 14, 2016

It’s 2 years and 11 days ago since I posted a review of an exhibition by the artist Lisa Hooper. Interestingly, Lisa calls herself “a printmaker, specialising in wildlife/bird art” and I’m sure we could have a long conversation about whether she is primarily an artist (her talent, her chosen profession) who uses print techniques or a printmaker (her craft and an aspect of her chosen profession) who produces works of art. I recognise that I may be belittling printmakers here – not the intention. Lisa’s new exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady, HQ of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club is an outstanding collection of prints, mainly of birds but it also includes some rural landscapes. I contacted Lisa and she kindly sent me examples of her work, shown below. What attracts me to these prints are the shapes and the patterns which the artist/printmaker produces to such telling effect. When you first look at a Lisa Hooper work, you can see that there are a series of patterns which are repeated. However, when you pay more attention, you see that the patterns (and indeed the shapes within the patterns) are not exactly repeated. The first print below portrays my favourite birds – curlews. I’m lucky enough to live by the sea in Dunbar and I can watch the curlews land on the rocks through my scope. Curlews have a great ability to poke their beaks under stones and seaweed to feed. What I particularly like about this work is that the beaks have been slightly exaggerated by the artist and are black. This gives an abstract quality to the work and I think that it makes the curlews look even more magisterial than they are in real life. I also admire the way that the artist has reflected the shapes of the birds in the rocks on which they stand.

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Curlew by Lisa Hooper

The second example of Lisa Hooper’s work shown below is her impression of a short eared owl. This bird has eyes to make small mammals shiver and humans to note the presence of a fierce intelligence. Again, the shapes are exquisite and intriguing, individual but collective, both in the bird and in the representation of the stone wall behind. I also think that there’s a surreal quality to this print – the black round the eyes, the misshapen nose and the stripes on the head.

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Short Eared Owl by Lisa Hooper

Two years ago, my wife bought me Lisa Hooper’s book First Impressions for my upcoming birthday and last week, while at the exhibition, my wife bought me Lisa’s new book  Printing Wildlife. So I’m looking forward to putting the new book on my little easel and turning a page every day. If you are able to get to this exhibition, you cannot fail to be impressed by the quality of the work on show here. Lisa Hooper’s prints should be viewed and then looked at more closely.

My pal Roger and I make an annual trip to a European city to see a top class football (aka soccer) match, to see the sights and enjoy the food and wine in the restaurants. This year, we went to the impressive city of Milan, with its wide streets, stunning piazzas with elegant statues, monumental architecture in the cathedral and many churches, and balconied buildings. We went to an excellent match where A C Milan won 4-3 against Sassuolo in the magnificent San Siro Stadium (scroll down for photos). Milan, as other cities, is best seen by walking through the streets, laid out on a grid system. On many occasions, you look up (as you should always do in cities) to see statues on the buildings, like this one near the arch in Porta Venezia, one of the gates into this formerly walled city.

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Statues in Milan’ Porta Venezia

The most famous building in Milan and the one to which tourists throng in their thousands, is the Duomo (good photos) – the breath-taking cathedral in the city centre. There are always long queues, so it is better to book online in advance, which we failed to do, so no inside view. The Duomo sits in a large square and you are reminded of St Mark’s Square in Venice. The cathedral is so big that you need to walk around it to appreciate its true size. When it was being built in the 14th and 15th centuries, the peasants living in the area nearby would have been amazed to see this huge structure rise from the ground. The Duomo would have been hundreds of times the size of the peasants’ houses and it would have struck awe and fear into the local population. The two photos below show this multi-spired, multi-statued work of architecture/art which remains an inspiring sight today for people who take a religious or a secular view of life.

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The Duomo in Milan

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The Duomo in Milan

Just off the square is the Gallery Vittorio Emanuele which was built in 1877 and named after a king of Italy. It has a striking glass roof, beautiful murals and a wonderful mosaic floor. It now houses upmarket shops, cafes, a hotel and the very helpful Milan Tourist Office. The photos below show the entrance and interior of the Gallery. This area is always crowded with tourists but it is certainly worth seeing.

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Arched entrance to Galleria Vittore Emanuele

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Murals in the Galleria Vittore Emanuele

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Balcony, statues and mural in the Galleria Vittore Emanuele

Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur exhibition and lifeboat exercise

July 13, 2016

Another dazzling array of talent on show at Waterston House, Aberlady at the moment, in the form of an exhibition by Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur. The show includes Allen’s paintings and linocuts and Wilczur’s paintings of birds in a wide variety of settings. Both artists kindly sent me photos of their work. Richard Allen’s linocuts are smaller pieces than his paintings but no less effective for that. As can be seen in the portrayal of the curlew below, the linocuts in the exhibition draw your eye to the flowing lines in the picture and the almost abstract quality of the way the lines make shapes e.g. the curlew’s eye. Although the linocuts present us with birds, the flow of the lines reminded me of Australian Aboriginal drawings and paintings.

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Curlew by Richard Allen

In contrast to the linocuts, Allen’s paintings are full of colour. Some of the bird portraits have a lightly surreal feel to them, such as the Drake Goldeneye which clearly shows the ducks but includes a variety of areas in light and dark blues which are not naturalistic. One of my favourite birds, alas not seen as much around here as when I was young, is the lapwing aka peewit because of its call. Allen’s painting of the lapwing, shown below, was for me one of the highlights of the exhibition. The natural setting, the dignified portrayal of the bird and the range of colours on the bird and in the flora all combine to very good effect. Look at how the lapwing’s crest bends as do the reeds.

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Lapwing by Richard Allen

Jan Wilczur has provided visitors to the exhibition with a stunning range of paintings. For me, the most striking and one I went back to several times is Bullfinches – shown below. When you first look at this painting, you see the birds, especially the striking red breast and piercing eyes of the top bird. The lower bird – a female? – seems to be a little shy, as if aware that she is being painted but the colours on the head and the wings are delicate and draw your attention. Come back to the painting and you see the branches and the berries. the little globules of berries hanging precariously, it seems, from the branches, which seem animated with their hand-like twigs waving in the air. So – that’s what I see – what do you see?

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Bullfinches by Jan Wilczur

The second painting I noted down on my phone Memo was Long Eared Owl which is a fascinating work of art. Central to the picture is the imperious looking owl, a beautifully manicured bird without a feather out-of-place. It looks dressed to go somewhere. I like the subtle colours on the bird’s feathers and face and those penetrating eyes. Then you see the trees with their irregular notches, some of which could be small owl feathers that have drifted off and stuck to the trees. I think that the trees may be silver birch, one of my favourite trees.

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Long eared owl by Jan Wilczur

The two artists have set up an exhibition which is a must see for anyone in the area and the quality of the linocuts and paintings transcend what might appear to some people as a narrow subject. Richard Allen’s book of linocuts Coastal Birds is available at the exhibition and is superb value.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the sound of a helicopter close by attracted my attention and it appeared to land in a nearby park. I then saw it hovering above two RNLI lifeboats outside Dunbar Harbour. I went to the harbour which is just along the road from my house and took photos from the harbour wall. I’ve been having problems with my camera lately – just got the normal lens repaired – so I put on my longer lens. The photo below is perhaps not as sharp as it might have been but it does capture the helicopter and lifeboats, which were on a training exercise. There are many more photos – and better ones I think – here (scroll down to see photos). The 2nd photo below is of the lifeboat returning to harbour at the end of the exercise.

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RNLI/Coastguard exercise

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Dunbar lifeboat returns to harbour

 

Poole and Threlfall exhibition and tulips

May 1, 2016

A new exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady features two high quality artists – Greg Poole and John Threlfall. I contacted both artists and they replied immediately, kindly giving me 2 photos of their work from the exhibition. The two artists complement each other very well with one tending towards the abstract while the other is more (but not completely) naturalistic. In alphabetical order, I’ll look at Greg Poole’s work first. In the first work below, while the heron is recognisable, it represents a heron. The bird’s legs have an abstract quality and could be tree trunks or scaffolding? I like the shapes and the blocks of colour and the smooth lines in this striking picture. The 2nd work again is recognisably a blackbird with its yellow beak. But what about that demonstrative, peacock- like tail, and those platform soles? Overall, Poole’s work contains a range of striking images which challenge your vision of reality and ask you to appreciate the abstract building blocks which make up each work. Get to see this artist’s work if you can.

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Heron and Reeds woodcut by Greg Poole

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Blackbird monotype by Greg Poole

The work of John Threlfall is equally admirable. On the face of it, Threlfall’s work is more naturalistic than Poole’s but there is a shimmering quality to the 2 examples below which goes beyond straightforward portrayals of nature. In the first painting, the guillemots are recognisable but are we looking through a rain soaked window at them and are they sitting on ice, snow or winter greenery? It’s for the viewer to decide. the patches of white on the birds are reflected in the foreground and the little splash of red under the birds is an excellent touch. In the 2nd painting, the nuthatch stands out in gorgeous blues and a delicate pink and the scenery while recognisable, is as if it’s taken with a camera focusing on the bird and the background is blurred. This serves to draw our eye to the bird itself which looks contemplative but alert, perhaps to nearby food. Have a look at all 4 works and decide what you see, as it may be different from what I see. Overall, this exhibition was a joy to visit and the artists are to be highly praised for the consistent high quality of their work. While at the exhibition, you can buy John Threlfall’s book Drawn to the Edge.

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Black guillemots by John Threlfall

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Nuthatch by John Threlfall

It’s the end of April and the tulips are on full show in my garden, standing proud to show off their deep reds and yellows in contrast to the now dowdy daffodils which have had their time in the spotlight. The photos below firstly show the tulips open-mouthed to the sun against a backdrop of burgeoning lavender. There’s a definite “look at me” quality to tulips who see themselves (rightly or wrongly) as the aristocracy of spring flowers. A E Stallings wrote “The tulips make me want to paint/..Something about the way they twist/ As if to catch the last applause”.

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Tulips in my garden

The 2nd photo shows the inside of one of the tulips which I always think have a surreal quality. Is that a tarantula trying to crawl out of the flower? Dannie Abse sees tulips as “Effulgent swans/ sailing through a yellow interior of air” – great word effulgent.

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Close up of a tulip in my garden

Neil Foster photography and the Anthropocene age

April 10, 2016

One of the most common clichés of today is that “It’s a small world”. This week, I was alerted to the wildlife photographer Neil Foster by my brother in law Jim who lives in Tauranga in the north island of New Zealand. I looked at Neil Foster’s website and greatly admired the quality of the photos, particularly of the birds. I was admiring the 2nd photo below of the banded rail among some vegetation and how the photographer has cleverly caught the fact that the bird’s legs mimic the shape and colour of some of the plants around it, and then I got another email. This one told me that the photo of the band rail was taken just near my sister and brother in law’s house which looks on to Bay Street Reserve in Tauranga. We have visited there many times and it’s a beautiful place. The bay is tidal, so when the tide goes out, you can walk across the sand. One of the features of the bay is that sting rays often visit and when the tide goes out, you can see where the rays have landed on the sand and created mini craters. It’s a very unusual feature of the landscape. The first photo below is looking across Bay Street Reserve back to my sister’s and BiL’s house.

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Bay Street Reserve Tauaranga NZ

Back to Neil Foster’s photos. Wildlife photographers must be among the most patient people in the world and Neil has been spotted in a hide on the reserve, trying to get the right shot. My BiL overheard a conversation between 2 locals who were speculating about the possibility that the hide might in fact be the abode of a homeless person! The photos on the website show a remarkable variety of birds from various angles and in various poses and Neil kindly sent me two of the images for my blog. The photo of the band rail below is noticeable for its clarity – you can see the alertness in the bird’s eye and how its beak might be poised to strike. The balance of colour and light is also admirable – the pink beak shown off by the whitish underside of the bird.

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Band rail at Bay Street Reserve Taurangu

The next photo is of a dabchick (aka New Zealand Grebe) and baby bird. This is an action photo. The adult dabchick may be opening its wings to protect the young bird, or it may be cleaning itself or it may be showing the chick what s/he might be able to do in the future. Whereas the rail bird is looking for action i.e. in the form of food, the dabchick is the action. Another superbly clear photo, showing the concentration on the part of both birds.

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In last week’s Guardian Review, there was a thought-provoking and terminologically challenging article by Robert MacFarlane. In this article, MacFarlane argues that we are no living in the Anthropocene age, which is “the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record”. For the first time, the author suggests, it is human beings who define the age i.e. not as in the past where rock strata or dinosaurs were the significant feature and it is the implications of this human impact that MacFarlane wishes to examine. The author is involved in an attempt to establish a glossary for this new age and he states that the Bureau of Linguistical Reality (which sounds like something our of a science fiction novel) was founded “for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene”. He cites common words such as petroleum and ice-melt but also new words such as stieg, apex-guilt and shadowtime, only explaining the last term. MacFarlane discusses how art and literature have tackled the issues relating to the Anthropocene age but implies that it is difficult to encompass the whole age e.g. in a novel. There are many critics of the term Anthropocene and some object to the arrogance of the term i.e. it implies that humans are super-beings that can affect the universe, while others criticise the generality i.e. all of us are not leading irresponsible lives which produces climate change. Others see the term driven by technology and capitalism, suggesting that the authors of the term see only a technological fix to world problems. This is a provocative and challenging article but it will certainly make you think.