Posts Tagged ‘oystercatchers’

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

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.

 

Barns Ness and The Last of the Light

December 23, 2015

A walk on Sunday along the beach at the White Sands, which is about 2 miles (3.2k) from Dunbar. The wind was in the south-west, so the sea was calm although rippled by the wind. If the wind is in the north, there can be breakers on this beach, but on Sunday, there was only Philip Larkin’s onomatopoeic “the small hushed wave’s repeated fresh collapse” from his poem To the Sea. At the east end of the beach, you find a series of limestone pavements, which were formed “with the scouring of the limestone by kilometre thick glaciers during the last ice age”. It’s hard to imagine a glacier being one kilometre thick. One of the most interesting features of limestone pavements are the visible fossils, of plants and animals, on the pitted surface of the hard rock.

 

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Limestone pavement at the White Sands

Once you reach the end of the beach, Barns Ness Lighthouse comes into view and there are alternative paths which take you to the lighthouse. We walked through the gorse bushes (some of them had unseasonable flowers), and then along the edge of the beach where the oystercatchers (includes video) were in a constant search for food at the waves’ edge.

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Oystercatcher. Photo by Mike Pennington and reproduced under the Creative Commons licence

Barns Ness Lighthouse first shone its beams across the sea in 1901 and the light continued to shine until 2005. It was originally manned by lighthouse keepers and then automated in 1986. One of our sons’ favourite picture books when they were young, was The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch and you can watch it on a YouTube video (not sure about the copyright on this). It’s a great story for children, amusing and educational at the same time.

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The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage

The lighthouse has been recently repainted and repaired and it is one of our local icons as it stands proudly at the sea-shore. There may not be a light shining any more but it is still a very impressive and fascinating building.

Barns Ness Lighthouse

Barns Ness Lighthouse

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Barns Ness Lighthouse

In last week’s Guardian Review, there was a review of a book on twilight The Last of the Light by Peter Davidson. I very rarely read non-fiction books these days but I’m going to buy this one. Davidson refers to the fact that in 2016, there is so much unnatural light that we forget what twilight – ” the last glimmering of a way of seeing” is really like. The author looks at prose, poetry and art in discussing the time between light and dark at the end of the day and also considers twilight in a range of countries. For example, the French refer to twilight as the time between chien et loup – the dog and the wolf. The French for twilight is le crepuscule which comes from the Latin crepusculum. I’ve noted here before that one of my favourite words is crepuscular referring to the twilight. Crepuscular is a muscular word.

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The Last of the Light by Peter Davidson

Robert Greenhalf and kittiwakes on Dunbar Castle

July 15, 2014

A recent visit to the Scottish Ornithologists Club at Waterstone House to see an exhibition by Robert Greenhalf and two other artists. I left a message on all 3 artists’ website and Robert Greenhalf replied and kindly sent me 2 photos of his work. Robert’s work covers woodcuts, watercolours and oils and his portrayal of seabirds particularly caught my eye. In Robert’s paintings, there is a sense of movement as well as delicate colour – see for example, his Feeding Godwits. Photo 1 – Common Terns – has a lovely mixture of blue on the birds and the waves. Photo 2 – one of my personal favourites from the exhibition – Oystercatchers – is a dynamic portrayal of the birds taking off in unison. This type of collective launch can often be seen at the west end of Belhaven Beach in Dunbar, on the other side of town from which I live.

Robert Greenhalf: Common Terns

Robert Greenhalf: Common Terns

Robert Greenhalf: Oystercatchers

Robert Greenhalf: Oystercatchers

Sticking with the sea bird theme, I made my annual 0.5 mile walk along to Dunbar Harbour with my Canon 1000D camera and my Tamron AF70 lens, which I use for close up photography at a larger distance than I can get on my “normal ” lens. Each year, I go along specifically to photograph the kittiwake chicks on the walls of Dunbar Castle. The kittiwakes are small gulls which return to the nesting site each year, although at Dunbar Castle, it is noticeable that numbers are declining, and this is attributed to the shortage of their main food, sand eels. Over the years, I’ve tried to capture the perfect Kittiwake Madonna and child(ren) photo – so I’ll keep trying. Kittiwakes are intermittently very noisy birds and one bird returning to a nest and giving a welcoming cry (supposed to sound like Kit – ti – wake) can start off a collective, high-pitched  yelling. Photos 3, 4 and 5 show the mothers (I think) and chicks in various poses. In fact, in Photo 3, the birds seemed to have posed for a family shot.

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

In photo 4, both parent and chick look determined to remain straight-faced, while in Photo 5, the parent attends to the chick’s needs.

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

Photo 6 shows how the kittiwakes live cheek by jowl in the nesting site on the castle wall. the red sandstone of the walls provides a colourful and wind-blown background to the nests.

Kittiwake nests on Dunbar Castle

Kittiwake nests on Dunbar Castle