detail from Waterlines

Aldabra lagoonIn early 1974 my Dad had the chance to join his friend, the zoologist Bryan Nelson, for a few weeks on Aldabra, a large atoll in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar, between the Seychelles and the African mainland, 9 degrees south of the equator.  At the time Aldabra was run by the Royal Society of London as a research institute, as they had recognised its importance as a unique wildlife haven. It is now a Unesco Natural World Heritage site run by the Seychelles Island Foundation who continue with research into its fragile habitat and wildlife.

At the time it was an adventure getting to the atoll (and a bigger adventure getting off it as the regular supply boat failed to arrive week after week), but it proved a fruitful source of inspiration for many drawings, watercolours and oil paintings in the months that followed.  Dad also created 22 lithographs of birds and other wildlife from the atoll in limited editions, some of which were hand coloured.

Shags, Craigleith  1979
Shags, Craigleith 1979
Shags and Guillemots, Bass Rock  2002
Shags and Guillemots, Bass Rock 2002
Roseate Tern 1988
Roseate Tern 1988
Red-footed Booby and chick
Red-footed Booby and chick

I recently found this map of various walks around Menston in Yorkshire which John had annotated with delicate drawings of the different species of birds he saw.  The family estimate that this was drawn up in the mid 1940's when John was a teenager.  In his book Land Marks and Sea Wings he wrote this about his childhood in the Yorkshire dales...

Gannets hanging in the wind, in Land Marks and Sea Wings p 54The John Busby Seabird Drawing Course runs annually in June based near North Berwick in East Lothian.

Now led by Darren Woodhead, Greg Poole and Kittie Jones, it is open to anyone with an interest in drawing birds in the field. It aims to nurture and encourage everyone with an enthusiasm for sketching birds, whether a keen amateur or established artist.  Be inspired by the energetic frenzy of the seabird colonies around the Firth of Forth at the height of the breeding season. There are about 20 participants on the course who take this fantastic opportunity to work alongside established artists and get an insight into the diverse approaches that they take to working in the field.

In 2011, I persuaded Dad to let me video him while he drew the garden birds coming to the bird feeder outside his dining room window.  This bird feeder was a magnet for all the small birds in the area, and regularly attracted a wide variety of species.  Sitting in comfort at the dining room table he made many, many sketches and drawings. 

A Portrait of the Wild - Summer was one of a series shot by Granada TV (now STV) in 1991.  It shows John Busby drawing in a gannet colony in the northern Shetland Islands.