A is for… Avocets, Alpine Gentian and Aldabra kestrels
What a spectacular way to start this alphabetic journey through John’s work – a colony of avocets on the wing. Beautiful birds and a such a symbol of conservation success they are now the logo for the RSPB. Over half the breeding pairs in the UK nest in RSPB reserves.
The Alpine Gentian with its strikingly blue flower, catches the eye when clambering up mountainsides. This one is from Ben Lawers, the highest peak in the central highlands of Scotland at 3984ft (1214m) which is renown for its rare arctic-alpine plants. Now a National Trust for Scotland reserve.
The Aldabra (or Madagascar) Kestrels are the only resident birds of prey on Aldabra atoll. These two were spotted during an extended stay on Aldabra that John was able to make in 1974. Then run by the Royal Society, those staying on this World Heritage site were primarily research scientists studying the unique wildlife, I don’t know if an artist had ever visited before. Visitors today are equally strictly controlled by the Seychelles Island Foundation with monies raised going towards their conservation efforts.
Hover over picture for link to shop see also Fairy Terns to Jackass Penguins (F,G,H,I,J) Kentish Plovers to Ospreys (K,L,M,N,O) Pochard to Tigers (P,Q,R,S,T) and the tailenders (U,V,W,XYZ)
B is for… Barn Owls, Blackbirds and Boxing Hares
“My friend David Measures had a tame barn owl, rescued when a chick, which would take a bath in a washing up bowl and retire to sleep on top of the fridge” said John in ‘Lines from Nature’ p.142. Here she is, Penelope, complete with one of her feathers.
The blackbird eating berries was an illustration for Hugh Ouston’s Birdwatch column in ‘The Herald’ which ran in the mid-1990’s. Although most of these illustrations were in ‘greyscale’ pen and wash, the later ones were in colour so they could appear in the Saturday supplement. Some of these articles are still available in ‘The Herald’s’ archive online, and for some I have a copy of the article. They are beautifully written. We will be seeing more of these illustrations as we go through the alphabet. See my earlier post about the Herald Series.
The boxing hares were a favourite mammal, although it is now thought that they are primarily does fighting off unwanted attention. John wrote, “Boxing hares in spring present a challenge to catch the movement. Often they are too engrossed in their rivalry to be alarmed by a watcher. Hares seem so much more alive and intelligent than rabbits or is that just my prejudice against the pests that invade our garden?” ‘Lines from Nature’ p.154
C is for… Capercaillie, Corn Bunting and Cranes
Two birds with restricted ranges and one pan-european marvel today. Here we have a capercaillie strutting its stuff, wings down, tail flared and beard feathers bristling. Quite a sight, and sounding off too to impress the ladies. Mostly restricted to the forested parts of the Cairngorms.
The corn bunting is another picture from The Herald series (see B is for…). The accompanying article notes its declining numbers throughout Scotland, something that has continued in the decades since then. The corn bunting is on the UK conservation Red list.
Cranes, how could we not include them in John’s alphabet? Whether in here in Hornborgasjön, Sweden, Extremadura, Spain or the Hula valley, Israel, John delighted in their rhythmic elegance and captured the crane dance in many oil paintings as well as drawings and watercolours. He wrote of Hornborgasjön in April, “It is one of the great bird wonders of the world – birds feeding, preening, bathing, dancing with mincing steps, dipping, then raising their necks and springing into the air, picking up and throwing sticks, calling in great excitement”. Something to put on the wish-list.
D is for… Dabchicks, Dipper and Dragonfly
A group of fluffy-ended Dabchicks (or Little grebes) with interesting reflections in the water. This picture was originally published as part of ‘The Herald’ birdwatch series (see B is for…), but also appears in ‘Lines from Nature’ p.173 John did like grebes! The Dipper is also from ‘The Herald’ (15 June 1996) under the heading ‘Blacksmith of the Stream’ (or gabha dhubh nan allt in gaelic) named for their characteristic bobbing up and down on a mid-stream anvil stone.
The dragonfly, a four-spotted chaser, is from a book on the Beinn Eighe National Nature reserve in Scotland. A different sort of winged creature for you!
E is for… Egret, an Estuary scene and Elephant seals
A Great White Egret no less, an illustration from the definitive ‘Birds of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’ where it is recorded as a scarce winter visitor. It’s pretty scarce in the UK too – 35 birds overwintering according to the RSPB. I’ll just have to go somewhere warmer then… 🙂
Estuaries are a prime feeding ground for shore birds and in East Lothian John had many good spots on his doorstep. The tidal flats at Aberlady, where the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) has its club headquarters open to the public was a favourite spot. Here two curlews (I think) fly across the page with sand banks and water reflections and… is that a seal in the background?
What could be more ridiculous than an elephant seal squidged out on the sand in the sunshine? Mind you, I’m not brave enough to say that face to face. These (slightly) smaller females were drawn on a trip to the Falkland Islands where John noted, “The noisy group of elephant seals were fascinating to watch and draw – cows lying up on the beach in various stages of shedding fur, and the alpha bull rising chest to chest with a rival in shuddering clashes.” ‘Land Marks and Sea Wings‘ p.123
see also Fairy Terns to Jackass Penguins (F,G,H,I,J) Kentish Plovers to Ospreys (K,L,M,N,O) Pochard to Tigers (P,Q,R,S,T) and the tailenders (U,V,W,XYZ)