Win­ter flocks

Paint­ings of birds by a mas­ter artist

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

Un­til now, my work has con­cen­trated on field guides. I worked my way sys­tem­at­i­cally through all the bird species of Eu­rope. But with my lat­est book, the idea was to pro­duce an ac­count of the birds that can eas­ily be seen from my stu­dio win­dow dur­ing the win­ter months. A sim­ple book about a few species, with pic­tures sketched on the spot. I wanted to show the vari­a­tions within species, how ex­pres­sions and colours dif­fer be­tween in­di­vid­u­als.

I feed the birds at my stu­dio, a kilo­me­tre or so from our home on the is­land of Got­land, off south­ern Swe­den. Great tits are the most fre­quent vis­i­tors, but I see every­thing from bram­blings to grey par­tridges. There is thick snow in win­ter, when the land­scape looks par­tic­u­larly graphic. I like to look at the snow and try to com­pare it with how a white sur­face would ap­pear in March or April, the sort of thing that artists some­times oc­cupy them­selves with. How white is white re­ally?

In or­der to paint a bird I must in some way find a con­nec­tion with the species and link it to a spe­cific oc­ca­sion, or sev­eral. But the more one looks at a bird, the more ques­tions arise.

ABOVE Af­ter the lin­net has as­sumed its win­ter plumage in Au­gust–Septem­ber, it be­comes fairly anony­mous, grey-buff and gen­er­ally brown-streaked. d. It of­ten gath­ers in dense flocks on stub­ble fields and waste­land. In­trigu­ingly, the species sings year­round, al­beit qui­etly and con­ver­sa­tion­ally in win­ter. .

RIGHT With its long, very pointed bill the goldfinch is s a spe­cial­ist on seeds of plants in the sun­flower fam­ily, ly, Com­posi­tae, such as spear this­tle, teasel, ground­sel l and greater knap­weed. Its red face con­sists of short, t, stiff feath­ers and may be an adap­ta­tion to with­stand d wear when the bird sinks its bill deep into seed­heads. ds.

BE­LOW An odd bird, the nuthatch at­tracts at­ten­tion n when it comes to seed-feed­ers, un­abashed to the point of be­ing boor­ish, al­ways on the go. The black band through the eye gives it char­ac­ter. It looks tough. ugh.

RIGHT In Swe­den, bullfinche­s are a sym­bol of Christ­mas. Ev­ery time I look at them I wres­tle with my­self over whether it is the male or the fe­male that is the more at­trac­tive. The male is the ob­vi­ous choice, but the more I look at these birds, the more I in­cline to­wards the fe­male’s sober plumage.

LEFT For me as an artist the great tit is a para­dox – colour­ful and rich in con­trasts yet merg­ing in a fan­tas­tic way with its sur­round­ings. When we look at dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­u­als, we quickly be­come aware that the yel­low varies ap­pre­cia­bly. Some males are pale cad­mium-yel­low; oth­ers are a weak dirty yel­low colour.

RIGHT The treecreepe­r’s long, nee­dle-thin bill means that it can ex­ploit a niche which oth­ers can­not reach. Its eyes look a lit­tle slant­ing and are po­si­tioned such that the bird can look in among the small­est nooks and cran­nies; per­haps it can be de­scribed as ex­tremely near-sighted.

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