Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Scotland by Rail - Dalry, Ayrshire, Blair Estate woodland



Dalry in North Ayrshire, where I'm soon starting work on large painted panels for station decoration. Previous Dalry blog here.

Here's a nice easy stroll through a nearby wooded country estate.


The Walk

Getting off the train walk east uphill along a main road for less than a mile, firstly through a large housing estate then into open farmland. Remember after the houses to look back for wide views of Dalry and valley and hills beyond. Over those hills are Great and Little Cumbrae Islands, and Bute, and eventually Arran. For another day.



Dalry & valley & those hills

over those hills


The countryside stretch of road is short but with no pavement, take care. Soon on your right is a gatehouse into the Blair Estate. Read the sign, go through, start your exploring.






I walked a clockwise circle of the grounds with a little bit of meandering when a branching path looked particularly enticing.

Snowdrops were out and winter thrushes were in the trees, a great spotted woodpecker called once. Blue, great and coal tits were all over a feeding station at the south gatehouse and through the woods buzzard, robin, blackbird, wren, house sparrow, rook, crow, jackdaw, starling. I made a few sketchbook drawings, quick ones in pen.











Newhouse Farm, having detoured there-and-back past the Blair south gatehouse.

detour found me three buzzards. Here you see one.






thinking of Escher


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How to get there

Trains to Dalry take half an hour from Glasgow Central and run half-hourly Mon-Sat, hourly on Sundays.

'Ayrshire, Inverclyde & Stranraer Timetable' and 'Buy Tickets' option on ScotRail website.




Thanks to ScotRail for enabling my Scotland by Rail work.






Friday, 10 March 2017

humpback in the Forth

humpback in the Forth, 10th Feb 2017, 20x40cm, oil

There's a humpback in the River Forth, it's been there at least since the end of January.

I first saw it on 9th Feb when I took 153 photos using smartphone held up to binoculars. It isn't in any of them. I made some sketches then came home and turned them into the above oil.

On 18th Feb we saw it again. 132 photos this time and it features in one of them. Well, its blow does. More sketches and another oil started back in the studio. Three loads of plastics picked from the beach and one dead herring gull found and ring number recorded and reported.

the blow!




Inchkeith island on the left, Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags to right of middle, Pentlands on the right.

herring gull, ring number reported to www.euring.org

Kinghorn litter-pick bins. Great idea.

bag of plastics, Burntisland bay

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5th March was our first sun-soaked whale watch. I took only 45 photos and it appears in three. Well, its dorsal and a little bit of its back. Here's the best one.


Kinghorn to the left, Burntisland to the right

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9th March we saw the whale for about twenty minutes. A low 29 photos taken, one of which is the clearest yet.





I'm not going to give you links to Facebook friends who're putting up photos of breaches, huge splashes, tail flukes, white belly, flippers... and I'm not encouraging you to seek them out. If you do you'll probably never visit my blog again.


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Got a boat?


these people got a good view

If you have a boat and are considering trying for a close look please have a very careful think about whether you really should. Put the whale's welfare above all else and please read this link:
www.scotland.police.uk/whats-happening/news/2017/march/wildlife-officer-says-dont-harass-the-humpback



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Please help save our sea life:
www.uk.whales.org
- www.mcsuk.org


humpback in the Forth, 18th Feb 2017, 20x40cm, oil, not quite finished

Saturday, 25 February 2017

We need to sort out plastics


This is Garelochhead. One of my regular patches. A place I love.



Beautiful isn't it?

The Gare Loch with its surrounding horseshoe of hills is what it's all about. Great birding down there by the water - Carrion crow, Common gull, Lesser black-backed gull, Magpie, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Starling, Hooded crow, Curlew, Eider duck, Goldeneye duck, Grey heron, Herring gull, Jackdaw, Mallard, Pied wagtail.

But zoom in and this is what you see:











They come in on the waves, floated to the head of the loch by west coast winds and the tide. It's not the fault of Garelochhead. The vast majority of these pieces aren't theirs. They're all of ours.

Garelochhead is just one little speck on one big world, this is happening across all of it.

Not a world I'll be proud to show my children.



What we can do:

- Sign the Clean Up Scotland pledge to show that you care and want to take action. Signing shows politicians and businesses that we demand change. - www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/pledge

- 2 Minute Beach Clean! - www.beachclean.net/why - remember to share your pics on social media.

www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56229#.WLGsBDuLQ2w
- www.mcsuk.org/what_we_do/Clean+seas+and+beaches
- www.mcsuk.org/what_we_do.php/Clean+seas+and+beaches/Campaigns+and+policy
www.oceanconservancy.org/healthy-ocean/clean-beaches-clean-water
www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/24/microplastics-ban-in-cosmetics-save-oceans-mps-say-microbeads

- reduce use of plastics and lobby business and government to do the same.


Garelochhead, why I love it:

www.landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/garelochhead-sketching-submarine-48.html
www.landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/your-local-patch-scotland-by-rail-bit.html
www.landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/garelochhead-bto-bbs-bird-count-first.html
www.landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/scotland-by-rail-garelochhead-5.html



You are most welcome to use material from this post to help campaign for a protected planet.

Please share.

Leo du Feu, 2017

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Living with nature - urban gulls

lesser black backed gull, acrylic on card, 14.5x21cm

About Urban Gulls
Gull season will soon be upon us. 
For me this means the joy of watching beautiful wild creatures close-up as they live their lives alongside me. It means the fascination of seeing gulls returning, some from overseas, returning to the exact same spot that they nested in last year, being re-united with their mate after a winter apart. It means watching their eggs appear, waiting for them to hatch, watching them diligently raise their chicks. It means watching the chicks as they start their hop-explorations across the rooftops. It's a privilege and a treat to be so close to them and their lives. 
For others it means daily terror, or irritation, or absolute anger as the gulls 'invade our towns', swoop at our heads, splatter our cars, wake us in the early morning. It means shouting articles and letters in the papers. It means councils debating whether to spend money climbing onto roofs to destroy nests and eggs. It means householders and building owners putting spikes over every surface that a bird might choose to rest or nest on.
It's quite incredible that human beings can feel such hostility towards any other living creature. Humans are the only ones that might deserve our fury.
In my own town - we have snazzy signs helping to reduce understanding and empathy towards wildlife. Funded I believe by our Community Council (which does, by the way, usually do a lot of good):
"Help deter the winged menace!"
!

Last spring I wrote an article on gulls for our local magazine. The subsequent edition featured two anti-gull response letters, one containing the line, "Beware Mr du Feu...".

Here's my article. You're most welcome to share it:
Urban Gulls, the offending article
Living in Burntisland on the Fife coast means living with gulls. For a lot of the year they're not very noticeable but come springtime breeding season they become rather an issue. They can be extremely noisy in the early mornings, and when kids are trying to sleep at night. They might steal a bite of your lunch, or your whole sandwich. They certainly do swoop at us as we walk past - pretty scary!
It helps me to know why they do these things. The noises are about courtship, pair-bonding, keeping in touch with young, defending territory. As I learn better which calls belong to which gulls it becomes more interesting, less irritating, and I try to remember that it's only during the breeding season. We're pretty noisy too, with our cars, planes and mowers and three months of Shows on the Links!

The swooping is to protect their chicks. A swooping gull is shooing us from its nest area just as we shoo it from our garden or picnic. It isn't trying to kill us and couldn't if it tried. On the rare occasion when a gull actually hits it's worth knowing that it's their feet not their beak that impact with our head. When walking, as soon as we move beyond the gull's territory the swooping stops. They pester more if you're with a dog and they also swoop at cats. Cats have no problem getting away fast.

A good technique for passing nest areas without stress or fright is to walk calmly, waving a gloved hand or bit of stick over your head. They still swoop but can't fly close enough to hit you.

I learnt this technique on the Isle of May where I go to paint. Accessing the harbour means walking through the nesting ground of hundreds of terns - beautiful seabirds, like delicate gulls but with dagger-sharp beaks. The terns rise en masse and swirl above, dive-bombing constantly and making a terrible shrieking commotion. Unlike gulls, terns do try to hit you, and they draw blood! The waving-above-head method (plus hat to avoid droppings) works perfectly and the experience becomes rather special - how often do we get to be so close to a natural, wild, animal? The other technique is to walk beside the tallest member of your group, which unfortunately seems to be me.

After studying and learning more about gulls I find I really enjoy and admire them. They're slick, bright, characterful, and one of the easiest creatures to watch. They have such fascinating lives, returning to their breeding territory each spring from hundreds of miles away, usually mating for life, living up to 32 years! I'm interested to see which rooftops they return to and whether they use the same spots as last year.

It's amazing watching the eggs appear then a month later crack open to reveal stripy grey fluffballs which grow and grow until larger than their parents and ready to flap down to the ground for the first time. I love that funny stage when adults have had more than enough of parenthood but youngsters keep whining for more food, more food. I don't enjoy seeing the young chicks which are hit by our cars.

Worldwide there are over gull 50 species and in Britain we commonly have six: Herring gull; Common gull; Lesser black-backed gull; Great black-backed gull; Black-headed gull; Kittiwake. All of these can be seen in or from Burntisland.

Surprisingly, gulls aren't doing as well as we might think. Herring gull is on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern Red List. Lesser black-backed, amongst others, is Amber Listed. Between 2000 and 2013, breeding Herring gull numbers fell by 30% and Lesser black-backed by 48%. Scientists say that much more info must be gathered before any big decisions about "how, when and where, to control gulls are taken, while a thorough understanding of their ecology should underpin any measures taken." (British Trust for Ornithology [BTO] 'Gulls allowed?' online article.)


Read more

Great gull articles on RSPB and BTO websites. 
Try your local library or bookshop for general bird books.
A must read is Esther Woolfson's brilliant 'Field Notes From a Hidden City' which discusses our relationships with urban wildlife.
Tern (or gull) deterrence with no harm caused to either human or bird.
(A stick, waved gently above the head.)

Isle of May, June 2013
photo thanks to Maurizio De Vita Nature Photography & Storytelling


Even just a hood will usually do the job.

Isle of May, June 2013
photo thanks to Maurizio De Vita Nature Photography & Storytelling