After quite some absence I return to... Scotland by Rail.
A top place, and sketch-spot-number-one when Kittie Jones and I go birding-sketching.
|Inchcolm oystercatcher, watercolour, 14.5x21cm|
It's 40 minutes by train from Edinburgh Waverley along the start of the rail route to Aberdeen, one of my favourite of all journeys. Leaving Edinburgh and curving northwards you pass the airport on your left - look for a crashed-out small plane beside an orange windsock. Used for emergency training I assume. The plane, not the windsock. Then you're crossing the iron-girder Forth Rail Bridge. On the right are views down to wartime-fortified Inchgarvie Island (almost directly below you, home now to seabirds. See more in my previous post here), beyond to Inchcolm and other islands and eventually to the open sea. On the left is Port Edgar marina and the Forth Road Bridge. Soon also the Second Forth Road Bridge.
Immediately before leaving the bridge Deep Sea World can be seen down on the right, and various terribly expensive and terribly nice-looking houses on a rocky almost-island. Next the industry of Inverkeithing ship and scrap yards, then farmland... Dalgety Bay... farmland... Aberdour. Aberdour Castle lurks by the station, almost hidden behind a stand of trees. Crows, rooks, jackdaws always are up there, noisy and watchful.
|watercolour, looking to Edinburgh|
A half hour walk - twenty minutes if you walk fast, fifty minutes if there's a lot of birdlife going on - gets us to our sketch spot. It's an area of a square kilometre or so, not much visited and great for birds. There's lots of scrubland but you try to stick to the paths because all sorts of birds will nest in the thick grasses. There must be plenty small mammals about because we always see a kestrel, hovering head-still, wings fluttering. Once there was a fox, fox-trotting across one of the beaches. Two times ago (October 2013) we saw a short-eared owl. Unfortunately I flushed it from its cover and out to sea, it spent many minutes battling the wind (and gulls) before it managed to make its way back to land.
|spot the short-eared owl (hint - look between the eiders. There are no seals in this picture)|
|a bit easier to spot the short-eared owl (NB - two shags on the left, two eiders on the right)|
|this herring gull has spotted the short-eared owl|
|and short-eared owl has spotted this herring gull|
|everyone has now the spotted short-eared owl and short-eared owl has definitely spotted me.|
|view to Edinburgh, unfinished|
We split up for our time there and draw what and where we fancy. Sometimes wildlife comes and sometimes it doesn't. I don't really mind. I'm happy to paint sea views. We have lots of food packed and hot drinks and layers of thermals. I have more warm clothes in my bag and usually I need them.
On our latest trip, Wednesday 20th November, our bird list numbered 42 species:
|Aberdour bird list, 20th November 2013 (missing the bullfinch)|
|spot the oystercatchers, godwits, curlew|
Aberdour features in my new book, Landscapes & Birds of Scotland, an Artist's View. (£20, buy from Jeremy Mills Publishing, or buy signed copies from Linlithgow's independent bookshop Far From the Madding Crowd, or buy signed and messaged directly from me by emailing email@example.com - excellent Christmas present!)
Here's my Aberdour entry:
Aberdour, from Landscapes & Birds of Scotland, an Artist's View
It's very useful to go sketching with fellow artists. You can offer advice and encourage each other to get on with work. I often go drawing with printmaker-painter friend Kittie Jones. Our style is very different but our subject matter is similar: me – landscape and birds; she – birds and landscape.
A favourite spot is a little peninsula south-west of Aberdour on the Fife coast. It's near farmland but feels remote and unused and has lots of great wildlife habitat. There are wartime gun emplacements to use as hides or to shelter in if weather is poor. Views are across the Forth to Inchcolm Island and the higgledy piggledy outline of Edinburgh.
At the right time of year there are stonechats in the scrubland and shrubland, godwits probing the sheltered sand-beach shores, guillemots and razorbills in the two bays and gannets diving further out to sea. One October day we saw a group of twenty or more goosanders or mergansers sheltering in the northern bay.
There's almost always a kestrel, and sometimes two. Magpies fly up to try to chase them off. The kestrel hovers as it hunts, head perfectly stationary, wings and tail flapping to keep airborne. It well deserves its old English name - the windhover.
|kestrel, rainbow, cold, blowing. biro & coloured pencil, 20th November 2013|
How to get there:
Trains run half hourly at least and an adult return from Edinburgh is under £10. Less if you go off-peak. Timetable by clicking here.
Thanks as always to ScotRail for their kind support of my work to explore Scotland by Rail.
|lighthouse, Edinburgh, Salisbury Crags. watercolour. Not quite finished|
|on the Forth, watercolour, 14.5x21cm|