Sunday, 22 July 2018

Scotland By Rail - Bass Rock, North Berwick -150,000 gannets



Nature and landscape are what I'm all about, I've lived close to the Forth all my life, I've visited North Berwick lots, seabirds are a particular inspiration ever since beginning my stays on the Isle of May, so why on earth had I never been out to the Bass Rock? I don't know but it's sorted now.

The Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick harbour runs trips to the Bass on many days through the year. You can't land except under special circumstances (for example, spend a lot of money) but £22 gets you an hour or so of boat ride around Craigleith island (puffins, razorbills, guillemots, gulls) then around the Bass Rock (gannets up to 150,000 of them). It costs less if you're a child, or free if you're under three, which Oren is.

The boat is good, seating is under a perspex roof or fully in the open. We chose the latter for maximum thousands-of-gannets-wheeling-over-your-head impact. If you sit at the rear the thrum of the engine combined with loudspeaker human commentary and loud gannet commentary means hardly anyone hears how much your baby isn't enjoying his first time on a boat.

We were three Scots and three Italians - Silvana, Maurizio and Marco who I'd been sketching, painting, photographing and making banana jokes with on the Isle of May for the past week.

We were missing island life so we travelled with Jennifer and Oren to North Berwick by train, 40 minutes to Edinburgh, 8 minutes to change, 35 minutes to North Berwick. All went to plan, Oren loves trains much more than boats. From North Berwick station it's a fifteen minute walk along High Street or shore to the Scottish Seabird Centre. We chose the shore, nice sunny day at the seaside...


Sea haar. Unexpected but totally atmospheric and not stopping people having fun on the beach, some in bikinis (the Italians were very impressed).


outdoor bathing

Scottish Seabird Centre

Arctic Tern by Geoffrey Dashwood (unveiled by one of The Two Ronnies

King Penguin Group by George R. Graham


Secretly some of us hoped the fog would stay but as we sat having lunch in the Seabird Centre cafe the sun broke through and the Bass suddenly appeared a couple of miles to the east.





Before the boat we looked around the very good Seabird Centre shop, the ruins of a possibly 7th Century chapel, the harbour and rocky headland. There were no bananas but there was a brilliant patch of wildflower planting on the steps to the harbour. Only a few square metres but containing around thirty species of flowering plants native to the local coastline, some no longer found there because of over-foraging. I saw no butterflies but there were bumblebees aplenty and at least ten Silver Y moths zipping among the flowers. Silver-Ys are day fliers unlike the majority of moths. If more of us would plant little wildflower patches like this, what a difference we could make.
 




Onto the boat. Craigleith. Then the Bass. I find it hard to know how to describe in words the sight, the sound, the smell of the world's largest colony of Northern gannets. The island is now de-vegetated, almost every possible part colonised by these shining white, black wing-tipped, 6ft-wingspanned seabirds. The colours are sea and sky plus shades of monochrome, lots white of course, and the warmly off-white ochre of gannet head and gannet guano. The island cliffs rise sheer from the waves, exactly as I remember from circumnavigating Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, St Kilda, on a National Trust for Scotland cruise some years ago with my friend Chris. See Chris' book about life as a schoolteacher on the also-remote island of Foula -













So much to take in and the boat constantly bobbing so I hadn't much time to sketch or photograph or binocular. Probably best would have been to simply stare but instead I tried to do all these things, plus comfort not wholly happy baby. I got the scrappy sketches you've just seen done then made sure when we got home to work up larger drawings to keep the scenes in my mind. Hopefully one day I'll turn them into larger canvasses. I say that about a lot of my sketches.









Fascinating blog of a PhD on Bass Rock gannets

The status of the Gannet in Scotland in 2013–14 - Scottish Birds journal, 3-18




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How to get there

Trains to North Berwick take 35 minutes from Edinburgh Waverley 

See 'Lothian and The Borders - Glasgow - Edinburgh - North Berwick/Dunbar' timetable and 'Buy Tickets' on ScotRail website.



Many thanks to ScotRail for enabling and supporting my ongoing Scotland by Rail work. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Scotland By Rail - Aberdeen - coastal walk - an hour of dolphins

Torry dolphins 2, 15x21cm, watercolour

By train to Aberdeen on the second last day of August last year delivering artworks for a Cornerstone charity exhibition. This rail line is an absolute favourite journey of mine thanks to childhood summer and Christmas-times visiting grandparents and cousins and lots of trips to distract Jennifer from her studies in our early years. And just because it's a great route, cliffy coastline a lot of the way up.

From Fife I can reach Aberdeen in just over two hours if my start time fits with the change-only-at-Kirkcaldy journey, otherwise it's change at Kirkcaldy and Dundee and takes half an hour longer. Direct from Edinburgh the journey is usually under two and a half hours. From Glasgow or Inverness it's under three and from Perth it's about an hour and three quarters.

Train left Burntisland 7.46am, reached Aberdeen before nine, I delivered my paintings to Cornerstone, had a bit of a chat... still only half ten. Sun was shining, sea was beckoning, I hadn't to be home for any appointments or (terribly) pressing deadlines, it was far too long since I'd been to Aberdeen. I decided to make this a full Scotland By Rail day. I hadn't managed one for a while and once October and baby came I probably wouldn't for even longer. It turned out to be one of the best of days. One of those where weather, motivation, schedule, subject come together letting you get so much work done you feel you might make it as an artist if only you kept this up. I sketched from the train window all the way up, sketched and painted for seven hours along the coast in Aberdeen, and sketched for a lot of the journey back.

So, half ten, I set off across the River Dee over Victoria Bridge where Market Street becomes Victoria Street, about a ten minute walk from the station. Three swans passed below and a bundle of orange-glow lifeboats were docked further off. Now stay on Victoria Street or take your pick of the next few left turns. I took second left onto Sinclair Road and followed it through harbour industry, straight line until it touched with the harbour edge proper and became Greyhope Road. Greyhope Road curves with the mouth of the Dee, past the South Breakwater, Greyhope Bay, Girdle Ness Lighthouse, into Nigg Bay. Nigg Bay is currently under major development - £350 million of it, a new second harbour is being built. I walked as far as the construction site before turning and retracing my outward route. There are options to make it a circle walk but I wanted to stick with the coast and also my time was now tight - more than seven hours had passed.

on Victoria Bridge, crossing the Dee. Three swans

very good place for boat watching

Aberdeen harbour entrance, Marine Operations Centre, ship with helipad

Hawkweed.
At least, I think it may well be.
David? Mum?
 

Torry Point Battery

looking to Aberdeen

foghorn

Girdle Ness Lighthouse

Nigg Bay, building a harbour

Don't think this was a seven hour walk, it wasn't, it's just that I sit, sketch, paint, watch for most of most walks. Total there-and-back distance from station is five miles and very manageable terrain, tarmac the whole way if you wish. You could do it in a couple of hours with time to sit enjoying flask and flapjack. I had flask of coffee, flask of tea, snack, lunch, snack, snack. Snack. (Mealtimes blur when you're on a painting trip. Or they amalgamate and you've scoffed everything by half eleven and have six sore - turning-to-empty - stomach hours ahead of you.)

My homeward train left Aberdeen at 7.11pm and I was back in Burntisland by half past nine.



Artworks:

Marine Operations Centre, 15x21cm, watercolour & pencil.
Donated to the Art Friends of St Columba's Hospice.

a square of rainbow, 15x21cm, watercolour

unfinished, 15x21cm, watercolour

oystercatcher camouflage - rockpooling, 15x21cm, watercolour

 the lifeboat, 15x21cm, watercolour

 red boat, 15x21cm, watercolour



Sketching from trains
Sketching from train windows is a great thing - also try ferry (choose your day carefully), bus (shoogly, I don't get on well), car (nausea-inducing, I rarely risk it), plane (those worlds of clouds!). 

It's a bit of a challenge with objects and scenes very quickly passing but that's good as it encourages speedy spontaneous drawings which are often the best type. It also makes you notice lots of details you might otherwise miss. Try sketching on a route you regularly travel and I bet you'll spot new things. It passes the time. It gives you something to look back at and remember when you get home - next week, next year, next decade. My sketchbooks are my diaries / journals (extremely disorganised ones!). And it often gives opportunity to hand out business cards, even if mostly to conductors.

I filled these four pages on the journey there and back.







Dolphins - Aberdeen is the place to see them
I sank down among grasses a little short of the South Breakwater having had a glimpse of dolphin, seeking a pose to better steady my binoculars. The next hour brought not just glimpses but a full blown performance of leaps and flips and splashes, and not dolphin but dolphins, bottlenoses. I'm not practised at counting cetaceans and couldn't decide how many there but certainly more than five.

This is a well known dolphin spot, one of the best places to watch from on east coast Scotland, the other I go to is Scurdie Ness lighthouse Montrose. RSPB Scotland runs Dolphinwatch Aberdeen from the Torry Battery car park half way along my walk, this summer from 10th May to 20th August.

"Staff should be on site to welcome you and provide information from Thursday to Sunday, 11 am-6 pm (weather permitting). We'll be in the Torry Battery car park with telescopes and binoculars to help visitors spot the dolphins. If the weather is horrendous we may not be on site, so please call in advance if you're making a special trip.

We also run special event weekends throughout the length of the project. Our Facebook page is a good place to find out more."

Full Dolphinwatch Aberdeen details - here.

Torry dolphins 1, 15x21cm, watercolour

Torry dolphins 3, 15x21cm, watercolour

spot the dolphin!

spot two dolphins. (not the big red things)



Birds, including late swallow chicks
Great birdlife too including a huge gathering of kittiwakes along South Breakwater and North Pier along with good numbers of shags and cormorants. Kittiwake count 850+.  Here's every bird I logged during my eight Aberdeen hours:

Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Curlew c8
Feral Pigeon
Great Black-backed Gull 25+
Guillemot 6
House Martin 13+
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Mallard 23
Mute Swan 3
Pied Wagtail 2
Redshank 15+
Rock Pipit 3+
Sandwich Tern c7
Starling 40+
Teal 3
Wheatear 3
Carrion Crow
Cormorant 40+
Eider 80+
Goldfinch 5+
Grey Heron 1
Herring Gull
Kittiwake 850+
Linnet 3+
Meadow Pipit 1
Oystercatcher 80+
Razorbill 5
Ringed Plover 2
Sanderling 1
Shag 50+
Swallow 6+ 
Turnstone c27
Woodpigeon

Total number of species 34 

Those swallows - at least six birds flying around including one pair with a nest with chicks still unfledged, parents bringing food frequently. I suspect they were the pairs' second brood of the season and I wonder if whether they fledged in time to make it back to Africa before winter.

Log your own bird sightings for conservation science using BTO's BirdTrack, free smartphone app available.

gulp

gulp, chicks, 30th August 2017, not yet fledged.

South Breakwater, refuge for a lot of birds

cormorants and kittiwakes

count the kitties

count more kitties - extremely evenly spaced.

wheatear, two winter guillemots, 15x21cm, 
NB - some of these artworks are still available, let me know if you're interested in a purchase.

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How to get there

Trains to Aberdeen take two and a half hours from Edinburgh, a little more from Glasgow or Inverness and about an hour and three quarters from Perth.
See 'The East Coast and Fife' timetable and 'Buy Tickets' on ScotRail website.


Many thanks always to ScotRail for enabling and supporting my ongoing Scotland by Rail work.