Sunday 26 January 2020

Scotland By Rail - Dundee, Gallery Q, DCA, V&A, cormorant trying to swallow something

Pilgrim's Haven, watercolour, 25x30cm, (spot the lighthouse).
In Gallery Q, Feb 2020 

A Scotland By Rail day delivering four island artworks to Gallery Q plus exploring a little bit of cultural Dundee.

Dundee - Gallery Q
The exhibition at Gallery Q opens next Saturday 1st February at 12noon. Let me know if you're interested. Gallery opening hours are Tues - Sat 11am - 4.30pm (5.30pm on Thurs). 

When I visited the gallery birds and nature seemed to be prominent. I loved the terracotta bird jugs by Phil Arthur and, as always, Claire Harkess' watercolour wildlife. 

I'm really happy to be exhibiting in this bright friendly gallery full of original painting and printmaking, ceramics, glasswork and jewellery. I'm especially pleased to be exhibiting again alongside my friend since school days, Dundee artist Martin Hill.

See our work from the exhibition here -

Martin Hill, Sunset, oil on board, 14x20cm

Phil Arthur, Little Owl lidded jug, c.23cm high

Claire Harkess, Band-bellied Owl, watercolour, 15x21cm

Train to Dundee
It's such a good journey, worth doing just for the views. Soon after departing Burntisland: Kinghorn, church, bay, Inchkeith Island. Once I saw dolphins from the train at this very spot.

Markinch, reminding me of  an earlier Scotland By Rail trip looking for grey partridge with artist Kittie Jones. Finding unexpected adornments in a modern, not outwardly promising, station building -

trees and fields and other such nice

crossing the Tay, looking to Dundee

crossing the Tay, Fife on the left, two crows crossing the other direction

In Dundee - V&A and RRS Discovery
Dundee old and new, RRS Discovery and V&A. I love the contrast

porthole window in V&A, glimpses of Discovery, Tay, Tay Bridge, Fife hills beyond

Tay Bridge & lighthouse

Cormorant and something fishy
And here in the Tay, a cormorant, grappling with something, I couldn't work out what. Something wide and flat. I started to fear it was a big piece of plastic. 



Angles changed and suddenly backlit fins appeared


A flat fish! A flatfish. A Flounder or a Dab? I sadly know really nothing of fish. 

And swallowed. Or possibly dropped.

Dundee Contemporary Arts - Ursula Le Guin
I enjoyed Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) too, it's an interesting building in layout (especially the toilets, very unusual) with a small good arty design-y gift and book shop, original prints for sale, cafe, exhibition space, cinema. 

The exhibition on until 22nd March is Seized by the Left Hand, a very diverse, contemporary exhibition of fifteen international artists come together to look at thoughts and ideas in Ursula K. Le Guin's hugely popular sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). I like sci-fi, I like environment, I like equality. This exhibition is about all that.

Quote from DCA website:
"Written 50 years ago, this masterpiece of feminist science fiction is set on an icy planet called 'Gethen' (which translates to 'Winter') whose inhabitants shift and change gender continuously throughout their lives. We as readers are told the story of Gethen from a human perspective through the eyes of protagonist Genly Ai, an envoy sent to the planet to attempt to convince Gethenian governments to join an interplanetary trade coalition.

The book had a profound impact on the sci-fi genre at the time of its publication and remains hugely relevant to the world around us today, posing serious and challenging questions about gender, sexuality, the environment, language, communication, power and empire."

My favourite work in the exhibition is Flora Moscovic's huge, atomic, volcanic, solar wall mural - two full walls painted from top to bottom, side to side in glowing white, yellow, orange, blue light. Title, Crossing the Kargav. 

Also two series of beautifully delicate and very touching painterly works-from-memory by Abel Rodríguez, an elder of the Nonuya ethnic group in the Colombian Amazon, "recalling the indigenous flora and fauna that precariously inhabit the region. Now in his 70s, Rodríguez has recently been forced to move and resettle ... after being displaced from his homeland by guerrilla militia forces and corrupt government structures ... facilitating the exploitation and destruction of the precious rainforest ecosystems in South America."

Complete exhibition notes are online here -


Previous Dundee blog post
2017 - Balgay Hill & Cemetery and lots of Martin Hill (and a very interesting local comment at the end by Jim Crumley) -


Fluke Street & South Horn, Isle of May, watercolour, 18x37cm (spot the moon). In Gallery Q, Feb 2020


How to get there:

Trains to Dundee leave:

- Edinburgh and Aberdeen frequently, journey time a bit over an hour.
- Glasgow frequently, journey time a bit under an hour and a half
- Perth every hour, journey time about half an hour

Timetables & Buy Tickets here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their support of my Scotland By Rail work.

BTO WeBS Wetland Bird Survey - Binn Pond, Jan 2020

As detailed in my previous blog post here, I carry out two once-a-month volunteer bird surveys for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The survey is the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). This year I'm going to try to put a quick blog post about each count each month.

I volunteer for two monthly counts. This post is about my Binn Pond count on the hill above Burntisland in Fife.

A good Scotland By Rail Binn Pond circle walk here. Start and finish at Burntisland train station.

BTO WeBS Wetland Bird Survey - Binn Pond, Jan 2020

09:40 - 10:10
as always, very poor visibility caused by more and more reeds /rush growing every year. There are probably pretty much always more birds than I am able to log in my results.

Coot 1
Moorhen 1
Teal 7

The teal are so nice. Britain's smallest duck. A call like the twinkling of delicate silver bells. Through winter there are often a small number of them here. I wonder each time about how this particular little group came to find the pond... Is it the same group as last visit? Is it the same group each year?

I forgot to take a pond photo so you'll have to wait until next month :)

Thursday 16 January 2020

BTO WeBS Wetland Bird Survey - Union Canal Linlithgow to Philpstoun, Jan 2020

c.230 wigeon on Flood Field near Philpstoun

Another New Year. Resolutions and all that.

One of mine is (probably?) to see if I can put up a quick post each month summarising my British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). Partly as a way of encouraging me to stick to another resolution - make sure I do carry out the surveys!

I volunteer for two monthly counts:

- a linear there-and-back 11km ish walk along the Union Canal towpath from Linlithgow to Philpstoun, in Lothian. All waterbirds making use of canal AND making use of one field width on either side of canal. Read more about it in my 2012 post which introduces the route -

NB - this is also a really good Scotland By Rail walk. Get the train to Linlithgow, visit a cafe before you start and another cafe (or a nice pub) when you get back. Don't forget The Line Gallery, Far From The Madding Crowd independent bookshop, Linlithgow Palace, great charity shops, wholefood shop, Fairtrade shop...

- a small pond, the Binn Pond, above Burntisland, in Fife. All waterbirds on or around the pond. I'm not sure if I will or won't blog this one.

Wetland Bird Survey - Union Canal Linlithgow to Philpstoun, Jan 2020

09:30 - 13:00
quite strong wind from west. Flood Field east of Park Farm very substantial - main flood is currently large, plus 3 or 4 small patches

Cormorant - 1
Curlew - 8               - on Flood Field
Goosander - 1
Grey Heron - 1
Greylag Goose - 16       - on Flood Field
Mallard - 21               - on Flood Field
Moorhen - 2
Mute Swan - 3
Wigeon - c.230               - on Flood Field
Black-headed Gull - 2   - on Flood Field
Common Gull - 2       - on Flood Field
Grey Wagtail - 1       - on Flood Field
Reed Bunting - 2

I reckon there will have been snipe on the Flood Field too but they're so hard to spot at this distance.

Linlithgow Canal Basin (visitable, cafe, boat trips). My count starts here

Childhood patch.Where the canal leaves Linlithgow. I understand this whole long field may (will?) soon be houses.
What about our favourite sledging spot? What about the fox cubs I watched here? What about the huge flock of linnets I see here? What about the yellowhammers?

Narrowboat Farm Market Garden

the Flood Field! Wonderful spot. This is where the vast majority of birds on my count are spotted.

more the Flood Field

yellowhammer male (yellow face)

reed bunting, back of

song thrush singing

my turnaround at the end of the route.
A mysterious dry, squeeky, creaky, cracky wood, sided by Philpstoun shale bings

spot the bing

touch of red

coffee spot sketch spot

coffee spot sketch.
Great tits, blue tits, blackbird.
One great tit alarm calling right at me, coming gradually closer and closer. Not sure if curious or if trying to get rid of me.


How to get there:

Linlithgow is very well served on the flagship Edinburgh - Glasgow line. 

Enough trains that you really don't need to check the timetable, but if you do want to - 'Central Belt' here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their support of my Scotland By Rail work.