Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Scurvy grass and White-winged Gulls

For the last three weeks there has been a well-trodden path to Orkney's finest wildlife spectacle. The violent northwesterly gales of December 2011 and January 2012 played their part in bringing a large influx of arctic gulls into the county in the shape of Iceland Gulls and Glaucous Gulls. The phenomenon isn't just restricted to Orkney - similar numbers of white-winged gulls arrived in Faroe, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides. Each winter we would expect to see a handful of these gulls from the northern latitudes but the numbers of gulls in 2012 are unprecedented. If you visit Marwick you are likely to see at least 50 Iceland Gulls and ten Glaucous Gulls. Among them have been recorded up to four Iceland Gulls of the race Kumlien - that's the race that comes from Canada. 

When the gulls first arrived they were looking battered and dishevelled after the rigours of the winter. In fact a few corpses were found on the beaches of Marwick and Skaill to the south. But providentially, the gulls' arrival coincided with the appearance of a whale carcase in Sand Geo - it seems to have been the gulls' saviour - blubber in abundance. Now the gulls look relaxed and well fed - their spirits and well being have soared.

The cliff top path to the spectacle is wet and muddy thanks to the foot traffic and the wet winter - apparently it rained for 54 consecutive days in November and December 2011. The grass is yellow but liberally sprinkled amongst it are the deep green leaves of Scurvy Grass - you can't fail to see it. After flowering the leaves seem to grow bigger and bigger and occasionally you may find some as large as digestive biscuits. Of course when I went out to find monster leaves they played hard to get and the biggest I found last Sunday were the size of Ritz crackers. You can see the size in comparison to a rather shiny 1 pound coin.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Freshwater 2

Here's the next freshwater plate.  This painting has been enjoyable to do, with some interesting backgrounds. You'll note two very similar plants in this one, tufted and water forget-me-not.  We'd decided early on that we would not meticulously paint each flower as is perhaps more common in botanical books, but instead show the plants slightly more 'loosely' in a recognisable Orkney location where you can find them (for those that are familiar with Tim's bird book, you'll see it follows the same format).  Anyway, this usually works well, but with very similar species like the forget-me-nots, it's important to show the smaller differences that separate them and sometimes these risk being lost in less detailed pictures.  In the case of the forget-me-nots, the sepals have slightly different shapes, with those of tufted forget-me-not forming more narrow and long triangles than water forget-me-not.  I hope this shows up enough in the original painting, although I think here the resolution is too low to see clearly.

The other flowers in the painting are from top left:  marsh willowherb, marsh pennywort, bogbean. bottom row from left: bog pimpernel, tufted forget-me-not, water forget-me-not.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The next plate is on its way.....

54Marsh Wilowherb
Sabiston Mill, Birsay
0848, 0849
55Marsh Pennywort
Tor Ness Light, Hoy
56Tufted Forget-me-not
Tuquoy, Westray
57Water Forget-me-not
Graemeshall, Holm
0713, 0720, 0721
Grugar, Egilsay
181 - 188
59 Bog Pimernel
 Loch of Moan, Rousay
904, 907, 909

 Marsh Willowherb at Sabiston Mill, Birsay

Marsh Pennywort at Torness Light, Hoy

Tufted Forget-me-not at Tuquoy, Westray

Water Forget-me-not, Graemeshall, Holm

Bogbean, Grugar, Egilsay

Bog Pimpernel, Loch of Moan, Rousay