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Inspired by birds (and Sir David)

23 Mar 2008 / in about art, natural world

I absolutely love birds. I still get a thrill from the most commonplace of avian activity – a pair of robins bobbing around on the garden shed, the jackdaws squabbling on cottage roofs, a kestrel hanging in the wind, the little crescents of swifts swooping and screeching in the summer sky high above our garden. Such a simple pleasure – and I can get it by just looking out of the window.


A masked weaver bird
I wouldn’t call myself a birder, but because I’m interested in them I seem to be able to retain birdy information and so I do know more than many. If I see a bird I don’t recognise, I try to find out what it is. So now I know what an Arabian babbler is, or a Tristram’s grackle, a masked weaver or a fiscal flycatcher.

Since my magic moment with Sir David last month, Moth and I have been working our way through Attenborough’s back catalogue of televisual masterpieces, and we’re already on his 1998 10-part epic The Life of Birds.

As ever, by watching Attenborough I am inspired. Indeed last year’s trip to Botswana’s Okavango delta was inspired by watching Attenborough programmes. I am currently planning a trip for next February to New Zealand, stopping in California and French Polynesia on the way. High on my list of priorities is seeing some feathery action.


I have seen many different species of bee-eaters in Africa. This species is native to Europe.
When I was a very little girl I lived in California and I vividly remember watching the hummingbirds come to the nectar feeder in next door’s garden in the Berkeley hills where we lived. So making sure we see hummingbirds is high on my list. Sod Beverley Hills glitz; when we hit LA, I want to see glamorous, iridescent hummers and I want Moth to share that delight.

Also very high on my list, certainly up there with whale watching, when we get to NZ, I want to see albatrosses. There are various nesting colonies on South Island and I plan to see this most graceful and inspiring creature for myself.


A long-tailed tit features in my recent composition ‘Fox and perch’
Birds have featured heavily in my paintings in recent years. They snuck into my compositions without me really realising it and now it seems my paintings are incomplete without them. I don’t recall painting a bird I haven’t seen with my own eyes, though.

My recent series of drypoints feature creatures from around my home in Oxfordshire and includes a long-tailed tit. There are loads of these pretty little pink birds nesting in the woods by the Thames just a mile from where I’m sitting now.

Sir David sums up perfectly how I feel about birds:


Sir David with an albatross chick
“Birds were flying from continent to continent long before we were. They reached the coldest place on Earth, Antarctica, long before we did. They can survive in the hottest of deserts. Some can remain on the wing for years at a time. They can girdle the globe. Now, we have taken over the earth and the sea and the sky, but with skill and care and knowledge, we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety – if we want to – And surely, we should.”

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