Tag Archives: wildlife illustration

Adventures from home: Patterns in Nature

“Has there been a naturalist in the modern sense of the word who did not keep and greatly value a journal? The earliest journals were perhaps just scratch marks on an antler, recording the passing of days or the phases of the moon, to serve as a calendar to predict the seasons, the timing of animal migrations, or other cyclical phenomena.’ (Bernd Heinrich, The Naturalist’s Notebook.)

A Brave New World

When I was little, I remember being introduced to the idea of explorers at school- namely ‘that Walter Raleigh who brought back a potato’, while studying the Tudors. I always wanted to be an artist, but for a couple of weeks I had the raging passion that I could combine this with charging off to new lands to learn from the people, animals and plants who lived there- return and teach everyone at home about what I’d found. Unfortunately there were a couple of problems with this plan – 1) I really don’t like spiders (which my Mum gently reminded me there were quite a lot of in most warm or even temperate countries) , 2) I got terribly homesick even while WITH my family on a weekend to Sidmouth, so the chances of me coping thousands of miles away from home without them were fairly limited. I thought it best to focus on the artist part of my plan and set my sights on some smaller adventures for the time being.

There’s a little part of me that never forgets this feeling, though- this is the same part that encouraged me to try navigating the tube the last time I went to London even though it terrifies me, to stand in a field drawing during the freak March snowstorm of two years ago… The brave and adventurous little piece of my brain which will take hold after the rest has finished panicking about new, sudden changes in life, and say “Now you’ve finished, what’s there to explore!?”

When this pandemic came knocking closer and closer down the streets of the world towards us, after a period of mourning for the loss of what I had always known as normal, I began to realise (rather ironically) that although now I was not permitted to leave my home for “unessential” purposes, all the conditions for an adventure I sought in a new land as a 10 year old were now on my doorstep. I had, according to the news, woken to a new landscape, which looked the same as the world I had left behind but filled with new, potentially dangerous situations, all to be treated with kid gloves- for there might be vicious creatures all around (protect your toilet rolls! Don’t drive to Durham!)

Although I couldn’t see them through the thick foliage of this lockdown, my family were out there somewhere- and they were on this adventure with me. Would they get hurt? Would we all make it “home”? It made my chest tight to even think about.

But, after the tears began to subside and focus began to return, my little adventure brain began to concoct a plan of action to cope with this brave new world.

A journal to mark the days; a project to find my feet!

“Art, like science, leads to the preservation of something that is perhaps thought of as fleeting and capturing it in some tangible form is the only way to stay connected to it. The process of writing, drawing, or painting forces us to pay attention to details. How those details vary and change through time is roughly analogous to the phenology of flowers in a field, which also relates to time and place. We can catch bits and pieces that serve as reminders.” Bernd Heinrich, The Naturalist’s Notebook.

“Even brief notes will help fix observations in your mind. Later, if you can’t recall a detail, your journal will supplement your memory. Most important by displaying events and comparing them over time, you will soon be able to uncover patterns in the natural world that you have never noticed before.” Nathaniel T. Wheelwright, The Naturalist’s Notebook.

Helplessness is a terrible feeling. In varying degrees, we’ve all experienced some of how this feels over the past few months- the prospect of being separated from loved ones for goodness knows how long; being at risk at work, being laid off, or being furloughed. Worries for the future, what it could mean for us, for our families, for our children. To go back to my opening metaphor, in some ways, we have all been lost on our own expeditions- ones which we had unknowingly been picked for, pushed out of the safety of normality into a dark jungle full of pitfalls.

During these first few days, it was hard to switch off – driven by an almost obsessive need to be up to the minute, I’m sure I’m not the only one who became a little saturated in the whole horrible cycle of terrifying news checking. As thick and fast as the bad news flooded in, however, little patches of human kindness began to pepper its all-encompassing doom and gloom as neighbours and communities shared ideas of how to look after each other. Where I live, a whopping number of initiatives provided free services to those in need- food, essentials, companionship and support… You name it, people were finding ways to provide it!

The individuals and businesses in my online and personal community were also completely outdoing themselves. I was alerted to an art/illustration business course that was being offered for free, which I leapt on! A friend of mine (who also happens to be the manager of my favourite workplace in the world!) began creating content to support those around her, and has since been writing a hugely inspiring blog as she begins her journey to becoming a qualified hypnotherapist (click HERE to have a peek- it will absolutely make your day better!!) Feeling inspired by her positivity, I started keeping a mini happiness journal- noting down one thing that had been uniquely lovely about that day that I could focus on before bed for a better night’s sleep, and hopefully ultimately to help me figure out how to help in my own way.

I noticed that a lot of the things which were scribbled into my journal in those last sleepy moments were related to nature in some way. Tadpole sightings, the first flowers to bloom in our winter-ravaged garden, a peaceful walk early in the morning or late in the evening peppered with dawn or dusk choruses. An idea began to form in my head… Could I combine a journal about the wildlife I observed as well as the places I couldn’t go and the wildlife I missed (the puffins and seals of Skokholm!) with the unusually essential natural world knowledge I’ve gained from working with young children the last 4 and a bit years (Do worms sleep?) to make something for everyone? This idea began to take shape as a book project, the process of which I could share online for all to see and enjoy- a tool to help reach out far and wide!

Stepping into the wild: Development of Notes from Nature!

All about us nature puts on the most thrilling adventure stories ever created, but we have to use our eyes. I was walking across our compound last month when a queen termite began building her miraculous city. I saw it because I was looking down. One night three giant fruit bats flew over the face of the moon. I saw them because I was looking up. To some men the jungle is a tangled place of heat and danger. But, to the man who can see, its vines and plants form a beautiful and carefully ordered tapestry.” William Beebe- oceanographer.

As the idea for this project first began to form, when I was desperately floundering around trying to think of a way to make a difference in an uncertain situation, I took advantage of this purpose of urgency and began sharing my early thoughts around the web. I hoped that I could connect with people having the same epiphany who might help to spur me on, not just sit on my ideas until I cooled off and had the time to think they weren’t good enough.

The response was overwhelmingly positive- a wonderful, confidence-boosting lesson that sharing unpolished ideas doesn’t actually result in rocks being thrown at you (fellow artists sitting on your sketchbooks at home, squirrelling them away from the outside world- take the leap, it feels great!) I was armed with offers of support, more extra ideas of things I could offer alongside a book project than I could shake a stick at, and most wonderful of all, some offers of paid work!!

I had a message from a lady called Gemma Tilley who runs a variety of activities out in nature. She wasn’t able to run her sessions as normal, and wondered if we might collaborate on a project together to focus on a separate nature-themed topic each week (the facts to come from her, the illustrations from me) that she could use to maintain and build interest in her business online, ready for when her sessions started again. An absolute dream of a project- and a huge inspiration while working on the early stages of my budding non-fiction project! (To find out more about what Gemma does- check out her social media profiles here and here!)

 

Some of my favourite pieces from this collaboration so far- we’ve been well into our minibeasts!

As I scribbled away on collaborations with Gemma, the inspiration kept on coming for Notes from Nature, the name I had chosen for this non-fiction project. I was missing the sea and all its creatures terribly – particularly the puffins and the seals I had so looked forward to visiting on Skokholm again. I revisited a miniature non-fiction project I created last year for North Somerset Arts Week called “Seal Song” to remind myself of some of the facts that had delighted me so about these speckled, plump and charming creatures- so I could feel as though I was once again in their company.

A recap of “Seal Song” – a non-fiction mini leaflet book project about the life’s journey of a seal pup. Written and illustrated by me! 🙂

All the time, I was noticing more little details in the quiet calm that had fallen outside. More than ever I noticed the bumblebees which began to visit the newly emerging spring growth, wiggling their legs and bottoms waist-deep in flowers. An article that I stumbled across here talked a little about how important bumblebees were and are in the evolution of plants and flowers- referring to a book about the many wonders of these gentle little creatures by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s founder, Dave Goulson. I liked the sound of this book and the person who had written it, and ordered it right away! (N.B. – This book would also provide the first sparks of inspiration for my 2020 entry for the Templar (Big Picture Press) Illustration Award Competition, which as of the 29th of June, I’ve just sent off to be judged! More about that in my next post!)

Bee themed sketchbook studies and patterns inspired by “A Sting in the Tale” – Dave Goulson. Did you know that a bumblebee needs to keep a steady body temperature for its flight muscles to work?

After devouring the first few chapters, I began hungrily rummaging through my bookshelves for more natural wonders- things to learn and more things to teach through the medium of this book project. I rediscovered some of my favourite excitingly chunky books which were always a bit too heavy to read in bed without clunking myself in the head, but perfect for inspiration on many occasions. (N.B- I’ve included a long list of my sources at the end, including all the books I mention throughout this post if any of them pique your interest!)

“Explorers’ Sketchbooks- The Art of Discovery and Adventure” – Some of the deep sea discoveries of William Beebe in his bathysphere (essentially a hollow steel ball!) Notes were recorded in the “Bathysphere Log” relayed through telephone wires to the surface while Beebe was deep under the sea. Perhaps not the sort of creatures you might find kicking around the garden (thank goodness!) – but a huge inspiration in terms of artistic field study! Else Bostelmann would work closely with William Beebe’s descriptions when he surfaced to create the first images of deep sea creatures!

Henry Walter Bates- Amazon insects crop!

“Explorers’ Sketchbooks- The Art of Discovery and Adventure” – some of the butterflies recorded in the Amazon rainforest by Henry Walter Bates during the middle of the 19th Century. Again- new, exciting, exotic creatures!

Extracts from “The Naturalist’s Notebook” – observations from Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich. This is a wonderful book that makes recording little observations in nature easy, and contains a 5 year calendar for the observer to compare their notes!

These books made it a lot easier for me to embrace and enjoy the limited choice of places I could go- while the back garden or the field next to your house seems a lot less interesting than the Amazon Rainforest or deep under the sea, they’re also places that are really easy to never fully appreciate or look at properly. Being cut off from the world was forcing me to study my immediate environment in much greater detail- everywhere I looked there was a creature waiting to be drawn!

Left: A page from my “Naturalist’s Notebook” 5 year calendar, where I take a couple of minutes at the end of the day to note down what I’ve noticed- it’s a useful tool to keep track of when certain things appear! Right: Some of the colourful characters I’ve been lucky enough to meet and draw from life! During one research session, I pulled every book I had that featured frogs out of the bookcase to go and work in the garden- and lo and behold, a real frog leapt out in front of me and disappeared into our tomato planter! As he sheltered from the heat and the prying eyes of next-door’s rich and diverse garden bird life, I drew to my heart’s content!

All in all, I can safely say that “Notes from Nature” and the opportunities that it helped bring about have saved me during this dark and unsure time. At the moment, NfM remains a work in progress, but I’d love to share what I’ve got so far!! 

 

Out of the Jungle – Plans for the future!

As I make progress with “Notes from Nature”, I’ve been thinking a lot about its future. Now lockdown measures are beginning to ease, how can I use this project and the experience it’s given me to push on forwards? In the current climate, it would be so easy for me to fall into the black hole of “you’re not able to support yourself financially right now on the money you get from this work, so what’s the point?”

I’ve had a very key tool during the last few months to help combat these feelings and keep pressing on- the art/illustration business course I mentioned at the beginning of this post. (I’ll again include a link at the end.) As well as housing an incredible library of resources, it’s served up some encouraging, practical tips of how to approach more of the clients I want to work for as well as stellar advice on ways to support myself financially doing what I love (and of course, making a difference to others is an added bonus!)

During the course so far, I’ve realised that one of my top priorities in creating artwork is to inspire the love that I have for nature in others, particularly in future generations, so they can help protect it for the future!

So, this is what I’m trying to focus on in everything that I make!

Over the next few months, I’m hoping to:

-Continue exploring the world of non-fiction illustration through “Notes from Nature”. I’ve already used some of the animals I’ve looked at in new greetings card ideas, and I’m already beginning to plan the possibilities of making packs for education providers- schools, EYFS settings, Outdoor Learning/Forest School settings, etc. I’ve started planning a simple “skeleton” of a few key relatable nature topics which I’ve already touched on during NfN – for example, garden birds. In the current uncertain situations across the UK I’ve been considering making a start by creating some downloadable content for my website- flashcards and simple fact sheets which educators can easily access and print themselves to use in their settings.

Early drafts of commonly seen garden birds- a starting point for some flashcard artworks!

The next stage- some early flashcard mockups of the aforementioned birds’ favourite foods!

I’m realising more each day that drawing is my gateway to access all the things in life I’m interested in, all the things I want to learn about. Working with young children, my background in illustration makes me passionate about teaching other people how to use creativity to explore the world around them- it’s always been the most effective way for me of understanding even the things I can’t get my head around. When I can’t explain myself in words, I can draw a picture to illustrate what I mean- for example, in my nursery setting when we had finished reading a book about castles and a child asked me how a drawbridge worked, I drew it for him. He and his friends then proceeded to make one for a cardboard castle they had decided to work on. With nature, drawing helps me to remember animals and plants I’ve come across – and recreate a little of that moment for someone else to share in. As the world continues to change, and the impenetrable thickets of the jungle give way to a new dawn, there must always be a future in something that can make life more clear, and more enjoyable for others. As the naturalist Bernd Heinrich says:

“Any attempt to leave a sketch connects some portion of reality and personality… any little sketch, no matter how small and how simple, will enrich what you have seen.” Bernd Heinrich, The Naturalist’s Notebook.

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Sources/Further Bits and Bobs

Books: All the titles I’ve written about in this post which have helped me in creating “Notes from Nature”. All the links below will take you to Hive.co.uk, a website which sells a myriad of wonderful books; better than that, they give a percentage of every sale to an independent bookshop of your choosing! (The one I chose I’m already making plans to visit when I’m allowed to!) 

“A Sting in the Tale” by Dave Goulson.

A wonderful book all about bumblebees- their social lives, their history and uncertain future, 

The Naturalist’s Notebook”Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich.

A must for nature fanatics!! A 5-year journal, with plenty of guidance to opening your senses even on a 5 minutes stroll – easy to compare observations year on year about the natural world around you!

“Explorers’ Sketchbooks- The Art of Discovery and Adventure”– Huw Lewis-Jones.

The most inspiring collection of explorer’s notebooks I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a heavy, exciting treat for any book lover- I picked up my copy a few years ago on a short trip, and lugged it around for the whole day. My arms were very sore, but it was worth it!!

Websites:

https://makeartthatsells.com/online-courses/ – The website to find the aforementioned art business course. I’m not sure that it’s still being offered for free now, but it is probably still reduced- they have lots of other wonderful courses too!

https://www.skillshare.com/home (Has a wonderful array of courses to spark your imagination! I believe they’re still offering 2 months free… I’ve been learning lots about pattern design during lockdown to open up a new market for my work!)

 

Skokholm- A week in paradise!

“We must leave this province of the laboratory and theology to resume our study in the field.” Ronald Lockley, “The Island”. 

Third time’s a charm, or so they say. After two failed attempts to leave Martin’s Haven jetty since 2017, I held my breath, and crossed every part of my body that could be crossed in hope that this little superstition might hold firm this time.

Fair winds and a spot of good fortune later, and I can joyfully proclaim that WE MADE IT TO SKOKHOLM!!

While we (my partner, his parents and I) were there, I kept a journal- a diary and study of every wonderful thing I learnt during a week on the island, as I made friends with as many of the inhabitants as I could! This sketchbook accompanied me in all weathers and crossed a small portion of the Celtic Sea twice- it’s far from polished, but I think that adds to its charm- a bit like an old fashioned explorer’s log!

In honour of the wildly wonderful island community of Skokholm, let me tell you the story of a week spent among puffins, seals and stiff salt breezes with the help of my little battered book!

(All photos and sketches: © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration, unless credited otherwise.)

IMG_20190603_140653392_BURST000_COVER_TOP (LR FOR BLOG) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day One – Arrival

From home to Pembrokeshire, through Marloes and on to Martin’s Haven, 03/06/19. Passing luggage onto the boat through a chain of all the people you’re going to be sharing your home with for the next week is a great way to get to know them! (Wonderfully reminiscent of my summers spent camping with Guides, too!)  Departed around 1:30PM on a slight swell, around 20 of us altogether- not choppy, but a little touch and go for the seasick among us (for once, not me!) It didn’t take long to spot the first locals- we were joined for most of the crossing by a gull gliding over our heads, and the tiniest flash of bright red, yellow and brown-black whizzing over the water would be my very first puffin sighting! And who would be waiting in the South Haven harbour for us but a speckled group of seals, wiggling about in the afternoon sunshine- with others popping their noses out of the water to see who had arrived today. What a welcome!

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Continuing the warm greeting, we all joined Richard the warden for a cup of tea and an introduction. Skokholm is home to thousands and thousands of seabirds every spring and summer, (including over 9,000 puffins!) as well as the aforementioned seals, butterflies, moths, and lots of other types of birds. As a Special Protection Area, a hugely important National Nature Reserve and a Bird Observatory, humans are very much in the minority- the island belongs to the feathered and furred inhabitants. Pathways are set up with white stones to show visitors where they’re allowed to walk around the island- keeping a respectful distance away from the residents (although you sometimes have to be careful not to tread on any burrows!)

Exploring on this first day, we visited Howard’s Bay and Crab Bay, the latter being the best place on the island to see puffins- not only are there a lot of burrows, this is where the puffins are tamest and the most inquisitive! As Richard told us later on at the Bird Log that night (where the two wardens, volunteers and guests can gather to give their wildlife sightings of the day) if you keep still enough they will come up to investigate, and perhaps even sit on you!

(Here I include a link to the official map for the island, the same one I stuck in the front of my journal. You’ll be able to see where all of the places that I mention are located!  visitor-map-Skok (1)

Settling into our room that night, blankets up my neck, I was surrounded by an ornithological racket- idyllic when mixed with the sounds of the lapping sea and whistling wind, but not exactly quiet! I stayed up pretty late just listening to the wild world outside… What a wonderful place!

Day Two: The drawing begins!

Day Two (04/06/19) was wet, so after a little more exploring we visited the hide (and the puffins!) at The Neck, overlooking North Bay. This became my workplace for the day, as I watched the puffins congregating, chattering, and generally being busy. I stayed until my fingers were too cold to draw anymore – click on the sketchpages below to enlarge today’s findings!

 

(Click on any of the images to see larger! © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration)

A bit of expansion for the little notes made here:

  • The puffin’s folded wings seem to cross over when viewed from the back, with a beautiful arrow pattern picked out in white across the dark brown-black.
  • As in the colour gouache studies, rain droplets beaded on the feathers of the landed birds- I know it’s not surprising as they spend so much time in and around water that they would have impressive waterproof jackets, but it was amazing to watch it happening in slow motion!
  • There were some pretty fabulous “boy band” power stances going on there!

IMG_20190604_141351752 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

  • Puffins (or other seabirds for that matter) “raft” – float on the sea in large groups, particularly early in the season, so I’m told.
  • I discovered two new plants that day- rock sea spurrey (sperularia rupicola), and sea campion- a halophyte, a plant tolerant to salty soil.

Day Three- An Introduction, The Jetty and the Seal Chorus!

IMG_20190605_125159951 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

The third day brought a strong breeze and brilliant sunshine, so we were led out on our postponed introductory walk by Richard the warden. We got acquainted with the main flora and fauna to be found on the island, as well some of the key locations around the perimeter- including a quick tour around the lighthouse.

Looking out from the disused lantern room over Grassholm and the wild ocean, we were told a famous ghost story. Just visible on the horizon through the telescope was the Small’s, another lighthouse which used to work together with others along the Pembrokeshire coastline to protect ships.

The tale goes that two lighthouse keepers were put in charge of the Small’s who didn’t get on, and would constantly quarrel. When one of them died, the other was terrified that he would be accused of murder, so he made a coffin and hung it from the lighthouse, hoping to be exonerated. Records show that passing sailors noticed the coffin, but no-one came to question it – or take the body away…

The coffin broke open during a bad storm, and the sound of the body slapping against the window of the hut eventually sent the remaining keeper mad. The poor man lived out the rest of his days in an asylum.

Some more (slightly more jolly!) things I learned:

  • A lot of the plants around the island are typically found in woodland (wood sage, sorrel, red campion) – apparently it should be covered in trees, so the Norse word “Skokholm” (“wooded island”)  would suggest. I wonder why it isn’t? Perhaps these days it’s more exposed to strong winds, as a lot of the plants and shrubs which grow are fairly squat to the ground?
  • Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) flowers were particularly interesting to Darwin- apparently when cross-bred with the blue variety would produce a purple hybrid!
  • The Quarry houses the “Petrel Station” nestled in amongst the towering cliffs – a man-made wall with boxed burrows in the back which the volunteers and wardens use to monitor the Storm Petrels. (More about that on Day Four!)
  • Manx Shearwaters dig their own burrows, and the chicks are beautiful bundles of brown fluff which are weighed every week or so to monitor their progress. The burrows are marked with numbered boards so they aren’t stepped on, and the birds themselves are fairly used to being handled by the wardens and volunteers. Richard scooped one out to show us, they were a lot smaller than I expected! (Sadly they are a favourite food of the great black-backed gulls, so it’s very common to see their carcasses dropped around.)

Still fair weather in the afternoon, so at low tide I wandered down to South Haven jetty where we had seen the welcoming party of seals two days ago with my partner and his mum, in the hope of seeing some more.

We managed to spot twenty-one of them around the bay! Some were snoozing stretched out on rocks, others cruising about and “bottling” in the warm shallows- resting vertically in the water, huffing through flared nostrils. A couple in particular came so close to the jetty where we sat, curiously winking at us with those huge, liquid eyes of theirs. They definitely seemed to be interested in E’s mum’s concertina practice! The closest one slowly dozed off upright, a content grin seeming to spread from ear to ear.

(Click the images below to see my seal observations from life!)

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day Four- Moths, Singing Seals and Storm Petrels by Night

This morning we were treated to the opening of a moth trap! Ishbel (one of the long-term volunteers) gently introduced us to each new beastie, sharing her extensive knowledge – we were all particularly excited to meet the Spectacle moth, as it has a really cute little face! (It’s also the only moth I’ve ever seen with a mini mohican! See sketch below)

After exploring Spy Rock and a couple of the bird hides in the morning, I went back down to the jetty in South Haven to draw my sealy friends again. I was joined by three other ladies who were staying on the island at the same time, and we had lots more willing models!

This afternoon was particularly exciting because the seals were chorusing together, wailing and howling a beautiful song that echoed all around the cliffs. I’ve never heard anything like it- now I understand where a lot of the folk tales about sirens must have come from!

Click on the image below to see more ‘morlo’ drawings- seal in Welsh!

 

(Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration)

(A note here about a small sketch in the bottom-right corner of the page entitled “Figurehead of the Alice Williams” – in South Haven this figurehead replica watches over the harbour since the original was moved inside. The wreck of the same name was found and bought by R.M. Lockley in 1928, the timbers of which were used to help build the Wheelhouse- where the original figurehead now watches over the guests’ mealtimes.)

We were accosted by puffins for a short time at Crab Bay before dinner:

 

When it was dark, we all trooped along to the Petrel Station to see some of the Storm Petrels using Richard’s infrared camera. Even without the light, you could feel them flitting past your shoulders like bats!

A bit about these funny little birds:

  • Storm Petrels are Britain’s smallest sea-bird, they’re only about the size of a sparrow!
  • They used to be known as “Mother Carey’s chickens” to seafarers as harbingers of rough, stormy weather- Mother Carey being an ancient witch and the wife of Davey Jones- and were meant to embody the souls of drowned sailors.
  • They only lay one egg, which once hatched is the father’s responsibility- he will float out to sea with the chick as soon as is possible!
  • “Petrel” apparently came from the story of St. Peter, who could walk on water- they’re very light, and wouldn’t come inland unless they had to!

To conclude a birdy evening, we stopped on the walk back to our rooms after hearing a scuffling in the bracken just off the path- and spotted a Manx Shearwater hauling itself along on its belly through the undergrowth. (They’re pretty useless on land down to how far back their legs are on their bodies, so they’re nocturnal to reduce the chances of being eaten by gulls.) Soon, the air was full of them flying about on their nightly business, whizzing about and trying not to crash into each other- their banshee-like screeches much more eerie up close than from the comfort of bed!

Day Five- Lashing rain and howling winds

We were hit by a storm on the Friday, which meant a little sketching from life during the breaks in the rain but ultimately a day to explore the library and congregate in the cottage with the other guests to keep warm. (It was too cold even for the bird hides, really!) We did attempt a walk to the hide at North Bay, but spent most of it horizontal!

It was lovely to spend some time with the other people who were staying and get to know them, as well as the volunteers who popped in during the worst of it.

Our fifth Bird Log was a really good one- I learned that melanin, the same substance that colours our skin and freckles, is also what makes bird feathers healthy. The darker the feathers, the more attractive the male bird is to the female in the mating season- apparently a Coal Tit with his “bib” extended with marker pen was shown to get more females! Periods of feeding stress will result in “fault bars”- lighter lines in the feathers which are weaker and more likely to snap.

Click on the images below to see today’s puffin observations and studies!

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day Six- An eely good one!

We went for a walk around the cliffs and past North Pond this morning- sadly the Shelduck parents have lost three of their chicks to gulls attacks. One of the other guests saw one actually get taken, which was a bit upsetting…

We ended up at Crab Bay where I spent the majority of the morning observing puffins bringing in the morning’s catch.

Click on images below to see the busy little birds hard at work!

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Our penultimate day, and I wanted to soak up as much time with the seals at South Haven as I could. At low tide I wandered back down to the jetty, and found plenty out sunning their speckles. As well as sketching, I experimented with taking some photos through my trusty binoculars this time- lining up my phone camera with one of the holes at the right zoom level so as not to be blurry took a bit of practice, but I did manage to get a few decent ones! All in the name of reference material!

 

Click below sketchpages to see seal observations larger.

 

© 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

After dinner, E, his parents and I all wandered back down to Crab Bay to visit the puffins once more. They were very inquisitive this particular evening, one came up to investigate and peck at my bag straps, another came within two feet of me and gazed at me curiously for a few seconds, “And who are you, then?”

Then it happened- probably the crowning moment of the entire trip. A PUFFIN SIDLED UP AND SAT ON MY LEG! It wandered around me for a little while, and without warning hopped up and settled on my calf! I was surprised for such a little bird how heavy it was perching there (and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to be used as a toilet… luckily not!)

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Credit- photo © by Mike Turtle 2019

From this distance I could see every feather, every line, and every speckle on the red lid of the puffin’s eye (part of the “summer coat” which blooms with colour during the mating season and fades during the winter’s travels.) Being that close to a wild animal was indescribable… to practically be able to hear its heartbeat next to your own makes everything else slow down, and as you look the creature in the eye it’s like you give each other the little nod- “This great big rock that we’re sharing is pretty incredible, isn’t it?”

As the sun began to set, as if by magic, the puffins all seemed to shuffle rapidly away from us with the same urgency as if they were late for a meeting. They gathered in small groups, rubbing their beaks together (billing), head-bobbing and making little grunting sounds not unlike hiccups! One turned half towards me away from his little gathering, giving me a sideways glance which gave me the distinct impression I was being talked about!

IMG_20190609_204511901 ( LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

I wonder if the animals of Skokholm hold their own “Human Log” to discuss the people they’ve seen that day?

Day Seven- The last sunrise on Spy Rock

IMG_20190609_051500010 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

We wanted to make the most of our last day, so we hauled ourselves out of bed at 4:30AM to climb Spy Rock! From this point we could see the sun rise over the whole island, lighting up each tiny flower with a fiery glow all the way out to sea.

After watching another moth trap being opened (another spectacle moth was hiding inside!) we explored some of the nooks and crannies we hadn’t covered in our daily walks around the cliffs. After bothering the slow worms under the corrugated iron sheeting outside the red shed (we found eleven!) we popped into some of the remaining hides we hadn’t visited yet.

We watched a scrap unfold from the hide at South Haven as two seals had a slapping match over a particularly comfortable rock… The first and more aggressive of the seals wouldn’t share the space, and was very angry when a wave knocked him into the water! The second seal who had been trying to sneak on when the first wasn’t looking quickly jumped aboard, giving his rival a taste of his own medicine as they batted at each other with their flippers.

IMG_20190609_152635839_HDR (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

A scramble up and down the “hairy” walk around Frank’s point revealed the great black-backed gull food waste disposal – we found a pile of Shearwater carcasses all hidden behind a boulder, wings still intact. Definitely deserving of their nickname, “The lions of Skokholm” – I’m just glad I’m too big to carry off and eat!

As evening approached, I made two last visits to Crab Bay and South Haven to begin saying goodbye to all my new friends, with varying reactions. The puffins inspected my clothes, one hopping up onto my leg, another pecked my bum! I loudly proclaimed my love for the seals down at South Haven which was met by a resounding “WoOooOOO!” call from one…

Click below to see observations from Crab Bay and South Haven hides larger!

 

 

Fair winds homeward-bound

It was difficult to say goodbye on the last morning. As we waited in the harbour for the boat to take us back to mainland, the seals gathered as if to see us off- and as a little drizzle came down we all looked a little speckly!

We were lucky to have a particularly smooth crossing, but I couldn’t help shedding a few tears as I watched the island fade away into the distance. The opportunity to be outside from sunrise til sundown, with a wonderful little community made me increasingly sad as we returned to ‘civilisation’.  So much feels like it’s missing from modern life in our quest for improvement and perfection- we isolate ourselves from the world, each other and even ourselves, and what even for?

As I begun this diary as a way to learn more about life on a very special island, so it continues- I’m in the process of using my first-hand experience to begin a new project about puffins, to add to my portfolio along with the short poem-story I produced for North Somerset Arts Week called “Seal Song” (more on that next time!)

So this week in Skokholm continues to remind me, as Tolkien said-

“It is brought home to me; it is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.”

 

From my own reference drawings and photos- some preliminary gouache and pencil studies ready for this impending puffin project! Click to see larger. 

(If any of you come across this- a huge thank you to the wardens Richard and Giselle, the volunteers Jenni and Ishbel, and all of my fellow guests for such a wonderful, special week!)

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The AutumnHobbit

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