Thursday, 8 March 2012

Low Light & Flying Golden Plover

A scene I have been returning to for four or five years, since I first found golden plover up here, in fact these were the first new and most 'wild' species I found; better still on my local patch. It was an experience to cement my interest in studying birds. The Golden plover are part of a sense of place that has a strong hold on me, drawing me to this the last spit of land at the end of the upland plateau stretching uninterrupted, North to Snowdonia. The greatest excitement comes in unknowing before I ascend, whether the place will have any affect on me that day since it depends on specific conditions of light and weather to transform it from an average patch of rough grazing to the wild, elevated Welsh upland that can send senses and imagination hurtling far away from valley drudgery towards wilderness spaces.
The grass here comes in short swathes of gold and blond, mottled with darker mosses, a palette mimicked exactly in the plovers plumage. I can only find the plovers on the ground because I once saw them land where it has transpired they often roost, so I look for movement by scanning this small area with binoculars, even then I can miss them, only to carelessly flush them a few steps later. Amazingly I have regularly counted between 45 and 48 birds here throughout the last few years. Sometimes I find them sometimes I don't on days over winter but Autumn and Spring are best and I haven't yet established how present they are over Summer.
A still, sunny evening is best to find the plovers up here, when it is possible to hear their piping and watch the memorising movements of their flight; a synchronised twinkling of White bellies to dark backs as they pitch and yawl over the ridge. At this time, low light ignites the ridge casting dramatic shadows and turning the muted soft tones into a blaze of gold, often contrasted against a darker sky of blue and brown clouds from the North West.
These conditions are rare though, as the ridge is exposed and magnifies the lightest of prevailing weather, making such days precious especially when the Winter light is at its best and the plovers most noticeable. But I always have one eye on conditions looking to predict the next golden plover day.

The painting above was completed over three days:
5th: Conditions near perfect, with the wind in the North and light. I paint in the shadows, basic rock forms and sky. Pleased that I can see Cadair Idris on the horizon, dusted with snow and catching the light around its base, a useful focal point in the far distance. First I place a red kite that passes over the left hand ridge, but quickly scrub that as I hear the piping of Golden Plover, I sketch the shape of the flock in my pad when they come into the frame and drop down to cover. I place them to the right of the picture, balancing Cadair and the light in the clouds on the left, which is not far off where they roost anyway. A final blaze of light catches the ridge casting long shadows and I map it out with a wash of NY, dropping in UM, BS, RU etc
7th: A hard climb today with Northely wind pushing against my A1 portfolio, containing the unfinished paintings. I make a start but soon its gusting over 40 and their is no respite, every angle is exposed as if the wind is coming straight down. Storm clouds on the horizon, I beat a retreat and make it down just as the hail begins to pour, good fun. Getting home, can see some progress made in defining the tones in the foreground so pleasently surprised. No Goldies today.

8th: Calm today, but low cloud flattens light. One late gap in the cloud cover around 1700 is my last chance and gives me enough light to define some areas and bring the picture to a close. No Goldies but I find a mossy rise strewn with feathers, clearly the molt is on and perhaps next time I see them the males will be even more striking with the black face and chest colour of their breeding plumage.

1 comment:

  1. I like the colours and the flow of this painting, the birds just adding a touch of life that completes this work nicely!