Winter thrush began to arrive at the beginning of the week, with around 1000 fieldfare at Clywedog on Sunday evening. By Wednesday a massive wave of 2000-3000+ were moving down the Gilfach valley stripping the mountain rowans at an incredible rate. Feeding frenzies could be spotted far off because the trees seemed to vibrate and splinter as the birds scrambled around the branches filling their crops. Flocks the length of the valley moved in paddling flight over the hill tops, then swooping low over my head, around and again like a conveyor of birds stretching for miles. Flocks would break off, switch direction, scout and foray before the current of movement would break and birds fall out of the sky, descending on one of the red berry laden beacons lighting up the hill side. The harsh clacking calls of the fieldfare became ambient sound throughout the valley, whilst silence became disruptive as it usually precluded an eruption of alarmed birds disturbed from feeding by ominous shapes in the sky. With the sheer number of birds in the air I found it impossible to spot the threatening silhouette of a raptor at such times although plenty were about, buzzards and kites seemed to congregate and of course peregrine and sparrow hawk, lurked in the wings.
It took me most of theses first few encounters to learn how to approach these birds and in terms of drawing to ‘get my eye in’. Getting your eye in, is about becoming familiar with a subject so as to draw it intuitively. For me a lot of this is to do with understanding what is achievable, for example, here the birds were constantly moving especially while feeding, but I learnt that they rested at certain times in clusters at tops of trees allowing there forms to be studied in drawings I aimed to complete in about 30 seconds. I could build up the groups and begin to form compositions of natural posture. Crayon or pen was best for this rapid movement as marks had to be definite deliberate, as such drawings rely on split second decisions.
Numbers at Gilfach peaked on Thursday as the birds funnelled through the bottom of the narrow valley and gradually dispersed along the wide track of the Wye and beyond perhaps into the Elan valley. On Friday a hillside near Tylwch, laden with red Rowan trees became the focus, I had the best success here because the steep slopes accessed by a sheep track afforded great views from the cover of trees still in leaf ( cover from above seems most important as the birds scan from the air to ensure it is safe to descend). By the end of Friday the original number of 1000+ fieldfare and redwing with five times more starling began to dwindle as a pair or more sparrow hawk striked the flocks. By Saturday it was not worth waiting as the birds could no longer feed, since a raptor would be waiting for the opportunity, plunging into a tangle of wings and branches every time a group dared alight. Also of note a group of 22 raven playing on the ridge, possible goshawk and first brambling of winter.
Many drawings were scrapped to begin with but as the days progress I developed a kind of short hand for theses birds, so I can now at least visualise drawing more challenging numbers, movement and behaviours such as the incredible acrobatics performed when feeding that lasts only a few seconds. Two ideas emerged this week, firstly the drawings which I have discussed above which, as I originally planned, can be worked into monoprints (when I get back). Also I have enough material to paint the flocks in the stunning Gilfach landscapes. Several compositions in mind especially this mountain side which I sketched yesterday evening as the rain began to pour, sometimes this helps explore colour and definition since the work is constantly being washed away and applied over and over in a kind of evolution. End result not much but a useful exercise to loosen up my landscape. (um, ru, az, cy, bs) This mast year, means lots of rowan still left on the hillsides, so with luck and another easterly to bring a new wave through there will be more opportunity to draw these birds and the exciting occasion of their arrival.