Bird of the day: Waxwing

Waxwings are on my Ultimate Ticklist…I may weep if I actually saw one, and that goes double if I have my binoculars with me. I know they have been seen not infrequently here in East Sussex but sadly I have not had the pleasure.

They are glorious to paint though, and a bird book I often pick up now the clocks have changed is Winter Birds by Lars Jonsson who is an artist, ornithologist and field guide illustrator: his paintings are charming, and there are insights in to how he studies the birds and paints them from his studio in Sweden.

I love the daubs of paint and pencil notes against the bird, and his knowledge is borne of repeated observation and a clear love of his subjects. It is interesting to get that slightly off-centre viewpoint, as many of the species we have here are also in the more northerly parts of Europe, but there are others that may be rare or non-existent here, or visit the UK as winter migrants; learning more about the ecology of our familiar birds and how they behave in different environments is fascinating.

I have a love of the taiga despite never visiting, having years ago heard a Radio 4 programme about someone having a guided birdwalk through the boreal forest of Scandinavia and somehow it connected with me in a way that occasionally these things do when we randomly see or hear them. Perhaps it’s a childhood throwback to the magic of crisp air and evergreen trees with snow-laden boughs that we associate with Christmas and winter, but which very rarely happens here in the mild south east. It’s certainly a compelling landscape, and I have been watching some SlowTV recently, namely All Aboard the Sleigh Ride from BBC4, and a lengthy train journey up through Norway to the Arctic Circle which is rather mesmerising and deeply relaxing.

I really enjoyed painting this bird, as it really focussed my attention on the intricate plumage, especially that of the wings, from where it gets its name. The males tend to have more striking plumage compared to the female, with those waxy red blobs on the secondary flight feathers. The starling-sized birds feed on berries, so often visit gardens and municipal planting schemes. I have lots of apple trees, and there are many berried trees nearby but I have only ever seen winter thrushes – although I’m not going to complain about that as I adore them. I will keep my fingers crossed for this coming winter that a flock of waxwings visit my patch.

See this painting on my Etsy.

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