Catkins and Siskins

Today started off looking immensely promising with snow forecast, and a pink sky.

Sadly, the forecast didn’t follow through, and it soon began to rain.

Earlier in the week I had noticed the hazel catkins on one particular tree had descended in the warmth of the sun; clearly the spot was perfect for an early show of pollen. I’m always amazed at the influence of these winter rays and the fortuitous gaps in the foliage allowing the low, watery light to hit the plant and encourage the catkins to unfurl. Other buds are tight and dormant, yet these were relishing the discernible warmth:

None of the alder trees were quite so exuberant – not at my eye level anyway. I had seen a flock of twenty or so siskins enjoying the seeds from the cones high up in a tall alder but today the rain was keeping the bird sightings to a minimum with a lot of magpies. Siskins adore alders: I love the line from my Illustrated Book of Birds (Cambell & Watson, Peerage Books) talking about them ‘swarming’ over an alder:

Here is the colour plate from the same book, beautifully illustrated by Donald Watson.

The siskins are easy to identify as they have really stripy bellies. Alder trees are one of my favourites at this time of year as the purple bloom on their buds is exquisite.

I always carry a pocket knife with me on walks so that I can take off any small twigs without damaging the tree, bringing them back to my studio for closer inspection. Here, I have done pen and ink of hornbeam and alder twigs without really looking at the page, which gives a loose flow to the drawing.

I have drawn the more fulsome hazel catkins using squiggly lines as I’m not a great one for spending hours on details!


  1. We had plenty of snow here in Wiltshire. Now already mostly gone, but delightful while it was here. And we have catkins outside our front gate too. Always like to see if I can find any of the tiny bright red bushy things on the stems which, from nature classes at school, I seem to remember are the places where the nuts appear later in the year. Was tempted but the catkins were hanging over the stream there and I could just see myself slipping in the snow and it all ending badly. And damply. Will have to wait.

    Liked by 1 person

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