Yesterday I took four sets of my logbooks to go in to the shop at the new Discovery Centre at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. Although the weather was cold and rainy (so, typical June weather then…) there were lots of people enjoying the great view from the comfort of the Centre, and the cakes at the Lime Kiln Cafe looked spectacular! Paul and I decided to take a walk around both the Reserve and beyond as although I have been there a number of times, of course now I need to look at it slightly differently, from an illustrator/writer viewpoint.

I find that I have an idea for a book, and start putting it together, but it takes a while for it to gel properly in my head. Although I have many originals, and can use reference photos to get the bird’s shape accurate (which I do however well I might know a species) there comes a time in the book’s evolution that it suddenly finds its own momentum and the birds become a proper blend which knits them together a bit like a family group. I didn’t ever realise that this might happen when I decided to make books out of my numerous paintings, and until that point, a new logbook can feel a bit like a party where nobody really knows each other and there’s a few awkward silences. I know people who write fiction say that the characters become real and they end up sort of writing the book which makes total sense to me, but I didn’t think it would or could happen with an illustrated, non-fiction publication. This visit to Rye Harbour was quite pivotal for me in bonding with the book and I am really looking forward to working on it this weekend and seeing it printed – hopefully by next weekend.

We saw stock doves, noticeably lacking the white of wood pigeons, and linnets collecting nesting material around the brambles by the Holiday Park. There were greylag geese by the cormorants but I’m not sure if I can squeeze them in to the book without losing someone more important; I have a beautiful Alamy stock photo of a greylag that I’d love to use for an illustration so I will have to see. It was really windy and the oystercatchers were whirling and calling, ably coping with the buffeting from the drizzly sea breeze.

Paul spotted a little egret by one of the sluices and it stood, fisherman-like before stabbing in to the shallows to pick out a tiny fish. Avocets were bobbing about in the pools as it was high tide and many areas had flooded. The skylarks were in good voice and their melodies could be clearly heard over the sound of the wind: incredible little birds. Sparrows too, a pair of blackbirds, and a group of a dozen or so starlings flying in formation.

We walked back towards the car park, and round the corner to the Avocet Gallery & Tearoom. Oh my. The cakes. The artwork. Fabulous! We met the owners Morgan and Peter, and they explained they are not doing lunches just yet so we had to have tea and cake instead which Paul and I decided we could just about cope with. We were too busy talking to take any photos which is a shame as they looked and tasted amazing…it means I will have to return in order to get a decent picture of the apple & walnut cake drizzled in maple syrup (that’s a holy trinity right there if you ask me!).

They have a beautiful selection of various artworks, from woodcuts and collagraphs to oils and photography, as well as ceramics and wooden items. An amazing array of charming cards of course and now – my little logbooks! The relaxed but perfectly-executed organisation is my favourite type of gallery: fantastic quality and curated in such a way to allow easy appreciation and perusal of the artists’ work that is represented.

It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and for anyone staycationing or vacationing, I can thoroughly recommend a trip to the Discovery Centre for a light lunch and a fabulous walk, then back to Avocet for delicious cake. It really is a beautiful part of the county, and I am hoping my little logbook of the area will help visitors and residents become familiar with the incredible birdlife we have in this small but important corner of Sussex.

Please see the Stockists page under Birdwatching Logbooks for other places where the books are available.

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