Heading north – migrating dunlin


Oil on canvas, 60cm x 90cm

During spring migration a steady stream of waders pass through the various estuaries that sprinkle the UK coast. I was visiting my favourite ‘local patch’, Tyninghame estuary on the south east coast of Scotland, to gather information for another painting when I observed a small group of dunlin flitting along the shore. It was a spring tide and as high water reached its zenith this little band of travelers was being pushed off the few remaining exposed rocks at the top of the beach. Nervous and flighty, they skittered from rock to rock until suddenly, at some unseen signal, they lifted off, ‘peeping’ excitedly as they wheeled across the bay, heading northwards on the next stage of their long migration.

This painting is also an exploration of the effects of light on water and wet rock. I liked the effect that the reflections of the rocks had on the water, blocking out the reflected sky so that the pebbles below the surface became clearly visible.

A sense of scale is always important in a painting but is not always easy to convey. A living creature of a definite size is seen against a background of almost infinitely variable scale. A rock could be the size of a pea or a London bus, and a wave could be a ten metres high or no more than a ripple. Painting wildlife within a landscape is more about painting the landscape at the right scale to the wildlife rather than the other way round. Dunlin are small waders – one will fit comfortably into a human hand – so I had to make sure that the water and the rocks did not appear too small by comparison.

This painting will be on show at my one-man exhibition ‘From Antarctica to Aberlady’ which runs from 15th November to 14th January at the Donald Watson Gallery  near Edinburgh. The gallery enjoys stunning views across Aberlady Bay and the Firth of Forth.

Donald Watson Gallery, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC), Aberlady, East Lothian, EH32 0PY,  Tel; 01875 871330


Select an original below

  • Redshank
  • Jewels of sunlight
  • Grey wagtail
  • Shallow waters
  • Snow charm
  • Snowy birches and ermine
  • Avocet
  • Moorhen and bulrushes
  • Melting away (snipe)
  • At the waterline
  • Winter fox
  • St Mary’s seals
  • The Gathering
  • Short-eared owl
  • Abernethy Forest pool
  • Redshank alarm
  • Evening pools – wigeon
  • Silver light
  • Aberlady Bay
  • Fishing in the flow tide – Little egret
  • Long-eared owl
  • Shrimping
  • Purple sandpipers
  • Morecambe Bay waders
  • Storm surge – gannets at Bamburgh
  • Sandpiper flight
  • Lindisfarne Bay
  • Heading north – migrating dunlin
  • Redshank
  • Against the light
  • Spring tide
  • Marsh grass
  • Warming up
  • Snow petrel
  • Smiling at the sun (rock martins at Abu Simbel)
  • Salt marsh sentinel
  • Making waves
  • Log pile
  • The sand martin and the jellyfish
  • Humpbacks in the Gerlache Strait
  • Dipper
  • Beachcombers
  • Run-off

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