Beachy Nuthatch

Mark has been taking a few trips to The Cape recently. For those who don’t know, ‘The Cape’ is a sandy island off the end of The Hawk, Cape Sable Island, inhabited by sheep, birds, the automated Cape Light lighthouse and occasional mad birdwatchers. It is reached by a small boat, navigated by an indomitable 89-year-old, and can attract interesting birds on migration, as well as Canada’s only breeding American Oystercatchers, hence Mark’s interest.

On a recent visit, with Ronnie d’Entremont, the birding was quite slow but they did come across a Red-breasted Nuthatch, perched on a bleached log on the rocky beach. Nuthatches are a permanent resident of the coniferous forests of Nova Scotia, so not rare, but the perch on the log was very photogenic, and rather unusual. It suggests that this bird was a migrant, rather than a resident, especially since the only trees on The Cape (the famous ‘Forest’) are a small clump of wind-blasted shrubs (the name is a bit sarcastic!). The brownish tinge to the wings and tail of this bird indicate that it has not yet completed the moult to full breeding plumage. Mark took a shot of the bird and though it might inspire a painting.

red breasted nuthatch rs watermarked

It definitely got me interested. The bird itself was relatively simple to draw, it was the rocks and, in particular, the wood that took the time. My version left out the flotsam ropes and other articles, and ended up a little more colourful than the original (hey, artistic interpretation is allowed!). It was fun to try and produce ‘rocky’ textures on the sea-washed rocks, through the medium of watercolour pencil.

redbreasted nuthatch rs watermark

‘Beachy Nuthatch’, Red-breasted Nuthatch, 10 x 14 inch, watercolour pencil (Derwent Watercolour, Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

This species is an extremely rare vagrant to Europe, with only two having been found in the Western Palearctic region. One of these was an overwintering individual in Norfolk, UK – Holkham Meals to be precise – in 1989-1990. It is a pine forest, so perfectly suitable habitat for Nuthatches, but this bird’s ‘tin trumpet’ call gave the game away. And, yes, Mark did see the Norfolk bird! See his excellent e-book ‘Twitching Times’ for details.


A lighthearted romp through the birding scene in the UK, following twitching* trips to rare birds, the length and breadth of the country. Cover art and internal pen and ink illustrations are mine. Available from iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble for a very  small amount!

*twitching-to actively chase rare birds. A UK term that is slowly making its way across the pond.



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Sandra Dennis

Now I'm in early retirement from my previous career as a pharmaceutical scientist, I've taken to creating art pieces. I specialise in wildlife art, especially birds.

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