An Orchestra of Avocets

I have always liked Avocets. The European version, the Pied Avocet, used to be pretty rare in the UK when I started birdwatching and I remember going to see my first one. Mark said that they had bright blue legs and I didn’t really believe him, but they do!  That was at Titchwell, in Norfolk, I believe, one of the few places you could see that species in those days; now they are much more widespread. Over here in the New World, we have the American Avocet, even more colourful because, along with the black and white plumage, and blue-grey legs, they have a bright cinnamon wash on their heads and necks, when in full breeding plumage. They are rare in Nova Scotia though, and we are yet to see them here, but Mark is looking hard!

Back in 2014, we paid a visit to Texas in February, timed to catch the Whooping Cranes that winter in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The best way to see the cranes is to take a boat trip, so early morning saw us board Captain Tommy’s Crane Trip boat at Rockport, for a ride up the Intercoastal Canal to Aransas. A bonus was the flocks of other birds, roosting in the shallow waters, including Black Skimmers and American Avocets. They were unbothered by the passing boat and allowed good photos in the low morning light.

am avocet rs watermark

Even I was able to get pleasing images with my little bridge camera, including this one that I have always liked. The varying poses of the birds, tapering up to a point, and the shadowy ripples in the shallow water, made me feel that this could be a good subject for a painting.

It was February, so the birds were not yet in their spectacular breeding plumage, but they were showing signs that they were moulting into it, with hints of red on the head and neck. In addition, these birds had brownish primaries, suggesting that they were first-time breeders. Males and females are plumaged similarly, but the bills of the males are less curvy than the females, so I think that these birds were all young males.

I had to alter the positions of the birds in my picture slightly, to fit them into the paper I was using (11 x 14 inch), so my grouping is narrower and slightly taller than the reference photo. I also wanted to keep the background very simple, to highlight the birds and the pattern of shadows/ripples in the water. I was pretty pleased with the final result.

avocets rs watermarked

‘An Orchestra of Avocets’ 11 x 14 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

‘An Orchestra’ is apparently the collective noun for Avocets, at least according to one website I consulted. Not sure if that is really the case, but is seemed a nice term for a group of birds that can certainly lift anyone’s spirits.

And, in case anyone is wondering, we got the proverbial ‘crippling views’ of the Whooping Cranes, too!


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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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