Bird Art, Caran d'Ache Supracolor, Nova Scotia bird art, Watercolour pencil

Roseate Tern

There has been a brief hiatus in my postings, and in my art, due to us hosting visitors from the UK. Indeed, we have three additional separate groups coming over the next few months, so I expect my time available to paint will be pretty limited, but every visitor is welcome and much wanted! Before our last visitors arrived I had started work on a picture of Roseate Tern and finally got to finish it last night.

Terns are one of my favourite bird groups. Although they are largely black, grey and white in colouration, there is something about their elegant flight, clean plumage and the way that they plunge headlong into the water when fishing that is a joy to watch. Locally we are lucky to see three species in the summer, the Common Tern, the Arctic Tern and this one, the Roseate tern, by far the rarest of the three. The bird gets its name from the subtle pink wash on the belly of the breeding bird, which can just be seen on this picture.

For many years, the Brother Islands near West Pubnico have been home to Canada’s largest breeding colony of Roseate Terns, husbanded diligently by a local resident, Ted d’Eon. Mark went out with Ted to the North Brother Island, earlier this year, to photograph the returning birds as they set up their nests, with the particular task of getting good photos of the rings (bands) on the birds’ legs so that origin and return status could be determined. Of all the excellent photos he took, this one, with the long, elegant tail streamers much in evidence and the interesting background, was my favourite. As you can see, two rings are present on the bird and I chose to include them in the picture in tribute to the work of Ted and the North Brother colony.

roseate tern rs watermark

There is a sad footnote to this story. Low numbers of terns returned to North Brother this spring, compared to last year. The island is getting smaller, due to sea erosion, and a particularly high tide in May damaged the managed nesting zone. Even those birds that had nested and laid eggs seem to have abandoned the nests; not just Roseates but also Common and Arctic Terns. Predation of the nests by American Crows has not helped.  It appears that there will be no terns breeding on North Brother this year, the first time for decades that this has happened. Some birds have been located on nearby islands, but not all, but it is hoped that new breeding colonies will be established. It is likely that North Brother’s days as the biggest breeding colony in Canada are now over.

The picture was something of a challenge, as I was unsure about the very busy background for some time. The bird itself was relatively straightforward, although the plumage was surprisingly blue-looking in the strong sunlight and that pink wash was finely judged to be visible but not overwhelming-it really is a subtle shade in the actual bird. The ‘log’ in the background, maybe an old fence post with some sort of a bolt going through it was fun to portray, I really do enjoy old wood! In the end I bit the bullet and decided to paint in all the leaves, not strictly true to life since these were largely blurred out in the reference photo (the depth of field was perfectly judged by the photographer to highlight the bird!) and I jiggled the colouration a little. Still, artistic licence, eh? I hope the final picture gives a feel for the site. Pencils used were mainly Supracolors, but I used a couple of favourites from the Derwents, Venetian red and blue-grey. I find the Derwent Venetian red less red and more browny than the equivalent colour in the Supracolors, so I do like it for the bark on branches. The blue-grey is more ‘rocky’ than the equivalent in the Supracolors, even though the grey in that set has distinct bluey tones.

Anyhow, this is my tribute to the tern colony at North Brother and the sterling work of Ted d’Eon. I really hope that the Terns find a new home and go from strength to strength.

Thanks to Mark Dennis and Alix d’Entremont for additional information on the status of the terns of North Brother Island.

roseate tern rs watermarked

‘Roseate Tern at North Brother’, 9 x 11 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).




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