Monday, 29 July 2013

Pretty Chickens and Soldiers

Drawing and Illusion: Chickens and Soldiers

Pembrokeshire summers are usually moist and cool, with just the occasional spell of hot weather, so the long hot summer we have experienced this year has taken everyone by surprise.  The sky above our house is full of swallows, swifts and martins.

The ancients thought swallows noisey birds because of their constant chatter and as the summer reaches its peak there are noisy flocks of 40 or 50 young birds passing over the landscape.  I think these young birds are already beginning their journey south whilst their parents stay to hatch another brood for departure in September.

In the evening, when office work is done, I often go and sit amongst the dry grasses in a small meadow .

Usually I am alone, perhaps one of the feral cats my wife feeds will be washing herself in the evening sun, maybe she spent her day sleeping in the shade and like me is enjoying the gentle afterglow of the long hot day.  Sometimes I settle in front of a chicken coop which my neighbour wheels round the field.  At first the chickens were visibly annoyed by my presence, when I moved a leg or turned my paper they would erupt, scattering and flapping to the far end of their cage where they huddled against the wire in an over-anxious bundle of clucking disapproval.

But chickens are social beasts, and easily seduced, so it was not long before they changed their view of my visits, and now they will greet me when I arrive.  They come and sit with their bodies pressed towards me, making sweet mewing sounds and watching me with their mysterious chicken eyes.

I have discovered they share my passion for grass; if I poked a blade into the coop they will rush forward, pecking and fighting to be the first to grab the seeded head with their sharp beaks, and then the winner will run to a far corner to gobble their prize before another chicken has time to grab it from them.

 I am sorry to say the cockerels know little about chivalry, they are always the first in line and they do not mind to peck the poor hens that get too close.  There are two rather sleek dappled grey cockerels with misleadingly noble faces.

Have looked up chicken breed on Google I believe they are Plymouth Rock, this is my attempt to colour one of my drawings of a young Plymouth Rock cockerel.

  The neighbour told me he reared the flock from eggs and that he is waiting for them to be mature enough to sell as layers .   He has a mixture of many fancy breeds, some with pretty feathers and other less noticeable little brown pullets that spend their time pecking at the floor of the coop, I believe they will lay delicate blue or red brown eggs.

Much more eye catching is a showy little hen which has the body shape of a partridge and a mane of pretty striped feathers, and if that is not enough to catch your eye the black bobble on top of her head definitely will.

One is plain white, she does not look fancy at all but she is nice to draw.

Sometimes I am visited by insects, like this very pretty fly with speckled brown wings that at first looked like a common house fly.  She stayed on my drawing pad for quite a while.  

And the abundant red-coated soldier beetles that fly from thistle flower to thistle flower.

They can also be seen hunting for aphids amongst the leaves and grasses.

As the sun descends I make my way back to the house through a yard which is surrounded with barns where the swifts nest and jackdaws love to be

The swifts continue collecting food for their chicks until the light fades and darkness sets in.  You first hear their screeching as squadrons arrive over the rooftops, then there is the searing sound of the air on their wings as they dive low past the eves of the barn where their young and partners burst out in response, followed by the fast ghostly patter of their wings as they propel themselves back over the rooftops and into the evening sky.  Being close to swifts is one of natures most exhilarating experiences.

A few days ago I found a young swift marooned in our orchard, she was helpless and would have been eaten by a cat.  I picked up the helpless bird, her body was decorated freckled feathers of black, brown and yellow, she looked like a miniature nightjar   I would have liked to draw her but it would have been unfair, instead I threw her into the air and she was safe again.   For the next few days she will fly around our house with her parents and then she will be gone to distant lands.  Once she has left she will never rest their wings before she return next April.  The swifts leaving is always a sad moment because it is the first sign that the long summer will have an end.
With best wishes