I have spent a lot of time watching, drawing and listening to the kittiwakes which form a colony each summer on the picturesque ruins of Dunbar castle.
The photograph above shows the view from Dunbar looking out across the Firth of Forth. The Isle of May can be seen on the horizon to the right of the inlet and Fife is to the left. Out of sight is Dunbar’s busy working harbour.
These sketchbook drawings were made at the end of April this year, it has been a very cold spring and the colony was only just showing signs of building up. There were just a few pairs to be seen amongst the birds and it was much quieter and more static than when I am normally there in June.
During the seabird drawing week, which happens each year and was originally set up by the wonderful artist John Busby, we spend at least a day drawing the Dunbar kittiwake colony. It is possible to get close enough to make some good studies of the colony and it is an interesting sight for witnessing humans and wild creature co-existing.
Kittiwakes seem to be particularly hard to draw, my own early attempts were fraught. They are more delicate than gulls, with angular features and delicate black feet and legs which just don’t look like they should support them!
I love the lightness of touch in this piece by John Busby depicting the birds as they land in water:
I am interested in the shapes and patterns that are found in the stacked colonies common to a lot of sea birds. In the two monochrome drawings below I spent time trying to distil the birds and the rocks into shapes of tone, aiming to give a sense of the way colony life is about living in close proximity.
Kittiwakes are feisty sea birds, spending all their time out at sea except for a few weeks when they settle along our coasts to breed. By June the Dunbar castle colony is noisy and busy, the birds seem oblivious to the humans walking underneath their nests. I wonder how they adapt coming from the harsh realities of life at sea, to spend time amongst humans once a year.
The most well-known kittiwake colony in the UK is on the Baltic building in Newcastle, which has its own Facebook page!
John James Audubon’s Kittiwake print depicts the adult in the foreground with the juvenile behind it. Audubon’s large format book Birds of America depicted each bird life-size across each 39.5 x 28.5 inch page.
And finally my recent screen print Kittiwakes with the features of Dunbar castle in the background, progress shot first:
And final version: