Wednesday 4 December 2013

Field Sketches and Logbooks

If I had to issue just one piece of advice to birders starting out it would be to sketch and make notes - ditch the camera! I've been keeping detailed logbooks since 14th April 1985 when I was just a kid. I sketch stuff in the field and then write it up neat in an A4 ring-binder, copying field sketches and adding colour. The trouble is, this is very time-consuming so, with a much busier life, I've really let things slide. The problem has been compounded by owning a digital camera, that makes getting a record so much easier! 
 Much of my early birding was done around the river Teign and I was truly fortunate to spend quite a bit of time birding with Tom Whiley - a lovely bloke and brilliant artist. It was a constant source of amazement to me how he could capture a bird's essence in seconds and note detail that would sometimes be vital in securing the identification. I also birded with Pete Dennis, another superb birder and fantastic artist who saw detail in birds that he was able to get down on paper beautifully. On top of that there was Mike Langman, a phenomenal field artist and probably the best birder I've ever birded with. I was also inspired by the illustrations in Richard Millington's monthly 'twitching diary' in Birdwatch magazine and Michael Warren's artwork in 'Shorelines' and 'field sketches' - two of my most treasured books. Mike, Tom and Pete always encouraged me to get as much detail down as possible and I've always aimed to do that. I firmly believe it has been my greatest source of learning (and will continue to be). Often sketches are incomplete but that doesn't bother me. I don't fill in detail I don't see. 
I'm absolutely terrible at describing calls too but birding for me has always been one giant learning curve and getting things wrong is par for the course. If you look at my sketches on my 'field sketch' page you will see all sorts of mistakes, wrong feather tracts, wrong shapes, mis-interpretations and countless 'cartoony' images that bare little resemblance to the actual species. They are far more important to me personally though than photographs. I am going to make every effort to do more field sketching from now on and hope to publish some of the results on here.


  1. Well done on the new blog Matt. The Iceland Gull photo in the title picture is amazing. I love the expression on its face. I've just spent ages looking through all of your sketches. I particularly like the ones from the Teign area! They've inspired me to have a go at sketching, so the next time I find something half decent I'll give it a go. Looking forward to your future posts!

  2. Hi Laurie - many thanks. If you're inspired to start sketching then my blog has already been worthwhile! I honestly think you'll find it very rewarding - it forces you to look harder at birds. I've said it before but I'm a big fan of the Teign and your website - I've stuck a link on now.

  3. I remember Pete Dennis well, had quite a lot of correspondence with him. Is he still about?

    1. I've not seen Pete for a few years now. He dropped out of birding completely. He was great company and a great birder. Sorely missed!