Picture Profile 2012: The Mighty Reed with Fragility
2012 The Mighty Reed with Fragility (Bearded Reedlings with nest and eggs)
Artist Code 2012. Completed 7th August 2020. Original water colour on Aquarelle Arches 140lb 100% cotton rag, 14″ x 10″. (50 Limited Edition prints)
This painting was achieved with help from a book I purchased from a secondhand bookshop whilst on holiday in Cornwall in the 1980s: “A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of British and European Birds” by Colin Harrison. It was an invaluable resource for finding out about Bearded Reedlings and helped me construct a viable composition. Bearded Tits (Panurus biarmicus) are beautiful little birds but their lovely colours make them disappear amongst the reedbeds where they live and breed. Their unmistakable “ping-chew” song can be clearly heard. I have painted this picture specially for Book 5 “REED: ON THE EDGE” in the River Friend Series. It is Figure 1. They nest low down in old reed and the nest is made by twisting old reeds and grasses round reed stems and lined with old reed flower heads which are downy and soft. The birds usually lay between 5 and 7 eggs in a clutch and can breed from May to early September.
I have been looking at all sorts of common reed (Phragmites australis) in order to get a feel for this plant. In the River Friend book there will be illustrations of the plant and its growth pattern and historical and other interesting facts about reed beds in general. Much flora and fauna live amongst the reeds and the beds can be vast or just a little row of plants in a ditch. It is a very hardy plant and adapts to its local conditions. Reed beds are great cleansers of the water and in 2020 many new eco-friendly builds have a reed bed filter to help cleanse water for re-use. There has been a resurgence in the use of reed for many purposes (old and new), and even rushes are coming back into fashion – for making shoes!!
My resources for the birds themselves were taken on a very cold day in April 2017 when I visited Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk. I had a lovely walk around the reserve, and particularly liked the marsh boardwalk where golden marsh marigolds abounded. But the best and cosiest bit was inside the walk-in aviary where the Reedlings were flitting about. I got some really good snapshots.
I plucked the dried reeds from a small stand at road edge near Toft, Cambs where the brook waters flood onto the road occasionally with storm spate; and the green (live) reeds, whilst playing golf, from those growing in Bourn Brook (the subject of another book in the Series, coming soon) because the water level was negligible (and dry in some places) and I was able to scramble down and pick a few fresh reeds without getting my feet wet!
There are many uses for reed, some of which go back thousands of years and in the early twenty-first century there seems to be a revival in the crafts associated with it. Britain’s largest reed beds are in the Broads in Norfolk and the Somerset Levels, but pale to insignificance when compared with the enormous reed beds in Europe and elsewhere where they cover many hectares. Mystical myths and legends abound in stories of old about reedbeds and marshlands—a really fascinating history for one aquatic plant.
I produced an update of a book written by my co-author, Dr Sylvia M. Haslam, entitled “The Reed” (click on title to download PDF from the Reed Growers Association free publications list). During 2003 and 2005 I produced 12 water colour paintings which I hoped might be used in the design of a calendar. The paintings depicted flora and fauna which appear during each month. These 12 paintings have the codes NS01 to NS12 (Nature Series). However, when I designed and published the limited edition calendar in 2005 for the year 2006, it ended up with the title: ‘Nature’s Gems’. All 300 editions were sold. The cover page artwork for “The Reed” was the month of August in the calendar which also had this little poem:
August mists roll over bog. A man is walking with his dog.
The reeds in gentle breezes sway. The safest place by night and day,
for warblers who may soon be gone, to distant lands for winter sun.