A simple, portable nature journaling kit: sketchbook, watercolour pencils, ink pen and paintbrush with water tank.

Last week I was in South Australia, visiting family and friends. I had also embarked on compiling some nature journals ‘on a theme’, including one on birds, and one on gardens. The garden journal I’ll show you in a future post, but today’s post is about the little journal that is slowly filling up with birds. I found this Jasart journal at Eckersley’s and even though the paper wasn’t the thickness I usually prefer, I liked the neat size, hard cover and binding. The price was good too. Let’s see how it would perform as a nature journal…

Stepping out from the hotel in Adelaide, the first bird I saw was this plucky noisy miner, tending a nest in a plane tree right next to one of the city’s busiest streets (North Terrace). Noisy miners are often despised because they aggressively drive away smaller birds. But they deserve some respect for thriving in urban habitats, and their social structure may be unique in the bird world (more of this later too).

I find it hard to stick to one subject in a journal, and even though I’d intended to only draw birds in this one, I was fascinated by the bark of the plane tree.

Further along my ramble, I found a really fabulous place to sketch birds in the heart of Adelaide – the kiosk in the Botanic Gardens. It’s easy to get ‘used to’ common bird species, and forget how wonderful they are. Here there were seven native bird species that were unafraid since they were old hands at scavenging off the picnic tables, and because of this they came up very close, which is great for sketching.

There were dusky moorhens, black ducks and wood ducks:


Dusky moorhen and black duck

This black duck was very bossy. The little diamond-shaped bit on the tip of a duck’s beak is called a ‘nail’.

This was a less-bossy duck that decided to sit down nearly under my chair.

This Australian wood duck was just cruising around, trying to keep out of trouble. I tried to capture what he looked like when waddling away.

I didn’t leave much on my plate except a bit of mayonnaise. But a pair of magpie-larks still had a taste. The male has white eyebrows, while the female has a white face:

There was also a pair of crested pigeons, who preened each other between bouts of foraging for scraps.

And yes, once again I was distracted from the birds. This time by Meme snoozing in a chair:

Then I spent some time sketching feral rock doves. These are lovely and fascinating birds, which we often ignore since they’re so common in cities. I love their pink feet.

This put the cat amongst the pigeons đŸ™‚

This rock dove became very interested when I took a plastic bag out of my backpack. Alas! It only had sketchbooks in it.

I was pretty happy with how the journal was performing, but you can see in some of the pictures how the thinner paper buckles when water is applied.

The materials I used in all of these pictures were permanent ink, and watercolour, Inktense and Graphitint pencils. I start with a graphite pencil sketch like the one below, then go over it with a permanent ink fineliner and rub out the graphite. And then I add colour with the pencils, adding water with a brush to mix and spread colours.

Sketches of willy wagtails at Victor Harbor

I try to capture just an impression of a pose or attitude first, then I’ll often consult a bird field guide to check on the finer details of colours and markings. But the most precious aspect of sketching birds quickly in the field is trying to capture something of their behaviour, and personailty – their ‘giz’.

I think I managed this in the last sketch I did before returning home to Queensland. Here’s a bathing party of New Holland honeyeaters, or ‘specklies’ as they’re called in SA. It’s not realistic, or in any way polished. But for me it captures something of the zany, frenzied energy of these social birds.

Bathing party of New Holland honeyeaters at Victor Harbor.

Next weekend on Saturday 25th March I’ll be at Indigiscapes in the Redlands Shire, south of Brisbane from 10 am to 3pm, for the Redlands Good Gardening Expo. Come along to see demonstrations of nature journaling for gardeners, and take a peek at some of my nature journals, including this birdy one. I’ll also have books and cards for sale, and will be happy to answer any nature-journal related questions.

Happy nature journaling, or just nature-watching! See if you can look closely and see the uniqueness of even the common birds that might cross your path today.