Published: 23 March 2021 CQUNI NEWS
An exhibition of Gladstone area artist and former CQUni staff member Margaret Worthington will be held at the Marina campus in May, accompanied by a 108-page book on her works.
CQUniversity’s renowned art collection will receive a significant boost with the upcoming launch of an exhibition of works by former staff member and Gladstone artist, Margaret Worthington.
‘Margaret Worthington: Land, Air, Sand, Sea, Spirit. 40 years in Queensland’ is a survey of the artist’s works produced in Queensland over the past 40 years.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a book available at the exhibition and now from the CQUniversity Bookshop both in store and online at $29.95 (special pre-launch price for a limited time prior to 7 May) and later at $34.95 plus a flat postage rate of $10 anywhere in Australia.
The 108-page illustrated book published by CQUniversity is the first major study of Margaret’s art and provides an overview of her life and work over the past 40 years and the intellectual processes which underlie her creative endeavour.
The exhibition will be held at CQUniversity Gladstone Marina Campus from 7 May – 4 June, 2021 and is a survey of the artist’s works produced in Queensland over the past 40 years. It will present more than 60 watercolour and acrylic paintings, sculptures in aluminium and fibreglass, and installations of watercolours and sculptures with projected videos and photographs.
CQUni Art Collection Manager Sue Smith said the project continues the University’s policy of actively collecting, researching and bringing to public attention the artwork of living artists in the cities and regions the university serves.
“The University has collected and displayed art on its campuses and lent artworks to public galleries since the 1970s and since 2014 has encouraged the creativity of our current and past students and staff through the annual CQU Creates Art Awards,” she said.
“In exposing the full range of Margaret Worthington’s work for the first time to a wide audience, we hope to bring to it the recognition it deserves.
“The project was initiated in 2020 to celebrate Margaret’s 70th year. CQUniversity is proud to own 38 of Margaret’s works, many of which are on permanent display at our Gladstone Campuses and at our other sites around Australia.
“The University will present many of these works in the exhibition, along with loans from the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery & Museum and private collectors, as we honour her contribution to Australian art.”
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa and growing up in Northern Rhodesia, Margaret moved to Gladstone and settled in Calliope in the mid-70s.
A thoughtful, versatile and inventive artist, Margaret is a designer, painter and sculptor. She has travelled widely in Queensland and overseas to the United States, Japan and Shetland, Scotland and the United Kingdom, producing many different kinds of art – from watercolours of birds and animals, outback landscapes, dry and tropical rainforests, coasts and islands, to installations and small and large sculptures commemorating people, cultures and places.
Her art is often a medium of social engagement. Appealing to look at and exulting in the beauty and awesome power of nature, her art entertains as it educates viewers and conveys messages about humanity’s duty to conserve both natural and man-made environments.
She has produced significant series of work on the Queensland outback and rainforests; industry within the environment (focusing on the structures and processes of Queensland Alumina Limited in the Gladstone region); the coral cays of Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island in the southern area of the Great Barrier Reef; seagrasses of the Gladstone Harbour; and the wildlife and environments of the Shetland archipelago in Scotland (she was an artist in residence at Sumburgh Lighthouse in 2015 and Bressay Lighthouse in 2016).
Her works are to be found in private and public collections in Australia, South Africa, the UK and the United States. Her major commissions include a sculptural façade in steel and aluminium for the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery & Museum, as well as installations for CQUniversity Gladstone Marina and the Hinkler Hall of Aviation, Bundaberg, and large-scale outdoor sculptures in wood and metal throughout Central Queensland.
Anodised aluminium Approx. size 70 x 70 mm
Anodised aluminium approx. 70 x 70 mm
Anodised aluminium approx. 70 x 70 mm
Anodised aluminium approx. 70 x 70 mm.
Anodised aluminium approx. 70 x 70 mm
A teaser from the Coral Cay video that is projected over the aluminium sculptures.
Coral Cay consists of five suspended aluminium sculptures of fish species, a turtle and a bait fish mobile. Four aluminium sculptures of different coral species and a feather star sculpture are placed on plinths amongst the fish. The aluminium has been etched, textured painted and shaped.
An eight-minute video showing 24 hours on a coral cay is projected over the sculptures. The coral sculptures have painted fluorescent details and this is highlighted by a UV light.
Paintings and prints of fish and watercolour maps of the area are hung on the walls surrounding the installation.
This project aims to develop contemporary, innovative, and accessible arts and cultural initiatives with an environmental education and STEM overlay. Much reef education is centered around STEM. However, science projects, while important, would not capture the hearts and minds of students and this must happen for people to love, protect and value the Great Barrier Reef. To better meet the needs of people who prefer to learn through more creative approaches, STEM is often expanded to STEAM to include Arts. In Brain Theory this proposal therefore, will address both left (analytical and methodical) and right (creative and artistic) sides of the brain.
This installation is based on a local tourism icon coral and featuring Heron Island.
Coral Cay is building on a previous installation work called Seagrass Seascapes in collaboration with Dr Emma Jackson and William Debois this was well received at Photopia Studios in 2019. This installation featured at the opening of the Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) at CQUniversity Gladstone Campus.
In February 2011, I was accepted by the School of Visual and Performing Arts, Launceston, University Of Tasmania and enrolled in their 18 month Master of Contemporary Art (MCA) course.
In deciding what subject to study I remembered that the landscape viewed from an airplane of Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) in Gladstone, Central Queensland, had always interested me and I chose this as my subject as I felt it would be a fascinating and challenging project.
The viewed landscape is amazing, shapes and patterns of a world heritage site are seen in close proximity to the fifth largest Alumina refinery in the world.
The refinery is Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL); the South Trees wharf is within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
I contacted Allan Andrew and explained my thoughts to him and asked him to take some aerial photos of the area. He contacted me a week later saying that in the beginning he didn’t think much of my ideas but once he looked at the images he had, he became really excited about the project.
In October 2014, Alan and I choose a set of aerial images to be projected over a selected group of Musclemen sculptures, this installation and a 20x20 Pecha Kucha Powerpoint was presented at the Regional Arts Australia Summit, Arts and Edges Conference in Kalgoorlie 16 to 19 October 2014.
This is a comment from a viewer when looking at the images which I think sums up the combination really well,
“So visually interactive – all the visuals work so well together. The kind of visual overload doesn’t overwhelm, it actually gives life to the sculptures!” Nataly Fay.
This exhibition invites the viewer to become fascinated by the colours and ever changing patterns projected over the sculptures, The images shown are beautiful but it is waste material. The designs and patterns are striking. The viewers perceived ideas of Industry sited within the Environment will be challenged.
Please follow these links to The Gladstone Observer coverage of the exhibition
This is the video
This is the photo gallery
Over 50 species of shorebirds occur in Australia, they are generally found on coastal, inter tidal shores and fresh water wetlands. Terns often are found with them.
Shorebirds may often be seen changing into their breeding plumage before they leave Australia in March.
Approximately one third of Shorebirds breed in Australia, while the other two thirds are visitors that travel large distances, 20,000-30,000 km following the weather and food from their spring breeding grounds in the Northern hemisphere to spend September through to March in Australia.
Shorebirds feed on a range of insects, worms and small crustaceans and their bill shapes are highly specialised, this enables them to search for their chosen food.
I see many of these Shorebirds and Terns during Wader counting trips at Queensland Alumina Limited, Gladstone, Central Queensland.
I am doing a range of paintings to learn about the birds.
Tree Kangaroos have always fascinated me.
During my visit to Far North Queensland I
stayed with Margit, a Tree Kangaroo carer
and I was able to touch, watch and learn
about them. I became close to two very
special animals: Dobby, a young male, just
learning about tree climbing, and Kimberley,
a female with a young joey in her pouch.
I also spent time exploring the Crater Lakes
National Park, watching birds and studying
I took photos, walked, sketched and made
notes. I had in mind a series of watercolour
paintings for an exhibition. I returned home
to my studio and painted. When I looked
at the work; the paintings had a gentle
narrative and developed into this book.
Dobby, Young Tree Kangaroo, I think it
is a book for all ages, children friends
and overseas visitors.
It is an educational visual diary.
I wanted to capture how special Tree
Kangaroos and other inhabitants are to the
ecosystem of the Tablelands Wet Rainforest.
Seagrass Project for the World Science Festival in Gladstone, March 2017
Funding Concept: Helen Holden and Dr Linda Pfeiffer
Concept Design: Margaret Worthington, artist, designer and Dr Emma Jackson, Research Fellow, CQUniversity
Presentation topic: Seagrass Science through 3D Art
Items in display: Aluminium sculptures of five subtropical seagrass species, one leading light and a light measuring beacon, live seagrass aquaria; photographs, paintings, video and drawing projections.
An Arts and Science Project originally funded by QGC featuring aluminium sculptures projected with images of the life in seagrass meadows, capturing the beauty of these plants.
This project has been developed through collaboration between local marine biologist Dr Emma Jackson and local artist Margaret Worthington.
This project provides an artistic presentation of local science drawn from seagrass restoration research being conducted at CQUniversity Gladstone Marina campus.
Seagrasses are truly unique and valuable marine habitats which greatly suffer from not only being out of sight out of mind but also being labelled the ugly cousin to coral reefs! Through collaboration between artist and ecologist, aluminium sculptures projected with images of the life in seagrass meadows capture the beauty of these plants, whilst sending messages about their taxonomy, ecology and benefit to humans.
An important part of conserving and restoring seagrass is overcoming apathy about these bizarre marine flowering plants. Experiencing science through art opens up new avenues for appreciating, exploring and interpreting these important habitats that provide us with fish; offset our carbon footprint; capture fine sediment that would damage the Great Barrier Reef and feed the turtles and dugongs we care about.
Dr Emma Jackson is a seagrass ecologist with over 17 years of experience, and over 50 research papers and reports. Emma’s research currently focuses on future proofing seagrass habitats through meadow creation, restoration and enhancement.
Margaret Worthington is a Gladstone Region artist and a former CQUniversity staff member. Margaret’s work is displayed at many CQUniversity campuses.
Clive Rouse is a skilled metal fabricator. He has used aluminium for this project due to its relevance to the large aluminium smelter and refinery within the Gladstone Region.
Margaret and Clive work from their Calliope studio as artist and fabricators and produce a range of work both for sale and for commissioned projects.
Seven sculptures were set up on clever cubes and using two projectors a 10 min loop at different intervals was projected over the sculpture creating an installation with images and sound.
Images used are by William Debois, Photopia Studio and Bill Watson.
Clive and I had often talked about a range of different dog sculptures but we could not come up with a material that would do what we wanted.
Photographs by Craig Chapman and Margaret Worthington
In September we lost our much loved dog, Rusty. In October, people we knew had pups for sale and we thought we would just go and have a look. We now have a new pup, Tasmania.
Clive came up with the idea of using fibreglass and we decided to go ahead it. We had both worked in NZ building fibreglass boats so we were familiar with the material.
Our new pup kept us laughing and gave us the inspiration.
The sculptures are carved from urethane foam and then covered with two layers of fibreglass. They are then sanded to remove the wax and then painted with acrylic paint.
We accept commissions and are able to make a sculpture of your dog from photographs.
Please contact us.
Owl Journeys is a story telling and arts project based at the Tondoon Botanic Gardens in Gladstone. This project will engage children and local organisations in the development of an exhibition and a picture book about the Barking Owls that live in the gardens.
The children’s understanding is informed by their connection to landscape and a sense of place. The barking owl is a character with whom they can identify. Children will build their understanding by developing the narrative and walking the Owl Walk.
“The project will encourage the community to experience the Gardens in a unique way and highlight the life of a common ‘resident’ of the Gardens, the Barking Owl,” Councillor Sellers said.
The “hundred languages of children” refers to the many ways that children have of expressing themselves. The storyteller and artist will provide children with different avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings. The goal is for the adults and children to better understand one another and their environment.
Curtis, D and Carter, M. “Design for Living and Learning” Redleaf Press, 2003
In 2017 I spent late September to mid November in Japan.
Why Japan? A long story, my last two AIR projects were in Shetland, painting breeding birds especially Puffins. Love Puffins.I did some research and found that there is a tufted Puffin in Alaska. I was accepted into an AIR project there, however costs escalated and the tipping fee of 30-40 US $ a day was the last straw and I decided not to go.In looking at other places where tufted puffins lived, I found Japan. In the wild they are very rare, Kasai Rinkai Bird Park has a birdlife sanctuary plus an aquarium with a tufted puffin display.
I then checked out Artist in Residence projects and found Shiro Oni studios about 2 hours north west of Tokyo. I enjoy living in another country, learning about the land and culture and exploring the fauna and flora through my artwork. AIR works for me.
I spent my first week in Tokyo in the Shinjuku Ward near Shinjuku station, the busiest station in the world.Tokyo is just amazing anything you want to see and do and much you hadn’t thought of is there. Although there are lots of people, all the systems are designed to handle huge numbers and it is efficient.Everything works, when I got into my hotel late on the first night, everything was supplied and I didn’t even have to unpack my bag.Transport is excellent, I used the trains, including the bullet train and buses to get around. I loved the high end department stores, Isetan in particular where the display of both western brands but also Japanese designs and food are superlative. The floors devoted to kimonos and special Japanese fabrics are outstanding as well as the home wares, bowls, chopstick rests and knives.I was able to walk to two main gardens and spent a day in each, the Shinjuku Gyoen and the Meiji shrine in Yoyogi Park. Both are huge immaculate Japanese gardens.
Linda Cross who checks the wader count information I send from Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) was very helpful in recommending birding sites to visit. For birds migrating north from Australia this area is a first port of call before heading to Siberia and other destinations.
Kasai Rinkai Bird Centre and Aquarium. This park was built on reclaimed land and developed in an effort to restore and preserve natural Tokyo Bay habitat. About a third of the park is designated as a Sea Bird Sanctuary. The Sea Bird Centre has information on the local birds.It’s huge and I spent all day there, seeing a range of herons and cormorants. There was a group of Japanese photographers taking photos of a heron fishing. They all had massive lenses and all the accoutrements. I found this, what ever kind of group focus, everyone had all the optimum gear.This aquarium has the tufted puffin display and I was really excited to see the puffins still in breeding plumage as I thought I would be way to late in the season. The display has a glass front with rocks in the background going down to water so you could watch the puffins on land and then diving. It was amazing to see them swimming under the water probably better than they fly on land.
My diary has this written in it ‘love Tokyo but it will be good to move on and explore”
Shiro Oni Studios are sited in Onishi approximately 2 hours NW of Tokyo. Onishi once had a thriving ornamental stone trade. It is now a town populated by mostly the elderly. There are many dishevelled houses, some traditional that are empty and in disrepair. It’s a strange, forlorn town. Houses are next to workshops or shops and large trucks carrying gravel roar up the small main street. Many of the occupied houses have their own fruit trees, persimmons, figs and pomegranates were ripe. Many had a vegetables planted in their gardens. Soya beans were ready and we snacked on edamame.
In a revitalization project, up to 12 artists from around the world pay a moderate fee to spend 6 weeks living, researching and creating works for an end of project, 2 day exhibition. A separate studio plus a private room in the main 3 story house was provided with a shared kitchen and bathroom. This AIR project is run five times a year and is in turn attracting Japanese who do not want the pressure of Tokyo to set up alternative projects in Onishi.
There were plenty of small eating places in town serving traditional food for very reasonable prices. We were able to try a range of Japanese cuisine, sushi, noodle dishes of udon and soba. I enjoyed visiting a warm noodle shop during a cold, wet and windy day to slurp up steaming noodles. Often we would each buy some of the Japanese sweets and have a shared tasting. With Japanese food you expect a taste but you are surprised by something totally different. Some of the textures were like soggy sponges. We were also given a range of handmade plum wines and sake to try.
A large supermarket and hardware shop were a few kilometres out of town and we were provided with a bicycle each. There were 7 overseas artists during my stay mostly doing ceramics, painters, a film maker and a graffiti artist. People came from Los Angeles, Australia, Denmark, France and Canada. They were a good group friendly, helpful, hardworking and enthusiastic.
A group of local people were supportive and we were taken to a Japanese handmade Washi paper factory, participated in a Zen meditation lesson and a Tea ceremony. We had to, for our part attend weekend festivals and work on a range of art projects with children. Language is a problem as people are very helpful and kind but it’s hard to have any really in depth conversations- and there are so many questions to ask. We only met a small group from the town and I wondered about the other ‘ghost’ inhabitants.
The landscape was this old town sited along a river with hills. There was a dam just up stream. The hills were picturesque with Japanese temples, waterfalls and the ubiquitous golf courses. Perfect for bird watching you may think, no, I am afraid not, Onishi people love cats and there were cats everywhere. I did watch some birds eating the ripe persimmons, ducks and very large attractive herons and cormorants were on the dam. The cats even killed the house chickens when I was there. I tried to make contact with people who could recommend where to go to watch birds but was unsuccessful.
The first 4 weeks it rained most days as we were affected by two typhoons. In the precious few fine days we had I went walking. One walk, I wanted to get to the top of the hill to see a shrine and I took a back path, climbing up into the hills, eventually my path was very overgrown and indistinct. In front of me on the path I saw a print and I thought, ‘small bear’, so I waited quietly to see if I could hear Mamma bear, but all was quiet. I retreated and went another way to the temple. By November it was very cold and the trees especially the Maples were turning beautiful flame and ochre colours.
After 4 weeks I had my work organised for the exhibition and I had itchy feet. I decided to go to Ueno, another ward of Tokyo. This area has the major galleries, University, historical areas and Ueno zoo.
I really enjoyed the zoo, some cages are inadequate for the animals but in the main, most were excellent. There are large lakes around the zoo and birds may be spotted there. A large display of Japanese bird species as well as many other birds I have never seen before was on display in the Zoo, Snowy owls, condors and pink florescent flamingos, plus lots of interesting mammals. I spent a fascinating day at Ueno Zoo. I think I was suffering animal and bird withdrawal. The next day I was going to go to Yatsu Higata mudflats in Tokyo Bay, a shorebird area. I made contact with a professional bird watcher and apparently the tides were high and I was in the mid season so there would not be many birds.
I returned to Onishi. We all took part in the group exhibition for our last weekend. I had a work of aluminium leaves etched and coloured and I painted, cut out and constructed 15 paper tubes reminiscent of bamboo. Each tube depicted a event that had happened during my time at Onishi. The work was titled ‘when the leaves fall from the trees they do not die”. I thought the work done by all the artists was innovative and well presented, the Brewery space being an excellent venue.
Leaving Onishi I took the train to Kyoto and spent 3 days there. Kyoto is really interesting with many temples and gardens to see. One day I spent at Osaka Kaiyukan aquarium where they have an 8 story aquarium displaying the Pacific Ring of Fire. The main attraction there is the 2 whale sharks. An escalator takes you up 8 stories and then you work your way down looking at the different exhibits. There are a range of different bird and penguins to be seen at Kaiyukan aquarium.
So a very different experience from the one I had in Shetland. Personal perception is just that very personal.I live in a rural setting in Queensland and I found Onishi to be much more ‘town’ than I wanted. Other artists from large cities found Onishi to be ‘country’.Japan and its people, is such a land of contrasts, elegant and exquisite one minute, brash and kitsch, the next, endlessly fascinating.
In July 2016 I returned as artist in residence at Bressay.
Bressay Island forms the eastern part of the Lerwick harbour. I hired a car for five days, loaded up with food and caught the roro ferry to Bressay. My accommodation was about 4 miles from the ferry and as you drive up and over the final hill there in front of you is the Bressay Lighthouse. The lighthouse is now automated and the lighthouse keepers accommodation has been newly converted into an artists studio and two self contained flats that may be rented.The artist flat is ideal for one or two people it is compact but well laid out, comfortable and cosy. The studio attached to the flat is large, airy and spacious with a high ceiling, a good size table, ample seating and good lighting, a really excellent space to work in.
The site of the lighthouse is wonderful and in good weather I would take my morning cup of coffee out on the deck and watch the ships and birds using the entrance into Lerwick harbour. The ever changing weather and light provided lots of photograph and painting opportunities.
I had brought some bird sketches with me and I was hoping to find a space in Bressay to display these. I was given the contact for the Bressay School Development Group (BSDG) who had taken over the use of the school. Moira a local crofter and BSDG member helped me hang my watercolours on the School Café walls. We also made plans to run a workshop at the school.
I spent my time exploring and painting. Bressay Lighthouse is not visited much and is ideal for introspection and work.
For the community workshop we chose a picturesque area in Bressay and explored the old ruins and the wildflowers with a botanist and a historian. We then went back to the school where the area was set out for me to take a basic drawing lesson and from there the participants learnt how to paint the wildflowers using watercolours.
To quote the tourist information‘Bressay has almost everything that Shetland can offer the visitor, a ten minute ferry ride whisks you from the bustling centre of Lerwick to another world. You will find seabird cliffs, quiet bays, hill and coastal walks, a dozen freshwater lochs and a profusion of archaeological and historical sites’. For me other highlights of Bressay were- I enjoyed the wildflowers, lots of variety and the best, I saw an otter catch and eat an eel, nesting Curlews and Red Shanks and Red Throated Divers on the lochs.
Noss is accessed by a dingy ride from the west side of Bressay. It is a National Nature Reserve and is one of the must do Shetland bird sites. At the peak of the breeding season around 20,000 Gannets breed in the steep cliffs. This is a full days outing and it is spectacular. You have a long walk around the edge of the island as Great Skuas, the locally well named Bonxies, nest in the centre and they dive you if you get too near their chicks. Puffins were on the top edges of the cliffs where the gannets were nesting and you could sit quietly and watch their antics. Love Puffins.
After my month on Bressay I had painted two sets of six watercolour panels, one about Bressay and the other about Noss. I work in watercolours on Arches paper. Each set is my experience of the place. Having a whole month to concentrate on painting is a gift and after visiting the Lerwick textile Museum I was inspired to cut patterns based on Fair Isle designs out of each of the panels. This gives the movement of the light and mists that I wanted to capture.
From Bressay I spent a week at Fetlar called the Garden Island by the tourist literature. Didn’t see much garden! It has a bird hide near a reedy area for viewing of the breeding Red Throated Phalarope. I spent a few hours at this site. There were lots of snipe drumming and visible in the sedge areas. Fetlar has picturesque coastal walks with seals following me, just offshore as I walked along the beaches.
From Fetlar I went north to Unst and shared a studio with a sculptor who lives at Muckle Flugga outstation. This is the old lighthouse accommodation for the lighthouse keeper’s families that has been converted to four separately owned flats and the Hermaness information centre. It is a fantastic site to stay at nestled inside a deep bay and near the beginning of the walk to the Hermaness National Nature reserve.
The cliffs at Hermaness, the other must do bird site in Shetland, are much like Noss but a far bigger area with more birds. A board walk over the peat bog landscape takes you to the cliffs and once the cliffs are reached a turn to the left takes you to the cliff areas with about 100,000 nesting gannets and other birds and to the right takes you to the view of the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse the most northerly point of the UK. I wanted to walk the circular route back to the boardwalk however nesting Bonxies were on guard duty. I like the description I read of a Bonxie, a bird of brawn and brain! I also managed to sink knee deep in a peat bog on my return luckily help was at hand and I was pulled out. This was quite scary and for a while I watched where I walked ever so carefully.
Hermaness is inspiring and I painted a set of four panels about my experience at Hermaness.
Returning South from Unst I spent a few days at Yell in a quaint converted The Post Office B&B, enjoying home cooking, watching the ferries crossing to Yell and Fetlar and relaxing as I had had done lots of walking and experienced some wild weather.
I stayed a few days on my return to Lerwick to explore locally. Once you understand the local transport and the ferry connections it is possible to cover most of Shetland by bus and there are lots of wonderful walks.
I took many photographs and kept a diary and I know by experience that what ever I see and do is stored within me so I have lots of material for future work. I am also hoping to set up a dialogue between Gladstone and Shetland where this will go is unlimited.
Will I go back next year? There is the possibility of another lighthouse is being converted into an artist studio and well, maybe if it is ready and I am invited….I didn’t even start to paint the wildflowers!
I love Shetland, the land, the people, the wildlife, the wild weather, the sea mists and the many moments of strange encounters where you move into a magical space and various threads that you have accumulated through life all connect.
Imagine my elation in receiving an email from Angela Hunt, Operations Manager of the Sumburgh Lighthouse and Visitor Centre, Shetland which read “At the moment we have a vacancy in July 2015. Your work is very relevant to what we do here, if you would like to be our artist in residence for three weeks before the next artist arrives in August. Let me know if this would be good for you”.One airplane ticket booked.
Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Visitor Centre is located on the southern tip of mainland Shetland. In June 2014 the restored lighthouse and a new visitor’s education centre was opened to the public. A ticket provides access to the engine room, Smithy (Smiddy), Marine Life Centre and East Radar Hut. A RSPB office (the UK charity working to secure a healthy environment for birds and all wildlife) is sited within this complex with the whole area being a well established RSPB nature reserve.
The occasional keepers flat, the artist’s residence, had a well equipped downstairs kitchen with an upstairs bathroom, bedroom and lounge all with solar heating (well needed). Some artists work in the flat but I found the light in the visitors centre was much better for my bird paintings. As part of the complex and across from my flat there was self catering accommodation in the restored lighthouse keeper’s cottage, this may be rented. It was wonderful to live on site as you could wander around at any time and watch the birds.
The cliffs surrounding the lighthouse centre were alive with birds. July is the middle of the breeding season and Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Fulmars were all nesting in and on the cliffs. Working in the Visitors Centre I was on eye level with Arctic and Great Skuas (called Bonxies by the locals) who patrolled the cliffs. Gannets skimmed the waves. A range of land birds were seen perching on the stone walls or foraging in the nearby fields, endemic Shetland wrens, wheatears, Blackbirds and many others. On the beaches were waders.I spent a lot of time walking the soft and spongy blanket bog landscape, studying the birds, admiring the flowers and taking photos. I sketched a range of images. As the summer days passed the sea pink flowers faded to be replaced by white daisies adding to my palette. Lichens and mosses grew on the dry stone walls.
The temperature was a steady 10-12 degrees. Shetland is 60 + degrees north and the warm Gulf Stream keeps the islands habitable. However many layers of clothing were essential as wind and rain quickly dropped the temperature.
From the lighthouse I watched the constantly changing weather, clear days, cloudy and drizzle, wild winds and sea fog gave the landscape a hazy light reminiscent of a Turner painting. The sea was calm some days with the seals lounging on rock tops above the sea, other days sizeable waves pounded the cliffs shooting spray into the air.
Many tourists visit the Centre during these summer months and educational activities and tours were on offer. I held a class on how to paint birds in watercolours.
Puffins can be around the cliffs in big numbers one day and then they disappear for a few days. The poor tourists who had only allocated a short visit time often asked “where were the puffins”.
Within the Shetland area there were other great birding opportunities. Noss Island near Lerwick has a spectacular gannet colony and a boat trip takes you right up to the cliffs covered in gannets.
The northern latitude means it never really gets dark in early summer (known as the “Simmer Dim”) and storm petrels use this half-light to evade predators on their return to nest in the Mousa Broch.
I passed Red throated Divers in a reedy pool on a walk to the Eschaness Lighthouse.
Another birding opportunity is Fair Isle, visible from Sumburgh heads on a calm day. I spent six days at Fair Isle, our plane was the last to land before fog and wind isolated the island for four days.
The Fair Isle Bird Observatory is a purpose built accommodation and bird study centre. It was very comfy and the food was wonderful. Staff walk the island twice a day recording birds. Each morning they checked the large fixed bird traps and then banded the birds. Bird log is at 9.00 pm and over hot chocolate the daily bird sightings were discussed. Birds seen were much the same as on Sumburgh with more waders found on the shoreline. Fair Isle is the place to be during the migration season when rarities visit the island and twitchers hire planes to catch a glimpse of a particular bird. Visitors came from all over the world and the conversations were fascinating.
Being close to Norway, Shetland Islands offer a mix of Scandinavian and Scottish culture in this archipelago of more than 100 islands.
The people were very welcoming and friendly I got invited to fiddle recitals, BBQs and walks, there were many keen bird watchers and I learnt a lot from them. Shetlanders are interesting and colourful characters who enjoy the freedom and nature of these remote places.
As the season drew to a close the young chicks developed their adult feathers and the noisy colonies became quieter as the birds started to leave.
One night at 11.30 pm I watched young Guillemot chicks being coaxed, by their dads to jump off the rocks into the sea. The chicks, that cannot yet fly are then accompanied by their father, who moults and also can’t fly and together they paddle off into the Atlantic on their way to Norway.
As you can imagine a very poignant sight, the mighty Atlantic and two very small birds paddling out into the moonlight.
On Fair Isle there were only a few Puffins remaining and soon they too would disperse into the Atlantic where they would spend many solitary days and weather wild Atlantic storms before they began another season of communal rafting and nesting.
High above the Sumburgh cliffs the Bonxies remain.