Whimbrel – Numenius phaeopus

During April and May whimbrels migrate from their West African wintering grounds and pass through Europe before settling to breed in Iceland, Scandinavia, the Faroes and Shetland.

‘In the 1970s the main staging ground was found in Somerset when over 2000 Whimbrels fed on the Levels during the day and roosted at Stert Island. However, as the water table under the pastures was lowered the available food supply diminished and the numbers of staging Whimbrel declined by 90%’. (Dave Tate and Craig Ralston).

In the UK the Whimbrel is now listed as having a conservation status of red!

The Whimbrel’s distinctive call is often associated with a Celtic superstition of the ‘seven-whistlers’, supposedly a group of six birds looking for a seventh – hearing the call augured death or other disasters.

The birds call can be heard here on this RSPB link

The whimbrel can be confused with a curlew but it is smaller, has a shorter bill with a more down-curved tip, and usually has an obvious dark eye-stripe and pale supercilium. The head also has a notably pale median crown-stripe between the two broad black stripes that form a dark ‘skull cap’ in profile.

Whimbrel photograph taken and permission given by Carl Bovis – you can view more of his wonderful photographs here.

I decided to try a new technique for this bird, something to take me out of my comfort zone (briefly!).

I decided to paint the bird rather than using layered fabrics – the aim was to create a more etherial image, hopefully signifying the fading away of this bird and its habitat.

I started drawing the outline and feather patterns onto some cream cotton with an iron removable pen ready for painting


Below, I lightly painted the bird as a guide for stitching, using fabric paints.

Using a material called Lutradur I painted the background using Inktense pencils and blocks.  I sewed pieces of maps of the Somerset Levels onto the backing and sewed outlines of hills and fields.

If you use fabric paints or watered down Inktense products to colour Lutradur the paint will sink all the way through (in fact its worth putting another fabric underneath – for example your Bondaweb – and you then colour the 2 pieces together) I made the mistake of lifting the piece up whilst wet and hanging it on the line to dry – the majority of my image ran out of the bottom onto the grass and I returned to a very faded view!

The foreground is made up of maps and words about plants from the levels printed onto a fabric that can be put through an Inkjet printer

I very much enjoyed the challenge and trying something new, the result is quite different to my usual work.  There are elements I would do again, certainly painting the image rather than piecing but I will not be using Lutradur in this way again.

Lutradur is a bonded fabric (it looks like vilene) and therefore has no ‘give’ so trying to stretch/fit around a box canvas was a nightmare!  My lack of planning and understanding was the issue rather than a failure in the product!