Monday, 9 February 2015

A week of bits and bobs - oh and an Owl pellet too !

The time between finishing major pieces of work and before you start the next project, is always a chance to catch up on various bits and bobs and make future plans for artwork and such like.

The next project is starting fully towards the end of this week and I will be in Dorset to get that kick-started in an area that will hopefully provide me with lots of subject matter and inspiration.  The project is winter-based so I need to gather as much information as possible, in the form of field sketches, measurements and colour tests, then I can work on the pieces over the sunnier and warmer months of the year.

Packing up the kit ready to take away

The rest of the bits and bobs - Microscope, brush and pencil wallet, pallets, books, last of all will be my studio light as I need to make the most of my time away and work in the evenings

I'm not taking my studio box of paints, but have chosen certain colours that will suit this project  

The choice of colours was made once I had experimented with different mixes.  A few additional colours were chosen too

As well as getting ready for my next project, I have been enjoying teaching a weekly class at Alresford Art Society.  This art society is 50 years old and is located in a beautiful part of the Hampshire countryside.  It has been a real treat to teach different techniques in watercolour on a variety of subject themes, all based on the natural world.  

I had the delightful news this week that I will be teaching this very enthusiastic group of artists until June.  Now I am busy planning new themes for the Thursday morning sessions, several of which will incorporate print-making.  I will also be teaching the Friday morning group too for a few sessions in June.

Feather paintings and sketches from the artists at Alresford Art Society

The marine themed subject table at last week's class

Last week  I was given a Barn owl pellet.  As usual, I think outside the box a little and thought what a great sketch it would make for my natural history sketchbook.  It didn't quite go to plan as I got so involved in the dissection of the pellet and discovering what was in there.

First a little background information into what a pellet is.  Owls regurgitate pellets through their mouths.  They generally contain bones, hair and fur of the animals that the owl has eaten, these would not have been dissolved by the acid in the owl's stomach after the owl had eaten the small mammal whole.  Some pellets may also show signs of other food sources such as insects (body and wing cases), and seeds from fruit.

Owl pellets vary in size and colour dependant on the species they originate from.  Barn owls regurgitate their pellets close to where they roost, so as they often roost in farm buildings the pellets can be easier to find.  
YOU MUST NEVER DISTURB A BARN OWL IN A BARN WHERE IT IS ROOSTING - it may have young in a nearby box and may abandon them if disturbed.

Other owl species live in a variety of habitats and therefore their pellets are not always so easy to find.

The Barn owl pellet in one piece

Always wear gloves when dissecting a pellet.  I used tweezers and a scalpel from my microscope kit to pull the pellet apart.  It was only a few days old, so was still soft in places

This image shows all of the different bones that I found within the pellet.

The Field Studies Council produce wonderful and informative fold-out identification charts.  Luckily I had the one about Owls and their pellets.

I promise no more pictures of bones in the next blog post, hopefully beautiful winter views of the Dorset countryside.


  1. That's fascinating Sarah, I do find them occasionally in my woods but have never dissected one. Have a great trip to Dorset :) xx

  2. You are always up to something fascinating...and unusual! ;-) I loved reading about owl pellets and would consider a distinct privilege to dissect one someday. How I would love to be a bird on your shoulder and ride around watching you at work!

  3. Thanks Janene. I'm always looking for something different, especially when it gives me a break from projects and paintings I am working on. The owl pellet was great fun, although a little dusty and smelly ;)


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