Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Blue-winged Teal at Hillman’s Marsh: Barry Kent MacKay

Hillman’s Marsh is located just north of Point Pelee National Park in extreme south-western Ontario, and is managed to provide habitat for migratory shorebirds and other wildlife. There are flat fields, called cells, in which crops are grown. But then, they are flooded, providing very shallow water and mudflats ideal for many bird species. A year ago early last May my friend, Liz White, and I visited the marsh the day after we had been observing cormorants in the middle of Lake Erie, and seen several flocks of Black-bellied Plovers fly by, low over the water. Now here were some of them resting, and along with a row of Dunlin, also resting, most of the birds standing on one leg, and all facing into the direction of the breeze. Back of them were several species of ducks and grebes. The sight inspired me to do this painting, although I took some liberties, bringing the ducks up close to the plovers, and changing them from Northern Shovellers to the smaller Blue-winged Teal, also present, but not nearby at the time.  I changed the light direction from behind us to the lower right, and of course played around with spacing the birds and the stubble, and calmed down the water, but essentially this is close to what we saw.  As always when one sees a number of individuals of the same species of bird, individual variation is apparent, and I showed that, working from a combination of photographs and museum specimens.

The Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) nests in arctic regions, mostly above the Arctic Circle. They are highly migratory and at one time or another found in most regions of the world. They are a drab grey in winter plumage, which gives them the alternative English name of Grey Plover, used in English-speaking Eurasia. The smaller Dunlin (Calidris alpina) also nests in the high latitudes around the world, but is noted for returning to its nesting ground with the result that breeding populations are isolated enough to have evolved into as many as ten subspecies! I’ve shown C. a. hudsonia, which migrates through Ontario. They also show individual variation and have black bellies, and also have a drab, grey winter plumage. This and some other small sandpipers are sometimes put in their own genus, Erolia. Finally, the Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) is normally found only in North America, where it is common from far northern region into southern temperate regions, migrating into the West Indies, Central and even northern South America. It used to be placed in the genus, Anas.

The painting is in oils on Russian birch and is approximately 18 by 36 inches.

The Black-bellied Plover is a favorite species for me to paint and I’ve shown other paintings if done of it, the first in mixed media shown a male in worn breeding plumage, the second, an acrylic painting showing three birds in flight and the third a watercolour showing chicks.  I’ve also included an older acrylic painting of three more Blue-winged Teal


Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

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