Book launch: The Migrant Waders


We will be launching our second book, The Migrant Waders, at Church Street Tavern, Colchester, Essex, on Thursday 21 April, at 7pm. It’s a free event, so please do come and join us to help celebrate. The evening will include readings from contributing authors, discussion with Ella Johnston about the wonderful illustrations that appear throughout the book and, of course, the chance to get your hands on the book itself.

We hope to see you and your friends there.

The Migrant Waders is a collection of illustration, evocative prose, poetry and reportage that follows the migration routes of wading and shore birds from the high arctic to the tropics. Taking in the histories of the people and places where the birds make their temporary homes, the book includes 21 ink and watercolour illustrations by Ella Johnston and contributions from nature and landscape writers, as well as leading ecologists and environmentalists.

Dunlin Press, April 2016.


Migrant waders, work in progress

Wading birds work in progress (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin Press

Dunlin Press’s upcoming book The Migrant Waders will feature portraits of wading birds by Dunlin Press co-founder and illustrator Ella Johnston. Here, she describes the creative process:

“The birds are deliberately painted without a landscape. It reflects that these waders migrate across many lands and do not recognise the borders that humans create and that we see on maps. Their passage covers regions entwined with all kinds of human history. They pass through lands stained with blood and blessed with riches.

“Each portrait is created on non-textured watercolour paper that absorbs water and ink beautifully. The birds are first drawn as a light sketch of the subject, in pencil, loosely highlighting key areas. Then, layers of watercolour washes are applied, each heavily diluted to build up the colours gradually – this provides interesting combinations of hues and texture.

“Once the watercolour washes have been built up, the painting is left to dry before a detailed ink drawing is applied over the top – but you’ll have to wait until the book is published before you see those.”

The Migrant Waders will be published by Dunlin Press in Spring 2016.

Wading birds work in progress (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin PressWading birds work in progress (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin PressWading birds work in progress (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin PressWading birds work in progress (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin Press

Migrant Waders

watercolour14It’s true that we first saw the dunlins at night, scurrying along the oozing mud of the Colne at Wivenhoe as the tide receded. Their shapes were indistinct, spectral, shades. Were they voles or vermin of some sort? They moved along the shore unlike any birds we had ever seen. 
Our eyes, adjusting to the low light, said they were birds. Research suggested dunlins, or sanderling maybe. And there were other birds, too: turnstone, sandpiper, redshank, ringed plover. So soon out of the city we had stumbled into a new vocabulary, brought to us by the birds at our new doorstep, birds that had been absent during that first hot summer in Wivenhoe, that had arrived at some point as winter had stilled and greyed the estuary.
The birds understood this territory more than us. They were overwintering here, or in passage on their way to southern France, the Iberian peninsula or west Africa. They had come from the far north as part of their incredible annual migratory circuit, seeking food and a temporary home – a safe environment in which they could, for a time at least, continue to exist. Food and shelter are the most basic of urges. 
But we were migrants too. We had also lived temporarily in Wivenhoe before, more than a decade earlier. The paths of our own migratory stories took in locations from the north to the south of England, east and west. Before us, our families had moved from Ireland, Scotland, France and Scandinavia. Our own family folk histories told of us having followed the migratory paths of Celts, Saxons, Vikings. Go back far enough and, like so many families, we were not from here or there, we were from everywhere. The migratory paths of our own lifetimes told of economic migration: of moving home to find work, build a better life, feel safe. This is the essential tale of so many migrations.
The dunlins of the Colne disappeared, it seemed, as soon as they had arrived. We caught them once or twice in daylight, on the wide silted river banks near the Ferrymarsh, pecking at the mud between black- and bar-tailed godwits, and the redshanks flitting past, low over the water – their mournful, beautiful, ‘tyu-tyu’ call piercing the near-silent afternoon.
It was a year before we discovered that the dunlins would return. And they are still the most secretive of the waders we see on the river near our home that now, for us, is not quite so new. We still see them mostly at night when the black-headed gulls have flown back out to sea. And while the overwintering godwits linger here for months, the dunlins’ stay here is just as fleeting as ever. It’s easy to miss them and almost heartbreaking if we do.

Out of the blue they arrive. Into the blue they go. Crossing oceans and continents on their way without any notion of borders, always to plan, as necessity dictates, and always welcomed here.
A new book from Dunlin Press, The Migrant Waders, will be published in Spring 2016.