Barnacles on Tiree

I continue to follow my interest in Barnacle Geese, as I paint more landscapes and birds over on my main website:

Here is a recent painting of barnies on the Isle of Tiree. More details are on my ‘Work in Oils’ page.

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The Goose-necked Barnacle

March 2017 – at last I find goose-necked barnacles attached to a log, washed up on Gott Bay, Tiree. Looking at the colours (white shells and dark brown), the neck, the feathery mouth parts, I can just see a logical link to the barnacle goose and the myth of their creation. When fresh, this community of little creatures would perhaps have looked like pods with something lurking inside, something feather-like. I can also understand how artists and writers of centuries ago assumed these creatures grew on trees. The piece I discovered looked like a tree trunk that could have dropped into the sea, rather than a piece of driftwood that had provided this habitat for these curious creatures.

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Following a very enjoyable week long course at Monaick Mhor (Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre) near Loch Ness, I have now drafted a story for a family picture book based on my research and project work on barnacle geese. I was very pleased to benefit from the advice of Mairi Hedderwick and Bob Dewar on my story and illustration style. I have now sent the project off to a potential publisher!


A sketch for my storybook.


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Remaining Painting from this exhibition

copyright Philippa Mitchell 2014

copyright Philippa Mitchell 2014 £425

Please see past posts for further details or contact me via this blog.

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Barnacles from Strathspey


Shimmy’s photo of 2X spotted in early May in Helgeland, Norway on route to Svalbard.

Barnacle geese recently returning to breed at the Highland Wildlife Park, Strathspey. Photo from Cairngorm Nature Facebook page

Barnacle geese recently returning to breed at the Highland Wildlife Park, Strathspey. Photo from Cairngorm Nature Facebook page


Last July I attended a barnacle goose round up organised by our friend Duncan and my husband Carl at the Highland Wildlife Park. The free flying flock of barnacles have been breeding there and they wanted to find out where they disappeared to in winter. About 20 birds were ringed and had blue darvic leg bands fitted allowing them to be spotted at a distance. Some were spotted overwintering in Morecambe Bay and now one has been spotted on its way to Svalbard in Northern Norway. Some of the flock returned to Strathspey to breed in the spring of 2015.

During this summer (2015) the same crew including staff from the Highland Wildlife Park, caught over three times as many barnies in the same place, ringed them, put darvics on some and released them again. It is now September and the geese have flown away as they usually do. We are hoping to learn more about them this winter.

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SNH Great Glen House Exhibition

Great Glen Atrium




I’m very pleased with the way the exhibition looks up in Great Glen House, Inverness.

“Birds grow on Trees on Islay”

Where: SNH Headquarters in the Atrium at Great Glen House, Leachkin Road, Inverness, IV3 8NW with café and facilities. Directions:

When: 23rd February until 27th March, open to the public daily Mon-Fri 9 – 5,

What: A brief version of the project: Barnacle, Fish or Fowl?

The barnacle goose, a creature of myth and controversy, is the subject of this art exhibition by Philippa Mitchell. Alongside contributions from Islay farmers, residents, visitors and school pupils; and also scientists and conservation representatives, Philippa’s own paintings and artwork convey the many perceptions people have of these wild geese. Mixed in with these modern perceptions are the elements of the myth that told of the barnacle goose springing from a tree in medieval times. The exhibition was part of an Imagining Natural Scotland Project for the Year of Natural Scotland 2013 supported by SNH and Creative Scotland, in which artists worked with scientists to look at different aspects of the nature of Scotland and how it is perceived. The exhibition has toured to Islay and the Solway Firth, two hubs for this mythical migrating goose.

More detail:

Artist and teacher, Philippa Mitchell, presents an exhibition on barnacle geese. The project hasn’t been about creating the usual studies of nature or the hunting, shooting type of illustration, but she has been attempting to capture how different people perceive nature personally, both now and in the past, and how this can be recorded through art.

She explains: “I found a book in a second-hand bookshop that described a curious myth about a bird that grew on trees, and I was fascinated. The myth appears to have its origins in the inexplicable disappearance of winter visiting migrating barnacle geese. Illuminated manuscripts from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries describe eye-witness statements and show artists’ impressions of various elaborate tree forms with pods or holes in branches with geese emerging. In Ireland some twenty years ago my husband met some old boys in a bar who claimed that they remembered barnacle geese being eaten on fast days and Fridays, as they were not ‘meat’ but shellfish. I was interested in this species because of the myth, but also because my scientist husband studies them and they are a species that court controversy”.

At the time of finding the book, an art and science project was just starting in Scotland for the Year of Natural Scotland 2013. Creative Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage were keen to encourage artists to work with scientists to produce art that explores how people see nature in Scotland. Philippa applied to look at barnacle geese as part of this project and was successful.

A well-known visitor to the Isle of Islay, these days the barnacle goose is a protected species and numbers have risen over the last thirty years. The species is loved by bird-watchers but also the source of consternation for farmers as it can eat their grass and affect their livelihoods. In November 2013 Philippa visited Islay to see the large flocks of barnacles and to meet residents and talk about how they feel about the geese. She set up a blog to show the progress of the project;

During that visit she went to Port Ellen Primary to talk to the next generation of islanders about the geese and helped the P6/7 class express their own views through art. Their work became a part of the exhibition.

NFU representatives, conservationists and members of the farming community were consulted for the project. After collecting a wide range of opinions and perceptions about the geese Philippa began to look closely at what had been said and made a series of paintings that try to capture the many viewpoints of the geese. The exhibition; Barnacle, Fish or Fowl?, was first shown on Islay in April 2014, then at Findhorn Bay Arts Festival, The Iona Gallery in Kingussie and at WWT Caelaverock, Dumfries-shire, on the Solway Firth – another popular place for barnacle geese. It has been well received and Philippa has collected further comments on the geese that have been added to the exhibition.

Following the creation of several recently made works, the project is having another outing to Inverness.

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Imagining Natural Scotland – Book


This is the book that documents all 15 Imagining Natural Scotland projects, including my own, that has now been printed but the launch date has yet to be announced. Very pleased with our contribution.


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Great Glen House Exhibition

I am very pleased to say there will be three new pieces on display, alongside the previous work of ‘Barnacle, Fish or Fowl?’, in the Atrium, Great Glen House – Scottish Natural Heritage’s headquarters – in Inverness from 23rd February until 27th March. The building is open to the public 9 – 5 Monday to Friday.


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Barnies in the Keeping Pen

Barnies in the Keeping Pen

Barnies in the Keeping Pen

Barnacle geese were caught at the Highland Wildlife Park during July 2014. These feral geese have been living and breeding in Strathspey for several years but no-one knows where they disappear to each winter. 18 birds were given dark blue darvic rings with individual numbers and letters in white which will help anyone wanting to spot these birds to record where they visit this winter and in this way the mystery might be solved.

Original acrylic painting is now sold.

Available: Unframed box canvas print, 30cm x 30cm, £70 plus p&p.

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The Goose that laid a Golden Egg

The Goose that laid a Golden Egg

The Goose that laid a Golden Egg

“My father-in-law coined a phrase; ‘the goose that laid a golden egg'”

The artist George Wyllie made a goose and golden egg sculpture. “He built it in 1993 and called it the Truce Goose. It was sited beside the Low Road on the edge of Dutch Moss, about which there was a big conservation soothsay in 1986, and he said it was a gesture to bring peace to the island”

“Farmers like the geese the day the cheque arrives!”

“We made the mistake taking money in the 8os. Some farmers would be happy to keep receiving cheques, some want geese reduced”

Acrylic, gold leaf and mixed media on canvas is now sold.

Available: Unframed box canvas print, 30cm x 30cm, £70 plus p&p.

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