• Scotland's Bird Club

    Art of Donald Watson


The Old Light, Isle of May © Watson family

The acclaimed artist Donald Watson (1918-2005), after whom the Gallery at Waterston House is named, was born in Surrey but lived in Edinburgh after his father’s death in 1931. His art and interest in birds commenced in early childhood. While at Edinburgh Academy he met former pupil George Waterston who enrolled him in the Midlothian Ornithologists’ Club and both were founder members of the SOC in 1936.

He first visited the Isle of May in 1933, where he met the misses Baxter and Rintoul. After gaining a degree at Oxford University in 1940, he joined the army and saw active service in Burma where he continued to paint. He returned home in 1946 and was invited by Arthur Duncan to stay at his home in Dumfriesshire and undertake a series of paintings of birds in their habitats. Thus began Donald’s career as a wildlife artist and from 1949 onwards he exhibited regularly in galleries in Scotland and England.

Donald painting on the Isle of May Fife
© Photographer unknown

He married Joan Moore in 1950 and they moved to live in St John’s Town of Dalry where they raised four children. He was commissioned to illustrate all British bird species in The Oxford Book of Birds (1964) and his paintings featured in many books thereafter, written by him and others.

Perhaps he will be best remembered for his special love of the Hen Harrier, which he studied and painted in Galloway for many years and about which he wrote a definitive monograph published by Poyser in 1977. His writings were every bit as evocative as his paintings, in which landscapes and (especially) cloudscapes were depicted as successfully as his bird subjects.

The SOC holds eleven paintings by Watson (as photographed here by Steve Cox). Three were reproduced in his autobiographical One Pair of Eyes, published by Arlequin in 1994. He was both a President and Honorary President of the Club and was local bird recorder for Galloway for some 30 years. His son Jeff Watson (1952-2007) followed in his father’s footsteps and was renowned for his research and books on the Golden Eagle.


Gallery of some of Donald's work

  • A brood of Hen Harriers almost fully fledged, 1959 © Watson family.
    Published in ‘One Pair of Eyes’, cover picture and p67
  • Eiders in Atlantic gale, Benbecula 1950 © Watson family.
    Published in ‘One Pair of Eyes’, p.15
  • A pair of Ospreys with three grown young, 1959 © Watson family.
    This was the first successful breeding at Loch Garten after the species’ return to Scotland. The picture was hanging on the wall of the Club Library when Lord Wemyss formally opened the new SOC HQ at Regent Terrace in 1959.
  • © Scotsman
  • Northern Golden Plover and Pinkfeet, Fala 1965.
    Published in ‘One Pair of Eyes’, p.87 © Watson family
  • Whitefronts in a marsh © Watson family
  • Shelduck, Aberlady (April, 1962?) © Watson family
  • Grey Heron, Greenshanks and gulls, Peffer Burn, Aberlady © Watson family
  • Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock (?), 1961 © Watson family
  • Wigeon and Goldeneye © Watson family
  • Tawny Owl in a tree, 1956 © Watson family


    SOC brings together like-minded individuals with a passion for birds, nature and conservation through a programme of talks, outings, conferences and via the Club’s quarterly journal, Scottish Birds.