Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Casting Animal Parts

Making latex moulds from mole paws. The dead mole was donated by the Norfolk 'mole-man' many years ago when I went to speak to him as he collected dead moles from his traps and was putting them in a bucket..

Currently on the family school holiday in Norfolk and alongside the chaos I am trying to make an artwork about anatomy for the Meta-Anatomica show in Bath in two weeks. Busy trying to cast pieces of animals, as I want to have partitioned drawers in the work which will contain these multiple casts. The urchins are going well but I'm having trouble getting whole octopus legs out of the moulds and the sharp mole claws are proving too thin for the plaster.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Dead Birds

Dead birds collected in the last three weeks.

22nd May - House Sparrow: Cat kill - Given to me by Nina Amesbury
5th May - Song Thrush: Road kill - found on the road between Walton and Ashcott
18th May - Goldfinch: Road Kill - found on the road in Ashcott
16th May - Carrion Crow: Fall from nest, found beneath trees on college campus.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


Over the last week, we have been treated to an evolving spectacle. Whilst pruning a shrub, we uncovered a largeish wasps nest. Although we had left the branch on which it hung intact, we had inadvertently rendered it prey to the elements, and overnight winds resulted in the bottom half of it detaching, and hanging loose. This meant that the internal workings of the nest were visible, including the larvae and  architecture of wasp-made paper that makes up the nest:

 Although the wasps were clearly distressed, they got on with the job of protecting their larvae, and rebuilding their protection. The bottom half of the nest completely detached but by the end of that day, they had got the first layer back in place, giving basic cover.  They have now built up several layers in addition such that the nest is nearly back to its original size. Although they are an insect that is not always easy to love, their industriousness, care for their young and curious beauty of their nest have given me a new-found respect for them this week.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Undersea Adventure

Steve and I just about to drop over the side.

Finally I get to dive this year and we chose the windiest day for months. A rather unpromising start as it was clear we wouldn't get out beyond the breakwater as waves were crashing over the defences. Dived around the Plymouth Napoleonic sea fort for an hour and ten minutes in about 14M of water and just revelled in being underwater. Much to see with large confident shoals of pollack hanging still in the water with their faces into the current and nosy wrasse digging around behind me with every clumsy swish of my fins stirring up morsels of food. Much evidence of spring underwater with bundles of amourous starfish covering the seabed, blennies jostling in pairs to defend their territory on the submerged walls of the fort and pipe fish and multicoloured nudibranchs hiding among the weeds, soft corals and sponges. Unable to capture the natural history action for the blog immediately as I was carrying a 'film' camera but I might get some photos from Toby as he was taking digital pictures carefully as I charged about picking up old bullet casings from the seabed.

In the evening, having dropped the boat off in a Devon farm, I watched a newly born calf finding it's feet in the cowsheds. Then shortly afterwards I pulled over by the side of the road to watch a cow chasing a fox across the field, presumably emboldened by the calving, perhaps just crossing the land on the way to find chickens. In a quietly English version of the musk oxen defending themselves from the wolves of the far north I watched the cow excitedly chasing the fox with it's head lowered and the rest of the herd watching cautiously from the field edge. The fox, bold and strutting in the evening sunlight, kept just ahead of the cow aware that it didn't need to run too fast to keep out of it's way.

Up above my head

Here's an Owen Sheers poem that I recalled, after seeing the image of the Patrick Haine's sculpture that Dunc posted:

The first time I saw this poem was on the tube at commuter time when the sight of swallows over fields in early summer seemed an impossible, bucolic dream. Now swallows attend my morning cycle to work, the world of the tube seems the unreal one. I still like the poem though!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Warming up

Since Easter we've had a prevailing cold Easterly wind, but the last 48 hours has seen an increase in temperature. In the sunshine yesterday morning we were treated to the fantastic sight of this barn owl hunting in the field opposite our house. They seem very systematic in their hunting, almost as a gun dog quarters a field. Presumably this strategy gives them the best chance of finding prey in the long grass, which this one seemed to do regularly. We think he is roosting in an old horse box left undisturbed in the field, though at this stage we don't want to get close enough to check in case there are young.

The sunshine also sets off the bluebells that are out in force in local woods, and are redolent of this early summer period. Yesterday I heard the first screams of returning swifts, and today the first group helter-skeltering along the row at rooftop height; harking back to my first post on this blog, this is a sight that fills me with such joy, that summer is here, to be enjoyed.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Swift Return

I am 95% sure that I saw two swifts above our house yesterday. The swallows returned a few weeks ago and the house martins also but as yet I hadn't seen any swifts. Swallows, nesting in the horse stables at a friend's house, returned the week before last as did those in Norfolk seen by both Adam and I resting on the phone lines in pairs. I think the two wheeling acrobats high up above me in the sunny sky were swifts as the curve of the wings appeared beautifully swift-like although I confess that I can't recall how different house-martins might have looked at such a height. Distant and only briefly I also heard the high shrill call that also persuaded me that I was looking at swifts but the next few days will hopefully allow me to confirm the sighting.

Also: When visiting the terrific Spike Island Open Studios in Bristol yesterday,www.spikeisland.org.uk, where I had a studio for 15 or so years until recently, I was able to show my children Patrick Haine's wonderful bird sculptures and the attached photograph is one of several life size swallow inspired pieces. www.patrickhainessculptor.com

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Wherryman's Way Walk

The Wherryman's Way follows the line of the Yare, with diversions, from Great Yarmouth to Norwich. On Friday we walked the section from Chedgrave to Langley Abbey, via Hardley. Although all within a few miles of our house, it was all unknown territory, and revealed itself to be a delight. With the river Chet on one side, the footpath winds along with the expanse Hardley Flood on the other, and so one is surrounded by water and attendant birdlife - ducks, swans, grebes, warblers and buntings hooting, flitting, warbling and most of all, breeding. I've never seen so many duckings in a single day!

The Chet then meets the main Yare again at Hardley Cross, where the marshes throb with life, along with, across the river, Reedham, Cantley and Strumpshaw marshes. With no effort we saw Marsh Harriers, Kestrels, Herons, Egrets, Chinese Water Deer and Red Admirals to pick out just a few species. Although the individual species make one stop and comment, it is the overall fecundity of the environment that is almost overwhelming. As Duncan was saying in his recent post about the coast at Winterton, we are blessed with habitats locally that provide as exciting natural history as one will find anywhere in the world!

Oh, and over lunch we were serenaded by our first Cuckoo of the year. It being the 29th April, it was 12 days later than the earliest reported locally this year.