Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Moth Eaten

I am having real trouble at the moment with moths. 'Good' moths have been eating my owl pellets, which is great as they munch up all of the old fur and make it easier for me to retrieve mouse bones from my collection trays. 'Bad' moths have found my old taxidermy specimens and have destroyed both my kingfisher and lapwing specimens in the last few weeks. I have had both of these for 15 years or more and the lapwing was in an apparently sealed case but as you can see it's now rather past saving.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The song's the thing

I've been busy recording, writing and singing my songs of late, whilst around me the world is starting once again to explode into the natural soundtrack of early spring. The cultural resonances of birdsong seem all about, from the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks's 'Birdsong' (screaming swifts and melodious larks aplenty), to my ipod's random shuffle serving up Peggy Seeger's 'Little Birdie', Niamh Cavlan's 'The Birds' and Clarence Ashley's 'The Coo-coo bird' in quick succession. I'm sure this partly reflects my current reading - Simon Barnes's 'Birdwatching with your eyes closed' - which is focussing my mind on actively listening to birdsong.

It is the perfect time of year to tune into birdsong, partly because there are not that many birds singing yet, but also as dawn is still relatively late, meaning that what early chorus there is coincides with cycling to work. As spring progresses, the range of birds and song can be quite overwhelming, even if you do get up 'with the lark'. This weekend, I spent a very happy half hour recording some of the local birds, and was struck as ever by the amazing range of sounds produced, from the light, fluid phrases of the robin loudly proclaiming himself king of the castle atop a tree, to the bark of the male pheasant, and the startled rattle of the blackbird. Here you can hear two robins vying for territory in our garden, their singing as combative as any of their physical encounters:

Over the last week or so I have particularly noticed the growing prevalence of the Great Tit 'Tea-cher' call, as well as the wheeze of the Greenfinch, and this morning, the first partial chaffinch call - not yet the full fanfare but a definite warm-up for what is to come...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

More owl pellet art

After a very late night I finished the small new artwork, 'Eclection #III,' for my show with Bo-Lee Gallery this weekend. Pleased with it and interesting to experiment with oil paint for the first time in a long while, the smell still taking me straight back to the college studios of my Foundation and Degree. I found enough mouse and vole teeth to complete the gold leaf panel, although I had to use tweezers to entice a few out of the mouse jaws, the mouse didn't need them any more. I'm delivering it before work very early tomorrow morning and then I will be focusing on getting my slip cast ceramic scrimshaw porpoise skull completed.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Organising thoughts and bones

Saturday morning, the girls are having a 'spa', the are boys doing 'kick club' and I can think about art for a micro-second before football club in the park. (*Similar to spending an hour and half standing on the Beardmore glacier). I have been organising my mouse and shrew bones late at night as I must get on with my new piece of work. Sold a piece of sculpture in London this week, which is a pleasant surprise, and I want to get a new piece to the gallery by Wednesday night. Planning a new wall based owl pellet ossuary and considering mounting mouse and vole teeth onto gold-leaf but haven't found enough yet so busy sifting about in my trays - panning for molars. On the wild-life front this week, there has clearly been a battle for territory or life around the bird table as there are feathers on the floor and one of the feeders, with hook, has been knocked to the ground. I suspect a sparrowhawk assault on a feeding small bird. Also I have it on good advice, from a friend at work who takes wonderful photographs, that there are short eared owls to be seen locally on a piece of moorland and that the best time to see them flying low over the fields is at about 2pm. I am going to plan a visit to try to take some photographs. Note to self: I still need to deal with the badger which is in the trailer.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


On the Kings Lane on Saturday morning, as I cycled up to football with my son, we found a dead badger in the gateway by a field. It didn't look as if it had been hit by a car but was neatly laid out on the floor, dead. Perhaps it had a disease or died in the cold ? It certainly had astonishingly long claws and a perfect coat, all bristling silver hairs with black underneath. I remember my Father had a badger hair shaving brush, incredibly soft strong bristles and this begs the question - Where do shaving brush manufacturers get badger hair? Badgers are protected and I don't believe that they are farmed for fur and I doubt if teams of Gillette road kill collectors scour the lanes ? I took the badger home, having collected my trailer as it was surprisingly heavy, and laid it out to photograph and draw. It was a bit cold drawing and I got distracted by talking to my neighbour Mike over the fence and I'm not 'allowed' to take big dead things in the house, so I will have to settle for photographs. I think it's a bit big for me to deal with as a novice taxidermist and my 'special' freezer is full already so I will hide it away outside for nature to 'do it's business' and then perhaps retrieve the bones so that I can reconstruct the skeleton, watch this space.

A slow start

It's been a strange new year. Mild temperatures and high winds seem to be disrupting normal patterns. I saw the first snowdrops of the year yesterday, which is 11 days earlier than last year. There have some large gatherings of birds including these lapwings. I've only ever seen handfuls of these birds, but I understand that historically large flocks were common over local fields, so it's great to see this sight. Getting up close, we could hear the fantastic noise of their 'pee-wit' calls as they wheeled and bobbed over the wintry fields.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Pembrokshire for New Year

Great New Year weekend on the Pembrokeshire coast in West Wales. Staying in the wonderful cliff top Pwll Deri youth hostel with friends and family. Incredibly windy and bleak but beautiful stunning scenery and we clambered down to the top of the sea cliffs each day to see the seal pup and its Mum sheltering from the weather below the cliffs. A lone seal could be seen in the surf and it was tempting to imagine that this was Dad but I'm not sure seals live in family groups and was probably another female. In between the banks of sea fog we caught glimpses of other wildlife over the weekend, the most notable of which was a lone lesser spotted woodpecker on a telegraph pole, only about the size of a large sparrow with its distinctive black and white barred back, hopping up and down the pole. Oyster catchers running up and down the tide-line on the beach as we collected large edible crab claws cast off by the fishermen and lying strewn in the seaweed.