Sunday, 26 October 2014

Barn Owl

We are lucky enough to live somewhere with a reasonably high number of barn owls, so much so that one can become almost blasé about them. One particular bird is almost predictable, in that it tends to be found most mornings sitting on a post in a low lying meadow along our daily cycle route. There he sits, perfectly positioned to survey the surrounding tussocks for vole action.

I managed to get reasonably close to him recently to take a few shots. I used the classic 'wait until he looks the other way' technique, advancing a few steps at a time before crouching down again when he  (she?) looked back, like some dimly remembered childhood game. Periodically, the bird would swoop down from the post, presumably to take some prey, before returning to the perch.

And then last week, I got the chance to get even closer to a barn owl, this time to a tame bird. Myself and my brother spent a morning with Lavenham Falconry flying harris hawks, barn and tawny owls. Getting up close and personal with these birds was of course fabulous, but slightly tinged with the knowledge that such a packaged 'experience' lacks the element of chance and excitement of wild encounters. Hopefully, future generations will still be able to enjoy the thrill of seeing one of these special birds coursing over the fields like a spectre.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Scrimshaw Badgers

After several years of considerations I return to my plans to cast badger skulls in porcelain. Having completed the mould started before the summer I have now cast 5 skulls in varying thicknesses of porcelain and have been carving scrimshaw Somerset landscapes into the surfaces. Echoing the craft traditions of the whalers and the carved relics of their hunted prey, ref my sperm whale teeth work from 2012/13, I'm drawing parallels to the badgers current persecution under the pilot TB culling programme while linking landscape to subject. I'm having some trouble however with the fragility of the hollow skulls that are prone to shatter catastrophically at the last possible moment when I have completed the complicated carving and engraving. I am learning to now draw the landscape work prior to removing the jaw and other skull apertures that then weaken the form, before then firing the piece.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Beetles, bees and bites.

Whilst clearing an old woodpile on Sunday I disturbed two Lesser Stag Beetles (Dorcus parallelipipedus) that were buried in the soft rotting wood. I carried them in my hand to the shed to find a jar and actually got bitten by one of them. Its rare to be bitten, as opposed to stung, by a British insect and it demonstrated it's remarkable strength as its jaws slowly clamped onto my palm. Having got them safely into a jar I sat at my desk watching them in the evening and did some drawings, beautifully compact and symmetrical beetles, as they deliberately bulldozed bits of bark out of the way.

I had sketched the dead drone honey bees on the bottom of the page earlier in the week, having fished them out of the queen excluder in one of the hives whilst I retrieved varroa strips. The drones, larger and heavier headed than the workers, sometimes get stuck in the grid between the brood chamber and supers up top. The bees in one of the hives didn't take well to our intrusion and as we tried to secure travelling straps they rather set upon me. Safe within my suit I pressed on with the task in hand and was rather surprised to get stung several times on the wrists by a number of the bees that worked their way into the folds. I don't know why but they seem drawn to wrists. So it's 2:0 to the insects this week.