Sunday, 16 October 2016

A dead owl, blackberries and honey. (* Not a recipe)

Found a dead tawny owl on the back road to Glastonbury last Sunday, in remarkably good condition considering it had clearly met a sudden end on the front of a car. Had planned to mount it but, as with most taxidermy projects, 2 or 3 days passed before I went back up to the shed only to find that to my horror a rat had got to it and eaten most of it. I salvaged the wings this afternoon however and have pinned them out to dry, the cabinet from last year's quarry artwork making a rather fine drying cabinet.

The autumn marches on with the last blackberries still adorning the hedges, conkers still under the trees, the starlings begining to collect together and the last beekeeping duties coming to a seasonal conclusion with the last honey now in jars and varroa treatments applied.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Elephant Moth Caterillar

Found an Elephant Moth caterpillar on the path in the garden. An amazing caterpillar, large and brilliantly marked. The caterpillar would let you turn it upside down, always flipping back uprightas I tried to draw it. When handled it withdrew it's head back into itself to inflate the eyepatch segment, perhaps to look more like a snake? Released it onto some willow-herb by the pond.

Other natural history news: Saw two barn owls hunting last night, one carrying a vole, and saw an otter dead on the roadside towards Somerton.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Moth Trap for my Birthday

I got a moth trap for my birthday.
(*Birthday not actually until next week but I couldn't wait to play with it)

Set it up last night for it's first use and there was much excitement this morning with my children looking through the box. Lessons learnt - perhaps 20 micro moths escaped as I lifted other moths out of the box and I soon realised that there were also quite a number of moths sitting on the ground near to where the trap had been standing so I need to be aware of this.

Identified most of the moths but some 'brown ones' and micro moths evaded easy identification so I need to get a more comprehensive guide. Terrific names and some beautiful specimens, did a few sketches in my journal and took photos before releasing them all into the bushes. Looking forward to seeing what I can find in the coming weeks in Ilkley and Norfolk.

The tally: Perhaps 40 moths in total-including:

1 Garden Tiger
1 Swallow Prominent
4 Jersey Tiger
2 Plume Moth
1 Common Rustic
1 Canary-Shouldered Thorn
1 Dusky Thorn
2 Dark Arches
2 Large Yellow Underwing
1 Setacious Hebrew Character
1 Buff Ermine

* Note: The swifts have left us for Africa.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Early summer specimens.

Its the day before I take my family into a muddy Glastonbury Festival and I'm running about collecting marquees and putting up signage for next weeks Ashcott Beerfest. However in between all this, and work, I picked up a dead wren in the lane by the Apiary and collected two bee swarms from a friend's garden. I have rehoused the bees in a hive over the road and a new one set up in my garden. Several bees seemed reluctant to enter the hive, once I'd managed to get them out of the skep, sitting in as sleepy group outside as night fell so I picked them up and put them into the top of the hive, clearly perhaps tired and hungry so gave them a little honey. The dead buzzard I found last weekend also needed dealing with so I skinned it and prepared the carcass for preservation, as I learn taxidermy. You have to be very careful not to tear the skin around the base of the tail and I shouldn't have left it a week, lesson learnt. (* Roadkill freezer already full and a lot to deal with in the coming weeks)

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Buzzard on the road.

Stopped to pick up a dead buzzard on the A39. Not the first time as they hang in family groups above the Polden ridge and collect roadkill from the tarmac, a feeding habit with predictable risks for a large, and not particularly agile, bird. This specimen seemed unharmed by the collision that ended it's life, so perfect in-fact that I began to wonder if it might not be stunned and spring back to life inside the car. The eyes covered by the pale lower eyelids, the body still warm and limp. Larger than perhaps expected and particularly so when the wings are out, beautfuly hinging as the feathered canopy opens, splayed and stiff and ready to take to the air. The body coverlet feathers astonishingly soft, the beak and claws so sharp and hard, the beautiful rosy brown barring on the feathers. I haven't got any more room in my roadkill freezer and with the examiner visiting work and the End of Year Show coming down there hasn't been any time to draw this week but I am underway preparing this buzzard for taxidermy now.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016


A spring week in Normandy - a first for me, having always been in high summer. Apple blossom and flower-rich pasture in abundance. An ever present cuckoo, living up to the oldest English song, heralding summer.  A dawn chorus of epic proportions. Miles of spotted orchids clustered in the hedgerow banks all around; maybe less pesticide use, maybe just less intensive use of land?

And on the bookshelves of our gite, this old friend.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Early summer rain and hodmandods.

Raining today but really warm. Sitting at football in a T-shirt but trying to sketch an armadillo skeleton for my book plans whilst avoiding heavy raindrops. The badger set still is still enticing me, in the woods on the walk along the lane, but I have yet to see the badgers that my son saw a couple of weeks ago and I plan to stake out the set one evening next week to try to get some photographs. The wet warm weather has bought out the snails, there are gangs of them (* collective noun for snails - a 'slime' 'shell' ?) in the gardens on School hill, writhing groups all enjoying the security of the wet leaves, cloudy sky and humid air - still evolutionarily linked to the water of the distant sea from where these now earthbound molluscs once crawled. They are actually very beautiful and, even in large groups, surprisingly invisible with their mottled shells and careful considered movements. As a boy I used to collect them, no surprise there, and the smell of damp leaves or lettuce still reminds me of my buckets of snails in the shed. They frequently escaped, as did my cockroaches, and I recall the trouble caused at my father's work in hospital when they got out in his office having been bought in for me by his secretary.

Though not a cow I have horns;
Though not an ass I carry a pack-saddle;
And wherever I go I leave silver behind me.
The answer, in a curious little southern English dialect word, sadly long since defunct, is hodmandod

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Cowslips and swifts in the westcountry.

Plants bursting up everywhere with the sunshine and heavy rain showers. The wonderful roadside meadows on Street Hill are covered in Cowslips, (Primula veris), and primroses (Primula vulgaris) - I hadn't previosuly realised that they were closely related. I saw the first swift on Thursday night at 7.30pm above the field where we were raising a marquee in Catcott and there suddenly are cuckoo-pints everywhere in the hedgerows.


Wikipedia - Arum maculatum is a common woodland plant species of the Araceae family and is known by an abundance of common names including snakesheadadder's rootarumwild arum,arum lilylords-and-ladiesdevils and angelscows and bullscuckoo-pintAdam and Evebobbinsnaked girlsnaked boysstarch-rootwake robin, friar's cowl and jack in the pulpit. The name "lords-and-ladies" and other gender related names refer to the plant's likeness to male and female genitalia symbolising copulation.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Flat sea at Sheringham

Family walk along the beach at Sheringham in north Norfolk. A beautiful landscape of pines, bright spring light and flint stone walls. Explored Sheringham park and then along the sea front, throwing stones into the calm sea and looking for porpoise bones scattered amongst the large pebbles. The small crab pot fishing fleet hauled up on their cables, fading stickers to record fish species sizes and then chips on the way home.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Tawny owl and stoat skulls in Norfolk.

Familiar circular walk around Claxton, along Spong lane, pooh stick bridge and around Carlton church and back past the horses. Bright spring sunshine, the skylarks and rooks of Norfolk, children charging about and adults in conversation. 

My eyes to the ground looking for evidence of the animal lives lived and lost in this landscape of my wife's childhood. A tawny owl skull and feathers in the hedge bank of Folly lane, a rather sad and now scattered carcass, perhaps a victim of an unfortunate meeting with a vehicle. Then a lone stoat skull in the dried oak and pine twigs at the side of the graveyard under the hedge, evidence perhaps of a fight to the death with another stoat, there are few animals that can best this tough little hedgerow assassin with it's impressive incisors. I picked up a hare skull on the top field earlier in the week, notably larger than the rabbit skulls usually seen,  the hares and ever present feature of this part of the country although not many seen this week, leggy and bounding in the distance as in a Rob Barnes linocut.

Friday, 5 February 2016

First Frogspawn 2016

Friday 05th February 2016 - Much earlier than the last two years and no surprise after this mild winter. They have been croaking away through the night since 5th January, clearly audible between the sounds of wind and passing traffic, low and persistent before being replaced by the busy flutterings of sparrows under the roof-tiles as the sun comes up ! Then there was disruption by the the brief hard frost two weeks ago that seemed to dampen their ardour, then numbers building up in recent days, 11 at last count, with two seen 'piggy-backing' on the path as the children went to school yesterday and then the first actual frogspawn seen by my daughter Alice this afternoon.

 (* See previous first spawning dates in the same pond)

26th February 2015
23rd February 2014
21st January 2013
19th February 2012
11th February 2011

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Cold sharp morning sunshine.

Beautiful winter morning and although its probably the coldest week so far there is clearly more light earlier and later in the day and the air has a clarity as it sheds the gloomy light of November and December. Ice on the pond and on the  leaf filled paddling pool and the children are happy inside in-front of a morning weekend fire. Woken this morning by the sparrows that live in our roof, stamping and fluttering about and chirping, so full of character and energy. I don't really know what they're doing in the loft as it's in a rather inaccessible corner and I rather like their presence but I fear they're making inroads into the space, perhaps they're building things, is it too early for nesting ? As predicted the cold has disrupted the early over amorous frogs, seen in the pond a couple of weeks ago but I'm sure the cold won't last and the spring will be upon us soon. Enjoying the cold cycle to work each day,  into the rising sun, low over the hedges and farms, the steaming cows and lines of starlings collecting along the telegraph wires as they coordinate their day's activities after a night in the reeds. On the other side of the world friends Facebook from the end of summer in New Zealand and the T-shirt wearing weather in the Falklands.