Grey Heron

7.35 a.m.: The Grey Heron is back this morning. Attracting an apex predator is a good sign that there’s plenty of life in the pond but I can’t help worrying about the effects of repeated visits on our frog and newt populations. Perhaps I should cover one end of the pond as a refuge for them. A miniature water-lily would provide some cover.

The heron leaves the pond, preens briefly then flies up to the shed roof. It cranes its neck to choose its next course for breakfast: our neighbours’ carp.

I don’t think that this will go down well, Sean was so proud that his carp had produced a single baby this year, so I open the window and it flies off.

A Dinner with the Naturalists

Strafford Arms, detail of a drawing of the Strafford Arms, the Bull Ring, Wakefield, c. 1890, by Henry Clarke. Copyright, Wakefield Historical Society, 1977.

Strafford Arms, detail of a drawing of the Strafford Arms, the Bull Ring, Wakefield, c. 1890, by Henry Clarke. Copyright, Wakefield Historical Society, 1977.Strafford Arms, detail of a drawing of the Strafford Arms, the Bull Ring, Wakefield, c. 1890, by Henry Clarke. Copyright, Wakefield Historical Society, 1977, from the original drawings, now held by Wakefield District Libraries.Wakefield’s Strafford Arms was an impressive building in its Victorian heyday with a portico and balcony overlooking the Bull Ring. Wakefield Naturalists’ Society held its Annual Dinner there on Tuesday, 16th May, 1876. Described as ‘an intellectual entertainment’, the evening started with a ‘most substantial meal’ supplied by hosts Mr and Mrs Coggin and rounded off with at least nine toasts and responses; luckily the Wakefield Magistrates had already granted an extension of the licensing hours.

Barnsley Chronicle article, copyright British Library.

Although the Society was established in 1851 we have very few records covering its first hundred years, so an account of the evening in The Barnsley Chronicle gives a rare glimpse of the activities and ambitions of our founder members. Continue reading “A Dinner with the Naturalists”

Wakefield Naturalists’, 1883

‘Numquam aliud natura, aliud sapentia dicit’

Beneath a shield with the fleur-de-lys of Wakefield at its centre and a daisy, a beetle, a bird and a microscope in the quarters around  it, the  motto of the Wakefield Naturalists’ and Philosophical Society, a quotation from Juvenal’s Satires, translates as:

‘Never does nature say one thing and wisdom say another’

Wisdom wasn’t always the first consideration for the enthusiastic naturalists of the 1880s; at a summer field meeting in 1881, the president of the Society was bitten by an adder as he attempted to pick it up.

Later that year an ambitious Exhibition of Science and Fine Art, intended to be a fundraiser for the Nats and a benefit to the town, was destined to leave an enormous hole in the balance sheet of the Society, as detailed in the Twelfth Annual Report of 1883.

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Adder Bite

Veg Beds

A sketch to remind me where we’re planting things this year. We always struggle to remember exactly what we planted where when the new season starts.

British summertime started today; the days are getting longer, the soil is warming and, over the past week, the hawthorn hedge has turned bright green as the leaf buds open. We’re getting ahead with the garden; I put the Vivaldi second early potatoes in yesterday and we put the Stuggarter Riesen onion sets in earlier in the week. The alkathene piping and netting are there to stop the blackbirds pulling them up. In a few weeks, once the onions have started to put down roots, we’ll be able to remove the netting.

As we planted the onions two pairs of buzzards circled above us, calling occasionally, in what looked like a minor skirmish over territory.

Sea Cliff Sketch

I’m drawing a seabird cliff for the May article of my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the Dalesman magazine. When we visited Bempton Cliffs in May last year, I didn’t take my sketchbook as I was trying out a new telephoto lens. One of my photographs includes kittiwake and herring gull; razorbill and guillemot and a pair of puffins, all on their favoured nesting ledges and crevices, so I’m using that as reference for my illustration.

I would have struggled to draw that morning, as there was an eye-wateringly cold wind, but when we retreated to Scarborough for lunch it was like stepping into summer: the wind dropped and the sun came out.

Frisky Llamas

They’re letting the alpacas out into the paddock this morning at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, Whitley. They seem so excited and frisky that I get the impression that this must be the first time they’ve been out since they were transferred to the stables for the winter.

Also getting their first taste of springtime freedom are the donkeys, which are trotting out briskly but not as boisterously as the llamas.

Crows v. Kestrel

We spot a kestrel hovering motionless over the open pasture but it doesn’t stay there for long: two carrion crows make a beeline towards it and the first dives down on it then loops around and swoops up from below, sending it on its way.

Wildfowl Wars

There’s a high-pitched whistling call from the wildfowl pool where a drake is having a go at a pair of mandarin ducks, which are perching on a rock at the corner of the pool. Unlike the kestrel, it doesn’t look as if they’re going to move.

I must go back and take a closer look at the ‘drake’. I’ve drawn him from memory and made him look like a miniature Canada goose, but I suspect that he might have been a variety of duck. He might even have had a black mask and a white neck, rather than vice versa, like a barnacle goose, as I’ve shown him.

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Charlotte’s Real Jersey Ice Cream

Strimming and Pruning

This morning we’ve been giving the back garden a spring makeover. While Barbara tackled the flower border (below), I strimmed the meadow area and, using a telescopic-handled pruner, trimmed back the end of a Leylandii cypress hedge that overhangs the fence from next door.

Last week, the long-handled pruner worked well on the rowan at the front but, when trying to get at some of the higher branches of the golden hornet crab apple, I found that I was constantly getting it snagged on the crab’s twiggy shoots, so I climbed a step ladder (which converts into a short ladder) and used long-handled loppers from a better vantage point in the crown of the tree.

Grey Feathers

The black-tipped feather, lower right, is definitely wood pigeon, probably a secondary from its left wing. The others, I’m not so sure about; the white leading edge of the top feather makes me think gull.

The brownish cast to the feather, lower left, might be from a pink-footed goose. There’s a pinioned goose which we often see preening by the path beside the Middle Lake at Nostell, where I picked up all these feathers.

March Hare

Lakeside path, pencil and watercolour, from a photograph taken at lunchtime.

10.15 a.m.: It’s almost a year since we walked the circuit of Langsett Reservoir. We always go anticlockwise as the lakeside path through the pines gets us off to a brisk start; we prefer to leave picking our way through the mud at the far corner of the lake until later.

coal tit flits about, investigating the branches of a lakeside pine.

As we climb the rocky path up to the moor, a robin perches in a shrub on the heathy slope.

On the moor, red grouse are calling: a repeated phrase, with the rhythm of several unsuccessful attempts to start a one-cylinder petrol mower.

curlew repeats its bubbling call over an expanse of heather. Down by the lake we hear a shrill piping, which we guess is a sandpiper.

On our way out here, near Cawthorne, we briefly spotted a brown hare running alongside a fence. On the moor, a dead hare, lying by the track, looks like a grisly image from a Ted Hughes poem.

2 p.m.: Close to the bank by The Island at Horbury Bridge, a dabchick is diving.

Bright as a Seedsman’s Packet

After a long, dull winter, Sainsbury’s know how to get you as you stroll into the supermarket: I couldn’t resist these bright packs of bee and butterfly meadow mixes. All I’ve got to do now is clear several square metres of ground, plant the bulbs and sow the seed mixes, and wait for the flowers to attract the local pollinators.

There are plants that I would never have selected for our garden, such as gladioli, dahlia and delphinium, so it will be fun to see what works. As the labels suggest, they’ll all be attractive to bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects.