Wild Goose Chase

Our (anti-clockwise) 6½ mile route via Anglers Lake (bottom right), Walton Park (top centre) and the woodlands, mainly coniferous, of Haw Park, highlighted in Google Earth.

WE’RE MISSING one of the regulars on our traditional and slightly delayed Boxing Day birding walk. My friend from schooldays David hasn’t been able to migrate back from Cumbria to his home town this year so this is the perfect opportunity for John (back from Plymouth) and I to add two brand new species to the list of Boxing Day birds that we’ve built up over the last 30 years or so.

On our way to the Main Hide at Anglers Country Park we meet local birder Peter Smith and ask him to point us in the direction of today’s star birds:

“Is the American Wigeon still around?”

Pete explains that it’s out towards the centre of the lake. And he directs us towards the Greenland White-fronted Goose which has joined a flock of Greylags in the fields beyond.

“We’d like to get them on our list, so that we can tell David, who’s been coming round with us for the last 30 years but can’t make it this year!”

“That’s ‘griping off’!” chuckles Pete.

Sadly, we don’t get the chance to ‘gripe off’ David. I’ve no doubt that we saw the American Wigeon and the Greenland White-front, but we didn’t have the birdwatching skills to pick them out amongst (a) the hundreds of European Wigeon on the choppy water’s of Europe’s largest pond-liner lined lake and (b) amongst the other 77 grey geese (we counted them!) in the field.

Mute Swans, Wintersett Reservoir (also known as Top Reservoir) south west of Anglers.

David also missed out on an us getting slightly lost. After puzzling over the geese for 5 minutes we decided to press on directly to Walton Park but soon found that the footpath started veering off unhelpfully in the direction of Crofton. Still, we can’t complain because we spotted around 33 species including Goosander, Tree Sparrow and Pink-footed Goose (the latter probably an escape but, as a native, it can still go on the list).

And there was a bonus; because we hadn’t managed to get out on the Boxing Day bank holiday we were able to finish our six mile circuit at the Squire’s Tearooms in the Anglers Country Park visitors centre.

Bus Station

HAVING QUICKLY emptied my battered old oak plan chest after selling it on eBay last week I spent most of today sorting through its contents. It’s like going back through my life; mainly from the last 30 years of my work as an illustrator but also work from my student days and even, as here, from my schooldays.

This pastel on grey sugar paper, 10 x 12 inches, is dated 27 February 1962, when I was 11 and in Mr Lindley’s class, 4D, at St Peter’s junior school in Horbury. It might have formed part of the work for my 11-plus exam.

It brings back memories of the once very familiar old bus station. Dominating the city skyline, Wakefield Catherdral spire, yet to be sandblasted, is soot-blackened. The flats that would block the view of the spire as you approach the city from the south are under construction. The cooling towers of the Wakefield Power Station are steaming away in the distance. It’s a dull afternoon with reflections of the buses appearing in on the wet tarmac.

I’d forgotten the clock tower at the entrance to the bus station. Is it showing 4 pm or 20 past 12?

The green bus is the Ossett 20, which I used to queue for at the stand in the north-east corner of the bus station, across the road from the old Cathedral School, then still in use of as a school. Almost hidden behind the bus is one of two small waiting rooms that used to stand on either end of the island central island platform, adjacent to stand 7, according to my drawing.

The bus is a Leyland (name in block capitals above the radiator) operated by the ‘West [Riding] bus company and the red ‘VE’ on a yellow background on the poster on its side is, I guess, an advertisement for Vernons football pools.

I wish that I’d drawn more of these view of the familiar scenes of my childhood.

Along the Towpath

IT’S HARD to believe that at last we’ve completed all our Christmas errands and finished off as many home improvements we need to before Christmas. The days are now getting longer, just two minutes a day, but that will soon add up. To celebrate this small but significant change and to draw a line in the sand (well in the mud at this time of year), we set off for a short walk along the towpath in the rapidly fading light.

A heron flies past Beckside Farm and over the old grey viaduct. Two Mute Swans bring grace and elegance to the canal basin at Horbury Bridge.

On one narrowboat, they’ve improvised a giant Christmas pudding by the tiller, using a black plastic bin bag and cut-out holly leaves.

We turn back when we reach the pylon wires, which are sizzling and crackling in the rain like sausages in a frying pan. The pylon, standing on the steep bank above a belt of broadleaves, makes a stark Christmas tree silhouette.

Just 15 minutes walk from our doorstep and I feel as if we’ve escaped into real countryside and experienced the wider world.

As we walk back up from the towpath alongside the Bingley Arms, I rub my fingers through the Wormwood to smell this bitterly aromatic herb. It’s appropriate that it should be planted here by the pub as it has been used in brewing and as a flavouring in absinthe and in some Polish vodkas.

The Snows of Yesterday

I’VE WRITTEN several times about my great grandfather George who worked in the cutlery trade in Sheffield. Here’s a watercolour by his son Maurice Swift, my grandfather. It’s signed ‘M. Swift age 13’ so that means that he painted it around 1900.

The farmhouse on the hillside with its shelter belt of trees could be a real location on the Peak District side of Sheffield, or perhaps it is imagined with that kind of country in mind. I phoned my mum to say that I’d been surprised to come across it in a drawer in my plan chest – I’d forgotten all about it. She suggests that it might be a copy of a picture and remembers that it was once framed. It’s mounted on a kind of brittle card, 2 or 3 millimetres thick, which is typical of that period.

Like so many family treasures, my mum had put it in an anonymous brown envelope, (postmark dated December 1986, which I guess might have been about the time that she handed it to me; she’s pencilled my name in block capitals on the back of the envelope).

Coffee and Cakes

AFTER SUCH a busy year, Christmas gives us a good excuse for catching up with friends . . . and Barbara’s chocolate cake proves popular.

It’s also a chance to meet my youngest great nephew Ted, although he proves too active for me to catch more than a few impressions as he moves about the room. At 10 months he’s not yet walking.

One of the mysteries of family gatherings is that one moment the room is full of people, the next they’ve all gone off in different directions, but this does at least mean that I can have a change from following a moving target to draw an armchair instead.

Adding Texture

Here’s a Photoshop technique that my friend John Welding showed me yesterday when we called on him and Helen for coffee and Ecclefechan tarts (from the town of that name in Dumfries and Galloway, an alternative to mince pies).

1. Fill with colour: Starting with the drawing that I made of the armchair, I add a flat colour in the normal way, which, for me, involves cutting out the white background of the image so that I’ve just got the pen and ink line and the rest is transparent, then filling an armchair-shaped selection on the layer beneath with colour.

2. Find a texture: I take a photograph of a texture, in this case it’s the canvas of one of my art-bags.

3. Add overlay: I add the texture as an overlay on a new layer which goes over the colour, but beneath the pen and ink line.

The settings that you use when you create this texture layer are important; you should select the option ‘overlay’. Obvious really. Then experiment with the transparency until you get the effect you’re after. You can easily change this later. For the purposes of demonstration, I’ve used 84% to make it obvious but John suggested around 20% transparency which can give you the kind of subtle effects that you might associate with watercolour, printmaking, wax-resist or scrafitto (scratching through a layer of paint or of a glaze in pottery).

He’d normally use a more random texture, such as fur or rusted metal.

I look forward to doing some further experiments so that I can feel confident enough to add the overlay technique to my limited repertoire of Photoshop skills.

Chimney Tops

MY MUM had a slightly longer appointment this morning at the opticians, giving me time to draw this chimney on the east end of the old building across the road. I’d guess that it dates from Georgian times and you can see that the chimney appears to have been originally in stone, like the rest of the building, but later rebuilt in brick.

I didn’t get time to finish the colour so I took a photograph and I’ve finished off the colour back here in the studio from the computer screen.

I’m going to finish with my current everyday A5 sketchbook at the end of the year, even if I haven’t filled the remaining 20 pages or so. I’ve been using it since March but I’ve never really taken to it because the cartridge paper in it is too soft for my liking. The second wash of colour that I added bled through to spoil the drawing of the hand that I drew the other day.

Barbara’s brother John had no room for a Christmas tree this year. One of his sons sent him this perfect real miniature tree, which has a dusting of gold on its branches. So now he and Margaret will have somewhere to put their presents, provided that they are very small presents.

A View of the Wood

SINCE I moved my computer to the window end of my studio, I’ve seen the heron flying along by the wood a couple of times. This morning I was surprised to see a Kestrel hovering above the hawthorn hedge at the end of the garden. It might have been on the look-out (with its left eye) for voles in our rough patch of meadow or it might have had its (right) eye on the field beyond the hedge.

All the work involved in reorganising my studio has meant that I’ve done very little drawing during the past week, except, at the weekend, a design for this year’s Christmas card so this hand, chair and cast iron pillar in a mill are all that I’ve drawn in odd free moments.

Hand Sketch

I’M GETTING used to a new computer and I’ve scanned this quick sketch, just to check that the link from sketchbook to scanner to Photoshop and finally to WordPress post really is working.

I drew this in the dentist’s waiting room yesterday – I’ve drawn the goldfish in the tank there so many times that I thought I’d have a change . . . and drawn my hand. Again.

Now that I’ve installed my new computer I look forward to having time to get out to fresh new places to draw some new subjects but that’s not going to happen today as gales are forecast this afternoon as a low pressure area sweeps in from the Atlantic.


8 a.m.: ‘TOCK! Tock!’

Two knocks on the windows and one goldfinch is lying stunned on the patio. I guess that a sparrowhawk has just raided the garden. A small flock of goldfinches is flying off with buoyant, bouncy flight over the rooftops.

At first it seems as if it has been killed instantly by the impact but I start wondering whether it is still breathing. Perhaps its just that its tail is moving in the squally wind.

I slide back the patio doors and reach out and put it upright so that its wing isn’t splayed out. It keeps its position but still with no obvious signs of life.

As a shower of sleety rain starts, I reach out again to put it in a dry spot beneath the patio table. Now it’s looking like a stunned sportsman, hunched with head down at the edge of the playing field in recovery position.

Twenty or thirty minutes later it is sitting on the spot, looking stunned and turning its head, as if looking at the patio windows and wondering what hit it. No sign of a broken neck or wing and its sitting symmetrically, suggesting that it hasn’t broken a leg either.

Forty minutes later it has gone but Barbara sees a single goldfinch on the nut feeder. It appears to have made a full recovery.