Pebble Prominent

pebble prominentAMONGST THE usual suspects – peppered, ‘clay’, footman, heart and dart – rounded up in the moth trap this morning there’s a new and, as a change from all those little brown jobs, a suitably distinctive looking moth. I sketch it several times to take in the appearance of it.

pebble prominentThose swirls at the ends of its forewings remind me of knots in wood. It’s the pebble prominent, Notodonta ziczac, the ‘pebble’ being the light brown area rather than the swirl. It’s a common and widespread moth of mature woodland, hedges and gardens; habitats that Coxley Valley has a plentiful supply of.


Moth of the Day

mothsANOTHER GOOD NIGHT for moths but a busy day for me so these sketches are as far as I got with identifying some of the catch.

beetleThe most striking insect this morning was this black beetle which was well over an inch long but seemed bigger. I’d love to have time to draw these creatures but I knew that I’d have to be quick to get even this snapshot because I’d seen one just like it in the trap first thing yesterday morning and by the time I’d had breakfast and come out to sort through the catch it had disappeared. Presumably it had managed to clamber out through the narrow opening.

dor beetle

A slightly better record of another beetle that had blundered into the trap yesterday but which was still there when I emptied the trap because it still had last night’s takeaway with it; a fragment of earthworm. As the trap is boxed in, I assume that it had been flying with it. This is a – I guess – a rose chafer or a close relative of it.

It would normally keep its wings neatly folded beneath its elytra (wing-cases, that are modified forewings). In the rose chafer these have a coppery red sheen when seen from certain angles.

Burnished Brass

burnished brassThe burnished brass, Diachhrysia chrysitis, is a moth found ‘almost everywhere’ but typically in gardens and in hedges and on rough ground. One of its foodplants is nettle, so it should feel at home in our garden.

I’d describe its background colour as pale straw with perhaps the slightest tint of lime. burnished brassThe front of the head is ginger in contrast to the mottled brown of its other markings. By breaking up the colour like this and breaking up its shape with tufts and a small cockscomb this moth could pass itself off as a broken off piece of plant debris.

Playing dead, as it helpfully remained while I drew this, it would be perfectly disguised amongst summer leaf litter.

Small Magpie

small magpie mothmagpie mothLike the burnished brass, the small magpie, Eurrhypara hortulata, a micro-moth that is 12mm long with a 2cm wingspan, is found in hedges and in gardens. Its larvae will also feed on nettles.

Any Suggestions?

unknown moth

unknown mothAs usual there were a couple of less distinctive moths in the moth-trap that I’ve been unable to identify. Knowing how variable moths can be in size and colour left me struggling to match this moth with any particular species in the book. It’s tempting to lump puzzlers this as all being variations of that most typical of little brown moths, the uncertain.

But having said that it could in fact be the architypical little grey moth, the imaginatively named grey.

small mothsmall mothJust because I think I won’t be able to identify a moth doesn’t mean that I have to ignore it. This dark little moth with a thin white crescent was about 1cm long.

Freshwater Families

Newmillerdamswan familyIT’S GOOD to be back at Newmillerdam and on a morning like this I can’t resist at least trying to paint a lightning watercolour (below) when we stop for coffee and, as we set off back along the lakeshore, I’m tempted to try to photograph a couple of families of waterbirds.

Much as I like my Olympus Tough, it does struggle with anything animate as several seconds can pass between pressing the button and the photograph actually being taken, so there’s always an element of luck involved.

watercolour sketch of lake
Newmillerdam lake from Becket’s Cafe.

A few weeks ago we saw one of the mute swan cygnets tucked between the wings of one of the parents as it swam along, a wise precaution as some of the pike in Newmillerdam are enormous and would be capable of pulling a young cygnet below the surface. The other cygnet followed closely in it’s lake with the other parent bringing up the rear and keeping a watchful eye on the family.

I notice in this morning’s photograph that the male, the cob, is leading. He’s got that projection above his bill.

Counting Coots

coot family

I squat down to see if the coots near the boathouse will feed their young on freshwater mussels again, as they did last month. One of the parents dives down a couple of times but in the short time that I’m watching catches nothing. As I’m kneeling there a toddler, who has just picked up a feather, and his mum come and stand alongside us.

‘Can you tell me how many baby birds there are?’ she asks him.

‘One, two, three, four . . . and two mummy birds.’

‘They could be a mummy and a daddy?’ suggests his grandad.

‘Are you allowed to say that nowadays?’ I ask.

‘It’s not P.C.’ says grandad, ‘but I think with coots we can be fairly sure.’

‘Even a coot is entitled to life choices.’ I suggest.

‘We’re not doing mummies and daddies yet,’ explains mum, ‘just the babies.’

It’s good to hear parents and grandparents encouraging young children to explore the world of nature and not to put them off with too much health and safety.

This brood of coot youngsters have lost their ginger top-knots and the hint of red on their beaks that they had  a month ago and they’re now in the sober plumage of adolescent chicks.

Further up the lake we see a single great-crested grebe. We’ve previously seen a pair here and I hope that some day we’ll see them with their stripy young again.

Eyed Hawk

This photograph was taken beneath a red parasol, which has given a red cast to the moth.

IT SEEMS TO BE the rule with moth-trapping that you get one or two spectacular species along with 3 or 4 really obscure puzzlers, the moth equivalent of the birdwatcher’s ‘little brown jobs’. Today’s star was undoubtably this new species for our garden the eyed hawkmoth.

It was restless, repeatedly trying to whirr out through the plastic walls of its bug box prison so I sketched it quickly, took a few photographs when it occasionally paused for a break then released it in what I thought would be a safe and shady in the corner by the shed. But instead of heading for cover it zoomed up in the air and was immediately spotted by a female sparrow who chased it and seemed to make brief contact with it. Fortunately it escaped into the dense foliage of the crab apple and the sparrow touched down on the path near the rhubarb. I checked and she definitely didn’t have a large moth in her beak.

Perhaps she was recovering from the shock of seeing those staring eyes suddenly appear as the moth flew away.

moth sketchesAnd the more obscure species:

  1. A silver ground carpet, which is getting to be a regular in our catch
  2. A confused, yes there really is a moth called the confused, although at first I guessed this was a variation of the common rustic. That just shows how confusing it is.
  3. confusedAn ingrailed clay. I’ve looked it up and I can’t find a definition of ‘ingrail’ but it is clay coloured. Perhaps you could say it looked as if it has been engraved with stippled markings and lines.
  4. A sooty moth

This is the only shot that I managed to get of the confused, as it rested in the bug box.

Ingrailed Clay

ingrailed clay

ingrailed clay

I did a bit better with the ingrailed clay because it hung around on the patio table as Barbara and I riffled through the field guides checking through a bewildering  number of clay-coloured moths. But I’m confident that this is an ingrailed because I’ve been able to Google it and helpfully there are plenty of photographs of this variable moth, one or two of them just like ours.

sooty moth

Finally here’s the sooty moth resting on my sketchbook. I haven’t even attempted to identify this one!



Wedge of Meadow


yellow rattle
Yellow Rattle

IT’S EXPECTING a lot to wedge my wildflower meadow between the potato & onion bed and the bottom corner of the garden. I’ve still got to to dig out the chicory that has muscled out all the competition on the strip alongside the hedge, on the right of my photograph. I weeded this attractive but invasive wild flower out along the other two edges the triangle in the spring and resowed with a wildflower meadow seed mix which has sprouted so luxuriantly that I now need to trim it to create a perimeter path.

I’m pleased that in the central area the yellow rattle is flowering again this year. The theory is that it will keep the grasses in check because it is semi-parasitic on their roots but the grasses are thriving.

Looking back from the bench in the corner

High Street

high streetI HAVE A HABIT of editing out the buses, vans and cars as I draw and I realise that for Horbury High Street I’m giving the wrong impression so, as I draw the Beauty Spa (originally a butcher’s shop) on the right, I add whatever figures happen to be passing at the time. The lad standing with his scooter adds a useful spot of contrast with his red T-shirt.

This is the view from Horbury’s newest café, the Caffé Capri, which the only one where you can sit out watching the world go by. It might just be Horbury on our weekly date with my mum’s shopping but in this weather it feels like being on holiday. Especially when accompanied by a small potato tortilla and a glass of chilled pinot grigio.

Brontë Bridge

bronte bridgeTHIS ANCIENT-LOOKING clapper bridge isn’t as old as it appears. It was rebuilt following a flash flood in May 1989 and rebuilt in March 1990 according to the inscription on a plaque donated by the Brontë Society. I’m sorry that I never hiked up here to see the original which would have been a familiar landmark to the Brontë children on their walks from the Parsonage two miles away in Howarth.

The Brontë Falls lie a short distance upstream but I’m going to have to come back when there’s a bit more water in South Dean Beck to see them at their best.

This was drawn from a photograph taken on my initial walk up to Top Withins last week. I’ll add watercolour tomorrow.


coot familyNewmillerdam, edge of lake near the boathouse, early June:

A PARENT COOT is introducing its brood to a new food; fresh shellfish. It dives and comes up with a small nutlike object which I soon realise is a freshwater mussel.

The young chicks are ‘tween-age’, no longer fluffy little infants with bright markings on their head and not yet in the sober black and grey ‘school uniform’ of older chicks. They’ve still got a sparse punkish ginger top knot while their bills, once bright red, have now faded to a fleshy pink, like lean bacon.

The parent turns the small shell in its beak before presenting the morsel to a youngster then dives again and in seconds pops back up with another bite-sized mussel.

After turning it around in in its beak it presents this reluctant to open mollusc to one of the chicks. The chick fumbles with it and soon drops it and another chick picks it up but also struggles with it.

The parent takes it back and gives it a few more turns in its beak, returning it to the youngster which makes an extra effort and, with some difficulty, swallows it whole.

It reminds me of the sort of scene you might get in a restaurant where a parent is trying to show their children the way to tackle some unfamiliar food. I still remember the steaming tureen of mussels, some of them still flapping their valves that was brought to the table when we were on a family holiday in an old-fashioned seaside resort in France. We were equally clueless about how we should tackle them.

Beyond Wuthering Heights

Top Withins


MAPPING OUT a walk for my next book we make our way from Howarth up onto the moor-top plateau, crossing Dick Delf Hill, which rises to 452 metres up beyond the ruined farm of Top Withins, a remote cattle farm at the top end of the valley which is often suggested as the inspiration for the setting of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

We return via an easier route along sections of the Pennine Way and the Brontë Way, a hill path that is unique in having footpath signs in English and in Japanese, although the parties of Japanese visitors that we passed on our walk today were back around the Brontë Parsonage Museum and main street in Howarth.


11.50 a.m., Sand Delf Hill, Haworth Moor; There are occasional drifts of cotton-grass, looking very much like the tail of the small startled rabbit that runs along the track in front of us.

round-upA shepherd is moving on his flock without the aid of a sheep dog, hooting and hollering as he drives his Land Rover across the moor.

Small Heath

small heathWith so much checking out to do, including a whole new section of the walk, there isn’t time to stop and sketch except when we take a break for a flask of coffee at Top Withins.

A small butterfly that flies low over the bracken in the valley below. It suns itself with it wings folded shut but we see enough to be able to identify it later as a Small Heath, a smaller cousin of the more familiar Meadow Brown but more typical of rough grassland, from coastal dunes up to 2,000 feet (600 metres) in the mountains.

The name of the butterfly is a neat description of the habitat where we found it.

tiger beetleAlso on a sunny bank, on the rocky path above the Brontë bridge, this Green Tiger Beetle is hunting.

My little Olympus Tough is useful for insects like this which will pause when you crouch near them but it’s not so handy for butterflies which are likely to take flight, which is why I stood a few paces away and quickly sketched the Small Heath, adding the colour later.

The Very Hairy Caterpillar

oak eggar caterpillarUp on the plateau Barbara spots this Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar. Despite the name it is equally at home on the moors as one of its alternative foodplants is heather. The name ‘eggar’ apparently means just what it appears to mean; that it’s a moth that lays its eggs on a particular plant.

oak eggar caterpillar

This caterpillar has stopped, motionless as we take a look at it. It’s just had a narrow escape as my size 13 hiking boots passed over it, so it’s a good subject for the macro setting on the Tough. I try to do a bit of ‘gardening’ to get a better shot of its head but when I try to gently lift up the heather twig it wraps itself around it. No chance of seeing either the head or the tail in this pose but at least I get a record of the black bands and white marks on its body.