Squirrel Crossing

red squirrel11 a.m, forest track, valley of the Green Field Beck, Langstrothdale . My first thoughts are red squirrel when we glimpse an animal dashing up the bank into the conifer plantation but a few minutes later it runs across the track fifty yards further on and follows the line of a wall before disappearing into the plantation again.

red squirrelIt wasn’t bounding in a sinuous way as I’d expect from squirrel nor did it climb the nearest tree when it saw us coming. Barbara and I both got the impression that it had a bushy tail and neither of us spotted the black-tipped tail that would have identified it as a stoat (there is a reddish form of stoat).

red squirrelIt appeared larger than a stoat anyway, about eighteen inches long. The Green Field valley is a stronghold of the red squirrel but because of this individual’s un-squirrel-like movements and behaviour, I wondered if it could have been a pine marten that had made its way into the valley. It didn’t , as far as we could see, have the face-markings of a polecat, but a polecat doesn’t have a bushy tail.

red squirrelSince I wrote this, we met Simon Phillpot, wildlife photographer, in the riverside hide at Nethergill and he tells us that the red squirrel’s method of travelling across open country from one plantation to another is to follow a wall, which is exactly what this one was doing as it made its way around a recently cleared section of the plantation.

There are no reports of pine martens in the area so that must be what it was; the first red squirrel that I’ve seen in Yorkshire in 30, more like 40, years.

The red squirrels that I’ve been used to seeing on Speyside all have blond tails, which makes them unmistakable.

Link; Simon Phillpot’s Wild Dales Photography


sandpiper preeningsandpiper feedingRiverside hide, Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale, 3.45p.m.; A common sandpiper preens itself on a rock on the far bank of the beck then it sets off probing along the edge of the river.

It’s joined by a second bird, which trots off up the grassy bank while the first bird continues downstream.

sandpipersA pied wagtail perches on rocks in the beck, flitting out to take invertebrates from amongst the pebbles.

Mole and Weasel

weasel1 p.m.; A weasel scampers along beyond the cattle grid as we take the track from Oughtershaw back to Nethergill.

mole3.15 p.m.; This mole appeared on the grass verge just feet from me by some surface excavations, crossed three of four feet of short grass then vanished, melting away in front of ours eyes, into what must have been a tunnel entrance at the end of a rough patch.


grykeThis gryke gives shelter to the kind of plants that you’d see in a hedgerow or in woodland. A velvety coat of moss on the limestone indicates how far the humid, sheltered zone of the gryke extends. In this particular crevice I noted wild garlic, dogs mercury, meadowsweet and creeping thistle.

A gryke is a crack between the clints (slabs) that make up a limestone pavement.

It might be sheltered for the plants down there but there was a cool breeze blowing down the valley this morning and the slab of limestone that I was sitting on proved surprisingly uncomfortable, even though I was sitting on a thin foam mat, so this is as far as I got with my sketch.

Town End Farm Shop

View from Town End farm, Airton‘Do you do all your drawings from cafes?!’ asks Chris Wildman as I show him my latest lunchtime sketch, drawn as I waited for my quesadilla filled with cheese and Town End farm shop’s original chorizo. I must admit that I’ve ended up with three little sketches from cafe tables on this spread but all that’s going to change because we’re heading off for a week at Nethergill Farm in Langstrothdale, which is about as tucked away as you can get in the Yorkshire Dales. At last, I’ll be working in my 8 x 8 inch wildlife sketchbook again.

malham magicLink; Town End Farm Shop, the only place in the Yorkshire Dales where you can buy my little Malham Magic guide! Thank you for stocking it Chris.

If you’re unable to get there, I can send you a copy, price £2.95, post free in the UK; Malham Magic.

Hands and High Street

High Street
handI’m feeling relaxed enough, as we wait for our bagels in the Caffé Capri, to draw a high-speed sketch of the view up Horbury High Street. After all, if it doesn’t turn out to be precisely in the correct perspective, what does it matter? It’s not like me to say that, is it?!

handNo vase of flowers to draw in the hairdressers today, so it’s back to hands.

Hands, yes my perennial subject but not a bad one to mug up on with my Waterton comic strip project looming. Twelve pages, eight frames per page, and average of, say two people in each frame, that’s 12 x 8 x 2 figures, about 192 figures, each with two hands so that could be a total of 384 hands to draw!

I need to keep practicing.

Exercise Book Encyclopaedia

Self portrait aged 17 in  my Batley art college days. Page 683, the title page volume 11.
Self portrait aged 17 in my Batley art college days. Page 683, the title page volume 11. Perhaps I was being a bit over ambitious in my subject matter!

exercise booksThis little pile of exercise books spans a decade of my creative endeavours.

In the winter of 1971 in volume 14 (page 741 as I’d numbered it as if it was part-work) I wrote; ‘Exercise Book Encyclopaedia apologizes for any incovienience (I didn’t have access to a spell-checker in those days!) caused by the intrusion of notes for a thesis, an enquiry into the nature and causes of invertebrate illustration . . . ‘

In the final year of my diploma in art and design, I finally accepted that my real life projects had finally caught up with this naturalist’s notebook come comic strip part-work. It had been my blank canvas. I remember the milestone of starting a fresh, crisp new exercise book, but every fresh page was an opportunity to experiment with a different layout.

I walked past Mr Chapel’s print workshop on my way to school and dreamt of walking in there with my book and getting it printed. As he worked in letterpress, monochrome only, that would have been impossible. How on earth did people break into print?

eclipse 1961
Eclipse of the Sun, from my exercise book, Thursday, 16 February 1961.

exercise booksI’d started, aged nine on Tuesday 14 February 1961, by writing about a journey through the Pennines, collecting a sample of millstone grit for our natural history club museum and ended in 1971 as I started work on my thesis, on a geological theme too with an article reflecting the buzz of excitement that I felt about the then fairly new theory of plate tectonics.

I’m impressed by how far my work came on in ten years (which doesn’t seem a terribly long period from the perspective of my present age) and I’m glad that I’ve still got my schoolboy enthusiasm for geology and astronomy. I’m still so keen to try and understand the world.

Here’s part of that first article from 1961:

“I brought some rock back for the museum and found out about the life of heather. A parable goes seed thrown on rocks withers away. But this is not so with the heather. The seed falls on the rock the roots sprout and go along the rock with new plants sprouting all the time (this is why we find heather growing in clumps). The roots will not stop growing until they reach the soil. We also saw some fieldfares which I will tell you about tomorrow.”

My first drawing in the 'encyclopaedia', 15 February 2015.
My first drawing in the ‘encyclopaedia’, 15 February 2015.

I think that I could surreptitiously slip that passage into my present day Dalesman nature diary and it would just about get past my editor with little more than a raised eyebrow.

Bee Moths

Bee moths are a little under 2 centimetres long. I think this is a female.
Bee moths are a little under 2 centimetres long. I think this is a female.

bee mothaWe’ve been noticing little brown moths appearing mysteriously in our living room for the last few weeks, so nondescript that we didn’t even attempt to identify them before releasing them outside. They often appeared by the door so I was starting to suspect that they might be connected with the bumblebee nest behind the now defunct air-brick immediately beneath this corner of the room.

They’re bee moths, Aphomia sociella, the larva of which eat debris such as old wax cells in the nests of bees, which is a useful service for the bee except they will also eat bees’ brood. They pupate in tough silky cocoons, which can be found tucked away as a mass.

La Dolce Vita

Trees from Starbucks

Wrapper from, Bella Italia.
Wrapper from the mini garlic bastoni, Bella Italia.

We’re living La Dolce Vita today and the decor in Bella Italia is suitably reminiscent of a Fellini film. I’m sitting looking at a large black and white print of the columns of the Vatican square which we visited on a European tour in 1963, when Rome looked very much like a Fellini film, but we were a few years too late to see Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni filming on location.

My ten minute sketch of trees in spring leaf is from coffee time, before we went to see Tomorrowland (which to me was a delight, I’m surprised that it’s getting such bad reviews for storytelling. It’s not Fellini, but it doesn’t have to be).

Everyone in Starbuck’s this morning is either working on a laptop or discussing business. It seems so relaxed and civilised and not so different from some of the more optimistic visions of the future of the early 1960s, such as the Futurama exhibit at the World’s Fair. Traffic hurtles past, as it did in the General Motors Futurama exhibit, but screened by leafy embankments, much appreciated by crows, dunnocks and house sparrows. But I don’t think anyone foresaw that one day you’d be able to sit with a coffee in Birstall and instantly access a large portion of the world’s accumulated knowledge.

I remember overhearing a conversation in Batley bus station, c. 1968;

Woman; I don’t know why they want to go to the moon, I could tell them what they’d find there!

Man; What’s that love?

Woman; Nowt but fire!

Man; Nay love, that’s the sun.

I’m glad that they went to the trouble of sending an Apollo mission there and didn’t rely on the accumulated knowledge of the woman in Batley bus station.

Treacle Tins

treacle and syrup tinsThe red and gold Macfie’s Old-Fashioned Black Treacle tin has been sitting on one or other of my shelves since about 1975, and I’m sure that the Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin must have been their almost as long as neither of them have a barcode on them.

Drawing them reminds me that I must at some stage go through my pens and weed out any that have dried up. At least they give me something to draw.

I tend to have favourites which I use all the time, then there are experimental pens that I’m keen to try out which don’t quite make the grade and get relegated to treacle tins.

Once again this drawing is with my new pen – definitely a favourite – my Lamy AL-star fountain pen with the Noodler’s black ink (I’m sure that I must have inadvertently picked up my Lamy Safari, loaded with Noodler’s brown yesterday,which is just as good to use but I’m going to need black for my Waterton comic strip).