Bluebells and lesser celandine.
Bluebells and lesser celandine.

We follow the footpaths through the woods around the grassy clearing at the centre of Middleton Woods, Leeds. The drifts of bluebells are at there best within sight of the woodland edge.

bluebellstreecreeperThese are our native bluebells, Scilla non-scripta, with drooping bells hanging down one side of the stem. The introduced Spanish bluebell, Scilla hispanica, is more robust and its bells point out from the stem in different directions.

A nuthatch is attracted to a sawn off tree trunk adapted as a bird table. nuthatchA nuthatch has the ability to make its way up or down a tree but the treecreeper that we see later makes its way steadily up a tree then flies to the next tree and starts near the bottom again.

It’s joined by its mate; one of the birds pops into a crevice where a limb has broken away from the trunk of a tree.

Middleton WoodstoadAs we stop to photograph a toad on the path I notice on a dead bough above our heads that a queen waspqueen wasp is busy scraping away at the exposed wood, gathering material to construct the papier mâche cells of its nest.

Return of the Martins

great spotted woodpeckerIt was good to see the great spotted woodpecker, a female (no red nape patch) on the feeders this morning, reaching the last sunflower hearts that even the nuthatch and the squirrel couldn’t quite get to. It’s such a muscular looking bird.

blackthorn blossomIt moved to the trunk of our crab apple and carefully investigated a spot on the bark, then made its way up the main stem before diverting to a side branch in the crown of the tree and making off with its trademark bouncing flight past the right hand end of the blackthorn blossom into the wood.

And, at 8.40 a.m., I saw a house martin swooping around the gable end of a house across the road. I’ve had distant views of martins or swallows over the meadow in the evening but this is the first time that I’ve seen one taking an interest in this regular nest site. It’s about a month since we saw our first swallow.

house martinI noticed two sparrows flew down under the eves as the martin circled. I wonder if they had their eyes on taking over an old martin’s nest?

Mayday Ants

antBlack garden ants, Lasius niger, don’t live indoors but will come in to forage. They love anything sweet. Yesterday morning Barbara spotted a column of them following a trail in front of the kick-board of the kitchen units. They were getting in through a chink in the corner of the skirting board. I filled the gaps with silicon sealant but still the odd ant kept appearing. It looked as if there might be a couple of tiny holes, big enough for a determined ant to squeeze through, so this afternoon I’ve smeared some petroleum jelly along the join and I hope that will discourage them.

antI need to take the skirting board off to check what kind of passageway the ants are using behind it, but that’s a job that I’d rather have a joiner in to do. After all the hail and rain that lashed the garden last week we’re now heading into a spell of warmer, settled weather, so I hope that the ant foraging parties will turn their attention to the great outdoors.

From Watership Down to Warren Street

My drawing on cell for an overlay for a scene from 'The Trek' sequence of Watership Down.
My drawing, in dip pen, Pelikan Special Brown Indian ink and cell paint on an overlay for a scene from ‘The Trek’ sequence of Watership Down. This version wasn’t used in the film.
My impressions of the main characters.

Nearly forty years since its release, the film version of Richard Adams’ rabbit saga Watership Down is stirring up a bit of controversy (see below). It brings back memories of when I worked on the film for five or six months starting in the autumn of 1976 when a creative controversy was coming to a head at the Nepenthe Productions studio in Suffolk House, tucked away behind the Tottenham Court Road, near Warren Street tube station.

Producer Martin Rosen was, I guess, aiming to tell the story in a gritty and compelling way, getting as near as he could to the immediacy of a live action drama: a road movie come war film. pipkin

This was probably one of the causes of friction with John Hubley, his director, who was going for a more playful, graphically inventive approach by introducing the folk tales and myths of Adams’ rabbit world as stories within a story. The creation myth at the start of the film is about all that survives of this interpretation.

At my interview, John Hubley looked through my sketchbook and picked out a pen and watercolour sketch of a hawthorn branch: “I’d use this just as it is, with a white background and have the rabbits moving through the drawing.” Continue reading “From Watership Down to Warren Street”

Red Mason Bee

tawny mining bee“Are you there?” I heard Barbara shouting, “Have I got a bee on my back?!”

No bee in sight: “I was ironing the quilt cover and I heard this buzzing, then it stopped . . . and started again.”

When I helped her fold up the quilt cover earlier we heard no buzzing but the bee must have been trapped in there all the time, narrowly escaping being crushed when we folded the cover and miraculously surviving being flattened by the steam iron. It must have found its way in when the cover was hanging on the clothes line.

We carefully turned the cover inside out and I scooped up the bee in a bug box, none the worse for its adventure.

It buzzed around franticly in the bug box so I sketched it as quickly as possible and snapped away, attempting to take a photograph of it (below).

Field Guide to Bees

bee book
Red mason bee in Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland.

bee field guideThis gives me my first opportunity to use my new Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, by Steven Falk, illustrated by Richard Lewington.

It’s a female red mason bee, Osmia bicornis but from my photographs and very quick sketch, I’d labelled it in my sketchbook as a tawny mining bee. Tawny mining bees make their nests in sandy paths and on bare patches on sunny hillsides but I haven’t seen them in the immediate area however every year I see the mason bees nesting in old walls and cavities in the lime mortar between the bricks in our house wall. We usually have to rescue a few that have found their way into the house.

With apologies for the photography, it was buzzing madly around the bug box.
With apologies for the photography, it was buzzing madly around the bug box.


Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland

Steven Falk, artist, naturalist and photographer.

Rowan Buds

rowan buds
Rowan or mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia.

Our neighbour Sandra tells us that she’s been enjoying watching our rowan, which she looks out on from her kitchen.

‘It’s beautiful, I’ve been watching it come into bud and it started from nothing just a few weeks ago.’

‘I like it at this stage,’ I tell her, ‘just as its opening up.’

This prompts me to draw the buds because most are already well on their way to unfurling. I notice that there’s a complete package in there: the unfolding leaves are protecting a flower spike.

It’s done well because last autumn we gave it a good trim back. We’d missed doing this in the previous autumn when my mum was in hospital and the tree which is about twelve feet tall was making a break for freedom, sending out vertical shoots to another three or four feet above the crown. We also cut out some of the crossed branches to allow more light and air in amongst the branches.

When I say ‘we’ I’m including Paul the gardener who comes and helps us out occasionally and offers expert advice. Not all of which I take because I aim to be 100% organic: no glyphosate here, thank you, even though it would save us an awful lot of work.

I’ve got a pair of tree lopping shears with a telescopic handle, so I’m taking that as the height to trim it to. I know that it could soon tower if not over the house at least as high as the gutters, so I’ll make sure to give it a light trim again this autumn.

3.55 p.m., 49°F, 9°C.


jessWhat if you could combine the strength of a Staffordshire bull terrier with the speed of a lurcher?

Probably something like Jess, a rescue dog of uncertain parentage. Our friend John describes her as ‘big boned’: ‘When she runs she soon gets tired’.

jessJohn & Jill and Jess once met a dog, a male, who looked very much like Jess. They couldn’t believe that there would be another dog that would express itself by whining – not yapping or barking – like Jess does, but this dog did.

Could this be the start of a new breed, the Big-Boned Whiner? Can’t run far but wants to be part of whatever’s going on.