I draw Craigleith, the bird island three quarters of a mile to the north of North Berwick from the rocky promontory at the end of the harbour. I’m waiting for the catamaran to return from its lunchtime trip around the Bass Rock because on this morning’s trip I dropped my lens cap. Luckily when the boat returns, the crew have spotted it; they say that I’ll find it listed on eBay!
In the Scottish Seabird Centre you can watch the seabirds by operating remote control webcams overlooking colonies on Craigleith, Fidra, the Bass Rock and the Isle of May.
I can’t see many fish in the large salt water aquarium in the Centre, not until it’s feeding time. Three plaice rise up from what looked like a vacant patch of sand; they’d been there in front of me for the last ten minutes and I’d never spotted them.
Like the freshwater stickleback, the male corkwing wrasse builds a nest, persuades the female to lay her eggs in it and then guards and tends the eggs until they hatch. In my sketch I’ve missed two key features of this wrasse: a dark patch behind the eye and a black spot on the tail.
The long-spined stickleback or scorpion fish is well-camouflaged as it rests amongst rocks and seaweeds.
I go for the seat at the edge of the boat on our seabird cruise around the Bass Rock because I want to try out my new telephoto lens but as the catamaran picks up speed on the way there I have to hastily put my non-waterproof Olympus OM-D E-M10II under my coat and revert to the Olympus Tough, but all the sea birds were photographed with the Olympus, with its 40-150mm zoom lens.
Trying to catch gannets in flight was tricky with the limited field of view that you get with a telephoto especially as the boat was bobbing up and down but by cropping in to some of the photographs I’ve been able to get a few close ups. The built in five-way image stabilisation has worked well, even in these challenging conditions.
Giant hogweed grows luxuriantly on the banks of the River Esk at Musselborough. One low-lying field has become a jungly thicket of hogweed, towering over my head to ten or twelve feet. I’ve got no intention of pushing in amongst it: the headline on the front page of our local paper this week was ‘Teenage Boy Scarred by Giant Hogweed’.
This year the Esk at Musselborough is to be the location for the traditional river crossing of the riders of the Border Reivers. The ceremonies include turf cutting at a number of traditional spots: the Reivers’ version of beating the bounds.
The Portobello Bus
We take the bus into Edinburgh. Up here on the top deck in the front seat we’re on level with a herring gull chick sitting on the roof of one of the shops on Musselborough High Street.
As the bus goes through Portobello we get views of misty hills across the Firth of Forth.
Unfortunately no sketching is allowed in the Scottish Parliament, not without the permission of the Presiding Officer. The mace, which is made from silver and gold panned from Scottish rivers, was designed and crafted by Michael Lloyd. It’s the first time that I’ve seen any of his work since my Royal College of Art days. He was in the silversmithing department but we both attended the general studies environment group run by Christopher Cornford and my tutor in natural history illustration John Norris Wood. You can see the influence of natural form in his design for the mace which is more like a giant thistle than the traditional gothic mace in the House of Commons in London.
He has engraved the words ‘Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity’ on the head of the mace. Not words that we’d normally use when discussing politicians but a great mission statement to aim for.
Two red kites soar alongside the A1 in North Yorkshire. A buzzard circles over the Northumbrian Hills. When we first started making our way to Scotland along the A68 in the 1980s, as well as the wild scenery along the route we had the choice of two picnic sites, each with a woodland nature trail, to choose from to take a break from the driving.
At Toy Top near Tow Law, the theme of the trail was forestry (introduced on the interpretation panels by nursery rhyme characters) while at Collier Wood the trail touched on the history of the landscape, inviting you to pause at a view out over the hills, and pointed out a well worn badger trail.
By the time I started writing my online diaries in 1998, the picnic sites and trails were looking a bit the worse for wear as the toilets got vandalised and the edges of the car park started to get strewn with litter. Toy Top was the first to close but Collier Wood lingered on and when we took Barbara’s parents to the wedding of their eldest grandchild at North Berwick we were still able to take a break here.
It was the last time that we went on a country walk, a short country walk, with Bill, Barbara’s dad, who died the following month and it also turned out to be the last time we were able to walk around that familiar woodland trail. Happy memories.
Link:Collier Wood from my Wild West Yorkshire nature diary for 18 October 1998
4.30 p.m.: A little egret flies up from the marsh on the Strands, a field between the river and the canal. It’s a bulkier bird than the black-headed gulls which are also flying over the marsh but its wingspan is about the same; the striking difference is that the egret is completely white: no black wing-tips, no grey back. It’s the first time that I’ve seen a little egret on my home patch in the valley.
In Holmfirth restoration work has started on the former premises of Bamforth & Co in Station Road. For a number of years as we drive I’ve been thinking that I really ought to stop and take a photograph of the sign because I remember it from the early 1960s when, for a while, we used to drive this way on Sundays to visit my grandfather in a nursing home in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire.
As we drove past today the sign had finally been removed so these are images from Google Maps street view. In my memory, the sign was a vertical one that you saw on the corner of the building as you approached down the hill:
BAMFORTH & CO. LTD., ILLUSTRATORS AND PUBLISHERS
Even aged nine I wanted to be an illustrator, so I assumed that this was the kind of office/factory in which an illustrator would work. I’d be intrigued to know more about the building’s history. Bamforth’s started in 1870 as a portrait photographers, so that could be a Victorian photographer’s studio running along the second story of the building.
Bamforth’s later specialised in producing magic lantern slides and later saucy seaside postcards. Between 1898 and 1915 they produced black and white silent films, so perhaps this was used as a studio.
Birstall Retail Park: Beyond the stores you glimpse belts of trees interspersed by hillside meadows. The nearby M62 is out of the sight, if not quite out of earshot. This is such a contrast to when we first came here (see link below), when old colliery spoil heaps to the east were being used as a municipal rubbish dump prior to landscaping the whole area.
Even the car park itself holds some attractions for the local birds. A magpie scouts around beneath a shrub, a sparrow closely inspects the links of a chain, a crow surveys the scene from a lamp-post, a wood pigeon flies over.
Daisy, sowthistle, willowherb, creeping buttercup and black medick are in flower on the verges. Leafy backwaters aren’t far away beyond the stores.
With a hour to spare before the film, we take a walk around the Showcase cinema car park. Beyond the steep grass verge at the bottom end of the car park there’s a steep valley where alders, willows and giant hogweed grow beside a storm channel which is currently running dry.
A chiff chaff is singing and we hear another warbler – a bubbly song – which we identify as garden warbler. This deciduous woodland with dense undergrowth is the right habitat for it.
2.50 p.m., 75°F, 28°C: By the time that I’ve strimmed a path around our meadow area, there’s just a tuft of tall grasses left in the middle, the size of a double bed. Knapweed, creeping buttercup and red campion (not yet in flower) are holding their own amongst the Yorkshire fog and cocksfoot grass.
In spring I added two plants of birdsfoot trefoil from the garden centre which are scrambling up amongst the grass stems and just beginning to show a few flowers.
A blackbird which is nesting in a dense holly in the hedge makes a circuit of the newly trimmed path.
A larger than average female wolf spider rests under the cover of a chicory leaf, holding her pea-sized cocoon of eggs so that it catches the afternoon sun.
A large skipper, Ochlodes sylvanus, rests in the sun on a blade of grass, its wings half open in characteristic skipper fashion. It’s a male with a dark band of scent cells across its forewing.
10.30 a.m.: A dragonfly lands on the wall of the bridge over the River Porter at Langsett Reservoir giving me the chance to take a quick blurred snapshot before it flies off again. I draw from the photograph to try and fix the details in my mind before attempting to identify it.
It’s a hawker, possibly a male common hawker, Aeshna juncea. The male has a slender ‘waist’ at the top of the abdomen, which I’ve thickened up a bit in my drawing. Its colours are muted; it can take a few days for the bright colours to develop. It’s larvae develop in bog pools and on the coast they can tolerate brackish water.
The dippers that we spotted building a nest alongside the weir are now feeding young, which we can hear calling for food. They sound hungry enough to eat a dragonfly.
Oak Eggar Caterpillar
Up on the moor at Hingcliff Common, the caterpillar of the oak eggar moth, Lasiocampa quercus, is crawling along at the side of the path. Despite the name, the caterpillar doesn’t feed on oak; here on the moor it is likely to be feeding on heather or bilberry plants. The red-brown male moths fly on sunny days during the summer but the paler female is nocturnal.
1.30 p.m.: One of the song thrushes is bashing a snail against the concrete edging alongside the pavement. That corner of our garden should be a good hunting ground because last week, on a warm wet evening, I spotted a dozen garden snails nibbling the leaves of the hosta by the front door and I relocated them by chucking them diagonally across the lawn into the bottom of the beech hedge. Most likely they have slowly made their way back to the hosta.
But garden snails are getting on for twice the size of the other snail that we get in our garden, the brown-lipped, Cepaea nemoralis, and, so far, the song thrush is going exclusively for the smaller snail.
Having extricated the snail, the thrush goes to one of the clumps of sedge we’ve planted and wipes its beak against it, probably to remove the slime. It then takes a look around, probably on the look out for more food items to take to its young in the beech hedge.
It pounces on a large earthworm that it’s spotted beneath the rowan. It’s giving it a good tug when a blackbird flies in and there’s a head to head with lots of bluster and threat. At one stage the two birds are locked beak to beak in a tug of war with the unfortunate worm stretched between them.
But despite the spirited defence put up by the song thrush, the larger blackbird takes possession of a three inch length of worm and flies off behind next door’s leylandii hedge, pursued by the thrush. The thrush now has back-up: it’s mate has appeared.
The thrush might have lost the battle but when it returns it picks up the remaining section of worm which is twice the length of the piece snatched by the blackbird. The song thrush is feasting on this when the blackbird returns and tries to grab it but the thrush retreats across the road and continues to wolf down the worm. This time the blackbird doesn’t get the chance to snatch it away.