Blackbird Anting

blakbird5 p.m.: The workers of the ants’ nest under the paving slabs of our patio are getting rather excited but it’s not going to be perfect weather for the winged queens and males to take off on their nuptial flight as although it has been warm and humid we’re now getting flurries of breeze and fine, misty drizzle.

blackbirdAt first it was the song thrush that started anting – encouraging ants to run over its plumage – while the female blackbird hopped up the lawn and started pecking up the scurrying ants to eat them.

blackbirdNow she has taken to anting too, picking up the ants and letting them run about on her feathers. She does this at first from under the cover of the leaves of the peony that overhang the corner of the patio then comes out and continues by the bird bath.

sparrowThe sparrows are more interested in eating the ants. One male hops under the plastic bird bath which is supported by bricks, a space that the blackbird, which later reverts to simply eating the ants, cannot reach.

Townclose Hills

Hybrid orchid, pyramidal orchid, greater knapweed, hoary plantain.
Hybrid orchid, pyramidal orchid, greater knapweed, hoary plantain.

Townclose HillsPyramidal, common spotted and a hybrid orchid were in flower on the plateau at Townclose Hills Nature Reserve, also known as Billy Woods.

small skipper
Small skipper

Despite the breeze we saw ringlet, meadow brown, small tortoiseshell, small skipper and a few marbled white butterflies. Six-spot burnet moths were also active and a hebrew character moth lurked amongst the grasses.

Araniella curcurbitina

One of the smallest orb-web spiders, Araniella curcurbitina, was making its way across a grassy path. It’s Latin name, curcurbitina, means ‘a little member of the gourd family’;  its bright green and yellow striped abdomen looks like a water melon or gourd. It has a scarlet patch on its underside.

Restharrow, clustered bellflower and wild marjoram.
Restharrow, clustered bellflower and wild marjoram.
Field sketch of hebrew character moth.
Field sketch of hebrew character moth.

We spotted a brown hare in a field in the valley of Kippax Brook to the west of the reserve.

Townclose Hills, Kippax is a Leeds City Council Local Nature Reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Link: Townclose Hills Nature Reserve

Summer Days

Cattle at Nostell Priory have created this browse line beneath a lime tree. This morning it served as an umbrella for them.
Cattle at Nostell Priory have created this browse line beneath this lime tree. This morning it serves as an umbrella for them.

house martin8.20 a.m.: A times the dull humid weather feels like a warm version of autumn but there are reminders that it really is still summer. House martins,  at least eight, probably twelve in total, are swooping around swiftsat rooftop level, six of them in loose formation: perhaps a family group. It’s been a good year for the martins nesting on neighbours’ houses. At a higher level, above the treetops, three swifts are soaring.

The rain wasn't putting off the bumble bees which were visiting the lime tree blossom in the walled garden at Nostell Priory.
Despite the rain, bumble bees are visiting blossom on the lime tree in the walled garden at Nostell.

In back gardens across the road a song thrush is going through what sounds like an improvised routine of varied thrice repeated phrases. We can probably thank the song thrush for the pristine state of the hosta by our front door; normally at this time of year it is looking very much the worse for wear with leaves stripped to skeletons by snails. A month ago when the song thrushes were feeding young in a nest in our beech hedge, there were broken snail shells scattered around the path, driveway and the flower bed over a period of several weeks. This must have taken a toll on the snail population.


hoverfliescranesbillThe walled garden, Nostell Priory, 10.45 a.m., 65°F, 16°C: As I draw a cranesbill in the corner of the wild flower meadow, hoverflies investigate my pen. The long thinner species is attracted to the red plunger in my transparent Lamy fountain pen while the more convincing wasp mimic, the one with the broader boat-shaped abdomen, is attracted to the circular end of the pen and later to the round face of my key-fob compass.

A third species, a small dark hoverfly feeding on the cranesbill flowers, differs from the others in the way it holds its wings when at rest. It keeps them folded parallel along its back rather than angled at 45° like the other hoverflies.

wasps' nestA metre of so from me amongst the tumbled grass stems there’s a wasps’ nest. The wasps tend to leave the nest in a determined, direct flight but half of those returning hesitate and perform two or three short clockwise loops, about six inches across, as if they’re checking out the immediate surroundings before touching down. Or perhaps they’re giving way to any outgoing traffic.meadow brown

A meadow brown butterfly rests amongst the grass stems.


toadletIn the lakeside wood, a tiny amphibian hops across the path. I always assume that if it hops it’s a frog, if it trundles it’s a toad but when I pick it up to take it out of harm’s way, I can see that it’s a toad, with dry warty skin. It’s smaller than my little finger nail but it’s already has the gnarled and weathered look of a prehistoric creature.

Wood Pigeon’s Egg

eggA blackbird was pecking at this egg which looks like a wood pigeon’s. It was lying beneath a tree by the middle lake at Nostell. I suspect that a jackdaw or magpie might have taken it from a nest. The crow tribe are the usual suspects when it comes to egg crime.

Damselflies and Tadpoles

pond3.35 p.m., 71°F, 23°C, gentle breeze: Docks, brambles, dog daisies and grasses overhang the pond which is carpeted with duckweed. damselfliesA pair of blue damselflies are clasped together, hovering lightly over the pond and touching down to lay eggs just below the surface on the pondweed.

tadpolesIt’s been a good year for tadpoles. Some are now at the half way stage with limbs sprouting but still retaining a long tail.

A small white moth flutters around in a curlicue flightpath around the edge of the pond, a spectral presence. On still summer evenings there are often two or three hovering around.

white mothred tailed beeA small red-tailed bumble bee is systematically working its way around the geranium flowers.

Field Notes

My usual drawing kit: water-brush, Lamy Vista fountain pen filled with brown Noodlers ink and Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours.
My usual drawing kit: water-brush, Lamy Vista fountain pen filled with brown Noodlers ink and a Winsor & Newton bijou box filled with Professional Watercolours.

Thank you Jane for the question (see comments for this post) about how I go about sketching. What I was trying to do here was sketch whatever came along during a short session watching the pond but I didn’t want to end up with just sketches so I started writing my field notes straight away, breaking off to draw damselflies, moths and tadpoles as I spotted them.

I didn’t get around to drawing red-tailed bee so I’ve popped in a sketch from a post I wrote six years ago: Summer Evening Sketches

The Scenic Route

Yellow flag irisFrom Keilder Water we follow the valley of the North Tyne northwest until we cross the watershed – which here follows the Scottish border – and turn southwest to follow the valley of the Liddel Water and the Esk back into England towards Carlisle and the Solway Firth. Clumps of bright yellow monkey flower grow amongst the cobbles along the upper reaches of the Liddel Water, yellow flag iris is in flower in its marshy flood plain.

lime kilnWe take a break at Rheged, the most cunningly disguised of visitor centres, hidden under an artificial craggy mound. I draw the old lime kiln from the cafe.

We take a brief tour of the Lake District – we’re well overdue for another break there – by following the shore of Ullswater then heading over the Kirkstone Pass to Bowness on Windermere.

view from Country HarvestHeading home via the Yorkshire Dales, I sketch the view of the valley of the River Greta from Country Harvest near Ingleton. I say the valley of the Greta but this is a misfit river and the broad dale owes its shape to the action of Ice Age glaciers.

oystcatcherOystercatchers fly over the surrounding pastures piping at each other.

Kielder Water

View from the cafe at Leaplish, Kielder Water
View from the cafe at Leaplish, Kielder Water

The track edges on the middle section of our walk from Leaplish to Tower Knowle look like illustrations from a field guide with a greater variety of wild flowers than you’d find many nature reserves.

Kielder Water from the ferry.
Kielder Water from the ferry.

greater knapweedGreater knapweed with its stout stemmed, wine-glass sized purple thistle-like flowers is the most impressive but there’s such a variety of colour and shape: pink ragged robin; yellow vetches and buttercups and mauve cranesbills but my favourite today has to be the bog asphodel growing in drifts on a boggy slope. I’ve never seen so much of it growing together. It’s small, narrow-petalled palish yellow flowers looks like chain stitch flowers in an embroidery.

swallowsswallowSwallows are nesting under the eves of the visitor centre at Tower Knowle.