Robin in the Hedge

Low sun, cool breeze picking up, 39°F, 4°C: Just when I feel I need a spot of colour our resident robin perches amongst the hawthorn stems. There’s a constant chirruping of sparrows in the hedge.

In addition to the evergreen holly and the ivy, there are green ferny leaves of cow parsley in the shady corner by the bench. Creeping buttercup straggles along the bottom of the hedge. Gold-tipped feathery moss grows luxuriantly on old timber and a house brick.

The lath of old timber visible on the left of my drawing is from Barbara’s dad’s car-port which we dismantled when he sold his last car. We built a fence from the recycled timbers when we cut back the original, rather overgrown, hawthorn hedge. The hawthorns have sprung back from the stumps and the small hollies we planted have thrived; one holly in the corner has a stem that is five inches in diameter. I can see only three red berries; there are never many as I keep it trimmed back.

redwingYesterday afternoon a fieldfare was fighting off blackbirds from the golden hornet crab apple; this afternoon a redwing is tucking into the pulpy brown frosted crab apples. It doesn’t appear to be as aggressive as the fieldfare; it seems more content to share.

Winter Thrushes

There are thirty fieldfares on the south-facing slopes of grassland by the Obelisk Gate at Nostell. Redwings sometimes join them but today they’re amongst the trees nearer the house, probably attracted by holly and yew berries. Also on the parkland slopes, there are more mistle thrushes than we’d normally expect to see together: at least a dozen in total.

Foxglove leaf rosette.

The open parkland is white with frost so parties of wood pigeons are gathering on the sheltered rings of leaf litter beneath oaks and beeches.

The resident family of mute swans and the local mallards have gathered on a small patch of open water on the sunny side of the iced-over Lower Lake.

The drumming of a great-spotted woodpecker on a tree in the Pleasure Grounds carries well in frosty air, as does the manic laughing ‘yaffle’ call of a green woodpecker in Top Wood.

Squirrel Chase

The grey squirrels in the Pleasure Grounds wood by the Lower Lake  at Nostell  have spent much of the autumn burying acorns and sweet chestnuts and they’re now starting mating activity. Apparently it’s the female who leads the chase; she leads the slightly smaller male around the trunk of a tall oak, spiralling down then up again into the branches. She then she sets him the challenge of leaping over into the branches of a conifer.

Studies of red squirrels have revealed that their chases can last five hours, so this male might be busy for a quite a while.

Muppet Mince Pies

Lenny is a tall for his age two-year old. The only time that he really settles down is when he stands to eat some ice cream but he trots off between spoonfuls so my sketch is as much reconstruction as observation.

Would he recognise himself?

‘Who’s that?’ asks his mum, showing him my sketch.

‘Lenny’, he replies immediately.

Florence, Lenny’s younger sister, is still too young to form such a clear sense of self. Her mum tell’s us that there’s a theory that a young baby doesn’t conceive that there is a separation between itself and its mother.

Facial recognition is something that humans are good at from an early age but we can be a bit too keen to spot faces. An etcher I know asks her friends to check her proofs for any rogue faces that might have popped up in her foliage, stonework and clouds before she commits to printing the finished version.

I can even spot a face in Barbara’s homemade mince pies . . .

. . . these two crusty old characters remind me of Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show.

Rhododendron Fruit

The fruit of the Rhododendron is a woody capsule which splits to release small seeds which can remain viable in the ground for years.

This fruit had fallen from one of the Rhododendron bushes by the Middle Lake at Nostell Priory.

A Victorian visitor gives us a description of Nostell Park in its Victorian heyday:

“The noble avenue of elms, stretching like giant sentries almost as far as the eye can reach from the house, the green sward dotted here and there with herds of deer ; the waterfall, its silvery cascade gleaming brightly through a network of green ; the lake, with its ripple dancing in the sunlight, and bordered by the rhododendrons, varying in shade from deep red to pale pink and white,—all went to make a collection of pictures it would be difficult to equal.”

Leeds Mercury, 22 June, 1888

Fruits of Rhododendron.


Harvey versus the Low-slung Cat

Who will blink first? Harvey the border terrier has spotted the low slung cat that likes to slink about in our border and keep a watch on the bird feeders. I don’t mind this feline intruder so much as I think that the territorial markers that it leaves in such profusion at the edge of the lawn might have the effect of discouraging any brown rats that are passing through the garden.

Harvey seems to be winning; the cat looks distinctly uneasy and steps out from cover onto the edge of the lawn. It’s only when the cat decides that it’s time to turn tail and run down the garden that Harvey breaks into a volley of indignant barking.

The Wood at Dusk

It’s lovely to catch up with old friends as Christmas approaches but by the time we’ve caught up on all the news and gone out to find a late lunch (and run into yet more friends and relations) the afternoon is almost over, so it’s dusk by the time I draw the wood in the fading light.


10.10 a.m., 52°F, 12°C; sun filtered through a high veil of cirrostratus: This bindweed escaped from the hedge and started climbing the golden hornet crab apple. Hopefully in the new year I’ll be more consistent in pulling the strands of bindweed out of the hedge as they appear.

This is hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium, the species with the large white trumpet-shaped flowers. We’ve fought a successful battle against its smaller relative field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, in the front garden where it was spreading over the flower bed, the lawn and the pavement, simply by mowing it and cutting it back over the years.

As I draw, a robin and a dunnock hop about in the hedge and a chirruping rabble of sparrows erupts into the branches of the crab apple above me.

The crab apple looks at its worst at this time of the year; all the apples have turned to squishy brown pulp.


2.55 p.m., 51°F, 11°C: I didn’t get around to mowing my small meadow area this autumn but I’ve got plenty of time to catch up with that before it bursts into growth again in the spring. As a bonus, I’ve got these bedraggled stems of knapweed to draw: a perfect subject for pen and ink.

There’s no breeze so I can get involved in mapping out the relative positions of leaf, seed-head and stem without the plants getting fidgety. The stems are the most difficult to get right as they have to curve gently but still end up at the appropriate junction of leaves. It’s like drawing a freehand map of major cities and joining them with gently the meandering connections of rail and motorway links.

Lamy Safari with Z24 converter and broad nib, filled with Noodler’s Black ink.

I’m using my Lamy Safari with the broad nib, as it moves easily across the paper, building a spidery network of stems and leaves.

This is common knapweed, Centaurea nigra.

Sing, Rattle and Splutter

A song thrush at the edge of the wood runs through some outlandish improvisations, in contrast there’s a dry rattle from a mistle thrush in a neighbour’s garden.

There’s the usual explosive spluttering outburst of indignation from a blackbird. A male blackbird flies down briefly to a nearby veg bed then it flies up into next door’s apple tree and settles on a perch, just watching the world go by for a few minutes.

The Long Causeway

The steady incline of the Long Causeway to Pinderfields Hospital takes you from the Victorian terraces of College Grove, alongside ivy-covered limes and sycamores at the edge of a playing field and some small shrubby gardens.

Black-headed gulls gather on the football pitch; blackbirds perch in the shrubs and house sparrows bicker in the hedges, gathering around a fatball feeder. There are plenty of berries on the ivy but they have yet to ripen.

We’re surprised how many birds are making use of this slender green corridor. A nuthatch flies down to the footpath in front of us next to a hawthorn hedge. Long-tailed tits and blue tits check out the overhanging branches. Collared doves are calling; chaffinches give a flash of white wing-bars as they fly up into the hedges.