Devil’s Toenail

I can never resist picking up a Devil’s Toenail when I spot one on the beach and, although this one is more worn than others I’ve found, I decided to draw it and, in the process, have a change from my usual pen and watercolour approach. For the initial pencil drawing I used a Uniball Shalaku mechanical pencil with a 0.5 mm lead. No pencil sharpener required, just a touch on the side lever to advance the lead.

The Devil’s Toenail is a species of fossil oyster, Gryphea, a bivalve mollusc. Usually, as here, it is only the lower (anatomically the left) valve that is found. The smaller right valve was hinged to it like a lid.

Fossils of the Whitby Coast

I’ve got several field guides to fossils at home but I was still tempted by Fossils of the Whitby Coast, a photographic guide, by Dean R. Lomax because it’s so specific to this particular stretch of Jurassic coastline.

It includes more that two hundred photographs and illustrations, photography by Benjamin Hyde and illustrations by Nobumichi Tamura.

In most cases, colour isn’t necessary for the identification of a fossil, but it’s useful way to get familiar with the physical appearance of the odd fossil that you might spot amongst all those pebbles and shells on the beach.

Tamura’s illustrations intrigue me: the majority appear to be the digital equivalent of a watercolour illustration but a number have been created using a 3D modelling computer program.

Lomax and Tamura went on to produce Dinosaurs of the British Isles, hailed as ‘the single best reference on British dinosaurs that has ever been produced’.


Fossils of the Whitby Coast by Dean R Lomax, published by the Siri Scientific Press

Dean Lomax, palaeontologist

Grey Heron

7.35 a.m.: The Grey Heron is back this morning. Attracting an apex predator is a good sign that there’s plenty of life in the pond but I can’t help worrying about the effects of repeated visits on our frog and newt populations. Perhaps I should cover one end of the pond as a refuge for them. A miniature water-lily would provide some cover.

The heron leaves the pond, preens briefly then flies up to the shed roof. It cranes its neck to choose its next course for breakfast: our neighbours’ carp.

I don’t think that this will go down well, Sean was so proud that his carp had produced a single baby this year, so I open the window and it flies off.

A Dinner with the Naturalists

Strafford Arms, detail of a drawing of the Strafford Arms, the Bull Ring, Wakefield, c. 1890, by Henry Clarke. Copyright, Wakefield Historical Society, 1977.

Strafford Arms, detail of a drawing of the Strafford Arms, the Bull Ring, Wakefield, c. 1890, by Henry Clarke. Copyright, Wakefield Historical Society, 1977.Strafford Arms, detail of a drawing of the Strafford Arms, the Bull Ring, Wakefield, c. 1890, by Henry Clarke. Copyright, Wakefield Historical Society, 1977, from the original drawings, now held by Wakefield District Libraries.Wakefield’s Strafford Arms was an impressive building in its Victorian heyday with a portico and balcony overlooking the Bull Ring. Wakefield Naturalists’ Society held its Annual Dinner there on Tuesday, 16th May, 1876. Described as ‘an intellectual entertainment’, the evening started with a ‘most substantial meal’ supplied by hosts Mr and Mrs Coggin and rounded off with at least nine toasts and responses; luckily the Wakefield Magistrates had already granted an extension of the licensing hours.

Barnsley Chronicle article, copyright British Library.

Although the Society was established in 1851 we have very few records covering its first hundred years, so an account of the evening in The Barnsley Chronicle gives a rare glimpse of the activities and ambitions of our founder members. Continue reading “A Dinner with the Naturalists”

Wakefield Naturalists’, 1883

‘Numquam aliud natura, aliud sapentia dicit’

Beneath a shield with the fleur-de-lys of Wakefield at its centre and a daisy, a beetle, a bird and a microscope in the quarters around  it, the  motto of the Wakefield Naturalists’ and Philosophical Society, a quotation from Juvenal’s Satires, translates as:

‘Never does nature say one thing and wisdom say another’

Wisdom wasn’t always the first consideration for the enthusiastic naturalists of the 1880s; at a summer field meeting in 1881, the president of the Society was bitten by an adder as he attempted to pick it up.

Later that year an ambitious Exhibition of Science and Fine Art, intended to be a fundraiser for the Nats and a benefit to the town, was destined to leave an enormous hole in the balance sheet of the Society, as detailed in the Twelfth Annual Report of 1883.


Adder Bite