Nine Little Piggies

Four weeks old now, and the piglets at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour are larger and leaner.

I choose a couple to draw that seem to be settled but soon another piglet nuzzles in to sleep beside them, then another squeezes in between them.

The piglet’s concave snout fits comfortably into the concave contours of its sleeping partner.

Another sign that the piglets are maturing: today, when the sow finishes feeding and disappears into the shelter, the piglets are grunting, rather than squeaking, as they did when they were younger.


Petra is a working cocker spaniel (although she doesn’t actually work), from Berkshire but I drew her recently in the Lake District, where she was taking a break with friends, as her owners were moving house. She’s a dog who doesn’t like being on her own but she’ll happily set off in the company of other people.

We were at Sykes Farm Tearooms, Buttermere, where the resident border collie was keeping watchful eye on comings and goings, sitting on the grassy knoll opposite the farm gate, checking out a passing 4×4 with gimlet gaze.

Frank as a puppy.

In the interests of balance, I should explain that other spaniels are available, including my brother’s English springer, Frank.

The Menagerie Lion

This stone lion, reclining on the lawn, always takes me by surprise as we walk past a large evergreen oak and it springs into view. Surprisingly, a real lion was once kept here in the Menagerie at Nostell Priory, just yards from the Doncaster to Wakefield turnpike road, behind a high stone wall in an old quarry. There’s a story that it once escaped and roamed around the area.

Once again it’s an iPad drawing, which has the advantage that, even after I’ve added the colour, I can hide the paint layer and turn it back into a line drawing with one tap of my Apple Pencil.

Squirrels in the Sycamores

Stripped bark

Against a clear blue sky, the winter sun picks out slashes of creamy white on the top branches of a tall sycamore, which I suspect are the result of grey squirrels stripping the bark. There’s no sign of damage on the adjacent oak but its bark, loaded with tannins, is probably not as nutritious as that of the sycamore.

The sycamore is probably the nearest that the squirrels can get to the tastier-sounding sugar maple, which, like the grey squirrel, is a native of North America.

In the topmost branches of another sycamore, a squirrel leans out to pick off buds from slender twigs which it eats, one after the other: a healthy snack.

Hornets’ Nest

Hornets at the nest hole, 13 August, 2017.
New shoots springing from the old ash stump: a natural equivalent of a coppice stool.

In the summer and early autumn, hornets nested in an old ash trunk in the parkland near the Pleasure Grounds. By mid-autumn the trunk had rotted through at the base and come adrift from its roots but it was prevented from falling towards the path by the surrounding stout stems, which had sprung up around it: a natural equivalent of coppice shoots.

Frass in old cavities in ash.

Now it has fallen back in the other direction and it lies on the ground. I can’t see the cavity that contained the hornets’ nest – it’s probably hidden on the underside – but all the timber is riddled with tunnels, some of them stuffed with frass, which has set hard like fine-textured chipboard.

Parkland Birds

Fieldfares and starlings

The fine cold morning has brought in fieldfares, twenty-five of them. We’ve been expecting them to turn up here on the grassy slopes of the Obelisk Park.

Also back this morning, on a small, partly iced over pool in the corner of a grassy field just beyond the park boundary, are fifty wigeon, which often graze on the short turf here.

Joining the regular great tits, blue tits, coal tits and robins in the lakeside woods is a goldcrest, which, thanks to its size – along with the firecrest, it’s our joint smallest British bird – can inspect the slenderest of twigs.

A jay flies up into a sapling and we notice that it seems to be keeping an eye on a kestrel, a falcon of open spaces which seems a bit incongruous in this woodland setting.

It settles for a while, looking out over the lake. We rarely get such a good view of a kestrel and I make a mental note of its yellow beak, tipped in black; the tear-drop shaped dark patch beneath its eye; and the russet tan plumage of its back, speckled with dark brown.

As it flies to another perch, it shows pale grey tail feathers, banded with dark brown, almost black, at the tips.

Mallards and Mute Swans

Midwinter is hardly over but already, on the ice-fringed Lower Lake, the mallards have mating in mind. A drake head-bobs as he swims around the duck prior to mating.

As we round a corner by a lakeside bench, we disturb a heron. It must be getting tired of seeing us as we disturbed it here, same time, same place, yesterday morning.

One of the two cygnets of the mute swan family on the Middle Lake has now lost the last of its grey feathers. It’s now almost an adult, except for its bill which gives it away as a juvenile: this looks as if that has been given a coat of grey undercoat prior to the final coat of orange, which looks so striking on the adults.

The other cygnet still has a some grey on its back, as do the four cygnets of the swan family on the Lower Lake. They seem to be spending more time away from the adults, this morning at the far end of the side arm of the lake.

At the lakeside, a cigar-shaped seed-head of reedmace disperses a couple of wisps of its downy seeds. It has been calculated that one stalk can produce 200,000 seeds.

Meet the Author

It’s our great nephew Henry Roman’s christening today and I’ve been collared by Oliver, aged eight, and Ted, aged six. Oliver asks me to draw a snake – I’m going to need a bit more practice with that – and Ted requests a husky, which again I struggle to draw from memory; I definitely wouldn’t trust that character to pull my sleigh.

Oliver, who has been reading my Deep in the Wood, which he claims is his favourite book, asks me which was my favourite out of all the books that I’ve written. The Britain sketchbook, I guess.

“Did you write all the books in the world?” asks Ted.

“There are a few that I didn’t write.” I explain.

He’s asks me to draw a Dalmatian (and also could I write a book, just about dogs for him).

“What’s it’s name?” I ask him, having been slightly more successful than I was with my drawing of the husky.



Squirrel Sketches

I’m drawing some illustrations of red squirrels for my next Dalesman article but, when I visited the red squirrel feeding station at Snaizeholme last October, I concentrated on taking photographs.

My aim is to give the impression that my sketches were drawn from life. I don’t think that I’d ever be able to achieve the same feeling of spontaneity by working from a photograph, but I’ll try to suggest character and movement rather than getting too involved in details such as the texture of the fur.

I’m drawing direct from a photograph on the screen, rather than starting with a tracing, which would be a sure way of getting the proportions right. My inevitable second attempts at lines give a similar effect to when I’m drawing a living animal and it moves slightly, adding a degree of animation. That’s the theory, anyway.

Squirrel-nibbled Cones

grey squirrelSquirrels will make an appearance in my Dalesman nature diary this autumn, so I picked up these squirrel-nibbled cones at Nostell this morning to illustrate the article. I’ll be writing about the red squirrels of Snaizeholme near Hawes but these cones have been nibbled by greys.

An ecologist recently told me that the last red he’d seen near Wakefield had been running down the road at Newmillerdam; I think that this would have been in the late 1970s or possibly early 1980s.

It sounds as if the unfortunate creature had an inkling that the greys had taken over and was heading off like a lemming on one last desperate migration. Lets hope it finally arrived at Snaizeholme.

Wood Mouse

We had a shrew and later a hedgehog foraging under the bird feeders yesterday and this afternoon – on a day when it never stopped raining – a wood mouse was feeding on the spilt sunflower seeds and the crumbs of fat ball.

It ran off and vanished down a hole in the middle of the lawn. There must be hidden world beneath the turf; yesterday a shrew popped underground via another hole in its restless search for food.

Fledgling Bullfinch

We’ve guessed during the last month or two that a pair of bullfinches must have a nest nearby. We used to see them sitting opposite each other on the sunflower hearts feeder and I suspected that they were gathering seed to feed their young. Bullfinches feed their young on regurgitated seeds which they store in the bullfinch equivalent of a hamster’s cheek pouches.

Today a bullfinch fledgling was sitting on the washing line, begging for food. The adult male, on a perch on the feeder, appeared to be de-husking sunflower hearts and storing them in his pouches. He then flew over to the washing line and fed them to the fledgling.

The fledgling looked rather dull, perhaps a little duller than the female but it lacked her dark cap.


8.35 a.m.: A dunnock chases a shrew across the lawn but the shrew ignores it and continues its zig-zag pattern of foraging. It disappears into a small hole for a minute then pops up again in the same place and continues its investigations, pushing its nose amongst the grass stems.

It has lighter-coloured ears; it is whitish beneath and it has a stiffish looking tail which to me looks wider in proportion to its body than I’d expect. It has velvety light brown-grey fur. I’ve shown it too brownish here.

Shrew v. Blackbird

A male blackbird paces along a few inches from it, following its progress, but it seems too diffident to peck at it.

10.40 a.m.; Not so the female blackbird, which pecks at the shrew which is now foraging at the foot of the bird-feeding pole; she pecks at it several times and it scuttles off to take cover in the nearby flower border.

6.30 p.m.; The shrew is still around, busily investigating the turf by the edge of the lawn.

8.30 p.m.;hedgehog snuffles about beneath the bird feeders.


Sad to report, the following day, following non-stop rain, the bedraggled shrew had expired and was lying on the lawn. Its body measured 5.2 cm, its tail about 4 cm.

Frisky Llamas

They’re letting the alpacas out into the paddock this morning at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, Whitley. They seem so excited and frisky that I get the impression that this must be the first time they’ve been out since they were transferred to the stables for the winter.

Also getting their first taste of springtime freedom are the donkeys, which are trotting out briskly but not as boisterously as the llamas.

Crows v. Kestrel

We spot a kestrel hovering motionless over the open pasture but it doesn’t stay there for long: two carrion crows make a beeline towards it and the first dives down on it then loops around and swoops up from below, sending it on its way.

Wildfowl Wars

There’s a high-pitched whistling call from the wildfowl pool where a drake is having a go at a pair of mandarin ducks, which are perching on a rock at the corner of the pool. Unlike the kestrel, it doesn’t look as if they’re going to move.

I must go back and take a closer look at the ‘drake’. I’ve drawn him from memory and made him look like a miniature Canada goose, but I suspect that he might have been a variety of duck. He might even have had a black mask and a white neck, rather than vice versa, like a barnacle goose, as I’ve shown him.


Charlotte’s Real Jersey Ice Cream