We’ve recently started feeding the birds again after taking a break over the summer. This was partly to reseed the bare patch in the lawn trampled by the pheasants that had spent so long pacing about in tight circles below the feeders, pecking at the spilt sunflower hearts but also because two or three small mounds of earth had appeared at the edge of the lawn.
We thought that this might be a sign that brown rats were moving in but a neighbour has since told me that at that time there was a lot of mole activity in his garden, which is the most likely explanation as there were only piles of soil but no sign of any entrance holes.
Today the feeders were visited by coal tits, blue tits, great tits, nuthatch and greenfinch but outnumbering all of them were goldfinches. At one stage all eight perches on the feeders were occupied by them, with another ten on the ground below and six or seven waiting their turn in the branches of the crab apple.
Pigeon Food Pyramid
At breakfast time, a loose flock of wood pigeons flew over the house, followed later by a grey heron, which appeared to be struggling to clear our roof.
This evening down by the canal, a sparrowhawk perched briefly in a tree then flew off on its rounds. I suspect that a sparrowhawk killed the pigeon that we found on our back lawn a few days ago. It’s not going to be short of prey with so many wood pigeons about.
First visitor to our new sparrow nest box: a blue tit. It checks out hole number three first; no, that’s not quite right; then hole number two and it’s just about to investigate hole number one when a second blue tit appears, there’s a skirmish and off they fly.
It’s likely that, as this RSPB box was made specifically for sparrows, the blue tits will find the entrance hole a little too wide for their liking but the old box, single-holed variety, attracted blue tits one year, sparrows the next (and finally bumblebees), so we’ll have to wait until springtime to find out who finally takes possession.
You can tell that I took this photograph in an area popular with walkers because the coots have incorporated a walking pole into their nesting platform, here by the dam head at Newmillerdam Country Park.
The juvenile coot in the foreground hasn’t yet developed the bulging forehead of its parents, nor has the colour in its legs begun to show.
But its flanged feet match the adults in size; ideal for trotting over mud and floating vegetation and almost as useful for swimming.
At this time of year there are juvenile teal around, which look rather like the females but the drakes are in eclipse plumage so they too look very similar. It won’t be until the autumn that they moult into their winter plumage.
It’s warm this afternoon, 24°C, 77°F, and, typically for the summer, there’s not a lot going on. At the Reedbed Hide a family of swans swim by; there are coot dotted about on the lagoon and moorhen probing the vegetation alongside the reedbed.
As they peck at the mud, the young moorhen are currently in dull brown plumage with lighter streaks. They remind me of waders, but without the long, probing bills.
On the Mere, along with the teal, there’s the odd lapwing and a little egret.
It’s a quiet time for the birds but dragonflies are busy, hawking over the paths around and egg-laying in the lagoons.
The Calder Valley beyond Mirfield is disappearing into the haze this morning.
In the waterfowl pen at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, black swans are preening.
This disconsolate-looking West Highland terrier was sitting by a table at the the Caffe Capri.
These are the first scans from my sketchbook made using Affinity Photo. Aspects of the process are still slightly unfamiliar but there are plenty of short tutorial videos on specific subjects, like setting levels, so I’m not finding it too difficult to get into the program.
I do still miss the the preview that you get in Adobe Photoshop, which takes the guesswork out of exporting an image for the web. In practice, as I stick to pretty much the same settings every time, it’s unlikely that I’m going to be surprised by the end results.
The sketch of black swans preening looked very similar when I saved the same image in Photoshop.
3.50 a.m.: Not so much a dawn chorus as a dawn solo as the song thrush goes through it’s varied routine in the half light. It’s not until about an hour later that I hear the five-note cooing of a wood pigeon.
At breakfast-time, on our front lawn, which is shaded by the house from the morning sun, a young blackbird is repeatedly picking up some tiny food item, probably ants. It’s at that halfway stage: still brown and streaky above, but, in contrast, the tail and wing feathers are already showing up in black, so this is a young male.
I can’t take full credit for this piece of land art. The pheasants, up to twelve of them at a time, worked hard over our long drawn-out winter circling the bird feeding pole, pouncing on any fragment of sunflower heart dropped by the goldfinches, bullfinches and others, gradually trampling away the grass and compacting the clayey soil.
Taking a tip from Nick Bailey on last week’s Gardener’s World, I sharpened my spade and half-moon turf cutter before starting to dig over the resulting bare patch. I went around the trampled area with the turf cutter first then dug spade-width sections.
A sharpened spade made it so much easier but, even so, I’m taking a break before forking it over, adding a bit of gravel and sowing it with grass seed.
I choose the ducks that appear to have settled down by the pool at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, but sleeping ducks are soon disturbed; preening ducks soon go on to the next stage in their routine; and all of them, as soon as I get my watercolours out, seem to remember that they’ve got urgent business in the duck shelter and they disappear out of sight altogether.
It’s such a pleasure attempting to draw them and, like my attempts at creating frames for a comic strip yesterday, I realise that all I need to do is keep at it, try my best and some of the character of each bird will come over in my drawing.
After dinosaurs, mallard drakes were one of my earliest inspirations for drawing natural history. They’re so handsome at this time of year and even a basic drawing soon appears mallard-like when you add the bottle green of the head, the brown of the breast and the yellow of the bill.
When Sir Peter Scott was a young school boy and wanted to paint nothing but ducks, his art teacher told him:
“Go away and paint a pudding, when you’ve learnt to paint a pudding, then you can move on to painting ducks.”
As so many of my sketchbooks feature drawings made in coffee shops and tea rooms, I think that I can say that I’ve now had adequate practise at painting puddings.
The same view of Stanley Ferry Flash, near Wakefield, taken by Richard Brook on Sunday, 9 September, 1973 (above), and on Friday, 24 January, 1986 (below). The colliery spoil heap in the background, from one of the Stanley Collieries, perhaps Stanley Deep Drop, has grown, or at least been reshaped in the intervening years.
Part of the spoil heap area became Stanley Marsh Nature Reserve.
Common Reed, Phragmites, has colonised the area, although some reedmace remains. The rough grasses, greater willowherb and water plantain seem to have been drowned out, so I wonder if the whole site subsided, or whether water levels stayed about the same but the reed out-competed the other plants.
One of the pleasures of archiving Richard Brook’s slides of West Yorkshire wildlife habitats of half a century ago is being reminded of familiar places from my earliest birdwatching expeditions. Already in 1966, Fairburn Ings was establishing a reputation for itself as a nature reserve. At that time, if I remember rightly, it was managed by the West Riding County Council.
As he was trekking around the wilder fringes of the area, there are rarely figures in Richard’s slides, but he wasn’t quite able to crop this little boy feeding the swans out of the frame.
Richard took the photograph on Tuesday, 2 August 1966.
Ferrybridge Cooling Towers
I can make out just three cooling towers at Ferrybridge Power Station. There had been eight but there had been a catastrophic collapse of three of them on 1 November in the previous year, due to vibration caused by a westerly gale with winds of 85 mph.