Carrion Crow

There’s often a carrion crow on the old felled sweet chestnut trunk near the Lower Lake bridge, feeding on grain that’s been left there and frequently being photographed. You can see in my photograph that it’s stuffed its crop with grain.

A few rooks feeding alongside jackdaws on the turf in Obelisk Park also have full crops, but they are more likely to be feeding on earthworms and insect larvae, such as leather-jackets: the caterpillar-like larvae of the crane fly.

grey squirrelUnder a yew near the Menagerie seven grey squirrels have gathered. They’re turning over the leaf litter and stopping to nibble at frequent intervals. One appears to have found half a nut, probably an acorn that it – or another of the squirrels – had hidden during the autumn.

We disturb the adult grey heron yet again. This time it was hoping to be left in peace at the top end of the lake beneath the Cascade Bridge. It takes off, clearing the clapper stones of the Druid’s Bridge with inches to spare.

 

The flock of fieldfares are still around. Wigeon have left the now completely ice-covered field pool. There’s a pair on the Middle Lake, along with two pairs of gadwall, tufted, the usual mallards and swans and an increasing number of goosanders, some swimming in pairs.

There are more wigeon on the ice-free Upper Lake, which isn’t accessible from the Park.

As we walk along the edge of Top Park Wood, a kestrel wheels from tree to tree ahead of us.

Pleurococcus Algae

On the northern half of the trunk of an oak by the Lower Lake a coating of powdery green algae shows up in the morning sunlight. It is absent from the sunny south side of the tree so, if you’re trying to do a bit of natural navigating and you’re lost deep in the forest this could help you to orientate yourself.

This is probably Pleurococcus or a very similar-looking species of green algae. Seen through a microscope, Pleurcoccus is a globular single-celled alga with a thick cell wall to help it resist desiccation. The individual cells are slimy and stick together to form the powdery coating.

Green algae contains two kinds of chlorophyll: Chlorophyll A and Chlorophyll B. The two molecules work together; Chlorophyll A absorbs blue-violet and orange-red light while B extends the spectrum by absorbing blue light. The green that we see is the light that doesn’t get absorbed.

That Old Chestnut

There’s a heavy crop of oyster mushroom (above) on some sweet chestnut logs, the entire trunk of a felled tree, which have been left as a habitat in Thornhill Park. Oyster mushrooms are currently £10.80 per kilogram at Sainsbury’s, so there must be hundreds of pounds’ worth here, although some are a bit past their best.

The logs are also sprouting honey fungus (left), which is said to be edible when young.

On the stump itself, the common bracket fungus of dead wood, Trametes versicolor is growing. The brackets are paler around the edges.

This silver birch, down by the canal near the Figure of Three locks, was catching the sun. I’ve added a watercolour filter in Photoshop to bring out the texture of the diamond-shaped scars of its bark. Hopefully, I’ll be getting down to actually painting some watercolours in the new year!

I feel that I can already tell that the days are getting longer and it’s good to think that, in two months time, dogs mercury and lesser celandine will be springing up on the hedgebanks with coltsfoot appearing on disturbed ground.

For the moment though, the only conspicuous flowers are those of hogweed.

The rainbow didn’t show up in my photograph as much as it did in real life, so I’ve boosted it a little in Photoshop.

Hazel catkins, as yet unopened, are now prominent in the hedgerows.

There was a soft arc of a rainbow over the valley this morning as we set off across the fields via Smithy Brook to Thornhill.

Boxing Day Walk

I’m pleased that over the Christmas period we’ve managed to get out into our local countryside to walk our regular ten thousand steps because a news item in this month’s Healthy Food Magazine reports that researchers at The University of British Columbia have:

“found a link between getting a nature top-up with an increase in general happiness and health during a two-week study. Participants were split into three groups: a control group, a group noting down human-made objects and those documenting nature finds. It was the last group that experienced the biggest boost in self-perceived wellbeing.”

There was me thinking that catching up with my family and eating lots of Christmas cake and mince pies was what had given me a seasonal glow of wellbeing. I should have realised that it was getting my boots muddy and observing rainbows, fungus-covered logs and birch bark.

Who wouldn’t be happy doing that?

Links

The University of British Columbia Noticing Nature study

Healthy Food Guide

Tulip Tree

There’s just one tree on the lawns around Nostell Priory which is surrounded by a small wire-mesh fence: the Tulip Tree, which, a small notice explains, has bark which the rabbits love to nibble.

Ash Tree on the iPad

As the light faded, I drew one of the ash trees at the edge of the wood using a new version of Clip Studio Paint for iPad. For the next few weeks, there’s an opportunity to give it a six month free trial.

It feels so much more direct than using the iPad with a wifi link to the same program running on my main computer and I appreciate the thought that has gone into redesigning the interface to make it more suitable for a tablet.

I started with a pencil drawing then, on a new layer, added a suggestion of colour, finishing with an ink layer for drawing with the G-pen.

Link

Clip Studio Paint for iPad on iTunes

Trees in September

However ingenious it might be, drawing on an iPad doesn’t have the familiar feel of pen and watercolour on paper. On an iPad, I feel that any mistakes I make betray a shortcoming in my technique while in a real-world drawing, such as this autumnal tree I drew yesterday, the ‘mistakes’ – wayward squiggles, ragged lines and minor smudges – are very much part of the medium.

On Friday, at the Thyme cafe, Cannon Hall Garden Centre, as a change from my usual pen and wash sketches, I launched straight into watercolour: the pale featureless sky first, then the lighter background foliage and finally the darker patches as the watercolour dried.

I’m a bit out of my comfort zone in pure watercolour though so, visiting friends yesterday, I drew my mug in pen and resisted the urge to add colour.

Yew Male Flower Buds

The wind has blown a few shoots off the yews in the woods around the lake at Nostell Priory. Yew, Taxus baccata, is dioecious – each tree is either male or female – and these mini-Brussels sprouts clustered on the stem in the axils of the leaves are the buds of the male flowers.

They will open in February to shed yellow pollen.

 

Male flowers.

Female flowers are less conspicuous and are solitary, borne at the end of the stems. They produce berry-like fruits each with a single poisonous seed surrounded by a bright red fleshy cup, the aril.

Bindweed

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.

Sycamore Leaf

sycamore leafThe fog lifts only briefly at midday. Although the hills of the Peak District rise above it, just as forecast, we decide not to drive for 25 minutes through such poor visibility in order to enjoy a walk there.

sycamore leafLooking for something suitable to draw in a drift of autumn leaves on a lawn in foggy Ossett I realise that they are all sycamore leaves; three sycamore trees stand alongside the little track beside the garden.

Rather than stand outdoors drawing the soggy pile, I choose one dry leaf that has been caught in the branches of a Russian vine and settle down to draw it in comfort indoors.

sycamore leafWe didn’t get out to walk over a landscape of ridges and channels but I can explore a landscape in miniature by closely observing the undulating surface and the network of veins of the leaf.

sycamore leafI remember when I was at the Grammar School here in Ossett and we had a few art lessons from a student teacher who got us to draw a close-up of a leaf – just a small section, about the size of a postage stamp, not the outline. She then got us to take it a stage further and work up a design from it. I stuck pretty much to what I could see, just adding colour, which at school was powder paints, mixed in a plastic palette.

sycamore leafI remember getting totally absorbed by the repetitive but varied detail. Drawing it must have been a semi-hypnotic process, like getting lost in a landscape of rolling hills and rivers.

Bladdernut

bladdernut

bladdernut
bladdernut

Upper lake, Nostell Priory: The seed capsules of bladdernut contain hard seeds that have been used as beads. Bladdernut, Staphylea pinnata, is a deciduous shrub or small tree, native to central and southern Europe and Turkey. It was introduced to Britain in the 16th century.

Bumble bees

Red-tailed bumble bee
Red-tailed bumble bee

bumble beeCatmint and geraniums are attracting bumble bees in the walled garden at Nostell Priory.