mini meadow 2014 – bumblebees

31 Mar 2014 buying the bee id app. By NatureGuides Ltd.

having seen boldly marked bumblebee this morning. Seems like it is Bombus hypnorum the tree bumblebee. One of the 6 commonest spp. Probably a queen… very black abdomen with white tip… ginger thorax the most striking feature.

Following on from this I started to get familiar with our regular bees. The app. is really well designed I think and has helped me to learn the basics very quickly.

Buff-tailed (terrestris)–  is probably our commonest bumblebee and it seems like you can see them in any month nowadays…. I watched them on the yellow rattle and where the garden bumblebee (horturum) would whizz from one rattle flower to another (with its tongue lolling) terrestris would be slow moving and I think they had to get to the nectar through the back door… certainly they did with the comfrey flowers (most of which had holes cut in the back to allow access to these bigger shorter tongued bees).  A lumbering bear compared to hortorum.

garden bumblebee (bombus horturum) with tongue hanging

garden bumblebee (bombus horturum) with tongue hanging

early Bombus pascuorum… mainly remember these on comfrey and on the garden plant Nectaroscordum (a garlic type) . They are really distinctive, small and fast moving,  with sulphur yellow bands and the end of the abdomen a hairy egg yolk orange.

I don’t remember seeing many red-tailed (lapidarius)… a big queen throbbing on the outside of the studio…. should have made notes though… can’t be sure there weren’t more.

common carder bumblebee (pascuorum)… probably the second commonest after buff-tailed and they really liked the yellow rattle.

tree bumblebee (hypnorum) was also really common, another one using the back entrance of the comfrey and they were on bramble quite a bit. They also seemed to be round the front of the house a lot (on the street), that is quite a sun trap.

I was never convinced that I’d seen white- tailed (lucorum)… so it seemed like we have 6 species in good numbers. I’ll try and keep better track of when they are active in 2015.  Only seen the odd buff-tail so far (mid feb).


think this must be garden bumblebee on comfrey – 26th may

2014-05-27 09.47.55

carder bumble on rattle

mini meadow 2014 – yellow rattle

Second year of yellow rattle action on the mini meadow.  Proliferated hugely from the previous year. It seemed to do best where there were concentrations of clover. 44C0C77DD87C428DB05D902270DDED6628 Mar 2014 – yellow rattle rife amongst the clover

26th may

26th may

the c. 1metre squared bare patch - 26th may

the c. 1metre squared bare patch- 26th may

I experimented with cutting plugs from the most dense area of rattle and planted them in areas of allotment and garden which wouldn’t be mowed (banks, edge of the pond, the triangular mini meadow in the garden). These took fine…
So then I was left with a bare patch and I sprinkled that with more seed… a lot of birdsfoot trefoil and some wild clary. I think the slugs got the clary but the trefoil took well, Far better than in the areas where it had competition.

birdsfoot trefoil growth

birdsfoot trefoil growth – 26th june

By August I would see common blue butterflies on that little patch every visit, males and females and they were definitely egg laying. Really seemed a graphic example of how to improve an area for a species…get the food plant going and they stick around.
Previously the blues had been passers by (as is the small copper which I’ve now sown some sorrel for… ).
I didn’t get any photos of them on the trefoil but managed this one on ragwort (which seems a good nectaring flower for for them and more so for the small skippers which I see most on the ragwort).

common blue butterfly on ragwort - 5th august

common blue butterfly on ragwort – 5th august

garden bumblebee on yellow rattle - early june

garden bumblebee on yellow rattle – early june

I’ll write another post about the bees.

I harvested a big bag of seeds and I’ve spread those over those areas that I mentioned above that won’t be mowed. The idea is to gradually undermine the coarser grasses and allow more interesting meadow flowers to proliferate.

mini meadow 2014 – common spotted orchids

I’ve promised myself that I would document the development of the mini meadow on our allotment… so a little series of posts that will be more natural history than art in content.

Until 2014 there had just been a couple of common orchid spikes up on the plot. These are showy and easy to spot even early in the season. Panthers in the undergrowth.

29 Mar 2014- Finding a second orchid growing alongside the lower one from last year . Red kite flying over about 11 o’clock going east..

photo 6th april

photo 6th april

One of the two spikes had doubled up, but looking like it might come from the same ‘tuber’. Don’t know if that’s possible.

Then on an even more micro meadow that I’ve got going in the garden I spotted what looked like another tiny orchid.

photo 7th april

The garden orchid – photo 7th april

Scouring the allotment meadow I then found another 10 or so of these putative orchids. Even more puny than this one.

photo 11th april

one of the 10 or so ‘baby’ orchids – photo 11th april

Searching online I couldn’t find anything that told me about the details of the common spotted orchid life cycle. In the end I stumbled on text in the emorsgate seeds catalogue that helped get my head around what might be happening.
the first few years after germination are spent underground… then in years 3-5 leaves will get above ground… years 4 to 8 finally flowering.
I think we’ve let the orchids flower for 3 years now (they were previously all getting unwittingly mowed off). They produce microscopic pollen which is dustlike. This then has to encounter a specific fungus to germinate and get nutrients. The first 3 years underground gradually forming some kind of tuber.
If the Emorsgate catalogue is right then the leaves as in photo above (they never amounted to much more than this) are probably in year 4 of the new plants existence and just starting to become more independent of the fungus.

2014-05-30 13.37.02

orchid spikes surrounded by yellow rattle

After they’d set seed I cut off the stalks and distributed the ‘dust’ both on the garden patch and the farthest flung parts of the ‘meadow’ hoping that they’ll proliferate…. but now knowing that the results won’t be apparent for at least 3 years.

With hindsight a bit annoyed with myself that I didn’t make more effort to sketch the way things developed on ‘the meadow’. As it was I got preoccupied with acrylic painting using stencils that in the end seemed pretty stodgy. Happier with the monoprints and learning some new ways of handling the ink in the process.

common spotted orchid & oxeye daisy III - monotype  - SOLD

common spotted orchid & oxeye daisy III – – monotype –  sold

common spotted orchid & oxeye daisy II -   - monotype  -

common spotted orchid & oxeye daisy II  – monotype

150219-1 2014-06-20 09.47.50

common spotted orchid & oxeye daisy -   - monotype  -

common spotted orchid & oxeye daisy – – monotype – sold


Drypoint & Monoprint workshops

I’m doing a couple of workshops during the annual Society of Wildlife Artists exhibition at the Mall galleries, London.  The first will be assisting Bruce Pearson on a Drypoint course on the 2nd November.
Then on the 9th November a Monoprint course with Kim Atkinson.

drypoint_1Drypoint – With Bruce Pearson and Greg Poole
Sunday 2nd November 2014 10.30 am to 4.30 pm
Drypoint is an intaglio printmaking technique where lines and a variety of other marks are incised (scratched) into the surface of a printing plate which is then inked and wiped and an impression taken on dampened paper
Using sharp steel points, sandpaper, glue and carborundum powder to create a range of soft subtle lines, deeper more velvety burred-edged lines, and roughening and changing the texture of the thin plastic plate surface to add tonal variety, we will explore as much as we can of this expressive and exciting drawing medium.
Please bring an idea, a sketchy thought or a drawing to start the creative process on the day, and wearing an apron or old clothes is advisable.  Materials will be supplied, (plates, ink, scrim, paper, drypoint tools).
Cost £60 (including a £10 charge for materials)
8 places available
To book a place please mail

with Greg Poole & Kim Atkinson
Sunday 9th November 2014 10.30 am to 4.30 pm
Monoprinting has the essence of most other forms of printmaking. It is about different ways of applying and removing ink from a block (we’ll be using perspex) which is then printed onto paper. We’ll be playing with as many approaches as we can manage in a day. This is hands on and is likely to be a bit messy. An apron, or old clothes advisable.
Limited to only 8 participants. Materials provided. Cost £50.

Workshops are sponsored by Intaglio printmaker of London

To book a place please mail

Muchelney pottery exhibition

Muchelney pottery have produced a nice looking invitation for upcoming exhibition. If you’d like a hard copy please contact the gallery or me directly … otherwise it would be good to see you there.




pond overview

pond overview

Effort at showing the stage of development of the pond… a snapshot of whats happening in and around the pond in early april… but its one of things a snapshot can’t do…. unless you make a Hockney ‘joiner’. More reason to make the detailed studies so that I can simplify better in attempting the overview.
Components are… soft rush in its new landbound location (used to be in baskets in water).. water plantain having survived the winter is now starting to get its leaves above the surface. Marsh marigold just opening its flowers… tadpoles have now spread over the whole pond (where they had just been in shallow end). Cuckoo flowers and celandines have been flowering for a while. Duckweed multiplying…the shepherds crooks of harts tongue ferns unfurling surrounded by a bed of primroses flowering profusely.

lawn sketch

More effort at gaining fluency with describing these lawn type plants. From a distance they form a pretty uniform green turf, but under scrutiny …. how to describe the depth of their growth forms?… just repeated looking and sketching and gradually understanding a bit more. After last years patchy effort at recording the way the mini meadow developed I know I’ll be glad that I paid attention to this early development.

salad burnet, self heal & mystery umbellifer

daisies, self heal & clover

male newt sketches

Getting a better look at the male newt… seeing how deep the tail is and the lower portion a milky luminous pale blue with half spots of orange along the bottom. The crenellated crest stretching well up the back. Leopard spotting dark brown on fawn? Coming up for air he exposes his black spotted, orange belly.

male newt

male newt

courting newts

courting newts

Seeing 4 newts chasing each other around the deep end of the pond mid afternoon. Not able to watch immediately but later sketching a couple of them. The female very fat around the middle and has a swollen lipped effect.
The male much more dramatically marked with big spots, which are especially pronounced on the lower tail where they are against a luminous bluish pale background. He chased the female around and would suddenly dart ahead of her and twist his tail around at 90 degrees with a threatening kind of swish. Must be impressive from her perspective.

courting newts

pond sketching

Pond also teeming with activity. There really are more than a thousand tadpoles in there, now starting to move into the deep end but mainly gathered in huge shoals in the shallows…  mouthing wordlessly as they wriggle and writhe.
Water plantain survived the winter and is just starting to break the surface. Marsh marigold leaves gradually fill out.
A newt briefly showing itself… I thought I saw another more boldly marked one but was called away and by the time I got back it had hidden itself. The one sketched here was marbled with dark spots up to its goaty eye.
Since expanding the pond and introducing the regular feed of freshwater (from the back of the studio roof) there have been many more pond skaters… at least 10 at the moment.
Adult frogs are now scarce but odd ones and twos.



pond skater