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.

29‐6973 frog  ink pen A6 sketchbook 

29‐6972 newt  ink pen A6 sketchbook 

171‐6974 pond skater  ink pen A6 sketchbook 


allotment/meadow sketching

allotment behind garden

Under the back fence the dog rose cuttings taking and 2 of them ‘layered’ over the winter seem to be doing well. Leeks that went in around August last year patchy (they’re in shade of fence and very wet ground) but good eating and some are thickening up well.
Compost bins recently moved onto beds to let ‘goodness’ go straight into the growing grounds.
Under the rowan Aiko’s rosemary seems to be doing well.. Chives and marjoram alongside. Borage showing big flower buds. A mullein next to one of the four echinops that went in last autumn.
A couple of rows of peas put in on saturday protected against the slugs and pigeons.

Starting to sketch some of the minutiae of the allotment and meadow.  I want to be able to better describe larger spaces, which means being able to simplify small things within that space…. and describe changes with time, which at the moment means describing things that can easily be missed because they are so small, and to a casual glance might seem dull.

dove's-foot? cranesbill, lady's bedstraw?

salad burnet and umbellifer sp.?

orchids, rattle and kite

common spotted orchid, yellow rattle & plantain

All artwork on hold for a month whilst I attended to pressing domestic matters…. lovely spring conditions but no time for sketching.
Last year there were just 2 common spotted orchids (second year that I’ve watched them come up in the same place)  on the ‘mini meadow’… this year I’ve been waiting for their emergence like an anxious father and hoping there might be more. Seeing the first of them last week and then nothing… today I finally saw the second one back in the same place and then realised there was another one immediately alongside. So at least there are three…
I went shaking the dried flowerheads around last autumn to make sure none of their miniscule seeds were wasted. They apparently need to find a particular fungus to germinate.
The yellow rattle has taking hold full strength, thousands of tiny seedlings. They have thickly colonised an area of dense clover. So I’m hoping that they’ll do their stuff and gradually help to allow other species to come on.
214‐6968 yellow rattle amongst clover    

The other highlight of the day was a Red kite flying over about 11 o’clock going east.. Third one I’ve seen from the allotment and they’ve all been drifting towards Bath at about the same height. The herring gulls make a particular call when raptors go over…usually its a buzzard but they’ve now alerted me to the kites and last years single osprey on april 6th.

Meanwhile in the pond there are thousands of tadpoles all congregated in the shallow end… I’ve glimpsed newts but they are staying well concealed under leaf litter.

prema exhibition & nature notes

I hung the mini exhibition at prema arts centre in Uley, Gloucestershire yesterday. Pretty much a revamp of the Slimbridge exhibition but I think they look much better in this space.  The exhibition doesn’t officially open until 3rd March and isn’t labelled as yet, but if you are in the area it is a good place to visit with tea room etc.
The frogs in the garden pond hit a maximum of 16 back at the weekend. Didn’t seem like the amount of spawn increased hugely.. all of it laid in the shallow end of the pond. Just ones and twos now.
The most unusual sighting of recent days was a peregrine sitting on the school at the back of our allotments. A great vantage point looking over most of Bristol, first time I’ve seen one perched from the house, even flying over I don’t see them that often.
Blackcap song a couple of days ago and blackbird starting to become the backdrop.
Huge leylandii at the base of the allotments, end of our neighbours garden being felled as I write so a lot more light for the allotment and more skyscape from the house.

garden & pond

214‐6892 pond frogs    

Not wanting to deviate from focus on Senegal studio work but I do want to get better at posting nature notes… especially once my mini meadow gets going. First UK butterfly for me last w/e. A comma sunning at the end of the garden on Sunday.
Pipistrelle bats were out on tuesday evening… saw something flit by at last light that didn’t look like a bird and went out to check with bat detector…
Frogs started to appear in the pond at the w/e and were up to at least 10 yesterday. Today the first patches of spawn.
Lots of bird song at extremes of day, wren, song thrush (these usually disappear before doing any nesting) and slightly subdued blackbird. A male blackcap has been a regular at the bird table for a few weeks, haven’t noticed him singing yet. Last winter there was a brown headed bird around for months. They seem much more catholic in their tastes nowadays…taking chunks of bread off to a bush to chew on.
Turned colder again now but definitely feels springy.

To view all SENEGAL FIELDWORK consecutively please click on this link. I’ll start another ‘category’ for studio work… choose from ‘categories in sidebar.

Senegal, 17th – 30th January 2014

This was the first stage of a British Trust for Ornithology – BTO/Society of Wildlife Artists -SWLA collaboration (see link for overview).  4 artists (Bob Greenhalf, Bruce Pearson, Esther Tyson & me) travelling to Senegal primarily focussing on Western Palearctic migrants on their wintering grounds.
We were guided by Phil Atkinson of the BTO and for the latter part of the trip Dakar based scientist Paul Robinson.

A really intensive couple of weeks, almost non stop sketching. Now that it is done I can better see that what I was trying to do. Building up a repertoire of what surrounded the chiffchaffs in acacia bushes or wheatears feeding around cattle dung in near desert… so that they could then be placed in a bigger picture that might represent their winter quarters.

Farmland near Mbour

Stopping somewhere north of Joal not too far south of Mbor… a white persons farm… remnants of millet crop stubble laying in dry fields… zebu cattle minded by small boys. The fenced farm has ungrazed savannah … a wind pump creating a pond.
This is apparently where there is a huge roost of turtle doves… we only saw a few coming down to drink.. a malachite kingfisher, green sandpiper… several species of dove.. namaqua, collared types and a black billed wood dove. paradise whydah male.

coast palmarin

26/01 arriving at palmarin dumping stuff in room and going for a quick look at the sea at last light. Sense of surreality.. the brightly painted pirogues hauled up on the beach bright against the rich blue sea. terns fishing and then a pomarine skua in amongst them…. and then bat like flitting over the still inner waters… a petrel… then several of them.  The sound track the evening call to prayer from the muezzin blasting out of loudspeakers.

In the afternoon back to the beach … looking across to the shell mound and all the fishing boats gathered below. …men gathered around the centre of large pirogue, dividing the catch… the most obvious fish the large pink rays… the length of a donkey cart and a weight for the guys who ferry them to the shore on their heads. ( a cushion attached with string to the top of the head and then a plastic fish tray)… the only other obvious species was a silvery pipefish type… sword at front… maybe a foot and half long.
Constant activity… poling the boat offshore… baling out.. handling the tiller… clearing the nets. mending nets with some kind of shuttle for threading. .
The boat that came in later had the net all folded stretched most of lengthe of boat and this had to be turned back (like making a bed) to reveal the catch beneath (was this under some kind of large board? to keep it out of the sun.
Donkey carts, horse carts weight… girl leaning on boat watching elegantly…. goats and chickens foraging through scraps.
Out on the pier grey headed gulls loafing. … caspian terns snatch large fish and bark out their calls… smaller terns (common, sandwich lesser crested milling around)… all a mellee of sound and colour… the spectrum basic colours painted onto the white worn pirogues. … beach covered with all kinds of filth… horrible amounts of discarded plastic.