Well there you go, this week I allowed myself the luxury of a halfhour seawatch at the Haven. It's an annual event, just to prove to myself what a waste of time staring at the Solent is. We even went down at the prime time of three in the afternoon to give me the best chance of not seeing something and blow me down if a bloomin' shearwater didn't go by at a great rate of knots, blowing my theory clean out briney ocean. It displayed dull brown upperparts and dirty coloured underparts, pointing to it being a Balearic Shearwater. A handful of Arctic Terns also battled the foul weather conditions, who were then followed by a distant bundle of bar-tailed godwits. Chastened we returned home to the comfort of a cuppa and Lovejoy.
Activities have in the garden have continued apace, mainly negative in nature. With magpies, but mainly ####$&$&%% cats trashing any attempts at nesting. The blackbirds are now on their third nest, the woodpigeons are simply sitting around looking shell-shocked (to be honest they have that expression most of the time anyway), the wrens have gone along with the long-tailed tits and I've no idea what's happened to the dunnocks. Surely cat owners could be a little more sensitive to the needs of birds at this time of year.
On a positive note: the pond is still a wriggling tadpole soup, the spuds and the fruit trees are looking good, the blue and great tits are keeping their heads down and sometime soon we are going to be invaded by young starlings and house sparrows. Also, Rosie has put some feeders in our front garden postage stamp, these have attracted goldfinches in, so I've taken the chance to sketch them when they come in for a nosebag later in the day. This is great, but I'm now way out of touch with what's going in Emmerdale. Something about a vicar?
Come on Coventry City FC your time has come!
I was going to start with a mini-rant about the mind-numbing
over-use of superlatives by some (Zoe Ball springs to mind) when describing something that was anything but amazing and was at best pretty average. Oh I have started ranting......legend! Not everything that happens has to be astounding sometimes things are simply nice.
So there you have it, we had a nice saunter around Keyhaven Marshes at the weekend, joining the other hords who were out braving a sharp northerly wind. It was bloomin' cold, I may have to rethink about getting the shorts out so early this year. However, we did come across some enjoyable bits and bobs as we went along: a splendid summer plumaged spotted redshank, our first swallow of the year and green-winged orchids, all to a background chorus of 'eeowing' Mediterranean Gulls.
Returning home, we stopped by a wooded swampy stretch of the Lymington River, home at this time of year to a splendid display of summer snowflakes. Growing in suitable habitat and being of the sub-species Leucojum aestivum ssp.aestivum, these have the best of credentials for being native plants. A few other spring flowers were noted: common dog-violet, golden saxifrage, bluebells, primroses and a confiding orange tip butterfly - awesome!
AND we dropped in to watch the hares for a while. Mostly they were in loafing mode, pottering about the big field nibbling and grooming. Perfect for leisurely painting and shape collecting. The height of the winter barley is beginning to make it a little harder to make out the 'harey lumps' in the field, but it has also accentuated areas of the crop where the hares have chosen to graze. The favoured patches are distinctly shorter in stature and are a slightly different tone of green.
I think the local humans are used to coming across this daft couple staring intently at a field and now pass us by with a cheery wave. This time, I heard a car coming and waved to the occupant as it went by, I then heard it stopping and two things crossed my mind, the first that the driver was pulling up for a chat and the second that it was a good thing for him to stop because Rosie was sat in the middle of lane sketching flowers.
It turned out that the gentleman was the estate farmer and a very interesting conversation ensued. He told us of some of the background to the area and the farming methods employed. The key factor in there being such a good number of hares present, is that they are not shot and apart from having to get out of the way of the odd tractor, they are left pretty well undisturbed. As we chatted a red kite flew low over the big field punctuating the idea that modern farming and wildlife can make good bedfellows.
At the nearby copses we pootled about looking mainly at the flora. Carpets of wood anemone and dog's mercury prevailed, with the anemones giving an impression of patches of freshly fallen snow. Peering closer we picked out the new shoots of Solomon's seal and the tiny flowers of the aptly named townhall clock or moschatel. Chiffchaffs, blackcaps and a garden warbler celebrated their successful migration from winter quarters with bursts of melodic song, well maybe not in the case of the chiffchaff, but he was happy. A 'pitchoo' call, drew our attention to a marsh tit, as we watched it was joined by two others, all three carrying soft material and taking it into a nest box. Not seen that before.
Making our way back to Beacon Hill for a coffee, we noticed two red kites circling low over the watercress beds at Warnford. With a screech of brakes, we pulled off the road and bundled out the car to enjoy these superb birds at close quarters. Sadly an unnatural gap in the primary feathers of one of the birds, suggested that not all landowners in the area have the same enlightened regard for wildlife as the gentleman we met earlier in the day.
Right that's Easter dealt with.
Recently some commercial projects have involved us working on interpretation at a more local level, giving us the opportunity to get to know the locations first hand. As opposed to relying on clients from futher-a-field supplying us with photos of the sites to get a feel for the work.
And so saturday saw us exploring the Beachlands of Hayling, with a view to producing some panels that celebtrate the series of habitats that have been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Beachlands is a peculiar mix of fairground, beach huts, golf courses and dog walkers, not on the face of it ideal surroundings for wildlife to thrive in. But a mosaic of habitats, combined with nature's resilience makes this strip of coast home to one of the finest maritime plant communities in Hampshire. The key habitats are the sand dunes and shingle beach. To most it is a good place to sunbathe in the summer and a bleak area to walk the dog during the winter months.
However, to some birds migrating in the spring it is first landfall after leaving the French coast and one of the highlights of our walk was seeing seven wheatears fresh in from the continent, flashing their 'white arses' as they flitted among the dunes. Also among the dunes Green-winged Orchids were starting to flower, we counted a hundred or so, hinting at a spectacle to come, when thousands of these tiny purple orchids will be on display. Looking closely at the shingle, we saw signs of one of the specialist plants that make their living in this harsh environment. Growing up through the stones were the small purple leaves of sea kale, soon this cabbage-like plant will dominate in their hundreds, bedecking the beach in white flowers. They are not weeds! It is their home, we are the visitors.
A few hardy birds make the dunes and shingle beach their home as well. The cascading songs of skylark and meadow pipit, rang out as we wandered, but a pair of ringed plovers sat secretly on the pebbles proved too tempting for brushes to resist. Especially the handsome male, who sported the blackest of black eye-mask and bib. Soon four cryptically marked eggs will be layed, discreetly added to the number of stones on the beach and nesting will have begun for them.
Beethoven's Symphony No 7 pounds out with grand pomposity, every note played perfectly, every layer beautifully rendered, the only odd thing about this situation is that I am fast asleep in bed, spark out, dead to the world and the concert is being played in all it's glory in my head. The brain is a curious piece of gristle and we only really understand about a small fraction of it's capabilities. Sometimes I rouse myself to a semi-concious state (some may not be able to spot the difference in me) to discover that my brain has been functioning on shuffle, 'playing' the intricacies of 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' or the driving drums of 'Red Rain' or the delicious 'Asleep at the Back' or if I'm really lucky Baby Kylie's 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' (maybe that's a completely different sort of dream altogether). Of course whatever the music, good or awful, it will be stuck there bouncing around my vacuous head for the rest of the day. La La La LaLaLaLaLa.......
So where's all this leading to? Well when painting in the studio or more likely while working in-the-field, I settle into the painting process of, see-birdy-to eye-to brain-to hand-to page, if all is well and I start to work quickly the brain part of this seems to be cut out altogether. Leaving it free to go into shuffle play and soon I find myself singing away involuntarily - in my head that is. The result of this is, where I give imaginative public names to pieces like 'Lapwing in green field', it will always be known to me as 'Here I stand no taller than the grass sees'. Which is quite nice. However, on some ocassions a piece that I'm quietly pleased with like 'Resting Avocets' will always and forever be known as 'That bloody music by the bingo company that sponsors Emmerdale'! The brain is a tricksy prankster.
We have also done some stuff. The weekend before last we had a really nice wander around Dockens Water in The New Forest, highlighted by a series of lovely wildlife cameos. Some related to winter stragglers like great grey shrike, redwings and chaffinches. Others were clues to the arrival of spring like wheatear, singing chiffchaff and 'luluing' woodlarks. A few fleeting glimpses of crossbills, reminded us that for some birds the breeding season is well under way now and it won't be long before the woods will resound to their 'chupping' youngsters.
This weekend saw us indoors at the HOS agm in Winchester on saturday, but we popped out for a bit of sun at the Haven on sunday and we caught up with a handsome summer plumaged slavonian grebe, that raced along The Solent with the tide up it's posterior.
The hares beckon.
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.