As the hustle and bustle on the Hillhead sea-front began to settle to a background murmur and the light transformed from bright sunshine to a glorious glow, we tucked ourselves away on the canal and watched. Rosie immediately picked-up a flying barn owl in the distance, just before it disappeared, moving further up the valley. A promising start.
We waited. The light drained further, at first casting strong low shadows across the water meadows, the sort that artist's relish and then slowly faded as if someone was turning the dimmer switch down. We resigned ourselves to having only had that one brief view and thoughts drifted to hot soup or something a little stronger, when at the appointed time of four-thirty there she was, right in front of us. And with what light was left to us she peformed. Flying on silent wings as if controlled by a puppeteer,we were treated to a full performance. Quartering the meadow, she twisted, turned and cartwheeled in search of her breakfast.
Our last sight of her was as she landed in a sallow tree, startling a dozing wood pigeon out of its stupor. She slipped quietly out of the back of the tree and into the treacly dark of the night. Time for a toddy.
I had made quick notes and sketches on the spot, watching her constantly making marks without looking at the page. Then when we returned home I put colour to paper whilst the shapes and hues were still fresh in my mind.
Crikey that was almost lyrical for me. Anyway we had the Christmas craft fair at Titchfield Haven this weekend. I would like to thank everyone who braved the weather and came out to support us. At one point on Sunday afternoon there were so many familiar faces there from the past it felt like a throwback to the birding days of the 1980's - I had forgotten how loud they can be, so
apologies for frightening the other stallholders.
'All fungi are edible................once!' I love this quote probably made by a dead bloke!
I don't really know why it has taken so long, but finally we have cracked the mystery to identifying funguses. Essentially they boil down to; fifty shades of brown, pink ones, white ones, bizarre ones and the downright creepy ones - simples. Any further knowledge about them is thoroughly unnecessary and borderline anal. I don't mean it though, I just hugely admire those who have devoted their time to this vast subject. Yet on reflection my method does involve having a life!
Really though that last category is fascinating. During a foray around Rowbarrow in the New Forest we came across what could only be described as a scene from a chainsaw masacre - intestines strewn across a rotting log, surely a goshawk's macarbre execution block. But no. With a bit of poking, prodding (no I didn't taste it!)and research, ie: I asked someone later with a superior knowledge than mine on these matters. It turned out to be a slime mould - 'a slug-like multicellular mass'.
'This mass actually moves (presumably very slowly) to a point that meets its optimum requirements and then it changes shape and form and becomes fixed. This movement means that it does not easily fit into any of the accepted animal/botanical categories!' No kidding, fantastic! Better than entrails any day (my thanks to Richard Carpenter for this info). Next target brain fungus.
On the way to Rowbarrow we spotted a group of stonechats posing and flycatching among the heather. During previous winter encounters, we've frequently noticed Dartford warblers associating with them. We stopped, watched for a while and sure enough there were the Dartfords in close attention with the stonechats(we counted 4 stonechats and 4 Dartfords). When a stonechat flew low across the vegetation to a new vantage point, within seconds a Dartford followed with their clumsy, tumbling flight, before crashing lower down into the same piece of heather. If a stonechat flicked at an insect, a Dartford was soon bundling in after it for a looksee. Normally very shy, on occasions they behaved most un-Dartford-like sitting out in the open on the heather for long periods of time, sometimes high up in birch trees.
I'm not sure what it is all about. Maybe it's a winter safety in numbers flocking thing and these two species are virtually the only ones to be found on the heaths in winter - making it an obvious grouping. The Dartfords would certainly benefit from the stonechats habit of perching out in the open looking for any danger and food (though I thought that Dartfords mainly fed on spiders that dwell deep in the heather and not in the open). But I can't really see what the stonechats get from this relationship. Whatever reasons, it was a pleasure for us to have such prolonged views of these odd couples.
AND, we've been lino cutting again. Which gives me an excuse to put in one of Rosie's lovely prints and to plug the Titchfield Haven Craft Fair - 24th & 25th of this month. Why not come and say hello us at the visitor centre and learn what we are all about!
Workload is such that getting out n' about has been on hold for a bit. So thought I'd post a couple of paintings from the forthcoming Hants Bird Report for 2011 that we have been working on.
The Red Kite book is still evolving - 'rolling a log on the chest of a slave' - sorry went off on an Asterix tangent there. Along with a number of other exciting book projects - 'secrets my preeeciouss' - mind wandering off again, must be time to open a bottle of Rioja.
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.