I hadn't realised that this mild dry autumn was having such an impact on the water reserves. A knock-on effect of this shortage has been a dramatic drop in water levels on our rivers. Which in turn has made life tricky for the Sea Trout as they make their way back up river to their spawning grounds. The difficulty being that little water was running over the weirs, making them virtually impossible to cross.
We finally had a spot of rain last week, just about enough to make the weirs run effectively. We were very keen to watch the trout jump and a friend who had been studying a site for a number of years, promised to let us know when they were active. He was very interested in our reaction to seeing them - Wow! They were huge, some up to three feet in length. Before trying to clear the obstacle, they gathered in the calmer waters, looking like torpedos waiting to be fired. The urge to migrate must have been deeply engraved, with many showing the scars of previous failed attempts. For a few hours we watched their endeavours, all to no avail, not one made it over. We felt a little helpless, but assured that with a bit more rain (which has come) they will cross the weir with ease.
We were also lucky to see their breeding behaviour. Occasionally a female would swim into the shingle shallows and quiver her tail, in order to create a hollow for her eggs and to attract males, who needed little encouragement. The males fussed around her flicking and rolling onto their sides, eventually fertilising the eggs. Sometimes the males jumped clear out of the river, we wern't sure if this was a practice jump for the weir or an act of bravado to impress their fellow suitors - whatever the reason, why didn't they put the same energy into leaping over the weir?
After the fun and excitement of last weekends show at Titchfield Haven, this week, it was nose firmly back to the grindstone. Working on interpretation paintings for Cow Green Resevoir and grabbing any moment while the washes dried to paint the garden birds.
It's starting to feel more like autumn/winter, so it won't be long before the Blackcaps are back and feeding on the fatballs - providing the Starlings leave some morsels for them.
Very busy at the Titchfield Haven NNR Craft Fair this weekend, so not much in the way of opportunities to get out and paint.
However, on sunday morning I grabbed the chance to open up the hides on the west side of the reserve. Although a little perky around the gills, the morning was glorious and bright. The light was sharp and keen, hi-lighting the loafing waders and ducks beautifully. Resisting the urge to paint, I did the honorable thing and made my way to the centre. Walking back round the lower end I noticed all the birds flush from the scrapes - there had to be a big bird of prey about. Sure enough a magnificent female Peregrine soon manifested itself from out of the havoc of fleeing birds. In between dragging a little old lady out of the road to stop her being run over and then trying to show her the bird as it flew about twenty feet over our heads, I managed to put a few shapes to paper while the moment was fresh. The Falcon failed in its attempt to catch breakfast this time, but I heard that she had better luck later, when duffing-up a flock of Wood Pigeons.
Can I just thank one and all for their support at the Fair, it was a lovely friendly couple of days and we raised a good sum of money for the ducks!
Sunday's weather was too good to be spent around the house, hence the day was devoted to exploring Beacon Hill area of the Meon Valley for Hares and Kites. Less ramblings, more pages from the sketchbook for this post!
The morning Herald!
We looked too hard for the Hares, they were only a few feet away from us all the time, but sneaky with it though.
I recently posted a field painting of resting Lapwing on the south scrape at Titchfield Haven. I wanted to develop this idea further in the studio. I always love painting Lapwing, but the scene was enhanced further by the 'Woodhenge' feel of the weathered timbers - giving an ethereal quality to the moment.
The following day we were scheduled to meet up with the manager of The Alver Valley. Just before setting off, he contacted us to tell of a Harrier he had seen in the area for a couple of days. Not wanting to miss out, we left early and were soon stood at Cherque Farm in anticipation. An hour later we had been entertained by two Stonechats and a Dartford Warbler, but no Harrier. The Warbler seemed to have adopted the Chats. Where ever the Chats perched, a quick search of the same bush below would soon reveal the Dartford forraging for spiders.
Time to go. And as if on cue the Harrier appeared and started to quarter the scrub, with two attendent Magpies. The meeting would have to wait a little and we tucked ourselves into a hedge and watched this superb female Hen Harrier perform for us. At times coming with-in a few yards. Eventually she plunged into the rank grass, rose up again carrying what looked like a vole and dropped back into the grass to take her tea. Our cue to get off and work.
We were able to get out and about a little last week. A morning meeting over in the New Forest gave us the opportunity to have a mooch later on in the woods. Tantany Woods is one of our favoured places and after a cracking pasty lunch bought from the Brockenhurst bakery, we were out exploring these open forest woods. Greeting us was the 'chacking' & 'seeping' calls of winter thrushes, a scan through the berry ladened Holly Trees unveiled Fieldfares, Redwings and Mistle Thrushes - a pleasing start to our visit and a sure sign that winter's cold clasp would may soon be upon us.
As we made our way deeper into the woods, apart from a background drone of helicopters there was a deadening silence hanging in the air. For some time now we had wanted to look at fungi, not with any conviction of putting names to them, but just to enjoy them. We tracked down a few among the fallen and rotting Beeches & Oaks, giving them original names based on their colour. We soon felt expert in the field of mycology, throwing around science such as 'there's a white one' and 'ooh! pink that's nice'...you get the picture. However, it was the tiny ones that really appealed. Candel Snuff was one fungus we did know and closer examination revealed a bizarre, surrealist landscape of grotesque sculptures, where giant spiders roam. As I sketched the scene, I noticed small movements in the leaf litter; a quick look showed that they were made by Wood Crickets - a new species for us (as far as I recall).
Eventually a few birds came out of their hiding and deigned to visit us. I couldn't resist painting a Wren as it flitted amongst the roots of the fallen trees - probably hoping to find a Wood Cricket.
We walked on and out onto a New Forest lawn, munched down by the ponies. Again few birds were in evidence, but we were surprised to find Devilsbit Scabious and Saw-wort still in flower. By now the light and warmth had faded from the day telling us that we had to rejoin the ratrace - soon found on the M27!
Looming deadlines and work overload have kept me honest and at my desk for the last few days. They have prevented me from getting out and about much - not even being able to get over and play with the delightful Blandford Otters. Nevertheless, I was determined to keep up with the sketching momentum I had built up of late. Therefore, I decided that the first half-hour of each working day would be spent trying to capture the avian activities of 'our' garden birds on paper. My idea was to give myself a time-limit, to make me work very quickly and thus learn how to gather as much information about the light and birds, without the images becoming pedantic. Generally, I was quite pleased with the way it was all turning out.
This morning I looked out and noticed the usual suspects rousing themselves for the rigours of the day. Blue Tits, Goldfinches and Blackbirds were all posing nicely for their portraits to be painted. My pencil was poised to start, when a handsome male Great-spotted Woodpecker stole their limelight, flying in and landing briefly on the Birch Tree. He allowed just enough time for me make one rapid drawing, before undulating away stage left. I was reasonably happy that I had captured him on paper and while the moment was still alive in my mind, I kept drawing, painting and adding surrounding elements to the page. By the time I had completed the page, the half-hour was up, compelling me to get the nose back-to-the-grindstone.
Our plan for mushroom mooching in The New Forest on sunday was scuppered by an uninspiring pencil greyness to the day. So after sitting through an equally uninspiring couple of hours of Formula 1 racing, we decided to make use of a printing press we had borrowed from a friend and spend our time linocutting. I had never produced one before and only really knew the theory of the method, therefore a pretty enjoyable and enlightening few hours ensued - mostly!
We each worked on a single colour design, with the idea of hand-colouring the print after, therefore making each print unique. Though judging by the variety of blacks I attained with each pull, they were pretty unique anyway - but not always in a good way!
Still the seeds have been sown and I suspect that our friend will struggle to get his press back. Hope you like the results of our sortie into linocutting.
We did manage a little fresh-air, in the form of a recce for leaping Trout on our local river, more on this later.............
Couldn't help posting a few more pages from yesterday's encounter with otters and other friends of the river bank.
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