Desk-bound by deadlines, opportunities for getting out and about recently have been virtually non-existent, apart from a satisfying session of rhodo burning in Thatcher's Copse (dreadful name for a lovely wood!) on sunday. So sketching opportunities have been reduced to that of recording activities in the garden.
The main highlight has been watching a male blue tit courting his beau. With wings a constant quiver he dashed, dandied and fussed about her, with sweet cascading notes flowing around the rowan tree. Unimpressed she lead him a merry dance, but still he chased her. This pair have been with us for a while now, so it was nice to watch the development of their bonding.
With steam emanating from my old 'pooter as it faithfully laboured to save yet another massive file I had created, I chose to make a very quick sketch of his efforts. During which I noticed a second male watching nearby. And when the hen flew off over the house with our boy in close attendence, the dark horse followed also, keeping a discreet distance! Beware the third party my friend - Da Da Daaa!
We've been delighted by the frequent visits of a wren to our garden this winter. Today, Valentine's day, there were two, let romance be unbounded!
One kept to the usual routine of sneaking in and out of the ivy leaves. The other landed onto the shed roof and after an anxious stretch up to look about dashed like Speedy Gonzales across the roofing felt. The next second it had squeezed itself through a gap at the top of the door and popped into the shed. Fearing that it might bash itself on the glass, I prepared myself to go down and open the door to release it. The fear was unfounded as it became clear that the little troglodyte was on a mission, busily inspecting spider's webs for tit bits. Eventually our guest left via a hole at the base of the door - in through the top, out through the bottom.
Hopefully during this shopping trip it also made note of a few snug places to set up a nest for the summer.
Scattered like tiny WWII pillboxes, the sentinels of the field kept a watchful eye on the skies, themselves and us. We counted ten harey lumps hunckered down into the ground hardly moving, only occasionally taking the odd nibble of grass. Activity was considerably less compared to last weeks debauchery. It was perishingly cold again, maybe too cold for excessive running around and definately not the weather for any unnecessariness!
After a most welcome mug of coffee and a chunk of almond chocolate, we settled down to some sketching. Then from the right another hare appeared and ran straight to the nearest resting one. It stood facing the other, if not in a threatening manner, undoubtedly within the others personal space. Eventually the resting hare rose, slowly strecthed it's legs and with the interloper in close attendance made their way towards another of the seated hares. It was impossible to tell if they were male and female, but the newcomer ran alongside the other behaving as if it was a suitor. They soon reached the third hare, again indulging in a face-off with each other and again the sitting hare stood up. This time a spot of half-hearted boxing took place making it impossible to keep up with who was who. The outcome of this was that two hares wandered off and the other ran to another seated hare, where the same behaviour was repeated and repeated again with a fifth hare, each encounter ending in the same manner.
It was difficult to work out what all this was about, however, we had noted a number of other hares resting in adjacent fields to the main 'boxing' arena. Could these be immature males, watching and learning from the sidelines? The interloper certainly had the look of a young buck playing-the-field, rushing into a settled scene and stirring things up. Indeed the episode finished with a pair of hares loping off into the distance, over the hill and out of sight. Maybe he got lucky.
So, forget the Leveson inquiry, if it's intrigue, sex and scandal you are after, follow the Leveret investigations.
The sun was bright, the sky was blue, not even a cloud to spoil the view, but it was monkeys, brass monkeys in my heart! Never mind that is was perishingly cold, a hare is not just for Boxing Day it's for life and we there ring-side seat ready for the main bout, top prize the Meon Valley belt.
Tucked into the hedge we counted seven hares loosely grouped at the top of the field, most were resting, nibbling or grooming their impossibly long ears, but one pair was sparring. We watched as they began a frenetic interweaving dance, punctuated by sessions of duffing-up - wonderfully endearing and very amusing, just what we had come out to witness. His antics appeared to have the desired effect and the Jill gave him the 'come up and see me sometime' nod. To be frank, he wasn't that good at it! Although he humped energetically away for about twenty minutes, most of his efforts were well wide of the mark. Eventually, whether more by luck than judgement the Jack had his Geoff Hurst moment - 'they think it's all over. It is now' and with a wiggle of her tail and nose in the air she loped off, it certainly was all over.
Sketches and notes of all these activities were frantically made, most of which are too raunchy to post here and would result in a knock at the door by the local constabulary. So, I will only post some of the less shocking sketches for now, but our appetite is well and truely whetted, who knows what we'll post once all the hare bears start up.
We spotted a lone long-tailed tit in the garden last night. This situation always seems wrong to us and makes the world feel unbalanced - these little chaps need to be in gangs! After the coldest night of the winter, we were relieved to see it zipping around the garden this morning, but still by itself. So I've posted a lonely heart advert with portrait (ignore the yellow one, he already has pals) in the hope that other long-tailed tits read this blog.
Cute chick, non-smoker, gsoh, bit of a babe, with exteremely long tail, likes blowing raspberries. Looking for flock to have fun with.
It wasn't really a new year's resolution, more a notion to look more at what's on the doorstep. It's surprising what is stowed in the too-mundane-to-bother-with file, that really shouldn't be. Many gems are routinely passed-by in the car on the way to what are thought to be more exotic locations further afield.
Out of this thinking (yes, I know, me think? It's just not natural)came a list of subjects that I really ought to get to know better. Some natural, some man-made. Included among the ever-growing list of things to do are birds, mostly common species and a few less so.
Getting to know some of the birds better will be achieved by simply sticking my nose to the window and watching what goes on in the garden. And others by wandering out along the local lanes and seeing what's what.
Two for starters; the good old wren and the common old buzzard.
I've overlooked wren's as a subject for far too long, it might have something to do with the fact that they can be a nightmare to untangle from mist-nets when bird-ringing and have attained a nuisance status in my tiny brain because of this. However, if one visits our garden I now take the chance to watch and paint it, the more I see of them the more fascinating they have become for me.
We found the buzzard about three hundred yards from our house, during a birthday boy stroll this weekend. Normally we see them soaring over the house (an unusual sight in itself a few years past). Discovering one perched on fenceposts that enclosed a horsefield was too good an opportunity to miss. As we watched, it became clear that is wasn't resting, but hunting. Every so often the buzzard flew down to the horse-cropped turf, then back to a post. It wasn't clear if these lunges were successful as we didn't see it returning with any prey in it's talons. But, it was clearly going for any worms drawn to the surface by the heavy plodding of the horses and was using the posts as a vantage point to watch for any movement. I knew that worms and beetles were a big part of a buzzard's diet, but it was the first time I had seen one observing the actions of another beast to inadvertently aid them in catching their lunch.
So normal blog service is nearly resumed, though I still have the odd dream about Orcs. Ranting may return.
It was no good, in spite of my noblest efforts, the twitchitis still courses through my body - maybe a long session of colonic irrigation will flush the nastiness out of me? Whatever the cure, for now I had to sate my avian addiction with a twitch. The form of the temptress this time was a shore lark, a horned lark. Spooky! Perhaps I'm possessed by a little horny devil? Hey, it was only a fifteen mile dash down the motorway to the oysterbeds at Hayling, so why all the angst? There are madder buggers out there than me, yet like Gollum obsession can eat you up - shore lark? County tick my preeeecious.... Crikey, I'm scaring myself now. We only went for a walk in the countryside to look at some nice birdies, not look for a punch-up with the cohorts of Mordor!
So, there we were in the mouth of Sauron's breath..... stop it now and get on with the blog. But there lay the problem. If it's blowing a hoolie at home, then the effect is doubly felt at the oysterbeds, making viewing very uncomfortable and tricky. And so it took a little while to pin the little beauty down. Once we had worked out that the little brown stone tucked-up against some seaweed was indeed the shore lark, we could settle down ourselves and enjoy this little cracker with the tiny horns and improbable yellow face. Mike taking pin-sharp photos with his pin-hole special and me making out-of-focus sketches as normal. Eventually the numbness in my head became greater than usual and the general concensus was 'get thee to a pubbery'. Where ale and hot soup were readily supped - Rosie finally getting her bowl of soupy!
It had been too blustery to paint in the field. So once at home I quickly added some washes to the pencil sketches and put the 'can't see the lark for the geeses' painting together - it came from the moment I imagined I was at two feet distance from the lark, yet still couldn't see it!
Oh yes, I finally caught up with some Mergansers.
For a fuller account from a less confused mind, I suggest you take gander at http://chalkhilldigital.info/2012/01/strangers-on-the-shore/
Against my better judgement and the best medical advice available to mankind, I've been a bit twitchy of late. I know it makes me grumpy, I don't get any useful drawings done and it's not as if any of the birds involved were new to me. However, the symptoms were there and off we jolly well had to go, albeit the miles accrued were small and only once did we cross the border to foreign counties. But it was ugly twitching in it's rawest form, jostling with fellow twitchy idiots; we junkanoo'd with the junco, we paso dobled with the Spaniard, drank vodka with the Sibe and roughed it with a leggy buzzard - I felt dirty but fulfilled.
With pangs of guilt running through my veins and the need for a self-rigtheous birdy jesture, our next venture was to the local creeks in search of mergansers to draw. It was cold, damp, windy and we saw....bugger all!
Still, I'm now cured of all that unnecessary nastiness. Or am I? Shore lark over on Hayling......mmmm?
Actually, we had a very nice time, catching up with old pals and we saw some very smart birds.
There was enough rain during the week to encourage us to nip over to the river this morning and check out the Sea Trout situation. The air was crisp and a wonderful frost lay settled on the seed-heads of the umbellifers and thistles. The water levels were higher on the weir, but no fish were running it. We explored the over-hanging banks, discovering that there were still a few fair-sized Trout waiting in the dark shallows, some showing the scars of failed weir jumping and one sadly demised - we hoped that it had died after the final act of mating. When we arrived at the river, Rosie had seen a Little Egret flush from where the dead fish was and had probably been feeding on the body - I guess that Egrets must be our equivalent of the North American Grizzlies!
Also among the tangle of roots that draped into the water,
a Wren made its way quietly through the deep shadows - time to paint!
We were delighted to discover that a Long-tailed Tit had popped into the garden for a visit this morning. But a Long-tailed Tit on its own is simply wrong - they should be in a gang bustling their way through hedge and garden, blowing raspberries as they go about their business.
I just had time to make a few scribbled notes before our little friend was gone in a blurr of wings. 'Birds of feather', foremost in my mind.
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.