Clearing away vegetation from the side of this stretch of Coxley Beck, a neighbour came across what I guess must be a signal crayfish, a North American species which has become established in this country and which is ousting our native white-clawed species.
My neighbour described a living specimen he came across as ‘large’ and brown. He then turned over some vegetation and found a dead individual, which was upside down, revealing red markings on the underside of its claws.
This is bad news for any white-clawed crayfish that might have been present in the beck. A friend who remembers the beck as it was before any of the houses were built on the beck side of the road told me that there were crayfish there, but this would be about fifty years ago.
But perhaps there is some potentially good news as signal crayfish are eaten by otters. One of the members of our local natural history society, Wakefield Naturlists’, Francis Hickenbottom, showed me a photograph of an otter pellet he’d come across at a nature reserve by the River Aire. The pellet included a number of those distinctive red claws.
This harlequin ladybird landed on the window this afternoon. It’s probably on the look-out for a suitable site to hibernate.
A map on the Harlequin Ladybird Survey website shows how this North American species, introduced to Europe in 1988, has spread from the south-east of England. From a couple of records in Yorkshire in 2003-2004, it has now been recorded across most of the county, with the exception of parts of the Dales, the North Yorks Moors and the Wolds. It’s apparent absence here may be the result of there being fewer people to record them.
Shepherd’s purse, like other members of the cress family, has four-petalled flowers but it’s easier to identify its heart-shaped seed pods which are the shape of the sporran-like purse worn by medieval shepherds.
This plant has so far survived our autumn weeding of the veg beds, hanging on in there in the last square metre of the L-shaped bed next to our little meadow area, growing alongside spurge, bush vetch, forget-me-not and creeping buttercup and a few rosettes of sow-thistle and foxglove.
2.30 p.m., overcast, 58°F, 14°C: Warps are methodically working the pale yellowish green flowers of the ivy. These must rank as the dowdiest of flowers but the sweetish heady scent has also attracted a few bluebottles which have a more skittish approach to imbibing this autumnal supply of nectar. One sunny morning last week, hoverflies and drone flies were also joining in this end of season feast.
It so good to be back in my studio and working again. I’ve just e-mailed my latest Wild Yorkshire nature diary off to the Dalesman, so it’s high time that I caught up with this online diary, which provides most of the raw material for my Dalesman articles.
It’s a month since my studio floor was taken up but there’s been a lot of work for me varnishing the new tongued and grooved timber floor and putting back my plan chest, art materials and book stock just as I’d like them (and there’s been even more work setting up our new kitchen in the room below, which is looking great).
The ‘Goldilocks’ Sketchbook
Improvements in my studio include these four Ikea Blecka hooks (above) for my small, medium and large art bags, which are hanging there ready for me to grab when I set off on a small, medium or large adventure, each complete with a selection of art materials and an A6, A5 or a square of the narrow side of A4 (that’s 8 x 8 inches) Pink Pig sketchbook. Like Goldilocks, I tend to feel that the middle sized bag is ‘just right’.
On the fourth hook my new digital SLR is hanging, plus a camera bag holding my new macro and telephoto lens. It’s an Olympus OM-D E-M10II which has great possibilities for nature photography. I sold my trusty pocket-sized Olympus Tough muji on e-Bay and I’m missing it already but I’m holding off buying the latest Tough to replace it as I want to get thoroughly familiar with my digital SLR.
The drawing is in bamboo pen using Winsor & Newton black Indian ink. I wouldn’t pack this combination in my art bags as the ink, where it has formed a blotty pool, takes days to dry.
10.25 a.m., cumulo stratus 80%, 59°F, 15°C, back garden.
The perennial cornflower was originally a plant I introduced from my mum’s large, leafy and well-stocked garden. It has settled in well, scattering its seeds along our border. I’m sure that we never planted it at this end, by the corner of the patio next to the bird bath. There’s often a blackbird or sometimes a sparrow sitting on the edge of the patio here and I guess that’s how it found it’s way here, in a bird dropping. It also spreads via creeping rhizome.
As its scientific name, Centaurea montana, suggests, it’s a plant of subalpine meadows and open woodland in Europe, ranging from the Ardennes the Pyrenees and in the east as far as the Balkans.
We’ve had more colour in the border this autumn than we had in the summer. The pot marigold, Calendula, which we planted a year or two ago at this end of the border has spread across the back garden, popping up in the veg beds and in the greenhouse.
As it flies – ‘as the crow flies’, in a straight line – this carrion crow makes a call that I describe as ‘Tchuik! Tuikk! Twik!’ in my sketch: not the harsh, croaking ‘Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!’ that I associate with crows. The Handbook of British Birds describes this call as ‘a higher-pitched, complaining “keerk, keerk, keerk”.
I hear the regular ‘caw’ half an hour later after a commotion with the local magpies at the edge of the wood, which have been making their chattering rattling calls in the tall ash trees.
The sparrows chirping in the hedge are a more homely soundtrack for my drawing. It’s feels like a treat to be out of doors drawing from nature again.
Hundreds of knopper galls are scattered beneath the oaks in Nostell Park. On some you can see the way that the acorn has been transformed into the home and the food source for the larva of the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalis. The acorns have stalks, botanically penduncles, so these are the acorns of the common or pendunculate oak, Quercus robur.
It’s the asexual generation of this gall wasp that produces the knopper gall; the alternate sexual generation produces tiny galls on the male catkins of the Turkey oak, Quercus cerris. Turkey oak acorns have ‘mossy’ cups, that remind me of the furry Russian hat that Ivan the Terrible might have worn. There are several Turkey oaks at Nostell.
This species of bracket fungus is sprouting on deciduous stumps in the woods around the lakes.
The head gardener is adding wire mesh to the newly restored iron gate to the walled garden.
“Is that to stop the ducks getting in?” (It’s been a good year for the mallards on the nearby lakes).
“I worked on the film of Watership Down, so I’m always rooting for the rabbits.”
This is a first for me: writing and uploading a blog post on my iPad as my studio is out of action for a couple of days and my wall-mounted iMac is taking a well-earned break, lying on the bed in the back bedroom. We hadn’t realised that revamping the kitchen downstairs would involve taking up the floor upstairs in the studio to fit the new LED lights. This gave me the ideal opportunity to get Simon, the joiner fitting our kitchen, to replace the chipboard floor in the studio with tongued and grooved boards. It will all be worth it and the old kitchen is already looking more sparkly.
My scanner is out of action for a few days too so here’s an iPad photograph of the latest spread in my A6 ‘Travel Journal’ sketchbook with sketches from a rainy morning at Nostell, a train journey to Leeds and from the centre of Wakefield.
As a starting point for this hand-drawn font I’ve taken a character from Watership Down: Cowslip, an effete but vaguely sinister rabbit, given to reciting poetry, including ‘Like Trees in November’, which provides the title for the Cowslip’s Warren chapter in the Richard Adams’ book.
I got to know this character when I spent two or three months drawing the backgrounds for the Cowslip’s Warren scene for Martin Rosen’s 1978 movie. I drew in dip pen in Indian ink, which I felt answered the brief of ‘creating the atmosphere of a claustrophobic Victorian vicarage’. Another background artist added the colour.
The garden is at it’s most productive so Barbara is busy in the kitchen, using a couple of pounds of split tomatoes in a Crank’s recipe for chilli bean and vegetable casserole, which also includes courgettes, onions, runner beans and potatoes from our garden.
She added some of today’s raspberries (we picked a bowl and a half of them) to a batch of muffins.
We haven’t been able to keep up with the runner beans. A handful of the slenderest are going into the casserole but I’ve stripped off all the large stringy pods that were beginning to swell to encourage the plants to put their energy into the fresh pods which are still appearing.
As I reached inside the wigwam of beanstalks, I was surrounded by sunlit foliage. With temperatures climbing into the 70s it felt more like high summer than the beginning of autumn.
Spider and Wasp
It’s a time of plenty for the spiders too: a jumping spider patrols the sunny kitchen windowsill and an orb spider with a web on the outside of the lounge window fusses out of its corner to check out a tiny insect which has landed on its web but just misses it as the insect breaks away.
A garden spider at the centre of a 12 inch wide web in front of the ivy at the end of the herb bed has more success. It has swathed a wasp in silk and is slowly consuming it. Unlike the spider in the corner of the window, it doesn’t retreat to a lair: it’s been there right at the centre of its web all afternoon. Two hours later it is still clutching what remains of the unfortunate wasp.
Wasps nested under the tiles of the roof above my studio two years ago and, during the summer months and well into a mild autumn, dozens, if not hundreds, of them somehow blundered their way into the studio and I regularly had to release them by flipping open the Velux window.
A few found their way into our hot water system and for months afterwards the odd fragment of wasp carapace would appear when we ran a bath.
This year wasps have nested under tiles again but near the apex of the main roof so thankfully well away from the hot water tank.
Inspired by Tony Seddon’s book, Draw Your Own Fonts, I’ve just succeeded in drawing, scanning and digitising – using Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and a program called TypeTool – five sample characters which I’ve added to my computer as a TrueType font.
It will be useful to have my own hand-lettered font when I draw a comic strip or a picture map for a walks booklet but I’m going to try something a bit more ambitious too. Seddon encourages you to have fun in the process and to see a font as a series of illustrations with a theme running through them.
The illustrators and designers who provided the fonts for the book took as their starting points subjects like knitting, earthworms, buildings, spaghetti and origami. Their spontaneous approach soon got me thinking up ideas of my own, for instance, the capitals above are based on a character from a story, a disturbed visionary character . . . but – for the character that I have in mind – I need to make the typeface look more willowy and windblown.
Here’s my first effort at a complete hand-drawn font, put together from some hastily drawn letters, but at least creating those 26 capitals and 26 lower case letters has enabled me to get thoroughly familiar with the basic process.
Strangely enough it was the full stop that I had most difficulty digitising!