Thursday, 30 April 2015

April 30th The UEA

The UEA lake and ziggurat buildings
After a short swim at the pool at the UEA (University of East Anglia), Mum and I went for a walk around the grounds and it's lake. Unfortunately, we got lost in the woods trying to find the lake. We found bluebells and other woodland plants and plenty of jays and eventually the lake itself. At that point though, we were a bit tired and the clouds were threatening to rain, so we only walked a little bit of the lake.

Garlic Mustard
Ground Ivy
We saw a chiffchaff, greenfinches, long-tailed tits, a heron (which reminds me, that heron turned up on the roof across the street from me again last night), a speckled wood butterfly and lots of blackcaps. The blackcaps especially were very vocal. We also had a bird that sounds very similar to a blackcap. Garden warblers are plain looking brown birds, a typical LBJ (Little Brown Job), and looks nothing alike to a blackcap. The songs, though, can be quite difficult to tell apart. To me, if you hear a blackcap that isn't quite as loud, chances are you may have a garden warbler. They are secretive birds and prefer singing in dense, low vegetation than in tall trees. I was pleased to see one reveal itself to us despite it being obscured by branches of a small shrub by the lake. Not the most interesting bird to look at, but to get a glimpse of such an elusive creature makes it worth waiting for. By the way, that name is misleading as they rarely visit gardens.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

April 29th Strumpshaw Fen

A cold breeze sweeps across Strumpshaw and I am glad that I have remembered to bring my coat this week. The woods are finally carpeted blue with bluebells as I made my early walk round the reserve this morning. It is always a delight to see at this time of year. The trees are like rather tall islands in a landscape of blue and green with the sounds of blackcaps and other birds singing all around me, spring is now in full force. Along the river, a common sandpiper flew over me and up river, calling it's high pitched whistles as it went. I also saw a bullfinch in the cherry trees near the office buildings with a great spotted woodpecker flying past.

Spider-hunter wasp Priocnemis perturbator
Despite the windy conditions, there were a few insects about, mostly bumblebees. While walking back from my walk down Sandy Wall, I notice something moving by my feet. It was some kind of solitary wasp with orange and black markings. It seemed to be hunting as it moved in short bursts inbetween short pauses. I took this shot and showed it to Tim, the site's manager and keen wasp fancier. He got a bit interested when I showed it to him. He tells me he thinks it is a spider-hunting wasp called Priocnemis perturbator. These spider-hunting wasps hunt, you guessed it, spiders, paralysing them and taking them to a hole where she lays her eggs on them. The young hatches and eats the spider alive! Nasty!

Common Carder Bee
At Reception Hide, a kingfisher perched on one of it's favourite spots on the edge of a reedbed. This spot is only just in range of my camera. Later this year, you will often see the kingfishers quite frequently and from perches that are in front of the hide. For now, a short visit or flyby is the best you can get of a kingfisher at Strumpshaw.

Marsh Harrier
Marsh harriers were patrolling the reedbeds and I watched a food pass. An immature male (he looked a bit like a female, brown with a cream head) carried a frog dangling from his talons and a female (much larger than him) came up from a reedbed and flew towards him. She flew underneath him and he drops the frog. She catches it and returns to the reedbed that she came up from. I have never seen an immature male do this before. He might be one of the female's young from last year and is helping out with food deliveries. Also seen today were swallows, a little grebe, pochards, shelducks, tufted ducks, greylags, Canada geese, mute swans and the nest-building coots.

Little Grebe
By midday, the weather turned. I could see rain pouring in the horizon and was heading towards us. I closed the hide's windows in preperation. Down it came and quite a lot of it too. By the end of my shift, blue skies were returning in the distance. It was just a short April shower.

My colleague, Bob, also helps out with the Norwich peregrines. He gave me the latest news from the cathedral. He tells me that three chicks have hatched on Monday with the fourth still expected any day soon!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

April 28th Mousehold Heath and Norwich

Green Tiger Beetle
This morning, I went to Mousehold Heath for a walk. I also had unfinished business with a certain beetle. I still wanted a few decent shots of green tiger beetles now that I have some time and patience to spare and without a group of people to catch up with. Once I had my eye in, finding them was easy and I soon had a few pictures of these tiny jeweled terrors that I was happy with. They also conveniently posed next to their nesting holes, which was nice of them.

Beetle and nesting hole where it lays it's eggs
Sycamore leaves
Leaves of oak, silver birch, beech and sycamores are beginning to block the canopy of light. A jay forages through the bark of tree branches for food. It's blue wing feathers sparkle in what light that passes through the new barrier of leaves. I also spot holly blue and large white butterflies, a goldcrest and a pair of mistle thrushes. Away from the trees, gorse and broom are covering the heathland areas in bright yellow with the scent of coconut attracting bees and other insects.

Large White Butterfly
Oak leaves almost ready to develop
Cherry Trees down the street
I returned home for lunch and after that, I went down the street to admire the row of pink blossomed cherry trees. These cherry trees have bloomed later than the ones I saw at Waterloo Park last month. The colours are bright and cheerful like large clouds of candy floss attached to big wooden sticks. This sight will soon be short lived in the next week or so, as the blossom will fall and carpet the ground below like pink snow. Elsewhere in my neighbourhood, I notice the lime, London plane and beech trees have started to develop leaves. The chestnut trees are now complete with many candles of flowers poking out of the bright green leaves.
A row of pink!
Chestnut Tree

Waterloo Park and the Cherry Tree Avenue
The cherry trees that didn't flower on my last visit to Waterloo Park has also bloomed recently. The only thing is, I think I have misjudged my timing as the petals have already begun to fall to the ground and being replaced by leaves. I was certain that these trees were pink in past years, as I was surprised when the blossom of this avenue of cherry trees were actually white. I must have forgotten that since last year.

Mistle Thrush
Norwich Cathedral
Don't know what it is, but looks pretty

Monday, 27 April 2015

April 27th Cley

I'm back at Cley yet again with Mum. Now that spring is truly here, it is always worth coming to Cley as it is a hot spot for migrating birds. The spring migration draw a lot of birdwatchers to this reserve as this place is famous for exciting rare and scarce birds turning up. From little ringed plover to Wilson's phalarope, you never know what will be around here. In fact, just a few days ago, a white-tailed eagle flew over this part of North Norfolk (when I wasn't here, typical). So it is always worth a visit to Cley and check the 'menu' (the sightings board) of what is about.

Hare and Red-legged Partridge
The board today was a list full of great migrating birds like sedge warblers and 3 little ringed plovers, but two birds peaked my interest. Spoonbills was my first and I could see one from the telescopes from the Cley Spy building nextdoor to the visitor centre. My second target was a lesser whitethroat and we planned to look for it later. After leaving the Cley Spy building, I noticed something in the field behind it. The unmistakable long ears of a hare bounding across the field, ducked under a hedge and reappeared into the next section of field. A red-legged partridge then joined it and I took this picture. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a heat haze, so this was the best I could get.

Sedge Warbler
We entered the reserve proper and instantly we were greeted with the sight of a sedge warbler singing. Following a dyke towards a bridge and the three hides beyond, we were stopped in our tracks when we saw a bird fly into a branch overhanging over the dyke. I point my binoculars to see if I could find it, but then something in the water below the overhanging branch caught my attention. It was large, rounded, brown and furry. A water vole!! Mum also spotted it and before I could say what it was, she shout out excitedly "Otter!" Then she remembered it was larger than it actually was because she was looking through her binoculars. Yes, embarrassing I know, but worth a laugh.

Water Vole
The water vole swam towrds us and we lost sight of it in the reeds on our side of the dyke. We looked carefully for it, hoping it would return. Passers by were becoming interested in our search and became an audience on the bank with us, all keeping an eye out for voles. Then one appeared from further up the dyke and vanished beneath us on our side again! There must be a burrow here, so we all moved to the bridge for a better vantage point. It worked! Not only did our accompanying audience grow, but also we saw the water vole (or voles) cross the dyke back and forth about 3 or 4 more times. I have never seen a water vole this much before! Better than rare migrants any day! The size surprizes us a little. I had forgotten on how big they were. A magical moment!

Somehow, we managed to draw ourselves away from Ratty and got to the hides, seeing marsh harriers along the way. Black-tailed godwits in gorgeous orange plumage, avocets, redshanks, dunlin, lapwings, shelducks, teal, shovelers and little egrets were busy feeding or sitting around outside the hides on the pools. A harem of female ruff surrounded a larger male, who was flirting with them by bowing and puffing out his plumage that lacked the ruff feathers that would be around his head like a lion's mane. We could also see the spoonbill again but the heat haze made it hard to properly see it. After just two out of three hides, we decided to leave and go look for the lesser whitethroat. On the way out, I found another hare in the distance in a field.

Black-tailed Godwits
Avocet with a Pied Wagtail
Little Egret

We walked towards East Bank to the whereabouts of the lesser whitethroat. We came across it's larger cousin, the common whitethroat singing it's short scratchy song before flying out of it's bush that it was hiding in. No sign of the lesser whitethroat though. It is a much smaller bird with a greyer back, white throat and a completely different song to the brown-backed common whitethroat. I went on alone up the bank to see if it was around there, but still no sign. I did get to see another spoonbill feeding at the pool near the beach. It was a lot easier to see than the previous spoonbill as the heat haze was almost non-existing. I got a few distant shots of these large white birds with the strangest of bills and went back to reunite with Mum for a late lunch.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

How To Draw: Otters

Otters are a favourite for many people, including me, and are always a delight to see. In today's How To Draw, I will have a go at drawing these playful creatures.

Stage One
To draw an otter on land; the body is an oval with a flat bottom (like a semi-circle but not quite), then draw another oval (a proper one this time) for the neck and draw a circle within it at the top for the head. On the other end, draw a long tail. My otter's tail is curled round it's body a bit, but you can have it straight if you wish.

Stage Two
I next draw round the basic outline, adjusting it to get the shape I want. I add basic leg shapes and facial features in too. To get the facial features in the right places, draw a line down the middle of the head and draw two lines across it. One is for the forehead and the other for the eyes, which you draw on the ends of them. At the bottom of your cross, make a circle for the muzzle and another smaller one inside at the top of it for the nose. Below the nose, draw the mouth in.

Stage Three
Now draw the outlines in pen and shade the nose and eyes in. Don't draw anything above the legs just yet. Rub out the pencil lines.

Stage Four
For the fur, start at the head and work down towards the tail. Simple lines or scribbles will create the fur's texture. The lighter areas of the muzzle and throat are created in a very light scribble. Add the whiskers in last.

Stage Five
Colour in your otter brown. I used the same brown pencil crayon but in different ways. Darker shades for the main body, slightly lighter for the muzzle and even lighter for the throat area. And that's it really. 

Stage One
Otters are great swimmers and the usual view of one is in the water. For my next drawing, I will show you how to draw an otter swimming above the surface. It isn't actually the otter I want to focus on but the water itself. The otter is drawn like a long, straight sausage flattened at the bottom edge. Start at the nose and work your way down the head, adding the muzzle, eye, ears and fur as you go. The water around it is drawn in lines that radiate from the head and stretch down the body and outwards. This is the otter's wake, which shows that the otter is moving forward.

Stage Two
Re-draw in pen next. With the fur, start with the head and sweep lines towards the body. Then along it's body, sweep the fur lines down towards the direction of the water. For the wake, start from the head end as well and create lines and scribbles with spaces inbetween each fold in the water (or ripples if you like).

Stage Three
Finally, colour in your otter as before. I used black and a bit of blue over the scribbled areas of water and left parts white to show light reflections.

Stage One
My last drawing for today is a close up on the head as a form of good practice. As always, I work out the size and shape of the head, muzzle and neck. I just scribble around until I am happy with everything.

Stage Two

I work out further on the shape of the muzzle and where each feature goes. I start from the nose and work my way round from there adding the fur and whiskers as I go.

Stage Three
With the pen, I don't draw the outline, instead I begin again at the nose and add the fur around it, improving the muzzle's shape as I do so. I compact the scribbling for the dark areas of fur. For the lighter areas of fur, I decided to make look wet. To do this, I create a series of 'W'-shaped marks which overlap each other. 

Stage Four
 Lastly, I coloured my otter in various shades of brown with a bit of orange at the muzzle. I re-draw parts of the fur again in pen. And with that, my otter is done!

I hoped you will have fun with your otter drawings and I will be back next week with some more birds to celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day. Good luck with your future drawings!