Thursday, 30 July 2015

July 30th Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall
When Mum and I arrived to Holkham Hall this morning, it wasn't looking great. A heavy downpour of rain felt like we were going to have a rather damp outing here today. Fortunately, to our relief, the sun came out while we sheltered in the cafe for a while and it turned out to be a pleasant day in the end. Not only that, but lots of visitors started to arrive to the estate of this stately home. Mum and I usually visit this place in the autumn to see the annual fallow deer rut and we thought it would make a nice change to see them in the summer as we have never done so before.

Normally, we would walk around the side of the estate with a lake and a woodland with a large monument in it. But we have never done the other half of the estate before and I have heard rumors that red deer tend to hang around that half. I wanted to see if these rumors were true. Along the way, swallows skimmed at grass level around our feet. They were so fast and made circles round us, making you feel a tiny bit dizzy. How they fly so close to the ground at such speeds and not crash into a tree is beyond me! We also came across a large gathering of feral barnacle, greylag and Egyptian geese feeding and resting across the fields of the estate.

Barnacle Geese

Egyptian Geese

Red Deer
All the deer around here are part of the estate, bordered off by walls and cattle grids to keep them in. This, however, does not mean they are tame animals. In fact it is the opposite. These deer are still shy of humans and will still run away if you get too close. Finding the red deer was easy and they were relaxing not far behind Holkham Hall, the tough part was to get close to them without making them flee. To do this, you need to come up with a plan for your approach. Using trees and other objects as cover, we slowly walk towards them, one soft, slow step at a time. Having the wind blowing towards you helps mask your scent from the deer, but the wind was blowing the wrong way this time round. We kept our voices to a whisper and watched the behaviour of the deer. They can still see us and were looking our way and some stood up ready to run. As soon as we reached cover, they were fine with us being there. Though we were close enough to them, we still left a bit of distance between us. It was a perfect deer stalk!

Red deer are the largest of the species found in Britain and are rusty red-brown with no spots. The stags will be at their most impressive during the rutting season in autumn with large multi-pointed antlers. Since last autumn, the old antlers have dropped off and have started growing back again, ready for this year's rut. You can see the antlers are fluffy at the moment in some of these photos. This fluff is called velvet and it will get rubbed off after the antlers have fully grown back.

Red Deer Calf
A female red deer is called a hind and many of them have now given birth to this year's calves. We can see a several calves curled up on the ground amongst the heard. At this age, they are spotty and very 'Bambi'-like. The hinds sometimes leave their calf alone for several lengths of time, so if you find a baby deer 'abandoned' in a field, don't do anything, just leave it alone. The mother will return to it.

Fallow Deer
After lunch at the car park, our attention was now on the enormous herd of fallow deer along the edge of the woods on the half of the estate we usually walk around. To get to them, we kept a massive distance between us, walked slowly towards the few trees available over the open field as cover with the wind blowing at us, as we made our way towards the woodland edge. Annoyingly, families with noisy small children were walking so close to the herd that the deer were now getting stressed out. The deer were making a lot of calls to each other and were running around between the woodland and a small isolated group of trees. I noticed there were people in the woods too, so the deer were corralled to this one spot. There were too many people and not many seemed to understand the behaviour they are witnessing. I don't want to stop people from getting close to animals like this, but I wish they were more thoughtful and gave them space.

Fallow Deer Fawn
I managed to stop an approaching family from doing the same mistake as the others and I persuaded them to join us behind cover with a reasonable distance between us and the deer. Though it was hard to keep the young children be young children, we all had a good look at them without disturbing them any further. The herd was a mass of spotty bodies with the odd male (called a buck) bearing antlers different to those of the red deer stags. Amongst the herd were several young fawns born earlier this summer. They stay close to their mothers and form small creches with other fawns. After spending a short amount of time looking at them, we left the deer behind. We will probably be back for the rut later in the autumn, hopefully with less people around this time

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

July 29th Strumpshaw Fen

It has been feeling rather autumnal this week as it has been raining a lot and even this morning, it was breezy, cold and with dark clouds threatening to pour it down. Thankfully, there were only the odd brief drizzle and better still, there were bursts of sunshine sneaking through the clouds now and then.

Swallowtail Caterpillar
The swallowtail caterpillars have grown a bit since last week. Today, I have found two by the pond-dipping pond and a third feeding on the milk parsley in front of the Reception Hide. You can now see the spots and stripes very clearly now and next week, they could double in size. At the moment, they are about quarter of the length of my pointing finger, next Wednesday, I expect them to be half the length.

Red Admiral on the 'Bee Log'
Large White
White Admiral
Swallowtails aside, another butterfly attracts the interest of local butterfly enthusiasts to Strumpshaw. Though the white admiral is widespread and does not draw quite a crowd to the reserve as our swallowtails, I still enjoy seeing them every year. This species lives high in the canopy normally, but stand by a flowering bramble patch and you have a good chance of seeing one. There is a good spot along the woodland trail that many local visitors know about that white admirals visit regularly every year. During my shift, I had a quick look. Black clouds were giving me a sign that it was going to ruin the chance of seeing any butterflies, but like a flick of a switch, bright sunshine breaks through the clouds and instantly, many insects appeared all over the brambles as if from nowhere. This includes white admirals, swooping majestically over the smaller butterflies. We even had reports of a brown argus here, but I didn't get to see it.

White Admiral (underside)
Meadow Brown
At Reception Hide, hobbies were waiting for the perfect conditions to hunt dragonflies as they sheltered from the wind on branches. They sat on their perches for quite a while at times, until the young marsh harriers decided to close in on them in curiosity. The hobbies did not like the young harriers for this and gave them a few mobbing dives before moving on to a much peaceful spot. The hobbies were using perches that were slightly out of range of my camera, but one did have a brief moment to perch on one of the trees close to the hide for one quick photo.

Kingfisher and Heron
A heron camped itself by the reed islands all morning. At first, it was busy preening itself, giving it's feathers a shake and having a stretch with it's wings. Then it had a friend pop by a couple of times. A kingfisher sat on the branch in front of the heron. I think it was a male (he had no orange 'lipstick' on his bill which females do) and he plunged into the water, catching a small fish. He then flew across the broad to his favourite perch, where a second kingfisher was waiting. This, I believe, was one of his young from this year, which has recently fledged from the nesting burrow not far from the reserve. Once the adult was finished stunning the fish on the branch he was sitting on, he fed it to junior and they then left together over the water and out of sight. It was a quiet day, but it was still a good day.
Grey Heron

Sunday, 26 July 2015

July 25th Buxton Heath

Bell Heather at Buxton Heath
Some of the strangest wildlife emerge at night and I have promised my Aunt Barbara to see probably the strangest of all Britain's nocturnal creatures. The weather has not been kind though since Friday, as it has been raining non-stop and I was worried that the nightjars will not show tonight. Fortunately, by midday, the rain was replaced by sunshine and it looked more promising. So I made the decision to call tonight Nightjar Night.

Darkness sets in while waiting at this gate for nightjars to show up 
Nightjars are unusual birds. They hide asleep on the ground or on a branch by day, using their amazingly cryptic camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. It is quite difficult to locate one in daylight hours as you can easily walk into one and they will not budge. The best way to see one is to go to the edge of a woodland clearing and wait for dusk to set in. That is what we are doing at Buxton Heath, a location not too far away from Norwich. The only downfall to this plan are the midges bitting at my face and ears. We had to endure them while darkness closed in around us as we waited by a gate at the edge of a section of woodland.

These Greylags flew over the heath as we waited
By 9:30pm, we started to hear strange sounds coming from the wood we were standing next to. Barbara thought it was the sound of a loud cricket or a frog croaking a chorus. But I have heard these birds before and I knew what they sounded like. It is this sound I wanted Barbara to experience. It is nothing but bizarre, a call that was unlike any other bird. You could say it sounded more frog than bird. The pitch of the sound changes as we were listening to it. One minute it was loud and the next it was slightly quieter. The call went on for as long as a minute and occasionally it ended in a strange 'pew pew pew' sound. This was the sound a male nightjar makes when he claps his wings as part of his display for territory and for females. I tried to record these sounds but annoyingly the camera didn't pick them up. If you want to hear them, you will have to Google nightjar sounds.

Then in the drindling light, we got brief glimpses of them. They swoop over the clearing, vanishing from vision as the silhouettes of the border of trees gave them cover from what was left of the daylight that could help us see them again. They were the size of a kestrel, but they feed on night-flying insects. It was quite a sight to see them glide over the path in front of us, which was sandwiched between two sections of woodland, even if the sighting was only for a few seconds.

While the nightjars churred their calls well into the night, they were joined by a chorus of other sounds. Excluding the blaring noise of a local rock festival nearby, we also heard croaky squeaks of woodcocks as they flew above the trees somewhere in a display known as roading and the hooting of a tawny owl completed the dusk chorus. As we arrived tonight, I also pointed out the song of a woodlark. It was soon getting too dark to see and it began to spit with rain again. We called it a night. It was a successful night despite the midges eating at my face.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

How To Draw: Rockpool Special

The summer holidays are here and the children are out of school. So why not take them to the seaside for a spot of rockpooling. You will have hours of fun as long as you keep an eye on the tide and are careful where you tred. By carefully lifting rocks, you may be surprised to what you will find. To add to the fun, why not draw what you discover. In this week's How To Draw, I will teach you to draw a few of the creatures you can find in a rockpool.
Stage One
One of the most commonest of our rockpool creatures are crabs. I am going to draw two crabs, one with a view from the front (left) and the other is of a view from above (right). For the one on the left, I draw a rugby ball shape and for the one on the right, I draw a circle.

Stage Two
Next, I create the shape of the carapace (the main body). The crab on the left was divided and shaped like a pie. The top part is like the crust, while the bottom part is like the dish the pie is in. The 'dish' part is divided further to create the jaws, eyes and the ridges of the crab's underside. I draw a series of squares and triangle for the legs and claws, which all connect underneath the underside of the crab. Draw the claws first before drawing each leg, which gradually disappears behind one another.

The crab on the right is drawn like the shape of a slice of toast with spikes and two dips for eye sockets at the top. Then on either side, draw eight likes and two claws (10 limbs in all). Again it is a series of squares and triangles for each limb. For the three hind legs that group together on both sides of the crab, I drew a small square which I divided with two lines to create a base to draw the legs from and from there, I drew each leg, starting with the one at the top, then the middle leg and then the bottom leg.

Stage Three
Redraw over the pencil guide lines in pen and shade in your crabs. The upperside of the carapace is darker than the underside.

Stage Four

Finally, colour in your crab however you like. These two are shore crabs which are green or brown. I have used yellow and the ink of the pen that I used to shade in earlier, which has blended in to create the green colour I was after. The underside of the crab on the left is heavily layered in yellow and I highlighted it with green and orange.

Stage One
My next rockpool creature is very easy to draw. To draw a starfish, I create a rough large circle. In the centre of this circle, I draw a smaller circle, which is the main body. From this small circle, draw five (or more) limbs radiating from it. These limbs can be straight or droop down something like a rock, it is up to you. I have added a stone for my starfish to sit on. If you draw a stone, etc, make sure only part of the top limb is visible as it droops out of sight.

Stage Two

 Draw over in pen and rub out the pencil marks. Down the centre of each limb, draw a line of tiny circles that meets in the centre of the starfish which makes a central circle built up of tiny circles. Then lightly shade in a scribble-like manner on each side of the line of tiny circles and shade in the rock.

Stage Three

Colour in your starfish. I used a light layer of yellow first and then a light layer of orange on top. The rock is grey. And that is all that is needed. Easy as can be.

Stage One

To finish off this week, my final rockpool creature are anemones. I will draw two anemones for you. The one at the top will be a snakelocks anemone and the one below it will be a strawberry anemone. To begin with, I create a rough circle for both and an extra circle for the strawberry anemone's blob-like body.

Stage Two

Drawing the tentacles is a case of drawing as many squiggly spaghetti-like shapes as you like and in whatever direction you like, overlapping without a worry. As the snakelocks anemone is nothing but long tentacles, you can go as mad as you like. For the strawberry anemone, however, the tentacles are short and are restricted to poke out from the top of its body. The body is decorated with lines of tiny circles.

Stage Three

 Draw over in pen next. You can add more or fewer tentacles at this stage if you wish.

Stage Four

Now to colour in your anemones. The snakelocks anemone is vivid green with pink tips, while the strawberry anemone is red with a bit of orange and grey for the body. I have also gone over the outlines of some of the tentacles, spots and edges of the body in pen and have shaded in part of a rock for the anemone to attatch to.

And there you have it. Of course there are many other creatures hiding in the rockpools waiting for you to draw. By the time the tide comes in, you will have pages of drawings of every species that you come across. A rockpool is full of weird and wonderful creatures, the drawing possibilities are endless.