Saturday, 29 August 2015

Aug 28th Norwich

Moth trapping at Will's
My parents and I were invited to Will the Mousehold Heath warden's BBQ party at his place. It was quite a turn up with a few familiar faces from Mousehold as well as some of Will's other friends and family. The BBQ was good with so much to eat that I soon felt full to burst. As it got dark, Will brought out the entertainment, the moth trap. We caught a few things but I was having problems with my camera. It just does not like the dark and bright or dull artificial lights and the images just came out fuzzy. These were the best out of the shots I managed to get.
Orange Swift

Old Lady
The highlight of the evening was an old lady moth. This was a big moth and took a while to capture it. Once we all had a good look at it, I brought it inside to Will's kitchen for some shots. It would not keep still and my shots were terrible. Taking the lid off the pot was a bad idea and it flew around the kitchen. Thankfully, it only went as far as the kitchen window and it settled down, posing well. Instead of retrieving the moth off the window, I decided to take more photos. They were still bad though. I ended up using the flash and I got this great shot. I don't like to use the flash on wildlife as I fear it will harm or terrify them, so I use it only as a last resort.

Back home, I found this canary-shouldered thorn outside my front door. It must know I'm a Norwich City fan!
Canary-shouldered Thorn

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Aug 26th Strumpshaw Fen

Grey Heron
It was a quiet yet windy morning at Strumpshaw. I had enough time for a quick visit to Fen Hide before I started my shift, spotting a sparrowhawk along the way, but there wasn't much about apart from a heron, some house martins and the odd mallard. As I left the heron behind to wade about in the water, I came across two small common lizards trying to warm themselves on the path's wooden border despite the wind and the lack of warm sunlight. Continuing my walk back to Reception Hide, I stopped to notice a Chinese water deer in the pond dipping pond. It saw me and we stood like statues, eyes staring at each other. But just as I pressed the button to get a photograph of it, the deer turned and ruined the shot.

Common Lizard
Another Common Lizard
Grey Heron at Reception Hide
At Reception Hide, there was barely anyone making a visit, only a few people came to say hi. It was a bit quiet on the bird front too, with no harriers and only a single kingfisher fly-by. I did see a little egret, a little grebe, a great crested grebe, a common tern, a couple of herons (one was with us all morning), cormorants, a couple of mute swans, the odd coot and moorhen and lots of mallards and woodpigeons. By midday, the heavens opened and a heavy downpour made it a horrid end to a slow morning.

Male Mallard in eclipse phase plumage
Male Mallard looking handsome again
Female Mallard
Taking a bath!
Great Crested Grebe
Little Egret
Mute Swan
Common Tern

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Aug 25th Salthouse and Cley

Salthouse Beach
The autumn migration is now under way! Birds are on the move across Europe as they begin their journeys south. This includes many birds that only visit this country as a stop over or lose directions and end up here by mistake. Anything can turn up and this thought gets birdwatchers like me excited as some of these birds may have travelled from half way across the world. It is early days at the moment, but there has already been some interesting birds reported in Norfolk this weekend that grabs my attention. A booted warbler at Salthouse on the North Norfolk coast was the big highlight and I was preparing to go see it myself. Unfortunetly, this small pale brown bird from extreme North-East Europe had not appeared since Sunday, but there were other things to try and see, if I was lucky enough.

Yellow Horned Poppy
When Mum and I arrived at the beach at Salthouse, I asked some passing birdwatchers if there was anything about. We were told that a juvenile pied flycatcher was hanging around some bushes further up. These bushes were being watched from all sides by mostly men with scopes and cameras waiting for it to show itself. Pied flycatchers are more of a passing visitor to Norfolk and I have never seen one before. What I really want to see is the male, looking spectacular in its black and white plumage. But this was a juvenile bird which is brown with black wingtips, dull in comparison to the adult male bird I was hoping for, but it would have to do. Annoyingly, this individual chosed to show itself when I was not looking and when I was, it was gone again within the dense branches of the bushes. It gave me the run around! I might have caught a quick glimpse of it at one point, but I am not sure. In the end, I gave up and went over to a colony of sand martins in a cliff nearby.
Golden Plover

As we made our way back to the car, we came across a group of birders crowding by a scrape of water. They were puzzling over a lone golden plover feeding by the waters edge. They were thinking it was an American or Pacific golden plover, but I am pretty sure it was just a regular European golden plover, not as rare but still lovely to look at in any case.

Waders everywhere!
After lunch at Cley, we made our usual visit to the hides on the reserve. There was plenty of waders out on the pools today, but surprisingly there were no sign of any avocets or spoonbills. Black-tailed godwits, ruffs, lapwing, dunlin a single greenshank and a few ringed plover were busy feeding and covered the landscape of the pools in large flocks. We also saw a little stint feeding with the dunlin and a snipe probing its long bill deep into the mud. The little stint was tiny and was dwarfed by the other birds surrounding it. This small wader is an autumnal migrant, mainly juvenile birds arriving from the breeding grounds around the Arctic Circle where they were hatched. This bird could possibly have travelled as far as Arctic Russia to get here.
Little Stint

Black-tailed Godwit
Canada Goose
Ringed Plover
Godwit, Ruff and Ringed Plover
Kestrel being mobbed!
As well as waders, we were in for treat as we saw, not one, not two, not three, but four species of birds of prey at Cley today. First a kestrel hovered above the pool, attracting the attention of some lapwings who went over to mob it until it was out of sight. Then a female sparrowhawk swooped low over the islands, causing all the birds to take to the air like a snow globe. Then a marsh harrier soared by and finally, a hobby came into the snow globe of birds and grabbed a dunlin on the wing, taking it to a post to pluck it apart. Thankfully, I missed this gruesome scene, but I did see the hobby flying over the car park with something in its talons as we returned to the visitor centre. It won't be long until this summer visitor will make its way south with all the other birds. This year's autumn migration has only just begun, who knows what exciting species will turn up. It is looking like it will be a great migration season already!
Marsh Harrier
A snow globe of waders!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

How To Draw: Slugs and Snails

Ok, slugs and snails may not sound like the hardest or interesting of subjects to draw, but snail shells can be. They might be the gardener's worst enemy, but once you get down to their level, they appear like slimy aliens from another planet when you get a close up view of one. Last week at Titchwell in the pouring rain, they were everywhere and I couldn't help but get interested into the world of snails. I have grown to like them.

Stage One
Drawing slugs and snails is fairly easy. With no limbs, there is very little to draw, which makes these molluscs a great subject for those who say that they can not draw at all. To draw a slug, all you need is to draw a cigar-shape with one end thinner and pointed. For a snail, just add a circle on top for the shell.

Stage Two
Next you need to adjust the shape and add the two eye stalks and the feelers by the mouth end. At the bottom of the slug and snail, draw a line an inch above the bottom edge to represent the rim of the foot (the underside of the snail/slug) and scribble in lines across most of the body to represent the texture of the snail's and slug's skin. Slugs don't have shells, but instead have a smooth area of skin near the head end and so you need to seperate this area from the rest of the body and draw a circle inside this area, which is a hole that the slug uses to breath with. To draw the snail's shell, start by drawing the rim of the shell. For the spiral, start it at the end of the line created for the shell's rim (the end that isn't connected to the main outline of the shell) and draw the top half of a number 2 and spiral inwards with space inbetween each turn.

Stage Three
Redraw the outlines in pen and rub the pencil lines out. For the slug, I shaded heavily black, leaving small gaps to represent the skin's bumpy texture on the body. Leave the circle inside the smooth patch of skin (which is completely covered black) bare. For the snail, the body is lightly shaded in with small lines drawn along the rim of the foot. The shell is shaded in various shades from light to dark, depending on the shell's pattern. A shell pattern might be blotchy or stripy depending on the species that you are drawing.

Stage Four
Colour in your slug and snail (though I didn't need to do that for my slug). I coloured in the snail's body with a light shade of yellow with a light layer of grey and brown on top of it. The shell was first layered with a heavy layering of yellow, then orange, then patches of brown and black and finally, I went over to highlight the detail again with my pen.

Drawing Stage
 Not all shells are spiralled to one side. My next set of sketches demonstrates two variaties of snail shells as well as the opposite side of the type of shell my garden snail from the previous sketch has. The pond snail (top) has a pointed shell, which looks like an egg with three blocks (each smaller than the last) attached to one end of it. The smaller pointed shell of the tiny door snail (right) is like a thin cone divided into segments with lines going lengthways from one end of the shell to the other and a circle for the shell's entrance hole. Lastly, the shell of a brown-lipped snail (bottom) is a circle with a D-shape for the entrance hole and is divided up into curving lines for the lip of the shell and for the stripped pattern.

Pen Stage

Redraw the outline in pen. Shade in the stripes and for the door snail, the texture.

Colouring Stage

Finally, colour in your shells. I used a pen to lightly create any grooves for the shell's texture. And that is all I had to do.

As I said earlier, slugs and snails can be the easiest subject to draw. As they are so slow, it will give you plenty of time to study them, but when you do, pay more attention to the shell. These are some of the most beautiful structures in nature and is worth a closer look and to practice drawing with. So get out there, find a shell and draw it as many times as you can. A perfect subject for beginners and professional artists alike.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Aug 19th Strumpshaw Fen

Chinese Water Deer
After yesterday, it was not surprising that the ground was wet underfoot. Thankfully, as the morning progressed, so did the warmth of the sun and yesterday's wet weather was soon forgotten. It turned out to be a nice day. Before my shift started, I made a quick visit to the Fen Hide. A pair of Chinese water deer were grazing in the freshly strimmed open area where a reedbed once stood (as part of the rotatory system to encourage new growth). I believe this is a mother and baby, as one of them was slightly smaller and seems to be 'playing' around, yet not straying far from the other. A young marsh harrier was watching them from a nearby bush, calling for food to be delivered its way, but it never came.
Affection between mother and calf?
Marsh Harrier
A large skein of Greylags
Cobber the resident Black Swan poses for the camera

Everywhere you look, berries were ripening on most of the bushes. From blackberries to rose hips, autumn is showing signs that it is just round the corner now. All these berries and other fruit just looks delicious, but I resist the temptation of picking any of them, leaving them for the wildlife to feast on as they need it more than me.
Guelder Rose Berries
Rose Hips

Say Cheese!!
Reception Hide was packed full of models ranging from adults to children with suitcases of coustumes when I arrived for my shift this morning. They were preparing for a photo shoot around the reserve for a magazine for Natural England (I think). A photographer was busy at work in front of the hide, taking pictures of the models posing as a family admiraring the beauty of the Norfolk countryside.

Little Egret
We weren't intruded by the photo shoot for long and soon we were back watching kingfishers, marsh harriers, herons, cormorants, a little egret, a juvenile great crested grebe and lots of mallards in peace. I was busy showing children and adults alike all these birds through the reserve's telescope and directing them with their binoculars to where each bird of interest was. I was getting into full expert mode, teaching them how to identify each species. Some of the children were really engaged to what I had to say and were excited when they got to see a kingfisher that I found for them through the scope. This is the joy of volunteering!
Juvenile Great Crested Grebe

Willow Emerald Damselfly
After lunch, I quickly went over to the other side of the reserve to try and find some willow emerald damselflies. This is one of Strumpshaw's most recent colonist species and they are quite an attraction for our dragonfly enthusiastic visitors. They seem to only be located in a small dyke between the small boardwalk and the gates of the railway line leading out of the reserve. It can be tricky to spot one, but once you have your eye in you can end up seeing plenty of them. Willow emeralds are large shiny green damselflies and are one of the few damselflies not to lay eggs in water. Instead, they lay their eggs into incisions in the bark of overhanging branches, which form distinctive oval galls. As well as these impressive beauties, I also managed to spot their smaller cousin, the emerald damselfly, which was also wonderful to look at.
Emerald Damselfy