Sunday 23 November 2014

November 2014

The grass is still growing and even here, where wind removes leaves before they turn colour, there are still flowers: Red Campion and Hemp Nettle I noticed in the weed patch where the vegetables grew, and already the European Gorse has abundant blossom, which had attracted a Painted Lady just at the beginning of this week above Nantmor in Snowdonia, on a sunny South-facing slope of small Sessile Oak, Birch, Holly, streamside Sphagnum and Rush.
At home we have been seeing queen Bumble Bees about, taking advantage of late sun.

But thinking back to the summer, our sunny, dry summer, it was the presence once again of Hares in our immediate neighbourhood which was a highlight.
First, there were leverets: at least two teenaged hares to be seen in a reseeded field down the lane. After strolling part-way to meet the school minibus with Robs it was possible to watch them browsing and preening in viridian  Ryegrass and acid yellow Wild Turnip. One of them lolloped up the track and into our drive ahead of me. I crawled after it, so convincingly non-human that it came sniffing and nibbling towards me, before hopping at the last minute into the patch we left to grow ungrazed for clover and trefoils. The morning sun shone ruby through its ears and through the frill- edgings of sorrel flowers.

Later in the year  we would sometimes encounter the adults on Trwyn Bychestyn among the anthills clothed in Thyme.

This is a monoprint after notebook drawings.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Whimbrel at Porth Ysgaden on the north coast of Pen Llyn

MAY 2014

There were around 50 or so of them in a field of sheep, probing like neat curlew. They flew down onto the reefs of rock for a bathe and a preen; their flight down over the low cliff was erratic, twisting violently before landing like curlew and other species do, maybe to evade raptors?

May 20th
After this wet and very windy winter we were lucky in having a benign April and so far, May also.
At least in our area. Nice for lambs.
But the Swallows, back singing and in and out of the barn where they nest, needed some damp soil:
I unwittingly provided this when I raked a large seedbed in the spud patch up the field, sowed several rows of sunflowers, phacelia and swede, and watered them. Immediately the swallows were there, landing to pick up billfuls of mud and rootlets, stems and general building materials. Gwyd says they are doing up a very old nest, built on a metal frame slung on a beam.
The soil has continued to be wet, with thundery showers over the past couple of days,  20mm of rain.

Whitethroat and St Mark's Flies among the Cow Parsley

I have never seen so many of these flies, which loved the panicles of limegreen sycamore flowers, feeding on them as had Queen bumble bees. Beneath were littered the corpses of flies which presumably had mated and/or laid eggs. Just looking them up on the NH museum site it points out, which I hadn't spotted, that the males are smaller and larger eyed than the females. Must look more closely. Eggs are laid in the soil, and I now wonder how I should recognise the grubs when gardening.

16th May, out in the garden with a coffee, and Gwyd announced a Cuckoo calling close by, from the gorsey basalt crag above the house. Despite getting nearer to it, and further from the cacophony of chaffinch goldfinch and greenfinch in the garden--I still couldn't hear him. I have always struggled with this particular frequency and quality of sound. But still I could not resist including my memory of the hollow, oval, warm voice in the little painting  of sounds in the garden and sounds beyond:-

And here is the key to the marks:-

A few days ago I got out at 5.30 in the morning for a cliff walk  round Pen Y Cil and back up through the valley from Porth. Here are (extracts) notes en route:-
Sun rising, first a shaft shooting skywards from behind the highest part of Rhiw. The cirrocumulus disperses, and the whispy cirrus, in a clear sky. Dew, or yesterday's fog.
Pen y Cil-silent. No Wheatears
Little fields at Hen Borth - silent, no Yellowhammer.
Trwyn Dymi (quarry in the cliff, honeysuckle and blackthorn thicket clad the steep slope above the sea) - resonant - Wren, echoing. Whitethroat zizzing below the path.
Swallows snip to and fro. Sing on the fence.
Pair of Blackbirds carrying food, lands on fence tail rising, eye beady, yellow-green pillar in yellow bill.
Idwal chugs out across to lift pots off Ynys Gwylan.
Dancing Whitethroat songflight.
A pair of Shelduck circles repeatedly, silently, low over the slopes and away round the corner.

There are several webs of Lackey caterpillars. The last thing these marginal Blackthorns need is Lackey invasion. Do birds predate them? Probably they are unpalatable. And their habit of dropping en masse must be a good defence.

A mob of Jackdaws bustles round the shadowed space of the quarry, homely chimney-chups, chaw chaw.
and above in the blue spaces are the rooftop aerial twitters of Swallows. They must be nesting here for why else is he so ardently singing to his mate.

In the valley up from Porth Meudwy:-

where the 2 valleys meet, GREEN is so overwhelming and I start to think about green paint, green textures of bird song, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wood Pigeon.
Ash pinnates unfurling at last from sooty bud scales. 
Hawthorns are blowing more than ever, creamy greeny.

Yet walking along Lon Pen y Maes I realise that the overwhelming greenness has diminished, up here in the  sky,  road and sky share  a cerulean-grey, soft, I like the roughish bloom of purply down on Cow Parsley stems, the dew-coated grasses. Red Campion. A Ladybird next to magenta Common Vetch. Buttercups. Ruddy, impudent Wall Pennywort flower spikes, all turning russet, old-bracken-buff.

Sunday 17 November 2013

October 2013

Looking back through the diary for the autumn, there were two vagrants from the East:
on October 9th a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the garden, giving itself away with calls at first, "cheeewit", juicy, almost Coal Tit but stronger. It hunted insects in the low hedge at the base of  radiata pines, and among the bramleys.

     Yellow - browed Warbler   9 Oct 2013

On 23rd October, I heard another calling, from within a thicket of blackthorn and flowering ivy at the top of the track to Porth Meudwy. It kept itself hidden.

24th October. Diary extract, written in the garden:

A fine start, full of birds, little groups flying south-east towards the sun, towards the warm wind; Redwings, Chaffinch, Goldfinches, and among them must have been Brambling, "cheeeeeeeeez".
A Bullfinch "pew     pew" calling from the hawthorns and fuchsia, popped up, eyes shining, (a female), and long body as densely pink-brown as floodwater, flew off, dived in again.
A thin-calling Reed Bunting on one of the fenceposts of the spud patch for several minutes, looking around. Facing South.

Its hard to be anywhere but outside in the garden, and looking all around. Listening.

Scrubbing Parsnips on the trampoline for soup, borlotti beans, good to be getting the winter veg. and autumn migration overhead. Alizarin, orange, ivory, palest green pearly beans.

Nine Missel Thrush flew up over the basalt crag behind the garden, landed on the superstructure of the weatherstation, looking around, then flap-flapping down to the fenceline, over one by one to the tussocky field with Carwyn's ewes. Rattling calls, speckledy, muscular birds, standing up tall.
Something else in the restless air must have distracted me, standing as I was in mid carrot-gather. When I looked again they had gone.

Later that day, mid afternoon drinking tea with Gwyd and Ann Thomas, unable to be indoors because it was cool but sunny, the promise of birds....
a Red Breasted Flycatcher appeared on the lower branches of the pines up the hedge, a plain version, female, cocking tail distinctively as I remember from seeing and drawing a male, on Bardsey , years ago. A tiny bird.
A small rattly call, small " snick" call too.
We called Eddie  Urbanski and Andy Clark who were birding in the area and they came over to confirmed it as the nominate sp.
It remained in the garden but after Gwyd saw it briefly next morning, we didn't see it again.

    Red-breasted Flycatcher. Ty'n Gamdda 24 Nov 2013

November notebook and paintings outside:

               Porth Meudwy. Ash Keys and Rose Hips. Robin ticking alarm. Wren chatter. 
               12 November 2013

    Porth Meudwy. Missel Thrush flies from open fields to the wooded side-valley. 12 Nov. '13

    Redshank and Ringed Plover feeding along the edge of tide rising over mud, Pwllheli                 harbour.     14 Nov '13

Wednesday 21 August 2013

April 2013

April 2013

I spent a week with some friends in Seahouses on the Northumberland coast.
There were such strong onshore winds during our visit that soil was stripped from newly sprouting corn and deposited onto the shore below. It lay on the blades of laminaria and wracks and in tidelines of soil on the upper shore. It drifted across the roads, and at times the air was full of it.
Migrants appeared on the field which now resembled a desert with miniature dune features: Wheatears, Yellow Wagtail, a Black Redstart which sang a gritty phrase from the drystone wall.

Perched on rocks, below the sandblasting wind, watching Eiders explore barnacled inlets and diving in turbid water, somehow finding a crab, a cushion star, another crab.
Beyond, crouching beyond the spray-flung waves, are the Farnes. Seemed impossible that we would make a crossing that week.

We coincided, that middle week of April, with returning Kittiwakes, whose nest colony is on the low cliffs just South of Seahouses.

At first they gathered in a bouncing group offshore, and spent increasing amounts of time coming to rocks as the tide fell to rest and preen. There were forays by some birds to the chalky nest remains, a circling dance with only a slight pause on dry land.The focus of this circling changed as the week went on, with its centre of gravity becoming more landward, and on Friday about 100 birds spent all day on their nest, quarreling with trespassers, greeting a partner, just resting quietly, circling out over the sea on a graceful, curved oval, tilted flightpath.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

March 2013

March 14th 2013
Extracts from the Sound Diary:

Turning the soil below an airoplane sky full of crisscross cirrus.
Glinting sunny starlings bunch and stretch, pour over the hedges, lengthily as a snake; hunting the fields where the grass is at its shortest, beaded yesterday with hail, today bloomed with fawn stalks. They are spreading  fertilizer at Tir Glyn.

Dunnocks are singing silvery in the quiet hedge.
Robin sings a drier phrase, hesitating to throw himself headlong into the freezethawsundarkhurtlingair.

Cattle mooing in metal sheds.
Speckly oval flinging to and fro flock of starlings, clotting for a while on wires;
shaking out, gently falling on the turf. Stippled green waves send up magpies
rout crows. Stippled green blue green egg of birds, rug of birds, snake of birds off they rush to a new field, rise glinting, drift, settle.

March 13th
In Pwllheli for Rob's schools concert.

At dusk on the freshwater side of the Cob, a Water Rail  fossicking at the base of reeds. Stripey Snipe got up, and the rail slunk among the stems.

March 15th

In Pwllheli again, this time with Gwyd- we got into the office of the Sofa Seller, with a beautiful view of the sluice, where a Great Created Grebe dived. Do they breathe out as they hunt, the trace of bubbles would suggest steady exhaling. Or is it the air trapped in feathers?

March 18th
With Jan, looking for Wheatears on Bychestyn. There was at least one Skylark singing, Meadow Pipits parachuting, but no Wheatears.
We watched first one Peregrine, on the cairn on Pen Y Cil, then a smaller bird low down on the Parwyd, presumably the male. As we admired his dark blue-grey back and solid black helmet in which his yellow cere seemed prominent,a flutter nearby made him, and us, aware of a Black Redstart , which flew and bounced and quivered from crag to crag.

March 20th
First day of Spring, sunny after a dull start, and a bitter East wind.
On my way back from the village with milk, was glad to be on my bicycle, not least because I was able to hear, in the hedge at the top of Porth track, the first Chiffchaff I have seen this year. Mum says a number were seen on the south Cornwall coast last week. The hen Chaffinches (possibly the cocks too) make a "wheep" call similar to Chiffchaff, but the reedier sound of today's bird is distinct. Lots of wing-flipping, which helps to distinguish it from Willow W.

A lizard with the end of its tail missing, basking on the bank along the track to the house.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

From stubblefield to studio

18 February 2013

It has been sunny and windless, and On Trwyn Bychestyn a Rock Pipit sang his parachuting display flight.
Song Thrush and Chaffinch singing in the garden, the ground drying, crocus open in the sun.
The first two Ladybirds I have seen this year.
Everyone says its nice to have it dry at last. Walking is easier, we all feel optimistic.

                                            Field painting, acrylic. A3

                                             Monoprinting using paper stencils

                                             Field paintings, acrylic, all A3

                                             Detail of monoprint

                                             Detail of painting

                                            Detail of painting

As always with my sort of process of working I'm behind the event, so the studio work is still mulling over the January stubbles and sheep fields, full of feeding Lapwing, Fieldfare, Redwing, Chaffinches, Golden Plover. I'm working on another monoprint and thought it may be interesting to show it under construction and some of the acrylic field paintings (from the car).

Sunday 10 February 2013


                                          Golden Plover and Oystercatchers, Porth Neigwl

February 10th 2013

The first day of my blog.  Raining. Studio day, monoprint of stubblefield birds from paintings I made several weeks back near Porth Neigwl. A flock of 100 Lapwing are feeding in a field on the way to Rhiw, a reseeded field which is wet-lying and earthworms are easy to find. Gwyd found them there, with Curlew, on his way to and from work, stonefacing a building renovation on Rhiw.