August 2011

 

Thursday 2nd 

Large Copper & Swallowtail on Meadowsweet

Here are two real rarities, both of which are incredibly beautiful butterflies and worthy of a painting.

They are quite different from each other but have one thing in common, both species are local to the fens of Cambridgeshire.

The swallowtail is more widespread and also inhabits the Norfolk Broads and parts of Surrey. It has been reported in other parts of the country including here in the South West but these could be escapees from butterfly farms where, because of their large size and beautiful markings, they are always popular. We have plenty of meadowsweet however, a beautifully scented plant much loved by flying insects and looking lovely at the moment in full bloom in our hedgerows, woodland edges and damp areas.



 

Thursday 9th

GOLDEN PLOVER

One of our most attractive waders, the golden plover, is a regular winter visitor to the South West’s reservoirs, lakes and estuaries. It comes down here in very large numbers especially during severe winters in the north.

Although seen occasionally during the summer months in suitable nesting territory on Bodmin Moor, the furthest west it breeds is Dartmoor.

From a distance feeding birds can be easily recognised by their typical plover 'run and snatch' technique, which often results in earthworms breaking off at the head but it is a very successful method for the capture of surface prey such as beetles and fly larvae found amongst the grass.

The very strong black, gold and white markings is the breeding plumage during the summer months, as in this week’s painting. In the winter the plumage is a lot more subdued and lacks the black markings.


 

Thursday 16th 
Harvest Mice

Some of the most interesting and delightful residents of our fields and hedgerows are harvest mice.Having kept harvest mice briefly in the past, after finding a partially destroyed nest with two almost fully grown youngsters in which we looked after for a few days to make sure they were eating properly and not injured in any way before returning them to the wild, I was particularly struck by their climbing ability. They are able to run up the flimsiest grasses and stalks as harvest mice are unique amongst our mammals in that they possess a truly prehensile tail which they use effectively as a third limb.It was thought that the harvest mouse was on the decline due to more intensive farming methods, its traditional habitat being cereal fields. However, it seems they have adapted well to change, moving into reed beds and hedgerows in which to live out their short but active life.



 

Thursday 23rd 

Dozing ~ Tawny Owlets

This week’s painting is a pencil and watercolour study of young tawny owls, subjects I never really tire of painting. Having hand reared and been in close contact with many tawny owl chicks over the years you cannot help but become very fond of them. Unfortunately some of the baby owls that were brought to us by well-meaning folk were not lost or abandoned at all. Young tawnys are very mobile even before they can fly and will leave the nest, usually a tree hole, to explore the surrounding area, often climbing down onto the ground where on occasion they also nest. So when found in this situation they are thought to be lost but in fact the parents are fully aware of where their youngsters are and will soon seek them out to feed them.