Wednesday, 20 January 2010

wild places

At last I've got into gear and am painting pictures, and I'm pleased with the way this one is going. It's a fox catching hailstones in its mouth. It was something that Geraldine Taylor spotted on the Zoo Banks, on the Downs. Assuming I don't mess the picture up, it'll be in the Bristol Review of Books and in Geraldine's new work-in-progress book.

There's been a lot of nature around the place lately. I walked along the Severn estuary on Sunday, exploring the bit where the railway tunnel and the new bridge intersect.

This is a shaft that was dug to tunnel outwards from, and is now used to pump water out of the tunnel. The one on the Welsh side is more impressive, because it pumps out the Great Spring, which was discovered in dramatic circumstances during the construction of the tunnel, and which has in its time supplied an ordnance factory, a paper mill, and, now, the brewery that makes Becks and Stella beer.

Anyway, the recent snows have been thoroughly washed away by the rain, and the sun shone brightly, and the birds agreed with me that it felt like spring, and were singing in a chirpy sort of way all over the place. A couple of blue tits were bobbing round in circles, occasionally performing sudden vertical climbs. Similarly, a grey squirrel in next door's garden was performing high-speed circles punctuated by great leaps into the air. Lord knows what that was about; perhaps it was art.

And the magpies in the plane tree at the front of the house have been repairing the nest where they reared their single chick last year, before it was killed by the local fox. Gratifyingly, the car parked below the nest was spattered with twigs and magpie crap. It is this car's owner who cleared the snow before driving away last week, throwing the snow onto the footpath where I had cleared the snow. Karma!


  1. Nice to hear of a magpie being on the receiving end of nest raiding, for a change.

    We have an old hedge, dense and overgrown, that runs at the bottom of our garden and then turns sharp left, and runs along the side of the field behind us.

    Every year it was filled with songbird nests. Early in spring they would get raided by the large colony of local magpies from the treeline across the field.

    Then the hedge growth would get thicker, and the second brood would usually be protected against their ravages by denser foliage, and so the songbird population survived.

    Last year the new owner of the house that the field backs on to, took a chainsaw to the old hedge. That was just before the second brood was due. He cut the thing rigth down and back, until he got it looking like he wanted, a typical suburban decorative hedge.

    The nests were cut to shreds and so there was no cover left for the few birds that survived. The magpies had a field day.

    He also tried to cut down the bit of hedge by our garden. I told him if he did I'd report his previous actions to the RSPB.

    So he left it alone. That might save a few birds for this year.

    Still, he got a nice view for the month a year he lives there, so I suppose it is all worthwhile.


  2. PS. The squirrel was more than likely snapping for flying insects. They do like them.... :-)

  3. Our birds suddenly seem to feel spring in the air. I do love the colours you use, I'm pleased to read that you've got into gear again.

    Out magpie population is getting bigger, especially opposite the marshes which are a protected zone so there are a lot of water birds and ducks which will be nesting there. It will be interesting to see how the guardiens of the marsh will deal with it.

    There's nothing like a nice bit of Karma!!

  4. Love the drawing...

    I'm both very impressed, and very jealous :)


  5. Oh no! Perhaps there is a god!

    Caroline xxx

  6. Love the fox painting too. I used to feed one at arm's length with scraps of meat at the old house. But his tastes progressed until the day I found myself saving some fresh prawns for him, and decided that I'd eat the prawns and fox could have half a tin of cat food. He was not impressed. We had a rabbit at the time, a giant of a beast which we'd bought as a lop-eared dwarf but which quickly grew into a 15lb titan with one erect ear. One night we heard terrible shrieks coming from his pen and looked out to discover that he was seeing off two young foxes. Never underestimate rabbits, I say. I don't think he ever went to Guernsey.

  7. Would your hedge-hacking neighbour be an Englishman, by any chance, Chrissie? -that sounds awful, and probably unlawful too; or if not, should be. I got the tree surgeons to leave the tree at the front alone, because the magpies were nesting in it; they said that they were obliged to leave trees that had nests in... as they have a contract for the whole of the city I guess that it is impossible for them to do all the tree cutting before the nesting season... I wonder about the leaping squirrel; not a very insecty time of year, but a bee did fly past the other day when the sun came out.

    My rural friend's neighbour traps the magpies, Anji; I still feel ambivalent about them- lov the sinner, hate the sin, and so on...

    Thank you, Stace!

    It's a BMW, too, Caroline, which reminds me of the post-crash joke about "what's the difference between a pigeon and a stockbroker", which could be updated to ask the difference between a pigeon and a banker, except that with bonuses still there, the banker could probably still manage a deposit on a Porsche too...

    Fussy foxes, Graham? I threw chorizo down to the young fox who was resident in the garden a few years ago, but he turned his nose up at it; it was LIDL chorizo, and I guess he was used to Waitrose finest, since we're a bit posh round these parts.

  8. @Dru. Funnily enough, yes. From Birmingham.

    @Anji. "It will be interesting to see how the guardiens of the marsh will deal with it."

    The usual way, pet.

    The various animial/bird charities actually do a great deal of predator control.

    It is, after all, a vital tool.

    But they are totally hypocritical, in that they will do their level best to deny or play down that side of things, in case it troubles those rather naive members of the donating public who believe that Natural Wildlife is all lovely-dovey cuddly fauna being cute and not hurting one another.

    And as those people pour a lot of money into organsiaztions like the RSPB and RSPCA, that lie will continue.

    If it's a choice between reality and money, reality will go down the pan.


  9. Well it's nice to know that foxes have standards, wherever they are.