Archives for category: Genera: Natural History

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Published by Ebury Press

It isn’t often I get the chance to read an ‘adult’ book – and it is very rare for me to read a biography. I am half way through this volume (I’m reading a proof I found behind the till a little while ago), and am beginning to think that I really should watch the books that are published for that genre, so I don’t miss out, as I nearly did with this.one.

This volume is full of small vignettes of Chris Packham’s childhood. He refers to it as being ‘A Memoir’, and so it is. The small stories of his youth are not in chronological order, but this is of no matter. They are wonderful pieces of observation and glorious writing. These are interspersed with small much more recent introspective pieces… which I suspect will give the book a depth that isn’t yet apparent; I haven’t finished the book – only 153 pages into it. Not long after I began the book I started ripping up bits of toilet paper (the only spare paper I had to hand), to mark passages that particularly caught my attention…

The Farmer June 1975

Occasionally after this reiterated exchange the boy would suddenly start to tell him about some bird or other. He’d talk absurdly fast, obliviously tripping through his words, always looking down at the step, he’d tell the mat about something that totally switched him on, he’d lurch from timid and backward to a barely contained mania, rambling too quickly, excitedly crashing through a dialogue that gave no room for conversation and then, inevitably, punctuate this cascade of unsolicited enthusiasm with a question. He’d finally glance at him to ask if he’d seen a ‘whatever-it-was’. Which he hadn’t because he knew nothing about birds…

The Bird Saturday 14th June 1975

Twelve hours later my bedroom was a different place. It had a Kestrel in it. Perched on my jiggery cjextaewgae5p43paw. It was gawky, half-dressed, its jumper ruffed up over its baggy trousers and sockless feet, an in-betweener with a tetchy temper, tufted with sneezy down. I could smell it. Sweet, musty, dry and when it shook, a cloud of glittering dust puffed into the shaft of evening sun that cut through a crack in the pegged-together curtains. I could smell its droppings too, or mutes as falconers call them; wet and papery, they had slapped Marc hard across his starred cheek, blotted his sparkling corkscrew hair and blistered his guitar….

The Dream August 1975

His chest lightened as he banked up hard, the air riffling his feathers, tickling his legs, he squeezed his toes together and heard his wing tips whizzing as he belted into a big curve out of the shade into the dazzling sun, slipping across the sky so fast it made his nose run. And then into an instant white-out, a shocking cold on his eyes, tearing tiny tears from the mist, racing in little rivulets over his back and down his tail and through the fluxing honey glow of the facing sun all strewn over with a tracery of fine thread, then the world flashing far beneath him as he hurled out into a vast canyon of puffy grey vapour.

This volume has taken me back to the sounds and smells of my youth. The sounds of a milk float, bottles gently clinking…television shows I had forgotten and more recently describes the all encompassing over load of my senses as I have handled birds of prey over the years, the sights, touch, sounds, smells and almost taste of birds. Its an extraordinary piece of writing.

Why Ebury  Press didn’t use a close up of a kestrel for the cover of this book, (or the photograph above) I really don’t know – the hardback is available now with the cover I have shown at the beginning of this post. This really is an extraordinary. It is so much more than ‘A Memoir’.

 

 

 

 

 

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Published by Thames and Hudson

This is a splendid large octavo hardback volume full of Yuval Zommer’s wonderful pictures of bugs, both large and small with notes on their natural history. It really is a superb volume, dramatic and lively.

I suppose officially it is for younger readers around five or six or so years of age. Actually it is one of those books that may well be enjoyed and loved by anyone of any age who enjoys Yuval’s art work – it is a wonderful volume.

Event Information:

On Wednesday the 6th of April 2016 Yuval will be at Waterstones Finchley Road O2 to talk about this book, and to sign copies at 2 o’clock – a wonderful opportunity to meet this rather extraordinary author.

Other titles: The Big Blue Thing on the Hill and more recently 100 Bones….

Published by Chicken House

Not yet Published – March 2016

This is a book for every one who is into insects, in particular coleoptera – otherwise known as beetles! I have to admit to enjoying the small creatures of this life, though I once decided that hissing cockroaches weren’t a particular creature I wanted to handle.

This is a wonderful glorious celebration of all things with six legs – an adventure story mixed with sentient beetles, natural history, science fiction and danger. A brilliant book that is due for publication in March next year. The descriptions of the beetles are particularly good and include the following: dung beetlesjewel beetlesgiraffe-necked weevilsGoliath, stag, bombardier,fireflies, lavender beetles, ladybirds, Atlas, Hercules, titan, rhinoceros beetles, carpet, death watch, tiger and tok-tokkies – most of which I have never heard of though I should have seen some of the giraffe-necked weevils in Madagascar. Sadly we seemed to have missed them, probably the wrong time of year.

I have taken some pictures of some of the beetles off the Internet to illustrate this post – those depicted are indicated in itallic – I haven’t yet become talented enough to attach descriptions to pictures in my blog, but you will without doubt be able to determine which insect is which.

I have taken the liberty of using a photo of Sir David Attenborough to show the relative size of the Goliath – so much more interesting than a beetle sitting on someone’s hand. The use of the photograph doesn’t of course indicate Sir David’s approval or otherwise of the book – I just thought it was a good indication of the size…

I trust that Chicken House will ensure this has a suitable cover when it is published. There are various proposals on the Internet, so I am unsure which will be used. As a result there is a pciture of a rhinocerous beetle at the beginning of this post, as one of these is so important in the story.

Published by Scholastic

Not yet published at time of going to post: October 2015

Foxes; those often solitary looking characters that sometimes trot across our paths – their lives on the edge of the world of people.

Their world cut through by roads, hunting, tragedy and death often just a whisker of a moment away.

This is the start of a gloriously detailed trilogy.
An extraordinary story from the author of The Tygrine Cat and The Tygrine Cat on the Run that was published a few years ago.

Once again Inbali sinks the reader into another world, subtly enticing us down into the story whilst developing our senses as we become entranced with another species…

Isla, a young fox cub is suddenly alone and frantically searches for her family, initially finding tantalising wafts of their scent, which disappear as they did. It is a story of adventure written by one of the most descriptive authors. Written in the first person Isla’s tale is written with colour and sensitivity and you cannot help but follow her search to try to find her family once more.

It’s a magical story by an author who isn’t given the recognition she should.

The second and third volumes are due out in October 2016 and 2017 –

I hate buying new shoes and dislike even more having to wear them. So, after finding that my toes were beginning to emerge through holes in my work shoes and into the view of customer’s and worse Harrod’s management’s view, I purchased three new pairs. Two for work, including one pair that were advertised as particularly flexible. At the end of the day, I wasn’t sure that being flexible was necessarily a good thing. I found myself hobbling, and almost unable to walk the half-mile down to the canal from the station, thence around to the bridge and down the canal path and back home at the end of a late shift. It was around nine thirty in the evening and the gloaming was spreading out from under the trees and I arrived home just as the odd blackbird gave their last warning trill as I walked up to the house to be greeted by Pakka on the stairs.

We had a quiet ‘passion’; she head butting my head with a crack and collapsing onto her side in ecstasy. Standing again and beginning to purr as I rubbed at the base of her tail, twisting around to rub her nose and face against mine. Then rolling over and pushing her head hard against my glasses so that my nose felt bruised and a large smudge of Pakka-ness was left across the lenses. Another collapse onto her side and then the tale-telling flicker of her tail just before she swiped at my hand, rolled over and pulled it into her front paws, ears back, mouth open and back legs going in for the rabbit-kill – kicking at the base of my hand… With a little encouragement and only a little loss of blood I persuaded my friend to let go, and she bounded up the stairs, only to stop at the top and stare back down at me.

I moved to return to the hall and she came down again, only to slip back up the stairs as I reached down to stroke her. It seems there was a body to be admired. Or a mouse for me to catch, a shrew perhaps who had managed to get under my tote boxes and was refusing to come out, or perhaps just a vole’s body, or maybe the ultimate prize of a small pile of feathers drifting across the carpet to be admired and then vacuumed into oblivion.

There was nothing, in the study, apart from some marks on the carpet as though something had been pulled across it erratically, the pile raised like the hairs on the back of a Rhodesian Ridge-Back dog and my neatly piled papers, ready for filing had somehow spread themselves over the floor, sliding into one another as though the result of some Teutonic plate movement. The landing was also surprisingly bereft of a body.

The bedroom though looked as though the house had been burgled. There was bird guano liberally spotted over my blanket, someone or something, had run over the bed and the burglar had obviously found my choice of earrings not to his liking. The wooden bowls in which I intermittently drop the day’s earrings at the end of the day, along with one or two small boxes, had been thrown to the floor, and their entrails were mixed together in a tangled web of silver chains, earring butterflies, dangling earrings and studs. There were a couple of feathers lying nonchalantly amongst the debris. I expressed my surprise that there was no body to be seen and asked, reasonably I thought, “Well, have you eaten it?” With a look of disgust she led me into my en-suit – a small room just off my bedroom. It contains, as you might expect of a small loo, a basin and a shower (it really is a very small room, certainly not big enough to swing the proverbial cat, should you want to. The room had been recently refurbished and amongst other things has a nice new floor.  This too was bereft of even a feather of a body.

The conversation continued thus: “Well, there isn’t a body in here either, what have you done with it? Why are we in here when there isn’t anything here, there isn’t a body anywhere….” It was then that she made me look into the shower cubicle – by standing on her back legs and resting her front paws on the glass. The first thing I noticed was a large pile of guano in the farthest corner of the shower against the wall…I then realised what Pakka was trying to get me to see.

A large starling was sitting quietly on the soap tray quietly studying us both. I caught Pakka and carried her out into the landing and shut the door and then wondered about how to catch this unwilling visitor. It was now almost dark and I didn’t want to have to spend the night chasing a bird around my bedroom. I closed the en-suit’s door and then picked up a towel to drop it over the bird’s head. It was then that I realised that this is usually done from behind (in falconry circles) and he had his back to the wall. Needs must as they say, so I stepped into the box and encouraged him to fly and he flew to the strip above the shower door. I was able then to reach up and poke his bottom with a finger, and he flew quietly to the window.There I dropped the towel over his head and carried him carefully against my chest down stairs, his head carefully covered, claws gripping my hand, heart hammering into my palm.

I went through to the French window and opened the door and considered my new friend. He had flown without any problem and his legs were all ok and though silent, (he hadn’t made a sound), I considered him fit enough to be released. So without more ado, I closed the window and dropped the towel from his head. I held him for a few moments in my hands, his head poking out from my fingers, just to allow him to acclimatise and get used to the night.

It was cooler, much darker and the time when diurnal creatures have gone to bed, and the nocturnal creatures were just starting to start their business. He looked around with interest. I wished him well, and opened my fingers so that he was just resting on my palms. Suddenly with a rustle he was in the air flying straight down the garden and with a cry of “’Ank – ooo!” he disappeared over the fence. With relief I returned indoors to slip off my new flexible shoes that I haven’t worn since…. to find Pakka curled in a ball at the base of my bed.

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My house backs onto a path that runs down beside the river Gade, which encircles the common. Every summer around June the common is home to a herd of cattle. I think they are young heifers, I hope being bred for milk.

Pakka and I have always enjoyed them and when younger Pakka has sat at my feet on the common, whilst I sat on an old ant hill reading and they have come up to investigate…suddenly blowing down my neck, or gently chewing my jacket. If they came around in front of us Pakka would walk off to sit under one of the bramble bushes to watch whilst I made friends with that year’s mob.

Once one of them started to follow Pakka, not very fast, but with her head down, snuffling at her. Pakka moved away only to find the cow trotting after her. After a few seconds Pakka made her way back to the gate and slipped under and then sat and looked back at the curious cow.

We have used them, when a dog has persisted in following us, its owner overly inquisitive about my walking with a feline. ‘It’s fine, he doesn’t chase cats…’

Which it would be, if Pakka didn’t regularly chase dogs, and so we would move amongst the cattle and because dogs regularly don’t show cows respect, and get kicked for their trouble, so the owners would call and they would away.

I once had a lovely fifteen minutes or so talking to a cow that was braver than its peers. Having allowed me to rub its nose it then allowed me to run my hand down its jaw and thence down her throat. She then stretched her neck out and I was able to run my hand up and down whilst she half closed her eyes…quite extraordinary.

I like to believe my affinity with cattle comes from my ancestry – both sides had farmers, (though I don’t remember meeting my maternal grandfather), and that somehow some of his understanding of cattle came down to me. Anyway, I like bovines and like to claim the cattle on the common as ‘mine’.

I was returning from work one evening a few weeks ago and instead of climbing over the lock (I had a few bags with me), I walked over the lock bridge and noticed my cows milling around one of the gates onto the common and thought I would go across and look them over. I didn’t intend going on the common, as I had shopping, but nether the less went across and as I crossed the bridge over the river I noticed a man standing up on his bicycle just outside the perimeter of the group. Standing still. I didn’t think much about it but went up to the gate to make a fuss of the cattle. He didn’t move. Didn’t speak. Then I realised he was wanting to get to the gate, but the herd was blocking him. So I went through the gate and encouraged them to break the mêlée in half, almost to the point of pushing them apart, four on one side, and the remaining 20 or so on the other. At which point the cyclist perked up quite a bit and pushed his bike forward, only to have one of the smaller group decide she would rather be with the others. Which made him panic a bit. So he stopped again.

I sighed at the cow and encouraged them all to go over so that the herd was together…and the man promptly cycled hard up to the gate and through…

It has been a bit of a month for creatures… I watched a zebra spider hunt and eat a tiny fly in the bathroom whilst cleaning my teeth. He used a raised part of the tiles to sneak up on the fly and then jumped on him.

The number of moths has proliferated, much to Pakka’s enjoyment. I think she has eaten more moths than butterflies. She has a lot of fun leaping into the air to bat them down as they fly towards the path lights. I always think they must be very dry and dusty to eat. Some have very long antenna that they wave languidly. There is a large lilac that grows from the riverbank and I often stop and watch them with a torch whilst waiting for Pakka to finish mooching about by the river.

We have a number of bats that have recently taken to flying and gyrating around the garden, often inches above my head. Absolutely fantastic; I really love them. Three were flying the other night, seeming to chase one another.

This year there doesn’t seem to have been quite the number of snails we have had previously. Though those we do are beautiful. Some tiny, and I assume baby snails do grow. Some baby snails are really wonderful, though I wonder if they are just small snails, and not baby larger snails. I decided to look up the name for a young snail, and the computer maintains it is a ‘baby’; which is a poor excuse for a suggestion. Surely they deserve a better description. May be it is because know one really knows whether the snail in question is a baby snail, or just a very small one.

I then wondered about the growth of snails. If a shell grows with a snail, what is the growing point? Does the middle get tighter as the snail gets older? If the lip of the shell is where it grows, it must push the rest of the shell around from the front to the back…or is the centre of a large snail empty of ‘snail’… Mum believes the shell grows with them. I can’t see any other way either, but would like to know how snails develop. I must look it up.

Yesterday I had a friend visit from work and she was obviously taken very much by the common – we saw a heron fly over and a kestrel spent a little time hovering above the grass, only to drop down to pick up a vole or mouse and to fly off low and heavy carrying it away with him. Stunning.

Pakka has taken to climbing out of the bathroom and study windows to wander on the sloping roof. She doesn’t seem to feel very secure once she is out there, but seems to think the adventure worth the problem of getting down again. The last time she did it she landed up having to jump down at a funny angle onto a bit of wall. The first time I had to climb half out of the window of the study to grab her off the roof, a slightly ungainly and nerve wracking experience for both of us. Yesterday having got onto the roof she refused the wall system and wandered all over it until she went back up to the window ledge where she waited for me to go back upstairs to lean out (not as far as she was standing on the edge) and pull her in…sigh.

I visited Clare in Yorkshire and had a couple of walks with her and her dog whilst I was there – we took Imageher dog with us and enjoyed encouraging her to run into the sea to bring sticks back to us, once she got over the shock of the water stealing the first one!

Whilst in the North I visited a wood turner who runs courses from his home in Bingley, not far from my sister and had a lovely day making a box with a spinning top lid, and a captive ring, similar to those my paternal grandfather had made.

Beech and elm when turned can make the most beautiful curlicues, spiralling out from the wood in long trails curling back on them and over the lathe. In contrast ebony makes a fine black powder that settles deep into your finger ridges, making them stand out as though black talcum powder has been dusted over them.

Grandpa, made many small pieces of treen with captured rings on them that fascinated me as a child along with a wooden turned soldier, painted complete with bearskin that still stands on one of my bookcases.

He had two lathes one a small modern machine that stood in the corner of his garage, and a second, pedal driven contraption with a large wheel to one side, that drove the lathe with a rubber belt. On that I used to enjoy trying to keep an even tempo with the wheel without the lurch that regularly occurred. I’m not sure why it happened, but suspect it was the change from lowering the foot and pedal to raising it again. To be allowed to spin the wheel was wonderful and I still remember the pleasure it gave me.

When Grandpa died much of his garage made its way into my parents’ and the wheel lathe came too, tucked amongst the printing presses that are part of my father’s passion. A few months ago I came across it and realised that it would perhaps in time be sold or otherwise disposed of, and that seemed a pity – not only because of the family history, but also because it is actually rather beautiful, in a mechanical sort of way. Then I realised that none of us knew what it could do (if anything), and I wondered how difficult it was to turn wood as he had done, and from there it was an easy and obvious step to searching the Internet for someone who might be able to help.

This resulted in my contacting Bob Chapman (based conveniently in Bingley, Yorkshire, an easy distance from my sister Clare) to ask if he would consider introducing a complete novice to some of the secrets of turning and for a very reasonable charge he said he would be happy for me to visit him in his home to try.

Sadly the tools that Dad found in the garage were not for turning wood – and Bob confirmed what a friend suggested, that they were for carving wood rather than turning.

Still I was able (thanks to Clare lending me one of hers) to show Bob one of Grandpa’s ‘people’, as I have always thought of his pieces, and he seemed to think it would be possible for me to make one. Along with a top and box, which had been a speciality of his some years ago.

The first was a challenge close to my heart – if only because of Grandpa and to be able to emulate him was an idea that really appealed. I have also started to collect small spinning tops and felt that that might well be something that would be rather special as a project.

Safety was next on the agenda and Bob explained that it is essential to wear some sort of eye protection, and if I am to take it up at all seriously a mask that covers the mouth too to protect the lungs (though this is impractical for teaching) and as a result I found myself wearing a full face mask and to be honest was pleased to do so, particularly a little later in the day. His notice that ‘You are now using your last pair of eyes.’ was I thought pertinent and I had to smile to myself when I thought of Dad’s concern as I left London. When I start to get myself organised and set up my own lathe, I promised Bob I would purchase and organise extractors for the wood dust that is all pervasive. He said that everyone starts by buying a lathe, he had never heard of anyone buying an extractor before they had purchased one, and I promised to be the exception. Lungs suffer from the very fine dust that you can hardly see in the atmosphere when wood turning.

Bob went on to explain that the best drives were those with many small teeth, rather than those with just four as it makes the wood much more secure and will often prevent the wood from flying out of the lathe to strike the face…

We began by turning some wood, just removing the corners, which is I have to say one of the most therapeutic things I have ever done. I was soon covered in wood shavings; they fly like small flurries of snow and quickly cover everything.

Bob showed me how to make the basic shapes that to be honest I would have been happy to have tried to perfect all day, though it would have meant no project being taken home at the end which would have been a pity.

Remembering to keep the tools flat on the rest, a metal bar against which the wood turning tools are laid, seemed to be a necessity that I regularly failed to do, though I soon learnt, or began to learn when I wasn’t doing it – so I suppose that was a lesson in itself.

We turned wood that Grandpa had marked using the holes he had made to turn a most tactile piece. I wondered what he had been thinking as he marked the wood and what had made him stop and not follow it though. I really wish I had had the sense to talk to him about it when he was alive. I would have loved to turned wood with him.

We used a piece of Bob’s stored wood, a lump of beech to make my piece of treen and had spent some time turning the wood to make the captured ring when I caught the edge of the tool against the wood and it was twisted out of the lathe with the ring broken and a gouge taken out of the base of the wood. Thankfully we were able to just ‘move along a bit’ and make a second try. This time I was able to break through under the ring and allow it to move along the base. It is enormously satisfying – and the ring spun happily as we turned the piece to finish it, with a small rounded top.

We discussed my collection of tops and I told him about the first that had caught my interest. It has an almost spherical bowl from which the turning stem rises, and when spun it starts by standing on the bowl, but then rolls to one side and then up on the point of the stem. (See this site to see one spinning –

http://www.grand-illusions.com/acatalog/Tippe_Top.html

Bob informed me that it spins then in the opposite direction as it turns on the stem.

He had never made one, but would be interested to try… This resulted in him turning an upside down spinning top, without a plan or one to view in a very short time. We then spent some time fine-tuning the piece with the top being hollowed out at least twice and the stem being shortened before the top span with success on the floor. Linda, Bob’s wife came in at some point to find us both on the floor spinning the top and discussing the weight and its distribution in the top – covered in wood shavings…

Bob’s top boxes are beautiful – The spinning top makes the lid of the box and the boxes and spinners are gorgeous to handle. We made mine from a piece of elm and a small slither of ebony for the handle. The spinning top’s widest part was made from the top of the box so that when used as a lid the grain of the wood flows down from it. After turning the wood to turn it into a cylinder we cut a piece from the end and hollowed out the remainder. We then started on the spinning top itself and all was well till I caught the edge of the tool and damaged the spinner so much that Bob decided it was best to halt the proceedings whilst he made up another box (which took a fraction of the time I had spent) and brought us back to the same state we were in before I damaged the lid. The handle of the spinner was made with ebony, and this made the fine dust like wood shavings, dark against the pale wood of the elm and beech.

I am so pleased with the pieces I came away with – we polished the spinning top box so that it glows andImage I now have a second upside down top, a box into which I can drop earrings at the end of the day (the base of the spinning top box that failed), and last but certainly not least my captured ring piece – a little larger than many of Grandpa’s but none the less one I am very proud of.

I was touched too when Bob told me he thought I probably had the same amount of talent as my grandfather… a lovely thing to say.

Now I have to just rearrange everything and find Grandpa’s more modern lathe – there is no way I would be able to keep the foot peddle working whilst trying to keep my tools flat against the rest…take another course…and find a dust extractor, or two…

It is quite extraordinarily satisfying and I could see myself just spending the afternoon turning wood…not necessarily making anything, just practicing techniques and just turning wood…

Grandpa’s foot lathe, what ever happens, will find a home in my garage…

Pakka’s first sortie as a kitten, out of our garden was through the hole Dad kindly sawed into some of the planks in the fence at the bottom of the garden. It is remarkably concerning the first time a cat leaves for its first solo adventure and I do remember distracting myself with the garden. At that time it was considerably wilder (it is in a sort of feral state now, I suppose) and I remember clearing large quantities of stones as a sort of continual job when I first moved into the house. It was a peaceful day and apart from being aware that Pakka had gone, I was enjoying the garden. It was some time later when I heard a loud cacophony of sound coming from the woods over the other side of the river. I remember stopping to listen and then realised Pakka had been gone for about three hours. I was just about to close up the garden and house to go out and see if I could find her, when a brown streak shot up the garden, running full pelt straight up the lawn towards the open French windows, closely followed by an irate crow, flying a foot above the ground just behind her tail. Thankfully when she reached the shelter of the house he banked away and flew back to the woods. Pakka promptly sat down and washed. Corvidae  and she have never got on ever since.