Saturday, 31 December 2016

Looking back at 2016, but mostly looking forward

To be honest 2016 has been a difficult year for our family and I'll be glad to see the back of it. My husband had a stem cell transplant in February, so we all spent much of the year visiting him in hospital and trying to keep him healthy when he was home recovering. The children were such tough little things and coped magnificently (me less so, but I did my best!) Being outdoors was a great help and some of my best memories of the year are of all of us just being together in the beautiful Chiltern hills.
A family walk around Pulpit Hill

Tea in a tree

Sunset at Coombe Hill monument

I had a lot of fun writing this year and am very proud to have been able to contribute to the Spring and Autumn books in the Seasons series. These gave me my first publishing contracts and even a Christmas card from my publisher (words I never thought I would say!) I also wrote a couple of pieces for BBOWT that were published in the Bucks Examiner and I won the invertebrates category of Mark Avery's writing competition with a piece about death's-head hawk-moths.

Two of my photographs were selected as runner up and commended in the My Wild Life category of the Oxford Festival of Nature Photography Competition. It's lovely to see them appearing from time to time on BBOWT leaflets and flyers.

Playing in the stream - runner up in the My Wild Life category 
I explored a few BBOWT nature reserves I hadn't been to before, seeing monkey and lady/monkey orchids at Hartslock and military orchids at Homefield Wood. I also slithered down the side of Pulpit Hill and found the bird's-nest orchids that I'd heard flowered there and tracked down the very special Rhodochila common spotted orchids at Yoesden. Another orchid highlight has to be visiting the hundreds of bee orchids that flower on a bank in West Wycombe. Such a sight to see so many of these amazing orchids in one place, interspersed with broomrape, another of our more unusual flowers.
Monkey orchid at Hartslock
Rhodochila common spotted orchid at Yoesden
Moths and butterflies played an important part in our year. We took part in moth night and caught our first ever eyed hawkmoth, as well as beautiful poplar and privet hawkmoths. It's amazing to think these fabulous moths are just hanging out in the back garden!

Eyed hawkmoth

Privet hawkmoth moustache
We chased Adonis blues around Yoesden Bank, sat amongst dozens of chalkhill blues at Grangelands and stalked the incredibly rare Duke of Burgundy butterflies at their (not so) secret location near us. It felt generally like a bad year for the butterflies, but we were lucky enough to have the occasional days where the buddleia in the garden was covered in peacocks, red admirals and tortoiseshells or we'd see silver washed fritillaries dancing on the hogweed or green hairstreaks posing on a bush. All moments to treasure.

Silver washed fritillaries bouncing up and down on the hogweed
We spent much of the autumn snuffling through the leaves looking for fungi and found some new and exciting discoveries. A dozen huge devil's bolettes appeared overnight, then slowly dissolved in a noxious cloud over the next couple of weeks. Two solitary amanitas put in an appearance (together, so not solitary at all) and we found ashen chanterelles poking up through the leaf litter. There were plenty of our old favourites as well, such as a stinkhorn (absolutely stinky) covered in flies, a patch of stunning magpie inkcaps that appeared in the car park at Pulpit Hill and finding out-of-this-world earthstars in unexpected places.
Devil's bolette

Stinky stinkhorn (with flies)
As for next year, we're looking forward to spring and all the adventures it brings.

Here's to a healthy, happy and wild 2017!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas art show 2016

Welcome to my Christmas art show! 

I really enjoying painting and drawing the wonderful wildlife that I see all around me, as well as using my imagination to draw what might be out there ...
I hope you enjoy looking at some of my art and have a wonderful Christmas and New Year! 
Love Bug Mad Girl (age 11) x
1. Watch out below
 1. I love owls, but we don't see them very often. We occasionally hear them and often find their pellets (which are great fun to dissect). I painted this using acrylics at an art club in the summer holidays.

2. Trout face
2. I painted this trout at my art club, using acrylics. I love the vibrant colours and how they blend together.
3. The beetle
3. This beetle was painted using watercolours and I stuck newspaper collage onto it to make it look interesting. I'd love to find a beetle as colourful as this one day.

4. Leopard
4. I sketched this leopard at home one day in my sketchbook.
5. Where am I?
5. This highland cow has such a thick, long fringe that means it can't see anything. I used watercolours to paint it.
6. Dragon 1
6. I sketched this dragon at art club, then coloured it in with coloured pencils. Dragons are one of my favourite things to draw as you can really use your imagination with them.
7. Dragon 2
7. This is another dragon that I sketched at home and shaded using just pencil.
8. Rosie 1
8. As well as wildlife, I like to sketch my dog Rosie. She doesn't ever sit still for long, so it can be quite a challenge. 
9. Rosie 2
9. This is another painting of Rosie, who is a very naughty fox red Labrador.

10. Fetch!
10. I painted this for our town's Art in the Park competition, which was part of the town festival. I was by far the youngest person in the competition and was up against A-level students and even professional artists. My picture won the competition and a large copy of it is now on display in the park. It was painted using acrylics on canvas.
11. Foxy
11. I drew this as a 'how to sketch' project that I put in the school newspaper.

12. Haunted house
12. At Halloween, I drew and painted some spooky pictures. This haunted house was painted at art club.
13. In the shadows
 13. This is a sketch of a wolf looking through a rip in the paper.
14. Dragon's eye
14. I sketched this dragon's eye at home one day.
15. Paper cut-outs
15. We often look at the work of a particular artist at art club, then have a go at creating something in their style. This was inspired by Matisse's paper cut-outs.
16. Self portrait
16. This self portrait was inspired by Pablo Picasso.
Thank you for looking at my art show, I hope you enjoyed it!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Winter wonders

There have been so many Christmas events over the last few weeks that there never seems to be a quite minute to sit down and write a blog post. I do love to watch the school choir singing, spend an afternoon at a Christmas fair, have a good sing-a-long at the school/Guides/Beavers carol concert, watch a Nativity play or guitar concert etc, etc, but I'll be glad when school breaks up on Tuesday and we can relax for a couple of days before the big day.

We've still been out and about in the Chilterns though and still keep finding wonderful things ...

I walked around Grangelands this week and was struck by how quiet and bare it felt. The orchids and wildflowers that carpet the ground in the spring are gone, there are no butterflies and beetles to be seen and even the huge Roman snails have hidden themselves away for the winter. It all feels so different at this time of year, but there was still plenty to see. I stood and watched as a kestrel hovered just ahead of me. It hung in the air, head down, scanning for prey, before swooping down then returning back to hover above me. Such a wonderful sight.

As I walked through the edge of the woods, I disturbed a flock of redwings that were making the most of the berries in the hedgerows. They flew ahead of me and landed in the trees, only to be disturbed again as I carried on walking. They migrate here in the winter and are a member of the thrush family. You can tell their redwings because they have a cream stripe above their eye and their red flanks.

Then I spotted four little collared earthstars on the side of the path. They're my favourite fungi as they are so unusual and it's always such a thrill to find one (let alone four).  I saw one, then as I was kneeling down to get a photo I saw another one, eventually finding four all together. They were very hard to see though as they were hidden in amongst the leaves and looked like they had just burst through.
Collared earthstar
Back home, the recent cold weather has brought the birds back to our back garden. The goldfinches have found the evening primrose seed heads. They love them, so I always make sure we have some in the garden. They're beautiful flowers that bloom all summer, then you get the added bonus of goldfinches right outside your kitchen window.

There were 6 there this morning
We've also had a family of about ten long-tailed tits visiting every day. They fly into the garden together and only stay for a few minutes before they move off. It's almost like they have a route around the local gardens and fields that they take each day and we're lucky enough to be one of their stops.

We've had a feeder stuck to the kitchen window for a few years. The sparrows and blue tits are quite happy to use it, even when you're stood next to it in the kitchen. For the first time though the long-tailed tits have started to use it, which gives you such a unique view of their cute little faces.

Peeping in the kitchen window at me as I took a picture of it

So it may be winter, but there are still plenty of wonders out there.