Monday, 28 January 2013

Big Garden Birdwatch

Yesterday I took an hour out to sit and watch the birds as part of the Big Garden Birdwatch.  The birds I saw were

Blackbird at the feeder - keeping an eye out for the competition

Willow-tit (or might have been Marsh-tit - I find it difficult to tell the difference)
Greater Spotted Woodpecker

A Blue-tit waits its turn at the feeder

A very enjoyable time, apart from the sleet and wind.  It is interesting to see the results of everyone's bird counts that are collected by the RSPB and the difference in data over years.  Some bird species seem to be declining, while others are growing in number and they are keen to find out the reasons why.

A pair of Bullfinch make a fleeting visit

It is anyway a wonderful excuse to be quiet and watch wildlife in the garden (in my case at my worksheds) and learn more about each bird's habits and character.  I was thrilled to see the Bullfinch - a pair flew in and landed on the dock stems and pecked at the seed sprigs - but the bird which I enjoyed watching most was the Dunnock.  Rather secretive and well camouflaged, it bobbed and flitted about feeding and hiding in the branches or hopping on the ground, skittish on its thin pinky/orange legs.

Dunnock perching unusually close

It also surprises me how much energy some birds expend on defending their spot - there are lots of spats around the feeders and on the bird table - the Robins are very argumentative and feathers do fly in the squabbles.  Blackbirds too, who stand guard over their meal, swooping in on other Blackbirds, who dash off full and loud  alarm calling their frustration.

Long-tailed tits at the feeders

Thankyou all you birds for visiting my garden and being so lovely to watch!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Green Shoots

As the latest thick blanket of snow lands from leaden grey skies, I'm indoors marvelling at a delicate green shoot on my pussy willow stems. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Bird companions

My feeders have been busy all day with birds - Blue-tits, Great-tits, Dunnocks, Chaffinch, Robins, Cole-tits, Blackbirds, Woodpecker and a gang of Long-Tailed-tits came by, and noisily took over for half an hour or so.  Alarm call shrieks made me stick my head out of the workshop, to see a Sparrow Hawk swoop past in determined flight.  All was quiet for a while.

Robin visiting the bird table - watches me all the time and follows me around

I cleared snow over an area of grass for the geese - it is some days since they grazed, and they eagerly followed my raking.  Very soon a Redwing came down and started foraging on the cleared grass, it pulled up a worm.  My stoat also made an appearance, and bounded in the snow, pushing something ahead of it, nosing it around as if in play.  It disappeared before I could see what it was. 

Treecreeper scampering up the trunk and probing in the bark for insects

The Redwing appeared again and sat in the old Sycamore tree.  While looking at it, I caught sight of a Treecreeper, racing up the bark, pulling and dabbing its beak into every crevice on the way.  What beautiful birds, so tiny - I hoped it was finding food.

It made me wonder what I could do for my bird visitors that are not nut or seed eaters, those who prefer insects, grubs or worms.  Must look into it.

The workshop wren came onto my workbench and I stood very still, it flew down and walked across my boots!  The Robins too are coming very close.

What lovely companions.

Tracks in the snow

Quite apart from the beauty in the trees and landscape from the snowfall this last week, it also brings a real opportunity for those interested in wildlife.  After each layer of snow, a new and fascinating path of tiny footprints are pressed into the pristine surface, and I can see where all the mice, hares, voles, birds, stoats and rabbits have been pat-pattering throughout the night and early morning.

 Animal footprints in the snow

 Animal footprints, digging and burrowing in the snow

Little winding trackways, a gap and then evidence of a leap landing, burrowing and tunnels under the snow, scurries and scufflings of a chase and catch, nibblings, droppings and exit and entry places all clearly defined.  All the marks and moves of the wildlife in and around my workshop on full show.

 Animal Tracks and Signs book - really helpful tracking companion

 Some I haven't managed to identify, but I know where they went and how they came back to the sheds.  The Oxford Natural History - Animal Tracks and Signs (pocket guide) is an invaluable companion and helped me a lot in recognising marks and patterns.

Animal Tracks and Signs book - I'm just looking up shrews

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Feeding Birds in cold weather

In this bitter cold and wintery weather I feel so much for my birds - a little wren is complaining like mad in the workshop - it has made a roost with moss, straw and goose feathers in the corner of a shelf in the shed where I work, and doesn't want the noise of me chiseling and moving stone around, and doesn't want to go out either!  Other birds follow me waiting for fresh seed and nuts - they really need their water too and happily stand in the birdbath, even when bathed - must be warmer than the snow and ice for their little feet.  When snow is on the ground and frozen, foraging becomes difficult for small birds and unless they get food they just don't survive the winter.

New bird feeders ready to hang

Today I thought I would help them along, and make a special winter treat to ensure they were filled up with plenty energy for the long, cold night.  Smelling lardy, but worth it.

Treat for my garden birds - winter recipe bird food

I've mixed up seeds, peanuts, berries, dried mealworms, breadcrumbs and grated cheese with lard and squidged it all together and then spooned it into coconut halves.  I attached some string hangers and suspended them from branches near the nut feeders.

 Blue-tit at the feeder

Almost immediately the birds were feeding from them - the Blue-tits seem to boss the feeders here - so I put some on the bird table too, so everyone had a chance to get some. 

What sort of mix do you put out for your birds in Winter - do they have a favourite food?

A robin visits the bird table hungry for a meal

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

French Chalk - and drawing on stone

It seems whenever I need a pencil, there is never one to hand.   Having something to draw with quickly available is important - as I'm working on a sculpture and carving a line, a curve, a shape, I'm constantly assessing it, adjusting it, making it as beautiful as possible and re-drawing it on the stone.  As soon as I've chiselled, the drawn line disappears, or sometimes it just gets covered in dust and I cannot see it.  I draw on the stone to guide me where I ought to be carving - sometimes I just know where the shape is, and in goes the chisel, but for the most part, I need the drawing help, and particularly where lots of lines and curves join, or meet or when I'm trying to achieve an overall rythm to the sculpture.

However many pencils I have, all I can find is blunt stubs!

So here I am, looking at the sculpture and judging, I see exactly what line the shape should take - and I need the pencil now to capture it, before it disappears from my mind's eye.  Those insights and clarity very quickly vanish, so it is critical to commit a mark to the stone immediately.

Box of French Chalk sticks

Without taking my eye off the stone, I need to reach for a pencil and draw.  But so often the pencil is blunt and won't draw, or I cannot find it.  Either way, in rummaging round to find a drawing implement, or sharpening one - the moment is lost.

In an attempt to solve the problem I have brightly coloured pencils (easy to see quickly), I buy in bulk and sharpen many at once.  Pencil lead soon blunts when drawing on stone.  I've tried chalk, in different colours for good contrast and different colours for different planes within the sculpture, but chalk wears faster than pencil, breaks easily, rubs off quickly and crushes when trodden on. 

Sticks of French Chalk

Many years ago I saw a mason mark a block at the quarry with what I thought was normal chalk, but it left a beautiful line, and I asked what he was using.  I learned it was French Chalk - at the time I had never heard of it - but I have subsequently learned it is one of the best tools for marking and drawing on stone.

French Chalk is actually stone itself - soapstone, or steatite.  (Soapstone is a metamorphic rock composed mainly of talc).  Crushed, as talc,  it is used in almost every conceivable manufacturing process, used by tailors for marking cloth, welders in metal-working, dry-cleaners for removing oil, and added to food stuffs as a glidant!  I think it is known as French Chalk as the largest talc mine is in Luzenac in Southern France.

The chalk sticks are transluscent, almost glowing, and silky to draw with.

It certainly creates a supremely smooth, almost waxy, soft but longlasting mark and is very pleasing to use.

I have sticks of it in all my coat, and trouser pockets (it survives the washing machine!) and placed on all surfaces close to my work bench for good measure, so as not to miss any tiny moments of insight.

Friday, 11 January 2013


Ahead of them actually pushing their way up through the earth in my garden here - I yearned for the fragile beauty of snowdrops in a vase, or pot to lift the spirits and brighten the window sill.

Spurred on by an article in the Landscape Magazine this month, I decided to have a go at making paper snowdrops.  The fragile beauty of snowdrops can be simply re-created with crepe paper.  With a length of wire for the stems and a bit of crafty fiddling, the little blooms begin to look quite realistic!

I'm just a beginner, have a look at the ones featured, they look just like the delicate drooped flowers themselves.  Here are the full instructions for making them - Making Paper Snowdrops.    Happy crafting!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Shoebill Print

I'm loving the new wildlife series on BBC1 - Africa with David Attenborough aren't you?

Tonight I see we are going to learn about the nesting habits of the Shoebill - which I am looking forward to especially as I've had quite a soft-spot for these birds for some time.  I adore Shoebills in fact, and to see hitherto unfilmed Shoebill activity in the wild, will be a real treat.

Here's a Shoebill collagraph print I did, whilst in a particularly deep phase of Shoebill fascination!  Let me know if you think I achieved a good likeness!

Shoebill - Collagraph Print of a Shoebill by Jennifer Tetlow

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

My Yorkshire

This week got off to a lively start as I've had a wonderful response to a little a feature about me in the Yorkshire Post Newspaper.  The Yorkshire Post Magazine has a section called My Yorkshire where I was asked questions like why the area is important to me, my memories, what is special about it and what are my favourite things.  A lot of the answers are about stone, as you might imagine!

Do you have a favourite stone sculpture or stone feature locally?  I'd love to know what it is -  perhaps I can create 'a bloggers guide to special stones'!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Outcrop of Orange

The damp (soaking wet) conditions we've been having, seems to bring these out - I have great rashes of them in vivid orange!

Bright tangerine jewels - except I think they are slime mould!  The colourful pimples that we see are actually the fruiting bodies or sporangia, and they proliferate when food is plentiful (suggesting I have lots of rotten wood around at my sheds!).  Interesting that the ones here should be orange, as this mould comes in a wide variety of colours.  I wonder what dictates the colour?  Do tell me if you know!

Alongside the beautiful range of bright and greyed velvety greens of the moss and lichen, they really are very striking. 

Slime mould starts life as a amoeba-like cell and multiplies fast if it encounters its favourite food, bacteria  and other suitable cells to mate with.  They then grow into an interconnected network of strands which move very fast.  When the food supply wains, they migrate to the surface and form rigid fruiting bodies.  These then release spores, which hatch into the amoeba-like cells, and the cycle begins again.

All that activity going on underneath the surface - glad we just get to see the flowering bit!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Workshop tidy

Over the last week I have been having a really good clean and tidy in the workshop.  A thorough clean-sweep for the New Year.  I've enjoyed it.  When I'm busy, clearing and maintenance tend to get side-lined, and jobs build up.

The thing is, when you're untidy with stone, the mess is significant - particularly so when the weather is wet!  Stone dust and water make a marvelous slurry, and when compacted with stone chips and more dust, along with anything else dropped or knocked off the workbench, you get quite an effective cement.  

Best way to tidy is to chisel clean.

By the time all the dust 'cake' and stone waste was out of the way, I was really in the mood, and feeling a re-organisation was required too.  I don't have many pieces of equipment, but one really useful item is my Clipper stone saw.  It has a small platform on wheels, where you place the stone, onto which you pull down a rotating circular saw blade.  It is water fed, to lubricate and cool while cutting (more slurry!).  The saw just sits in the corner of the workshed, and gets used when required - but now with everything tidy I noticed it looked, dirty, rusty and tired - water and stone-dust again - ruinous!  A move and refurbishment was required.

You all know how it goes, it seemed like a good idea, filled with the best intentions, but fast becomes something you wished you'd never started.  Rust is an enemy, also cements things together, and makes others crumble apart.  I looked at my dissembled saw components on the workshop floor and resolved to clean and maintain regularly in future.

This morning I feel brighter about it - re-filled the oil can (oil is a friend!), ordered new bits to replace sheered bolts, worn out motor parts and shims and wedges in place to make everything level - all set for many more years loyal service!   It will horrify some, but I'm looking at the rusty frame with not a small degree of affection!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year

The first day of year, and what a beauty - cold, but brilliant sunshine and dry!  Happy New Year - my best wishes for a wonderful 2013.

2013 stones - carved sandstone numerals by Jennifer Tetlow
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