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Saturday 31 July 2010

Leafcutter Bee at Leu

Joy of joys! I have seen a leafcutter bee doing what a leafcutter bee does best.. well almost. I didn’t actually see her cutting the leaf but did see her flying in short bursts carrying this huge piece of leaf. I didn’t have time to stay and see where she was taking it but did manage a couple of photos.


She made quite a few stops and seemed to be struggling somewhat. I do hope she made it back to the nest OK.. I have been to Leu a few times recently and seen some wonderful bees.. more on that next week.

This week I have been tied to the computer for 6 whole solid days, trying to finally put my bee book together on Blurb. It is my first Blurb book and I WILL press the “buy” button tomorrow. It has been a steep learning curve. There has been a lot of dithering on my part and I am not sure that Booksmart is quite as smart as it could be. I will post a few sample spreads next week.

And, yes, I have, of course, had to go and check  up on “Life on the Ledge”. The sparrows have completely rebuilt and are now taking “fluffy” stuff in. I think things are getting serious and am keeping my fingers crossed for them! .. more sketches to come.

Monday 26 July 2010

Life on the Ledge, more Sparrow Sketches

Yesterday morning I was delighted  to see the sparrow nest had survived the night. It had developed quite a bit since the day before and was now a lovely shapely domed nest with a sheltered side entrance and not too many trailing bits.  But they carried on adding and adding. You just want to go out and say “Stop now!! It’s fine!! It’ll do!!” But he kept the grass and twigs coming and she kept folding them in. You tend to think they know what they are doing but it was definitely beginning to look too big!

I sketched the nest at its apogee.  Built up at the back to sit snugly in the corner, side entrance away from the prevailing wind, it was looking good,  but now spilling right out over the ledge.

big nest sm

Predictably,  I have now become fascinated by them and go outside and watch them. I made a few sketches of them perching on their ledge. The male bird was out and about more, stopping in between twig gathering trips to bounce along the outside edge of the parapet chirping furiously at everything and everyone, me included.

 life on ledge sketchsm

This little sketch perhaps shows what he was doing best. There was a lot of fluffing out of feathers and fluttering of wings and leaning right over to shout.

detail sp  

I was quite taken with all this machismo from such a little bird so I  made a couple more sketches to work out a pose..

shouting 1


Shouting from the Ledge




We went for a bike ride in the afternoon. While we were out a strong breeze whistled up from the south, turning the gap between the building and the columns into a wind tunnel.
Yes .. you guessed, the nest had blown away, again. The whole damn thing,  every twig, every leaf. Hours of careful weaving, innumerable tireless trips to collect those strands of grass.  The sparrows were back sitting on their empty ledge again.
Then down swooped the male and came back with a large bunch of grass. They are starting  all over again!  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!!

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Sunday 25 July 2010

Sparrows Rebuilding.. Optimism over Experience

   on ledgebg

I realised yesterday I had not really put the sparrows in context. Here they are sitting on the ledge of their rather grand home. I made this sketch at about 9.30  am yesterday and then decided it might be nice to show the rebuilding progress ( if any) during the day… mercifully for the sparrows the day was calm.

 nest 1

I don’t think I have ever really watched sparrows building a nest before. They are very funny. At 10.00 am they had a good start. Labour is divided. The male bounces in and out of the nest with twigs and grasses and the female does the building.. or rather some rudimentary weaving. There is a lot of jostling.


The little female repeatedly pulls at the long outlying twiggy grasses, drawing them into the centre of the nest One particularly stubborn twig constantly resisted, springing back, again and again into its original position. It must have been very irritating!

nest 2

By 12.00, noon, things were shaping up, the nest a-twitch with building activity.  At one point the female leant so far over to grab a trailing twig that she lost her balance and tumbled out. No big deal for a bird I guess!


The male was back and forth and back and forth with more building materials.Occasionally I saw him fly off to a nearby tree and shout at another male. I think sparrows are quite territorial and there is a replica nest in exactly the same spot in the next set of pillars down.

We went out in the afternoon, and by 5.30 the sun had moved away from the building and all was in shadow. The nest had become a towering, uncertain structure. The main trouble seems to be the long trailing  bits of dead grass or creeper of some sort, which catch the wind and tug at the nest and, if the wind is strong enough, unseat the whole thing.


But, I have just checked this morning  and at 8.30am on a tranquil sunny morning the nest is a calm and fairly orderly heap of twigs and grass, trailing strands swaying gently with the light breeze. I wonder how long it will last?

I think I am going to do a painting of this wonderful nest as a tribute to their hard work and perseverance.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Sparrow Sketches. Waiting for Bonnie to Blow over.

Yesterday we caught the tail end of tropical storm “Bonnie”. It flew in and flew out spinning the pine needles, carving runnels in the sandy soil with torrential downpours and blowing away, for the umpteenth time, the sparrows nest. 

The sparrows build their nest on top of one of the mock plaster columns which front the apartment entrance. We can see this little family and their comings and goings from our first floor kitchen window and  I have watched them build and rebuild this nest a dozen times. It  was the same last year.

Yesterday it blew away three times, got tangled up in the nearby bush and was doggedly retrieved bit by bit, but  “Bonnie” was, truly, the last straw. She snatched the bundle of twigs and trailing grass and whisked them high and wide and away out of sight.

I have long wanted to record these very sweet little birds and yesterday while the rain and wind raged about, the sparrows sat disconsolately on the bare cornice of their home, sheltered from the storm and  looking round for their lost nest. It was a good opportunity for some sketches.

sparrow sketches sm jpg

sparrows sitting out the storm sm

Part of the nest must be tucked in the hollow of the column’s capital, enough to make it worth persevering with anyway, because, sure enough, this morning the sparrows are back, optimistically rebuilding and chirruping happily. I am thinking of suggesting a beginners course in structural engineering to them…more of this nest and the sparrows soon.


Him…and …



sparrow f sm

…just sitting out the storm. 

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Thursday 22 July 2010

A Broadside for A Beekeeper, “A Swarm of Bees in May”

I know it is a while since I posted but trying to relocate to god-knows-where in just 8 weeks is a bit daunting. In between packing our few small boxes for the move, selling everything else and coping with incredibly stupid buyers on Ebay, I have not had a great deal of time for very much else. But of course  that’s just a feeble excuse for not getting on with things.

I am in the middle of putting my British Bee Book together… (well, Volume 1 of probably 3) and a couple of nice commissions which I won’t be putting on the blog right now.

But also I am  beginning a series of black and white bee related prints, my “Beekeepers Broadsides”.

Long before Deborah’s Bees my plan was to produce some prints which would eventually form a small book or a set of some kind.. all based on a beekeeping theme. Yes honeybees..!! I know, I am the wild bee champion but I’m also very interested in the honey bees and particularly all the lore and legend  which surrounds them. My mother would go and tell our bees all about the family ups and downs as bee lore demands, and there are many sayings, old wives tales and superstitions surrounding them.

But for Broadside No 1,  I decided on the very well known rhyme…(well known in the UK anyway)

“A Swarm of Bees in May is worth a load of Hay

A Swarm of Bees in June is worth a Silver Spoon

But a Swarm in July isn’t worth a Fly”

The premise is that May and June swarms are good because the new colony has time to establish itself with many, good, honey making flowers to be had.(it’s all about the value of the honey you understand!) It’s an old saying whose origins are as lost and as clouded as a swarm of bees itself

One interesting reference is in Richard Jefferies “Wild Life in Southern County” 1879.

They tell you that' a swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly'—for it is then too late for the young colony to store up a treasure of golden honey before the flowers begin to fade at the approach of autumn.

His lovely books which describe the natural history of his Wiltshire home were written in the late 1800’s, and the previous lines of this passage tell of how a farmer would  leave his work in the fields to come and deal with a swarm of bees.

“he hurries home himself; for although in these days bee-keeping is no longer what it used to be, yet the old fashioned folk take a deep interest in the bees still.”

How interesting that in back in 1879 Jeffeires was perceiving a waning interest in bees.

So my Beekeeper’s Broadside No 1 is the rhyme, with scraperboard illustration printed on 8.5 x 11 and, yes, they are available for sale!$14 plus P&P.. They will be on Waving Bee Press and Etsy,  but do drop me a line if you are interested. I thought they would make rather nice gifts for beekeepers?

A Swarm of Bees in May…..

a swarm in may


The prints are on nice quality watercolour paper and I am printing a limited edition for the USA of just 100. They will all be numbered, signed and dated.

The limitations are all to do with the imminent move to the UK where the paper and sizes are different so will doing another run there.. yes,  life is a bit complicated!

A “Broadside” in old printing terms is an announcement, poem, some music, or a statement that is printed on one side of a sheet of paper. From the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries they were the cheapest way to disseminate printed information, gossip, scandal and political ideologies.  You will perhaps be familiar with the old “Broadside Ballads” sold by musically inclined travelling salesmen who would sing you the song then sell you the printed lyrics.

The nice thing about this project is that all the broadsides in the series can be different… and probably will be… but they will still make a lovely set. My little Adana press is waiting for me in the UK, as is my beautiful book press, so there will inevitably be some hand pulled prints of one kind or another, I cant wait! It’s also a lovely project to have running alongside my ongoing bee species paintings which are…well…ongoing….

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Friday 9 July 2010

Crotons revisited

Yesterday I went to Leu Gardens to look for crotons. I need to re-acquaint myself with these fascinating plants for a commissioned painting for my good friend Jeff. The severely cold weather we had over the winter certainly damaged some of the plants quite badly and I read that Orlando is about as far north as outdoor crotons like to be. In the sheltered areas they had survived quite well and there were enough for me to find some interesting leaves.

I am ambivalent about crotons.They are strange plants. Sometimes they just look too much of a muddle of colours for me but, as I wrote before, the individual leaves are wonderful. Their variety of shape and colour are seemingly endless.

Anyway more about crotons later, but for now just some prelim sketches. One lovely curling leaf from “Mammy”or “Mamey” and three little “Mother and Daughter” leaves which I could not resist. They are from a plant at Leu which seems to be completely schizophrenic, having so many different leaf shapes and colours that it can’t seem to decide quite what it is ..

croton pencil croton colour sketches

I have looked at crotons a few times now .. my other croton posts are here..

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Tuesday 6 July 2010

Watching Bees in the Garden.. UK

During the last three weeks at home in Lincolnshire I spent some time in the garden and out and about in the village, bee spotting. This does involve staring into other peoples gardens which can be misunderstood, but also leads to some very funny and interesting conversations.

I am still struck by how very few people know about the bees, but then are completely enchanted to find they have, say a little leafcutter chewing the rose leaves or the beautiful B lapidarius busy in the lavender. It’s not that  they are disinterested, it’s just that, like me, they had not really noticed them before.

But, once you know, it is as if a different level of existence has suddenly been made visible. One of criss crossing flight paths, complex flower relationships and preferences, courtship, nest building and the struggle to survive all going on under our noses amongst these most endearing of creatures.  Once pointed out, most people are completely captivated. 

In the Garden

I should explain that the garden is a quiet changeless place,  untouched now by my elderly father and only occasionally subdued by the equally elderly gardener, my sister and me when I go home. Wildlife is happy here, rabbits and squirrels hop and skip around the lawns and hedges unafraid.  Pesticide free for many many years it is a very natural garden and although flowers have been reduced to what is easy and low maintenance, there are certainly enough to attract some lovely bees.  

I also found this photo the other day. This is my Dad who made this lovely garden over some 44 years.  Taken a couple of years ago when just a sprightly 90 year old, now at 93 he can’t get out so much, but still watches the action through the French windows.  Like us here in Florida the squirrels are a source of endless amusement. (He does not approve of this photo as he thinks it portrays him as scruffy and simple.. both of which are very far from the truth, but I like it because it is simply a lovely garden photo!)

The Bees
In the old stone wall in the garden amongst the ivy there was a Bombus pratorum nest and these delightful little bees were everywhere. On the blue geranium cranesbill, the chives, the blackberries, green alkanet and latterly the lavender which was just in bloom when I left.

I found a drowsy overnighter on the chives one morning and this male resting in a blackberry flower being warmed by the first rays of sun. His drooping antennae indicate he is probably sleeping. He has positioned himself to be supported by the petal at the back while anchoring himself onto the stamens and the petals to either side. He was oblivious to me and the camera and only moved after about 5 minutes of full sunshine. sleeping male prat sm

This little Megachile male ( centuncularis?) spent most of its time upended headfirst in the pink geraniums, scrabbling about to get reach the nectar.

  mega appoaching fl mega male in flower

He stopped on a leaf just long enough for me to get a photo.. but they are very quick

megac male sm

And I was so pleased to see the very handsome Megachile willughbiella again. This one was all over the lavender and I did manage to get a few photos. This bee is next on my list to draw, he is just gorgeous! Unfortunately you cannot see the feathery front legs very well on this photo, which identify this pretty bee so well, he also has a loud buzz! What a complete delight it was to watch him…
will male

During the 6 weeks of my UK stay flowers came and went in the garden. The honeysuckle had a brief 2 weeks of glory. I watched the Garden Bumblebees Bombus hortorum, long tongues already unfurled, alight on the long stamens and push their elegant heads down into the flower tube. They sometimes stand on the stamens with their back feet and grasp the petals at either side for stability, it’s an action rather similar to us humans opening a cupboard to look inside.  
b hort honeyhort on honeysuckle
I spent a happy hour with Ursula at her wonderful Easton Walled Garden where we watched a bit of nectar robbing in progress by Bombus terrestris on her honeysuckle.. when we looked at the blooms it was amazing how many of them had holes in the base! …sadly no photos!

Here are two other bees whose identity I am still not sure about.. (I am asking on BWARS..)

This little bee, I first thought was Lassioglossum morio the Brassy mining bee because of the very obvious bronze sheen. He was hot and tired when I rescued him from Dad’s greenhouse. He posed nicely for me on a piece of lined paper cooling off. We are still not sure but Alan at (Norwegica’s Aculeate blog ) who has been so much help to me thinks maybe an Osmia sp.. so I am wondering if it is Osmia caerulescens?
 morio small

And then this one, on flowering laurel. There were many of them. andrena

It is quite a big bee with a hairy gingery thorax and a black very shiny hairless abdomen. An Andrena of some sort? Andrena haemorrhoa female perhaps.

Bombus lapidarius
love lavender, don’t they! This was about 7.00 early evening, the light on the new lavender is beautiful.
blap in lav 

And finally the funny tiny little Hylaeus, white faced bees which once you know they are there, are everywhere!! You just have to spot them. They do look more like black flies! This one, which I think is an Hylaeus hyalinatus female, was busy upside down on a pink geranium which I had brought inside…rather a surprise for her and just a bit of luck for me! hylaeus

….. and yes,  I am back in steamy Florida very jetlagged and hot, waiting for my mind, brain and energy to arrive, which all seemed to go missing somewhere over the Atlantic…. I wonder if we will ever be reunited? :)