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    Wildlife encounters on the doorstep

    Fox Vulpes vulpes with Badgers Meles meles natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

    As a natural science illustrator, I spend my working life surrounded with bits of wildlife.  Plants, boxes of insects, and endless books and photos of animal reference.  Whenever I can I work from live specimens I do (and my freezer will testify to the dead specimens I have on hand…).   Tight deadlines and practicalities often make this impossible.  Which means that when I get to see wildlife alive and out and about, it’s really exciting.

    (For a tour of my freezer and studio, packed with animal reference; take a look below:)

    Local Wildlife

    This week, I saw a live otter, nonchalantly crossing the road in front of me.

    I recognized it, screamed with excitement, nearly crashed the car, and proceeded to tell my (long-suffering) son how thrilled I was to see my first otter in the wild.

    This got me thinking about other wonderful encounters I’ve had with wildlife, almost inevitably unexpectedly, and frequently in my home or garden.

    Otter Lutra lutra natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Otter Lutra lutra eating a brown trout


    Wildlife: Garden birds

    About a year ago I suddenly noticed the garden had gone quiet.  We have about 18 resident (and vocal) sparrows.  We also are home to posturing blackbirds and aggressively noisy robins.  So I looked out.  There, bold as brass in the pear tree, sat a sparrowhawk.  You could have heard a pin drop.  I got out my camera and took a few blurry shots before it decided it had lost the element of surprise, and ponderously flew off.

    Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus perched on top of a post with moss at its feet


    Long tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus natural history and wildlife illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Long tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus 


    Another day the garden sounded rather twittery, and it only took seconds to see the tree was full of long-tailed tits.

    Wildlife under our feet: Beetles

    Walking in Pembrokeshire, I came across some glorious dung beetles

    Dung beetle Geotrupes stercorarius natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Dung beetle Geotrupes stercorarius 


    and on another occasion, a tiger beetle scuttling unnaturally fast across a patch of sand; a true predator on the hunt.

    Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris

    Wildlife on the doorstep: Mammals

    Going to the kitchen to make a cup of tea one summer evening, I met a small hedgehog snuffling along the flagstones.  (I should say that I mostly leave the backdoor open.  The hedgehog didn’t miraculously materialise inside my kitchen, although that’s a lovely idea…)

    I carefully picked it up and put it outside, and felt incredibly lucky to have seen it. (By the way, if you love hedgehogs, don’t miss Ross on Wye’s Festival of the Hedgehog this May. Ill be leading drawing workshops and there’s a week’s worth of amazing events going on round the town).

    Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus


    In Swaledale I’ve spent wonderful hours hiding behind limestone outcrops, watching stoats get on with hunting and exploring.

    Stoat Mustela erminea natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Stoat Mustela erminea


    I still find being close to wild rabbits exciting (as no doubt would the aforementioned stoat, for rather different reasons).

    Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus crouched ready for escape


    One of the most amazing things I saw was on a week long field trip when doing my Zoology degree at Bristol University.  We were in a place called Woodchester, and of an evening if you looked out of the windows of the lounge you’d see about four badgers and two or three foxes all eating peanuts on the lawn.  Lovely.

    Fox Vulpes vulpes with Badgers Meles meles natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper
    Group of Fox Vulpes vulpes with Badgers Meles meles in a field 


    Wildlife encounters: Common or rare, I love them!

    Now I know the purists among you will notice how common all of these animals are, and for some perhaps a bird has to be an unusual migrant, or a mammal needs to be seen on an adventure safari.  These are exciting too.  For me though, these common creatures that I stumble upon simply blow me away, getting to see them going about their lives is an enormous privilege, and one of the things that inspires all aspects of my job.

    Have any of you had similar encounters with wildlife that really moved you, even though the creature wasn’t especially rare?  I’d love to hear about it, do let me know in the comment box below or on my facebook page or twitter feed.

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    Lizzie Harper