Wildlife encounters on the doorstep
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:)
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.
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.
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
and on another occasion, a tiger beetle scuttling unnaturally fast across a patch of sand; a true predator on the hunt.
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).
In Swaledale I’ve spent wonderful hours hiding behind limestone outcrops, watching stoats get on with hunting and exploring.
I still find being close to wild rabbits exciting (as no doubt would the aforementioned stoat, for rather different reasons).
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.
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.