Scientific Illustator at Home: Wildlife enounters on the doorstep February 14th 2014

Story posted: Friday, 14. February 2014 by Lizzie Harper

As a natural science illustrator, I spend my working life surrounded with bits of plants, boxes of insects, and endless books and photos of reference of animals.  Obviously, whenever I can I work from live specimens I do (and my freezer will testify to the dead specimens I have on hand…); but tight deadlines and practicalities often make this impossible.  Which means that when I get to see an animal in the wild, it’s really exciting.

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

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration of european otter

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.

About a year ago I suddenly noticed the garden had gone quiet.  We have about 18 resident (and vocal) sparrows, not to mention 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.

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration of sparrowhawk

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

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration long tailed tit

Walking in Pembrokeshire, I came across some glorious dor beetles

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration dor beetle

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

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration tiger beetle

Going to the kitchen to make a cup of tea one summer evening, I met a small hedgehog snuffling along the flagstones.  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).

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of a hedgehog

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

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration of stoat

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

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration of rabbit

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.

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustrationof foxes and badger

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 enocounters 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.

Category:  Scientific Illustrator out and about   |   Comments:  2   |   Viewed:  2744

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Yes - backyard birds!

Friday, 14. February 2014, 18:44:25 – :

Sounds silly, but I have just recently become enamored with the common birds in our yard after I went on a field trip with my daughter's 1st grade class to a local park where we hand-fed birds (chickadees, tits, woodpeckers.) It was so much fun and fascinating that I finally put out some birdseed at home and am having a ball watching the birds to see what comes by! Carol

I agree, Garden birds are fab!

Friday, 21. February 2014, 09:43:56 – Lizzie Harper:

Hi Carol, it doesnt sound silly at all. I couldnt agree more, and actually writing up a blog about xactly this for a week's time. Great minds thinking alike, and all that. Chickadees are lovely, and you have those magnificent blue jays and cardinals, not to mention the purple sparrows (east coast, Im thinking...) Lukcy you, keep on feeding them!