Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Meet Jack


 This is Jack as I first knew him
We fed Jack with Chopsticks
We first met each other in early May.  Jack had tumbled from one of the dovecotes that line the eves of an old stone barn where a "clattering" of daws nest in the Spring.  He was tucked in a pocket of long grass yelling "Chyak Chyak" in a clear high pitched voice; it was only a matter of time before a passing cat would have had him for lunch.  These encounters with fledgeling daws happen every year, usually I fetch a ladder and place the young birds back into the nests from where they have tumbled, but on this occasion a colony of bees had arrived and made their home in the next door cote.  Rather than risk getting stung I took the half naked semi feathered creature into the house and gave it to Mami to look after.  She fed him with tinned cat food from chop sticks and then put him on a bed of soft toilet tissue on the floor of a rusty old budgie cage.
In olden times they were called daws, just why they added the Jack prefix is unknown.  Sometimes Jack is added as a prefix to mean maleness, as in Jack Ass, but Jack also can mean small as in Jack Snipe.  Jackdaws are amongst the smallest members of the crow family, so its name small crow is very appropriate.  Another compelling theory is that their call Chyak Chyak sounds like Jack Jack

Jack looked like ET with blue eyes, maybe he was intelligent, but he acted like a clockwork toy.  He spent all day sleeping until something passing would make a noise and wake him up, then his head would stick up and he would start yelling Chyak Chyak with all his might until we had fed him more cat food, when he was full he would reward us with a poo before collapsing back into a heap.

Corvids, as crows are known, are sometimes called "feathered Apes" because they are so intelligent.  I recommend you look at this remarkable video of a crow using his mind to solve a problem of how to use a piece of wire to pull a basket of food from the bottom of a deep glass jar.   As Jack grew he changed from behaving like a clockwork toy into a super intelligent, social and emotional being. 
In those first few days he grew very fast, and after a week he walking about the cage and trying to get out.  It was about this time that something more subtle emerged.  I would see him enjoying great long extended stretches of his wings and he would hiss if I annoyed him: the clockwork toy was developing spirit.
The clockwork toy was developing a Spirit
He obviously did not like the confinement of the budgie cage and so we bought a very expensive  very large dog cage; it did not work, a few days later he was clambering to escape from that that too and we had to give him a whole room where he could fly and play with visitors.

I have been very interested in the mind for some time.  When I am drawing people relaxing by the sea I have noticed that all the children share a fascination of stones....they collect stones and put them into piles and throw them in the sea......and the adults retain the same interest.   If Jackdaws went to the sea-side, and you will sometimes see daws there, they would spend all their days looking for objects to break. 
Jack would spend all day looking for objects to break
to break things they use their beaks and their hands
He would use his feet like hands
every new object is checked out for its break-ability.

His beak was sharp, pointed, shiny, vicious, delicate and super-sensitive to the outside world.  Jack explored and experienced the world through his beak.

Jack explored the world through his beak

With extreme precision he would hammer like a woodpecker on to the very tip of a chopstick, never missing his aim, until the wood splintered...and afterwards he knew his chopstick.  When I held his chopstick close to him he would snatch it away from my hands.  Sometimes a tug of war would develop.

and after he owned it again he would take it away in his beak

He was always inquisitive.  When I came into the room he picked my pockets, and if I had a hand behind my back he would peer round my waist to check that I was not hiding something from him.   New objects were always fully investigated
New objects were always investigated
and shared
and shared

and if I left them in the room they would be broken by the time I returned.  Jack was not completely self-centred; sometimes he would help with the clearing up by collecting the broken pieces and putting them in a pile on the shelf.

Jack was also sensual.  I have often noticed how our cats enjoy new sheets on the bed and fresh water..  Jack was pretty picky too, his sensual experiences were highly developed; he would eat only the chunks of cat food and leave the jelly. One day when visiting Jack I had an apple in my hand, and Jack looked at what I was eating with envious eyes so I gave a piece.  He took it gently in his beak, and I could see his tongue caressing and licking the juice to find out if it was tasty, then he swallowed it.  30 seconds later he spat it out again.  Jack had decided he did not like apples!

He loved helping me when I changed the dirty newspaper for new and brought a bowl of fresh water everyday which was a "must have".
Fresh water everyday was a must have
One day I discovered the reason why his bowl of water got so dirty, he was using it as a bath.
He wanted a bath
After I understood his need I brought him a larger bowl for his ablutions.  He understood it purpose at once and jumped right in, splashing about vigorously making everything around him wet.  I was standing some yards away with my back to the wall and I still got soaked.

He splashed about vigorously
He got out of his bath looking like a porcupine, and shook himself like a dog

he shook himself like a dog does
and preened his feathers

and preened himself  

After baths he looked he looked sleek and beautiful. 

Sleek and beautiful

Jack had an intelligent mind that needed to be engaged.  He liked my visits but really did not like it when I did not want to play. When I was drawing he would always take a look at my pencil box.  After a while he learnt what he was looking for; his first priority was to take out the rubbers and pieces of chalk because he knew they would break if he thumped them hard enough with his beak, and he also knew I would chase him to get them back. 

looking for pieces of rubber and chalk

His next priority were the plastic propelling pencils because he liked to pull out the rubbers and break the lead tips.

After emptying my pencil box he would arrive on top of my sketch board

on top of my sketch board

and would crawl, slip and tumble down the paper never taking his gaze away from the tip of my pencil
Jack would crawl, slip and tumble down the paper never taking his gaze away from the tip of my pencil

which he would launch himself at, breaking the fine lead tips with a single snip using the end of his beak with a delicate finesse.  Other times, perhaps when I was using a piece of graphite, he would grasp the stick with his beak and not let go.  His head would sway back and forth across the paper as I scribbled from side to side

His head would sway back and forth across the paper

sometimes his attacks were launched from my sleeve

Jack is watching the tip of the pencil and planning his moment to attack
After all his efforts to stop me drawing had failed he would start ripping the paper I was drawing on. Jack was a real attention seeker.

When he gained my attention he would sometimes calm down. He loved to sit on my shoulder and look out of the window with me, or cuddle up on my arm and make soft intimate sounds of affection.  On these occasions he used his beak with a lot of gentleness, perhaps nibbling and preening what is left of my hair.  He liked to push his beak to my mouth, like you see birds do sometimes, but if I smiled he would jab at my teeth because he thought them interesting shiny objects that needed to be tested for their breakability. 

We found Jack in May.  The internet told us that if we released him too early he would get bullied by other birds, so we waited until August to release him.  On his last day of captivity Mami and I visited him in his room, he clambered all over Mami, as he always did

and stood on her head, as he always did

We took some hurried photos with an iphone, none were very good. This is a last memory of Mami with Jack

Instead of giving him his morning meal we opened the window wide and went downstairs to call him. We could see him flying around the room, sometimes he looked at us before retreating back inside.  I went upstairs and Jack came straight to my arm.  Together we looked out of the open window and at Mami below who was calling him to a bowl of food.  Jack looked and spread his wings and flew.  His flight was unsteady, he scooped in the air and went behind some trees.  We never saw him again.

What I have told you about our adventures with Jack is only a flavour of what happened. There is so much more that I never achieved to show in my drawing.  I think he got lost, I do not think he really wanted to leave.

Everyday I go out and call him, but he has never shown himself.  At this time of year food is plentiful, he knows how to feed himself.  He used to catch flies in his room.  I think he is OK.


Friday, 11 April 2014



Many plants and animals have been given names that conjure up funny images.  When I go out to the garden and see the Runner Beans with their tendrils that run along bamboo poles my thoughts wander to comic images of vegitables running races on little legs. 

The common names of plants and animals are bursting with examples like this.  I have taken fifty such names and translated them into pictures.   You may never have heard of some of the species I have chosen to illustrate, for instance do you know about the the Long Nosed Cattle Louse?  From photographs I can see that this common parasite is a brown, ugly and disgusting creature, but the name conjures up an altogether cuter more appealing little animal.

Another disgusting parasite I would prefer not to see in real life is the Tapeworm, but my imagined tapeworm smells of cotton and would be at home in a sewing basket

Amongst the many interesting plants and animals I came across none was more strange than The Vampire Squid from Hell 

Vampyroteuthis infernalis

This fascinating creature lives in the darkness of deep water.  Along it's limbs are bioluminescent white discs that it can switch on or off.   When threatened it ejects a sticky cloud of  bioluminescent mucus containing innumerable orbs of blue light.  These floating coloured orbs distract potential enemies long enough for the squid to switch off it's lights and escape to hid in it's coffin.

Bugs and Pests provide endless opportunities for fun.  There are the Fruit Flies

and Carrot Flies

and Horse Flies that bite us in the summer

Another nasty biting insect is the Bed Bug

Not everyone has heard of the aptly named Robber or Assasin Flies.

If their name conjures up thoughts of insect bank raids and murderous attacks on the innocent.........then you are not far off the mark.  These nasty little beasties ambush other insects, sometimes in mid flight, and stab their victims with a knife like proboscis through which they inject a poison.  The poison is an enzyme that paralyses the victim and liquefies the insides into a semi digested soup which the fly then sucks back up.

Weevils, with their long noses, are charming to look at.  But many species of weevils ruin crops, like the Carrot Weevil which is a big pest in North America.

There are of course some very beautiful insects that are beneficial to us  Think of the Peacock butterfly with its gorgeous eyed wings.  The caterpillars feed on stinging nettles.

and the name caterpillar lends itself to parady

The furry Caterpillars of Garden Tiger Moth are called Wooly Bears.  So far I have only drawn the adult version of this insect

Another beautiful insect with eyed wings is the Eyed Hawkmoth.   There are other hawk moths with wonderful names: The Elephant Hawkmoth which has caterpillars that look like little elephants.  

Moths have such wonderfully imaginative names; there are Old Ladies, Puss Moths, Mouse Moths and Magpie Moths

The Dragonfly: How can a dragon be a fly?  By being extra small and having very delicate wings of course.

and perhaps the dragon flies are there to protect the even smaller Damsel Flies?

Then there are many species of  Cuckoo Bumble Bees which get their name fromtheir habit of laying their eggs in the nests of other bees

We have all heard of Stag and Rhinoceros Beetles

Another insect to make it into my top 50 was the Gooseberry Sawfly

 Which reminded me that the name Gooseberry was opportunity for more fun

By the Waters Edge you will find Bull frogs and Bullrushes

and if you hear the sound of snoring look out for the Snoring Puddle Frog

I am sure you have heard of Cat Fish

but how about The Black Eared Cat Birds from Queensland Australia whose calls resemble the mewing of catsThey would have to fly to California if they wanted to catch Mouse Birds!

Again birds are a rich source of names.   This is the African Fish Eagle

And this is a bird you might find in an Office; The Secretary Bird

in Africa you would find Zebra Finches

if you live in Britain and look out of your window you might see a Cock Robin

 but you would never find Cardinal Finches in Rome because they live in North America

or Turtle Doves in the sea because they cannot swim

In the sea you find sea animals like Lions, Giraffs and Cows, well Sea Cows

 and Sea Lions

and Giraffe Seahorses

and hairy old hermits who are a bit grumpy

The Hairy Hermit Crab

with their spotted dogs

as you stand on the beach and look up you will see the sky you is full of flying fish

and when you go for a swim you will see Eagles and Butterflies gliding effortlessly through the water

In Turkey the Dogs fly

and on the Galapagos Islands there are Elephants

Your garden is a dangerous place to go.  Did you know that Hooded Crows are often called Hoodies, and a group of Hoodies is called "a murder"

also in your garden you have Dandy Lions with fluffy yellow manes and cravats

in America you might see flying pigs

at the Garden Centre you can buy White Egrets on Stalks

or Swans flowers with their beautifully arched white necks

and scented Bee Orchids

you will know all the World has gone batty when you look up and see a flying bulldog.