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King Alfred's Cakes

Tuesday, 6th March 2001, West Yorkshire

kestrelkestrel A KESTREL circles over the meadow before settling on the big Ash tree.

Guy the Gorilla

orang utanThis morning I'm talking to school children in a local library. 'What's your favourite animal?' asks a girl.

For me, Orang Utans take some beating. Although chimpanzee art is well known, I have a feeling that orangs may be the most artistic of apes. During my time as an art student in London, on one of our weekly visits to the zoo, I sketched two young orangs. I crouched on the ground by the plate glass window of their enclosure. As I worked they came over, settled down and watched closely as I drew. As I recorded in my sketchbook;
At John's (John Norris Wood, my tutor) suggestion I showed one of the young Orang Utans my drawings. They always look to see what you're up to when you're drawing them. I showed the orang a page of macaws because it was the most colourful, he looked over it attentively for 10 or 15 seconds and then somersaulted over backwards, stretched his arms out and stuck his rear end in the air. To check that he really had been looking I held the book up against the window so that he had to stretch up in order to peer at it. And after looking he somersaulted over and made the same very definite and expressive gesture. He had another look and this time picked up a large bundle of straw and held it up against the window in the same way I'd been holding up the book, as if he was showing me something in return for me having shown him the book. Unfortunately I'm not acrobatic enough to react in the appropriate way.

Guy the gorilla One of the best reactions I've ever had to a piece of work.
At that time Guy the Gorilla (right) was the star of the London Zoo. He was housed in an enclosure adjacent to the young orangs;

The young orang grimaced and stuck his tongue out when I showed him this drawing of Guy.

First Shoots and Fungi

cramp ballselder Cramp Balls, also known as King Alfred's Cakes fungus, grow from the scarred bark of pollarded Ashes. The first tiny leaves have appeared on the Elders growing amongst them.

A pair of Mute Swans, no longer accompanied by cygnets, swims on the quiet water above the weir. next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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