Some Rooks

I have been sketching rooks today (a very favourite bird of mine) because I am hoping to make a lino or woodcut cut soon. I am not trying for a perfect rook drawing but more for “essence” of rook.


Listening to the food music of worms

I am actually going to base the linocut on this old drawing, above, which I had made for my  “The Food Music of Worms”  post, well over a year ago now. This rough sketch just seemed to capture my father’s poetic observations about rooks.

But the sketch is too scrappy and ill defined and I do need to understand rooks a bit better. I have spent many hours watching them as they strut around the stubble, make noisy and argumentative roosts in the tree tops and soar and glide on the breeze. I think they are splendid birds.

image       image


In this windy weather they always look tatty. Sometimes like a old bundle of black rags tied together, their long loose feathers wind blown and ruffled.


A drawing for a woodcut or lino cut will have to be simplified quite a bit to accommodate my inexperienced cutting skills. I am planning a series of local birds. The daily walks and sketches are making me realise how much I love them.

I will post my progress as the print develops. There’s optimism for you!

Sketchbook Rooks and the Food Music of Worms

I am still up in Lincolnshire having exchanged the high flying seagulls of the south east coast for the lovely wind tossed, scrappy black rooks who circle high above the big copper beech and roost noisily in the nearby sycamore.

I am very fond of rooks and have written about them before on the blog,  see “Beastly Birds”.

They are not only very bright birds but are also beautiful and very funny. In between working on commissions I am entertaining my elderly father who luckily shares my fondness for rooks. On a recent trip out we passed a little gang of rooks who were intently prospecting for grubs on a grassy verge.

We stopped to watch them for a while. They hopped and strutted about, sometimes stopping to stare at the ground, sometimes with their heads on one side, adopting a sort of listening pose.

“They always remind me of people concentrating on some sort of orchestral performance” said Dad

“Who is performing,  do you think?” I ask.

“Worms” he said, without a moment of hesitation,  “They are listening to the music of worms, they are listening to the worms playing food music.”  That’s why they are listening so carefully”

Ahhh, “food music” of course.  My father is not mad, he just has a lovely turn of phrase.

Some Sketchbook Rooks

rooks sm bg

rook 1 bg

rook2 bg

Listening to food music….

Rooks, Crows, Ravens and Jackdaws

Just an addition to the last post concerning a few of the crow family. I had not realised that rooks do not circle the fields or gather in noisy rookeries around ancient tree shrouded houses here in America, but then you do have the wonderful grackles.

The crow family have a bad reputation all round, ominous heralds of bad things, spirits of the dead, witches companions etc etc. Just look at the old collective nouns, “A murder of crows” and “An unkindness of ravens”, the “thieving” jackdaws and “unlucky“ magpies. But, they are wonderful birds.


Rooks Corvus frugilegus it seems are mainly Europeans.

It’s easy to know a rook from a crow or a raven because rooks have bald beaks, crows, a similar size, have dark beaks with a few feathers at the base, and ravens are big, with very feathery beaks. Jackdaws, delightful little birds, have a grey hood. In appearance rooks often seem rather tatty with ruffled feathers.

Great photo by Charlie from 10,000, here.


Only last night on BBC America (which, incidentally, delivers and endlessly repeats 90% of the very worst of what the BBC has to offer, great showcase BBC!!! Why??) Gordon Ramsey was out in the woods, cooking rook pie which he declared to be better than pigeon.

Rooks make Hooks
Rooks are very intelligent birds as are all of the crow family. There is delightful bit of recent film of a rook making a hook, to pull a little basket containing a grub out of a glass tube. Clever clever.. see it at here.

Carrion Crow Corvus corone Wonderful Crow photo from F Tachosaur at Bird Post here


Crows have dark beaks with a few feathers and are a similar size to the Rooks, but you can see how different they are in form to the Raven below. They are wonderful subjects for “the dark”. I have always especially liked Leonard Baskin’s illustrations for Ted Hughes’ poetry. This crow definitely veers towards the raven.

A drawing of a crow.

The Error, (Crow), by Leonard Baskin from Capriccio, poems by Ted Hughes and engravings by Leonard Baskin, published by The Gehenna Press, 1990.

Raven Corvus corax,


raven painted desert

I photographed this raven in the Painted Desert back in September.

You can see the feathery beak quite well. There is definitely something strange about these magnificent birds, something slightly unnerving. They silently materialise, solo, and watch you and they are very big.

It wasn’t there when we arrived and we were the only people at this particular pull in so, we, alone, were the focus of this bird’s attention. We drove on another few miles and stopped again in the Petrified Forest and there it was again.
Of course I am sure the ravens are fed by the tourists but their presence in this desolate but beautiful landscape seemed very appropriate.

The Uk’s most famous ravens “protect” the Tower of London.
From Wiki …
It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries. It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer. However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower, the monarchy and the entire kingdom would fall. Charles, following the time of the English Civil War, superstition or not, was not prepared to take the chance, and instead had the observatory moved to Greenwich. The oldest raven ever to serve at the Tower of London was called Jim Crow, who died at the age of 44”


The Tower’s Yeoman raven master, Derrick Coyle with one of the ravens
Image: © Natasha Marie Brown/HRP/, from here

They also have names, namely; Hardey, Thor, Odin, Gwyllum, Cedric, Hugine and Munin…on a macabre note, as well as their daily ration of raw meat, they have bird biscuits soaked in blood.

You can buy Thor… I have rather fallen in love with him, suitable for children over 3 🙂 , see the Tower of London website here.

Judging by his beak he has just enjoyed a couple of the above biscuits..


Jackdaw Corvus monedula


Some snowy jackdaws by Vishnevskiy Vasily at

A real favourite little bird who is bandbox smart and has a comical way of bouncing across the ground.
I haven’t seen so many on my recent visits home. The jackdaw was immortalised in the classic Victorian narrative poem The Jackdaw of Rheims from the Ingoldsby Legends written in 1839 by Thomas Ingoldsby , a pen-name of Richard Harris Barham.
It tells the story of a cheeky jackdaw who steals the Cardinal’s ring:

“In and out
Through the motley rout,
That little Jackdaw kept hopping about;
Here and there
Like a dog in a fair,
Over comfits and cates,
And dishes and plates,
Cowl and cope, and rochet and pall,
Mitre and crosier! he hopp’d upon all
!The thief is cursed and a hunt for the ring ensues. When the Sacristan sees the jackdaw, at less than his best. the culprit is found. His feathers all seem’d to be turn’d the wrong way;–
His pinions droop’d — he could hardly stand,–
His head was as bald as the palm of your hand
;The ring is retrieved and all is well.
It’s a fun poem especially for kids and the cursing sequence is particularly good…..”


See full text here seems a curious subject for a set of china but Royal Doulton produced a series of pieces telling the story.

doulton plate      l184_4

On the back of the jug you can just see the jackdaw, having forsworn his thieving ways..being canonised, a moral lesson to us all.. 🙂

“Fat Brown” Scarecrow and Beastly Birds

Lincolnshire is a county of infinite beauty and endless diversity. From coastline to fenland, to rolling hills and ancient settlements. I have lived in the north in the Wolds, in the middle at the foot of the great Cathedral of Lincoln and in the south on the border of the fens.

I have lived in the city and in the villages and I have appreciated them all.
The south was where I started photographing scarecrows and where the ideas for a book began to take shape.

Here is Fat Brown one of the earliest scarecrows I photographed. A typical chilly January morning, a low sun and a white rime of frost on the kale and the overalls of this expansive scarecrow,who seems to be tripping lightly across the field. I had seen this one from quite a distance, my attention caught by the sun shining on the old fertilizer bag.

What, you might ask, do these optimistic, brave and lonely figures hope to achieve? Their presumed target, crows, don’t actually disturb the crops too much.
While pigeons do love cabbage, and rooks will pull up young corn, crows prefer a solitary meal of grubs.
Rooks though are really delightful birds. I have always been very fond of them ..not to eat you understand, although rook pie was a good Lincolnshire country food. They are funny and sinister and glossy and noisy.
They flap and wheel around the house, nest in the big trees and strut around the garden in that self important way they have. I have drawn them many times.

The scarecrow here was inspired by probably the most sinister one I photographed.. Down on the fen in a field I found this terrible creature, a true thing of nightmares, definitely not to be encountered at dusk. Due to the handless, legless state he was in, he became known as Amputee .. the goggles just make for an extra frisson of the macabre

When the scarecrow is unsuccessful, a hapless rook is sometimes shot and hung from a stick in the field, a grim but ineffectual warning to others, but generally the farmers leave them alone and they can be seen mooching about in little groups in the fields, bickering and digging in the soil and generally being very entertaining.


All illustrations from ” Scarecrow” copyright Val Littlewood

Leaf of the Day:Trees and Rooks

I have three small sketches today. One is a drawing of the rooks in the village which I did quickly from the car when coming back from Lincoln 4th Feb. Its just felt tip pen in my sketch book with a bit of smudgy wash. The second one is the rook from the top of the Weeping Ash(See previous drawing) which I drew from the dining room window. This one is with a dip pen and ink on a piece of paper from a watercolour “experiment” that I had chopped up. It’s brown ink ..I think French Sepia. ( I always try to rescue something from failures.. I have lots of bits of failures! ) The bird was somewhat wind ruffled, but I think it looks a bit more like a blackbird in my drawing.
The last one is a tree experiment done mostly with a razor blade.. a neat trick I learnt on Nicholas’ course. Its interesting to see how the three different techniques work.

Trees and Rooks