Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Goldfinch

I went to an excellent event today - a lunchtime talk on goldfinches to tie in with the loan of Carel Fabritius' painting The Goldfinch to the National Galleries of Scotland. Both speakers were entertaining, humorous and informative.

(For my American readers, let me make it clear that we're talking about the European goldfinch (seen above on feeders in my parents' garden) which is found in the UK and across Europe and has been introduced into New Zealand and parts of Australia. (Some of what you read here won't make sense if you're thinking about the American goldfinch!).)

First up, Mike Fraser, Conservation Officer with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) spoke. He started by talking a little about goldfinch ecology and how to tell the males from the females (you need to check the colour of the hairs in their nostrils to be absolutely sure, apparently!). He then took us on a quick tour of goldfinches in religious art! The goldfinch, is one of a group of European birds that have red patches (the others include robins, swallows and even linnets) and were therefore traditionally believed to have tried to remove the crown of thorns from Christ's head so they are used symbolically in a lot of old religious paintings, particularly in Madonna and child paintings. They have also been very popular caged birds and appear in some Dutch paintings in that context (including the Fabritius painting), not to mention monstrous goldfinches in Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Now whenever I'm in an art gallery I'll be looking for goldfinches in unexpected places!

Next up was Ben Darvill of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) who gave a very entertaining talk on garden birdsong, including some very memorable ways of remembering the songs of common birds. This was followed by a quick quiz and luckily I was able to identify all the birdsongs correctly!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Seasick by Alanna Mitchell

Subtitled 'The Hidden Ecological Crisis of the Global Ocean' this book by science journalist Alanna Mitchell tours the oceans of the world, investigating their ecological health with a particular focus on corals.

I'm a few years late to reading this (it was published in 2008), and the chapter on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, though sobering in itself, was difficult in its overall hopefulness in light of the awful devastation that the reef has been experiencing recently. (This obituary of the reef is overly alarmist, but as this article argues, things are still pretty serious and certainly worse than when Mitchell wrote this book).

Mitchell writes with clarity and passion about the oceans, showing how much more there is to them than we often think. She scuba dives and takes a ride in a submersible to the bottom of the ocean floor to explore different ocean ecologies. She visits scientists across the world to find out more about ocean acidity and plankton (the tiny creatures that are the basis of the oceanic food chains). She outlines the prehistory of the oceans and moving into historic times looks at how the depletion of oceanic fish populations started back in the Middle Ages, after freshwater fish such as sturgeon started to decline in number due to their popularity on the dinner table. She also looks at how scientists are exploring the sea floor for new species that could be useful in medicine. She writes about how communities of sea creatures are being devastated by overfishing and climate change across the world, leaving some areas of the ocean functionally dead. She catalogues the extreme peril facing coral reefs across the world as the climate changes and the oceans become warmer and more acidic.

The book is not only very readable, it's very nicely organised. Each chapter feels like it could be an episode in a TV series (in fact the book has been turned into a play!).

This is a sobering book, one that should be read by anyone who cares about the fate of the oceans, for after all, as Mitchell says, the fate of the whole earth will be determined by the oceans.

Seasick by Alanna Mitchell published by One World Publications.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Muted Colours in the Frost

It's cold out there but beautiful in the frost! Colinton Dell looks very wintry

and the bridges are covered in thick frost

which glitters beautifully in the low sunlight.

Most colours are muted and the occasional berries, like these rosehips shine out particularly brightly

The puffball fungi look very old now, but if you look carefully you can see they still have some spores left inside, waiting to be released when some animal bumps into the fungi!  

A kingfisher dashed up the river and disappeared into an overhanging bush,  then a few minutes later dashed across the river and disappeared again! A lovely spot of colour on the wintry river.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Trees are wonderful!

During National Tree Week we celebrate trees in all their diversity and value. They are an important part of our landscapes, both rural and urban and are important homes for other species.

Many trees are host to fungi, like this impressive oyster mushroom on a tree in Parr Fold Park, near where my parents live

Established in 1975, National Tree Week is the UK's largest annual celebration of trees, marking the start of the winter tree planting season. Organised by the Tree Council, the week offers a great opportunity to help your local trees.

You can find out about your local events here.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Etsy update

Over the past month the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop had fewer views and fewer favourites than in any month for more than a year. On the other hand paradoxically it had more sales than any month since I opened the shop! I will never understand the vagaries of Etsy statistics, but am very happy with the recent sales!

I've just added this necklace to the shop

You can see it here.

This bracelet and earrings set (which I first blogged about here) are also now in the shop

You can see them here.

And finally these earrings

are in the shop here.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Mute swans

It was a bank holiday today (St Andrews Day) so we walked along the Union Canal in Edinburgh and met these two beautiful mute swans

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

National Tree Week

Established in 1975, National Tree Week is the UK's largest annual celebration of trees, marking the start of the winter tree planting season. Organised by the Tree Council, the week offers a great opportunity to help your local trees.

You can find out about your local events here.