Saturday, 31 December 2011

Brilliant Birding

We went up Corstorphine Hill today. It's a lovely place to walk and usually offers some good birdwatching (along with moments of great anticipation of seeing something rare as you can hear the animals and birds in the nearby Edinburgh Zoo!).

Today's birding treat was a kestrel! This used to be the most common bird of prey in the UK, when I was growing up, any motorway trip in my parents car would have at least one kestrel hovering alongside the motorway. These days they're much more unusual, and buzzards have increased in number and are now our most common bird of prey.

This kestrel really put on a show for us. It sparred with a buzzard, got into a long and exciting chase with a magpie and hunted some long tailed tits. I'm glad it didn't catch a long tailed tit while we were watching, as those are a particular favourite of mine (and we got some lovely views today!).

Later, a buzzard flew very close over our heads, and we got a real sense of how big a bird it really is!

Crafty Green Boyfriend said he saw what might have been a green woodpecker in a scrubby area of trees. If I'd seen that it would have been an extra bird for my year list, and exciting too as I haven't seen a green woodpecker for a few years and rarely see them at all in fact. However I was very pleased to see a great spotted woodpecker high up in some trees and all in all it was a lovely day of birdwatching.

Especially as it didn't start raining until we had left the hill....

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Year in Birds 2011

Inexplicably, this has been the first year that I've kept a year list of all the bird species I've seen. It's been a great year, I've seen 95 species (I had originally counted 98 but this had included recording one species twice and two unconfirmed species). I've seen a number of birds for the first time this year (tree sparrows near Cammo Country Park near Edinburgh; a shoveller at the Figgate Pond in Edinburgh and a greenshank at Cramond, Edinburgh). I've also seen a few species for the first time in many years (including wonderful sightings of spotted flycatchers at both Biggar in the Scottish Borders and in the beer garden outside the Arran Brewery on the Isle of Arran and lots of redpolls on the feeder in my parents' garden in Manchester.) I've also had some very special encounters with birds that perhaps I see quite often but not in such number - I was stunned this summer by the numbers of swallows and house martins flying over the River Esk in Musselburgh; also in Portobello and Dumfries.

One of the most notable features of my year list is that most of the birds have been seen in or very close to Edinburgh.

So, what have been your favourite bird sightings this year?

If you're in the UK, remember that the Big Garden Birdwatch is coming up soon, and I'll be blogging about that in early January.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Today along Water of Leith

The weather was wet and very windy today, but that didn't stop us from walking along the Water of Leith as I do every week and Crafty Green Boyfriend joins me when he can. There were lots of fungi on display today, this one being the most beautiful, thanks CGB for the photo!

Part of my task as a volunteer with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust is to collect litter. I regularly collect two carrier bags full on my trip round Colinton and Craiglockart Dells. I think there is less general litter than there used to be when I started doing this a couple of years ago, though there are possibly more large collections of litter, eg from barbeques (which I report rather than try to collect myself, in the same way as I don't run up or down the steepest banks by myself to collect litter, river patrollers are advised on health and safety considerations after all!).

At this time of year, with the undergrowth dying back, litter appears that has been hidden for the past six months, in amongst the branbles etc. Today, I found just about the most disgusting thing ever (and believe me, given the number of plastic bags full of dog poo that stupid people hang in the trees, this has to be pretty disgusting). I picked up a discarded beer can with my litter picker and turned it upside down to get rid of any rainwater that had gathered in it and out fell the partially decomposed remains of a drowned mouse. Yuck!

What an awful way for a mouse to end its life and a buzzard or fox was deprived of a snack too. Really, it isn't that difficult to carry litter to the nearest bin or to take it home.

If you want to be distracted from the image of the decomposed mouse, I posted some moody photos of the wonderful architecture on Edinburgh's Calton Hill on my Over Forty Shades blog here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011


This Norwegian film was part of this years' Edinburgh International Film Festival and I hadn't gone to see it as it didn't immediately appeal to me. However, Crafty Green Boyfriend saw it on it's first release after the festival and told me it would be a film I would enjoy. "It's got a strong conservation message" he told me, which is perhaps stretching a point but it is a film worth seeing.

Trollhunter follows a group of Norwegian students as they film a mysterious hunter who slowly lets them into his life as a troll hunter. They find places where trolls have caused devastation, destroying forests and killing tourists. The hunter is contracted to kill all trolls that have escaped their territory and are disturbing humans. The Government Wildlife Services, although they fund the hunter, publicly deny all possible knowledge of the trolls and bringing in obviously fake bear carcasses that they then leave in the area so that the bears can be blamed. The local bear hunters (who know their bears much better than do the bureaucrats) are not at all convinced!

The film is shot using hand held cameras to very good effect, the shaky camerawork adds to the atmosphere and tension in the film (though it can make for slightly queasy viewing at points!). Although the plot is simple, it moves along very well. The beautiful Norwegian scenery adds a lot to the film, being dramatic and often mist shrouded.

Despite the troll hunter being very outspoken in warning the students that trolls aren't like they are in fairy tales, the fairy tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff is incorporated into the film very effectively.

Conservation minded viewers will find themselves thinking about the way we treat large predators, should in fact the trolls be conserved despite being so dangerous? Are there ways that the local human populations could co-exist with the trolls?

But mostly its a well made and entertaining safari into the dark and scary Norwegian Woods.

Monday, 26 December 2011

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

How could I resist a novel called When God was a Rabbit? It's well worth reading too, though make sure you have a hanky ready as it's a very emotional experience.

The first part of the novel follows Eleanor Maude as she grows up with her family in the south of England (starting off in Essex and moving to Cornwall). The second part sees her as an adult. All through the novel, the details of Ellie's life are set against the events of the time, many of which impinge on her life (the Queen's Silver Jubilee in terms of the street party she attends, the falling of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in a far less benign way). A lot of Christmases are celebrated in the novel, which make it an ideal Christmas read.

While she is a child, Eleanor has a big rabbit, that she calls god. Given the title of the novel I had expected god to be more of a central character than he is. I also felt that god was banished too much to his hutch and not given enough attention, for example I suspect that his hay wasn't changed as often as it should have been.

Aside from my lagomorphic concerns though, this is an excellent novel, about loneliness and fitting in and about how life can change unexpectedly, giving second chances where you might not have expected them. Winman has a great eye for detail, there are some lovely descriptions for example of the river near Ellie's home in Cornwall. Ellie is also a character who is very much at home in the natural world.

So definitely a book I would recommend, just don't expect the rabbit to be centre stage!

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman published by Headline

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Special!

I wouldn't normally blog on Christmas Day, but I'm totally delighted to have one of my poems chosen as the Christmas Special over on Sabotage Reviews. You can read it here.

Hope you're all enjoying Christmas!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

Have a wonderful Christmas!

There's a seasonal poem over on Bolts of Silk today. You can read it here.

The photo above is from two years ago, we're having a very mild winter this year so far!

Friday, 23 December 2011


dancing to the beat
of the street musicians -
a grey squirrel.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Midway - the land of plastic

Midway is one of the most remote islands on earth, populated by amazing birds, including albatrosses. But Midway is in crisis, due to the plastic waste that sits in the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. Albatrosses that nest on the island now routinely collect plastic rubbish to feed their chicks, many of whom die, their stomachs full of plastic.

It's a tragic story and one that points up the global effects of our addiction to plastic (and our inability to re-use it or to dispose of it safely).

Photographer and film maker Chris Jordan and his team visited Midway to film the heartbreaking story of what plastic pollution is doing to the island and its wildlife. You can watch a trailer of the film here and read more about the project here. The film is still in production but looks as though it will be unmissable when it's released.

There are many ways you can reduce your plastic use, for example:

1) refuse plastic carrier bags - carry a reusable bag with you (and incidentally avoid picking up loads of reusable bags, as it takes as much energy to make every reusable bag as to make about 50 plastic bags. Once you've got three or four reusable bags make sure you carry them with you and use them all the time)

2) avoid products wrapped in plastic or made from plastic

3) Don't buy bottled water - carry a reusable water bottle with you. Give Me Tap is a project that started in Manchester and is spreading across England. They have established a network of pubs and cafes that will let you refill your water bottle from their taps. Don't be tempted to buy a bottle of water and reuse that, as the plastic in bottles can leach into the water and then into your digestive system.

4) Pick litter while you're out walking in the countryside. Ironically, the best container to put the collected litter in is a plastic bag, but often you will find stray plastic bags along the path that you can use in this way.

5) Make art out of plastic waste! Olympia Dumpster Diver's blog is full of ideas for making arts and crafts out of plastic and other waste material. Do make sure that you are using waste plastic for your art though, buying new plastic items to make artworks would be missing the point...

3) join in campaigns for example to ban the plastic bag in your city, county, state or nation. For example, in Edinburgh there is Ban Plastic Bags Edinburgh.

4) become informed! There are lots of good resources out there. One of my favourite anti-plastic blogs is My Plastic Free Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish). There are also a number of organisations concerned with reducing plastic use, such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

What are your top tips to reduce plastic use, especially during the festive season?

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tree Year - Winter

Some of you may remember that I've been 'studying' some trees for the Tree Year project. (You can see all my Tree Year blogposts here). Tree Year actually ended earlier this month, but that passed me by and I had been thinking of the project on a calendar year basis. Anyway, here are my trees in their winter guises.

One of the cherry trees opposite our flat.
The group of hornbeams alongside the Water of Leith.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Reading Challenges

This year, as some of you may know, I've been doing two reading challenges over on my Over Forty Shades Blog:

The Italy in Books Reading Challenge - you can read my reviews here
The LGBT Reading Challenge - you can read my reviews here

Both challenges were very efficiently organised by Brighton Blogger, so a big thanks to her for all her hard work (including organising prizes, of which I won more than one!).

In 2012 Brighton Blogger will be organising another reading challenge. This time it has an open theme so you can read any kind of book you want to read! As long as you review it on your blog! You can even take part if you don't have a blog. You can find out more and sign up here. I'll be continuing to review the types of books I usually review on this blog - poetry, fiction and non-fiction that broadly have an environmental theme.

In other news, I was delighted to receive two copies of the Poetry Space competition anthology Green Spaces, with my poem Cows in Meadow Flowers appearing on p25. You can order copies of the anthology here.

I also recently received in the post a set of these lovely postcards which I won in the Christmas Giveaway at Dosanko Debbie's Etagami Notebook. If you don't know Debbie's blog, why not pop over and browse her beautiful Japanese inspired poetry and artwork.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Monday Bunday at Gorgie Farm

We visited Gorgie City Farm recently, and you can read more about the trip here. In that post, I promised to share photos of the farm rabbits and so here they are!


Driftwood (he was found abandoned on a beach.....) Crafty Green Boyfriend and I sponsor Driftwood, you can read more about that here.


When I worked for the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, I was based at Gorgie Farm and got to know the bunnies pretty well! They were always split into two warring factions, Driftwood, joined up with Daisy and her daughter Sugar against Louie and Lily. Driftwood used to be particularly aggressive towards Louie (whose ears have never quite recovered) and any attempt at bonding the whole group just never worked.

On recent trips to the farm, we have hardly seen the bunnies at all! So we were really happy to see them all getting on so well on this visit! (Though there was no sign of Sugar at all!).

Louie and Lily have a serious discussion
queueing up for an advice session with Daisy

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The waterways of Edinburgh

We had a lovely walk yesterday along part of the Union Canal and part of the Water of Leith. Here are some of the highlights.

The canal was frozen! Chunks of ice were floating over large parts of the water and some sections were frozen solid. Not solid enough for even ducks to walk on, though. Certainly nowhere near as solid as it was the last two winters, but it offered some nice photo opportunities.

The cygnets are growing up now!

It was a beautiful clear day and the light was wonderful by the time we got to the Water of Leith.

The sunset was particularly beautiful.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Good Seed Bistro

Last night Crafty Green Boyfriend and I ate out at our favourite restaurant and I thought it was time to give it a review!

If you live in Edinburgh and haven't yet eaten at the Good Seed Bistro, you're missing a treat. This small, cosy and beautifully decorated bistro serves an interesting range of Italian inspired food.

The ever changing main dishes includes a variety of taglietelle, my favourite of which is probably the chocolate, or maybe it's the lemon..... The taglietelle is served with various sauces, not always vegetarian. So last night I had the gnocchi, as I often do. I generally find gnocchi elesewhere to be too heavy, but the Good Seed does a lovely light gnocchi. Last night's gnocchi was served in a light but rich four cheese sauce and came with a small bread roll. There's a nice selection of side dishes, my favourite of which is the courgette, though Crafty Green Boyfriend always goes for the chips (which are excellent).

There is always a wonderful selection of desserts at the Good Seed. They make wonderful cheesecakes (including a delicious lemon and ginger) though there was no cheesecake on the menu last night. Instead I had the cardamon cake, which was a delicious light sponge with a subtle flavour of cardamon. The lemon and rosemary cake is I think my favourite dessert I've ever eaten here.

In addition to all this, the Good Seed uses organic and locally sourced produce when possible and offers dairy free and gluten free options (I would imagine vegan options would be available if you ask, they have certainly in the past made vegetarian versions of dishes for me).

The Good Seed is in Dalry Road, not far from Haymarket train station and is open for lunch and supper. In the afternoon you can pop in for coffee and dessert! Check their opening hours over Christmas though as I think they're going to take quite a bit of time off.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Christmas Star from Bunny Felt

Crafty Green Boyfriend's Mum has given us a lovely little Christmas tree! I've decorated it with recycled gift ribbons, an old silver earring (!) and two fairtrade wooden birds that I've had for years. On the top of the tree is a wee star that I made this morning from felt that I made a while ago from the shed fur of Anya, the pet rabbit we used to have. I cut out a star shape in cardboard and then cut round that on the felt. I sewed in three tiny red beads as added decoration. You can make bigger stars of course and use other things, such as wee buttons, as decoration. This felt is not very good quality (I never quite perfected the felting technique!) and its also very thick so the star is pure felt. If the felt is better quality and thinner then you would probably want to make a cardboard star and sew two separate felt stars to it. You can find out how to make felt from pet fur (rabbit is best, but cat also works well) here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

sheep's wool

I had read somewhere recently that sheep's wool is sometimes categorised as agricultural waste, which I found appalling. I think it purely refers to low grade wool that can't be used for clothing, but even so, to think of this wonderfully versatile natural material being treated as waste is really quite sad. So I browsed the internet and came up with the following information:

An illustrated History of British Wool from the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre
A brief outline of British wool production
a good article from the BBC about using lowgrade wool in compost and insulation

Of course sheep themselves appreciate their wool coats that keep them warm and cosy through the winter. The sheep in the photo are some of the Ryeland Sheep at Gorgie City Farm.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Gorgie City Farm

We've just got back from a lovely few days staying with my parents in suburban Manchester. Our train journey down was badly delayed due to the high winds and flooding of a few days ago but it's a beautiful route through the Lake District and the bad weather added drama to the scenery! It was of course nice to spend time with my parents and we also had some good birdwatching, including a trip to Blackleach Country Park which is very close to my parents' house. My parents garden is a great place for birdwatching - for the first time I saw redpolls on the bird feeders joining the more regular goldfinches and many other species.

Today Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had a wee trip to Gorgie City Farm. The bunnies were on fine form, they've had a history of ganging up on each other, but they seemed to be getting on fine today and all ran round their grounds quite happily. I'll share photos of them on Monday (for Monday is, for bunny bloggers at least, always Bunday!)

Meanwhile here is an example of some very creative repurposing in Gorgie Farm Cafe. Each table had a menu covered in a different repurposed cover from a vintage vinyl LP.

I also noticed that the Farm cafe has started selling lovely handmade earthenware pottery from Frog Pottery.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more. Though the Gorgie Farm website isn't always working at the moment!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Winter arrives

I had a lovely walk along the Water of Leith yesterday. The weather was clear and bright but very cold with a lot of paths still icy from the day before. There were good numbers of birds around, including two herons, which are one of the few birds i ever try to take photos of, they're big and slow moving so make ideal subjects! Here are just a few photos to give a flavour of the day.

I'll be offline for a few days now, back next week!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Haiku and haibun update

I'm delighted that one of my haiku came third in the recent Sketchbook kukai (haiku contest voted on by the participants). Another of my haiku came joint sixth. Thanks for everyone who voted for me! You can read all the haiku here.

I am also delighted to have a haibun in the first issue of A Hundred Gourds, a lovely new journal devoted to haiku, haibun and similar poetic forms. Yu can read my haibun here.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


early light
the first snow dusts
slate roofs

snow covered lawn -
filling the bird feeder
every half hour

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Heavy Bag by Ross Wilson

Ross Wilson (no relation) is a poet who was also a boxing champion. Not surprisingly then there are quite a few poems about boxing in his first chapbook The Heavy Bag.

I have to admit boxing is not a topic I generally pay much attention to. I felt The Heavy Bag was the most effective of the boxing poems here, the language is particularly punchy and straightforward while the short line length adds to the sense of physical exertion that runs through the poem. We also find here a hint of the supressed anger that boxing can help relieve:

"The bag twists and turns into a boss,
colleague, banker, politician....
a shape shifting shadow,"

This collection also includes poems about unemployment, factory work, Friday nights in town and two poems that touch on nature. Shell Bay tells the story of a family walk where the children learn by exploration:

"Wee hands turned treasures scopped from sand
and studied the hollow inside:
the absence of something forgotten
when zipped into the soft shells of their dreams."

The Other Side of the Hill describes a climb, with a scene familiar to anyone who climbs hills:

"And just when we thought: the top!
The horizon ran away
like a tormenting tease,
holding up more hill."

It's good to read poetry that is grounded in vivid real experience and this collection isfull of such poetry.

The Heavy Bag by Ross Wilson published by Calder Wood Press

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher (who also published my chapbook).

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Bank Hoiday Birding

It's a bank holiday in Scotland today so Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went for a birdwatching wander round Edinburgh. We started at the West End, where right in the city centre, 20 or more waxwings were enjoying flying around the trees and eating the berries.

We then wandered over to Arthur's Seat and had a lovely walk there! We had heard there had been a mandarin duck that had recently visited Dunsapie Loch on Arthur's Seat. We saw no sign of that ornate bird but we did see this goose, which quite frankly is a bit of a mystery.

I'm not an expert on geese but ...

The white around the beak and the size suggests white fronted goose (the lack of black bars on its underside would indicate juvenile). The pale ring round the eye suggests lesser white fronted (which you might expect to have more white round the bill). The legs suggest pink footed. So what is it? Any ideas?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Bunny Calendar

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) used to make a lovely rabbit calendar, but a few years ago they discontinued production, due they claimed, to lack of interest (and despite me putting in a request every year to every SSPCA shop I can visit, they still claim lack of interest!). So for the last few years we have had to make do with a kitten calendar, and much though Crafty Green Boyfriend and I love kittens, they're not bunnies!

So imagine my delight to win a copy of the beautiful Bunspace calendar in a competition over on Jade's Zen of Bun blog! The calendar features photos of 90 adorable bunnies (including on the front cover a black and white one who looks a bit like our old rabbit Anya did). Mr Mick (Jade's bunny and the star of her blog) is in November.

So thanks to Jade and Mr Mick for this lovely gift (which arrived along with a signed photo of Mr Mick!). And for lots of photos of the beautifully disapproving rabbit that is Mr Mick, remember to pop over to visit Jade's blog.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can find out more!