Friday, 20 October 2017

Autumnal Reflections

It's a beautiful day today, very warm for the time of year which is pleasant though worrying from a climate change perspective. (It's been a very warm autumn so far this year). Musselburrgh Boating Pond looks wonderful.

for Weekend Reflections

Meanwhile in the hides, all the birds and the roe deer were too far away to photograph with any meaningful results, but this little slug posed nicely for me! (Is it a young leopard slug?)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

Subtitled 'the woman who thinks like a cow' this is a fascinating book about animal behaviour. Temple Grandin has autism and has used her different way of seeing the world as a way into understanding animals.

Temple Grandin is an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She has worked in the meat processing industry, helping to make slaughter houses more humane. As a vegetarian I didn't find this part of the book the easiest to read, but I have to admit that so many people are meat eaters who will never give up eating meat that it is vital that slaughter houses are made more humane. Also it is fascinating to read how the author thinks her way into the cow's mind, how it perceives the world and how it can be made to feel calmer and less threatened.

The rest of the book looks at all kinds of animals, how they learn and how they relate to humans and whether the ways in which animals communicate can be considered to be true language, including the story of Alex the parrot, who seemed to be able to genuinely communicate and learn quicker than his owners and trainers expected . She outlines what makes dogs so good at being helper animals (particularly their sense of smell!) and how best to train dogs to increase their chances of growing up into well behaved, calm pets or working dogs (and she's a great believer in dogs working to give them a purpose in life!). The author constantly compares her own way of thinking as a person with autism to the way that animals think.

All in all this is a fascinating book, whether your main interest is in autism in humans or in animal behaviour.

Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson published by Bloomsbury

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Autumn Red (a poem)

the early turning leaves of maple and cherry

slanting light glances
on rosehips
and five shades of rowan berries

the last poppy splashed
against ochre grass

the minor key
of robin's autumn song

first posted September 2008

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Plastic is #NotWhaleFood

Every year, over 5 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans.

Plastic pollution poses a serious problem for the creatures who live in the oceans.

According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation,  56% of all whale and dolphin species have been recorded eating marine plastics that they've mistaken for food. In a 2006 report, Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans, Greenpeace stated that over 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris in the oceans. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says that plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals every year, along with millions of birds and fishes. That's a lot of death in the oceans.

Plastic that is ingested can then block the animal's stomach and intestines causing it to slowly starve or find it's way into their brains, where it can change their behaviour. Often parent birds and turtles are seen trying to feed their offspring with plastic debris.

Plastic is #NotWhaleFood. We need to use less plastic and dispose more carefully of that we do use.

Here's a very long article from Coastal Care on the issue

Meanwhile, Whale and Dolphin Conservation are asking people to join their #NotWhaleFood campaign, you can find out more here or take part on Twitter

Monday, 16 October 2017


for the hurricane -
yellow skies


The tail end of Hurricane Ophelia is sweeping through Ireland at the moment and will reach Scotland in the next day or so, though probably will be downgraded to a storm by then

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Not Just Black and White

Yesterday, I shared a blog post showing a selection of the reds and oranges in Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens. Those weren't however the only colours on display. It's easy to think of the magpie as purely a black and white bird, but in the right light, its feathers are wonderfully irridescent, thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Autumnal reds and oranges in the Botanic Gardens

Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens are lovely in the autumn! One of the highlights of today's trip was seeing several fly agaric toadstools. These poisonous toadstools are very beautiful to look at

Meanwhile in the cafe garden, this robin was defending the returned tray trolley as if it were his home territory. When there are lots of trays on the trolley there's often a lot of food for the birds and they sometimes squabble over the crumbs, a territory worth fighting over!

and several red admirals were feeding on the scabious!

and this prowling cat tried to blend in with the fallen leaves

Friday, 13 October 2017

Autumn Colours and Fungi in the Dells

It's a warm and damp autumn day today and it looked beautiful in Colinton and Craiglockart Dells by the Water of  Leith.

I took quite a lot of photos of fungi as the Water of Leith Conservation Trust are leading a fungi walk round the Dells next week and wanted me to help them find out where the best fungi are at the moment.

The puffballs on the mossy wall up above Colinton weir are looking great at the moment

there's lot of candlesnuff around at the moment, I took this photo in Spylaw Park

and some funnel caps have suddenly appeared

Honey fungus is never good to see (as it kills trees) but is totally fascinating for the way that it displays its mycelia once the tree starts falling apart, there are no fruiting bodies at the moment, just the mass of black mycelia

Then there are more fungi, which I'll need to check out to identify them.....

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

My Natural History by Simon Barnes

Subtitled 'The animal kingdom and how it shaped me' this is a memoir from Simon Barnes (author of many nature books including How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher.)

Barnes picks out a number of encounters with nature throughout his life and details how they helped him both get closer to nature and to come to terms with that part of his life. How animals helped him find meaning when he was bullied at school, helped him cope with teenage boredom, shaped his career and helped him raise his family.

As in all his books, this is full of enthusiasm for the natural world, though there are more specifically human concerns in this book than in the others of his I've read. There are some really moving moments too, especially the chapter about how Barnes' son Eddie (who has Down's Syndrome) loves tigers, but also the family dog:

'Our dog Gabriel, a black labrador bitch, helped shape Eddie's universe. A deep joy in  Eddie's life was to curl up alongside her in her basket. ...She has scarcely uttered a cross word in Eddie's direction, never once snapped: only occasionally when the ear-pulling and tail tugging became too oppressive, she would sighand walk into another room.  Because of Gabe, Eddie knew he was living in a world full of kind and generous creatures.'

This is a lovely book, showing how nature can influence our lives.

My Natural History by Simon Barnes published by Short Books.

You can read my other reviews of Barnes' books by following the links below:

How to be Wild.

Birdwatching with your Eyes Closed

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

How to Fly

You have rid yourself of the panic of vertigo?

Good, then choose a plateau, high and flat
Stand on the edge facing out
Close your eyes, stretch up and raise your arms high
Brace your body for the wind from behind

Think yourself into the shape of a swift
(the most aerial of birds)

If this is a dream, the wind will lift you
to soar above the forests and rivers
your veins delight in the excitement
as you dive and corner
swoop and circle with the swifts

And if this is not a dream?

Keep your feet on the ground
and enjoy the breeze in your hair.

reposting this poem from 2011, which I wrote in response to this prompt over on 26N, a great little prompt site, which was never used as much as it should have been and is now sadly defunct.... 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Scotland's Wild Lands

Scotland's wild lands are home to rare wildlife, and offer places where nature can be conserved into the future. The distinctive landscapes, ecology and geology of our wild lands draw thousands of visitors each year, while the vast peatlands act as a carbon store, helping to protect against the extremes of climate change.

In recent years developers have been targeting these special places as possible sites for industrial-scale wind farms. While wind farms in general are a good thing as they contribute towards renewable energy targets, they need to be put in the right places. The wild lands of Scotland are not the right place for large windfarms for three reasons:

windfarms in these areas damage the ability of peatlands to act as carbon stores
they damage the habitats for rare wildlife and can directly kill birds of prey and bats
and they would require extensive cabling to link them up with the population centres that will use the power

The most recent large scale windfarm to be given permission is Creag Riabhach, near Altnaharra in the far north of Scotland. This will see 22-turbines up to 125m tall, five within Wild Land Area 37 and is the first time permission has been given for a development within the boundaries of an official "Wild Land Area." Scottish Government decisions on a number of other major wind farms that would damage wild land are also due.

The John Muir Trust is campaining to protect Scotland's wild lands from inappropriate large scale wind farm developments. You can find out more here

Friday, 6 October 2017

Signs of Autumn

It's a beautiful autumnal day today. It started with a real chill in the air, but warmed up. I made my weekly visit to Colinton and Craiglockart Dell today (later in the week than usual due to teaching commitments!). The autumn colours are really beginning to show now

 though some of the trees are still very green
I love the hornbeams at this time of year, their chandelier style fruits are particularly beautiful as they start to change colour

Hornbeams are only native to the south of the UK and were planted along the Water of Leith as their very hard wood was ideal to be used in building mill wheels back in the days when this area was full of mills.

The puff balls look beautiful in the autumnal light

The ivy is starting to bloom and attracting pollinators such as this Eristalis sp hoverfly

The woods were full of the sound of robins singing their winter song.

Just as I was leaving the Dells I had a wonderful view of a kingfisher dashing upstream, a blur of turquoise and orange.....

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Library Cat by Alex Howard

Library Cat is the cat of Edinburgh University's library. He patrols the central University area, chasing mice, allowing students to stroke him, eating pizza and searching for the ever elusive and enticingly beautiful Puddle Cat. But, because he is a thinking cat, he also thinks about the meaning of life, muses on why humans are so foolish and ponders the work of Nietzsche.

In this lovely book, illustrated with photos of Library Cat in his many moods (thoughtful, pensive, curious) the reader gets an insight into how this feline sees the world, how he feels humans are getting it all wrong for themselves and in their relationships with cats. We also get to meet his sophisticated French cousin Biblio Chat and his down to earth English cousin Saaf Landan Tom.

It's a lovely book to read, one that starts off very light hearted but that becomes increasingly  philosophical as it goes on.

My ambition now is to meet Library Cat, so I'll need to find an excuse to spend more time near the University library!

Library Cat by Alex Howard published by Black and White Publishing (2016)

Edited to add, I've just found out that Library Cat went missing soon after this book was published! There is now a new Library Cat...

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Of Frogs and Poetry

Frog, Waving

On a rock in a river that rushes and glides
down a beautiful lonely mountainside
the last wild golden frog waves*
trying to attract himself a mate.

The biologist starts to daydream
as she walks along the mountain stream -
she remembers visiting this place before
there were frogs everywhere then, she's sure!

She wants to leave the frog here in its home
but she can't do that because she knows
to save it she has to take the frog away
from the deadly fungus coming this way.

The biologist feels there is so little hope
as she walks down the now less golden slope
to the frog hospital where lined up in cages
the last golden frogs sit quietly and wave.

* The male golden frog waves its front legs to warn off other males and to attract females. 

I'm reposting this poem, which got an honourable mention in the Save the Frogs Poetry Competition 2012.

Monday, 2 October 2017

More Earrings in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

(I had meant to post this a while ago but for some reason overlooked it!)

I bought a box full of beads and other jewellery supplies from a second hand shop in Dumfries, while we were there recently. Included in the box were a lot of lovely leaf shaped pendants, which turned out to be ideal to make into earrings. So that's what I've started doing!

I've made several of the plain leaf earrings, which are now for sale in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop here. There's only one each of the other designs, which are in the shop here and here.

Using second hand jewellery supplies is a way of recycling items that other people don't want and avoids waste. All earring hooks are new, for hygiene purposes, and are purchased from the local bead supply store.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Autumn Sunshine by the Loch

We had a lovely trip to Dr Neil's Garden today. It was the first time we had visited this year! It's a lovely garden hidden away beyond the church garden in Duddingston Village. To get there you first go through the church garden, which has lovely views over Duddingston Loch across to Bawsinch Nature Reserve.

We then walked into Dr Neil's Garden, which is a lovely place, full of trees like this weeping willow

 and with great views of Duddingston Loch
 and Arthur's Seat
 There are quite a few birds on this part of the loch
including several little grebes (dabchicks)

There were some wasps and bees around, including this sleepy looking queen bumblebee

Yew trees have traditionally been planted in churchyards to ward off evil spirits and they look lovely at this time of the year (but remember, they're poisonous!).

After lunch in Duddingston Village, we walked along the road between the loch and Arthur's Seat back into town. We were absolutely delighted to see this otter,who swam around hunting for a while

and it was nice to see that the mute swan family had successfully raised four cygnets

The clouds started to roll in as we walked past Arthur's Seat

and it was raining by the time we got home!

Friday, 29 September 2017

buzzard on Corstorphine HIll

buzzard rises
into the blue sky -
crows give chase 

Corstorphine Hill, this lunchtime

and thanks to Literary Corstorphine for including me in this article about local poets.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Stars for National Poetry Day

It's National Poetry Day in the UK tomorrow! Here I'm reposting a poem I first posted for National Poetry Day 2012. It was first published in the Ghazal Pages Astronomy Issue.I haven't written any ghazals lately so this is partly a reminder to myself that I should write more of them!


Starry Skies

This woodland clearing dances with bright stars
the sky above full of glistening stars.

The city night glowing strangely orange
no room found now for the twinkling stars.

Sparks rise from the bonfire into the sky
to find their place with the glittering stars.

Trees in the park are draped with fairy lights
that mirror the sky full of shining stars.

Gazing at the astronomy photo
the poet is lost in inspiring stars. 

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

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Happy Red Squirrel Week

red squirrel in Dumfrie-shire, taken by Crafty Green Boyfriend. This squirrel isn't typical as it has lost half of one of its ears

Red squirrels the slim, cute squirrels beloved of Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin andother stories have long been out-competed by the heavier grey squirrels that were originally introduced from the USA. The grey squirrels threaten the reds through outcompeting them and also be passing on a squirrel pox disease that affects the reds badly but that the greys are immune to.

In many parts of Scotland, the red squirrels still hold their own, but in Edinburgh we only have grey squirrels. In the absence of reds, the greys are appealing animals to have in parks and gardens, though they can be a menace eating all the seed from birdfeeders.

However in areas where there are both red and grey squirrels conservation measures are in place (or being put in place) to conserve the native reds and keep out the greys. These may include establishing buffer areas around the  red squirrel strongholds with control of grey squirrels, ongoing monitoring, helping landowners to improve habitat for squirrels, involving local schools and communities and using forest planning to maximise the value of forests for squirrels. Also the recovery of the pine martin (a woodland predator related to stoats) can help red squirrels to recover in number as the larger grey squirrel can't run away from the pine martin quickly enough and is more likely to be eaten than the speedier reds!

There's a really interesting article (with some very cute photos!) about red squirrels on the BBC website here

The Wildlife Trusts hold Red Squirrel Week every year to raise awareness of the lovely red squirrel. You can find out more here.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Recycling - It's Worth It! National Recycle Week

25th September – 1st October is Recycle Week as run by Recycle Now.

This year’s theme ‘Recycling – It’s Worth It’, aims to demonstrate the benefits of recycling all kinds of  items by showing what can happen to the things after you've put them in the recycling!

If you've ever wondered what happens to your recycling then you can find out more here.

You can find a very helpful guide on what to do with unwanted items here. The tips include not only how to recycle items (in the UK) but how you can re-use them to extend their lives and tips on what sort of thigs are suitable to donate to second hand shops.

Meanwhile  you can read here about how to reduce waste.

And here is a list of events happening round the UK.

Do you have any top tips on recycling? Feel free to share them in the comments section!

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

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The kingfisher wasn't so keen to stop for a photo .....

We had a lovelywalk round Blackford Pond and the Hermitage of Braid this morning. The mute swans were happy to be photographed, the kingfisher less so....... It's the first time we've ever seen a kingfisher at Blackford Pond!

Lots of fungi about too, including this lovely display

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan

Subtitled 'How Climate Made History 1300 - 1850', this book charts how the mostly cold and often unpredictable climate affected human history, particularly in Europe, over the period often known as the Little Ice Age. Covering events including The French Revolution, The Bubonic Plagues and the Irish Potato Famine, the author outlines how years of cold and wet springs and summers made harvests more unreliable and how the resulting food shortages affected people's lives.

It is interesting to see how much the climate changed over these years and how incredibly unpredictable it often was, a good year might be followed by several poor years and then by a relatively stable period of a few years. It makes you realise that the changeability of the current climate is historically normal - the climate has always changed. However, it is very clear, just by looking at some of the graphs alone, that the current rising temeratures and extreme weather events (think Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria) are well beyond normal and to large extent are a result of human activities.

It's a fascinating book and an important one for understanding our climate:

"..we can be certain that such minor 'ice ages' occured many times earlier in the Holocene, even if we still lack the tools to identify them. We would logically expect another such episode to descend on earth in the natural, and cyclical, order of climate change, were it not for increasingly compelling evidence that humans have altered the climatic equation irrevocably through their promiscuous use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. We may be in the process of creating an entirely new era in global climate, which makes an understanding of the Little Ice Age a scientific priority."

The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan published by Basic Books

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Beach Lovers Come Forth!

This afternoon, after a writing class at the Ripple Project, a couple of us went along to Bijou Bistro, a local cafe to take part in an Edinburgh Shoreline community interview, run by Streamline Research. We were given free tea and coffee and scones with locally made jam and asked lots of questions about our hopes and visions for the future of the Edinburgh shoreline from South Queensferry to Portobello. We talked about our hopes for nature conservation, renewable energy, natural flood defences and a future free from heavy industry and fossil fuel extraction. We also talked about the potential of the shore and the communities along its length to be places for recreation, entertainment and community cohesiveness. It was a very interesting interview (and the refreshments were great too!).

Streamline are looking for more people to take part, so if you live or work in the coastal communities of Edinburgh (South Queensferry, Dalmeny, Cramond, Silverknowes, Granton, Newhaven, Leith, Craigentinny or Portobello) and are interested in the future of the shore, then contact them to find out more!

Update on the Swift Survey


As some of you may remember I took part in this year's swift survey, carried out in Edinburgh by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). These lovely birds have been declining drastically over the last few years and the survey is part of a programme to determine how we can help swifts recover in Edinburgh. You can read my earlier posts about the survey here, here and here.

Last night, the RSPB held a follow up event, where they shared some of the results from the survey and laid out plans for what might happen next. Not everyone who signed up for the survey has yet returned their results so the discussions were based on incomplete data. Twenty seven screaming parties of swifts were seen across Edinburgh (screaming parties are groups of swifts that gather together to fly low over the roofs, usually near their nest sites and are a good indication of breeding colonies.)

Nine nest sites were identified in total (including one that Crafty Green Boyfriend and I found very close to our own flat!). This may not sound like many, but swifts prefer to live in the backgreens behind buildings and so often their nests are only seen by the people who live round that backgreen, as you can only generally access the backgreens through the buildings. We were actually delighted to indentify our nest site, as we had always thought that all our local swifts nested in the backgreen across the road (apart from one pair that nested in our own backgreen).

In the future, the RSPB will carry out more detailed surveys of the areas where they now know that swifts currently nest. They will also work with the local council to ensure as many swift bricks (nest boxes that can be built into a building during construction) are fitted to new build homes and offices. They also hope that Edinburgh can become a future swift city (following on from the model of Oxford).

It was great to catch up on the progress of the project and it was also a very sociable evening and a chance to chat about my favourite bird with other people who share my interest!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Sea Pottery Jewellery in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

I've been recently going through my collection of sea pottery and choosing pieces to make brooches! The back of the pottery shard needs to be flat enough and big enough to be able to fit a metal brooch clasp on it, but other than that I'm looking for nice, striking looking shards. These are some of the brooches I've made recently

I've added them to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop where they sit alongside my sea pottery rings in a new Sea Pottery Jewellery section of the shop!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to new web pages where you can find out more.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

White Rhino, Matobo

to deter poachers
it was magnificent

as odd and ancient
as the primeval rocks
of the Matobo.

Wide mouthed and grey white
it watched us
as we watched it

through lenses
taking photos that fade
with the years

as the rhinos
become memories.

First posted for World Rhino Day 2012. World Rhino Day happens every year on 22 September.   

You can read about the work of the World Wildlife Fund to help rhinos here

* rhinos have sometimes had their horns surgically removed to deter poachers. However, this is a stressful operation for the rhinos and not necessarily effective as poachers will kill rhinos for very small amounts of horn, particularly as the animals become rarer and rarer.  

As ever, red text contains hyper-links that take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Hiding Snails and Oak Galls

It was a bank holiday here today so Crafty Green Boyfriend joined me for my walk along the Water of Leith in Colinton andCraiglockart Dells. It wasa lovely autumnal morning, with the leaves starting to turn

 We were fascinated by the oak trees, some of which had oak apples (a type of gall caused by a parasite)

and some had this different type of gall

and this tree also had leaf scale insects on the underside of the leaves, it looks like quite a bad infestation

Meanwhile, we noticed lots of snails hiding away, in bindweed flowers 

and under raspberry leaves

and there were quite a few hoverflies around, including this footballer hoverfly (also known as a sun fly)