Thursday, 19 April 2018

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

From being unseasonably cold for most of the spring, yesterday and today have been unseasonably warm and beautifully sunny.

I walked along the Water of Leith from Slateford to Saughton Park today as part of the plant survey I'm doing of that part of the river this year. I was delighted to get my first proper butterfly sighting of the year (the only previous butterfly this year was a red admiral that fluttered past at quite a distance). Today's butterfly was a small tortoiseshell that posed beautifully on these coltsfoot flowers

and whereas yesterday I saw one female goosander on the river, today I saw a total of ten goosanders, including these two males

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Fortress Plant by Dale Walters

Fortress Plant by Dale Walters

Many years ago now, I studied Botany at Edinburgh University and am always  interested to read books about plant science.

Published last year and subtitled How to survive when everything wants to eat you, this is a fascinating look into the world of plant defences. The author is Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Scotland's Rural College in Edinburgh and investigates various aspects of how plants try to prevent insects from eating them and pathogens from attacking them. Using lots of fascinating examples from botanical research, the book examines how plants identify potential attackers and how they use physical defences (including spines) and chemical defences (including poisons and enzymes) to defeat their enemies. It also looks at the 'arms race' between plants and their enemies and how many insects and pathogens adapt methods of overcoming the plant defences.

It's easy to think of plants as passive and perhaps uninteresting and this book demonstrates that this is far from the case.

The book aims to present the topic as popular science, though readers with some background in botany or horticulture will get the greatest benefit from it.

Fortress Plant by Dale Walters published (2017) by Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

In the Dells today

My favourite larch tree seems to have more flowers this year than ever before

and each flower is really beautiful (you can read here my blogpost showing how the larch flowers develop over the course of a year)

The hornbeams are also in bloom too, with their catkins looking lovely just now

 In late summer and autumn the hornbeams have beautiful chandelier type fruits which you can see in this post here).

I saw roe deer in the Dells for the first time in a long while, though they were too far away to hope to photograph so I just stood and watched them for a while.

This female goosander on the other hand let me get very close and was positively posing for the camera

Monday, 16 April 2018

Along the Fife Coast

Today I accompanied Crafty Green Boyfriend on a trip up to the Fife Coast as a volunteer assistant to help him test some wildlife recording tablets that haven't been working properly. We had a lovely misty walk along the coast from Tayport through the Tentsmuir Nature Reserve.

It's a lovely area with some very distinctive semi flooded grassy areas

and woodland alongside the beach

Some very distinctive structures line much of the beach, these were built in 1941 to prevent enemy troops from landing on the beach

We were testing the tablets specifically by recording information about birds including red breasted mergansers of which we saw several. We were most delighted though to find a little egret, which is still a rare bird in Scotland, and best distinguished from other egrets by its lovely yellow feet (see the second photo below)

There were plenty of eiders too, though the only one we got close enough to to photograph was this one

There are bunnies too, including those that live in this warren in the sand dunes

and a silly bunny that had started to make a burrow in the main path

With my new enthusiasm for lichens, I was delighted to find lots of beautiful specimens around, though I don't know which species any of them are (apart from the yellow Xanthoria parietina)! But they're worth admiring anyway

Friday, 13 April 2018

Elf cups

I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend  for a lunchtime walk round a very muddy Corstorphine Hill today. It was very misty but the air was full of birdsong and we saw several birds including this chaffinch that came down to feed on the birdfood that we put out on the wall

A nuthatch kept flying onto the wall too, but immediately flew away every time so no photos of that. And the pair of jays we saw were just too far away for a photo.

On the other hand, fungi stay in one place and can easily be photographed! We were delighted to find these beautiful elf cups (apparently you need a microscope to know whether they're scarlet elf cups or ruby elf cups, but they're wonderful to see either way).

Thursday, 12 April 2018


She thinks she can
change the world
talking politics
in crowded bars
writing letters
protest marching.

You just build windmills.

Previously posted on this blog in September 2006.  

Meanwhile over on my Shapeshifting Green blog, you can read my poem Polish for Beginners, which I reposted there today. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A Visit to Borders Scrap Store

I popped into the Musselburgh branch of the Borders Scrap Store today. It's in the Fisherrow Centre, an old converted school in Musselburgh.

The scrap store is full of loads of materials for crafting - mostly donated by companies and individuals who have craft materials they can no longer use.

If you're looking for crafting materials for yourself or for groups you work with it's a great place to go! They also welcome donations of craft materials, craft books etc.

They have a larger branch in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. 

You can visit their Facebook page here.

The Fisherrow Centre has on display several pieces from local artist, BobbyValentine, who collects driftwood and other items he finds in the River Esk and makes them into artwork like this

After visiting the scrap store I went for a walk along the River Esk and saw swallows and house martins for the first time this year! The poor birds must have found it difficult to find insects to eat in the dull and cold conditions....

Tuesday, 10 April 2018


In some places today, such as the 'Hidden Meadow' near the Water of Leith, if you overlook the daffodils it almost felt like November rather than April

However, the larch trees know it's Spring, my favourite larch (which I followed for Tree Following back in 2014) has a lot of flowers starting to emerge now - this year I managed to capture them at an earlier stage of development than ever before

though some of the flowers are at their beautiful best already

They are later in developing than in earlier years - in this post here I collected all my photos of the development of the larch flowers in 2014, which shows them being well in bloom by 26 March. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Spillover by David Quammen

 Spillover by David Quammen

 This fascinating book looks at zoonosis - diseases that have entered (spilled over into) the human population through contact with animals (by eating, farming or hunting) and asks what the next big pandemic disease will be.

Quammen is a brilliant science journalist, laying out well researched facts with a narrative style that would suit a thriller. He takes the reader through research into the origins of diseases such as Ebola, flu and AIDS, looking at how the diseases made their way into human communities and how they spread. He talks to eminent scientists in molecular biology, epidemiology and disease ecology.

This could be a very dry and depressing topic, specially 520 pages of it, and I admit, although I picked this book up a couple of years ago, I just couldn't bring myself to read it until recently. I'm very glad I did though, it is a total page turner and is full of fascinating science that is presented in an accessible way, without ever being dumbed down.

The main message of this book is very sobering. With all we are doing to the environment - destroying rainforests and other valuable habitats, forcing proximity between ourselves and wild animals and between our domestic animals and those wild animals we are constantly enabling diseases to pass from wild animals to ourselves. Some of those diseases might be more or less symptom free in their wild hosts (as disease and host have evolved together) but attack humans with ferocity. Others may cause serious disease in their wild hosts and the same for us as well.

The second message is equally sobering. We often talk about outbreaks of disease, but an outbreak is a sudden increase in population of any organism, whether it is a new version of the flu virus or a plague of locusts. Most outbreaks surge and then collapse. If you look at the growth of the human population over the recent past, then as a species we could be described as an outbreak and so the question is begged - when is our population going to crash? And will it be the next zoonotic pandemic that causes that crash? And if so what will be that disease?

It's a fascinating book, well worth reading if you're interested in health or the natural world.

Spillover by David Quammen published by BodleyHead (2014) on FSC certified sustainable paper.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Dipper for Draw a Bird Day

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, today is Draw a Bird Day.

Here is a dipper that I drew earlier today. The dipper is a common bird along the rivers of Edinburgh, I'm always happy to see one when I'm patrolling the river for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. In some parts of the UK, the dipper is very much a bird of high moorland rivers.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Crafty Corvids

We had a lovely walk round Arthur's Seat today. It was lovely and mild though snow still lies on the hills!

The stars of the show were definitely the corvids! We had great views of a pair of ravens including this one which flew very close to us

We also watched several jackdaws making preparations for their nests, including this pair who were checking out nest sites

We were also delighted to get good views of this kestrel

I was keen to look at all the lichens that adorn the trees on the hill. These patches of
Xanthoria parietina are particularly lovely

for Nature Notes.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Strange Alchemies

(i.m. Rebecca Elson 1960 – 1999. Astronomer and Poet)

From science you created lyric
gold, dark matter illuminating
your soul.

When cancer called, you
listened to crazy dividing
cells sing new

universes into being; ate
stars to shine
light onto death.

Your scribbled notes haunt
our minds like coyotes –
leave us awed.

Originally posted in 2007 in response to a challenge at Poetry Thursday is to write a poem to or for a poet. This is my poem in memory of Rebecca Elson. Her wonderful collection of poetry and notes towards unwritten poems, Responsibility to Awe,was published in 2001 by Carcanet. Read more about the poet and her work.

Meanwhile I've just posted another poem over on my Shapeshifting Green blog, which you can read here

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Draw a Bird Day

I've just discovered that 8 April is Draw a Bird Day!

In 1943, & year old Dorie Cooper went to hospital to visit her uncle who had been wounded in the war. She asked him to draw a bird which he did. The event cheered up her uncle and other soldiers in the hospital. From then on, whenever Dorie visited, they competed to see who could draw the best bird pictures. Within a few months, the  ward's walls were covered by bird drawings.

3 years later, Dorie was killed in a car accident. Her coffin was filled with drawings of birds by soldiers, nurses and doctors from her uncle's ward. Ever since then, they remembered the girl who brought hope to the ward by drawing birds on her birthday, April 8th.

I'm better at drawing rabbits, but here's today's bird picture. It's pretty basic and not intended as an identification guide!

 You can find out more about Draw a Bird Day here.

If you have any bird drawings that you'd like to share, feel free to leave links to them in the comments section below!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Crafting Update

I've been crafting recently! I love sorting through my bead supplies and seeing what I can come up with. Beaded lanyards are one of the most popular items in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop and someone was recently asking me when I would have more in the shop so I've made two new lanyards recently

 this is now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop here.

and this one is here.

I also recently made this keychain / handbag charm, which features a skyscraper charm that Crafty Green Boyfriend found for me.

 This is in the Etsy shop here.

All my beaded items are made predominantly from beads rescued from damaged jewellery along with good quality, brand new 'findings' (which is the slightly misleading term for items such as earring hooks, keyring fasteners etc). The lanyard attachments I use are reused from business lanyards.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Language in Danger by Andrew Dalby

 Language in Danger: The Loss of Linguistic Diversity and the Threat to Our Future

This is a fascinating look at the patterns of language decline in the world. There is some fascinating historical analysis of how the spread of Latin and Greek in the ancient world lead to the extinction of the then indigenous languages of large areas of Europe, the Middle East and north Africa. This is then compared to the way in which English has in more recent years become a global language and how this affects other languages. How is the prevalence of English as a global second language affecting  other languages? It's clear that English words are making their way more and more into the vocabulary of many other languages, though I'm less convinced that familiarity with English is necessarily changing the structure of other languages. I certainly notice if I (try to) read an old book in German or Italian I am more likely to give up on it than a modern book but that feels to me a result of modern informality and story telling styles that seem to me not necessarily a direct result of the influence of English. This is just one of the many fascinating elements of this book.

The most interesting element of the book from the point of view of this blog is what it says about the links between language, culture and knowledge about the natural world. The author gives examples of how local dialects of English have unique words that relate to their local environment (words that have often been borrowed from the local (often dying) indigenous languages. These words sometimes end up being the only remaining  traces of those indigenous languages. Also fascinating is the attempt to trace the history of certain common words relating to the natural world - words such as apple (afal in Welsh, a Celtic language) seem to have a very ancient origin, speaking in part to the vital importance our ancestors recognised in the natural world.

The book also traces how people living in different environments have languages that reflect those environments and perhaps therefore offer a different world view. (This is incidentally, discussed in relation to attitudes to climate change, in this recent article).

It may be tempting for some people to shrug their shoulders and say 'so what?' at the thought of languages disappearing. However, as languages disappear, so do specific banks of knowledge, which offer insights into not only the natural world itself but into medicinal applications for plants. Taking as an example this quote from the book:

'Ethnobotanists looking for possible new sources of medicinal drugs have found that they need to be selective: they need peoples who have been resident in the same region for many generations......The Polynesians have had 1,500 years .....time to test and prove a hundred odd medicinal plants, far more than the Europeans of New Zealand or Hawaii. There's no magic about it, it takes a long long time for a reasonable proportion of plants to be tested....'

Language in Danger by Andrew Dalby, published by Allen Lane

Monday, 2 April 2018

Sleet, snow and lovely birds

Yesterday afternoon was lovely and sunny and we walked to Blackford Pond to see if the frogs and toads were around, as in former years this has often been about the time of year when they are most in evidence. We didn't see any frogs or toads though we did see plentyof frogspawn.

This tufted duck allowed Crafty Green Boyfriend to take his photo

We then wandered through the Hermitage of Braid and made friends with this lovely goldcrest

When we got home, I found out that we had entirely overlooked a ring necked duck that was visiting Blackford Pond! This American duck is a rare vagrant in the UK and this individual has been touring the waterbodies of Edinburgh, so far turning up at Duddingston Loch and Figgate Pond as well as Blackford Pond. So today we braved the wind and sleet and hoped that the duck had chosen to stay at Blackford Pond for a while. Luckily he had and was quite happy to pose for the photographers who were gathering. The light wasn't perfect for photos, but Crafty Green Boyfriend got these photos

The ring necked duck can be mistaken for a tufted duck from a distance if you're not looking for it, but its beak is quite different, it doesn't have a tuft on the back of its head and it has a grey tummy which isn't clear in all lights (though does show quite well in the first of the photos above).