Tuesday 30 June 2009

Swift update

We are due to have roof repairs and I wrote to the council about the protocols for swifts and roof repairs. As many readers of this blog know, swifts are my favourite birds. They nest in roofs in this area, though there is no evidence of them living in our roof so far. Edited highlights of the council's reply follow:

'The decline in Swift populations is alarming and they have recently been added to the Amber list of "Birds of Conservation Concern" (see: http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/details.asp?id=tcm:9-219495 )
The main issue for Swifts seems to be the loss of urban breeding sites, particularly where tenement blocks are being refurbished, and my understanding is that refurbishment works must ensure that a building's roof is watertight and airtight before a Building Warrant can be issued. This results in a very strong incentive for builders to block up any existing crevices and gaps, resulting in nest sites being lost.

All roofing and building contractors should be aware that it is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally or recklessly take, damage or destroy the eggs, young or nest of a swift whilst it is being built or in use. So if there are birds nesting in your building then the builders are required to wait until the breeding season has passed.

One of the ways we are trying to help Swifts in Edinburgh is to encourage developers of appropriate new builds to incorporate artificial nest sites (Swift bricks) into their designs.

The Scottish Ornithologist's Club carry out a survey for Swifts in Edinburgh every few years (the last report is available at: www.the-soc.org.uk/docs/edinburgh-swift-survey.pdf ).'

You can read more about Swifts at: www.swift-conservation.org/

We are very pleased to have a roofing contractor who is happy to fit swift nest boxes when he works on the roof.

Monday 29 June 2009

Poetry pocket

This is an experiment in double sided collage. I collected all the natural materials (bark, feathers and elm fruits) from the Water of Leith over the last couple of weeks. The plastic is reused from packaging that came in a gift - pretty tough to sew the two pieces together.... The paper is all reused office waste. The words are descriptive of the woodland along the Water of Leith. They suggest rather than form a poem. The whole thing shifts about a bit, so it changes as you handle it.....

Sunday 28 June 2009

Rainforest thoughts

In the film The Emerald Forest (1985) - the forest dwellers were concerned that the edge of their forest kept coming closer to their homes.....

In the film, Birdwatchers (2009) - the former forest dwellers reclaim their ancestral homes on what is now endless farmland.....

Sometimes it can feel quite difficult to stay optimistic....... However, we can take action to help the rainforests across the world, one of the most effective methods is to get involved with campaigning with Ecological Internet, who have a very good record of success in preserving rainforests. You can find out more and join in their campaigns on their Rainforest Portal, here.

Friday 26 June 2009


Baraboo is the directorial debut of Mary Sweeney, the longtime editor for David Lynch. It's on again at the Edinburgh Film Festival tomorrow, 5.45pm at Filmhouse and I think there are tickets left. It's a beautifully shot film, full of trees and birdsong, that quietly follows the lives of the people who live and work in and around a motel and gas station in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It's full of subtle observation, humour and hidden pain and is a truly beautiful cinematic experience.

Birdwatchers - the Film

Another fine film in the Edinburgh International Film Festival is Birdwatchers, Marco Bechis' drama about the Gurani people of Brazil. The story centres on a family who live in a reservation and make money by posing for tourists but are rocked by a series of suicides and decide to reclaim their ancestral home. This home was once rich rainforest but is now farmland with a very unsympathetic owner, who wants the Indians off 'his' land. The film is beautiful, disturbing and depressing, though there are moments of humour, but overall it is not an optimistic film..... Birdwatchers was released in France and Brazil last year and is being released in a number of European countries over the next few months. Not sure about the USA.....

In some senses the film reminded me of The Emerald Forest, the 1985 film which was one of my early influences in developing my environmental awareness.

Survival International is campaigning for the rights of the Guarani people, you can find out more here.

For those of you who asked, Crimson Wing, which I reviewed a few days ago should be getting worldwide release, including a Swahili version to be released in Tanzania.

Thursday 25 June 2009

The Crimson Wing

The Crimson Wing is the first feature length film produced by the newly launched Disneynature. It's a stunning look at the life of one of the most fascinating, bizarre and characterful birds, the lesser flamingo. The sheer number of flamingos stuns the viewer as does their hardiness at living in one of the most naturally inhospotable environments in the world, Lake Natron, a hot salt lake in Tanzania. The narration is intriguing, full of information about the birds and their lifestyle, though it does tend a little to the oversentimental, as does the soundtrack. I just saw this film today at teh Edinburgh International Film Festival. It's on again tomorrow at 6.15pm and then will be released into selected UK cinemas on 25 September.

The flamingos on Lake Natron, as much other wildlife in Africa, are threatened by development in the area. A proposal for a soda ash plant on the shores of Lake Natron was recently overturned by local people, but the Birdlife International Think Pink campaign still goes on (though the information on this website may be a little out of date).

Tuesday 23 June 2009

A poetic miscellany

steady drizzle -
twenty house martins chase
low flying insects

I also posted this haiku on Summer Haiku. To see how the birds might look, you can watch a lovely video of swallows (related to martins) over at Elizabeth's Luchair blog - here.

I've got five haiku in the latest issue of Haiku Scotland (which unfortunately isn't available online!) and one appeared recently at Beer Haiku Daily, which you can read here.

I also have a poem The Family Her String Quartet over on Aireings, magazine, which you can read here.

Fungi and More Ducklings

It seems like the wrong time of year, but all these photos were taken last Monday as I walked along the Water of Leith. I don't know the species of fungi, but they all photgraphed well, I think! Now that Crafty Green Boyfriend has a new camera, I get to keep the old one all to myself ...

Yesterday's walk along the Water of Leith had a lot of young birds, I saw a family of five wrens, a young grey wagtail, young chaffinches and blue tits. The highlight though was a group of 8 mallard ducklings sliding down the weir. Due to the vagaries of Blogger, I've had to put the photo in another post here so that you can click on the photo to see more detail (and even then you have to look carefully to see the ducklings!). And yes, we need to get the red crate out of the water...

There are more duck photos at The Duck Blog here (scroll down!) and at Oh! Books, Paper, Real Life here.

The Ducklings

If you click on this photo, you should be able to see the ducklings sliding down the weir, some of them have already reached the bottom. Mother duck looks on from the top...

Monday 22 June 2009

Mug Monday

Well following on from Plate Friday we now have Mug Monday, hosted by Acorn Moon and Weaver of Grass. Here are three of my favourites. The one on the right comes from the same second hand crockery set as the plate I posted in the earlier post. The rabbit mug was a gift I bought for Crafty Green Boyfriend, and typically, one of the few mugs bought new and one of the few to be cracked (we don't drink from it any more)! The middle mug was a gift from my parents many years ago.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Mini Beasts and Ducklings

mallard with ducklings

Yesterday we walked round Blackford Pond. There was no sign of all the toads that had been sitting on the bottom of the pond last time we were there. However there were lots of mallards, some with ducklings, also a couple of greylag geese, moorhens (see new banner photo) and black headed gulls and lots of jackdaws, which are very noisily nesting in the trees around the pond, the adolescent birds seeming to be very demanding! We also wandered round Blackford Hill and into the Hermitage of Braid. Lots of buttercups, yellow flag irises, dog roses and many other species of flowers, which were home to lots of insects, including ladybirds (more than I've seen for a while) and the creatures below that Crafty Green Boyfriend took great delight in capturing with his new camera.

a type of soldier beetle (above)
a type of scorpion fly (below)

a ladybird larva

There were lots of bees everywhere too, which was very reassuring. Several types of bumble bees, some of them with very prominent knees! For some beautiful photos of bumble bees, visit Stonehead at: http://stonehead.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/bumble-bees-at-work/

Saturday 20 June 2009


Headspun with vertigo and beauty
I look across the valley to the border –
a clear view all the way.

The forest is continuous.
Birds and animals have no regard
for our demarcations.

Human lives in villages on either side
of the invisible boundary
are the same.

It is not by our choice that we answer
to different laws, different leaders,
different gods.

for Refugee Week

Friday 19 June 2009

Home and Garden

We live in a flat in the centre of Edinburgh and until relatively recently we didn't even have a key to the backdoor that leads to the garden. Since getting the key, as some readers of this blog will remember, I have taken responsibility for looking after the path that leads from the small garden we share with other flats in our stair, to the communal area where anyone living in the block can grow fruit and veg.

Today, I was clearing weeds from the path. I have always been quite laid back about this, after all it is only a path, and no-one grows veg on the ground bordering it. As long as it is clear and walkable then I'm happy. The brambles give a small but tasty harvest come the autumn, the nettles are valuable for butterflies, the buttercups are bright when in flower and make a lovely damp and shady hiding place for various insects, which in turn are food for the birds. A strange looking insect with protuberent red eyes reminded me that what right do I have to destroy another creature's home, when all I need is the right of way through there?

Thursday 18 June 2009

Home - a film by Yann Arthus Bertrand

There is a new film from Yann Arthus-Bertrand (previously most famous for Earth from the Air) called Home. The film is made up of stunning visuals of the Earth from the air. The film focuses on Earth as our home and the impact humans are having on it. Although the film is very sobering, covering deforestation, the decimation of fishing stocks, global warming and climate refugees, it ends with a very positive and optimistic 10 minutes. It also has a very good balance of social and environmental messages and links the two very well.

This is the Earth. This is Home for all of us, human, animal and plant. It's the only home we have.

Home is free to watch on the internet at www.youtube.com/homeproject and is also available on DVD. It is showing in a few cinemas.

Home for Refugee Week

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Poetry on Home in St Andrew's Square

This lunchtime I wandered through the garden in St Andrew's Square (which is a nice place to sit and have a coffee or eat lunch, though I generally go to the bigger, more bird friendly Princes Street Gardens). There was a small exhibition of poetry on the theme of Home for Refugee Week, with poems, in a number of languages, hanging from a tree. There will be a poetry reading in the Garden tomorrow at 1pm, which unfortunately i won't be able to go to. if anyone is in Edinburgh it may be worth popping along, to listen to some poetry and perhaps read some yourself?

I have posted more poetry for Refugee Week on Over Forty Shades, you can read the poems by followign the links below:


Home for Refugee Week

Tuesday 16 June 2009

The Water of Leith - Home to Wildlife

Yesterday, I walked along 'my' section of the river as I do every week now. It really is a wonderful green space in the middle of a busy city. The river and the woodland around it, is home to wildlife including roe deer, otters, kingfishers and herons. Yesterday:

Insistent peeping, a young dipper flutters its wings until its hardworking parent feeds it with grubs. Then immediately the youngster is peeping again.

In the trees, a blackcap sings its rich warble and a bullfinch suddenly appears, vibrantly pink.

A grey wagtail flutters after the insects that float above the river.

The river is certainly richer for the diversity of species that live here.

Home for Refugee Week.

Monday 15 June 2009


Home is a place you won’t see again
Home’s what you lost when you boarded the boat
Home is the songs you sing to keep sane
Home is the seeds in the hem of your coat

Home is the warm soft bread that you bake
Home is the old-country clothes that you make
Home is the musical language you speak
Home is the garden where you plant the seeds

Home is the tree that grows from your seeds
Home is the shelter and shade of the tree
Home is the love in your children’s eyes
Home is the future here to which they aspire.

Home for Refugee Week
(cross-posted on Over Forty Shades)

Sunday 14 June 2009

The End of the Line

In my World Ocean's Day post earlier this week, I mentioned this film. The End of the Line is a documentary about the effect overfishing is having on the oceans. It charts the development of industrialised fishing fleets and how these are driving smaller fishing concerns out of business. It demonstrates how large fishing vessels very often destroy the marine environment where they are fishing, for example by dredging through coral reefs. It also shows how wasteful the fishing industry is, about 10% of the global catch is thrown back into the sea, unwanted and dead.

It is a very sobering film, but thankfully it is not all doom and gloom. The film also describes the campaign for marine conservation areas and shows how well these can work, though they cover less than 1% of our oceans so far. It also encourages the viewer to think about where the fish they eat actually come from. We are told about various restaurants and supermarket chains that have decided to source their fish more sustainably.

The End of the Line website is an excellent resource, giving information on campaigning and giving three easy steps to helping the situation:

1. only eat sustainable seafood (The Marine Stewardship Council advises where to buy sustainable seafood here)

2. Tell politicians to respect the science and to cut the fishing fleets to allow stocks to recover

3. Join the campaign for marine protected areas.

The End of the Line is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse and at selected cinemas across the UK.

Saturday 13 June 2009

An Evening along the Canal

Yesterday evening we went for a lovely walk along part of the Union Canal in Edinburgh. It was commuting hour and there were lots of cyclists, some of whom were very polite, ringing thenr bell and saying thank you when walkers moved aside, others though treated the towpath as their own personal highway and seemed not to even realise that they have a bell.

Anyway, the weather was lovely, lots of flowers were in bloom, including dog roses, buttercups and a couple of species of vetches. There were a couple of swallows, 5 house martins, hedges full of house sparrows and several mallards on the water, including some youngsters looking almost grown up. The photo shows the adult female chasing the male away from the chicks.

But the birdwatching highlight was finding two families of mute swans with seven cygnets each. We had seen one of these pairs making its nest earlier this year and its wonderful to see that they have been so successful!

There are also some gorgeous photos of swans over on Let the Good Times Roll - you can see them here.

Friday 12 June 2009

Plate Friday

I read about this idea on Weaver of Grass! Elizabeth from About New York originally came up with the idea of sharing our favourite plates. This is my favourite plate! We have dinner plates, side plates, mugs and cereal bowls all with this design. I really like the design because it is simple and contemporary and includes the natural world in the form of the leaf. I also love this crockery set because I bought it from the second hand shop across the road from where I live! Most second hand crockery tends not to be this appealing, so I think we were very lucky!

Thursday 11 June 2009

Birds in the City

We live in the middle of Edinburgh but still there is a fair amount of bird activity. In these light evenings of early summer our local blackbird (who has the most beautiful song of any blackbird) duets with the loudest chaffinch I've ever heard. Both the blackbird and chaffinch have songs that I learnt to recognise quite a long time ago. It's only more recently that I've learnt to recognise the dunnock's lovely song, which also is heard a lot round here. We have the swifts here too of course, which I blog about a lot. The other day we had 44 starlings sitting around on roofs and chimneys, which is a lot for round here these days.

Up the road in the car park, where unexpectedly I recently saw a swallow, I also regularly hear what sounds like goldfinches, though as I'm not 100% confident of my ability to recognise their song, I'll need to wait to see them before I know for sure!

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Water of Leith haiku

high in the upper branches -
feathers flutter down.

feathers (probably not blackcap feathers!) found at the Water of Leith on Monday.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

World Oceans Day

It's World Oceans Day today, a time to think about what the oceans mean to us and how we can help conserve them and the wonderful wildlife that lives in them. Two bloggers who i regularly read have posted excellent posts on World Oceans Day:

Beth at Fake Plastic Fish posted about the connection between our overconsumerist lifestyles and mindsets and the amount of garbage in the oceans. You can read her post here.

Angela over at A Note from Your Mother (Amazing Mother Earth) shares lots of links and some photos, including a very cute seal here.

If you want to help to conserve the oceans, here are some ideas:

Use less plastic and make sure that you dispose very carefully of any plastic you do use
Join a Beach Clean Up, or Adopt a Beach - you can find out more at the Adopt a Beach website.
Join the Marine Conservation Society, visit their website here.
Celebrate your Ocean Connection with The Ocean Project
Read about the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch on the Greenpeace website and then use the other links on the site to find out how to join their campaigns.
If you're in Scotland, you can join the campaign for a Scottish Marine Bill at Save Scottish Seas.
The film End of the Line is showing at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh and at selected other cinemas.

Monday 8 June 2009

Dappled Summer Light

speedwell, wild carrot and fallen elm fruits by the Water of Leith

It was a lovely day today to patrol the river, wildlife highlights include: a song thrush smashing a snail on a stone; two treecreeepers; a chaffinch wrestling with a large caterpillar and a wonderful chorus of blackcaps in the trees above my head. I also saw a lovely black and white moth, but the photos are too terrible to share....
One of the best things about this voluntary post is the chance I get of seeing the Water of Leith on a regular basis and watching (and listening to!) how it changes with the seasons. The wild garlic has finished flowering now and everywhere is covered in buttercups. Carol over at From the Fieldbook was also recently talking about how she enjoys keeping up with seasonal changes, here.
I cut back some overgrown vegetation today and collected a large bag full of rubbish, though it was pleasing to see that there weren't the blackspots of rubbish there had been last week.

Sunday 7 June 2009

In the Wilderness by Manuel Rivas

This is an intriguing novel, set in north west Spain. The central idea is that the characters are reincarnated as animals in the area where they once lived as humans. This gives rise to fascinating insights into the human relationship with the natural world and to ideas about continuity of life and how the past is never really that far away. Unfortunately the language is overly flowery at times and sentences sometimes seem to be endless, carried away with the immensity of the ideas in them. Still, any book is worth reading with such a strong central theme and with descriptions like this:

In the grief of the hedges, a stonechat tried not to sing, disguised as a sparrow.

In the Wilderness by Manuel Rivas, published by Vintage

Saturday 6 June 2009

Magpie haiga

a magpie preens
on a chimney pot -
a sudden breeze


collage made from waste paper and found magpie feather

Friday 5 June 2009

What does home mean to you?

From film festivals to football tournaments, comedy nights to carnivals, exhibitions, workshops, parties and much, much more, Refugee Week Scotland (15-21 June 2009) is an exciting programme of events happening across the country to celebrate diversity and raise awareness of refugee issues.

This year the theme of Refugee Week is HOME. For many refugees and asylum seekers, a new home in Scotland means safety from persecution and a life without fear. But what does home mean to you?

For me a large part of what home means to me relates to the natural environment. When I was a child, our garden was as important a part of what home meant as was our house. Now I've moved to a different city, the landscape and wildlife in and around Edinburgh mean home to me. When I lived in Malawi for a couple of years, the birds and the lake were as much a vital part of being there as were the students I taught, the friends I made and the colleagues I worked with. When I returned to the UK, I was returning home to the greenery and the familiar birds as much as to friends and family.

Now as I look up into the sky and see the swifts, enjoying their summer home, I know that if there ever comes a summer when they're not there, I will feel as though I've lost a vital part of my home.

Home for Refugee Week

What does home mean to you?
If you're in Scotland and want to include your thoughts on home on your blog, please include the first two paragraphs of this post and link to
Refugee Week Scotland 09.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Summer Haiku

There are often discussions about whether Summer starts at the beginning of June or on the summer solstice or whenever your local wildife tells you that summer has arrived in your locality. Well, according to the Summer Haiku blog, summer started on 1 June and there is already an excellent array of haiku there, including one of mine here.

Think of the Environment when you vote in the European Elections

Just a reminder to all European readers of this blog to vote in the elections and think of the environment as you do so!

Tuesday 2 June 2009

The Grocer's Son

This is a beautiful, thoughtful and gently humourous film shot in the mountains of France. The story revolves around Antoine, a surly young man who has left his rural home to go to the city but who returns reluctantly when his father becomes ill. Antoine takes over his father's mobile grocery but is rude to customers left right and centre. However, helped by his friend Claire, he soon begins to improve his customer care skills....

The scenery is wonderful and the film touches on issues of rural depopulation and the difficulties of maintaining successful businesses in rural areas, without ever becoming preachy or overloaded with issues. It also nicely promotes the use of mobile community services and shows how a mobile shop has the potential to be so much more than that to its customers.

The Grocers Son is showing in selected cinemas in the UK.

Haiku on the Water of Leith

As some readers will have seen, I've started a scrapbook of poetry collages. Well now I've started a second, specifically to include haiga (illustrated haiku) and other poetry (with or without collages) inspired by the Water of Leith. I'm aiming to write a haiku every time I patrol the river and to illustrate them where possible using my own sketches and found material from the Water of Leith walkways. The book itself (bought second hand) has a cover that could be designed for riverside walks!

The first haiga in the book is actually based on a haiku that was originally part of a haibun that I shared here, but the elm fruits in the haiga were collected from the Water of Leith yesterday.

Monday 1 June 2009

Transitions in Nature and Interesting Bird Behaviour

fallen tree being colonised by rosebay willow herb and other plants
sycamore tree - dying flowers under developing 'keys' (fruit) click on the photo to see more detail

a coal tit rips through elm fruits looking for insects.....

gnats above the river - a chaffinch behaves like a flycatcher

along the Water of Leith

and wow, on the way home, a swallow swoops in front of me as I cross a city centre car park!