Monday 31 May 2010

Fungi and Shield Bugs

Crafty Green Boyfriend accompanied me on my Monday walk along the Water of Leith today and took these photos. The honey fungus in the first photo is magnificent, but probably very bad news for the tree. The black spots on the fungi are fungi gnats.

The shield bug in the second photo is a lovely specimen, I saw one just like this last week too but couldn't manage to take a photo of it.

The third photo gives some idea of how thick the air is above the river with mayflies, stoneflies and other small insects - wonderful food for the birds and bats along the Water of Leith.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Corstorphine Hill

Corstorphine Hill is one of Edinburgh's wonderful green spaces. Yesterday we walked up the gorse covered hillside hoping to see some of the rabbits that live there. There were none but plenty of birds were singing. In the woodland even more birds were singing, I even heard a willow warbler behind the louder songs of blackcap and song thrush, and we saw a family of long tailed tits. The bluebells are still wonderful and here they are found in multicoloured patches, blue, lilac and white, all together. And what was that strange grey shape bimbling through the bluebells? Too grey to be a fox or a deer, too small anyway to be a deer, moving too labourously to be a squirrel or a rabbit and too big to be either of those. My goodness it must have been a badger! Then later we came across what must be the badger sett, complete with paths in all directions.

Another highlight of Corstorphine Hill is African Savannah home to zebras and antelopes (part of Edinburgh Zoo!). Yesterday we got good views of both these animals.

We finished our walk with a sunny rest in the walled garden, which is a lovely place to catch a bit of sun. Lots of blackcaps singing. Just outside the walled garden on the field at the edge of Corstorphine Hill we saw a cheeky squirrel posing with its white tummy on show. Silly squirrel too because the next thing we saw was a buzzard flying down from its nest and sweeping across the field. That time it didn't see the squirrel, but next time it probably will!

Saturday 29 May 2010

Looking after the beach

The continuing oil spill is focussing minds on the importance of the seas and coasts as vital environments for wildlife. And if the oil finds its way into the Gulf Stream then the UK and western Europe could find thelselves affected too. There are obviously huge issues around how oil companies operate and how spills are dealt with on the industrial and political level. However, we can all do our bit to help look after these environments and this can make a small difference and hopefully can help us to feel less helpless and hopeless. Here are just a selection of the ways you can get involved:

In the UK, the Marine Conservation Trust runs the Adopt a Beach scheme and the annual Beachwatch survey, involving tidying the beaches and surveying the types of litter picked up. You can find out what's happening in your area on their website here. The website also highlights the importance of cutting down on plastic use and reducing waste as ways of helping to protect the seas.

The Shore Thing is a project that works with schools and volunteers to record the wildlife on the beaches around the UK. Having accurate records of the wildlife that is found there, means we have a better chance of protecting it.

Save the beach, sponsored by Corona, aims to make people aware of pollution and waste on beaches, the preservation of the environment and to rehabilitate European beaches. From 5th June users of can choose a beach they want to save and take a picture or make a video to show the dangerous state of the place and upload it on the page. On the 23rd of August everyone will be invited to vote for the beach Corona Beer will save in 2010.

8th June is World Ocean Day. This is a day to celebrate the oceans and to highlight the need to protect them, a message which is particularly poignant and urgent this year.

You can donate your hair to help mop up the oil spill. This article from the BBC talks about how that works. Matter of Trust is a charity that is collecting hair to be used in this way.

Friday 28 May 2010


I've blogged before about the horses near the Soil Association offices. Well now its the turn of the sheep.

I've just started a blog on the Soil Association website about our organic allotment. You can read it here. Also, you can now follow Soil Association Scotland on Twitter.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Cloth sandwich bag

In my last job I worked in the centre of Edinburgh, in an office loud with buskers playing bad music over and over outside the window. I don't miss that at all, but I do miss being 5 minutes away from Henderson's one of the best vegetarian shops in Edinburgh. I used to buy all my lunches from there, they have an excellent selection of vegetarian and vegan rolls and cakes. Now I work in much nicer offices surrounded by birdsong but there are no shops that sell decent food. So I have to make my own lunch and take it into work, which is something I've never done! To avoid plastic packaging I'm making myself some reusable cloth sandwich bags. You can find several patterns for these around the internet, mine make no pretences to elegance or beauty, they're just practical. The fabric comes from an old kimono.

Monday 24 May 2010

Payback by Margaret Atwood

This is a brilliant book from Margaret Atwood (who as many readers of this blog will know is my favourite poet, despite her being better known as a novelist). This book however is neither poetry nor fiction but a considered, thought provoking and enlightening look at debt. It looks at the idea of debt and how it has informed politics, the justice system and literature through history. Atwood looks at word origins and the origins of debt awareness, showing that other primates are aware of debt. She also looks at how potent a theme debt has been in literature. She makes an interesting point about George Eliot's Mill on the Floss representing a moment of social change, a moment where the miller (historically mistrusted for reasons discussed by Atwood) becomes ursurped in this position by the lawyer.

The last chapter in the book looks at the issue of Ecological Debt and sees Dicken's character of Scrooge facing the Spirits of Earth Day Past, Present and Future. This is a particularly powerful chapter and forces the reader to think about the debt we all owe to the earth and our environment.

For all the weighty issues discussed in this book, it is totally engrossing and includes very useful appendices of reading resources so that you can not only find out more about the issues but that you can sign up for environmental campaigns and find ethical alternatives. Essential reading I would say.

Payback by Margaret Atwood. Bloomsbury 2008

Sunday 23 May 2010

Birds and Butterflies

We went for another lovely walk today, along the Innocent Railway. This is an old railway line that has been turned into a pleasant and shady footpath and cyclepath near Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. We were very glad of the shade too as its been another very hot day here!
There were lots of orange tip butterflies about and this very co-operative green hairstreak butterfly that was very happy to be photographed a few times.
At the end of the Innocent Railway path there is a little stream (which my map tells me is part of the Braid Burn). On a concrete wall here, outside someone's garden we saw a kingfisher! Now why would a kingfisher want to be on a concrete garden wall instead of along the wooded Colinton Dell where I look after the Water of Leith and haven't seen a kingfisher there for over a year? Still it was lovely to see!
We also had a lovely close view of a whitethroat sliding up and down in the undergrowth, singing its hurried little warble.

Saturday 22 May 2010


Well it's high summer today in Edinburgh! The weather has been glorious, still and warm with endless blue skies. We went for a wonderful walk along the River Almond. There were butterflies everywhere, loads of orange tips (managed to catch one in the photo above too!) a few small tortoiseseshells, a peacock, a red admiral and lots of white butterflies.

The birds were singing beautifully. Along the open riverbanks, whitethroats sang their wonderful hurried warble and then launched themselves into the air for a short burst of flightsong. Willow warbler songs cascaded from the trees. Chiffchaffs, chaffinches, blackbirds and others sang in the woods.

The most wonderful bird along this stretch of the river though is the sandmartin. This is the most inland colony for them in Scotland and the sky was full of them! They are wonderfully aerobatic birds and very active, swooping into and out of their nestholes in the sand banks.

Friday 21 May 2010

Reflections on the Water of Leith

On Monday, in this blog post here, I talked a little about my thoughts after a year of helping to look after the Water of Leith, a wonderful river in Edinburgh.

Rabbits Guy left these questions in the comments box and I thought they were worth answering in a separate post here:
1. Do you believe your efforts are worthwhile?
Yes! Although I complain about the rubbish and the dog poop, the area does look pretty tidy for an urban river. There are a lot of volunteers who patrol the river or who get together for occasional big clean ups and we do make a real difference. Also the wildlife information that some of us record is really valuable for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and the Local Biological Records Centre to monitor the state of local wildlife.
2. How do you report pollution?
If I see a pollution incident I need to report it directly to Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) who have a water pollution hotline. Luckily I haven't needed to do this.
I'm delighted to feature in an interview over on Caroline Gill's blog here. She asked me some excellent questions, hope you enjoy my answers!

Wednesday 19 May 2010

West Mossside Farm

Yesterday, despite the fact that I posted photos of the horses near my office, we were all out on a team away day at an organic farm near Bridge of Allan. The wonderful West Moss-side Farm is an organic mixed farm with a small herd of beautiful Shetland cattle and acres of grassland grown for hay, backing onto Flanders Moss, a raised peat bog, with stunning views across the flat plain of Stirling to the hills beyond. The farm buildings include a beautiful airy meeting room with views out over the farmland, cherry trees and a new out-building that incorporates a swallow hotel. The swallows were swooping enthusiastically in and out of this hotel, as well as round the cherry trees. A couple of swallows occasionally perched just at the window of the meeting room where we got beautiful close views of them. The farm is also a craft centre, running various craft courses and the rooms are decorated with felt wall hangings and other beautiful craft items. At lunchtime we walked round the farm and heard skylarks, curlew and cuckoos - it was particularly nice to hear the cuckoo as they are declining badly in the UK as a whole (though not so badly in Scotland).

And guess who forgot to take her camera?

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Horses and Geese

horses in the Liberton Brae fields near where I work.

There are geese up the hill from the horses too. But the goose I want to talk about today is the One Pink Goose, Cathy's lovely blog where she shares her own and other people's beautiful artworks. A while ago I won a beautiful print from Cathy in this giveaway and shamefully seem to have forgotten to thank her publically. I chose the Siamese cat print (scroll down a wee bit to see it!) and was delighted to find that the parcel also included a selection of Cathy's lovely greetings cards. So thank you Cathy!

Monday 17 May 2010

Water of Leith

I've now been volunteering with Water of Leith Conservation Trust for a year. It has been a wonderful year of helping to look after the river, recording wildlife and numbers of people using the walkway as well as picking litter and reporting pollution incidents. The river is a wonderful place for wildlife, at the moment it is full of spring flowers. The photo above shows buttercups and bluebells, the yellow and blue juxtaposition is always one of my favourites. This time of year the woods are full of birdsong, and the first youngsters can be seen - the female mallard below has about 10 ducklings though not all of them made the photo.

So what have been the highlights and the disappointments?

The highlights:

in the woodlands the bullfinch for its bright pink and blue-grey plumage and the fact that it seems to be thriving along the river, which is wonderful to see as it is a species that has really suffered in recent years and is only just starting to recover.

the birdsong highlight is difficult to choose - but despite it being wonderful to hear song thrushes so often (like the bullfinch they're a species that has had a bad time) I would choose the blackcap for its wonderfully rich warble (follow the hyperlink below its name to listen to its song!).
on the river today's highlight was a grey wagtail dancing in the air as it hunted for insects, it flew up and twirled several times almost directly in front of my face. What a graceful bird and no wonder the Italian's call wagtails ballerinas.
in general though the river highlight is the dipper, which must be one of the most characterful birds in the UK. I can sit and watch them for ages as they dip and bob and dive.
the nicest surprises have been the two sightings of roe deer.
the biggest disappointment in wildlife terms is not seeing the kingfishers. Other people see the kingfishers, just I don't. In the past year of looking after the river I've seen two kingfishers - one in a garden near the Union Canal (!!) and once along the River in Dumfries. So why do I never see the Water of Leith kingfishers?
The overall biggest disappointment is the amount of rubbish people leave along the river. The worst thing being the disgusting habit people have developed of wrapping dog poop in plastic bags and then throwing it into the trees or piling it up by the side of the path. Dog poop is biodegradable, if you can't bag it and bin it, just make sure your dog leaves it out of the way of the path and it should be fine!
But the Water of Leith Conservation Trust has a large team of river patrollers (like me) and conservation and clean up volunteers who take part in regular big clean ups to keep the river looking nice for the many people who walk and run along it and helping to keep it a healthy environment for the wildlife. If you live in Edinburgh or along the route of the river, its a great way to spend time outdoors and to feel you're being productive. If you live elsewhere perhaps your local river has a similar conservation trust looking after it?

Saturday 15 May 2010

Friday 14 May 2010

Thank you!

Thank you to:

1) Colin Will of Calder Wood Press for publishing my book and for mentioning my book launch in this blog post
2) Howard of Belvedere Mountain Express for the music at my book launch
3) everyone who attended the book launch and who listened so attentively, said such nice things and gave me flowers and cards
4) Kevin for this review of Unthinkable Skies
5) Rachel for posting a poem from Unthinkable Skies here
6) everyone who has said such nice things about Unthinkable Skies via email and Facebook and in blog comments here and elsewhere
7) Everyone who has bought or is going to buy Unthinkable Skies
8) Chris Chrittenden for this post about Bolts of Silk
9) the swifts for returning to my local skies

Somewhat bizarrely I wrote a longer review of my book launch over on Goodreads than I did in this blog. You can read it here.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Unthinkable Skies is launched!

Last night's launch of Unthinkable Skies went very well. The Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre was an excellent venue. Colin Will from Calder Wood Press made a very nice introduction. Howard from Belvedere Mountain Express played some wonderful music on his accordion. The audience was good natured and enthusiastic. The wine was good. I was happy too with the way I read - I'm much happier with an extended reading than a short one. Three minutes in a slam and I sink with nerves, 20 minutes or so means I can relax into the reading and enjoy myself.
Thanks to everyone who came along!

Tuesday 11 May 2010

for it is Spring!

I've just finished reading 73 poems by e.e.cummings, a collection of, well 73 of his poems. Some of his most pared down poems are irritating and can seem pointless but at its best his poetry is like a fine mind altering drug that makes you see language and reality in different ways. (Not that I use mind altering drugs!). This is a collection that in part overflows with the joy of Spring, as demonstrated by this snippet from poem 63:



,come quicklycome
run run
with me now
jump shout(laugh
dance cry

sing)for it's Spring

and in earth sky trees
where a miracle arrives


A wonderful shout of joy for the season that seems not to be able to arrive quite properly this year. Reading this collection, I was also struck that some of the weirdness of cummings' writing may be due to him internalising and using the rhythms of other languages, there are certainly passages that made more sense to me if I imagined they were in German. But anyway, a wonderful read if you don't mind working a little.

Monday 10 May 2010

Woodland Flowers

The wooded areas of Colinton and Criaglockart Dells along the Water of Leith are a wonderful display of flowers at the moment. There are bluebells (and yes white bluebells too!), wild garlic (see second photo), celandines, violets and buttercups. The birdsong is amazing too, blackcaps, song thrushes, wrens, robins, blackbirds, chaffinches and chiffchaffs to name just a few (the hyperlinks under the birds names link to the RSPB website where you can hear the birds sing as well as see them!).

But unfortunately I've not seen any swifts uet. They have normally arrived by now, though one year recently they didn't get here until 15 May. I've got my fingers crossed that they'll appear very soon!

Sunday 9 May 2010

What to read?

I'm currently putting together the set list for the launch of my poetry pamphlet Unthinkable Skies, which will happen on Wednesday. It's quite difficult to decide what to read and in what order, particularly as Colin Will of Calder Wood Press did such a good job of ordering the poems in the book. It almost seems a shame to put them in a different order. But put them in a different order I will!

If you're going to be at the launch and have a favourite poem from the book you'd like me to read, please let me know before Wednesday morning and I'll try to fit it in!

The launch will also feature music from Belvedere Mountain Express, inspired by the poetry in the book and specially composed for the launch.

There will also be wine and some handmade crafty giveaways.

Launch of Unthinkable Skies - 6.30 for 7pm, Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre, 24 Lanark Road, Edinburgh, EH14 1TQ.

Buses: 44 and 34 two stops after Slateford Rail Station if coming from town. 4 one stop after Slateford Rail Station and a bit further to walk. If you're driving then there is a car park at the Visitor Centre.

Unthinkable Skies is published by Calder Wood Press and is available from their website.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Bluebell Woods

We went to Dalkeith Country park this morning. We hoped for a good bluebell display and we certainly weren't disappointed! There were also wonderful spreads of celandines, wood anemones and even some cowslips.
The woods were full of birdsong, most wonderful to hear song thrushes (which are becoming increasingly rare) and blackcaps (which have one of the most wonderful songs of all woodland birds). From a bridge, we had wonderful views of swallows chasing insects and sometimes each other.

Part of Dalkeith Country Park is made up of a wonderful area of ancient oak woodland. We spent quite a while wandering round here, admiring the ancient trees and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere. At one point it was thought the woodland was doomed because no young trees were growing to replace the ancient trees (many of which are now quite falling apart) but in the last few years a lot of young trees have been planted and protected from the predations of cattle and deer so hopefully the woodland will continue to thrive for may years to come.

Friday 7 May 2010

An Open Studies Introduction to the Water of Leith

I'm excited to be teaching a course about the Water of Leith as part of the University of Edinburgh's Open Studies Summer School. The course will cover the wildlife and ecology of the river and will include a walk along Colinton and Craiglockart Dells, which is the part of the river that I look after on Mondays.

The course will take place on Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 August at the Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre. The cost will be £58. You can find out more here.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

The Soil Association Allotment Garden

Today I spent some time in the office allotment that we share with the architects in the office upstairs. Here are some photos.

At the moment it doesn't look like much, only the fruit bushes and rhubarb are thriving. That is of course because everything else has just been planted and hasn't had time to grow! We've planted parsnips, broad beans, lettuces, squashes, potatoes, asparagus and some herbs.

We take quite a relaxed view to weeds, so the edges of the garden are very weedy but that seems to be attracting a lot of bees, which can only be a good thing!

The wire fencing in the photo is to keep the sheep out and to help to deter the pheasants! Most of the time there aren't actually any sheep, but the landlord was planning on buying some and also some of the sheep from Gorgie City Farm come here for their holidays.

Tomorrow I'll be picking some rhubarb to make a crumble and I may do some weeding along the paths. But before any of that I'll be voting in the UK General Eleection! It promises to be the most interesting election we've had for years!

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Where I Work

These are photos from near where I work, in nice offices in a converted farm building on the edge of suburban Edinburgh, with fields on two sides of us (our offices are behind the buildings in the photo above). There's a lovely walk for lunchtime up the hill to the wee farm at the top, where they have geese, goats and sheep.

Today there were small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies, swallows, 4 skylarks (two singing and then dropping down to chase two others), plenty of goldfinches and what sounded like a grasshopper warbler, though I can't be sure and they're not exactly common! I had hoped to take some photos of the lambs and goat kids but they were nowhere to be seen. Only the horses would pose for me, but they're handsome creatures so here we are.

Monday 3 May 2010

Water of Leith

at the river's edge
knee deep in wild garlic
a roe deer watches

The ground is carpeted with celandines, with occasional wood sorrel and other flowers as well as the dense green carpets of wild garlic, which mostly still isn't in flower. The air is full of birdsong, plenty of birds to be seen too - blue tits, great tits, robins, blackcaps, two pairs of bullfinches chasing each other, chaffinches and on the water grey heron and dippers.

a buzzard
swoops over the river -
markings fieldguide clear

(Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for the photo).
(You can see some photos of celandines in these posts here and here.)

Sunday 2 May 2010

Singing Bunny

Unlike squirrels, rabbits don't generally sing. However, when we were out dancing the other night, I scribbled a few drawings of singing bunnies. This is the only one that really worked and it's dedicated to Rabbit's Guy who is currently choosing songs for his many bunnies. My favourite choice is Girls Just Wanna Have Fun for Zoey. Somehow though I don't think that is what the bunny in my drawing is singing!

For Sunday Sketches

Saturday 1 May 2010

new shoots

this is the lily I was given as part of a leaving gift from my last job against the backdrop of an poster photo of Rho Ophiuchi and the Region of Antares which I was given when I was a student by a friend who studied astrophysics.