Saturday 31 December 2011

Brilliant Birding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 29 December 2011

The Year in Birds 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Today along Water of Leith

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 27 December 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 26 December 2011

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

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

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

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

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

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

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman published by Headline

Sunday 25 December 2011

Christmas Special!

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

Hope you're all enjoying Christmas!

Saturday 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

Have a wonderful Christmas!

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

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

Friday 23 December 2011


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

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Thursday 22 December 2011

Midway - the land of plastic

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

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

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

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

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

2) avoid products wrapped in plastic or made from plastic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Tree Year - Winter

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

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

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Reading Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 19 December 2011

Monday Bunday at Gorgie Farm

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


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


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

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

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

Sunday 18 December 2011

The waterways of Edinburgh

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

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

The cygnets are growing up now!

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

The sunset was particularly beautiful.

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

Saturday 17 December 2011

The Good Seed Bistro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 15 December 2011

Christmas Star from Bunny Felt

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

Wednesday 14 December 2011

sheep's wool

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

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

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

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Gorgie City Farm

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Winter arrives

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

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

Monday 5 December 2011

Haiku and haibun update

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

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

Sunday 4 December 2011


early light
the first snow dusts
slate roofs

snow covered lawn -
filling the bird feeder
every half hour

Saturday 3 December 2011

The Heavy Bag by Ross Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heavy Bag by Ross Wilson published by Calder Wood Press

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

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

Friday 2 December 2011

Bank Hoiday Birding

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

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

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

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

Thursday 1 December 2011

Bunny Calendar

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Watery Abstracts

These are just some of the abstract type photos I've recently taken of waterscapes. I took the first two photos at Cramond and photos 3 and 4 at Cammo.

Monday 28 November 2011

A couple of photos of birds

I thought I'd share Crafty Green Boyfriend's photo above, just to show the sheer number of birds that were around at Musselburgh Lagoons when we visited recently. The waders in the photo are bar tailed godwits and there are also gulls including herring gulls and black headed gulls. Everything in winter plumage of course.

Meanwhile below is another photo I took of the Canada Goose that seems to think it's a mute swan, which I previously mentioned here.


So I've finished NaNoWriMo early, I had written my 50000 words by midmorning today. It felt like a real achievement! It's been hard work but I've been lucky to have had plenty of time to work on this and was determined from the start to try to finish early. So what have I learnt from the experience?

a) Although to date I have mostly written haiku, short poems and flash fiction, I have proven now that I can at least write enough words for a much bigger piece of work.

b) Just writing with the aim of reaching a given total word count is liberating, as it means you just write without worrying about the quality.

c) at the same time just writing like that means that I didn't get stuck on polishing the first paragraph to perfection only to find myself left with nothing to add to the one perfect paragraph (having said that, the first paragraph is probably the best paragraph in the novel!).

d) but oh, this isn't a novel. Not at all. It's a very rough first draft, which, with a lot of editing and polishing, may one day resemble something like a real novel that people might want to read. (So that's what I'll be doing over the next year or so!)

e) It's useful just to write through the plot dilemmas, in this draft I have characters talking about where they want the plot to go, at one point a character actually says she wishes the author could sort out a particular aspect of the plot (hang on a minute, maybe I should keep that! It could be a nice post-modernist twist to the novel!?)

f) I had always thought that I would find research so tedious it would put me off ever writing a novel but in fact I really enjoyed the research aspect. I think it would be more tedious for me if it was historic research where you need to get all the facts as accurate as possible. Given that my novel is speculative fiction set in the far future then I have a lot more freedom to do what I want with my research. (I've had great fun with extrapolating some elements of the contemporary world into the future!)

So now I'm going to catch up on all the research information I identified but never got the chance to read properly then I'll start looking at the 'novel' in a few weeks time and get it into some kind of decent shape.

And I won't keep talking about it, promise!

How was NaNoWriMo for you?

Sunday 27 November 2011

Blood in the Mobile

Blood in the Mobile is a hardhitting documentary about how mobile phones (and other consumer electronics products) contain minerals such as coltan, which are mined in the Congo. The mines employ child labour and are guarded by military and paramilitary organisations which profit from the mines by taxing the workers and demanding payment from anyone who wants to go into the mine (for example to make a documentary film.) Armed conflict in the Congo over the last 15 years has cost the lives of over 5 million people. 300,000 women have been raped during the conflict. The conflict is funded by the taxes and charges mentioned about and the selling of minerals.

The director of the film Frank Poulsen travels to the mines in Congo to see what conditions are like there. (There is a really harrowing scene down the mine.) He also travels to Finland to try to talk to decision makers within Nokia, the largest producer of mobile phones in the world to see what they are doing to make sure that their phones don't contain minerals from conflict areas of Congo. Nokia are very evasive, they don't say where their minerals come from and in fact spend much of the film denying that it is possible to trace minerals through the supply chains. (despite the fact that German scientists interviewed in this film have devised a way of doing just that - surely Nokia with their large resource and development budget must be able to pay these scientists to trace their minerals?).

Every Nokia employee interviewed in the film whined about how difficult it is to make a difference and assured the film maker that Nokia is doing all it can. Somehow I doubt that they really are.

It is likely that there is no mobile phone in the world that can be guaranteed free from conflict minerals. To do your bit to change this, you can write to your mobile phone company and ask them what their stance is and encourage them to source conflict free minerals. In addition you can take the actions on the Blood in the Mobile website.

You can also do your bit by considering whether you need a mobile phone at all and if you conclude that it is actually essential to your life, then only replace your phone if it breaks, rather than buying the latest hot new model, as I believe is what many people do these days.

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

Saturday 26 November 2011

Birds on a Blustery Day

I had heard via Edinburgh Wildlife (@wildedinburgh on Twitter) that there were snow buntings and long tailed ducks around Musselburgh recently, and though I don't agree with twitching (travelling long distances to see rare birds) I did think that jumping on the 44 bus which runs directly from our flat to Musselburgh to see two birds i've never seen before was okay.

Anyway Crafty Green Boyfriend and I hopped on said bus and travelled to a very blustery, windswept Musselburgh. We walked along the River Esk, where we saw this lone pink footed goose, (in exactly the same spot it had been in last time I was in Musselburgh with my birdwatching class, when I had used it as a compare and contrast exercise with the superficially similar greylag geese that are found on the river in much greater numbers).

There were also alot of Canada geese on the river. Plus a few redshanks and five turnstones. We then walked along part of the John Muir Way along the coast. The wind was wild and the waves were high. I could scarcely keep my binoculars to my eyes it was so windy, so there may have been long tailed ducks hiding in the waves, that I just didn't see. We did however see eiders and goldeneyes on the sea.

We then visited Musselburgh Lagoons where we sat in the bird hides (and particularly uncomfortable bird hides they are too, all concrete seats and no roofs!). The views were magnificent though. There were large numbers of waders (oystercatchers, curlew, bar tailed godwits, knots and dunlin). There were also good numbers of two pretty species of duck - teal and wigeon. Then one lonely lapwing. Crafty Green Boyfriend took several photos of the birds on the lagoons, but they were too far away to come out well enough to share here (much better to follow the links in the text and find out what the birds look like from the RSPB website!)

The walk back into Musselburgh was even more blustery than the walk out had been! But even though we didn't see the birds we had hoped to see, we were very happy with those we did see!

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

Friday 25 November 2011


fallen leaves -
the ivy covered tree trunks
alive with bird calls

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Water of Leith update

I had the most wonderful view ever of a kingfisher today. I was walking along the Water of Leith in Colinton Dell when I noticed the colour of a kingfisher out of the corner of my eye. It then landed on a branch overhanging the river, just very close to where I was standing. It turned to look at me, 'bowed' then dashed off, flying downstream in a flash of turquoise.


I was very pleased that Greener Leith posted my recent blogpost about the public meeting about the tree felling that is happening as part of the Flood Prevention Works along the Water of Leith. You may have read the post on this blog, but you can read it on Greener Leith here.

Tree felling was stopped yesterday at Canonmills as it seems the specific trees to be felled are subject to tree preservation orders and cannot be removed. The original plans for the Flood Prevention Work had committed to saving those specific trees. Some trees have already been felled along the river, this can't be avoided unfortunately if flood prevention is to be provided, as there is no natural flood plain alongside these parts of the river and the protecting walls can't be built without removing trees. Once the flood prevention works are completed two trees will be planted for every tree that is felled.

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

Monday 21 November 2011

Oceans - a film

Oceans was shown today as part of the French Film Festival at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh.

Oceans is a visually stunning documentary of the life to be found in the world's oceans. There are some amazing shots:

shimmering cuttlefish; sea slugs looking like underwater flying carpets; supermodel fish species posing on the coral reefs; enormous blue whales leaping from the sea; sea turtles emerging from their nests and making their way to the sea and having to survive the attacks of frigate birds to get there; a mass mating of crabs; small fish cleaning the teeths of larger fish; an adult walrus cuddling its offspring and many other wonderful sights.

There isn't much narrative and what there is, is unfortunately less impressive than the visuals. On the one hand there is virtually no information in the narrative, so we are not told the species name of anything that appears on screen (now blue whales are probably recognisable to a fair proportion of people prepared to turn up to a French language documentary about sea life, but cuttlefish less so and some of the species of weird looking fish are possibly unknown to all but well informed marine scientists). On the other hand there is a lot of heavy handed environmental preaching in the narrative, which is probably counterproductive. Far better to either have the film with no narrative at all, just beautiful music, or get someone like David Attenborough to do a properly informative voice over.

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

Saturday 19 November 2011

Autumn at Cramond

The beautiful (and frankly entirely unseasonably warm) weather continues! We had a lovely day at Cramond today. There were lots of curlews and oystercatchers in amongst the sheep in the fields, though we only got a photo of one of the sheep.

The tide was well out on the Firth of Forth so a lot of the birds were quite a distance away, but we saw more oystercatchers and curlews as well as a fair number of redshanks.

The mouth of the River Almond was quite quiet for birds, though there were a lot of gulls and several species of waders further out and a wee bit upstream there were three mute swans (and a Canada goose who seemed to think it was a swan) and a lot of mallards.

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

Friday 18 November 2011

Calvet the film released to UK cinemas

Some readers of this blog may remember that I reviewed the Edinburgh International Film Festival this summer. One of the highlights of the festival for me was Calvet, a moving biopic of an amazing artist, Jean Marc Calvet. I'm delighted to hear that Calvet is now being released at selected cinemas across the UK, starting with the Cameo in Edinburgh, at 18.40, Thursday 24 November. You can see the full listing of screenings here. Here is the review I posted back in June: Jean Marc Calvet is a self taught French artist, currently living in Nicaragua. Calvet is a biopic of his amazing lifestory. The film is basically an extended interview with Calvet, interspersed with scenes from the places he has lived, views of his amazing artworks and abstract, impressionistic interludes. Calvet was born in Nice, France, in 1965. He had a hard childhood and an early career as a bodyguard to the stars, a French Legionnaire and a vice cop. He then abandoned his partner and young son to take a shady job in the USA, which led to him absconding to Central America with huge amounts of cash he had stolen from his employer. He hid out in Costa Rica and at one point hid in his house on a coke binge that lasted months. The film gives a brilliant and disturbing recreation of the hallucinatory paranoia he was experiencing at this time. During a particular hallucination he literally found some paint and started throwing it around the house. He realised that this formed a sort of emotional release and he started to paint on a regular basis. At this point he was seeing it as purely a therapy, it was months or years before he began to see himself as an artist. When he had overcome his problems and moved to Nicaragua, Calvet decided to search for his son. I found this part of the film a bit tedious, involving as it did a lot of getting lost in little streets and asking the neighbours if they knew Calvet's family. However, tedious is probably how it felt in reality at times and there is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to Calvet's attempt to reconcile with his first family. Calvet is now married with a daughter and he is a successful and prolific artist. You can find out more about Calvet the film hereAs ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Flood Prevention along Water of Leith - update

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I were at last night's public meeting at Stockbridge Library to hear about the tree felling associated with the flood prevention work along the Water of Leith.

The Water of Leith Conservation Trust have worked with the contractors of the flood prevention team to ensure that the natural environment would be as little damaged as possible as a result of the work. The trust have been really good at sharing information about the flood prevention plans with volunteers. The trust, Edinburgh City Council and the contractors have regularly updated people who live in the affected areas. However, when I recently saw the felled trees along parts of the river and read about how many trees in total are going to be felled I panicked more than a little bit. I didn't remember the discussions or plans ever indicating this amount of tree felling.

The same point was brought up by several people at the public meeting. The council engineer and the contractor at the meeting didn't actually approach people's concerns in the best way. Rather than directly and immediately addressing the issue about trees, they chose to give a presentation about the history of the flood prevention plans. They went into a lot of detail, which was interesting, but anyone who has been in Edinburgh and concerned about the flood prevention plans over the last ten years or so, would be aware of the outline of these plans and though it was useful to hear it again, it lead to a lot of impatience in the room.

The presentation did highlight the fact that if flood defences are to be built alongside the Water of Leith in the centre of Edinburgh, then in most places there is not the room to allow for natural flood prevention measures. The river is closely bound by housing, offices, roads and gardens along much of its course in central Edinburgh. One area that was a potential sink for flood waters has had housing built on it since the flood prevention plans were first put forward, despite the council overturning the plans, the Scottish Government had stepped in and said the housing should go ahead (housing built on a flood plain in times of increasing floods and rising sea levels?!). So that is a problem that could have been avoided. Another problem is that Scottish Rugby Union who have their ground at Murrayfield by the river, would not allow the council to use part of their fields as natural flood defences, despite it being ideal for the purpose (I've spoken to an engineer on the project who is puzzled to say the least about that decision, which was upheld by the Scottish Government I think).

Most parts of the river in central Edinburgh, as I say, though don't have potential for natural flood prevention measures. Mathematical modelling was used to decide what degree of flood protection was needed. The design chosen will protect against the effects of a once in 200 year flood incident (remember that with the changing climate what is now a one in 200 year event in the future becomes much more likely). The plan is that existing walls near the river are to be knocked down, metal barriers are to be sunk to a great depth below where these walls ran and then the walls are to be rebuilt in concrete and then clad in stone of the same type as the original stone. The river will not be canalised (apart from areas where it already canalised), as in most cases the walls don't run exactly alongside the riverbank but are at a distance.

This is where the problem with the trees come in. The work in fitting the metal barriers and replacement walls needs access. Trees get in the way unfortunately. The trees that get in the way are being removed. Lots of trees. This is really upsetting and a great loss to local biodiversity. However, if we are to prevent floods then this work needs to be done (though obviously it would have been better if housing and offices had never been built on a floodplain in the first place....). When the work is completed, all the trees will be replaced - two new trees will be planted for every tree that is removed. (Why the contractor and the spokesperson from the council didn't say this right at the start of the meeting, I don't know. It would have prevented some of the bad feeling that run through most of the meeting, judging from the delighted reactions from some people in the room to hearing this announcement). The trees will be planted with the help of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and with local residents associations, who have been closely consulted all along the way. (Some people at the meeting have had their houses flooded and had nothing but praise for the way that the contractors were involving them in the future restoration of the trees). Of course these trees will grow slowly, and it will be years before the area is back to its current beauty, which is really sad. However, given the circumstances I do think that everyone involved is doing the best they can.

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

Monday 14 November 2011

Light by Margaret Elphinstone

Light is the story of a family in the early 19th century who look after the lighthouse on a tiny island off the Isle of Man. Lucy and Diya are sisters in law and have three children between them. Their whole life is dictated by the needs of looking after the light yet their very future is threatened by the arrival of surveyors who are working for the engineer Robert Stevenson who aims to modernise the nation's lighthouses.

The novel explores how progress affects the family's life, sometimes in unexpected ways. The characters are all well drawn and have their own believable reactions to the changes that are on the way. There are many misunderstandings between the family and the surveyors, which sometimes become melodramatic.

For me the most enjoyable thing about the novel are the descriptions of nature. The reader feels transported to this tiny island in the middle of a moody sea:

A crack appeared in the northern cliffs. They passed a stack with a pinpoint of light in its heart that gradullay grew until the stack became an arch, and they could see the sea shining on the other side. Beyond the stack was a fissure full of tumbled boulders, and the dark mouth of a cave. Sea and sky were suddenly full of birds. A wild clamour rose from the crack and a plume of kittiwakes, far more graceful than the puffins, soared above the headland, riding the air currents. A thin ribbon of white fringed the rocks ahead. A scatter of rounded boulders suddenly turned into seals, which humped their way down to the water and dived in a series of neat splashes. A minute later, half a dozen heads surfaced close to the boat, watching the new arrivals with dark, dog like eyes.

Last year I really enjoyed reading another of Margaret Elphinstone's novels The Sea Road, you can read my review here.

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

Saturday 12 November 2011

Tree Year

I've said before on this blog how wonderful the autumn colours are this year. Our flat overlooks a couple of cherry trees that I have been casually blogging about for Tree Year. These trees for some reason always seem to lose their leaves later than most other cherry trees in Edinburgh. This is how one of them looked this morning - the photo really doesn't do justice to the full glory of the colours!

Meanwhile in Colinton Dell (which is an area of the Water of Leith that thankfully won't be affected by the Flood Prevention Works) this is how the hornbeams (that I've been studying for Tree Year) looked earlier this week. Notice in the first photo how some of the branches of the hornbeams are full of very yellow leaves, while others are full of leaves that are still very green!

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

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Preventing Floods on Water of Leith

Flood defences are currently being built along parts of the Water of Leith (you can read more here and here). Given that many houses by the river are threatened with flooding on an increasingly frequent basis, these defences are essential (though of course there is the argument that we wouldn't have these problems if we didn't build houses on floodplains). The City of Edinburgh Council has contracted Lagan Construction to do the work.

As a volunteer with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, I know that the trust is working closely with the contractors to minimise disruption to the natural environment (one part of the defences work was delayed for example to allow a kingfisher pair to finish raising their family). I also know that the contractors have agreed to plant wildflower seeds and make other environmental improvements once the defences have been completed.

However, lots of trees are being cut down so that the defences can be built. These are old trees, home to lots of wildlife and beautiful additions to the urban landscape of Edinburgh. It is just heartbreaking to see these trees being lost gradually along the river between the Stockbridge and Leith areas of town. While I had been following the plans for the flood prevention scheme, I had no idea initially that so many trees would be affected. A public meeting has been called for later this week to outline the reasoning behind tree removal and the mitigation measures that will be put in place after the works are completed. You can read more about it here.

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

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Raindrops on Spiders Webs

It was a dull and drizzly day today as I walked along the Water of Leith. There are spider webs everywhere, looking like lace with all the raindrops hanging on them.

It was a good day for birdwatching too. I can almost guarantee seeing bullfinches along the Water of Leith, but today I saw seven of them all together, where before I've only ever seen four at most (and that when parents are feeding offspring). Spylaw Park was full of long tailed tits and at one point when I was closer to the river, a large flock of long tailed tits surrounded me, chattering away and flying round me. I also got three very good views of dippers bobbing in the river.

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

Sunday 6 November 2011

Cammo Country Park

We had a wonderful day in Cammo Country Park yesterday. The weather was beautiful, sunny with clear blue skies but a definite autumnal chill to the air. The autumnal colours were gorgeous (it does seem to be a particularly fine year for autumn colour, the beech trees especially).
There are some amazing patches of fungi throughout Cammo, these bracket fungi are particularly impressive.

Then there were the birds! The woodland was full of blue tits, long tailed tits, great tits and coal tits. We also saw a goldcrest and a treecreeper. But it was the farm fields around Cammo that were most exciting for us as birdwatchers. We saw a big flock of small birds and quickly identified some of them as goldfinches (common but very beautiful, groups of them are appropriately called charms), yellowhammers (getting to be rare these days, but still quite reliably seen on farmland round Edinburgh) and tree sparrows!!!! I've never seen tree sparrows in my life before so I was quite excited. There were a load of them chattering away as they flew between the trees and the stubble in the fields. They are delightful birds, more elegant than house sparrows, and male and female look the same. They are one of the birds on the Biodiversity Action Plan in Edinburgh and are red listed because their numbers have declined drastically in the UK in recent years (though apparently there has been a slight improvement in the past year or so).

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

Saturday 5 November 2011

bonfire haiku

It's Bonfire Night in the UK today. People across the country will be lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks. If you are making a bonfire, make sure that no hedgehogs or other animals have made a home in the wood. The best thing is to build the bonfire just before you light it so that you can thoroughly check all the wood. If you're using a fire that you built earlier you need to turn over all the wood carefully to check that nothing is hiding in it. There's good advice here.

If you're setting off fireworks, make sure your pets are indoors, because they can be scared by the loud bangs.

Here are two haiku that I've written about Bonfire night:

sparks fly
from the bonfire -
star filled sky

previously published in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society

fireworks -
the herring gulls
take flight

Friday 4 November 2011

Earth Balls (fungi)

We had a lovely walk round Corstorphine Hill this lunchtime. It's looking at its autumnal best at the moment.

There are lots of fungi around at the moment, including these impressive earth balls, which seem to have been partially nibbled by a squirrel.

There were also a lot of birds flying around, including redwings and fieldfares - autumn must have arrived!

Thursday 3 November 2011

Playing with Water by James Hamilton-Paterson

As I'm writing a novel for NaNoWriMo I'm trying to put myself in the right frame of mind by reading non-fiction books that relate to some of the themes found in my novel. Island living is one of these themes and one of the books I've chosen to read is Playing with Water by James Hamilton-Paterson.

This book is a memoir centred on the years that Hamilton-Paterson spent living on an island he calls Tiwarik off the coast of the Phillipines. It is an uninhabited island but one that is popular with youngsters from nearby villages as a place to play, camp and fish. Hamilton-Paterson finds a niche for himself in the local community, not least because he turns out to be an expert spear fisherman.

The author has a wonderful eye for detail and describes the underwater world beautifully, there is a particularly breathtaking sequence when he stays underwater almost too long and afterwards realises that the air he had been breathing had been tainted with oil, so his sightings became more and more dreamlike and surreal. He also meditates on the damage caused to the local ecology by the large ships that dynamite the coral reefs. He also is saddened by the fact that the local fishermen often use poisons and small amounts of explosives in their fishing, but realises that for them it is a matter of survival and making a few pennies at the local market. (Interestingly he doesn't seem to differentiate himself from the local spear fishermen, who use the most sustainable form of fishing, without reflecting that he made a choice to live there and kill those fish, while the local people have no choice if they are to stay in the area.)

He also ponders his early life (at first I had found these flashbacks annoying, because I thought that the book was meant to be a travel book, but later I realised how insightful they are).

Sadly since the book was written, the island of Tiwarik has been bought by a Japanese company and turned into a tourist resport.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Autumn Trees

The autumn colours are magnificent this year. Beeches are always one of my favourites at this time of year and thisyear they seem to be excelling themselves with wonderful mixes of colour in the trees as you can see from these photos (above and below).

Also the hornbeams (the trees I'm 'studying' for Tree Year are looking lovely.

and footpaths and riverbanks are collaged with leaves.

I do love autumn!

For those of you who are interested in my progress with NaNoWriMo I'll be updating every few days on Over Forty Shades and every day on Facebook. I'll be posting interesting links I've found while researching the novel over on Twitter. (I've written 6 107 words so far!)