Saturday 30 April 2011

River Almond

We went on a lovely walk today through Cammo Country Park and along the River Almond to the sand martin colony. The weather was gorgeous and there were orange tip butterflies everywhere

and a few peacock butterflies too.

there were also several of these bright little beetles in amongst the white dead nettle plants.

In Cammo and along the early part of the riverside walk, the path is through woodland and the blackcaps were singing their lovely rich song, chiffchaffs were calling their name loudly and other woodland birds were singing too. The later part of the riverside walk passes much more through scrubland. There were loads of whitethroats here, singing loudly and displaying too, with their short steep songflights. There didn't seem to be as many sand martins as we've seen here in previous years, though I've been pleased to read (via Twitter) that just up the coast from Edinburgh, Montrose Basin has 3 times as many sand martins this year as it had last year!

We sat and ate lunch by the river, just downstream of the railway bridge (see the photo below for Sunday Bridges), surrounded by singing whitethroats and yellowhammers and the occasional willow warbler. A kingfisher few past us as we ate our sandwiches!

Butterfly photos by Crafty Green Boyfriend, the rest are mine! Most of them contain shadows for Shadow Shot Sunday

For Nature Notes

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

Friday 29 April 2011

Craiglockart Hill and Pond

We went for a lovely walk today, up Easter Craiglockart Hill then down to Craiglockart Pond and then home along the Union Canal. There were lots of birds singing, we heard chiffchaffs, willow warblers and blackcaps, blackbirds and song thrushes. We also almost bumped into a pair of bullfinches that flew away from us muttering angrily! Plus there were loads of robins everywhere, including three who were all together on the path, normally three adult European robins together would be fighting but these three didn't seem as though they could decide what to do! On the Pond we got very close to a family of moorhens - this adult came right up to us in what seemed a friendly manner (look at the lovely pattern in it's side and tail and those funny little feet!)

There were three or more very young moorhens in the reeds, they hid very quickly when a crow called out. It was lovely to watch the parents feeding the young and leading them around the reedbed (though you can't see them in the photo below!)

There were a lot of mallards along the canal. They're very handsome birds, as I've said before, though the males are very aggressive to the females (you can see my video of their mating here, if you've not already seen it).
There were also a few patches of the cuckoo flower (or lady's smock), one of the prettiest flowers of this time of year.

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

Thursday 28 April 2011

Tree Year

The cherry trees, even the pink ones, are already mostly past their best, I took the above photo by the Water of Leith yesterday, while the photo below goes back a few days more, when they were still at their best.

I finally managed to get a decent photo of the male hornbeam catkins, see below, this is on one of the hornbeams in the group along the Water of Leith, that I photographed in this post.

And finally, this is an apple tree in the 'Hidden Meadow' near Redhall Gardens along the Water of Leith. I took the photo yesterday, and the air was full of birdsong and the sun was shining beautifully. A perfect Spring day.

Wednesday 27 April 2011


I liked this altered Stop sign on a road in Edinburgh! Click on it to see a bigger version and to read the small print!

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Dawn Chorus

Woken by an early alarm, I leap out of bed and immediately open the living room window. Our local blackbird is singing his heart out, accompanied by a chaffinch and a dunnock. I eat a quick breakfast and pack my rucksack before heading out for the bus (thankfully there is a service this early in the day!). I meet with several other bleary-eyed birdwatchers at the Water of Leith Conservation Trust Centre.

crescent moon
caught in the trees
dawn chorus

We wander slowly along the path, all eyes and ears open. A song thrush sings loudly at the entrance to the walkway and all the way along, the wrens are singing so loudly they almost drown out everything else. We catch sight of a tawny owl high in a tree, while a dipper flies low over the river, calling as it goes.

The blackcaps (common along here) are elusive for most of the walk, but finally they start singing, but always in the distance. A pair of bullfinches appear, the male's red breast glowing red in the low sun. Blackbirds, robins, chaffinches, chiffchaffs, blue tits and great tits join in the chorus, all singing so loudly in a mass of song, that it can be hard to identify each individual bird's song.

Squirrels are dancing in the trees as we make our way back to the Visitor Centre for coffee, the dawn chorus still ringing in our ears.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Bridge to the Galleries

There are lots of characterful bridges along the Water of Leith. This one take you to the stairs up to the Gallery of Modern Art (which has wonderful art exhibitions and a lovely cafe, which serves delicious cakes.) I took this photo a couple of days ago, there were blue tits playing in the cherry blossom trees and several orange tip butterflies flying around. It's also apparently a really good place to see kingfishers, though I've never seen one here!

Saturday 23 April 2011


Aha, as Spring progresses and I can recognise trees better I have been reminded that there are other hornbeams near the large, damaged hornbeam that I've focussed on so far for Tree Year. This is excellent news, not only for the presence of hornbeams along the Water of Leith (where they are a historically important species given that their wood is very hard which made them important for use in the mills that used to line this river) but also for my blogging for Tree Year as now I have better access to the details of leaves and catkins. Unfortunately last time I was there my catkins photos didn't really turn out too well. I've not quite got used to how best to use depth of field in my new camera and it often leads to blurring. I may collect some fallen catkins next time I'm along the river and photograph those. The make catkins are quite lovely at this time of year, though its still the chandelier female catkins that are the most beautiful feature of this interesting tree.

And look here for a photo of the large bee fly, which I've seen a couple of times recently, including along the Water of Leith earlier this week. What a lovely insect it is, isn't it! (I couldn''t get my own photo unfortunately!).

Friday 22 April 2011


Mallards are handsome birds aren't they? But oh you wouldn't want to recommend them as role models when teaching children about relationships. I recently tested out the video function on my new camera and you can see my video of mallard 'courtship' on Flickr here.

Photo and video taken at the Water of Leith, Edinburgh.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Solitary Bees

I had a lovely lunchtime walk today with Crafty Green Boyfriend. We wandered round Corstorphine Hill, which is so close to where he works that he walks there every day! The weather was beautiful and there were a lot of solitary bees around. I managed to catch one of them on camera in this photo, you can clearly see all the holes that these bees have made in the ground. We also saw a second species of solitary bee, with a red body, but couldn't get a photo of that one.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Easter Bunnies

Bunnies are adorable creatures and make wonderful pets. It can be tempting to buy bunnies as gifts at Easter but don't. Many children (and adults too) who get bunnies at Easter, don't know how to look after them and get bored of them and as a result many of these bunnies end up being abandoned.

If you do get a bunny, the best place to get one from is a rescue centre. In Edinburgh the SSPCA Rescue Centre have bunnies who are looking for a forever home and there is also Bunny Haven in East Lothian. Also before getting a rabbit make sure you find out how to look after them and keep them happy. Christina of Rabid Titbits recently posted a video of the Ten Commandments for Bunny Mums and Dads, which offers some good basic advice. The House Rabbits website is a useful place for advice too. And there's an excellent video here, thanks Diana for letting me know about it!

Here are some of my favourite bunny places, why not check them out while you think about whether a bunny is the right pet for you?

A Houseful of Rabbits - Photos of the House's nine rabbits and sometimes the house cat!
The Qi Papers - lots of photos of the four rabbits while it's Year of the Rabbit
Adventures of Freckles and Deb - Freckles was a real character and great storyteller of a bunny, she sadly passed over the Rainbow Bridge just recently.
Little Fluffy Adventures - photos and videos of Buttons and Bella
Tales from the Raspberry Rabbits - rabbit crafts and rabbits Harrington and Sugie
Dragon House of Yuen - crafts and rabbits Arabella and Wesley
Eye of the Needle - tapestry and bunnies
Cottontails Baby - toys, gardening and a rabbit called Humphry

Roadbunner - running and a bunny called Mario
Diary of a Slow Triathlete - running and a bunny called Cadbury

Potentially Nervous - road adventures and bunny pics

Follow the Wabbit - the entertaining adventures of a globe trotting fictional bunny

and if you're on Twitter, you can get daily updates on bunny wisdom from Bunny Buddhism!

Tuesday 19 April 2011


among cherry blossom -
orange-tip butterflies

I'm really enjoying the current Sketchbook Haiku Thread on the theme of flowers, and am delighted that three of my haiku were added today! You can read the thread here. Scroll down to find my haiku, but make sure you enjoy everyone else's along the way!

Monday 18 April 2011

Poetry collages

I've been making a few poetry collages. You can see the first one I made in this post here. I've also made a couple of other collages using that same poem.

Yesterday though I enjoyed cutting up copies of a different poem I no longer like and I made the following collages from old magazine pages and other similar materials. I also made another collage (which didn't look as good) - each one has a slightly different new poem on it.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Montague Bridge

This bridge in Dalkeith Country Park was built in 1792 as a gift from the Montague family to the Queensberry family to commemorate a marriage between the two families. It was designed and built by William Adam.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Dalkeith Country Park

We had a lovely wander round Dalkeith Country Park today. It's a lovely area of woodland, the undergrowth a mass of celandines and bluebells mostly just a thought of blue mostly at the moment, but in a week they'll all be as fully in bloom as this patch was today.

The trees were full of birdsong. Some of the paths were shut off today so we took the opportunity to explore new corners of the Park.

We ended up though as ever at the magical ancient oak wood. These trees are wonderful gnarled ancient things. Some of them have fallen over but are still alive, though that have fallen and died are left to give homes to lichens and fungi and all sorts of invertebrates.

Relatively recently, the Country Park has started planting new oak trees, protected by the fencing you can see in the photo above. This was necessary as the woodland was no longer naturally regenerating as rabbits and cattle were eating all the oak seedlings.

Friday 15 April 2011

Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand

I won this book in the Eco-Libris Earth Day Campaign 41 Reasons to Plant a Tree for your Book. I chose this book as my prize because it promises to challenge environmentalists in their thinking on a range of controversial issues and I like to be challenged once in a while - it's healthy to have your assumptions tested once in a while.

The first issue it tackles is urbanisation. I already actually believe that city living can be green through for example good public transport links, the efficiency of infrastructure etc so I didn't need much persuading on this one. What I found odd was the way that some things were just presented as being good for the environment without any real exploration. For example mobile phones are described as having a great effect on helping people in developing countries to network and establish businesses, well that's undeniably true and I know there are strong links between wealth creation and environmental protection but these links need to be made explicit.

The second issue is nuclear power, which after recent events in Japan was unlikely to persuade me to change my mind (though high profile environmentalist George Monbiot did recently change his mind on the nuclear issue).

The third issue is Genetically Modified (GM) Food Crops. Having studied Botany, including Agricultural Botany, I've always thought that the opponents of GM have overplayed its problems while its supporters have overplayed its benefits. This book obviously does the second and doesn't fully convince me.

The final topic in the book covers regeneration of wildlands. This was the most interesting topic in the book and I felt was covered most convincingly.

Incidentally, there are no references in the book, to find those, you have to go to the website Personally I think that a book making as many claims as this one does should have the references in the book so that you can check them as you read along.

So a thought provoking but not entirely convincing book.

Thursday 14 April 2011

In bloom

The cherry tree across the road, that I'm observing for Tree Year is now in full bloom. These pink cherry trees seem to be slower to come to full bloom than the white ones.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I can't post there at the moment for some reason, hopefully that will sort itself out soon...

Wednesday 13 April 2011

House Sparrow

Crafty Green Boyfriend took this photo when we were in Bonaly on Saturday. The hedge was full of house sparrows gathering nesting material and chatting away. It's nice to see them these days, as their numbers have decreased so drastically across the UK. They've disappeared from a lot of places, but where they still live, there's generally a lot of them together. You can read more about Saturday's walk here.

For Nature Notes.

Joanne Ezekiel recently published my poem Amazonia on her My Delayed Reactions blog, you can read it here.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Picnic for the Planet

This Earth Day (22 April), the Nature Conservancy invites us to celebrate the planet we live on with good food and great people. Picnic for the Planet is a great idea, combining earth-friendly food with getting outside and enjoying nature! (Of course in the UK there is the slight problem of the weather, but we'll need to plan around that one!).

The five main focusses for Picnic for the Planet are:

Eat Smart - learn about where your food comes from and what's in it (this page gives you some advice)

Eat Local - reduce the carbon footprint of your food and support local businesses

Eat Sustainably - for example avoid eating dwindling species of fish (you can find out about sustainable fish at Fishonline.)

Eat Green - eat more fruit and vegetables

Eat Out - have a picnic and enjoy the great outdoors as you eat!

Where would be your favourite place for a picnic?

I posted recently about ethical food choices in Edinburgh. You can read my post here.

(As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more!)

Monday 11 April 2011

Water of Leith

I had a lovely wander through the Dells along the Water of Leith today. The one drawback was the amount of litter, I collected two big bin bags full and that wasn't even all there was. It wasn't helped by the fact that the bins were overflowing. It was a lovely day though. Most trees are definitely spring like. The exceptions being some of the ash trees, which look distinctly wintery still:

The wych elms are fruiting already:

though some of them are between flowering and fruiting:

The hornbeam that I'm 'studying' for Tree Year is definitely further on than it was last time I shared a photo. Thes catkins by the way are the male catkins, the female chandelier-like catkins won't appear until later in the year (and they're worth waiting for, they're lovely).

The birds were singing beautifully, the blackcaps are now in full voice. I had my best ever view of a singing blackcap this morning in fact. Plus there was a group of about four or five chiffchaffs chasing each other round a stand of birch trees. And I found this segment of egg shell that had been dropped by the side of the path. The parent birds always take the broken egg shells away from the nests when the chicks hatch so that predators aren't drawn to the nest. STV North Edinburgh yesterday interviewed me about the course I teach about the Water of Leith for the University of Edinburgh Office of Lifelong Learning, you can read the interview on their website here.

For Nature Notes.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Pentland Hills

Yesterday, the weather was wonderful and we had a lovely walk in the Pentland Hills. We started just outside Bonaly, where the house sparrows were busily collecting nesting materials and shouting at each other. We walked up a vertiginous woodland path along the Bonaly Burn.

There was wood sorrel everywhere (see below) and the trees were full of chaffinches singing.

Then we came onto the open moorland where the sky was full of singing skylarks, meadow pipits were fluttering round in the scrub and the heather was full of insects and spiders.

There were spider webs everywhere and lots of ladybirds and a huge number of small shiny green beetles. We also saw a number of different species of rove beetles and some ground beetles of different types. Plus a good number of bumble bees. Two buzzards were soaring on the thermals, a pair of peregrines chased each other above our heads and a kestrel hovered over the heathland on the other side of the burn.

Text in red contains hyperlinks to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Figgate Reflections

We visited Figgate Park last weekend and I posted some of Crafty Green Boyfriend's photos here. In that post I promised to show you some of my photos this week and so here they are! If you look very carefully near the base of the grasses in the first shot, you may see some frogspawn! You can get a better view of some frogspawn we saw recently in this post.

Friday 8 April 2011

Water of Leith

I will be teaching Introduction to the Water of Leith again this summer for the Office of Lifelong Learning at University of Edinburgh. The course will run 8/9 August. Full details will be available on the Office of Lifelong Learning website by the end of April. I'll also post the most up to date information on the Workshops and Courses page of this blog. In the meantime, I've set up a website to support the course. This includes photos and links that add to the material covered in the course. The idea is that students who have attended the course can get access to extra material and it also hopefully will inspire some other people to attend the course. You can find the website here, I've set it up as a Wordpress blog. It won't be updated in the traditional blog way, but I will add to it as I get extra photos or links for it.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Norway Maple

One of my favourite trees at this time of year is the Norway Maple. I love the vivid yellow flowers! I took these photos in the Meadows in Edinburgh. Talking of trees, this is what the cherry blossom across the road looks like now, just budding. it's interesting that the cherry trees in Edinburgh are all at different stages, some are in full flower already....

For Tree Year

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Rainforest Rescue

WWF and Sky are working together to help save one billion trees in the Amazon rainforest and protect around three million hectares from deforestation. That’s an area of rainforest roughly the size of Belgium. Sky Rainforest Rescue will work with local communities and the government in the Brazilian state of Acre to help make the forest worth more standing than dead. The project will:

* support local people to preserve their forests and adopt sustainable practices on their land. * help local people find new market opportunities for sustainable rainforest products like rubber, and get fair prices for their goods. * support the Acre state government to monitor deforestation. * engage with governments and international bodies to address the causes of deforestation in the Amazon

It's a project that promises to make a big impact on the rainforests in Acre, an area in the north-west of Brazil that covers an area equivalent in size to England and Wales.

It is easy to be cynical about multinational companies such as Sky getting involved in conservation projects, but the money needs to come from somewhere if we are to save the Amazon and Sky do make significant commitments to environmental sustainability, which you can read about here.

You can find out more about the project and how you can get involved here.

(WWF phoned me recently and asked me to commit to a sizeable donation to this project. However I'm not in the position to make new charitable donations at the moment so this blog post is in lieu of a donation).

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

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Ethical Food Choices in Edinburgh

Yesterday I reviewed Fast Food Nation, a book about the way that fast food is damaging our health and our surroundings. There are ethical choices, and I'm lucky to live in a city with more than its fair share of ethical food options. So here are a selection of ethical food outlets in Edinburgh:

Good Seed Bistro, Dalry Road serves delicious food made from local and organic ingredients. It makes the best gnocchi in Edinburgh and also offers specials including Chocolate Ravioli stuffed with Gorgonzola. It has a wide range of tempting desserts too.

Henderson's, Hannover Street is a vegetarian Edinburgh Institution with its large basement restaurant, the upmarket Bistro Bar and a new cafe under St John's Church in Princes Street as well as the fruit and veg shop and a bakery. It has a commitment to selling organic and locally produced products as much as possible. It also holds arts events.

Earthy Foods is a spacious shop selling a wide range of fruit and vegetables, the most delicious bread and other organic and fair trade food stuffs. It also has a cafe, which sells lovely cakes. It is all quite expensive, though.

One World Shop, next door to Henderson's underneath St John's Church, Princes Street is a fair trade shop selling mostly crafts but with a good stock of tea, coffee, chocolate, biscuits and rice.

Cyrenians Organic Farm offers work experience for vulnerable young people and produces the best respberry jam ever. Its produce is sold at the Edinburgh Farmer's Market and at some of the other ethical outlets mentioned here.

Real Foods, Broughton Street and Brougham Place - another vegetarian Edinburgh Institution, the two Real Foods Shops sell a good selection of food and toiletries, with a commitment to locally sourced and organic. However the choice of vegetables can sometimes be poor.

New Leaf, Argyle Place - a tiny shop selling food and cleaning materials, vegetarian, locally sourced and organic.

Edinburgh Farmers' Market is quite a vibrant farmers market selling locally produced and often organic produce, but for a vegetarian it is a little too meat oriented. Portobello Organic Farmers' Market near Edinburgh is a monthly organic market. Greener Monday is a box scheme and virtual farmers market. Gorgie City Farm also has a vegetable stall and has recently branched out into holding a Farmers Market.

And a special mention to Crafty Green Boyfriend's parents who grow the only apples I'll eat!

Monday 4 April 2011

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation was first published in 2001 and republished in 2007 but is still relevant today. The book outlines the effect that the fast food industry has had on the USA, from helping to drive suburban sprawl to damaging the nation's (and the world's) health. The book concentrates on the USA, but many of the issues are true to some extent in other countries too, as globalisation means that fast food is sweeping the world. .

It is shocking to read about the lax standards of meat safety and animal welfare that permeates the agricultural industry in the USA. Even when E coli outbreaks cause severe illness and even death, contaminated meat is sometimes recalled only slowly, resulting in more illness. Vegetarians aren't immune either as E coli can spread through salads that are washed in contaminated water. .

One of the most sobering sections of the book is the one that looks at conditions for workers in fast food restaurants and the meat processing industry in the USA. The workforce is non-unionised, many of them are illegal immigrants. There is a shocking rate of injury (and death) in the workplace for workers in the meat packing industry and its not much better for fast food restaurant employees.

The book does end on a hopeful note, looking at farmers who practice more sustainable agriculture and small, family owned restaurants who are making a successful business despite all the competition from the multinational fast food outlets. Tomorrow I'll post about ethical food options in Edinburgh.

Many of the same issues are covered in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, which documents her family's attempt to eat only local, humanely-produced food for a year. You can read my review of that book here. .

The film Food Inc is based on the same research as Fast Food Nation, you can read my review of the film here. .

Crossing with the Virgin is a sobering book about what happens to some of the illegal immigrants into the USA who aren't 'lucky' enough to get far enough to be able to take one of the low paid jobs in a fast food restaurant or a meat processing plant. You can read my review here.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Bridges in Spylaw Park

I took this photo on Monday as we walked through Spylaw Park, which used to be the grounds of Spylaw House, now a nice little park in Colinton, Edinburgh. The railings in the photo belong to the low level pedestrian bridge across the Water of Leith, the big stone bridge is Spylaw Bridge that runs through Colinton.

also along the Water of Leith is the beautiful St Bernard's Well, and you can see some of my photos of that over on my Over Forty Shades blog here.

As ever, red text in this post takes you to other webpages where you can find out more!

Saturday 2 April 2011

Figgate Park

We had a lovely wander round Figgate Park in Edinburgh today. We'd never been before, but had heard (via Edinburgh Wildlife) that it was a good place to see Shovellers, a species of duck that we don't often see round Edinburgh. And indeed we did see a pair of Shovellers, and as you can see from this photo, they're very handsome ducks, or at least the males are, the female looks much like a female mallard (and there were plenty of those around too).

We also saw three nesting coots, several tufted ducks (those in the photo below are males)

and a cormorant, looking slightly out of place, as it is more usually a shore bird. Also Canada Geese, mute swans, herring gulls and black headed gulls (some of which had their summer heads, some were still with their winter heads). There were lots of goldfinches flying around in the trees too. Parts of the Figgate Pond have been recently planted with wetland plants and a boardwalk has been put in, which offers a nice route over the pond.

The photos in this post were taken by Crafty Green Boyfriend. I took some photos too, but my camera battery is currently recharging and I'll post them next week.....

As ever, red text in this post takes you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 1 April 2011

Biggar Poetry Garden

Biggar Poetry Garden is at the top end of the High Street in Biggar, a market town in South Lanarkshire. The Garden has been created by Biggar Museums Trust Brownsbank Committee in partnership with the Biggar Public Art Group and South Lanarkshire Council. There are plaques around the garden with quotations from Scottish poems about plants, alongside the plants to which they refer. The Poetry Garden also containes display boards of poetry, including poetry from a range of Scottish poets. I'm delighted to have just found out that some of my poetry will be featured in the display boards for three months starting from June this year!

As ever, text in red takes you to other webpages, where you can find out more.