Monday 31 October 2011

Birdwatching along the River Esk

I lead the last of this season's Beginners' Birdwatching classes today. We walked along the mouth of the River Esk in Musselburgh and onto the shore. The river was full of geese - Canada Geese, Greylags and one lone Pink footed goose, which allowed me to do a nice compare and contrast with this species and the Greylag which are superficially similar though once you see them close together they're quite different really.

There were lots of mallards, one female goosander and a whole load of herring gulls and black headed gulls. I had hoped to see wigeon, a very pretty duck that I've seen at Musselburgh before, but there were none.

On the shore the tide was fairly far out but we did get to see a couple of curlews, some oystercatchers and a couple of redshanks among the gulls and crows. Also two pied wagtails, with their heads turning slightly yellow for winter.

As the walk came to an end a group of Canada geese glided upriver then took off into the air and flew over the bridge.

It's been a good group and we've had reasonable luck with seeing birds - but so much of it is about luck and having a group of 14 people isn't ideal in terms of minimising disturbance to the birds.

The walks start again on 20 February 2012. I'll post the details (and the link to the booking form) here when they're available.

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

Saturday 29 October 2011

Squirrel and autumn leaves

We went for a lovely walk today through Inverleith Park

and round the Botanic Gardens.

Wonderful autumn colours and unexpectedly lovely weather (it had been grey and damp first thing and we had expected it to stay that way!) (The leaves here are from an ornamental species of beech tree).

We made friends with this delightful grey squirrel. Yes they're an alien species and outcompete the native reds, but in areas where reds haven't lived for ages and are unlikely to ever come back, it's lovely to see the greys.

We had a snack at a picnic table at the Botanics Cafe. Given that it's Feed the Birds Day today, it is perhaps fitting that robins and dunnocks were feeding off the crumbs under the tables. The herring gulls and magpies fighting over leftovers were entertaining too, though less welcome!

Friday 28 October 2011

Blue Autumn Skies

Edinburgh's beautiful autumn continues (with a slight chill in the air now).

Earlier I had got off the bus a stop early and been rewarded with a sparrowhawk flying high above me, gliding then flapping its wings three times, gliding then three more flaps. Its barred chest shone in the autumnal light.

(photos taken on Corstorphine Hill)

Wednesday 26 October 2011

NaNoWriMo and a Photo Competition

I was thinking about an idea for a short story, which was getting quite complicated and then I realised it is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November! So I thought, hey, why not? and signed up. So I'm currently plotting and planning my way to a novel, which will be about climate change in a future independent and fractured Scotland. The aim is to get a 50,000 word first draft completed by the end of November. As someone whose favourite literary forms are haiku and flash fiction this will be a fun challenge! Anyone else signed up for NaNo this year?

Meanwhile Crafty Green Boyfriend has been busy and would appreciate a few votes for his photo in the Friends of the Earth Christmas e-card competition (yes I know it's early!). You can see all the photos on Facebook here - Crafty Green Boyfriend's picture is the robin. You can vote for it by clicking the Like button under his photo. (You need to be a member of Facebook to vote and of course you are at perfect liberty to vote for someone else's photo!)

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

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Autumnal Colour

We're having a mild and often sunny autumn here in Edinburgh. The leaves are turning and we have some lovely, subtle autumnal colours. I took these photos along the Water of Leith this morning - not so much sun today, but still pleasantly warm.

Monday 24 October 2011

Foreign Flavours

I'm delighted to be part of the Foreign Flavours anthology, published today by Writers Abroad. This exciting and worthwhile anthology includes fiction and non-fiction about food and cooking abroad (including my piece 'From My Malawian Cookbook'). Proceeeds from the sales of the anthology go to the excellent Bookbus charity, which supports literacy in Africa and Latin America and recently had a book drive for Malawi.

You can buy copies of the anthology from Lulu here.

Sunday 23 October 2011

A Prickly Affair by Hugh Warwick

Hedgehogs are one of the most popular inhabitants of the British countryside (this book describes them as the most universally loved animals, but the author obviously hasn't visited any bunny blogs!).

This book is a wonderful mix of natural history, animal welfare and total eccentricity. It includes an investigation into the reasons why hedgehogs are declining in the wild, whether hedgehogs have caused population declines in seabirds in Scottish islands, an expedition to China to find the very rare Hugh's hedgehog and a brief trip to the Hedgehog Olympic Games.

We meet people who have given up almost everything to set up hedgehog hospitals; find out whether hedgehogs really can harvest fruit by rolling around and find out how best to look after the hedgehogs that visit our gardens.

I imagine most people will be totally charmed by this book and will then want to observe these wonderful animals in the wild. Well in the UK, that's sadly becoming a rare event these days for most of us. If this book makes you want to help your local hedgehogs, then you can visit Hedgehog Street to find out more.

A Prickly Affair by Hugh Warwick published by Penguin

Friday 21 October 2011

Homegrown Tomatoes

We've been growing tomatoes this year for the first time. We started them late and had begun to think that we'd left it too late. Several tomatoes had formed but it seemed as though none of them were going to ripen. However, now at last some have started to turn red or at least orange. Then maybe I'll need to find a recipe for green tomato chutney for all the green ones? To be honest, I had always thought we didn't get enough sun in our windows to grow tomatoes, so getting any red ones at all feels like a greast achievement! We'll start earlier next year!

Thursday 20 October 2011

Sign Language Poetry

I found out at the last minute about last night's inspiring poetry event at the Talbot Rice Art Gallery. It featured poetry from British Sign Language (BSL) poet Richard Carter. To start with Richard performed some poetry in response to some of the artworks in the intriguing Anton Henning exhibition that was displayed in the gallery. He then performed some poetry from his usual repertoire, some initially without spoken English interpretation.

BSL is a wonderfully expressive language and even without spoken English interpretation, I found it possible to understand the main themes of the poetry. I particularly enjoyed the poem Autumn where books became birds became falling autumn leaves.

After the event, I chatted (through an interpreter) to Richard about imagery in poetry and specifically about haiku. BSL is an ideal language for haiku, with its emphasis on images. In fact BSL haiku are even more pared down and compressed than English language haiku - two BSL signs can convey a haiku very well! There is a BSL haiku website here, where you can find out more and watch some BSL haiku in action.

There is a BSL poetry website forthcoming that should soon be visible here.

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

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

If you've ever wondered about the effects of product placement in films on consumerism, this is the film for you!

Morgan Spurlock set out to make a film that exposed the insidious nature of product placement by financing itself entirely through product placement! The result is a highly entertaining journey through the whole process of finding sponsors, coming to agreements with them about their involvement in the film and giving them their slice of screen time. The viewer sits in on the pitches Spurlock makes to the sponsors and finds out details in the ensuing contracts (such as Spurlock can only be seen to drink the juice made by the drinks manufacturer that is the headline sponsor of the film) and then the results of the contracts are clearly visible in the finished film (indeed he is only seen to drink the one type of soft drink, though he did drink a coffee from an unmarked mug on at least one occasion).

The film also looks at marketing and watches the process of advert design. Part of the film involves a discussion with high school students about how they see marketing and advertising and then a discussion with the staff from the same school around the problems of making income for the school without selling out to big corporations. This leads to the makers of the film making donations to the school in return for adverts for the film being placed in the school buses and on billboards round the school. The film itself of course fits in with the class discussions around marketing and advertising and questions the whole notions of corporate school sponsorship, so there's a nice circular thing going on there.

It's an eye-opening film, and many viewers will find themselves keeping a beady eye out for product placements in future films they watch as well as becoming more aware of the myriad ways corporations are constantly selling stuff to us. It also unearths a wonderfully bizarre product - a shampoo that can be used both by people and horses - which inspires a particularly amusing scene.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is showing at the Cameo in Edinburgh until Thursday.

Monday 17 October 2011

Repurposed Camera Case, Take 2

As I blogged here, I recently tried to make a case for my camera from repurposed fabric samples, but it turned out to be too small (luckily Crafty Green Boyfriend has found a use for it). I tried again using fabric from an old kimono, which I've already used in other repurposed items (such as this sandwich bag and this draught excluder) and the photos in this post show the result. I'm quite pleased with it! I just basically measured out the fabric around the camera and sewed it up, I didn't use a pattern or anything. I lined the inside of the flap with more of the same fabric to make it look smarter. Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for the photos.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Blog Action Day 2011 - FOOD

Every year Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from around the world to blog on one specific topic. This year the topic is food.

Today is also World Food Day, which this year focusses on the issues of price and stability in the world food markets. You can find out more about that here. If you're in Edinburgh, there's still time to get along to this World Food Day celebration.

There are many environmental issues around food, including:

In the UK, many farmland birds are in decline, due to the use of chemicals in intensive farming. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) does a lot of work on making farming more wildlife friendly. You can read about their work here. They also have an interesting article about corvids caching food, which you can read here.

Organic farming bans the use of harmful chemicals. The Soil Association campaigns for organic farming across the UK and is a certification body for organic products. In Scotland, the largest certification body for organic food is SOPA. I sometimes wonder whether there is really a need for two certification bodies. I also know that many smaller farms are put off by the price and the length of the process of becoming a certified organic farm. At least two small food producers near Edinburgh produce food that is as close to organic as you can get, but they aren't organic purely because they can't afford to become so. Many other farms, whether organic or not, as Weaver of Grass points out in the comments, do their bit to help the wildlife on their land.

Today's poem on Bolts of Silk is about food, you can read it here.

And this seems like as good a time as ever to mention the Foreign Flavours anthology due to be published on 24 October by Writers Abroad. This anthology includes fiction and non-fiction about food and cooking abroad (including my piece 'From My Malawian Cookbook'). Proceeeds from the sales of the anthology go to the excellent Bookbus charity, which supports literacy in Africa and Latin America and recently had a book drive for Malawi.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Union Canal, Ratho

We had a lovely walk along the Union Canal in Ratho today. The elderberries were at their best:

as were these puffball fungi

There were lots of snails with different patterned shells, here's just one example, nicely contrasting with the lichen on the wall:

and we met these entertaining and friendly Aylesbury ducks and their friend (who looked like a mallard/Aylesbury cross)

You can see more photos of this stretch of the canal in this post.

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

Friday 14 October 2011

The Secret Animals of Castle Rock

Some people in Edinburgh possibly pass by Castle Rock without ever knowing about the animals that live there. I think I've blogged before about the bunnies that live on the hill below the castle. Their population seems to fluctuate, about two years ago I once counted 30 bunnies on the hill then more recently I've been lucky to see one.

Last night we went out early evening (to see the excellent New Model Army in concert) and passed Castle Rock. As ever, we stopped to see if we could see any bunnies and we counted 10, which is much more than we've seen since the famous count of 30.

On the way back, we passed Castle Rock again. This time there were no bunnies at all on the hill. Instead we saw two young foxes. One was halfway up the hill, digging around in a ditch, the other was sitting not far from us, watching us. They both seemed very relaxed about us being so near to them. After a while, the sitting fox leapt up and joined the other one and they chased each other round, playfighting. It's the first time I've seen foxes on Castle Rock, though Crafty Green Boyfriend has seen on there recently. I'll certainly be looking out for them there in the future!

Thursday 13 October 2011

St Bernard's Well, Medicinal Garden

This morning, a small group of volunteers from Water of Leith Conservation Trust gathered by St Bernard's Well to weed and plant the old medicinal garden. The weather was beautiful, mild and dry. The weeding was easy and we then had a tea break (with nice biscuits!) before starting on the planting. Robins were singing around us and a beautiful female mute swan swam slowly past on the river as we worked. We also had good views of a dipper, busily looking for food in the river.

This photo gives some idea of how the area looked to start with, pretty overgrown.

This is how it looked after we had done all the weeding (the area in the background to the right had already been planted with medicinal herbs).

And this is how it looked when we had finished!

We planted species such as sneezewort, teasels (not strictly speaking medicinal, but used in making dyes), purple loosestrife, tansy and St John's Wort. Then we planted some daffodils in a long trail in the shape of a serpent (which is the symbol of health).

It was very enjoyable to be involved in the work and I really look forward to seeing the garden develop and bloom!

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

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Hornbeam Update

This is my favourite time of year for the hornbeam trees, their chandelier fruits are so vividly yellow and set off so nicely against the leaves that are still mostly green.

As many of you know, I'm following the hornbeams in Colinton Dell, by the Water of Leith, for Tree Year.

You can read all my Tree Year posts here.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Sad Day for this Squirrel

I was walking along the Water of Leith today when I heard a big commotion above my head. A couple of seconds later this grey squirrel landed at the base of the tree and lay still. I thought it might have been caught up in some creeper or something but it wasn't, but something was obviously wrong with it, because after taking a few laboured breaths, it kicked its leg in the air and then died. I took the photo when I passed by again later (I have a complicated circular walk that I do every week around Colinton Dell along the Water of Leith. The squirrel died at one of the points that I pass more than once). If you look carefully you can see that the poor dead squirrel is already being taken over by invertebrates - such as the slug climbing over its back. There was also a couple of flies buzzing about.

It was so sad to see such a beautiful creature die.

Grey squirrels are an introduced species in the UK and are often unpopular as they outcompete our native (and admittedly prettier!) red squirrels. However, in areas where there haven't been red squirrels for a very long time (like Edinburgh), the greys are a welcome addition to the local wildlife as they are such charismatic creatures.

Monday 10 October 2011

Monday Bunday

I was delighted to win these snuggly bunny earrings in a giveaway over on Lavender Rabbit Hoppenings (click on the photo to make it bigger, so you can see more of the wonderful details in the earrings!). You can see in this post here, that Cooper the bunny personally chose my name to receive the prize.

These are beautiful earrings and I will wear them a lot, in fact I wore them for the first time on Saturday when we visited Gorgie City Farm! Thanks so much to Lavender Rabbits and Cooper!

Sunday 9 October 2011

Gorgie City Farm

We went to Gorgie City Farm yesterday to catch up with the animals! It was a dull, dreich, drizzly day. Raindrops hung beautifully on the sweet peas.

These little piglets were playing innocently with their mother, unaware of the fact that soon they will feature in the 'Hot Dish of the Day - Pork Stew - featuring Gorgie pork' in the Farm Cafe or in some cordon bleu dish in the upmarket restaurant up the road.

The rabbits were all hidden away, sheltering from the rain.

This goat was also trying to keep out of the rain though he did show his head.

Finally we made friends with this adorable Ryelands sheep, not much more than a lamb really.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Haiku Headaches

headache -
dark clouds

The above is a literal haiku from observation (I have a headache, there are dark clouds outside). However, as a haiku it can be improved. For example, although most English language haiku writers who take the form seriously don't adhere to the 5-7-5 pattern of syllables (because English syllables are so different from Japanese syllables, the 5-7-5 is generally treated as an upper limit rather than strict rule) most do stick to short line / longer line / short line in 3 line haiku. So we can change it to:

headache -
thunder clouds

which also makes it more dramatic. And then to add further drama it can become:

migraine -
thunder clouds

Which got me wondering about how much haiku are based purely on observation and how much they're based on the writing process. Until recently, it seems to have been the received wisdom that haiku are based on simple observation and should be altered as little as possible from that observation, which should be allowed to speak for itself. However, I've seen more recent haiku which use surrealism (which I think is an intriguing element to find in haiku) or metaphor (which I don't see the point of in haiku as the juxtaposition of images is already a type of metaphor, so why add another?).

I love the simplicity of haiku and many of those I write are based purely on observation, though I alter some of them, and occasionally I write haiku out of my imagination (which I sometimes get the impression you're not supposed to admit to writing). If you read or write haiku, what do you think about all this?

Thursday 6 October 2011

Slow Travel by Mari Rhydwen

Mari and her partner Allen gave up their ordinary lives in Australia to sail the Indian Ocean for two years and this book is the result. It documents their journey and their experiences in the countries and islands they stop off at on the way. Inevitably, as yachting itself is, the book is dominated by the weather - ocean storms and a period spent becalmed - and the mundane tasks necessary to keep a boat seaworthy. There are some beautiful descriptions of the wildlife:

The only signs of life were dolphins playing in the clear deep ultramarine, our first spinner dolphins. They leap from the water and spin in the air, performing airborne pirouettes like a voluntary and spontaneous circus act. They even put on night shows. Dozens of them would frolic around the boat leaving three-dimensional trails of interweaving phosphorescence, criss-crossing tunnels of flashing light like underwater fireworks.

Rhydwen is a Buddhist and interweaves into the narrative her thoughts about the spiritual nature of the mundane tasks and often long periods of inactivity. She also observes the social inequalities of the countries they visit (while being very aware of the inequalities of her own home country). She comments on the way that our current lifestyles are alienating us from the natural world and how a return to slower lifestyles could benefit us and the natural world.

This is a very readable book, conversational in tone and always thoughtful and by turns entertaining and moving. It did rather put me off ever sailing around the world though, not that that really was ever an ambition of mine!

Slow Travel by Mari Rhydwen published by Allen and Unwin

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Clothes Repair

I've been repairing some clothes recently - it's an environmentally friendly activity that helps save money and resources and I find it quite relaxing to do some sewing. The photo shows the buttonhole of one of my scruffy pairs of trousers that I wear round the house. The buttonhole had ripped apart, but otherwise (apart from being faded) the trousers are perfectly wearable and very comfortable. I don't know how well it shows up in the photo, but I mended the buttonhole by sewing two thin strips of ribbon round the edges. One strip on the outside and one on the inside, fastening them both firmly to the bit of buttonhole that was left. So far this is working and I'm wearing the trousers again quite happily.

The other story of repair is not so successful. My favourite summer trousers for round the house had developed acouple of small holes in the seat so I repaired them by sewing patches over them. The patches then ripped off and the original holes expanded so I patched everything up again but it all ripped dramatically apart again the next day, the trousers now have huge holes right across the seat (and it's not as though I'm putting on weight or anything!) So I think I'm going to give up and reuse the fabric to make something else!


On another topic, I'm delighted to be featured today over on Cathy Cullis' lovely blog Nevering. You can read my two my poems here.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Monday 3 October 2011

Birdwatching Classes

This is the second week of my current five week course of beginners' birdwatching classes. Today's walk started at Blackford Pond in Edinburgh. One of the great things about starting a birdwatching walk (specially for beginners!) at a pond is that there are guaranteed birds. So the group were entertained by coots chasing each other across the water, lots of mallards making a lot of noise, a pair of mute swans sailing serenely by and lots of black headed gulls entirely not living up to their name by being in winter plumage. There were also a couple of moorhens and best of all the Blackford Pond dabchicks (little grebes) gave a star performance. Usually a shy and retiring bird that dives into the water as soon as it's spotted, today three of them came quite close to shore so everyone got a really close look at this cute little bird.

We then walked into the Hermitage of Braid and along the Braid Burn (for part of the time we were following a grey wagtail as it flew upstream!) then over some fields and back to our starting point. Plenty of blue tits, great tits, chaffinches all around (though not always easy to get a good look at!) and a long tailed tit that I think only a couple of people got a view of, because it was low down in the middle of a bush. One of the disadvantages of leading a group of people on a birdwatching walk through woodland is that you can't guarantee that everyone gets to see all the birds.

I don't take my camera with me when I'm leading guided walks (to avoid being distracted from my job by taking lots of photos!) and the photo at the top of this post shows mallards at Blackford Pond in October 2009. You can see more photos of the birds and scenery in the area here.