Tuesday 31 January 2012

Ghost Orchids by Siobhan Healy

When we visited the Botanics this weekend for the Big Garden Birdwatch, we took a moment to look at this beautiful exhibition by Scottish glass artist Siobhan Healy. The delicate transparent glass flowers in the exhibition are haunting evocations of this very rare flower, the fragility of the medium reflecting the fragility of the plant in the wild.

The ghost orchid was declared extinct in the UK in 2005 but was amazingly rediscovered in 2009!

This exhibition has now closed in Edinburgh, but apparently (and information is contradictory on this) will be on display at the Blaschka Gallery of Glass Flowers at Harvard Museum of Natural History until 4 March 2012. Well worth seeing if you get the chance!

Plantlife, the UK charity for plant conservation has recently put together a Ghost Orchid Declaration outlining the key issues for wild plant conservation and some potential solutions.

Monday 30 January 2012

Saturday 28 January 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch

It's the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch today and tomorrow! We don't have much of a garden ourselves and can't see it from any of our windows. So we decided to go to Inverleith Park and The Royal Botanic Gardens to record our birds there. The biggest birds we saw were mute swans (though we also saw two grey herons up a tree!). This swan was particularly co-operative.

I was particularly pleased to see siskins in the Botanics, they're such a lovely species, the male is very handsome. We didn't get any photos of the siskins or any of the other smaller birds. This squirrel though was eager to pose.
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Friday 27 January 2012

And the winners are....

John Muir Way, Musselburgh

Not having a trained rabbit to pick out names from a hat, I asked Crafty Green Boyfriend to pick the winners of the recent giveaway. So, the winners of the kits for making fat cakes for garden birds are:

Michelle May of Raspberry Rabbits

Deb G of bee creative

Bunnits of Art in the Wind

Christina of Rabid Tidbits

Magyar of Magyar Haiku

and Facebook friends Emma and Jane.

I've contacted all the winners for their addresses, which I will pass on to Yorkshire Water who will then send out the prizes directly.

Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to Yorkshire Water for donating the prizes! If you are a winner, I would be interested in hearing how your birds enjoy the fat cakes!

Thursday 26 January 2012

Cleaning up the Mess

I had a chilly walk around Cramond, at the mouth of the River Almond today. The light was stunning and there were loads of oystercatchers around and some other birds too (though not as many as usual).

It was quite littered in places, so I'm glad to know that Cramond is one of the locations in the Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch clean ups this weekend (28 January). They're encouraging people to join in to clean up the mess that is often found on many of our beaches. Joining in is not only a great way to do your bit for conservation but is great exercise and generally a very sociable experience! You can find your nearest event here.

You can also sign up now for the Keep Scotland Beautiful annual Spring Clean campaign. Choose a day between 1 April and 31 May, get together with some friends and set out to clean up the litter in a place near you!

The Water of Leith Conservation Trust is always on the look out for volunteers to help with their annual clean-ups (and with many other tasks!) - you can find out more here.

Meanwhile, a reminder that there is still time to enter the recent giveaway to win kits for making fat cakes for your garden birds. You just need to comment on this post! I'll choose the winners later today! Thanks to Yorkshire Water for providing the prizes!

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

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

This novel published in 1998 is set in an imagined Antarctica of the early twenty-first century

There is an odd feeling of reading about a future that isn't quite the future but nor is it the present that it's somehow supposed to be. Other than that though, this is an excellent piece of speculative fiction - gripping and meticulously researched (Robinson spent time in Antarctica as part of the US Antarctic Program's Artist and Writer Program).

This is an Antarctica fought over by African oil companies and eco terrorists while scientists continue their studies and an international group of 'ferals' try to develop an indigenous way of life on the continent. Meanwhile Val leads groups of tourists on extreme adventures, recreating the journeys of the original polar explorers. Stories of these explorers intercut the narrative in a very effective manner, giving the reader a sense of the real history of the continent.

The narrative is very intense in places, there are long passages outlining scientific experiments, political manoeverings and an expedition that Val leads, which doesn't go to plan.

The technology is worked into the narrative really well, wristwatch computers, recordings a trek participant makes for TV-masks and the intelligent fabrics that everyone's clothes are made from. Similarly the ideas around the ferals' construction of a potentially permanent way of life are well explored.

It's a compelling read and one that makes the reader think deeply about the future of the world's last great wilderness. And as this month marks the centenary of Scott's failed expedition to reach the South Pole, what better time to read this book?

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson published by Voyager

I reviewed this book for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge. I also reviewed The Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Green Ways to Unblock Drains

I posted recently about Yorkshire Water's Doing the Dirty Campaign. Just a reminder that there's still time to enter the giveaway for kits to make fat cakes for your garden birds! I'll be choosing winners on Thursday!

If you are very careful with your waste, you may still end up with blocked drains or a blocked toilet. There are a number of environmentally friendly ways that you can fix the problem yourself including: using a plunger or a mop (scroll down a bit to More Top Tips) to unblock a toilet or using vinegar or baking soda (or a mixture of both) to unblock sinks or toilets. Any of these methods can work in clearing minor bockages and save you the expense of calling out a plumber. If they don't work though, there may be a more major problem with your piping and then you should call out a professional!

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

Monday 23 January 2012

Goldcrests and Citrus Fiesta

It's a beautiful clear but chilly day today. Just got back from a lovely walk along the Water of Leith. The highlight was definitely the goldcrest that flew round our heads at the end of the walk. Recently I've seen many more of these tiny birds than I used to do, they seem to be spending more time in the lower branches than normal. Or perhaps there are more of them? Always a delight to see.

Meanwhile I'm delighted to have two poems up on Gabrielle Bryden's blog as part of her Citrus Fiesta. You can read them here.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Friday 20 January 2012

Green Books

I'm delighted to be starting a monthly guest spot on Brighton Blogger's Book after Book blog. Every month for the next six months or so, I'll be talking about some aspect of environmental issues related to reading, books and writing. You can read my first post here.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Doing the Dirty - Look after your Drains and a Giveaway for Bird lovers

Many people put the wrong things down their sinks and toilets. This can result in blocked drains, which can cause problems for your household. In some places raw sewage is still dumped into rivers and oceans, causing unsightly pollution and problems for wildlife and if you're putting the wrong things in your drains then they can affect wildlife.

Yorkshire Water cleared 18 000 blocked drains last year (the population of Yorkshire is around 5.1 million). Around 37% of these blockages were probably preventable. The company is currently running a campaign to raise awareness of the issues. Although the campaign is aimed at their customers in Yorkshire, it offers very useful advice for everyone!

Their basic advice is:

* Don’t pour fat, oil or grease down the kitchen sink – small amounts of fat put down a sink can solidify in pipes like lard. Over time this fat builds up preventing waste water from escaping down the pipes to the sewers. This means it finds its way back up the pipes and could end up coming out of toilets and sinks.

* Waste oils and fat can be made into fat cakes to feed birds in your garden. You can find out more here and if you are a Yorkshire Water customer you can order free fat cake making kits (and see below for a chance to get your hands on some free fat cake making kits even if you don't live in Yorkshire)!

* Don’t flush wipes, sanitary products, cotton buds, nappies, hair. Toilets are only designed to remove toilet roll and human waste. Anything else can cause your toilet to become blocked. If waste cannot escape to the sewers, it could come back up through the toilet resulting in a nasty flooded bathroom.

* Put sanitary products etc in a bin.

You can read more about the Dos and Don'ts here and if you are a new parent, there is an interesting infographic about babies and nappy waste here.

Yorkshire Water have kindly offered me some fat cake making kits to give away to readers of this blog. All you need to do is leave a comment within the next week on this post here or on Facebook or Twitter (or retweet the post on Twitter)! Ten people will receive two fat cake making kits each. These can be sent anywhere in the world, but preference may be given to people in the UK, who are not Yorkshire Water customers.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Favourite Bird Books

I had a brilliant day's birding today along the coast at Musselburgh. I saw loads of birds including four lifers: snow buntings, velvet scoters, a purple sandpiper and a gadwall.

I write about birds a lot on this blog and I write about books a lot, but so far I've never written about bird identification guides! So here are my favourites:

1) Collins Wild Guide Birds - this is a basic, pocket sized guide to British birds. Each species has a page to itself with a photo and a couple of drawings, a brief description and some important facts, such as size and flight pattern. There is a little grid showing which months the bird is in the UK and a distribution map. This is the book I carry with me when I'm out birding or leading a birdwatching class.

2) Birds of Europe by Lars Jonsson, published by Helm. This is a big thick book that covers the birds of Europe. It's beautifully illustrated and contains a good amount of information on each species. There's a good introduction about topics such as feathers, behaviour and migration. It's a great reference book but can be quite confusing (or envy inspiring) as there are many birds here that never (or only very rarely) come to the UK.

3) Identifying Birds by Behaviour by Dominic Couzens published by Collins. This is a fascinating book covering interesting behaviour in British and European birds, giving detailed comparisons between similar species. It is beautifully illustrated and very interesting. Some of the descriptions are delightful, such as the common gull walking with 'dainty, free moving footsteps'.

4) The MacMillan Field Guide to Bird Identification by Alan Harris, Laurel Tucker and Keith Vinicombe. This is similar to 3 above except there is more text and fewer illustrations. It goes into a lot of detail, which can be overwhelming but is very useful and interesting!

Do you have a favourite bird guide?

This post doesn't really quality as a book review! But you can read my latest review for Brighton Blogger's Reading Challenge 2012 over on Over Forty Shades here.

I'm delighted to have a guest post about Vegetarian Food in Scotland here.

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

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Green Transport vs the trees

I'm one of those old fashioned environmentalists, who likes trees and wildlife. So it always makes me sad and angry when the natural world is sacrificed for the sake of initiatives to cut carbon emissions (not that I don't think cutting emissions is necessary!). Particularly when the carbon cutting may not end up being as significant as the projects lead us to believe.

Edinburgh is a green city, but is rapidly losing a lot of trees (for example a lot were lost in the last two hard winters, recent winds have felled several and many are being cut down for the Water of Leith Flood Prevention Works, which you can read about in my blog posts here, here and here. Some of the trees along the river have been saved, but many have been lost. Two trees will be planted for every tree removed.)

So I was particularly shocked to read this article in the Herald newspaper, which states that over 3 300 trees will be cut down to make way for the Edinburgh trams. Construction work for the trams has already caused chaos in Edinburgh. Leaving aside that the trams will serve a very restricted route that is already well served by buses and that bus services elsewhere will probably end up being reduced. Trees have already started disappearing without warning. These are mature trees and their loss will be really felt by residents of Edinburgh, both humans and birds. Again there is a promise that all trees will be replaced, but given how long the whole tram fiasco has been going on already, who knows when that might happen?

On the national level, the High Speed rail link between London and Birmingham has been given the go-ahead, though it won't be taking passengers for at least another 14 years. This is touted to reduce carbon emissions, but perhaps not by as much as the Government would have us believe. The controversy about the route is that it will devastate large areas of natural beauty and probably 21 areas of ancient woodland.

Surely it cannot be right that we destroy the natural world to reduce our carbon footprint? It's misguided anyway, as trees soak up carbon emissions!

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

Monday 16 January 2012

A poem for Monday Bunday

I was delighted when Rabbits' Guy and Bunny Lady asked me to write a poem for Zoey and Chico, two of their bunnies who were recently bonded with each other. The two bunnies look so happy together now!

You can see the latest photo of the happy couple and read my poem for them on the House of Rabbits blog here.

On Wednesday, I'm delighted to say, I'll have a guest post (about veggie food in Scotland) up on Vegetarian at Large!

Saturday 14 January 2012

Singers in the Dells

I've heard the first song thrushes singing already this year! So I thought it a good time to post this little story, that I was originally intending to post a bit later in the year! The Dells are the part of the Water of Leith that I help to look after in my work as a volunteer for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.

There are reports that our numbers are declining. Not here though. Song thrushes still sing in the Dells as we have done for centuries.

History weaves its way through the generations of our sung sagas. We sing of the armies who marched through these woods with Cromwell, laying waste to nature and human settlements. We sing of the wealthy estate owners who used to hunt deer through the trees and built walled gardens that they could see from their hilltop mansions. We sing of the times when this area was busy with mill-workers and the river was the most polluted in Scotland. We sing of the railway that roared straight through the heart of the woodlands. We sing of a great fire that brought an end to the mills.

We sing in a place that is now a green and peaceful woodland. People walk and cycle where the trains used to roar. Wild flowers grow where the mills once clattered. The waters are full of trout and fished by herons and kingfishers.

But there are still disturbances. Downstream the council is cutting down trees and building walls to stop floods. This is all bad news for our kind, though in fifty years the walls will be reclaimed by nature, just as has happened to older walls along stretches of the river.

At weekends young people party and set fire to the grass and damage the trees. They are young and hopefully will learn. Upstream a man with a chainsaw is killing trees, but the police will catch him and protect us from him.

Further afield though it doesn't sound good. Our cousins' homes are threatened by high speed railways, mining and shopping malls. We sing to spread the word about these threats but we also sing of hope. Hope that people will see sense and understand the value of woodlands, not only for us and the other birds and animals that live here, but also for them, the humans.

Every person who wakes up early and hears us sing, starts to understand a little better.

Everyone who understands, can help us and the woodlands to thrive. So we keep singing and the Dells remain as a place of magic.

Friday 13 January 2012

Thursday 12 January 2012

Cholesterol in the Vegetarian Diet

It's very easy to think that as a vegetarian you have a healthy diet. However, most vegetarians eat a lot of dairy products (most of which are high in saturated fats, which increase blood cholesterol levels) and eggs (which are high in cholesterol). This can lead to high blood cholesterol even if you are not overweight. High cholesterol levels have been linked to increased risk of heart disease and strokes (though the health issues around cholesterol are complicates, as I'll talk about later in this post).

So, if you need to control your cholesterol levels, what can you do within a vegetarian diet?

You can cut down on eggs, but for some people eating eggs doesn't raise their blood cholesterol level even though eggs are themselves high in cholesterol (its complicated).

Dairy products (specially cheese) are always a problem though because they contain lots of saturated fats, which increase blood cholesterol levels. So you may want to replace them with something else. The obvious choice as any vegan would tell you is to use soya products - most people have heard of tofu and soya milk but there are also soya cheeses and soya yoghurts. I've been trying soya cheeses and struggled at first, because quite frankly some of them are pretty disgusting (no matter the cheery slogan on the packaging that says: "A Delicious alternative to cheese!") though I have now found one that's palatable. Soya products can actively reduce cholesterol and can also reduce the risk factors for certain types of cancer. However, there are some health concerns about soya products, you can read about some of them on the EnviroSeeker blog and some people suffer from soy allergy. There are also concerns about the amount of processing required to make soya beans palatable, though many cheeses and yoghurts are highly processed anyway.

Other foods that can help to reduce cholesterol include foods that contain soluble fibre (such as oats and pulses), some nuts (particularly almonds) and dark chocolate (with cocoa content over 70% - you can see a video of the many health benefits of dark chocolate here).

Other foods that are high in saturated fats (which increases blood cholesterol) include coconuts and palm oil (and you should avoid palm oil anyway because of its connection with the loss of rainforest in Indonesia and across the world). Palm oil crops up everywhere, even in health food snacks and mueslis that are otherwise full of oats and almonds, so you have to keep your eyes open! It's generally a good idea to cut down on processed foods.

Of course, I'm not a qualified dietician, and can't guarantee this post is entirely free of contradictions (though I have tried to make it as accurate as possible). If you're really interested in finding out more, there's a good, detailed article about cholesterol and dietary fat here. And it really is complicated because cholesterol is thought to be necessary for brain health, so you don't want to cut it out of your diet altogether. There's a very good article about the benefits of cholesterol here (thanks Diana Moll for that link).

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

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Sea Room by Adam Nicolson

Sea Room is Adam Nicolson's tribute to the uninhabited Shiant Islands, in the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. Nicolson inherited the Shiants from his father when he was 21 years of age.

The book is a wonderful exploration of the natural history, the history and geology of the islands. The islands have not always been uninhabited and the sections of the book that look at the archeological investigations that explore the history of past island communities are totally fascinating. The islands are currently considered too remote for anyone to want to live there though Nicolson himself stays there for short periods of time.

Nicolson knows the birds of the islands intimately:

The private winter islands are the realm of the [barnacle] geese. .... They are scattered across the grass, black and white - whte chest and head, a black bib and neck, a black back next to which the wings are barred with gray and white stripes which from a distance gives the effect of moire or ruffled silk..... perhaps four hundred of them, relentlessly pecking away at the ground beneath their feet, looking up now and then, a wary eye but then face down again to the grass, tugging at the stems, eating, eating. They are busy. This is no holiday. There is none of that standing around, displaying to each other, socialising or looking bored, which the puffins and other fish eating birds do late in the year. The goose's life is dictated by its intestines.

The book tackles the issue of private land ownership. His opinion is that the islands, which are an important nesting site for may species of bird, are probably better off for nature in his hands, because he reckons if a conservation charity bought them then the island ecology would be damaged by all the infrastructure that would be required to make the islands into a nature reserve that would welcome visitors.

Sea Room by Adam Nicolson, published by Harper Collins

I'm taking part in Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge!

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

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Sunday 8 January 2012

Birds in Malawi

The current BBC programme Earthflight is stunning (though not quite as innovative as I had thought it was going to be). It focuses on birds across the world and much of the filming is made using cameras strapped onto birds backs. The latest episode focussed on Africa (if you're in the UK, you cansee the programme again here.)

I recently blogged a little about the birds that visited my garden in Malawi, here and this TV programme brought even more memories to the fore.

One of the most stunning sequences in the programme shows the migration of the white stork up Lake Malawi. This is something that I remember seeing myself one year. We were sitting by the lakeshore, and suddenly seemingly out of nowhere a huge flock of large white and black birds flew from the southern end of the lake up towards the north. I watched them in total amazement, I didn't know at the time what they were, it was only watching Earthflight that I think I finally realised what the birds had been. But it was certainly one of those unforgettable experiences, where the name of the species is quite frankly irrelevant.

One other particularly memorable birding moment from Malawi is when I took the school wildlife club down to the weaver bird colony. The students were mesmerised by the male birds who were hanging underneath the nests, whirling round, shaking their wings.

"So the best dancer get's the prettiest girl then?" said one of the students.

I adapted this scene and transferred it to Zimbabwe and it became a scene in my short story Safari Blessings, which you can read here.

The other birds that made a particularly strong impression were the fish eagles who nested on a tree behind our house - a totally awesome bird to have on your garden bird list! There were pied kingfishers that constantly hovered over the lake, whenever I was there (and I was there a lot as I lived just overlooking the lake - you can see my drawing of a pied kingfisher over the lake here.) Around where I lived andon my travels through Malaiw, I also wonderful selection of smaller birds, various sunbirds, various finches, a hoopoe and some rollers once too.

I visited Botswana and Zimbabwe too, where one of the most memorable birding sights was seeing a secretary bird making a nest.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Cat on the Prowl

The cat looked very embarrassed when it saw how many people had gathered to witness its humiliating failure to catch the woodpigeon....

Friday 6 January 2012

Reusable Cloth Carrier Bags

I posted recently about the negative impact of plastic waste on the environment. So I thought I would repost these photos of two of my reusable carrier bags, which I originally posted three years ago. The bag above was a gift from my sister and is particularly sturdy, ideal for carrying books. The bag below was given to me at a conference in Turin a couple of years ago and is one of the two I always carry in my handbag so I never need to pick up a plastic carrier bag when I'm shopping.

Remember that bags like this do take more energy to make and transport than do plastic carrier bags. So the trick is to have just a few reusable bags and make sure you use them all the time. I reckon I've used the black carrier bag in the photo at least twice a week for the past five years. And it has several years wear still in it!

Once you have your four or five reusable bags then you shouldn't keep on accumulating more of them (for example, refuse the free cotton carrier that is given out with purchases at certain events, just as you would refuse a free plastic bag at the supermarket).

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Vintage Sea by Marion McCready

Vintage Sea is the first poetry pamphlet from Marion McCready (who blogs here).

I read the book a week or so ago and flicking through now to write this review, I'm immediately drawn to Becoming Spring, which despite its title perfectly describes the type of very wet Scottish weather we've had today:

All week I am water, cloud, rain, river
Sodden skirts cling to me.

This is typical of Marion's poetry, rooted in the landscape and experience of Scotland. The poems are full of imagery and characters who remain almost at the edge of vision, not explained, just there (The Herring Girl, The Cockle Picker's Wife, the family in The Red Road.)

My favourite poem is We Met by a Charm of Crossbills and not just because it is for me the most beautiful poem in the book but because as a birdwatcher, I'm very envious of the whole experience, I've never seen even one crossbill and would love to see a whole charm of them.....

The blood birds kiss the air
as they fall from cone to cone,

their warp of mandibles
freeing the fruits, shucking the shells

Vintage Sea by Marion McCready published by Calder Wood Press.

I'm taking part in Brighton Blogger's Reading Challenge 2012.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch - 28/29 January 2012

I grew up in suburban Manchester and loved watching the birds in our garden. There were blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, blue tits, great tits and lots and lots of house sparrows and starlings. My parents still live in the same house and the garden is still full of birds. The species have changed though, there are now lots of goldfinches (attracted by the nyger seeds my parents put out for them) and very recently redpolls have started visiting in some number (also attracted to the nyger seeds). Also there are a lot more crows these days, including the occasional jay and lots of magpies. House sparrows have declined (as they have across most of the UK) though last time I visited, there were lots of house sparrows, I hadn't seen so many there since I was growing up. My parents always take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, but often complain that the most interesting species don't turn up that day!

As an adult, I have mostly lived without a proper garden. When I lived in Malawi we had bougainvillea growing over our verandah and a small vegetable patch outside under a papaya tree. A fish eagle lived in a tree behind our garden and several birds visited, including a beautiful kingfisher who must have lost its way from the nearby Lake Malawi (though it wasn't a pied kingfisher, which was the prevelant lake species, in fact I never found out what species it was). Also in Malawi, though in someone else's garden, I saw the only hoopoe I've ever seen (though there was a rumour when I was a student that a hoopoe visited Edinburgh every summer).

Where we live in Edinburgh there's a pretty bush in front of the garden where a dunnock skulks, sometimes joined by a robin. Behind our building there is a shared backgreen with a vegetable plot, some well looked after gardens and some bramble patches. Some of the neighbours put out bird feeders. I've seen several species out there, robins, blue tits, song thrushes and dunnocks. One Christmas Day 50 fieldfares appeared from nowhere and took over the whole backgreen then next day had disappeared again. In summer, swifts constantly fly about over the nearby roofs.

Our backgreen has several problems from the point of view of the Big Garden Birdwatch:

a) we can't see the area from our flat
b) there's no pleasant sitting area in the backgreen
c) there's no part of the backgreen that has unrestricted views over the whole of the area
d) one of the neighbours who lives in one of the blocks that also uses the backgreen has a habit of coming out into his (very poorly looked after) garden whenever I appear and standing there, with his fierce dog, until I leave. This is off putting (to say the least!)

But if like me you don't really have a garden for the Big Garden Birdwatch, you can still join in. Just go along to your local park and record the birds you see there. It's fun, good exercise and you'll be helping the RSPB to keep up to date records of birds in the UK.

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

Monday 2 January 2012

Sunday 1 January 2012

Arthur's Seat

It's an Edinburgh tradition to walk round Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags on New Year's Day. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I have joined in the tradition for several years now. Today the weather was beautifully mild, though very windy. We had a great start to our birdwatching year seeing a total of 21 species (almost twice the number we saw last New Year's Day and not bad for a wee walk round Edinburgh). One of the stars of the show was definitely the kestrel that was hovering nearby almost the whole time we were walking (though it could have been more than one in fact).

The other stars were the redpolls, a bird that I hadn't seen for years until they turned up in my parents' garden in our recent visit there and then here they were on Arthur's Seat, making a real mess as they fed on the alder catkins. You cansee the little red head patch quite nicely in this photo.

We also saw a very acrobatic crow, swooping and diving in the air, at one point flying almost upside down. It's behaviour and in fact its shape made us think it was a raven (and we know there are ravens on Arthur's Seat) but it just didn't seem big enough compared to the other crows that were around. We finally decided it must be an adolescent rook, which (I think) is more likely to indulge in aerobatic displays than is a carrion crow and is more like a raven in shape (certainly as regards the tail) than is a carrion crow. So a slight mystery there, but it was fascinating to watch.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other web-pages where you can find out more. All photos by Crafty Green Boyfriend and if you click on them you can see them in a larger size.