Wednesday 29 February 2012

Monday 27 February 2012

Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest

As some readers of this blog know I'm currently attending an evening class on Writing Children's Fiction at the Edinburgh University Office of Lifelong Learning taught by Janis MacKay who is a brilliant and inspiring teacher! I was delighted last week to attend the launch of Magnus Fin and the Selkie Secret, the third in Janis' trilogy of children's novels. It was a lovely event in the beautiful surroundings of St Augustine's Church, with harp music from Heather and a wee talk about seals by Maggie from the Scottish Seabird Centre. Janis then read from her book along with a group of children from Abbeyhill Primary School.

I bought all three of the books in the trilogy and have just read the first: Marcus Fin and the Ocean Quest. I genuinely couldn't put it down, it's a really engaging adventure story with an environmental theme.

At the beginning of the book, Magnus Fin is almost eleven, his parents have some strange disease that has aged them well beyond their years and Magnus has no friends his own age. Then along comes Tarkin, a cool American kid who quickly becomes Magnus' friend, brought together by their common love of the sea and the beaches.

On his eleventh birthday, Magnus discovers that his father is a selkie and that he himself is part human part selkie. This means that he can move between the worlds and he iscalled by his selkie family to help to save them from the false king who has stolen the kingdom of the sea from Neptune. The false king takes his energy from the human waste andrubbish that is poured into the oceans and forces sea creatures to work for him.

Can Magnus defeat the false king and save his selkie kin?

Such an exciting adventure and such lovely writing, always in tune with the natural world:

Then suddenly, as though reading Fin's thoughts, (the seals) all started clapping their flippers and yelping and singing. Magnus Fin's fears disappeared. He grinned. Never had he heard such a joyous deep trumpeting sound.

"Welcome" they seemed to be saying. "welcome son of Ragnor, welcome cousin, nephew, grandchild, friend".

And while Magnus Fin stared, mesmerised by this circle of seals swaying around him, they began to dance. They swam over and under each other. They did backflips. They somersaulted. They flicked their tails and made the water bubble.

Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest by Janis Mackay published by Kelpies.

posted as part of Brighton Blogger's 2012 reading Challenge

you can read Sharing Books the latest post in my series on Green Books at Brighton Blogger's Book After Book blog here.

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

Sunday 26 February 2012

Greenwash or Citizen Participation?

I blogged a couple of days ago about E.ON Innovation, a project that I really think can bring together people's ideas to stimulate developments in energy saving technology and lead to useful innovations that can cut our carbon footprints.

That post is a sponsored post. I will be paid by E-buzzing, an organisation that brings together projects with bloggers that are interested in them. I have blogged for E-buzzing before (you can read the posts here, here and here).

Now, I'm aware that E.ON are not an environmentally friendly company (and was before Harry Giles left his comment on the post I'm discussing here). However, I felt that the post was justified by the nature of the project and the potential benefits it brings - both in terms of engaging individuals in discussions around energy use and in the potential technological advances it could stimulate. Maybe I was wrong on that? Perhaps I should have inserted a critical comment on E.ON into the original blogpost?

I do think though that it should be possible to on the one hand protest against a company that does bad things (in this case funding coal powered electricity generation) and applauding (or at least acknowledging) the good things that they do.

I've worked as a charity fundraiser and I know how difficult it can be to find ethical sources of funding for good work - many charitable trusts (those benign sounding funds for good work across the world) are funded by money that ultimately comes from unethical sources (eg arms manufacture, tobacco) and it is likely that in some areas much publicly funded work is ultimately paid for by investments the public body has made in not entirely ethical funds.

How many big companies are truly ethical (I can count on the fingers of one hand the companies I would consider truly ethical)? How many small local companies for that matter? I think it would be impossible to get through life without interacting with less than ethical companies. We constantly need to make judgements about what we consider to be ethical and to make compromises.

So, I blogged about a great project funded by a less than great company. Should instead we pretend the project isn't happening and thus prevent people from getting involved in the discussion or in sharing their ideas for a better future? Or do we allow that companies can genuinely be prepared to change and to move towards a more sustainable model of operation? Personally I don't want to necessarily think that any particular company will always be bad, but perhaps I'm naive on that.

I'd be interested in your comments (though keep them polite please, and note I've turned off word verification (aware that many people hate the new version!) and replaced it with comment moderation (which will also combat the increasing amount of spam I've been recently getting on all my blogs) which may mean that comments now take longer to show.)

Note added to say - I just found that Greener Leith also blogged about E-ON Innovation!

Saturday 25 February 2012

Blackford Pond and Hill

lichen on stone wall

bark of a fallen tree

alder catkins and cones


tree by pond

Friday 24 February 2012

E.ON Innovation

It's very easy to think that the world's environmental issues are overwhelming and that as individuals we can't do anything. The truth is in fact we can sometimes do quite a lot! That's why it's exciting to find a project like E.ON Innovation. This is a crowd sourcing project, launched recently by energy company E.ON to find the next generation of energy products and services that will help us use less energy. Linked with the Channel 4 TV programme Home of the Future, the project will stimulate creative ideas to imagine the innovative energy saving technologies that might shape how we live in the future.

Over the next few weeks, people are invited to take part in five exciting challenges on the themes of: work, rest, play, food and wellbeing. In return for sharing your ideas, you become eligible for prizes! The best ideas will be rewarded with Home Energy Makeovers worth up to £10 000 and E.ON will develop the best ideas with the aim of making them a reality in 2012!

The current challenge is on the theme of Rest. Participants are asked to share ideas about how our homes in the future could learn about our energy use to become more restful. You can find out more about this theme on the Home of the Future's excellent and informative website here.

You can browse the ideas already submitted for this and other challenges on the E.ON Innovation website here, which is where you can also share your own ideas. You can also learn more in this video:

If you're on Twitter you can follow the conversation at hashtags #eoninnov and #HomeOfTheFuture and by following E.ON at @talkingenergy.

Projects like E.ON Innovation are inspiring as they harness energy and ideas that otherwise might never be tapped. I'm sure the conversations that go on will inspire lots of new thinking and ideas! It's also great to recognise the potential of technology to reduce our carbon footprint.

So why not put your thinking caps on and join in to share ideas for how technology can help us save energy! Your ideas could change the way we live! I certainly hope to come up with some ideas to share!

This is a Sponsored Post

Thursday 23 February 2012

Linlithgow Loch (2)

I know many of you loved the coots fancy feet yesterday so here's another photo!

Then a lovely pair of tufted ducks - the male is the black and white one of course! Notice the tuft on his head!

and a few scenes from around Linlithgow Loch!

with Linlithgow Palace in the background.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Birds on Linlithgow Loch

It was a wild and windy day today but we headed off to Linlithgow Loch hoping to catch the great crested grebes in their courtship dances! And we weren't disappointed (though they were slightly half hearted about it and probably won't build up to a crescendo for another week or so). There were at least six pairs of grebes on the Loch, two of which were displaying.

The Loch was covered in coots (see this one showing off its fancy feet)

A few moorhens too, competing with the coots in the fancy feet competition.

A flock of over twenty cormorants flew in and congregated around an in a tree on an island that we discovered is called (unsurprisingly enough) Cormorant Island.

There were around 20 pochards - beautiful ducks that we don't see that often. Then we were delighted to see a female smew. And this lovely duck that we were uncertain whether it was a female mandarin or a female wood duck, but Birding Lothian assure me its a female wood duck and she's been on the loch since last autumn - escaped from a collection as this is very definitely not a native bird!

So all in all, brilliant birding! Thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for all these photos! I'll post some of my photos in the next day or so.

For Nature Notes and World Bird Wednesday

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that will take you to other websites where you can find out more and photos should show up larger if you click on them.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Behind the Scenes at Out of the Blue Drill Hall

As a customer of Triodos, the ethical bank, I was delighted today to attend a customer event at Out of the Blue Drill Hall, a community arts venue in Edinburgh.

I've visited the venue a few times before and was eager to take this opportunity to look behind the scenes! Out of the Blue is a large space full of craft studios and offices for small community businesses, charities and creative entrepreneurs. The building was originally a purpose built military drill hall that was converted in 2002 and incorporates a lot of environmental features such as heavy insulation and solar tubes to heat the water. It's a work in progress still, part of the old firing range is currently being converted into a garden! As part of the event we were introduced to some of the tenants in the building including Take One Action Film festival - that aims to inspire audiences to act on issues they've learned about in the films they've just seen; Precious Metals Workshop - a small jewellery workshop with big ambitions and Dance Movement Psychotherapy Scotland a new charity using dance and movement in therapies of all sorts. We also had a delicious meal provided by the Out of the Blue Cafe project, which uses local and organic ingredients wherever possible and offers a training programme for local young people.

It was wonderful to have this opportunity to find out more about a local communty arts project and how one of the banks I entrust my money to uses it to support work in Edinburgh. (If you're in the UK you can find the projects Triodos supports in your locality using this map).

I also had the chance to see the latest photography exhibition from Edinburgh based artist Alastair Cook which is on show at Out the Blue until 24 February and includes beautiful seascapes and experimental photos.

I also posted about this visit on my new professional blog, where I say more about sustainable banking.

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

Monday 20 February 2012

New Website goes live!

My new website is now live - you can find it here! It outlines my plans for freelance work in environmental communications and creative workshops. I'll be Tweeting about this work on a new Twitter account here!

Also I'm delighted that the second of my blogposts about Green Books is now up at Brighton Blogger's Book after Book blog, you can read that here.

Saturday 18 February 2012

February in Cammo

It's become one of our seasonal traditions to visit Cammo Country Park in February. The area is just full of snowdrops at this time of year, specially in the Walled Garden. Today was no exception, in fact there seemed to be more snowdrops outside the Walled garden then normal. Just beautiful! (Notice in the first photo the tree that's fallen over and the snowdrops at its base still growing!)

It was a perfect late winter day too with the weather. Well most of the morning! Blue skies, crisp cold air. Then the clouds drew in, the atmosphere changed and suddenly we were in the middle of a blizzard, wild winds and snow that stopped after only a few minutes then it was perfect blue skies again!

It was a great day for birds, the highlights being a tree sparrow (and a flock of what were probably more tree sparrows feeding on a ploughed field, but we couldn't get close enough to see) a yellowhammer (looking particularly bright in the sunshine) a skylark, singing the first skylark song of the year. These are all birds that have declined in numbers quite drastically in the Uk so it's always a particular delight to see them (in fact this is only the second time we've ever seen tree sparrows at all!). We also had an amazing view of a buzzard that was being aggressively mobbed by crows.

Friday 17 February 2012

Coming Soon!

I've recently been working on a few ideas around offering creative workshops and environmental communications services. I've set up a website, which will go live very soon (once I've bought a domain name).

Updated to add - you can see the new website here!

Thursday 16 February 2012

Recording Birds

I had a lovely birding walk in Musselburgh again today. There were loads of birds about and a lot of courting behaviour going on. The male goldeneyes must get a sore neck from throwing thenr heads back so much! Plus the redshanks were chasing each other like crazy, their little red legs glowing in the sun! In contrast, turnstones, normally a very active bird, usually seen dashing round the beach turning stones, were sitting in a tightly packed group of over 30. The Lagoons were full of two beautiful species of duck - wigeon and teal (and one of the female teal even lifted her wing so I could see the flash of green she keeps hidden underneath there!) . Then on the way back I was delighted to see three snow buntings, I guess they won't be around much longer this year! Lots of other birds too.

As I always do, I made a list of all the birds I saw (26 species in all, bringing my year list up to 69 species!) When I got home I emailed the snow bunting sighting to Birding Lothian (who are interested in sightings of unusual birds in the Lothians). I then filled in my spreadsheet for the Lothian Wildlife Information Centre (who are interested in all wildlife records in the Lothians) and put my records online at Birdtrack (which collates records of birds all across the UK)! It sounds like a lot of work but it doesn't really take long and it offers invaluable information about the state of wildlife in the country.

So if you're in the UK and a keen birdwatcher it's well worth joining Birdtrack and finding out about your local Wildlife Information Centre (or Biological Record Centre as many of them are called) and doing your bit for wildlife recording!

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Birds Nobody Loves by James Brush

I was delighted to receive my review copy of Birds Nobody Loves - A book of vultures and grackles by James Brush. It is a beautiful looking book with a striking black and white picture of a grackle on the front. Inside is a selection of excellent poetry about these two types of misunderstood birds along with more black and white illustrations.

The poetry is well observed, here is someone who clearly watches birds carefully and has a way with words to describe them in striking ways. The poems show the more engaging sides of the birds and also comment more directly on people's hatred of them. This latter is particularly captured in the prose poem God Hates Grackles:

They / marched up and down the street outside the capitol / chanting verses from Leviticus about unclean birds.

While in the haibun The Grackle Tree people are shooting grackles out of their tree because their droppings have landed on a car.

But many of these poems are full of the wonder of the birds:

Overhead turkey vultures soar
on steady outstretched wings
folding sky and letting it move
around and over them

from Summer Solstice

This poem captures the wonder of vultires in flight, while the character of the grackle is beautifully rendered in Grackle Ghazal:

I hang for hours on back porches, strumming
old guitars, swapping lies with folksy grackles.

There's also the understanding that vultures have an important role to play in ecology:

Now I understand
vultures too, are beautiful:
they clean our messes.

from Patton's Army

and in Lines Discovered in an Aging Ornithologist's Field Journal, the narrator asks, when he dies, to be left by the highway for the vultures to find him so that he could:

finally fly on dusky wings

buried in the sky.

By the end of this book, I'm sure that grackles and vultures will no longer be birds nobody loves, but birds that fascinate and intrigue!

James Brush blogs at Coyote Mercury, where you can find out how to order a copy of Birds Nobody Loves.

I'm delighted that two of the poems in this book, Good Authority and My Tourist Yard appeared first on Bolts of Silk, you can read them here.

Reviewed for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge.

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

Tuesday 14 February 2012

The sadness of the rhinos

Every day it seems there is news of another rhino being killed somewhere in the world. They are killed for their horns to be used in traditional Chinese medicines or as handles for ornamental daggers. There is no scientific evidence at all that rhino horn has any medicinal properties, but still they are killed.

A good source of information about rhinos and how to help conserve the remaining ones is Save the Rhino International.

Izzy the Rhino is a heartbreaking true story of a rhino. The story is told in children's picture book format, but it is not a children's story at all. You can read it (and weep) here.

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

Monday 13 February 2012

Pencil cases from repurposed materials

A while ago I found a whole load of fabric samples that had been thrown out - they were in perfect condition and I brought them home to use in crafts. I'm slowly using them up! I previously made this (not entirely successful) camera case and currently am making some little bags. These can be used as pencil cases or to store other items (perhaps handkerchiefs?). The buttons are from my stash and are purely decorative, there are press-studs underneath them to fasten the bags.

I've got enough of the same type of fabric left to make another three of these then other fabrics for other (more complicated) projects. Three of the bags will be going as gifts to specific people, but I may offer the other two as giveaways here, so watch this space!

Sunday 12 February 2012

Thursday 9 February 2012

The Island of the Colour Blind by Oliver Sacks

There are actually three short books in one volume here. The Island of the Colour Blind focuses on the tiny Pacific atoll of Pingelap, where a very high number of the residents are totally colour blind. Sacks is a neurologist and visits the atoll to investigate the condition, try to work out what is causing it and helping people to overcome the worst effects of the condition. The worst effect for most people is not the lack of colour vision (there are wonderful descriptions here of how people with the condition have a much better visual sense of texture and movement than most people with full colour vision), Much worse is the extreme sensitivity to light and the lack of detailed vision in daylight. While sharing his findings about the condition, Sacks gives us an intimate portrayal of life on the atoll and the sealife surrounding it. It's an incredibly fascinating account.

The middle part of the book is set in Guam, where Sacks looks at the lytico-bodig neurological condition that affects a lot of people on that island. This account is also fascinating, but I sometimes found there was too much medical information for me!

The last part of the book Cycad Island takes us to Rota, an island where Sacks is particularly interested in the cycad trees. He's interested in them for two main reasons, firstly because they are an ancient and long lived type of tree (that Sacks himself grows in his greenhouse at home) and also because there seems to be a connection between the cycad trees and the colour blindness of the people on Pingelap. Cycads are known to be poisonous, yet their seeds are used in food throughout the areas where they grow. The cook has to follow very precise instructions for detoxifying the seeds before they are ready to eat but it seems likely that not all seeds are always fully detoxified. This part of the book is particularly fascinating with a wealth of information about cycads and an interesting exploration of their toxicity.

Overall, this is a compelling read for anyone interested in our relationship with the natural world.

The Island of the Colour Blind and Cycad Island by Oliver Sacks, published by Picador.

I reviewed this book for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge. I also recently reviewed Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter.

Wednesday 8 February 2012


No snow in Edinburgh but plenty of frost as I walked along the Water of Leith this morning! I like how the harts-tongue fern in the above photo stands out so clean and green against all the frost! You can clearly see the brown spore cases on its fronds too. I took several photos of the moss below, but not sure any of them were really sharply enough in focus.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Edinburgh International Science Festival 2012

I was at the launch of the Edinburgh International Science Festival today. The programme looks brilliant with some expansion of the adult programme compared to previous years. Here's just a taste of the environmentally related events that are coming up:

Children and Family Events

Sustainable Sea Fish - Thursday 5 April 11am, 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30pm. (£3)

Shearwater, Seabirds, Stories, Songs and Science - a musical and storytelling exploration of the manx shearwater. Friday 6 April 2pm (£4)

Eating on the Wild Side - a beginner's guide to foraging - Saturday 7 April 11am, 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30pm

Street Science - the street science team (demonstrating their show at the launch, above!) will be out and about during the festival at locations across Edinburgh.

Adult Programme

Emergency 2012 - is climate change even more of a threat than we thought? Tuesday 3 April, 5.30pm. (£10 / £8)

Catalytic Clothing - clothes that can purify air! Wednesday 4 April, 5.30pm. (£8/£6)

On Extinction - an evening of poetry, reflection and conversation about extinctions of cultures, languages and species. Wednesday 4 April. 5.30pm. (£10/£8).

The Secret Life of Scottish Seals - Wednesday 4 April. 5.30pm (£10/£7.50).

The Case for Young People and Nature - Edinburgh Medal Address. Tuesday 10 April 7pm (£10/£8).

Our Climate Future - Wednesday 11 April 8pm. (£8/£6).

Fixing the Planet - How can we solve the climate crisis? Thursday 12 April 5.30pm. (£8/£6)

Biofuels: An Ethical Solution? Saturday 14 April 3.30pm. (£8/£6)

For more information about any of these events or the many others that are taking place, please see the Festival programme here. There are comedy shows, film screenings, a strand of events on food and one on movement, dance and sport. You'll notice, just from the listing above for 5.30pm, 4 April that sometimes you'll be spoilt for choice so book your tickets early!

Blurofwoodsmoke also blogged (in more detail!) about the launch, you can read her post here.

Saturday 4 February 2012

bird haiku

glowing gold -
the hovering kestrel
mobbed by jackdaws


black branches
criss-crossing the cloudy sky

Thursday 2 February 2012

Brilliant Birds

I have to say Musselburgh is becoming my favourite place for birdwatching in the winter! In my last two visits I've seen five lifers as well as numerous species that I have only occasionally seen before.

Today the weather was breathtakingly freezing, but it was so dry that there was no ice and very little frost on the paths (though puddles were frozen and grass was frosty). The sun was shining and the sky was clear so once I'd been walking for a while I barely noticed how cold it was!

I've found the best route to walk is to start by the main road bridge over the River Esk, walk downstream to the estuary then turn right onto the John Muir Way along to the Lagoons.

On a good day there are brilliant birds all along this route. Today I saw a lot of wigeon (such pretty ducks!) at the mouth of the Esk; a fair number of eider and more goldeneye than I've ever seen before in one place. There was a small group of red breasted mergansers, the males looking resplendent. Both mergansers and goldeneye were starting their courtship displays, well worth stopping to get a closer look! From the John Muir Way, I saw my first ever Slavonian grebes (not as spectacular in winter plumage as they will be in the summer, but still very impressive birds!), a shag (looking a bit like a greenish cormorant having a bad hair day!) a little auk (an adorable relative to the puffin) and five velvet scoters. Flying around the grass by the path was a small flock of twites. Today the lagoons were empty except for a small flock of curlew (beautiful waders with a wonderful haunting call), but really I was already more than happy with the birds I'd seen so far (and I've only mentioned the highlights!)

Once you get to the John Muir Way, there are generally very few people (or dogs!) around and most of the people who are around are birdwatchers. Most of them are more than happy to share their sightings (that's how I found out about the Slavonian grebe and the shag!).

Foolishly I had forgotten my camera, otherwise there would be photos.....

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

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Humphrey the Superhero Hamster!

One of the perks of being a tutor for the University of Edinburgh's Office of Lifelong Learning is that I get to attend one evening class a year for free! This year I'm doing a class on writing Children's Fiction, tutored by the brilliant and inspiring Janis Mackay. (I'd definitely recommend this class to all writers, whether you're an experienced writer of children's fiction or even if you think you don't really want to write children's fiction but just want general inspiration for your writing).

Of course as part of the course we need to read children's fiction. Janis has recommended the Humphrey books by Betty G Birney. Recently I picked up Friendship according to Humphrey in a second hand shop and read it immediately.

Humphrey is a school classroom hamster who gets to go home with a different pupil every weekend. He has been recently joined in the classroom by Og the Frog, who he finds it difficult to understand. Not a problem he has with people! Humphrey watches and listens from his cage and finds ways to help the pupils and staff to solve their problems in the classroom, on the school bus and at the pupils' homes. He is a wonderful character, engaging and thoughtful, clever and observant. He's even ready to admit to his own faults!

This term the class are learning about poetry. Humphrey of course worries about the lack of words that rhyme with Humphrey or hamster and the large number of words that rhyme with frog! He even writes his own poetry (in his sleeping quarters with a broken pencil he found).

This is a wonderful book, full of insights into life, with pet care tips seamlessly woven into the narrative. And yes, Humphrey and Og eventually become friends!

I'm now looking forward to reading the other 6 books in the series!

Friendship According to Humphrey by Betty G Birney published by Faber Kids.

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