Tuesday 31 July 2012


The weather was lovely this morning for my walk round the Dells, along the Water of Leith. I was delighted to find a beautiful patch of harebells, my photo doesn't do them justice at all!

I was also pleased to see two goldcrests - such tiny birds! - browsing the leaves of a pine tree, while above them in a nearby tree, a grey heron watched them.(Always something comical about herons in trees, even though I know that's where they nest!)

Also two dippers chasing each other excitedly downstream!

Saturday 28 July 2012

Of Hooded Crows and local rarities

The other day I thought saw a hooded crow in Musselburgh. I recorded it on the Birdtrack website (which is a useful place to record your sightings of UK birds and now dragonflies. By sending your records to Birdtrack, you're helping the British Trust for Ornithology to keep track of how birds are faring in the UK).
The hooded crow is a subspecies of the carrion crow. The carrion crow is common all over the UK, the hooded crow is only found in the north and west of Scotland (though I think it's common in continental Europe). Hybrids of hooded crow and carrion crow are seen sometimes.
As the hooded crow is a local rarity I had to fill in a form on Birdtrack, detailing how close I got to the bird, how many hooded crows have I seen before etc etc. I got a nice email back saying my bird is likely the 'well known' Musselburgh crow that's 80% hooded crow, 20% carrion crow. They won't accept my record until I've checked whether the bird has enough grey on it. they sent me this useful link, showing a very co-operative Norwegian 100% hooded crow demonstrating just how grey a crow needs to be to be classified as 100% hooded crow.
So if you think you've seen a hooded crow in east of Scotland, do check the amount of grey under the tail....!
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Friday 27 July 2012

A Handbook of Scotland's Wild Harvests

Last night I went along to the Blackwell Book Shop for the launch of A Handbook of Scotland's Wild Harvest, edited by Fi Martynoga. Before the event even started we were all offered wine from a wide selection made by Cairn O'Mohr from natural wild Scottish ingredients. I thought long and hard and selected the spring oak leaf wine which was beautifully refreshing and smooth. I wanted to be able later to compare it with the autumn oak leaf wine but all the wines were drunk very quickly and there were no seconds!

Foraging is something I keep meaning to do, but although my plant identification skills are pretty good, I'm never sure what is edible or when it is at its best. Plus urban foraging can be a little bit, well, unappealing when you think about how many dogs run about in the wild garlic for example!

Fi Martynoga is an engaging and inspiring speaker and took us through a range of different wild plants that we can eat, giving us hints as to how and when to pick them and how to cook them. The book comes complete with recipes, which is very useful. (I've long had a copy of the pocket version of Food for Free, Richard Mabey's classic of UK foraging, but it doesn't have recipes, so the amateur forager is left a little stuck.)

During her talk, Fi cooked up some nettle bose (a kind of porridge, made from oatmeal). I was astonished that she didn't wear any gloves, and just chopped away and picked up the nettles in her bare hands! She said that her hands have hardened against nettle stings, but I think most people would need to wear gloves when preparing nettles! I certainly would, I seem to over-react to nettle stings. (Interestingly though Fi said that one of her friends who has arthritis will actually put her hands into nettles to lessen the pain of her arthritis!). The bose was delicious!

I obviously haven't yet had time to read the book cover to cover, but have skimmed through it. It looks very useful with recipes for teas, cordials, muffins, salads and preserves. It also gives advice on harvesting, identification and which plants are useful for first aid or crafting! The book features wild plants that are robust and that can be harvested without damage to them or to the ecosystem. (This is always one of my concerns about foraging, if everyone starts doing it, without necessarily being careful, how much would it damage the natural world?)

A Handbook of Scotland's Wild Harvests published by Saraband Books is a collaboration between Reforesting Scotland and Scottish Wild Harvests Association.

Fi is speaking again at the Edinburgh Book Fringe at Wordpower Books at 1pm, Thursday 16 August. The event is free and will be well worth attending!

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

Thursday 26 July 2012

Swans at Sea and Bees with Knees

Swans are more usually associated with inland waterways but at Musselburgh they enjoy riding the waves of the Firth of Forth.

Meanwhile the John Muir Walkway alongside the Forth is a mass of colour

and lots of bees buzzing around. This one was showing off her knees as she enjoyed feeding on tall melilot. (Of course bees don't really have knees, it's just a fanciful name for their pollen sacs, where they store the pollen they collect as they fly from flower to flower)

Large numbers of eider ducks on the sea, several common terns hovering around, one of which dived repeatedly for fish and came up with one in its beak! A few bar tailed godwits were striding across the mudflats, including a couple in their rich red summer plumage, the first time I've seen them like that, normally I've only seen them in winter plumage. A few turnstones too, looking very bright and several other species. On the Lagoons, there was a large flock of lapwings, just like last time I was there, this time though I saw them wheeling round in the air, a beautiful sight, and one that is becoming increasingly rare as this species is declining drastically. Plus, one singing reed bunting. I don't generally take photos of birds, apart from large slow moving species such as swans or herons, I'd rather enjoy watching them than take bad photos. However you can follow the links in the text to go to the RSPB website, which has lovely photos, drawings and recordings of all the birds I've mentioned.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

soldier beetles on umbellifers

It's a lovely sunny day today, looks like we're getting some summer at last! I walked round Colinton and Craiglockart Dells by the Water of Leith this morning. The lime trees (lindens) were in flower and buzzing with bees, the raspberries are ripening, several ringlet butterflies were flying around and the various umbellifer flowers were covered in red soldier beetles. Many of the umbellifers can be considered weedy plants and not particularly special (and the Giant Hogweed is downright noxious) but the beetles love them! (the flowers here are native hogweeds).

 The water levels are lessening a little from their extreme highs after recent floods. Colinton weir is still rushing though. I had dropped my litter picker into the river and had to go down under the bridge to pick it up and then took this photo which shows the weir from an angle we don't often see it from.
For Nature Notes

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

Sunday 22 July 2012

Newly Crafted - Fabric Wrist Cuff

This is my latest crafting project, a fabric wrist cuff, made from fabric scraps from an old Chinese style robe and the lace from a worn out stocking! I can't remember where the button came from!

I'm probably not going to put this in my Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, I think I want it for myself!

Saturday 21 July 2012

Arthur's Seat in bloom

This summer so far in Edinburgh we've had mostly grey skies and a lot of rain. So we were very happy to see blue skies this morning! We had a lovely walk round Arthurs Seat and enjoyed the many flowers in bloom. The first photo shows birds foot trefoil (the yellow flower) in lovely contrast with the little purple flower, whose name escapes me. 
Despite the fact that birds foot trefoil is the favourite food of the common blue butterfly (which I blogged about here), we didn't see any of those, though we did see several ringlet butterflies

This is rest harrow, which belongs to the pea family as does the birds foot trefoil. 

And this is viper's bugloss. I remember when I was young I used to love the name of this plant and also really wanted to find it, I think I was fascinated by the fact it has pink and blue flowers. It grows quite profusely on parts of Arthurs Seat.

While we were admiring all the flowers, swifts, swallows and house martins were flying around, sometimes quite low over our heads. While we often see a few swallows and house martins here in the summer, this is the first time we've seen swifts. In fact it's been an odd year for swifts. We've seen fewer than we normally would over the roofs of the buildings round where we live, but we've also seen more of them in other places round Edinburgh, including several in places where we don't normally see swifts. It's quite odd. I know that swifts are one of the species that has been suffering from the poor weather we've had so far this summer, but in Edinburgh they seem to have dispersed rather than declined.

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

Friday 20 July 2012

Common spotted orchids

The common spotted orchids and meadow buttercups in this marshy area of Corstorphine Hill certainly seem to have benefited from the rainy spring and summer! I've never seen so many orchids here!

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

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Adopt a Rescue Rabbit month

July is Adopt a Rescue Rabbit Month! Many people buy bunnies as Easter gifts and then realise they don't know how to look after them properly, get bored of them and abandon them or give them to rescue centres in the summer. If you do want a bunny as a pet (and they make wonderful, wonderful pets) then research carefully how to look after them and adopt one from your nearest animal rescue centre. In Edinburgh that would be the SSPCA rehoming centre in Balerno or the East Lothian Bunny Haven.

To mark Adopt a Rescue Rabbit month I've added two rabbit themed items to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, both featuring the haiga in the photo below, you can see them here and here.

I've also put together a rabbit themed Etsy Treasury (which showcases some of my favourite rabbit items from around Etsy and features items from Annette of The Leverets Nest, Diana of Qi Papers and  Donna of Lavender Rabbits.)

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

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Monday 16 July 2012

The Sixth Extinction

I try to be as upbeat and positive as I can about the environmental situation, even though I'm more than aware of things being terribly wrong.

Sometimes though, the news just becomes so full of awful stories it becomes really difficult to be at all positive. Most professional biologists now believe that Earth is currently losing animal and plant species at a rate that threatens to rival the five great mass extinctions of the geological past. We are thus said to be in the midst of the Sixth Extinction.

Here are some links about this, and a few ideas of how we might be able to help in some small way.

A World Without Coral Reefs - are we pushing tropical corals to extinction?

India's Vanishing Vultures - how have three of the commonest birds in India been made endangered?

(I've blogged previously about vultures - most recently here and shared a poem here.
International Vulture Awareness Day is 5 September).

Elephants and rhinos are facing their worst poaching crisis in years, but so are smaller animals - to such an extent that many protected forest reserves are empty of animals.

We can all read widely to educate ourselves about the issues, join campaigns to protest about some of the issues, or donate to wildlife charities.

The wildlife welfare charity Care for the Wild recently launched a good campaign called Right Tourism, which aims to help people to avoid damaging wildlife while they're on holiday. The topics they look at include: attractions that use captive animals; wildlife on the menu and environmentally sustainable wildlife watching holidays.

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

Sunday 15 July 2012

On Editing a Poetry Journal

As many of you know, I edit the online poetry journal Bolts of Silk. The benefit of it is in ensuring that I get to read a lot of good current poetry (though admittedly I get sent some pretty poor poetry too). Today though I was becoming exasperated by some of the things that people do so I thought I'd share them here!

Some people obviously don't read the submission guidelines

- I've had people send me in poems that are well over the 40 line limit or send fewer or more than the requested 1-3 poems
- Some people send poems in attachments rather than in the body of an email 
- I've had people send me entirely inappropriate poetry which indicates not only have they not read the submissions guidelines they've not even read Bolts of Silk itself!
- some people don't check the grammar or spelling in their poems
- I've had people address me as editor (or even worse Sir!)
- some people don't include their own name!
- today someone sent me another poem by return of email after I had rejected his work (surely you should know this is rude without needing to read the submission guidelines that state not to send any more work until a few months have passed. This is something I normally state in my email, but it had slipped my mind this time).

The moral of the story is of course, if sending work to a literary journal, follow the guidelines as closely as possible. If you don't you're liable to annoy the editor and an annoyed editor is less likely to use your work! 

So rant over and I'm more than delighted to read any poetry you might want to send in, but please, make sure you read the submission guidelines!

Friday 13 July 2012

Ugly Ducklings

Cygnets are adorable when they're tiny, but you have to admit, they do go through a gawky adolescent stage that could be called ugly.

But at this stage they can be very entertaining as were these youngsters strolling with their parents in Musselburgh yesterday. You could hear the slap of their feet as they strode over the tarmac, away from the river.

Also saw hundreds of eider ducks around the mouth of the River Esk and over 100 lapwings at Musselburgh Lagoons. They were all too far away to be photographed so instead I just enjoyed the moment! I've not seen that many lapwings for ages, they've really declined recently and it was wonderful to see so many of them!


Some of the crafters among you may be interested in the 'Grand European Tour' collage inspiration kit that I've just added to my Etsy shop

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

Thursday 12 July 2012

Sacred Elephant

It's World Elephant Day today! It's an opportunity to express your concern, share your knowledge and support solutions for the better care of captive and wild elephants alike.

Many years ago, when I lived in Malawi, I visited nearby Zimbabwe. One evening, when camping in the Victoria Falls campsite, I literally bumped into an elephant. It was an unforgettable experience! 

Sacred Elephant by Heathcote Williams is a beautiful celebration of elephants. It's packed with photos (accompanied by a long poem) and stories of elephants, amazing facts about their biology and intelligence and stories of their relationships with each other and with humans. The stories come from different time periods and different sources (including zoo keepers and hunters) so give a fascinating insight into our changing attitudes to this marvelous animal.

 I was given this copy by a friend a year or so ago and it's an old book now (1989), likely out of print (though you can access an audio version here). If you do find a copy, read it (or listen to it) and remind yourself of what wonderful creatures we share the planet with. How would you feel if you knew your grandchildren would never have the chance to see a living elephant?

Elephants were heavily poached for ivory in the 1970s and 1980s (the time period just before the publication of this book) and although their numbers stabilised for a while after that, they are threatened again, not only as poaching increases again, but also in conflicts with human populations for space. There's a good article about this here, on the Save the Elephants' website and another, more pessimistic article on CNN.

I reviewed this book as part of Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge

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

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Writing and Nuthatches

I went along today to a writing workshop at the Hermitage of Braid (a lovely area in Edinburgh, which I've blogged about several times). The workshop is part of a project, run by the City of Edinburgh Countryside Rangers, to create poems that will be incorporated into the Walled Garden which is being renovated. Foolishly I forgot to take my camera (though thankfully I didn't forget pen and paper!) and so I don't have any photos of this lovely garden project. I'll blog about it in the future, though. The workshop was lead by Edinburgh poet Helen Boden who managed to pack loads into the two hour session and got us all writing really good pieces! I was pleased with what I wrote, but I was even more pleased to catch a glimpse of a nuthatch on the bird feeder outside the Visitor Centre. The nuthatch is a bird that is slowly colonising Scotland from England and though I've seen them in the Scottish Borders I'd never seen them in Edinburgh (though I'd heard they were in the Hermitage) until today! The bird was hanging upside down on a bird feeder, which it apparently visits every day. As I said, I didn't have my camera....

A couple of publishing updates, Dr Hurley's Snake Oil Cure have published a second poem of mine, Corstorphine Sycamore. They published my poem Family Tree back in May.

I've also had a wee piece published on the wonderful Fortunates website, you can read it here. (And just spend some time exploring that website, it really is a delightful concept!).

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Corrieshalloch Gorge

We left plenty of time for our drive from Drumbeg back to Inverness to catch our train. On the way we had time enough to stop at this spectacular waterfall at Corrieshalloch Gorge.

It's a long way down from that viewing platform and I was feeling a bit vertiginous!

Monday 9 July 2012

Monday Bunday

The rabbits at Houseful of Rabbits seem to like to go boating so when we saw this little boat in the Highlands we immediately though of them.

And I'm delighted to announce that Humphrey of Cottontails Baby will be the featured rabbit in the short story that I'm writing. I've finished the first draft of the story and it's currently with Crafty Green Boyfriend who is wielding his editor's red pen over it then I'll polish it up and send it off to try to find a publisher. (Crafty Green Boyfriend is the best reader of my stories, he always makes the most constructive criticisms. I don't let him near my poetry though!)

So congratulations to Humphrey, who just fitted himself effortlessly into the story.

I would love to have included all the nominated rabbits! But, do not fear, I've yet to choose the rabbit(s) to feature in my novel. Largely because I'm not working on the novel at the moment and so am a bit hazy about who would fit best. So if you entered your bunny into the competition, there's still a chance that he/she/they may be chosen to star in the novel and if you've not yet entered there's still a chance for your rabbit to become the star! Find out more and enter here.

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

Saturday 7 July 2012

Highland insects

A common blue butterfly alongside birdsfoot trefoil its favourite food plant. We saw a few common blues when we were in the Assynt area.

 a small pearl bordered fritillary butterfly showing both underside and topside of wings. A closer view of the same species below. The moorlands of the Assynt area were full of these butterflies.

 Below is a Golden ringed dragonfly, plenty of those around in the moorlands.

We didn't manage to identify the dragonfly above - any ideas?

Apart from the common blue, Crafty Green Boyfriend took the photos in this blogpost.

Friday 6 July 2012

Highland Flowers

The Highlands were certainly in bloom when we were there!

 okay this first one isn't a flower, it's Blechnum spicant my favourite fern.
 lots of boggy areas are full of cottongrass, which looks a bit like bunny tails
 thrift both above and below, where it's joined by what I think is a hawkweed (I didn't check and can't tell from the photo).

Thursday 5 July 2012

Culag Woods

 Culag Woods is one of several lovely birch woods we visited during our recent holiday in Assynt. Not only is it a lovely piece of woodland but there are several pretty beaches alongside the paths that run through the woods.

 In parts, the path is quite steep, and there is a sign to warn of this along one of the paths. Yes, I was (perhaps surprisingly) brave enough. I didn't work out though why the Gaelic on each of these signs is different while the English is the same in each case!

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Seabirds at Stoer

One day of our holiday we walked along the stunning stretch of coast

between Stoer lighthouse

and the Old Man of Stoer.

The cliffs are home to several species of birds including black guillemot, guillemot, razorbill, fulmar,, bonxie (great skua) and raven though I couldn't help feeling there should be more of all these birds (you can read about the struggling populations of Scottish seabirds here).

There's a nice little tea and snack van near the lighthouse. The owner is a keen naturalist and keeps a list of recent sightings of birds, mammals and other species. If you are heading to Stoer, you can print this page off for a 10% discount on your first purchase from the tea and snack van. Just don't drink too much when you're there as there are no public toilets near either the lighthouse or the Old Man.

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

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Drumbeg - a lovely village in north-west Scotland

On our recent holiday up in the north west of Scotland we stayed in Drumbeg a lovely little village. It's midway between Lochinver and Kylesku on a one track road (that thankfully has plenty of passing places) that is famed as one of the most picturesque roads in the country. The scenery is stunning! Crafty Green Boyfriend did a great job of driving this road and avoiding injuring any of the many dippit wee sheep and lambs that seem to see the road as their playground.

Drumbeg is situated between a beautiful bay (where we saw a group of four orcas (killer whales)

and a lovely loch.

Every morning at breakfast we watched a group of greylag geese (including around ten goslings) cross the loch to the closest shore, where the adults lead the young on a foraging trip up the hill.

Drumbeg Village Store is officially one of the best in Scotland, and sells a good range of environmentally friendly cleaning materials, organic and fair trade snacks, fruit and veg, books about Scotland and locally made crafts (I particularly liked Maureen's clocksmade from driftwood and sea pottery and tried to find her website to link to, unfortunately she doesn't seem to have one, but I do know she's based in Kylesku.) Drumbeg Store also has an adorable resident cat (who hopefully doesn't kill too much of the local wildlife).

At the opposite end of the village, The Little Soap and Candle Shop sells a lovely range of toiletries, candles, incense and pottery. It also has a lovely tea garden,

where we were visited by a friendly blackbird as we drank our green tea (in my case) and coffee (in Crafty Green Boyfriend's case). Just next to this shop, there is a footpath that takes you into the beautiful moorland that surrounds Drumbeg.

Monday 2 July 2012

Monday Bunday - endangered rabbits and fiction update

When thinking about endangered animals in Sumatra, rabbits aren't what people generally first think of. However, bunny bloggers in particular may be interested to read more about the endangered Sumatran striped rabbit.


You may remember, I recently asked you to enter your rabbits into a contest. Winners will be featured either in a short story I'm writing or in a novel. You can find out more here. I'm very close to deciding which lucky bun will feature in the short story and will announce that here hopefully very soon. However, there's still time to enter your bunny (or bonded pair of bunnies) to be considered for starring roles in my novel (or even in the short story, you never know!). 

The novel is about climate change refugees in a future independent (and flooded) Scotland. The refugees are given rabbits as gifts by the Scottish islanders. Rabbits are eaten in the novel, but the roles that are up for grabs are loved and cared for pet bunnies.

If you would like your bunny to be considered for this role, please leave a comment below or on a related Facebook update (Not on Twitter, you'll need more than 140 characters!) and tell me:

a) why your bunny wants to feature in my work
b) how you chose your bunny's name
c) how your bunny behaves when very happy
d) your bunny's favourite food
e) your bunny's naughtiest habit

Thanks and good luck! And remember, I'm looking for bunnies who will fit into the stories, so if you're bunny isn't successful, it's nothing against your bunny! I love all bunnies, but there's a limit to how many I can include in these two pieces of writing!

Sunday 1 July 2012

Edinburgh International Film Festival Reviews

I'm delighted to have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival again this year. I'm reviewing films here and on Over Forty Shades. This post is an index, which will include links to all the films reviewed on both blogs. This post will be updated after every review with the most recent reviews at the top, will be cross posted to Over Forty Shades and will stay at the top of both blogs until the end of the film festival.

Rentaneko (Rent-a-cat) - a woman rents out cats to lonely people in a Japanese city
Children and Nature in films - I review Of Skies and Earth and Kid Thing.
What is this Film called Love? - a walking tour of Mexico city, with a few diversions along the way
Riding Zorro - a biopic of rodeo's most famous horse.
Captive Animals Captured on Film - I review Postcards from the Zoo and Bestiaire
Vivan las Antipodas! a contemplation of life in four antipodal pair places on the earth
Hospitalité - a Tokyo household is disrupted by an old acquaintance
Official Best of the Fest - the film festivals list of most popular films which will be screened again on Sunday
Attractive Illusion - what happens to a group of illegal Nigerian immigrants on Greece?
The Lifeguard - an hour on the beach in Chile!
Memory, the Future and Experimental Film - I review Dress Rehearsal for Utopia (a collage of images from Mozambique) and Future My Love (thoughts about the failure of a relationship and the failure of the economic system)
Here, There - 3 interwoven stories of Chinese life
Rose - life in the Masurian region of Poland in the aftermath of World War 2. 
Modest Reception - a couple randomly give out money in the mountains of Iran
Poetry in Film - I review Demain (the biopic of Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustin) and In Search of Emak Bakia (a movie about the making of Man Ray's film of that name).

 as ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages where you can find out more. 

Rentaneko (Rent a Cat)

As soon as I saw the programme for the Edinburgh International Film Festival there was one definite must see movie - Rentaneko! Who could resist the story of a young woman in Japan who collects cats and rents them out to lonely people? The only problem was I wasn't in Edinburgh for either the press screenings or the public screenings of the film. Luckily the good taste of the Edinburgh cinema going public saved me and got Rent-a-neko into the Best of the Fest list - which is a screening of the most popular films from the festival. So I bought my ticket as soon as they went on sale!

The idea of the film is very simple and in a sense there isn't much story - Sayoko pushes a cart full of cats along the riverside every day hoping to find people to rent them to. However the stories of the people who rent the cats are engagingly told and Sayoko is a delightfully eccentric character, though she is as lonely as any of her customers. The cats are the real stars, each with its own personality.

It's a wonderfully entertaining film about cats but also a perceptive film about the hole of loneliness in may people's lives that maybe not even a cat can fill.

Many readers of this blog, of course, may feel that this film would be even better if the cats were replaced with bunnies!

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