Friday 29 March 2013

Water Birds and their Reflections

 Yesterday was the last class in this term of creative writing classes I've been teaching at the Ripple Project. It went very well as it always does and we'll be starting back again in May! Before the class I wandered round Lochend Park as I often do and captured the mallards above and the lesser black backed gull below.
If you live in the Lochend area, you may have noticed an excellent article in the April issue of the Speaker (local newspaper) about Lochend Park, written by Kathleen who has been coming along to my writing class. If you don't live in the area, you can read the Speaker here, but note at the moment it's still the March edition which is on the website. 

Then today, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I walked along the Union Canal through Edinburgh and caught this meeting between a male mallard (in slightly atypical plumage) and a moorhen.

For Weekend Reflections

and Nature Notes

Thursday 28 March 2013

Heritage Trees of Scotland

This beautiful book produced by the Forestry Commission Scotland and the Tree Council introduces the reader to the heritage trees that can be found in Scotland.

Heritage trees are described as 'old trees, wide trees, tall trees, rare trees, 'weird and wonderful' trees and trees with historical and cultural significance.' Scotland has a particularly large number of such trees, as the reader will find!

The book takes us on a tour of Scotland, introducing us to the trees one by one. Each tree is introduced with at least one full colour photo, text describing its appearance, significance and age and details of its location.

The trees include the yew in Colinton, Edinburgh that the writer Robert Louis Stevenson played in when he was young, the birks (birches) of Aberfeldy immortalised by the poet Robert Burns in his poem 'The Birks o' Aberfeldy' and the Corstorphine Sycamore, immortalised in my poem!

I was interested to see how many of these trees are non-natuve, there are several heritage sycamores and several heritage conifers of species introduced from the USA (Including a monster red cedar in Aberfeldy)..

It's a wonderful book, adelight to browse through for anyone interested in trees and the Scottish landscape, and possibly an inspiration for day trips to preciously unexplored parts of the country!

Heritage Trees of Scotland published by The Forestry Commission and Tree Council (follow the link for sample pages)

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

Monday 25 March 2013

Yay Spring, Speedy!

I was delighted to win this beautiful card in a recent giveaway on Speedy the Cheeky House Bunny's blog. A lovely spring gift, so thank you Speedy!

It doesn't yet feel like spring outside though. We had another snowy birdwatching walk this morning but the weather didn't stop us seeing lots of birds on the farmland around Liberton Brae, including yellowhammers and grey partridges.

Saturday 23 March 2013

March Snow in the Pentlands

We took the approach today that if it's unseasonably cold and snowy, rather than try to avoid it we'd go to where lots of snow would be guaranteed and we'd pretend it was the middle of winter. So we went down to Hillend and wandered round some of the lower paths. The snowy landscapes were beautiful:

all the walking certainly warmed us up! We then went into the ski centre cafe, where we enjoyed tea and cakes and a nice view over more snowy hills.

Hopefully it will warm up soon.....

Friday 22 March 2013

Four Wings and a Prayer - Monarch Butterflies

A few days ago, I watched the TV documentary based on Sue Halpern's book Four Wings and a Prayer. (If you're in the UK, you can still see the programme up until Sunday). The programme follows the migration of the Monarch butterflies from Canada and the USA into Mexico and back again. The migration of these butterflies is one of the most iconic natural spectacles, specially as the monarch is the only insect that migrates like a bird in this way.

The film focussed on the overwintering grounds in Mexico, which are threatened by illegal logging. Along the way, the film crew meet up with a lot of the academic and citizen scientists who have been instrumental in exploring the mysteries of the migration, along with Homero Aridjis, the 'poet laureate of monarch butterflies', who has done a lot to try to get their overwintering forests protected.They also show the celebrations that Mexican people make when the butterflies arrive (co-inciding with the Day of the Dead - traditionally the people living near the wintering grounds believe that the monarchs are the souls of the recently deceased)

Once I had seen the documentary, I wanted to read the book immediately. The book goes into a lot more detail of the science behind the migration and spends more time with individual scientists, including exploring the rivalries and tensions that are probably commonly found in any group of professionals. The book also is a very personal document, Halpern outlines how her own fascination with Monarchs began and how she shares her fascination with her family.It's an engaging, interesting and important book.

The book was written in 2001 and so is out of date. Given that the documentary is based directly on the book, then it too is probably out of date in its focus, despite being itself quite a new production. So both book and documentary focus on the threats to the monarch being such that the migration risks coming to an end, but this is different from the potential extinction of a species (there being populations of Monarch butterflies that aren't involved in the migration to Mexico).

However, more recently it seems that populations of Monarchs across the USA are declining. According to this article on Myrmecos numbers of Monarchs this year have sunk to perilous levels. The article admits that the reasons aren't clear, but probably include loss of areas of milkweed (the monarchs' favoured plant) and pesticide use.

Monarch Watch is campaigning to Bring Back the Monarchs

Michelle over at Rambling Woods (home of Nature Notes) blogs about monarch butterflies and how we can help them.

Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern is published by Weidenfield and Nicholson in the UK, originally published by Random House.

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

Thursday 21 March 2013

International Day of Forests and Trees

I love forests and woodlands! Every week I walk through the wooded Dells along the Water of Leith and enjoy the richness of the plantlife and the birdlife in the area. I also love seeing the seasons change, which this year is totally fascinating as the weather is so cold for the time of year! It's strange to see the crocuses poking out through the snow and the birds singing when it's so cold!

Forests and trees are vital for wildlife and humans. The UN International Day of Forests and Trees (which I only found out about this morning) aims to highlight this importance and encourage the protection of our forests. They have an uphill battle ahead of them, given that we are losing so much of our forest cover while human population is increasing so rapidly.

You can find out more about The International Day of Forests and Trees by following these links:

International Day of Forests and Trees at the UN Regional Information Centre for Western Europe.

International Day of Forests at the UN

International Day of Forests at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

If you're in the UK you can find your nearest woodland or forest on the Visit Woods website, which also encourages you to share your photos of your nearest woods (they're currently running a competition, and all photos uploaded to the site count as entries!). 

Also in the UK, the Woodland Trust campaigns to save our woodlands and to investigate and prevent tree diseases (such as ash dieback). They also have a blog Woodland Matters.

I think conservation of the forests starts with appreciating their value, so put on your boots and go walking in the woods this weekend!

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Birdwatching in the sleet

Yesterday I took my birdwatching class to Musselburgh. It was cold and sleeting but one of the big advantages of birding in Musselburgh is that the river is always full of birds so you don't need to worry that you'll end the walk disappointed.

Despite the weather the birds were all behaving as though it were spring!

The male goldeneye ducks were displaying to each other, throwing their heads back against their backs. The Canada Geese were getting very argumentative at times and the wigeon were quite lively. (Wigeon are such pretty ducks, and it was lovely to see quite a lot of them as they'll be migrating north fairly soon). A pair of mallards were shaking their heads at each other until he jumped on top of her and almost drowned her. At least there was only the one male, I've seen mallard drakes gang up in large numbers on the poor female. It looks brutal but it's their way of breeding and if they didn't do that then there would be no more mallards.

I don't take photos when I'm leading a group, but if you follow the links you'll see the birds.

I also found this piece of sea pottery just sitting on the pavement! It's very pretty, though I'm not sure the edges are smooth enough for me to put it in my Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop.

Monday 18 March 2013

New in my Etsy shop

I've just added  two hanging pourri sachets to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop! You can see them here and here.

I made them from differently patterned sections of the same material as the previous one (which I blogged about here) but the buttons and beads that I've added on as decoration are different. They're both filled with dried heather flowers and stems. I love the variety of the patterns in the fabric.

I made invisible seams on the bottom using this tutorial on the Melly and Me blog (scroll down a bit to find the tutorial) - these seams really are invisible and easy to make, though a bit fiddly!

These items are for sale only to UK addresses, as I don't want to get on the wrong side of the law as it refers to international trade of plant parts. (I'm possibly erring on the side of caution here).

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

Friday 15 March 2013

Lochend Park

I usually have a short walk round Lochend Park before going to the writing class I teach at the Ripple Project in the Lochend and Restalrig Community Hub. It's a small, very urban park with a sizeable pond. I'm fascinated by the drowned trees in the middle of the pond.

Yesterday I made friends with a shy coot, who hid away, but you can see it's funny feet in this photo.

The writing class went very well as it always does, everyone in the group is enthusiastic, full of imaginative stories and they all write brilliantly!

You can see more photos of Lochend Park in this post from last October.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Hanging pot pourri bag

I'm really pleased with this pot pourri bag that I recently made! The material was partly sewn up already with that angled edge at the bottom. I wasn't sure how that would look to be honest but it looks nice specially with the beads hanging from it. Everything here is re-purposed and the colours all look lovely together!

I've hung this on the wall between two doors in our hallway. The hallway has Mediterranean orange walls, which complement the colours in the pot pourri bag perfectly. There's hardly any natural light in the hallway though, so I took the photo in the living room against the less than ideally colour co-ordinated pale lilac wall.

I've got more of this fabric and am making more pot pourri bags similar to this, the first of which is now available in my Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop (UK buyers only sorry, due to international laws governing the transportation of plant parts.)

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Europe bans animal testing of cosmetics

Animal testing of cosmetics is now banned in Europe! This is great news and certainly something worth celebrating. However, there is still some way to go if all animal testing is to be ended. The current ban doesn't extend to ingredients testing, which falls under a piece of outdated legislation called REACH. 

In principle, REACH is a good piece of legislation. REACH rules tell a company exactly which tests they need to do for each ingredient – it lists the non-animal tests that must be used and then the animal tests to be used if there is no alternative. The rules were supposed to be updated regularly to add any new non-animal alternatives as they are developed. It was hoped that eventually this would mean that no animal tests were ever needed, as new non-animal tests are developed over time.

The bad news is REACH has not been updated since it was written in 2007. Since then many non-animal alternatives have been developed and also some animal test refinements (which mean that fewer animals need to be used and killed). By not adding these to the REACH testing guidelines, REACH are breaking their own rules – and many animals (perhaps even millions) are dying in tests because companies cannot use the non-animal alternatives until the legislation lists them as suitable for use.

You can find out more here

Lush (makers of cruelty free handmade cosmetics) have created a short animation explaining REACH and why it mattters.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Winter Wonderland

I'm longing for Spring but also really enjoying the current belated winter wonderland. I've never seen snow like this in March before, though I've seen snow fall as late as April, I've never seen this much at this time of year.

Today I walked through Colinton and Craiglockart Dells by the Water of Leith, as I do most weeks. Along one side of the river, the paths were delightfully deep in snow, while on the other side they were often icy and slippery. The river is fast moving, but in parts it has frozen over a wee bit.

But despite all the ice and snow, the sun was out, the sky was clear and there were signs of spring everywhere. The chaffinches were collecting nesting material, the jackdaws were busy round their communal nesting site and lots of birds were singing.

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

Monday 11 March 2013

Birdwatching in the snow

A few days ago on this blog, I foolishly said something about Spring arriving. Well, she's abruptly turned round and left again and we're back in the middle of winter. Yesterday and last night there was a lot of snow and hail in Edinburgh. This morning it started out sunny but very cold. Several people couldn't get to my birdwatching class this morning, but those who did, braved the intermittent blizzards to enjoy wonderful snowy landscapes, excellent views of a buzzard and a kestrel and very close views of dunnocks and wrens. The dunnocks and wrens seemed to have found little dens in the snow, where they disappeared to look for food or to keep warm.

The highlight of the morning though was seeing a red fox on the old quarry. We first saw it during one of the sunny periods of the morning, its red coat gleaming beautiful in the sunshine. We were all slightly concerned that it would eat one of the several rabbits that were running around the slopes, but the bunnies seemed to have the upper hand, in fact they seemed to be teasing the fox, who frequently shifted position and started to chase rabbits but then sat down again. Eventually the fox ran off over the top of the quarry and the rabbits carried on with what they were doing. Then the snow set in again.

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

Sunday 10 March 2013

Daily Haiku

I've been delighted to have been one of the contributors to cycle 14 on Daily Haiku.

My last haiku is here and you can find all my haiku here.

Daily Haiku also publishes a print journal, featuring selected haiku from the last two cycles. The last print journal was published in  2010 so I'm not sure if this is still part of the Daily Haiku project.

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

Friday 8 March 2013

Weekend Reflections on Linlithgow Loch

Here are two photos of different reflections from last weekend's visit to Linlithgow Loch.

Thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo of a male tufted duck in full breeding plumage complete with a magnificent tuft on his head!

for Weekend Reflections 

meanwhile I've got another haiku on Daily Haiku 

and I'm delighted to have two poems in this Standing Stones anthology from An Lucht Lonrach

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

Thursday 7 March 2013

Publishing update

I seem to have had a lot published recently so here's a summary:

Dog Ear is a literary journal that's also a bookmark and I've currently got a poem featured on it! You can read Dog Ear on-line (you may need to scroll down to read my poem Notice) or look out for your free copy in selected stockists in London, Manchester, Hebden Bridge and Berlin! (I don't know yet whether my poem will be included in the print version).

I've also got another haiku on Daily Haiku. This is my last week as a contributor to Daily Haiku. I've really enjoyed being involved - you can read all my haiku so far here (and two more to come!).

My poem A Mountainside on an Autumn Evening won 2nd prize in the Mountaineering Council of Scotland poetry competition.

I've had two poems published on Kumquat: sleep deprived and Wordstorm with one more to follow soon.

My poem Return was recently Monday poem on the Leaf Press website, published alongside a 'quirky' photo of me with our old rabbit Anya.

Earlier this week, I belatedly found out that my story Behind Closed Windows was published last May on Every Day Fiction.

And just now I found out that one of my poems will be included in Poised in Flight the next anthology from Kind of a Hurricane Press.

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

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Another little table mat

You may remember that recently I made a small table mat. In that blog post I said I would share  before and after photos of the next similar mat I made. Well here is the before photo, showing the two fabric samples and the old kimono fabric for the edging. The kimono fabric may seem familiar, as I've used it already to make a camera case; a reusable sandwich bag and a draught excluder.

I sewed the two fabric samples together, cut four lengths from the kimono to act as edging and sewed those onto the edges of the fabric and ended up with this reversible mat:

This mat was easier to sew than the previous one, because this time the edging material was thinner. The completed item looks nice on a chest of drawers with an accompanying rabbit and vase:

I've just put together a Treasury on Etsy, showcasing some lovely crafts featuring snowdrops, the first flower to appear as a sign of Spring. A couple of the items also feature rabbits or hares! (For those of you who don't know how Etsy works, these items are some of my favourites from around Etsy, I didn't make any of the items in the Treasury!)

I have another haiku on Daily Haiku today

and I just found out that my poem A Mountainside on an Autumn Evening won 2nd prize in the Mountaineering Council of Scotland poetry competition!

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

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Weeds by Richard Mabey

This is a brilliant, fascinating examination of the relationships between humans and plants, specifically those plants that we consider to be weeds.

Richard Mabey is one of the UK's greatest nature writers and in this book examines all aspects of the cultural history of weeds:

* how plants move from one place to another and why often a mild mannered plant becomes a menace when transported to a different location with a different ecology.

* how agricultural weeds have co-evolved with crop species

* how many weeds are actually useful as food sources or for other purposes

* how weeds have taken advantage of our mistreatment of the environment - how in fact we have made weeds the problem that they have become.

He also explores the role of weeds in art and literature. 

Although written primarily from a UK perspective, the book also considers weeds around the world. It is beautifully written, thought provoking, full of fascinating facts and a must-read for anyone interested in our relationships with plants.

Weeds by Richard Mabey, published by Profile Books 

I have another haiku on Daily Haiku, which you can read here

and I've only just discovered that my story 'Behind Closed Windows' was published last May on Every Day Fiction

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

Monday 4 March 2013

Rabbits to take over River & Rowing Museum

I get sent a lot of press releases, many of which aren't relevant to this blog. However, how could I resist an email that came in with the heading above? So here's the news from the River and Rowing Museum (which previously I didn't even know existed!).

The Easter Bunny will make secret visits to the River & Rowing Museum, Henley On Thames, every day, from 30 March – 14 April. The bunny will be setting a challenge for all young visitors, who this year can go FREE! 

Children can explore the Museum galleries to hunt for clues that help solve a puzzle in order to win a delicious prize. In addition, five special events are scheduled around Easter that will to welcome the springtime and educate with a lot of fun. Highlights include:

  • The chance to get up close and stroke the cutest of springtime animals as the local Wildlife Trust visits the museum, bringing ducklings, bunnies, guinea pigs and many more for Whiskers and Wildlife on Thursday 11 April.
  • An opportunity to get messy and muddy by the river on Wednesday 10 April whilst learning about local wildlife by coming to Birds Roc!
You can find out more about what's on in the River and Rowing Museum Events Calendar

Meanwhile I've got a poem up at Kumquat and I'm the contributing poet to Daily Haiku this week, you can read yesterday's haiku here and today's is here

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

Saturday 2 March 2013

Great Crested Grebes on Linlithgow Loch

It was a lovely spring day for our trip to Linlithgow Loch today.

 We particularly wanted to see the great crested grebes and we weren't disappointed.

Last year we were slightly too early in our February visit to Linlithgow Loch. Although we saw a lot of great crested grebes, they weren't quite fully committed to their courtship dances and we didn't get to see the full display. So this year we left it a bit later and today, though there were fewer grebes, we did get to see the full dance. (We found out that last year there were more grebes than ever on the loch and this year is looking like a good year too). Here the pair face each other and shake their heads.

Then the male picks some weed as a special gift for the female:

they then swim together at top speed for a little while (which we didn't capture on film).

It was wonderful to watch these birds! We also saw pairs fighting each other as they tried to defend their territories, which became quite exciting at one point, but difficult to capture on film!

Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for the photos of the grebes!

Friday 1 March 2013

Snowdrops and sunshine by the Water of Leith

I take the view (that I think is fairly common in the UK) that Spring officially starts on 1 March (I know that readers elsewhere will disagree, and I also think that actually Spring starts when she wants to, ignoring our arbitrary dates).

Whatever you think though is the first day of Spring, today definitely was Spring in Colinton Dell, by the Water of Leith. The snowdrops were beautiful,

the sun was shining and there were birds everywhere:

four bullfinches were chasing each other, squeaking
two dippers were taking it in turns to fly into their nesting hole and other dippers were chasing each other along the river
jackdaws were visiting nesting holes
robins, dunnocks, song thrushes, chaffinches and other birds were singing at full volume