Friday 31 October 2014

Oh, deer!

It was a lovely mild day today at Musselburgh Lagoons. When I arrived an the first hide there were hundreds of birds, including lapwings, teal, wigeon and dunlin. Then suddenly almost all of them took off, the lapwings whelled around above the hides for a while then they all disappeared. I'm guessing a peregrine had passed over, as it often does and scared them all.

When I was just about to leave the third hide, I was delighted to see these roe deer move into view. They came very close to the hide and were happy to have their photos taken. They were later joined by a third.

For Saturday Critters

Thursday 30 October 2014

Watching Trees and Fungi in the Dells

The larch I'm sturying for Tree Following is turning yellow only slowly compared to some other larches I've seen, it's starting to lose its needles though.  (The larch is the only type of conifer to lose its needles in winter).
The larch tree stands on one side of the Water of Leith Walkway in Colinton Dell. Its roots spread to the other side of the path and poke through the soil in the side path into the field. At the moment there's a nice lot of what I think are brown bell cap toadstools growing just by the roots of the larch.

Not far from the larch but on the oppsite bank of the river there's a lovely patch of hairy stereum fungus growing on a branch of a hornbeam tree

this fungus normally grows on fallen trees and it was nice this time to be able to take the photo below which shows the underside of the fungus

The grey squirrels throughout the Dells were very lively today, chasing each other and running round. There were a good number of birds around too, and it was specially nice to see a grey wagtail and a pair of goldcrests. I also had a lovely view of a dipper.

For Nature Notes

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

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Fixing jewellery

When I recently bought the cheap bags of jewellery that I've already used to make this bookmark and this keyring, there was a pretty flowery necklace that at first I thought was in perfect condition. However, when I wore it, the flowers sort of bunched together in a strange way and then I noticed that there had obviously originally been other flowers in there to hold the whole design together. So I took out my jewellery making kit and set about seeing what I could do to repair it. I took out two of the flowers and made them into earrings and I think they look nice with the pared down new necklace design.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

How I learned about birds

male mallards at Blackford Pond

Maureen of Josephina Ballerina recently asked if I would blog a bit about how I learned about birds.

I had a copy of the Observers Book of Birds when I was young, later I added the RSPB book of Birds and browsed them constantly. This meant that often when I see a new bird I can often recognise it straight away from having learned it from these books (this doesn't apply for brown waders or other more confusing groups of birds or for very rare birds that are only occasionally seen in the UK!)

When I was growing up, my parents' garden was full of starlings, house sparrows, blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, blue tits, chaffinches and the occasional visit from other birds including bullfinches. (These days their garden has far fewer starlings, house sparrows or song thrushes, but new visitors include goldfinches, magpies, jackdaws, woodpigeons and the occasional visits from siskins, redpolls and jays.

So I started watching the birds in the garden at a very early age. We also went on trips to other places where we saw birds. I particularly remember a lovely holiday cottage on the island of Anglesey, which had a beautiful hedgerow at the bottom of the garden, that always seemed to overflow with birds of all sorts. Sadly my Mum recently told me that the hedge is no longer there, and a new road was built there several years ago.

I learned the most obvious bird songs when I was young (robin, blackbird, song thrush) but more recently have been trying to learn as many bird songs and calls as possible This is quite challenging as most birds only sing for a few months of the year so once you think you've learned a song, you won't hear it again for several months and then you need to refresh your mind. The robin, which is one of the few birds to sing (rather than call) all year, has a different song for the autumn and winter than for the spring and summer, so that doesn't help (though it's a relatively easy song to learn). (The RSPB website is very useful for learning bird somg, as it includes sound files for every species of bird in the UK; while xeno canto includes bird songs and calls from around the world).

The best way to learn about birds is to get out there and see them in their natural habitats and I do that very regularly - leading birdwatching walks for Edinburgh Council, taking notes of the birds I see when volunteering with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and regularly going for walks in green places with Crafty Green Boyfriend. I also regularly visit Musselburgh Lagoons and have learned a lot from the other birdwatchers there, we regularly swap tips on what we've seen where and the birdwatchers with telescopes are happy to lend me their scopes to see far off rarer species (I've only got binoculars!).

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

Monday 27 October 2014

The Ecology of Eden by Evan Eisenberg

This is a history of the changing human relationship with nature, starting out with our beginnings and encompassing religious attitudes to nature; and explorations of the development of agriculture and technology and how that changed our relationship with nature. How do images of Eden (and other representations of paradise) fit with reality?

The author's central argument is that our relationship with nature cannot help but be complicated:

The love of nature and the urge to master nature have always, I am sure, been basic to the human mind. And they have always gone hand in hand, as they seem to do in the cave paintings of Lacaux. Yet there has always been a tension between them - a tension expressed, for example, in the rituals by which some indigenous hunters placate the spirit of the animla they have just killed.

It is a beautifully written book, always readable and thought provoking, though often deeply depressing as the realisation hits just how disfunctional our relationship with nature has become.

The chapter on climate change feels dated now (the book was written in 1998), but apart from that it feels like a classic of ecological philosophy.

The Ecology of Eden by Evan Eisenberg published by Picador.

Saturday 25 October 2014

A Year of Insects - Moths

It's been my best ever year for moths, here's the list of species I've seen and been able to identify, with photos where available, or links to websites with photos if I've not got my own photos

Six spot burnet moth, 2 July, Musselburgh

lunar yellow underwing, 8 September, Musselburgh

latticed heath, 2 July, Musselburgh


silver ground carpet 25 June Colinton Dell
lesser broad bordered yellow underwing (?) 17 July in our living room!
  Udea lutealis 3 September Musselburgh

You can find out more about UK moths on the UK moths website.

If you prefer a book as your field guide then I can definitely recommend The Concise Guide to Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Martin Townsend and Paul Waring illustrated by Richard Lewington and published by British Wildlife Publishing. It might not solve all your id queries immediately, as moths can be very tricky, but it's certainly a very useful guide. 

I recently blogged about A Year of Insects - Hoverflies.

Friday 24 October 2014

Cloves cupboard sachet

Cloves have a lovely scent and they're also a moth repellent so are ideal for scenting your wardrobe. I made this little clove scented sachet from scrap fabric and part of an old shoe lace.

It's now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop (to be on the safe side of customs regulations regarding plant parts this item is only available for delivery within the European Union).

Meanwhile I'm delighted that one of my photos has been included in this autumn colour themed Treasury on Etsy. For those who don't know Etsy, a treasury is made up of items selected from across Etsy that fit a theme. 

Thursday 23 October 2014


Maureen of Josephina Ballerina recently asked me to blog about what I was doing in Malawi all those years ago!

After I graduated from University, I decided I wanted to volunteer abroad for a couple of years with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). After a long application process and a period of time spent doing voluntary work in the UK, I was sent to teach Biology, Chemistry and Physics at St Michaels Girls Secondary School in Malawi.

I taught in the school for two years, also leading the school Wildlife Club, which went on walks round the local area, to see the weaver bird colony and the pied kingfishers on Lake Malawi.

I really enjoyed my two years, the students were polite, friendly and eager to learn and Malawi is a beautiful country, though very poor. I travelled throughout Malawi and in nearby Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, met a lot of interesting people, made many friends and had a great time. Although as an environmentalist I think it's important to cut down on one's carbon footprint by reducing the amount we travel, and also that there's a great importance in knowing your local area and not rushing off all the time, I also think there is a huge amount to be gained in spending a good long time living in a totally different culture. It gives you insights into how other people live and let's you see things in a different perspective. It's also fascinating as a naturalist to see a totally different range of wildlife!

I wrote a fair amount of poetry when I was in Malawi and published a book Bougainvillea Dancing a couple of years after returning to the UK. This book raised money for charities working in Malawi. I recently updated it, to include new poems and some illustrations and re-published it to mark the 50th Anniversary of Malawi's independence. The updated version of Bougainvillea Dancing is available to purchase in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop or on Lulu. At least 10% of profits from the sale of this ebook will go to VSO's work in Malawi.

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

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Autumn leaves and following trees

Well the promised hurricane didn't hit Edinburgh as badly as expected, though the coastal areas of Scotland were very badly hit yesterday.

Autumn is looking lovelier than ever in Colinton Dell, by the Water of Leith.

and although the larch tree that I'm studying for Tree Following hasn't changed much in the last week, autumn is progressing all around

the sycamore underneath the larch is looking very autumnal and has a fair bit of tar spot on it

the ivy on the trunk of the larch though is green and vibrant and it will stay that way right through the winter

And I'm delighted to be reading a couple of poems at next Thursday's showcase event for Far Off Places, happening at the Scottish Poetry Library, you can book your tickets here.

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

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Some thoughts on the carrier bag charge in Scotland

Yesterday retailers across Scotland brought in the 5p charge for single use carrier bags. This applies to all retailers, whatever their size, and to all types of single use bags, whether they're made from plastic, paper or biodegradable materials.

Similar charges in Wales and Northern Ireland have lead to a dramatic 75-80 per cent reduction in bags used. 

Less use means less impact on the environment and reduced litter levels. Carrier bags are a major and unsightly element of litter in and around Edinburgh, as I know particularly from my volunteer work with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.

So, make sure you have a reusable cloth carrier bag in your pocket or in your handbag at all times. But remember, cloth bags use more energy in their production than do single use bags, so don't be tempted to collect excessive numbers of cloth carrier bags  (In our house we have cloth carrier bags for different purposes (eg one for recycling, one for carrying my equipment for volunteering with the Water of Leith Trust) and store them in different places to minimise the chance of being in a shop and finding ourselves without a carrier bag (a couple stored on strategic door knobs and cupboard door handles, one in each of my handbags and one in my rucksack). 

You can read more about the carrier bag charge on the Keep Scotland Beautiful website

You can read my earlier blog about this topic (complete with photos of two of my re-usable carrier bags) here

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

Monday 20 October 2014

A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum

Where would we be without bees? A third of what we eat and much of what we wear relies on pollination by honeybees. So the fact that honeybees are in desperate trouble as their numbers plummet across the planet is of major concern to all of us.

A World Without Bees, whose authors are keen beekeepers themselves, outlines the history of the human relationship with the honeybee, going back to early cave paintings of bees. It then explores all the stresses that we put on bees, including trucking bees across the USA to pollinate crops across the country (but especially the Californian almond orchards); the effects of pesticides and fungicides and the spread of parasites such as the Varroa mite. The authors speak to scientists, farmers and bee-keepers to try to analyse how these stresses fit in with the widely observed colony collapse disorder which sees hives suddenly lose all or most of their bees.

This is sobering, depressing reading and doesn't really offer any solutions. But one thing is certain, we need to save the bees, if we are to have any meaningful future ourselves.

A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum published by Guardian Books.

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

Saturday 18 October 2014

Easter Craiglockart Hill

The day started out bright and still and unseasonably warm as we walked up Easter Craiglockart Hill.

A kestrel hovered above the grass, swerved away but held it's own against the rising winds. It dropped right down to hover just a foot or so above the grass then dropped into the grass. It flew up again, nothing in its beak. It flew away to the trees, but still hovered. Then as storm clouds began to gather, another kestrel appeared, hovering over the golf course.

As both kestrels flew off, we walked back into the woods and found this strange looking fungus, which I don't think either of us have seen before, but I've identified it as Purple Jelly fungus (Ascocoryne sarcoides).

Friday 17 October 2014

Autumn in the Braids

It's wonderfully warm and sunny today, perfect weather for planning out a new route for a nature study walk I'll be leading the week after next. The group have said they want us to go through the Hermitage of Braid and into the Braid Hills, which I thought was a bit ambitious for the 3 hours we will have, certainly if we're looking at everything from fungi to birds along the way.

Today's walk proved my suspicions and also alerted me to a path that looks like the obvious route to get from a particular A to B but in fact is way too steep, so I had to find another linking path, which I did, though this one is overgrown and muddy, but it isn't too steep. So this proves the value of checking out an exact route and on the day we'll just walk as far as we can and then back again by a slightly different route.

The autumn colours are wonderful at the moment, though I find they never look as wonderful on camera as they do in real life.

The bridle path around Braid Golf course was muddier than ever, but has got plenty of fungi growing alongside it at the moment - these are common puffballs

and this one I don't know, though possibly an egg yolk fungus? If you can recognise the species, then please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday 16 October 2014

A Year of Insects - Hoverflies

I don't know much about insects (apart from butterflies), but I've been making a real effort to teach myself more (and Crafty Green Boyfriend has been a real help as he knows a lot more about all sorts of invertebrates than I do). I've found that some insects are much easier to identify to species level than you might expect, if you have patience and an eye for detail).

For example, these three hoverflies are, on close inspection quite distinctive:

The marmalade hoverfly seems to me to be the most common hoverfly in Edinburgh and is a common wasp mimic
Sericomyia silentis which is also a common wasp mimic,  I've nicknamed the silent hoverfly, due to its scientific name.

Eristalix pertenax is a honey bee mimic, which I've nicknamed the orange shouldered hoverfly (click on the image to see why, though the orange patches don't indicate actual shoulders at all!)

You can find out more about hoverflies here, and scroll down on that page for photos of the species of hoverflies found in the UK. 

Wednesday 15 October 2014

My Love of Nature

Recently, Maureen of Josephina Ballerina (where she blogs about life and particularly about her beautiful tortoiseshell cat Josephina) asked me to blog about where my love of nature comes from.

I grew up in suburban Manchester, in a house with a relatively small garden with a wild patch of shrubs and trees at the bottom. This was a great natural den, and I spent a lot of time, particularly in the summer, playing in the shade of the sycamore tree.

I collected nature books, specially books about birds (but I overheard my Dad saying on one occasion "doesn't she think she has enough books about birds?"). I also loved reading a big old book by Enid Blyton, that I remember belonging to my grandparents. I can't remember the name, but it was a fictionalised account of one family's adventures in the outdoors guided by their Uncle Quentin who seemed to know everything there was to know about nature. I don't really like to admit to Enid Blyton being a formative influence but....

A lot of my early interest in nature came from books rather than being outside. We had regular family excursions out, though these were usually to local parks or the local woods. It was relatively rare that our day trips went further than that, though our holidays were always to rural places. All our trips were heavily supervised, I wasn't allowed to run around much or climb trees and I certainly wasn't allowed to go out into the countryside alone or even with friends, though this story (published on Pygmy Giant) is true.

I studied Biology right through high school and took my Biology A level exam then went to University to study Botany. I've maintained my interest in nature ever since, though it's only recently that I've started leading groups on birdwatching walks and nature studies.

There are many reasons I love nature, firstly the sheer beauty, secondly the everchanging seasons and thirdly the fact that there is always something new to learn, whether in identifying a new species of insect or in observing a new behaviour from a favourite bird.

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

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Autumn colours in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

The other day I was in one of the Edinburgh charity shops and noticed that they had bags full of what looked like broken jewellery selling for £3 each. I duly bought three bags, thinking I would find lots of supplies for my crafting projects. I was astonished to find that many of the items weren't at all damaged and hadn't even been reduced in price individually before being thrown into the bags. As a result, I've found myself some lovely new jewellery plus two necklaces for my Mum who asked me to look out some second hand necklaces for her, and then left over some damaged jewellery that I could use for crafting projects.

Here is the first item I've made, from a partly damaged necklace to be exact, an extra long beaded bookmark, specially for those who like to read big books!

This bookmark is now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see it here.

I made this keyring from the odd earrings and broken items from my purchase.

I was very happy to find so many pieces that complemented each other in colour and design and I like the overall autumnal look of the colours. The jewellery course I attend a couple of months ago comes in very handy for creating items like this!

This keychain is also now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see it here

Monday 13 October 2014

In the Dells

It's beautifully autumnal in Colinton Dell just now.

The larch tree I'm studying for Tree Following is starting to turn subtly yellow and lose some of its needles. The cones are mature but haven't yet opened to release the seeds.

Last year's cones are still on the tree, if you look carefully you can see that they have opened and they'll be empty of seeds.

There were lots of birds around today, but only one wanted to be photographed. This grey heron got a good view of the river from this waste water pipe!

Sunday 12 October 2014

Solar by Ian McEwan

I've always had mixed feelings about Ian McEwan's books, but after being totally impressed by hearing him speak at the Edinburgh Festival a couple of years ago and knowing Solar is about climate change I put this book on my 'to read' list. (Yes my 'to read' list is long!).

Michael Beard works in climate change, he's a physicist who at the beginning of the book doesn't beleive in climate change, nor does he seem to care at all, it's just a job. He takes part in an awareness raising trip to the Arctic, where he is the only scientist amongst a group of artists and the only person in the group without a project of their own. He talks about his institute's work as if it's his own and becomes popular and admired in the group.

He eventually appropriates a dead colleague's work, claims it as his own and wins the Nobel Prize.

Along the way he eats gluttonously, drinks alcohol to excess and has more love affairs than he can keep count of. 

Michael Beard is not only a thoroughly unlikeable character (which made me dislike the book) but he is also a horribly true to life symbol of human excess and disconnect with nature and the environment (which makes the book very effective).

The book is by turn satirical and funny, depressing and rage-inducing and compelling, thought provoking and insightful of our relationship with the most pressing issue facing us today.

Solar by Ian McEwan published by Random House

Friday 10 October 2014

Reflecting on Birds

It was a beautiful day at Musselburgh today, wonderful light for birdwatching. There were lots of birds around too! I was delighted to see 18 grey partridges at the Lagoons, this is well more than I've ever seen before and from talking to other people it sounds like it's well more than most people have seen in recent years. I also saw ruff, snipe, teal, wigeon, dunlin, golden plover, lapwing, curlew and a rook that seemed to be harrassing the other birds. Apart from the partridges there weren't high numbers of any of the birds but a lovely selection. Over the sea wall I got a distant view of a surf scoter hanging out with a group of velvet scoter.

I didn't take photos of any of these birds as they were too far away, but this carrion crow was more obliging. It's eating a fish that seemed to be still alive!

These Canada Geese by the River Esk were hilarious to listen to, they were making a lovely soft honking noise but also they were making a lot of noise as they were pulling at the grass and eating it.

And this mute swan just demanded to be photographed on the Boating Pond, where there are currently a lot of little grebes and today also another species of grebe, I'm not sure which species it was though (the grebes aren't in the photo)

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

Thursday 9 October 2014

Dunbar's Close Gardens

It's easy to walk past Dunbar's Close Garden, which is tucked away just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. However, it's always worth popping in (as I did yesterday), as it offers a wonderful quiet and tranquil spot in the middle of the city.

 There are lovely views from the garden across to Calton Hill

I was delighted to see this adult hawthorn shield bug in the garden

Shield bugs are lovely insects, colourful and shiny but often difficult to identify as they have so many different life stages and colour variations - see this page for how different hawthorn shield bugs can look.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Global Frackdown

Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas from underground. It involves drilling to depths of around 3km and pumping vast amounts of water (over 140, 000 gallons of water a day) and toxic chemicals under high pressure into the borehole to open up fractures and make it easier to extract the gas.

Fracking is hugely controversial, not least for the fact that it uses water that otherwise would be used for drinking water or for irrigating crops. In addition, waste water from fracking often finds its way back into the water supply, causing potential health problems.

In California, fracking is exacerbating the extreme drought that the state is currently experiencing (you can read more about this in the Desmog blog).

The UK Government plans to allow fracking companies to drill under people's land without their permission (and yes that means they could drill under your house and you couldn't stop them).

This weekend sees Global Frackdown, a weekend of activism across the world to send a message to elected officials across the globe that we want a future powered by clean, renewable energy — not dirty, polluting fossil fuels. You can find out what's happening in your area here and Friends of the Earth UK events are listed here.

Mr Frackhead (a touring campaign stunt from Friends of the Earth) visited the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh today - here he is 'threatening' the press

and here he is getting ready to address Scottish politicians, members of Friends of the Earth and the general public.

Friends of the Earth Scotland have put together a brief information sheet about the dangers of fracking and other unconventional sources of fossil fuels, you can read it here.

If you are in Scotland you can demand the Scottish Government ban fracking now!

Breast Cancer Action have information on fracking and cancer here.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Autumnal colour in Colinton Dell

It was a beautiful mild, sunny morning for this week's walk round Colinton Dell, by the Water of Leith.

Autumn has definitely arrived

the beeches are in full beautiful colour 

and the river is starting to fill with leaves that glow under the rapidly flowing water

There were lots of insects about, this ivy bush in Spylaw Park was a mass of common wasps and Eristalis pertinax (a species of hoverfly) this individual of which was quite happy to be caught on film. 

I spent several minutes sitting on a bench by the riverbank watching a dipper, that was too far away to photograph. It was hunting for insects in the water and jumping from rock to rock. I also saw a family of goldcrests (the smallest UK bird) junping around in the trees. 

I also took time to catch up with the larch tree I'm studying for Tree Following. It hasn't really changed very much recently, though the wild flower meadow behind it is totally bare now, after having been cut back by volunteers working with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. Hopefully it will bloom beautifully next year! 

For Nature Notes

and I Heart Macro

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

Saturday 4 October 2014

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

In 1914, Joey a young farm horse is sold to the army and thrust into the middle of the First World War. What follows is a vivid and moving account of the perils of war, narrated from the point of view of this remarkable horse.

Joey makes friends with a magnificent black horse called Topthorn and the two of them first serve as cavalry horses in the British Army. They are then captured by the Germans and used to pull vehicles of various kinds.

Joey sees the war from both sides of the conflict and comes across young nervous soldiers, harsh taskmasters and old, gentle soldiers. He also finds for a while a temporary home with a farm family in France, where he is stabled for a while during his service.

All the time though his heart yearns for Albert, the son of his original owner. Will they ever find each other again?

This is a wonderful tale of an animal's perspective of war. Definitely one to be read with a large box of tissues close to hand.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo published by Harper Collins.

Friday 3 October 2014

Clever Crows

The crows are the cleverest of birds, they also seem often to be the most fun-loving of birds.

I was fascinated by these carrion crows on the deserted playpark at Musselburgh. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves as they jumped around the various climbing frames. Apologies for the very poor quality of the photo.

After walking past these crows, I walked along the John Muir Walkway to Musselburgh Lagoons. The young gannets were perfecting their diving technique in the Firth of Forth, while nearby wigeon and velvet scoter floated by. The Lagoons were packed with birds and I was (unusually) the only birdwatcher. There were hundreds of oystercatchers and curlew, one whimbrel, plenty of teal, four snipe, a barnacle goose looking lost and a pink footed goose with a limp.

If you've spotted any clever rooks (a species of crow) then you may be interested in taking part on the British Trust for Ornithology's survey