Friday 31 July 2015

Bees at the front door

The local bees just flock to the front of our building at this time of year to feed on the beautiful Hypericum bush

If you look closely you can see that this white tailed / buff tailed bumblebee has got quite large knees (pollen baskets) so it's obviously a very busy bee! (Bees don't really have knees of course, but the pollen baskets do look like knees!)

and this common carder bee is all neatly tucked into the flower!

Wednesday 29 July 2015

A wee insect finds a cosy spot to rest

Look carefully in this thistle flower and you'll see a beautiful Grypocoris stysi.(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)
I took this photo while we were picking raspberries at lunchtime in our favourite raspberry picking place. The weather was beautiful and the raspberry bushes and brambles were full of bees, red soldier beetles and other insects.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Another beaded lanyard

I made this beaded lanyard from my stash of beads, a re-sued lanyard connector and new jewellery wire and fittings. I added it to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop a while ago and somehow seem to have overlooked blogging about it.

It's in red, white and blue, which of course are the patriotic colours for a number of nations, but I have to say I think it probably will have the greatest appeal in the USA, as there seems specifically to be a market in patriotic lanyards there, which is certainly something that doesn't seem very likely to be the case in the UK.....

I'm hoping to make another one similar in design, but don't have quite enough beads as yet!

You can see this one in my Etsy shop here.

Monday 27 July 2015



Gulls divebomb each other,
squabble over perching rights
on chimney pots,
throw back their heads
in raucous chorus,
rip rubbish sacks to shreds,
steal chicks from nests
and eat them on the roofs
then launch into the sky
to soar on thermals,
sharp white wings
against the blue.

At this time of the year, gulls become very protective of their fledgeling young. From our flat we can hear their raucous calls for much of the day and they often chase each other and squabble over food. This is actually quite entertaining, though our neighbours who put up a birdfeeder on their third floor windowsill, soon took it back in again when they found their windowsill a gathering point for the local gulls.

This year, the behaviour of gulls has caused an outcry at national level. There are tales of dogs being killed, a tortoise been killed (and a rabbit being traumatised after witnessing the attack). Calls for culling are repeated across the country and David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister is calling for a big conversation about gulls

For a while the media unthinkingly jumped on this bandwagon, without thinking that a) this is natural behaviour, gulls are only protecting their young and their increased activity only happens for a couple of weeks, b) humans, by providing attractive feeding opportunities, such as overflowing bins in the streets, landfill sites full of rich food pickings, foolish people who feed bread straight to the gulls, are causing gulls to increasingly come into towns, where they become perceived as nuisances. 

Luckily, there have been some articles in defence of gulls:

One of the things that people forget is that gulls are declining in their natural, coastal environments just as they are increasing in more urban areas. As noted above, we're effectively responsible for deciding that they prefer living in towns, where the food is easy. Plus we seem to have forgotten that nature isn't always 'nice' and peaceful' but it is also red in tooth and claw. 

Of course I feel sympathy for the people who have lost pets to gulls, or who have been threatened themselves, but to put it into context, how many people are attacked by pet dogs every year? (Actually I've lost the number, but it's a lot lot more than are attacked by gulls). 

Saturday 25 July 2015

Escape from the Orchard of Wheels by Chris Crittenden

 Displaying Escape_from_the_Orch_Cover_for_Kindlejpg copy.jpeg

When I edited the online poetry journal, Bolts of Silk I was always delighted whenever Chris Crittenden sent me poems to be considered (you can read his poems on Bolts of Silk here).

So I was very happy to recently be asked to review Chris's latest poetry collection Escape from the Orchard. Right in the first poem Whisked Leaves, I was struck, by this very vivid image

then a lion’s mane
dissolving a hind,

and in the same poem, another vivid image, along, this time with a great rhyme

lava blustery,
dancing into lust,

A lot of Crittenden's poems are embedded in the natural world. As a birdwatcher myself, I could really relate to Birdwatchers, with its humour and striking imagery

soon we are blurry again,
cautious within Van Gogh fields,
hunkering like sandhill cranes
over snaky ground. 

There are plenty of birds too in these poems, including Owl

smudge of silence
and mahogany, alert
in onyx, vizier
in a skein of boughs,

and the wonderful description of Hermit Thrush Song 

whose notes are nothing less
and not a sound more
than the cadence
of dusk.

I feel I can hear this bird's song, even though it's a species I've never heard.

There are frequent flashes of humour, like this description of bluebottles from Siesta

their buzz seems to laugh
from a wink of philosophy,

and is gone.

This sense of humour balances the serious, even gloomy nature of other poems covering topics including advertising (Cereal Box Parade) and gutting fish (Gut Knife). Other topics include the wealth of life (specifically ants) to be found in a brownfield site (Not so Vacant Lot) life as seen from the point of view of other species (Thoughts of a Fly and Bat Thoughts), and the writing process (Writing). This is a varied collection that however centres on a profound understanding of the human relationship with the natural world, both the alienation many of us feel these days and the realisation of our real relationship with the creatures with whom we share this planet:

why should i be
its nemesis,
the claw in the gloom
that swipes? why must i
exist to thwart
its hallelujah?

from Annoying Fly  

Escape from the Orchard of Wheels by Chris Crittenden is published by Medulla Review Publishing

Friday 24 July 2015

Sunny Lunchtime!

It was sunny today when I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for a lunchtime wander round Corstorphine HIll (which is conveniently across the road from his office!). We picked quite a few raspberries, which his Mum (who we unexpectedly met on the hill, also picking raspberries!) will make into jam.

There were lots of butterflies around, enjoying the sun - we saw ten meadow browns, a few ringlets, a small tortoiseshell and a red admiral, all of which we will record for the Big Butterfly Count.

We also saw a lot of honeybees injoying the rosebay willowherb, there must be a hive somewhere nearby, as it's very unusual, speically these days to see so many honey bees all in one place! There were also lots of bumble bees about, which is more of a common sight, lovely to hear them buzzing away as they gather nectar and pollen.

None of these insects were happy to be photographed apart from this small tortoiseshell, who allowed me to take quite a few photos, though none of them are particularly good

These caterpillars were happy to be photographed (look carefully and you can see the caterpillars inside the 'web'). Thanks to Edinburgh Natural History Society Facebook Group, I think these are parsnip moths.

This wood mouse was happy to be photographed, though I suspect that was because it isn't very well

This smashed snail shell on a rock is probably a song thrush's anvil, where the bird will smash up snails and eat them.

The air was full of the sounds of summer too, grasshoppers in the grass and the gorse bushes were popping in the heat, as the seed heads opened explosively to let the seeds out

 The red campion seed heads are ripening too, if you look carefully you might be able to see the tiny seeds on the front seedhead in the photo below

The puff ball fungi are up.

We were very happy to see a couple of young rabbits in their traditional place in front of the hotel on Corstorphine Road, next to the zoo, (and just next to the bus stop!) only one stayed round to be photographed though

Three swallows were flying round here too, they seem to be nesting in the abandoned building across the road from the hotel. I don't think the bunny noticed them though!

Thursday 23 July 2015

Help Save Europe's Nature!

wildflowers along the John Muir Walkway, Musselburgh

You may have noticed the Nature Alert campaign on social media. This is a vital campaign, run jointly by a large number of environmental organisations, to prevent the European Union (EU) from watering down the vital directives that protect our wildlife and countryside. We need these directives particularly these days when the UK government seems not to care for or understand anything about the environment (just yesterday for example, the UK government overturned the ban on neonicitinoids, the bee--killing pesticides).

The EU Birds Directive adopted in the 1970s, and the Habitats Directive adopted in the 1990s are currently subject to the European Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT), which aims to simplify EU law and reduce costs.  European leaders are considering rolling back decades of progress by revising (read weakening) the Directives in the belief that weaker protection for wildlife would be good for business. In reality, this would be bad for business, and a disaster for wildlife.

Before this campaign, many people in the UK are unaware of these directives or Natura 2000, which is a great shame, it is at one and the same time the most important legislation protecting sites important for wildlife conservation in the UK and, arguably, the best thing about the European Union (EU).

Nature isn't only valuable for its own sake, it's vital in helping the world function - providing us with drinking water, irrigation and pollination for our food crops. Spending time in nature is increasingly being shown to be good for our physical and mental health. So nature is vital and neccessary and we should be strengthening the laws that protect it, not dismantling them.

Conservation organisations in the UK and across Europe are asking the general public to demonstrate their support for these vital pieces of legislation. You can find out more and sign up on the Woodland Trust website.

But remember, today is your last chance to make your voice heard!

Water of Leith at Colinton Dell, Edinburgh

More about Natura 2000

Natura 2000 is an EU-wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. These areas include nature reserves and privately owned areas. The directives require member States to take measures designed to maintain or restore certain natural habitats and wild species at a favourable conservation status. The emphasis is on ensuring that the areas are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner.
Natura 2000 aims to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It is comprised of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by Member States under the Habitats Directive, and also incorporates Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which they designate under the 1979 Birds Directive. SPAs requires Member States to take sufficient measures (legal minefield) to preserve sufficient diversity of habitats for all species of wild birds naturally occurring within the territories.

Natura 2000 also fulfils a European Community obligation under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

early bumblebee on knapweed

Earlier versions of this blog post appeared here and here.

 Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for input into this blogpost! 

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

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Bees Buzzing in the Beautiful Blooms

The wildflowers in the verges along the John Muir Way continue to be particularly beautiful this year

and the bees love them! The verge is literally buzzing with bees! This little brightly coloured bee is an early bumblebee, so called because it emerges earlier than the other species of bumblebees

Bees are so vital to keep flowers pollinated. They are in decline in many places due to habitat destruction and the effects of pesticides. The UK Government is thinking of overturning the current ban on neonicotinoids, one of the pesticide types known to damage bees. If you are in the UK and haven't already signed the petition to ask the government to keep this ban, you can sign it here

And a bonus photo of a male reed bunting. Two of these handsome birds were singing at each other over the grassland. 


Tuesday 21 July 2015

Salt of the Earth - a film about Sebastiao Selgado

I've always admired the photography of Sebastiao Selgado, who combines a committed social conscience with an eye for the dramatic or stunning photographic composition. He's responsible for many iconic and memorable photos from his work documenting the workers in the Brazilian goldmines to his photos of refugees and victims of famine across the world.

This film follows his career, lingering on many of his photos. This tends to make parts of the film quite static, but the photos are well worth lingering over and the voice-over from Selgado himself and from director Wim Wenders is consistently insightful.

As might be expected, from documenting so much of the world's worst conflict situations, Selgado faced burnout after completing his great work Exodus (documenting refugees). He and his wife Lelia (who acts as his agent and curator) found solace in Selgado's family farm in Brazil. This land had once been pristine rainforest but Selgado's grandfather and father had made a fortune from selling the trees and the land had become a barren wasteland. Leila had the idea of recreating the rainforest and 2 million trees later that's just what they've done! The land is now once again rainforest and is a nature reserve and the basis of the Instituto Terra.

This was not only inspiring in itself but gave the impetus for Selgado to take on his next large photographic project, Genesis, which documents wilderness areas of the world and indigenous peoples who live in harmony with the land.

This is an excellent film, though very harrowing in parts, with many images of extreme human suffering.

Salt of the Earth is showing at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh until Monday 27 July.

Monday 20 July 2015

In the Dells today

It was mild and dull today, perfect weather for summer fungi such as these little wheel fungi in Colinton Dell

Meanwhile the lime (linden) trees are in flower, their scent is just beautiful

Despite the overcast skies, the insects were very active today. Plenty of bees about plus lots of red soldier beetles, many of which were making sure there will continue to be plenty of red soldier beetles...

Plus hoverflies, including Volucella pellucens, which I identified for the first time yesterday on our walk along the Brunstane Burn and today I got some decent photos

and also this hoverfly, which I think is Cheilosia illustrata - edited to add the UK Hoverfly Facebook Group have now confirmed this for me!

and the wildflower meadow on the site of the old Bogs Mill is looking beautiful just now, full of meadowsweet, meadow cranesbill, bog asphodel and ox eye daisies among other flowers. Plenty of bees here too. No butterflies today at all!

Saturday 18 July 2015

Brunstane Burn Bees

Very mixed weather today. We decided to walk along the Brunstane Burn path, which starts just outside Musselburgh. I've often passed the entrance to the walk but we've never explored it and decided that it was time we did!

The start of the path is a nicely landscaped park

with a pretty burn (small stream) running through it

and some very pretty floral verges

with lots of bees buzzing around, like this red tailed bumblebee approaching the bramble flowers

and this buff tailed / white tailed bumblebee

 There was competition over this wild rose, with this buff tailed / white tailed bumble bee

being driven away by this much larger bumble bee (we think a queen of the same species)

We had hoped to be able to see lots of butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count, but it was probably too windy for them and we only saw one ringlet butterfly

We also saw this very handsome hoverfly, which I think is a Volucella pellucens, but hoverflies are tricky to identify and I may well be wrong (this isn't the best lit photo after all), if you have a better id let me know in the comments.... Whatever it is, it's a very impressive hoverfly. Edited to add, my id has now been confimed thanks to the Facebook UK Hoverfly Group (which is well worth joining if you are interested in UK hoverflies!). You may also be interested in this guide to UK hoverflies.

Friday 17 July 2015

The Big Butterfly Count

The Big Butterfly Count starts today and between now and 9 August, offers nature lovers in the UK the opportunity to count and study butterflies and day flying moths. The information gathered will then be used to help conserve these insects.

To take part, count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (preferably sunny) weather between now and 9 August. If you're counting from a fixed position, you need to count the maximum number of each species that you see at a single time - so you don’t count the same butterfly more than once. If you're counting butterflies seen on a walk, then total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes. Then you fill in your sightings on the website here.

So, it's all very simple and Crafty Green Boyfriend and I hoped to see butterflies on our lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill. However, for most of the walk it was overcast and windy and only towards the end of the walk did the sun come out. We saw one butterfly, probably a ringlet, as it fluttered between the foxgloves.

It hasn't been a good year for butterflies so far, other than ringlets (the photo below shows a ringlet we saw on Corstorphine Hill last Friday, when several of them were fluttering around in the sunshine).

 We will be keeping our eyes open over the next couple of weeks!

Thursday 16 July 2015

The Bees by Laline Paull

Rabbits have Watership Down, badgers have Duncton Wood and now honey bees have The Bees, a wonderful novel by Laline Paull.

Flora 717 is born into the lowly rank of a cleaning bee and works her way up through the colony until she becomes a forager. During this time, the hive survives attacks from wasps, poisoning from pesticides, visits from the bee-keeper with the fumigation tools and even the coming of winter.

This is a real adventure story, with wonderful descriptions of the relationship between the forager bees and the flowers they feed on:

Flora pushed her own scent through her feet as she settled on the dark glossy leaves. The plant's citrus sweetness immediately brightened her senses and the fatigue of her journey fell away. 

At the same time the novel draws attention to some of the many problems bees face in today's world by presenting them as challenges the bees face in their life, rather than as ecological issues.

Paull has done a wonderful job of getting into the mind of a bee and imagining what it must be like to live in a colony where smell is the dominant sense and the hive works to a large extent as one organism, where the 'hive voice' over-rules individual desires and wishes.

My only criticism is that the book presents worker honey bees as being stuck in one category of work for all their lives, with only Flora 717 somehow escaping this fate and trying out all the tasks needed for a healthy hive. I'm sure this was done for dramatic reasons but in reality, each worker bee works her way through all the tasks as explained in this article from the Food and Agriculture Organisation

Regardless of that, this is an engrossing book that I'd definitely recommend to anyone interested in bees. I've always loved bees, but now every honey bee I see now is Flora and I wish her well. 

The Bees by Laline Paull published by Fourth Estate (2014)

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Mirror, mirror ..... in the bag

Recently a friend gave me a huge amount of scrap fabric to make repurpose into crafts. I love this thick purple satin fabric and it matches my little mirror really quite well (the colours are a better match in real life than they seem to be on the screen). The fabric was already hemmed so I just needed to measure and cut and sew a couple of seams!

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Pollinators Awareness Week

The wildflower verges along the John Muir walkway near Musselburgh are still absolutely beautiful and today rosebay willowherb is starting to bloom, adding its bright pink to the wonderful variety of colours on display (in these photos the red flowers are poppies and the yellow are tall melilot and there are some pale purple thistles in the background of the photo below)

The verges are also buzzing with the sound of bees, mostly white tailed / buff tailed bumble bees (I can't tell the difference between these two, I have to admit) but also some red tailed bumble bees, early bumblebees, common carder bees and honey bees.

It's wonderful to see so many bees, and in a place like this it's easy to forget that bees and other pollinator species are struggling to thrive, in many instances struglling to even survive.

Pollinators Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of the plight of our pollinators and to encourage people, private individuals and those responsible for public gardens and verges, to manage their land with an eye to the pollinators.

The top tips are:

a) Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees
b) Leave patches of ground to go wild
c) Cut grass less often
d) Avoid where possible disturbing insect nests or hibernation spots
e) Avoid pesticides and use natural methods of pest control

But also, I think it's so important to just get out there and spend some time with the bees and the flowers that they look after and appreciate how wonderful they are.

I'd also recommend reading The Bees, an amazing novel by Laline Paull, I'm reading it just now and will review it hopefully before the end of Pollinators Awareness Week.

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

Monday 13 July 2015

Lovely weather for snails

We've had quite a lot oif rain recently (though the Water of Leith is very low at the moment, so maybe it's not been raining as much as it feels it has!).

Anyway, it's perfect weather for snails today, dull and damp with occasional showers

I don't know what species of snails these are, but hopefully I soon will as I'll be attending a snail identification course with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust!

I'm not sure whether this red soldier beetle was enjoying the wet weather, though it's covered in raindrops (click on the photo for a closer view!)...

The water crowfoot is beautiful in bloom in the Gorgie stretch of the river

I had a lovely view of a kingfisher dashing downstream, that's three weeks in a row!

Saturday 11 July 2015

Loads of Toads

Yesterday, we read via the Edinburgh Natural History Society that thousands of toadlets had emerges over the past couple of days from Blackford Pond. So today we went along to see what we could see! The grass round the pond was moving with the toadlets and we had to rescue several of them from the path

and help them into the grass

Unfortunately if they keep moving on through this grassy area they come to a main road.....

It's very early for toadlets to be emerging, and I've no idea what prompted them!

We then walked into the Hermitage of Braid and were happy to find lots of ladybird larvae on the nettles

and this rather handsome small tortoiseshell caterpillar

and let's not forget the young jackdaws, just fledged and harrassing their parents for food (though they're behaving well in the photo!)

Also lovely to see lots of ringlet butterflies flitting round Midmar Paddock (which unfortunately may be built on if the current owner has their way.) There's a petition to save Midmar Paddock here).

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