Tuesday 31 October 2017

Garden Drama

Sparrow-hawk falls from the sky
precision hunter, yellow eyes staring defiance,
pummels sparrow to extinction.

Domestic cat, disturbed by her internal tiger
leaps from the path with outstretched paws
wondering what is tiger for?

Sparrow-hawk sees only predator with claws
flies off, concedes defeat
returns to a hungry nest.

Overfed cat plays with sparrow, walks away,
tiger stripes blurring in her mind

to shimmering flames of domestic fire.

Continuing to repost old poems, this one was published on the blog back in 2008.

Sunday 29 October 2017

The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

I was immediately drawn into this novel by the relationship that Vince has with a blackbird that visits his garden and how he tempts the bird to finally brave coming into the house. It reminded me of my mother and her favourite blackbird that she used to feed.

However, things for Vince are a lot more complicated than just feeding the local birds like a caring birdwatcher. Vince has just stopped taking his lithium, he's haunted by the ghost of their first child and Lyd, his physicist partner is pregnant again.

This is a brilliant book, totally engrossing, a roller coaster ride of emotions that never veers out of the author's control (though it is clear that Vince is losing control of his life....). I particularly love the descriptions of Vince's relationship with the blackbirds:

"I slide the patio door shut and pull a chair away from the kitchen table, wrap my hands around a cup of coffee and watch the white lawn. Within seconds a blackbird arrives and then another. Soon there are nearly a dozen of them fluttering about, raising tiny clouds of hoar frost and trying to win a few moments on top of one of the sultana clumps. I'm not sure how long I sit watching them, but for the first time in a long time, I experience thecreative glimmer of a new idea.

After  a couple of minutes the idea is outshining my interest in the birds so I venture upstairs to my writing desk."

Mental health, grief, paranoia, dysfunctional families and barely functional friendships plus nature make for a wonderful mix in Wilven's debut novel. Can't wait to see what he writes next!

The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven published by Legend Press (2016)

Friday 27 October 2017

Up the HIll

I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for his lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill today (He works just near the hill, so can walk round it most lunchtimes!). The weather had really warmed up from the early cold start and the trees were looking lovely in the sun

There's also a lot of fungi around, including this lovely patch of turkey tail

Thursday 26 October 2017

The Secret Garden

Today's writing group from the Ripple Project spontaneously had a trip out to the nearby Lochend Community Growing Project's Secret Garden as one of the group members was involved in an event at the garden.

It's a lovely garden, tucked away between houses

with lots of raised beds that the members cultivate and decorate

There's a wonderful pizza oven for cooking and baking

and a lovely cosy corner for chatting in

We took part in a plant pot decorating workshop, which involved spray paint, and in my case, haiku

The second haiku reads

autumn garden
the lingering scent
of lavender

We also drank tea and ate some lovely vegan chocolate cake made by one of the garden members.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Losing Touch

The taste of the rain changes
losing the tang of salt
to take on the edge of metal

Glaciers crack like gunshots
as they crash down mountains
to flood the valleys.

Dazzling heat burns
migraines into tired heads
blurs our vision.

Darkness no longer smells
of honeysuckle
but of death.

Originally posted in 2006 for the Poetry Thursday theme of synaesthesia

Tuesday 24 October 2017


The populations of many seabirds are in decline around the world, but now there is a way you can help!

Zooniverse, a citizen science web portal has launched a new project, Seabirdwatch!  Camera traps have been set up around the north Atlantic to take thousands of photos of kittiwakes and guillemots, two of the sea bird species that are in decline.

Seabirdwatch invites you to take part in counting these seabirds to help scientists understand population trends. So, visit the website, where after a quick tutorial, you'll be asked to identify and click on images of birds and their chicks.

This is a great way to join in seabird conservation and involves no hanging on ropes off dangerous sea cliffs and no bobbing about in small boats on choppy seas! 

I found out about this project through Autumnwatch, which started a new series last night. It's always well worth watching whether you're new to watching nature or you're a seasoned naturalist.

Monday 23 October 2017

Notes from a birdwatching walk

Several fieldfares, flying around, calling loudly above the streets. I watched them with delight but they had flown before the birdwatching group arrived.

One treecreeper spiralling its way up the tree, from the back its variegated brown plumage lets it blend in with the tree trunk, from the side, though, its white tummy isvery visible.

One kestrel hovering very low to the top of the hill. By the time we had climbed the hill though, hoping for a better view, the kestrel had entirely disappeared!

Three male bullfinches, lined up in a row in the top branches of a bush, their dark pink breasts glowing beautifully.

One female bullfinch, disappearing into another bush, from where she called constantly, a quiet call.

Blue tits, robins and wrens everywhere!

Easter Craiglockart Hill this morning.

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

Friday 20 October 2017

Autumnal Reflections

It's a beautiful day today, very warm for the time of year which is pleasant though worrying from a climate change perspective. (It's been a very warm autumn so far this year). Musselburrgh Boating Pond looks wonderful.

for Weekend Reflections

Meanwhile in the hides, all the birds and the roe deer were too far away to photograph with any meaningful results, but this little slug posed nicely for me! (Is it a young leopard slug?)

Thursday 19 October 2017

Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

Animals in Translation by Catherine  Johnson

Subtitled 'the woman who thinks like a cow' this is a fascinating book about animal behaviour. Temple Grandin has autism and has used her different way of seeing the world as a way into understanding animals.

Temple Grandin is an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She has worked in the meat processing industry, helping to make slaughter houses more humane. As a vegetarian I didn't find this part of the book the easiest to read, but I have to admit that so many people are meat eaters who will never give up eating meat that it is vital that slaughter houses are made more humane. Also it is fascinating to read how the author thinks her way into the cow's mind, how it perceives the world and how it can be made to feel calmer and less threatened.

The rest of the book looks at all kinds of animals, how they learn and how they relate to humans and whether the ways in which animals communicate can be considered to be true language, including the story of Alex the parrot, who seemed to be able to genuinely communicate and learn quicker than his owners and trainers expected . She outlines what makes dogs so good at being helper animals (particularly their sense of smell!) and how best to train dogs to increase their chances of growing up into well behaved, calm pets or working dogs (and she's a great believer in dogs working to give them a purpose in life!). The author constantly compares her own way of thinking as a person with autism to the way that animals think.

All in all this is a fascinating book, whether your main interest is in autism in humans or in animal behaviour.

Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson published by Bloomsbury

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Autumn Red (a poem)

the early turning leaves of maple and cherry

slanting light glances
on rosehips
and five shades of rowan berries

the last poppy splashed
against ochre grass

the minor key
of robin's autumn song

first posted September 2008

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Plastic is #NotWhaleFood

Every year, over 5 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans.

Plastic pollution poses a serious problem for the creatures who live in the oceans.

According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation,  56% of all whale and dolphin species have been recorded eating marine plastics that they've mistaken for food. In a 2006 report, Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans, Greenpeace stated that over 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris in the oceans. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says that plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals every year, along with millions of birds and fishes. That's a lot of death in the oceans.

Plastic that is ingested can then block the animal's stomach and intestines causing it to slowly starve or find it's way into their brains, where it can change their behaviour. Often parent birds and turtles are seen trying to feed their offspring with plastic debris.

Plastic is #NotWhaleFood. We need to use less plastic and dispose more carefully of that we do use.

Here's a very long article from Coastal Care on the issue

Meanwhile, Whale and Dolphin Conservation are asking people to join their #NotWhaleFood campaign, you can find out more here or take part on Twitter

Monday 16 October 2017


for the hurricane -
yellow skies


The tail end of Hurricane Ophelia is sweeping through Ireland at the moment and will reach Scotland in the next day or so, though probably will be downgraded to a storm by then

Sunday 15 October 2017

Not Just Black and White

Yesterday, I shared a blog post showing a selection of the reds and oranges in Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens. Those weren't however the only colours on display. It's easy to think of the magpie as purely a black and white bird, but in the right light, its feathers are wonderfully irridescent, thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo

Saturday 14 October 2017

Autumnal reds and oranges in the Botanic Gardens

Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens are lovely in the autumn! One of the highlights of today's trip was seeing several fly agaric toadstools. These poisonous toadstools are very beautiful to look at

Meanwhile in the cafe garden, this robin was defending the returned tray trolley as if it were his home territory. When there are lots of trays on the trolley there's often a lot of food for the birds and they sometimes squabble over the crumbs, a territory worth fighting over!

and several red admirals were feeding on the scabious!

and this prowling cat tried to blend in with the fallen leaves

Friday 13 October 2017

Autumn Colours and Fungi in the Dells

It's a warm and damp autumn day today and it looked beautiful in Colinton and Craiglockart Dells by the Water of  Leith.

I took quite a lot of photos of fungi as the Water of Leith Conservation Trust are leading a fungi walk round the Dells next week and wanted me to help them find out where the best fungi are at the moment.

The puffballs on the mossy wall up above Colinton weir are looking great at the moment

there's lot of candlesnuff around at the moment, I took this photo in Spylaw Park

and some funnel caps have suddenly appeared

Honey fungus is never good to see (as it kills trees) but is totally fascinating for the way that it displays its mycelia once the tree starts falling apart, there are no fruiting bodies at the moment, just the mass of black mycelia

Then there are more fungi, which I'll need to check out to identify them.....

Wednesday 11 October 2017

My Natural History by Simon Barnes

My Natural History by Simon Barnes

Subtitled 'The animal kingdom and how it shaped me' this is a memoir from Simon Barnes (author of many nature books including How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher.)

Barnes picks out a number of encounters with nature throughout his life and details how they helped him both get closer to nature and to come to terms with that part of his life. How animals helped him find meaning when he was bullied at school, helped him cope with teenage boredom, shaped his career and helped him raise his family.

As in all his books, this is full of enthusiasm for the natural world, though there are more specifically human concerns in this book than in the others of his I've read. There are some really moving moments too, especially the chapter about how Barnes' son Eddie (who has Down's Syndrome) loves tigers, but also the family dog:

'Our dog Gabriel, a black labrador bitch, helped shape Eddie's universe. A deep joy in  Eddie's life was to curl up alongside her in her basket. ...She has scarcely uttered a cross word in Eddie's direction, never once snapped: only occasionally when the ear-pulling and tail tugging became too oppressive, she would sighand walk into another room.  Because of Gabe, Eddie knew he was living in a world full of kind and generous creatures.'

This is a lovely book, showing how nature can influence our lives.

My Natural History by Simon Barnes published by Short Books.

You can read my other reviews of Barnes' books by following the links below:

How to be Wild.

Birdwatching with your Eyes Closed

Tuesday 10 October 2017

How to Fly

You have rid yourself of the panic of vertigo?

Good, then choose a plateau, high and flat
Stand on the edge facing out
Close your eyes, stretch up and raise your arms high
Brace your body for the wind from behind

Think yourself into the shape of a swift
(the most aerial of birds)

If this is a dream, the wind will lift you
to soar above the forests and rivers
your veins delight in the excitement
as you dive and corner
swoop and circle with the swifts

And if this is not a dream?

Keep your feet on the ground
and enjoy the breeze in your hair.

reposting this poem from 2011, which I wrote in response to this prompt over on 26N, a great little prompt site, which was never used as much as it should have been and is now sadly defunct.... 

Monday 9 October 2017

Scotland's Wild Lands

Scotland's wild lands are home to rare wildlife, and offer places where nature can be conserved into the future. The distinctive landscapes, ecology and geology of our wild lands draw thousands of visitors each year, while the vast peatlands act as a carbon store, helping to protect against the extremes of climate change.

In recent years developers have been targeting these special places as possible sites for industrial-scale wind farms. While wind farms in general are a good thing as they contribute towards renewable energy targets, they need to be put in the right places. The wild lands of Scotland are not the right place for large windfarms for three reasons:

windfarms in these areas damage the ability of peatlands to act as carbon stores
they damage the habitats for rare wildlife and can directly kill birds of prey and bats
and they would require extensive cabling to link them up with the population centres that will use the power

The most recent large scale windfarm to be given permission is Creag Riabhach, near Altnaharra in the far north of Scotland. This will see 22-turbines up to 125m tall, five within Wild Land Area 37 and is the first time permission has been given for a development within the boundaries of an official "Wild Land Area." Scottish Government decisions on a number of other major wind farms that would damage wild land are also due.

The John Muir Trust is campaining to protect Scotland's wild lands from inappropriate large scale wind farm developments. You can find out more here

Friday 6 October 2017

Signs of Autumn

It's a beautiful autumnal day today. It started with a real chill in the air, but warmed up. I made my weekly visit to Colinton and Craiglockart Dell today (later in the week than usual due to teaching commitments!). The autumn colours are really beginning to show now

 though some of the trees are still very green
I love the hornbeams at this time of year, their chandelier style fruits are particularly beautiful as they start to change colour

Hornbeams are only native to the south of the UK and were planted along the Water of Leith as their very hard wood was ideal to be used in building mill wheels back in the days when this area was full of mills.

The puff balls look beautiful in the autumnal light

The ivy is starting to bloom and attracting pollinators such as this Eristalis sp hoverfly

The woods were full of the sound of robins singing their winter song.

Just as I was leaving the Dells I had a wonderful view of a kingfisher dashing upstream, a blur of turquoise and orange.....

Thursday 5 October 2017

Library Cat by Alex Howard

Library Cat: The Observations of a Thinking Cat

Library Cat is the cat of Edinburgh University's library. He patrols the central University area, chasing mice, allowing students to stroke him, eating pizza and searching for the ever elusive and enticingly beautiful Puddle Cat. But, because he is a thinking cat, he also thinks about the meaning of life, muses on why humans are so foolish and ponders the work of Nietzsche.

In this lovely book, illustrated with photos of Library Cat in his many moods (thoughtful, pensive, curious) the reader gets an insight into how this feline sees the world, how he feels humans are getting it all wrong for themselves and in their relationships with cats. We also get to meet his sophisticated French cousin Biblio Chat and his down to earth English cousin Saaf Landan Tom.

It's a lovely book to read, one that starts off very light hearted but that becomes increasingly  philosophical as it goes on.

My ambition now is to meet Library Cat, so I'll need to find an excuse to spend more time near the University library!

Library Cat by Alex Howard published by Black and White Publishing (2016)

Edited to add, I've just found out that Library Cat went missing soon after this book was published! There is now a new Library Cat...

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Of Frogs and Poetry

Frog, Waving

On a rock in a river that rushes and glides
down a beautiful lonely mountainside
the last wild golden frog waves*
trying to attract himself a mate.

The biologist starts to daydream
as she walks along the mountain stream -
she remembers visiting this place before
there were frogs everywhere then, she's sure!

She wants to leave the frog here in its home
but she can't do that because she knows
to save it she has to take the frog away
from the deadly fungus coming this way.

The biologist feels there is so little hope
as she walks down the now less golden slope
to the frog hospital where lined up in cages
the last golden frogs sit quietly and wave.

* The male golden frog waves its front legs to warn off other males and to attract females. 

I'm reposting this poem, which got an honourable mention in the Save the Frogs Poetry Competition 2012.

Monday 2 October 2017

More Earrings in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

(I had meant to post this a while ago but for some reason overlooked it!)

I bought a box full of beads and other jewellery supplies from a second hand shop in Dumfries, while we were there recently. Included in the box were a lot of lovely leaf shaped pendants, which turned out to be ideal to make into earrings. So that's what I've started doing!

I've made several of the plain leaf earrings, which are now for sale in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop here. There's only one each of the other designs, which are in the shop here and here.

Using second hand jewellery supplies is a way of recycling items that other people don't want and avoids waste. All earring hooks are new, for hygiene purposes, and are purchased from the local bead supply store.