Wednesday 31 July 2019

Canada Now Season at Edinburgh Filmhouse

I have only one complaint about the Filmhouse at the moment and that is that they are showing more excellent films than I really have time to see! One of their current seasons is Canada Now, which is screening a variety of films from Canada. I've seen two of them, which I review below.

Edge of the Knife is a Haida language film about pride, tragedy, and penance in a traditional community in Canada in the 19th century.

The story follows two communities (each speaking a different dialect of Haida) coming together to prepare for winter. The film shows in detail some aspects of their everyday tasks and rituals and how in tune they are with their natural environment. One day, tragedy strikes and a young man dies in a canoeing accident. Adiits’ii feels responsible for this and runs into the woodland where he is mentally and physically pushed to the brink and becomes Gaagiixiid/Gaagiid - the Haida Wildman.

The parts of the film that show  Adiits’ii in the woods are intense and disconcerting, but engrossing. Will his community be able to find him and help him to come to terms with his guilt and live among them again?

This is based on a traditional Haida story, an ideal vehicle for making a film in the Haida language.

The film has had a huge role in increasing the pride of the local communities in learning and speaking Haida which had only 20 native speakers before filming began. You can read about some of this process in this article on the BBC website.

It had one screening at Edinburgh Filmhouse recently but hopefully it will get more screenings in the future.

Wikipedia has an interesting page about the development of this film

For those who Don't Read Me is an entertaining, moving story inspired by the life and work of the Québécois poet Yves Boisvert. As the film opens he is shown struggling to keep a roof over his head and essentially drifting from poetry club to bar to friend's house. He starts a relationship with Dyanne but struggles to get on with her son Marc.

The film is beautifully made and very amusing while making some intelligent comments on trying to make it as a poet or other creative and about running a small press.

You can read more about the Canada Now season here.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Painted Ladies everywhere plus nature surveys

There are painted lady butterflies everywhere in Edinburgh at the moment, every street seems to have a painted lady fluttering along, even when there seem to be no flowers around at all.

The Painted Lady is a long-distance migrant, giving rise to the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in this country. Every year, it travels from the desert fringes of North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, recolonising continental Europe and reaching the British Isles. Sometimes, like this year, there are loads of them. I took these photos furing an early lunch in Inverleith Park, I tried to get different views of them to show their beautiful patterns

 The photo below is my favourite as it shows the long tongue, curled up, which you should be able to see clearly if you click on the photo to enlarge it. I entered these records into the Big Butterfly Count - if you've seen any butterflies recently you can enter your records here.

I was also happy to see several common blue damselflies in the grass (my first for the year)

and this sweet family of mallards on the pond

I was also delighted to see a group of 20 or so swifts flying very low around a corner of Stockbridge. (This is the first time I've seen them flying so low in this area of town though there are always a couple flying high in Stockbridge at this time of year). Three of the swifts flew into and out of three different nest sites, which was lovely to see. I entered those sightings into the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) swift survey, which you can find out about here. Like painted ladies, swifts are long distance migrants to this country and they are declining in numbers and this RSPB survey wants to try to help understand what is causing this. So if you see any swifts please consider filling in this survey!

Monday 29 July 2019

Fight for Scotland's Nature

antler moth, Craiglockart Dell

Scotland has some wonderful nature, beautiful landscapes with a variety of interesting wildlife habitats and great variety of animals and plants living here.

But nature here, as it is everywhere is under threat from climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and a whole host of other issues, including in Scotland, the threat of losing large parts of our environmental protections when we leave the European Union. (You can read about how the EU helps nature in my post on the topic here).

37 environmental charities from across Scotland have come together to ‘Fight for Scotland’s Nature’ and gather support for a Scottish Environment Act. They are currently asking people across Scotland to contact Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of the Scottish Government to tell her why they think Scotland's nature is important. The prime method they're asking people to use seems to be Twitter (which is great, if you're on Twitter!), though if you're not on Twitter I'm sure an email to Ms Sturgeon or a letter would work just as well, though not so publicly. You can find out more about how to contact the first minister on her website.

I tweeted the First Minister earlier today from my Crafty Green Poet account and from my second account. I had wanted to embed the tweets in this blogpost but technology failed me so you'll just need to hop over to Twitter to see them!

The idea of the campaign is to get as many people in Scotland as possible tweeting the First Minister with reasons why they love nature. So if you're in Scotland and on Twitter, please consider joining in!

Saturday 27 July 2019

Wasp vs Spider

I should have included this in my previous blogpost but as an interesting observation it probably merits a post to itself.

Yesterday while walking round Corstorphine Hill I noticed this spider lying dead on the path

then I noticed this wasp, which seemed to be dancing around the spider

Then the wasp picked up the spider and dragged it into the undergrowth. It seemed obvious that the wasp had attached the spider in the first place but why had it seemed to be dancing? I wondered whether it was signalling to other wasps in the area to call them to help carry the spider? I shared the observation on the Edinburgh Natural History Society Facebook Page where someone told me that the wasp is a solitary species so wouldn't be signalling to other wasps but there doesn't seem to be a known reason why it would seem to be dancing. Apparently the wasp would have injected the spider with venom to kill it. It's always interesting to see this kind of thing happening!


I also should have included this cute little ladybird in the previous blogpost too


Meanwhile today has seen constant, sometimes torrential rain, but at least the snails are happy

Friday 26 July 2019

Big Butterfly Count

Corstorphine Hill is a great place to spot butterflies, so as I often do, I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend up there this lunchtime.

We started in this meadow

where we saw a good selection of butterflies: 10 large white, 2 painted ladies, 2 meadow browns,

2 ringlets, a red admiral and a small tortoiseshell

We walked over the hill,

picking a few raspberries as we went and enjoying the rosebay willowherb

A buzzard soared overhead

and on the southern edge of the hill we noticed there were lots of connabar moth caterpillers on the ragwort (though none on the ragwort on other parts of the hill, we wondered why that would be!)

On that plant if you look carefully you will also see: red soldier beetles, a ladybird larva and a fly. Nearby there were several large white butterflies and a meadow brown.

The song thrush's anvil has been well used recently

I sometimes wonder why song thrushes are in decline when there never seems to be a shortage of snails, their favourite food.

We will record all our butterfly sightings in the Big Butterfly Count which runs until 11 August.

Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for taking the photos of butterflies, rosebay willowherb and buzzard.

High Summer in the Botanic Gardens

Yesterday was ridiculously hot. Thankfully the nature writing class I was leading was meeting in the Royal Botanic Gardens, a place with lots of shady spots under the many beautiful trees.

I wandered around taking photos before class started. I was particularly wanting people to write about detail and thought that lichens would be a good subject to use to think about that, particularly as the Botanic Gardens has a dedicated lichen trail (which I first blogged about here).

This Xanthoria lichen is on a poplar tree, which is part of the lichen trail

I love the yellow colour which is also mirrored in the pictorial meadow outside the glasshouses

There were a few bees, wasps and hoverflies in amongst these flowers, though not as many as I had expected.

The Botanic Gardens have a lot of wonderful trees, including this dead horse chestnut, which has been left to stand as a habitat for invertebrates.

The gardens are also home to many birds including this family of moorhens (how many of them can you see?)

 It was lovely to sit in the shade of a tree and write about all the wonderful nature around us. It would have been unbearable heat without the trees to sit under. Already too hot to enjoy and that it's only going to get worse as climate chaos really sets in.

Thursday 25 July 2019

Nature in unexpected places

This lovely moth was sitting on the door-frame of a friend's flat when I visited the other day.
 It's got a lovely pattern to its wings and a sweet fluffy looking head.

I shared the photo in the Edinburgh Natural History Society Facebook group and someone told me it's a map winged swift.I looked this up and found that it's a fairly unusual moth to find in an urban area, but apparently it's near the end of it's life and may in fact have blown in on the wind. It was a wonderful surprise to find it.

If you keep your eyes open you never know what you might find even in the most unexpected places!

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Tell it to the Bees - film review

Set in a small Scottish town in the nineteen fifties, Tell It To The Bees is the story of Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) whose father, returned from the war a changed man, walks out on his marriage. Charlie's mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger) works all the hours she can in a mill to try to keep a roof over their heads.

Jean (Anna Paquin) has returned to the village to take over her dead father's medical practice. She treats Charlie after he is hurt by bullies at his school and introduces him to her bees. She encourages him to tell his secrets to the bees and he starts keeping a nature diary based on his observations of the hives. 

Charlie's friendship with the doctor leads to his mother becoming friends with Jean too. When Lydia is threatened with eviction, Jean offers her a job as her live in housekeeper. The two women find themselves drawn into an intense friendship which develops into a sexual relationship. But gossip travels quickly in a small town and lesbian relationships weren't considered normal in the 1950s so the new household that the three are creating together is threatened right from the beginning. 

The bees are present throughout, as confidants to Charlie and playing an important role in the plot at one point too. 

It's in many ways an excellent film, the main characters and their relationships are believable (though Paquin's Scottish accent slightly less so) and the story sheds a light on the repressive attitudes of a 1950s small town community.

This is based on the novel by Fiona Shaw, though the ending has been changed (If you've seen the film, you may like this excellent article by Shaw about what she thinks of the ending).

Tell it to the Bees is screening at the Filmhouse until Thursday 25 July. 

Cross posted to my Shapeshifting Green blog here.

Monday 22 July 2019

Edinburgh City Council signed the Tree Charter, now what?

I've blogged before about how Edinburgh Council has mistreated trees and chopped down trees that probably shouldn't have been chopped down (for example did all those trees at Meadowbank need to be destroyed so a new, smaller sports centre with added flats could be built? Did all those trees in Princes Street Gardens need to be destroyed to create a disabled access pathway to the Galleries? Did all those trees at Picardy Place need to be detroyed just so the junction can be made easier for motor vehicles?).

Theoretically this should all change now, as Council Leader Adam MacVey, on behalf of Edinburgh City Council, signed up to the Woodland Trust's Tree Charter in May this year, becoming the first Scottish council to do so. This is obviously to be applauded.

However I wouldn't be the only person to be cynical about this. Just as addressing climate change needs targets to be met not only set, so does signing the Tree Charter need to be backed up with positive action to actually protect trees.

But what do we find? We find that actions in city centre areas continue to compromise the health of trees.

Last year during preparations for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the trees in Charlotte Square were put under undue stress by being used to prop up heavy materials and by the use of machinery which compacted the soil around the trees. The Woodland Trust  have urged Edinburgh Council to take better care of the trees this year when the Book Festival is set up again in August. Already this year, the big wheel in Princes Street Gardens has already been set up and the inappropriate development around the matures trees has been flagged up by Woodland Trust and other concerned organisations and individuals (see this tweet).

The Woodland Trust are asking the council if one of the tree officers will advise those working on events in the city to respect the appropriate guidance for managing developments around trees during both the set up and take down of any structures.  

The Tree Charter principle on planning greener local landscapes stipulates that planners and developers respect the value of mature trees and the connection between trees and people. 

Mature trees are beautiful, help people to connect with nature and help mitigate the effects of climate change in urban areas. What does the big wheel in Edinburgh's city centre offer that has even half that value? 

So, Edinburgh Council, are you going to actually commit to truly valuing the wonderful trees in our city or was signing up to the Tree Charter just a publicity stunt? 

Friday 19 July 2019

A walk in the park for Love Parks Week

It's Love Parks Week this week. I'd already planned today's trip to Inverleith Park with a nature writing class before I realised this but it was a nice tie in. We walked along the Water of Leith from Stockbridge Library to get to the park and then some people sat in the Sundial Garden with its formal beds of flowers and others went down to the pond. People wrote some beautiful pieces about the park area.

Before the class I had walked a different stretch of the Water of Leith to get to Stockbridge Library. The water crowfoot looks wonderful at the moment

Last week due to high turbulent water after heavy rains, the plant had been entirely underwater and no flowers had been visible. Amazing how much everything can change in a week.

The Anthony Gormley statue has been reinstated near the Stockbridge

The local kingfisher has adopted this statue as it's new fishing perch (see this blogpost on the Water of Leith Website) but I didn't see a kingfisher here today.Though I was delighted to see two kingfishers the other day on the river near the Gallery of Modern Art.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Fun with Collage

Yesterday I went to the excellent Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art 2 (you can read my review of the exhibition here).

I came back from the exhibition inspired and spent the evening creating my own collages. Although I admire many different types of collages, I like to keep the ones I make simple (too many collage elements can look really cluttered unless you really know what you're doing). I make a lot of greetings cards, many of which are decorated with simple collages. All my collages incorporate cuttings from magazines and other small upcycled paper elements.

Last night though I wanted to experiment a little. The collages are still very simple but are unlikely to adorn greetings cards. Taking inspiration from the history of political protest and commentary in collage art I made some, like the one below to make a point about disappearing seabirds

Then I made a series with the faces cut out and replaced with a grid like pattern, to represent the anonymous aspect to certain elements of modern life, this one is the best I think

and some I made just for fun

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Cut and Paste - 400 Years of Collage

If you're at all interested in collage, Cut and Paste is a wonderful exhibition to see and it won't be touring so you need to catch it in Edinburgh.

Spread over 5 rooms in the Gallery of Modern Art 2 this collection of collage gives a concise, informative and inspiring history of the art form.

The exhibition casts its net wide in its interpretation of collage, including crazy patchwork, decoupaged vases and collections of memorabilia. But the focus is on collage as most widely understood, art made with paper and other items (including buttons, metal and even in one case a starfish) glued onto card or another base.

The original collages were often just accidental, in that the artist added paper to an artwork that had gone wrong and corrected it on the new paper.

Collage really came into its own in the Victorian period with the fashion for scrapbooking, card making and the like. In the 1850s you could buy kits to make your own collages, with all the small pieces required to dress your characters etc. A precursor to the sticker books that are still popular today.

In the Victorian period, collage was almost entirely an amateur pursuit. Later though it developed into a genre of art used by world renowned artists including Picasso and Matisse. It still remains a very accessible, democratic form of art that can be enjoyed by those of us who can't paint or draw with any degree of expertise.

Collage has often been used as an indicator of artistic rebellion, being used by artists to protest wars, repressive regimes and the patriarchy. Pictures on display include a couple of the Merz collages by dissident German artist Kurt Schwitters and Fish Circus by Eileen Agar. Ther are also a couple of videos, including Carolee Schneeman making herself into a living collage with stills of the results of her collage which are protests against the Vietnam War. Add in the priceless reactions of her cat and this is a remarkable video. Towards the end of the exhibition you can see collaged mock ups of the set for Terry Gilliam's brilliant and weird film Brazil.

Cut and Paste is showing until Sunday 27 October at Gallery of Modern Art 2, Belford Road. Full price tickets start at £11. Concessions are available.

The Gallery of Modern Art 1 across the road contains a number of free exhibitions.

When you have experienced enough art for the day, both galleries have fine cafes and both are situated right by the Water of Leith. If you're very lucky (as I was) you will see kingfishers flying around (this is one of their favourite spots along the river).

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Make the Most of the Coast - National Marine Week


 Bottlenose dolphins by Harry Hog (used by permission of the Wildlife Trusts)
In the UK, we are never more than 70 miles from the coast. National Marine Week runs from 27th July to 11th August 2019 (actually a fortnight to allow us to take advantage of the changing tides) and showcases the wonderful wildlife around the UK's seas and coasts.

There's loads going on across the country, including rockpool rambles, dolphin and whale watching and seashore safaris (find out what's happening near you here).  During the fortnight, organisers The Wildlife Trusts will also launch a new version of their popular citizen science project – Shoresearch.  You can find out more about this exciting initiative here - there are several surveys you can take part in to help scientists find out more about marine and seashore life. The data collected through Shoresearch will help experts monitor our fragile sea life and better understand the effects of pollution, climate change and invasive alien species.

The Wildlife Trusts have also published a range of colourful seaside spotter guides and marine activity sheets to help all ages enjoy and protect the beach and rock pools. These include guides to marine megafauna, seabirds, jellyfish, how to reduce your plastic use and even how to make your own basking shark from a discarded plastic bottle!

The Wildlife Trusts recently welcomed the news that the Government is designating a third phase of new Marine Conservation Zones bringing the total to 91 of these specially protected underwater landscapes around our shores. 

There are 46 individual Wildlife Trusts across the UK, working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone.  The trusts have more than 850,000 members including 150,000 members of the junior branch Wildlife Watch.  Their vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas.  They run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. 

Monday 15 July 2019

The Larch tree and other things in the Dells

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that back in 2014 I studied a larch tree in Craiglockart Dell for Tree Following. You can see from this post how I recorded the development of the flower into a cone over the course of a year, and in March this year I photographed a larch flower at an earlier stage than I'd ever been able to before. I feel as though I know this larch tree pretty well, so was quite sad to see this last week

the larch tree is covered in a white messy substance. When I showed the photo to Crafty Green Boyfriend he guessed it might be some sort of moth but someone from the Edinburgh Natural History Society's Facebook group said it is caused by wool aphids, which don't harm the tree to any serious extent, though they do make it look weird.

Sure enough this week I saw the aphids themselves - you can see them hanging from the branch in the centre of the photo below with more of the white stuff on the right.

Hopefully the larch ladybirds which are supposed to be active at the moment will come along and eat these aphids, though I saw no sign of any types of ladybird today.

I took a photo of one of this year's young cones on the larch

Meanwhile in the orchard / meadow area near Redhall Walled Garden, a couple of common spotted orchids are in bloom,

they can be quite elusive here, even though in the meadow at the other end of the Dells they are regularly present in large number.

The lime (linden) trees are also in bloom and smell wonderful

I was delighted to see a Leucozonia glaucia hoverfly (a species which is rarely seen in Edinburgh except here, by me). I like the shadows in this photo too.

Also I was pleased to be able to capture this distinctive looking wasp on film, it was very active,

I think it's Haemorrhoicus crassigena but am waiting for confirmation on that.

The wildflower meadows in Spylaw Park are looking beautiful at the moment

just in time for Love Parks Week!

Friday 12 July 2019

Lunchtime up Corstorphine HIll

I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend at lunchtime today for a walk round Corstorphine HIll (which is so near his place of work that he walks round the hill most days!).

Many of the umbellifers are covered in red soldier beetles

And the common spotted orchids are looking lovely in the marshy area

Yesterday, on a guided walk I was leading along the Water of Leith in Stockbridge, we came across this ladybird, which is an unusual colour variant of the 2 spot ladybird (more commonly seen in its red form with two black spots)