Saturday 24 August 2019

Easter Craiglockart Hill on a hot summer's day

It's been very hot and humid today! We went for a walk round Easter Craiglockart Hill, taking advantage of the shade of the trees in the woodland and the cooling breezes on the open top of the hill. It's a lovely place to walk

first you walk uphill through the woodlands, then you reach the top where you get lovely views across the gold course to the Pentland Hills

We also walked into the grounds of Craighouse. These historical buildings have served as a hospital and later an University campus and are currently being converted into housing, with new buildings been built too.

There's been a lot of controversy over the plans for this, and the end result will probably still be at least slightly controversial, but the agreement between the developer and the council leaves some green space to be enjoyed by the local people, including the orchard area

There are wonderful views from here too, looking over Edinburgh to the distinctive hill of Arthurs Seat

There's plenty of wildlife to see around here too including this chequered ten-spot ladybird

We then walked around Craiglockart Pond where the resident mute swans have youngsters, only two of which were available for this photo call

 the moorhens also have young - this one is almost grown up

around the pond there were lots of spiders

including this hunting spider

After lunch we continued our walk along the canal, where there were lots of pond skaters and tiny fish (though I don't think any of the fish are visible in the photo below)

We also met this lovely friendly kitten with no tail

Thursday 22 August 2019

Butterflies and other insects

I hadn't been to Musselburgh for a while so was glad to get there today for a walk along the John Muir Walkway and to the hides at Levenhall.

There were plenty of birds to see, including lots of sandwich terns, several red breasted mergansers, redshanks (including possibly a spotted redshank that has been seen here recently, but I wasn't sure I spotted it) and a pectoral sandpiper.

So it was a great day for birding.

It was also a great day for butterflies! Up on the grassland there was one spot where there were quite a few butterflies dancing around including this painted lady

and this peacock

while in the small wooded area near the hides there were several speckled woods
 The wind was quite high so I didn't get many photos of hoverflies, but I was pleased to capture this long hoverfly alongside a bumble bee (not sure to be honest whether it's a buff / white tailed bumble bee or some sort of cuckoo bee. Anyone know?)

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Nan Shepherd : From Flaneur to Fiver

Nan Shepherd (1893-1981), was part of the 20th century Scottish Literary Renaissance, overlooked in her lifetime but who now features on the Scottish Five Pound note. She was a mountaineer and poet and I've come across several quotes from her work in recent months so was instantly interested when I saw the poster outside the Scottish Poetry Library advertising this event. 

Nan Shepherd : From Flaneur to Fiver is a sideways look at Nan's life and work presented by
Erlend Clouston, who shares Nan's literary executorship with his sister Deirdre and brothers John and Magnus. Nan's life is briefly presented in the context of the history of the times she lived through and with reference to some of her interests, particularly Eastern spirituality. While Erlend give the lecture, he is occasionally interrupted by actors planted in the audience who offer commentary from historical personages. There is also music, ranging from folk tunes to Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit.  I'm not sure what the latter really has to do with Nan Shepherd but it's a very atmospheric song and gave Erlend an excuse to don a white rabbit mask. 

It's an entertaining show, not an academic lecture (which is what the person next to me was apparently expecting). 

Nan Shepherd: From Flaneur to Fiver is showing at the Scottish Poetry Library tonight and tomorrow. It's selling out fast, so if you're thinking of going, it's a good idea to get your ticket in advance. Tickets can be bought here.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Lovely weather for hoverflies!

I'm leading some guided nature walks round Saughton Park on the open day on 31 August

and as the last time I did this was before the park's wonderful transformation I thought I would visit and plan a route to make the best of the transformed space.

I know that the route will start at the gate near this bridge

as this is where the otter is often seen. I'm them going to take the group around the perimeter of the park as it follows the Water of Leith, as this is the wildest part of the park. Then to cut into the walled garden to visit the Physic Garden,

 which is full of medicinal herbs, many of which attract pollinators, such as this Syrphus hoverfly in the Evening Primrose

and then my plan fell apart and I decided that after the Physic Garden we'll go where we feel like going on the day. There are so many options!

The perimeter of the sports ground is planted with wild flowers

which at the moment are dancing with hoverflies, including more Myathropa florea than I've ever seen in one place before. (I just found out that this hoverfly is sometimes called the Batman hoverfly).

Back inside the more formal part of the park, there are signs of approaching autumn everywhere

and loads more hoverflies, including this peid hoverfly (Scaevea pyrastri)

The colours are glorious at the moment

and the plants starting to seed are beautiful too

It's a beautiful park and well worth a visit. There will be lots happening on the 31st, so if you're in Edinburgh do try to come along! There will be guided walks (nature walks lead by me, plus history walks and horticultural walks), a gardener's question time, live music from local bands, a teddy bear hunt for the children, play activities throughout the park, a raffle, plus of course tea, coffee and cake. If you bring along your own mug then you get a discount on hot drinks.

The event is free and the public will be able to access all areas of the park during the event.


For Nature Notes

Monday 19 August 2019

Long weekend walk Edinburgh to South Queensferry

On Saturday we walked from Cramond Brig to South Queensferry through the Dalmeny Estate and along the coast. It's a walk that really benefits from good weather partly as it is so long and there's nowhere to stop off for coffee and partly because it can be a very good walk for seeing butterflies if the sun is out. On Saturday it started raining almost as soon as we started the walk but soon cleared up and we had sunshine most of the way, though not really very many butterflies.

Here are some of the views from the walk

a view across to Cramond Island 

a view across to an island that was built up to look like a warship to fool the German navy during the Second World War.

There were a lot of sandwich terns in South Queensferry and a couple of arctic terns like the one above.

We had lunch in South Queensferry and then got the bus back to Edinburgh. It would probably be better starting in South Queensferry and walking to Edinburgh as that way round would be mostly downhill and so less tiring!

Friday 16 August 2019

Celebrate Saughton Park!

 Saughton Park has been transformed through donations from the Big Lottery and looks stunning now.

To celebrate this transformation, the Friends nf Saughton Park and the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (the Caley) which is now based at the park are joining together to hold a free family event in the park on Saturday 31 August.

There will be loads going on including free music from local bands, a variety of walks round the park (I'll be leading some wildlife walks to look at the birds and insects in the park) and stalls from various groups, including the Woodland Trust. There will be cake, including some cakes made using ingredients from the park's Physic Garden and a raffle, which will feature prizes including some handmade jewellery that I'm donating. If you bring along your own cup, you'll get a discount on hot drinks.

Hopefully the weather will be good enough for people to really enjoy this event!

Delighted to have a piece of flash fiction in the latest Ad Hoc stories e-book. The stories are meant to be anonymous so I can't say which is mine. But read them all, there are some good ones there.

As ever, red text takes you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Thursday 15 August 2019

Stop Look Breathe Create by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh

Stop Look Breathe Create

I came across this book when I was halfway through facilitating a recent 'how to start a nature journal' class. It proved to be very inspiring for both me and for those who came along to the class.

Billed as 'four easy steps to mindfulness through creativity' this book takes the reader through exercises and ideas on how to develop a creative, mindful approach to drawing, photography and writing. It focuses on finding inspiration in nature but also in the human created world around us.

Beautifully illustrated, the chapters look at topics such as colour, the sky, patterns and textures and 'the beauty in the broken'. The exercises in each chapter help the reader to bring creativity into their daily lives while also developing a mindful attitude. An ideal approach for anyone wanting to write a regular nature journal. For those who are cynical about too much self conscious mindfulness the exercises are still very interesting and useful.

It's a beautiful book and one that is almost guaranteed to get you out and about and producing creative responses to your experiences.

Wendy Ann also has an interesting website that includes e-courses on the art of mindfulness

Stop Look Breathe Create by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh published by Ilex Press (2017).

Wednesday 14 August 2019

More about Edinburgh during the festival

There has been quite a lot of discussion this year, particularly on Twitter, about how much the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is impacting on life for the people who actually live in this city. I blogged about it here and also tweeted the photo below

which shows how part of the pavement on Princes Street (the main street in the centre of town) has ugly barriers erected along it at certain times of day. These are to stop people either climbing on the benches or climbing on the railings to see the private, ticketed concerts that are happening in the main public gardens of the city.

Years ago, during the festival, there were lovely free lunchtime concerts in Princes Street Gardens. I used to go to these whenever I could, they were really enjoyable, showcasing a range of bands from across the world. Nowadays though major bands play in the gardens, which are shut to the public and the knock on effect is that the pavements look like this. The buses are often gridlocked at this time of year, so people jump off the buses onto the pavements only to find the pavements are gridlocked too. People who may want to sit down, either because they have poor mobility or just because they want to relax during a busy day can't do so, it's almost impossible for wheelchairs or pushchairs to get past and at times pedestrians are almost literally pushed into the road, plus the legs on the barriers are real trip hazards. The pavements on the other side of the road are wider, but to get to the other side of the road you have to push your way through the crowds here to get to a safe crossing place.

There are many wonderful things happening during the festivals in Edinburgh, but this year it really does feel as though the festivals are too big, too disruptive to life for city residents and too disrespectful of the greenspaces and architecture of the city, which after all are as much a part of the Edinburgh experience (this is a World Heritage site after all) as the festivals are.

My photo above proved very popular on Twitter and was also picked up by the Edinburgh Evening News to use to illustrate this article (though originally they credited the photo to someone else and I had to contact them to correct them).


I'm delighted that I have a 50 word story up now on the 50 word story website. You can read it here (and if you like it, click on the like button too!).

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Swallows - theatre review

Swallows is showing at the Greenhouse recycled pop up theatre in the grounds of Dynamic Earth as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

It's a cautionary tale of eco-terrorism, with Tim (Issy Sheridan) a young man being drawn into an act of eco-terrorism with Harry (Daniel Jonusas) and Ella (Sarah Chamberlain), without him or the audience knowing anything much about what is actually going on.

I found the first part of the show quite tedious to be honest, as there was too much explanation of issues without any real narrative drive but the tension eventually starts to build very impressively (with at least one audience member seeming genuinely scared by the weapon being wielded by Harry  - and this is a very small theatre with the audience right next to the actors, so it did almost feel like we could be hit, though obviously no-one was). The climax of the show is gripping with sound effects from outside the theatre adding to the action going on in the space.

An interesting exploration of how people can be drawn into extremism which asks the vital questions - how far would you go to protect what you love?

A nice extra touch was that real swallows were flying round above the theatre before the show. Wild swallows with no connection with the production.

Swallows showing  August 2—26, 18.45 - 19.45 at Greenhouse Theatre, in the grounds of Dynamic Earth as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Other plays are showing at the Greenhouse, including

Daphne or Hellfire (which I review here)
Shellshock (which I review in this blogpost)

Monday 12 August 2019

Daphne or Hellfire, theatre review

Showing at the Greenhouse recycled pop up theatre, Daphne or Hellfire, the new play from Scottish playwright Isla Cowan is an ecofeminist reimaging of the Daphne and Apollo myth. Daphne is here a present day environmentalist (Caitlin Morris) trying to protect the local Parnassus woodland from development and looking forward to her new job in a forest conservation organisation. Apollo (Henry Roberts) is her boyfriend, unwilling to match her environmental aspirations and constantly urging her to start living in the real world instead of imaging that she can save the earth. Her father, an invisible presence in the play is constantly pressuring her to have children, which she refuses as she sees having children as an intolerable burden on the planet.

As the development pressures on Parnassus mount, so do the tensions between the couple and Daphne falls into depression, which deepens with every tin can that Apollo doesn't recycle, and eventually she dies.

It's a hard hitting, emotional drama, beautifull produced and acted but I felt it totally lacked hope. And in these times of climate chaos and biodiversity loss, we need not only to be shown how the ecological crisis is linked to mental unwellness but given some ideas on how to counteract that.

(Shellshock which is also showing at the Greenhouse Theatre (I reviewed it in this post here) is equally hard hitting but also contains a message of hope, albeit quite a simplistic one.)

Daphne or Hellfire, showing  August 2—26, 17:15—18:15 at Greenhouse Theatre, in the grounds of Dynamic Earth as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Sunday 11 August 2019

From Blackford Pond to Harrison Park

We started out yesterday at Blackford Pond, which is a small suburban pond that can often surprise with its variety of wildlife.

There were several little grebes around,

 including one pair who were on a nest

 there was also a mysterious young grebe in the middle of the pond, it looked far too big to be a young little grebe but it's plumage doesn't fit any other small grebe so it seems it must be an abnormally large young little grebe or one that's just very fluffed up

In the background there you can see one of the swans, the resident pair of mute swans this year has raised an amazing 8 cygnets to full grown size

but the most interesting bird on the pond yesterday was this male wigeon in eclipse (ie non breeding) plumage

There were also bees and hoverflies aplenty along the edge of the pond including this handsome Helophilus sp (sometimes known as the footballer hoverfly), which along with all the other hoverflies seen, I'll be recording with the UK Hoverflies Facebook group:

We then walked through Midmar Paddock (a lovely green space that is threatened by development - you can find out more on the Friends of Midmar Paddock Facebook page).

One marshy corner of the paddock is full of purple loosestrife and other wetland plants

 and it's a haven for bees, hoverflies and butterflies like this painted lady

which we recorded in the Big Butterfly Count which ends today.

We then walked through the woodland of Hermitage of Braid, enjoying the shade of the trees, coming out into the sunlight again neat the Rangers Centre where the wildflowers were again drawing in the pollinators, including this meadow brown butterfly, which we also recorded in the Big Butterfly Count.

We then went for lunch and afternoon tea before walking home through the Merchiston area of town where all the winged ants were emerging (two weeks later than ants have emerged in other parts of town!)

We took a slight detour to Harrison Park where we found quite a few insects in the wild flower borders including this Syrphus sp hoverfly

We just about managed to get home before the rain started!