Saturday 30 November 2019

Blackford Pond to Hermitage of Braid on a Cold Frosty Day

After hearing about the teal I had seen on Blackford Pond I had seen last Wednesday (see this post) Crafty Green Boyfriend was keen to go along today to see if it was still there.

It was a very cold morning, but we were lucky enough to get some very good views of the teal and Crafty Green Boyfriend took these photos - much better than the ones I took last Wednesday!

A drake mallard seemed envious of the attention we were giving to the teal and photobombed this next shot

We were also interested to see at least 5 rats alongside the pond (just next to a sign asking people not to feed the rats). Here are two of them.

The pond is largely frozen at the minute, which seems to confuse some of the birds, like this moorhen

After walking round the pond, we continued past Midmar Paddock (still threatened with potential housing development as far as we know)

from there we walked into the Hermitage of Braid, which was freezing cold, as it is out of the sun, but always beautiful, being a lovely stream running through a wooded valley.

Friday 29 November 2019

Cold and Sunny on Corstorphine HIll

It's a beautiful autumnal day today, cold and sunny but very muddy underfoot from all the recent rain. I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for his lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill today (he works very close to the hill!). Many of the trees are bare now

though the last few leaves on these silver birches are glowing beautifully in the sunlight

and this oak still has a lot of leaves (as do many of the oaks on the hill)

The bright sunlight meant there were lots of nice shadows

and the candle-snuff fungi is showing very well this year - I like the colour contrast between the fungi and the moss

There were lots of birds around, though none posed for photos! It was nice to see the first fieldfares of the winter though we were slightly disappointed not to find bramblings (winter visiting finches) among the flock of chaffinches and bullfinches.

Thursday 28 November 2019

Little threads of civilisation: Unpacking one of Scotland’s greatest road trips

In 1819, engineer, Thomas Telford and Poet Laureate, Robert Southey went on a six-week tour of the Scottish Highlands to inspect the region’s newly built roads, bridges and canals. This became known as one of the greatest road trips of the era and was chronicled in Southey's meticulous journals which were finally published in the 1920s.

At the National Library of Scotland today, landscape architect and historian Paul Daniel Marriott, who's visiting from the US, gave an illustrated talk (Little Threads of Civilisation) about this extraordinary scenic journey. 

The talk started with a photo of the beautiful Dean Bridge, designed by Telford, which spans the Water of Leith and followed the travellers up into the Highlands, including the Parallel Roads at Glen Roy (actually not roads at all, but the marks left by an ice age lake as the water level retreated) which Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had visited during our recent holiday.

Along the way, Marriot spoke about the picturesque school of landscape appreciation (which coincidentally I had just been reading about in Penelope Lively's book Life in the Garden (which I will eventually review on this blog).)

The main purpose of Telford and Southey's trip was to inspect Telford's engineering works in the Highlands, particularly his bridges, his canal locks and his roads. (He seems to have been a particularly prolific engineer). So Marriot talked a lot about roads, which back in 1819 were of course a new technology, enabling people to get around much quicker than they had formerly done and allowing for mail to be delivered speedily. As the traffic was made up of horses and carriages, roads weren't then the polluting problems that so many roads are today (though they had their own problems, not least highway robbers).

It was a fascinating and entertaining talk, as are so many of the talks presented (for free) at the National Library.


After the talk, I walked through the Meadows where I met this grey squirrel

Monday 25 November 2019

How to Disappear by Akiko Busch

 How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency

Subtitled Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency this is an investigation of all types of invisibility from animal camouflage to invisibility cloaks, artistic anonymity and childhood invisible friends. Busch outlines not only techniques of camouflage and becoming invisible but the philosophy of our wanting to vanish in a world where everything is so interconnected and it seems everyone wants to overshare every detail of their lives on Instagram.

A whole chapter is devoted to camouflage and deception in terrestrial animals and plants including the pebble plant that looks like a pebble and patterns that camouflage the chicks of wading birds and big cats. Another whole chapter is devoted to invisbility under the water, including not just camouflage in aquatic animals and plants but also camouflaged navy vessels and the sense of becoming unnoticed the author feels when diving.

The other chapters too are littered with references to the natural world. In the chapter entitled Invisible Ink, Busch references Robert Macfarlane's work on natural words being removed from the Oxford English Dictionary (she refers to Macfarlane's book Landmarks but he explores the idea further in The Lost Words (beautifully illustrated by Jackie Morris) which may have been published too late for Busch to reference it?). In the same chapter she refers to a 2016 art exhibition Seeing Red: Overdrawn which invited people attending the exhibition to overwrite the names of species most threatened with extinction which have been lightly embossed on a wall.

In Chapter 10 The Geography of Invisibility, Busch discovers the Holdufold, the Icelandic invisible people who live in the landscape and the widespread belief in whose presence is often instrumental in conserving the country's landscapes.

In the final chapter she outlines a type of glass that is overlaid with ultraviolet patterns which makes the surface visible to birds and prevents them colliding with the windows (Bird strike is a huge issue for modern glass buildings, especially during the bird migration seasons).

It's a fascinating book but doesn't really deliver on its title, in that it doesn't offer concrete tips on how to disappear in our modern world. I would definitely have given this book a different title.

How to Disappear by Akiko Busch published (2019) by Penguin.

You may also be interested in Busch's earlier book The Incidental Steward which I review here.

Friday 22 November 2019

National Tree Week 23 November - 1 December

National Tree Week, which starts tomorrow, is the UK's largest annual tree celebration, marking the start of the winter tree planting season. It's an opportunity to celebrate the place of trees in our lives.

The campaign has its roots in the response to Dutch Elm Disease crisis of the 1960s, which wiped out over 20 million of the UK's most significant landscape trees. People joined in to “Plant A Tree in ‘73” and since then, people have planted trees across the country during this week.

Trees are vital to our health and well being. They make our towns and cities more beautiful and offer shade to shelter under on a hot day, while in rural areas they form a vital part of the landscape. They give us oxygen, store carbon, improve air quality, conserve water, preserve soil, support wildlife and help to tackle climate change.

Current official tree planting targets are not ambitious enough.  We need to plant more trees to help reduce UK carbon emissions and prevent climate change from escalating.

However, they need to be the right trees in the right places. If you want to plant a tree in your garden choose a native tree that will not grow too large for the area of your garden. Some types of habitat should not have trees planted on them, peatlands for example are vital carbon sinks in their own right and are habitats for a whole range of rare wildlife and should not be planted with trees. It's also important to realise that natural regeneration is best, so when aiming to expand an existing area of woodland, it may be better to let the trees produce and disperse their own seeds.

Urban trees are vital, as this article in the Guardian explains. In May this year, Edinburgh council leader, Adam McVey, signed up to the tree charter. It will be interesting to see how this affects the city's attitude to trees. Edinburgh has recently suffered a loss of trees due to them being killed and removed in development projects (including work on the new stadium at Meadowbank , 50 trees being destroyed in Princes Street Gardens for disabled access (disabled access is a good thing of course, but whether so many trees needed to be removed is questionable) and the new roundabout at Picardy Place). Meanwhile down in the north of England, Sheffield in Yorkshire has seen loads of its street trees removed as part of a new street maintenance contract.

The Tree Council are asking people to become Tree Champions and plant trees - you can find out more here.

The Woodland Trust offers free trees for schools and community groups, you can find out more here. They also have pages of Tree Planting Advice.

The photos at the top of the article show our local cherry trees in spring and autumn, they are beautiful all year round! 

Thursday 21 November 2019

New Earrings in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy store

I've just added two new pairs of earrings to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop.

They're quite different in design but both pairs are made from beads and charms rescued from second hand jewellery that had been labelled 'unsellable' by the charity shop (either because they just hadn't sold over a set period of time or because they were in some way damaged, usually with broken clasps or connectors).

The first pair has a marine theme

You can find this pair in the shop here.

The second pair features opalescent beads

This pair can be found in the shop here.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Blackford Pond

I had read that two drake teal have been seen on Blackford Pond in the last few days so I popped along there today. The teal is a beautiful duck that only occasionally turns up at Blackford Pond and when it does it usually lurks under the overhanging vegetation at the back of the pond.

Today however two drake teal were swimming around the pond, seemingly trying to evade photography. My photos are all very disappointing but I've included some of them here.

This is probably the best photo I could get of either of the teals. It clearly shows the difference in size between the teal at the front and the mallard at the back.

I was really pleased to see that all six of the cygnets have made it to full size, that's quite an achievement as often young cygnets are eaten by gulls and other predators

The pond is still partly frozen and it was amusing to watch the mallards and teal skating on the ice

For a much better photo of one of these same teals, see this tweet from @MNisbet5 yesterday. You'll then see what a truly beautiful little duck it is!

Tuesday 19 November 2019

The Forgiveness of Nature by Graham Harvey

Subtitled The Story of Grass, this is a fascinating account of how grasses have evolved with humans and the role they have played in agriculture, gardens and sports.

The book looks at how nomadic people have depended on grasslands for their livestock and modern forms of pastoral farming, including the best ways of looking after pasture to ensure the health of both animals and soil. It looks at how science now helps groundskeepers look after the grasses that form the pitches for football and tennis and which grass species to choose and why. The author looks at the history of gardening and the changing fashions around lawns in suburban gardens and extensive grasslands in country estates. There's also a section on the history of the lawn mower.

Everything you want to know about the human relationship with grass is probably covered in this book.

The Forgiveness of Nature by Graham Harvey published by Vintage (2002).

Monday 18 November 2019

Searching for Otters in a beautiful autumnal wood

It's so cold today that the leaves are falling off the trees in a constant rain despite the fact there isn't any wind. But the sunshine is really making the autumnal colours glow beautifully. Here are some photos of the trees in Craiglockart Dell today.

and there's frost too

The common snails have gathered in their usual place to hibernate, though I saw more of them ever there today, they're really packed in

As well as doing my weekly patrol of the Dells, picking litter and recording wildlife, I was taking part in a new survey the Water of Leith Conservation Trust are doing to find recent evidence of otters along the river. I'm one of the people who have been trained on how to sample and record otter spraint (poo!) which smells oddly like jasmine tea. I didn't find any signs of otters today but I did have a wonderful view of a roe deer (no photo sorry, I was too amazed by seeing the deer I didn't want to scare it away by taking its photo). If you see otters along the river, the trust want to know! You can find out more about the survey here. I have seen otters a few times along the river, though not in Craiglockart Dell.

Sunday 17 November 2019

Looking for Ladybirds in Saughton Park

Today Crafty Green Boyfriend and I joined the ladybird survey at Saughton Park. In the morning, Sarah from Edinburgh Natural History Society gave a presentation on ladybirds and where to look for them at this time of year (when they're starting to hibernate). In the afternoon we spread out around the park and looked for ladybirds and other insects. Here are photos of some of the species we found.

Starting with the adult ladybirds we saw:

pine ladybirds 

two spot ladybird

this may be a ten spot ladybird, must confess I'm not sure, it doesn't seem to be a complete specimen! We also saw an adult orange ladybird but only Crafty Green Boyfriend got a photo of that and his camera is elsewhere at the moment!

We also saw this Harlequin ladybird larva

and this, which I think is an orange ladybird larva

There were plenty of other interesting invertebrates to see, including this hawthorn shield bug

this harvestman basking in the sun

this winter moth

this parasitic wasp

and this weird looking insect that neither of us could identify even remotely (so if you have any ideas on this, please say so in the comments!)

It was great to spend time looking for insects in the park and great to see so many people joining in!

Saturday 16 November 2019

Late Autumn on Easter Craiglockart Hill

It's been a dull and cold day, but dry and there's been no wind! A combination ideal for walking through the woods and enjoying the autumn colours before the winds blow the last of the leaves from the trees.

We walked up Easter Craiglockart Hill, which has a lovely area of woodland

which is home to plenty of fungi, including this pretty species, which i haven't identified yet

and this turkey tail

The beech trees are looking especially beautiful (and there are plenty of beeches up this hill)

and there are already some very handsome looking skeleton trees

It was nice to see this owl nesting box

We took time to enjoy the views from the top of the hill

The Friends of Easter Craiglockart HIll are looking for people to help them out with the cleverly named Great Craiglockart Rake Off (details also on Facebook here). It sounds like a fun way to help look after this beautiful area of Edinburgh.