Saturday 29 February 2020

Notes from a Muddy Weekend Walk

It's a lovely sunny day today! Crafty Green Boyfriend and I decided to walk up Wester Craiglockart Hill. We hadn't really thought about how muddy it might be after all the recent rain.

It was tricky to navigate round all the mud, but everything looks lovely in the sunshine!

The wet weather has been great for all the fungi, including this yellow brain fungus

these earth stars

and these jelly ears, growing on an elder tree, which seems to be their favourite place to grow

We saw a few birds including several long tailed tits (thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo)

It's beginning to feel like Spring, but there's still snow on the Pentland Hills!

All the rabbits must have been keeping warm in their cosy burrows, this one looks as though it's been newly excavated

Friday 28 February 2020

Redwings in the Meadows

Yesterday I passed through the Meadows and took some photos of the early crocuses and daffodils that are in bloom there. (You can see my photos in yesterday's blogpost). When I got home I read on Twitter that someone had seen several redwings in the Meadows, obviously I had been looking too closely at the flowers to even notice the birds! So, today at lunchtime, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went to the Meadows hoping to catch up with the redwings. We certainly weren't disappointed! There were about 100 of these lovely winter thrushes flying around and Crafty Green Boyfriend managed to get some great photos. Here are a few of them.

It was lovely to see a small group of redwings, joined by a goldfinch, bathing in a puddle

Crafty Green Boyfriend also then took some photos of the daffodils

Thursday 27 February 2020

Spring Flowers

Some of the Spring flowers are already up in The Meadows in Edinburgh. Daffodils and several shades of crocuses. Lovely to see!

Tuesday 25 February 2020

The Honey Bus by Meredith May

"We stepped into a mini-cyclone of bees, a roaring inkblot in the sky, banking left and right like a flock of birds. My heart raced with them, frightened and awestruck at the same time." 

At the age of five, Meredith May found herself abandoned by her parents, her father walked out on the family and her mother took permanently to bed. Meredith and her brother found themselves living with their grandparents.

Grandfather was a beekeeper, keeping hives and making honey in an old broken down bus. Meredith immediately became fascinated by the bees.

"As the bee got used to me, I got used to it. Grandpa was right. this small insect was not my enemy. I carefully lifted my arm and i could see into its eyes, shaped like two glossy black commas on the side of its head. Fear gave way to fascination as I studied how it was put together, so small, so perfect."

This fascination stayed with her the rest of her life, giving her an engrossing hobby, which helped her to cope with the very difficult life she was living, and lead to her keeping bees of her own today.

I really enjoyed the insights into how bees live, particularly this description of scout bees (that search for new locations for hives):

"the bees gather a list of addresses from various dancing scouts and go inspect their options. They fly into the advertised locations, taking measurements, checking the security of the entrance and feeling for drafts. They make their decision and return to the hive to dance with the scout whose home they prefer. As the energy and excitement builds, one scout reaches a tipping point of support, a consensus is reached and the entire swarm takes off with the queen to that scout's specific location."

This memoir isn't just about the bees themselves, it also explores the life lessons Meredith learned from the bees. As such it often feels as though she is imposing adult thinking onto her much younger self, but nevertheless it is an inspiring and moving book.

The Honey Bus by Meredith May published (2019) by Harper Collins

Saturday 22 February 2020

A Storm on Arthurs Seat

High winds and rain were forecast for today but we went for a walk round Arthurs Seat anyway. The weather was very changeable during our walk, varying from driving snow and hail

to glorious sunshine

and back again.

We enjoyed seeing the birds at and around Dunsapie Loch, including this Canada / greylag goose hybrid

this leucistic carrion crow

and this mute swan

We were delighted to see that the grey herons are already back on their nests on Duddingston Loch (click on the photo to get a bigger view of this, there are several herons on nests in the trees on the island)

and the whole Loch looked beautiful in the sunshine

The water level of the Loch is noticeably higher than and some of the surrounding land is flooded.

Wednesday 19 February 2020



from the skies 

from the icebergs 

in the oceans


Previously published (Autumn 2018) in Panning for Poems, the quarterly journal for micropoetry from Poetry NI.  

While over on the Beach Hut, you can read my poem Gulls (which was posted on this blog in 2015). 

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Falter by Bill McKibben

Subtitled Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? this is a hard hitting, sobering analysis of our current ecological crisis, the state of technological progress and whether solar technologies and large scale non-violent direct action can help us. Written by the respected environmental campaigner Bill McKibben.

The first part of the book looks at the state of the environment. It reads like a catalogue of doom.

The increasing severity of forest fires across the world combined with droughts and selective logging is changing the world's forests into carbon emitters rather than the carbon sinks they naturally are. Even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases today, the world's glaciers will still be set to disappear by a third in the next few decades. As ice sheets melt, they cause the earth to move, literally causing earthquakes. A severe heat wave in Russia in 2010 caused the world wheat price to rise dramatically and is considered to be one of the triggers of the Arab Spring. Warmer temperatures mean more plant pests, additionally affecting food supplies. We may see 200 million climate change refugees by 2050. The list continues. It's all meticulously researched, horribly fascinating and depressing.

The book then looks at political philosophies and corporate vested interests and the effects these have on the climate crisis. There is also a long section on genetic engineering and how this potentially changes the meaning of  life.

Just as everything starts to feel as though there's no point in continuing, the last section turns to the beacons of hope that McKibben sees in solar technologies and non-violent direct action. He goes into some interesting detail about the increasing efficiencies of renewable technologies and the optimism of non-violent direct action. But there is no mention of the necessary deeper changes we need to see in the way that politics and industry work, the larger, deeper reform that we need if we are to succeed.

I felt this was a book that was too grim and offered too few genuine far reaching solutions (not that solar power and direct action aren't important but they need to be part of something bigger, more systemic). I don't think that the style of this book will win new converts either. People who aren't already engaged need stories that start from where they are and offer them realistic pictures of where they can go and how they will benefit themselves.

Falter by Bill McKibben published by Henry Holt and Company. Printed on 100% post consumer waste recycled fibres (which is pretty impressive).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Monday 17 February 2020

After the Storm

Scotland has been hit with two storms (though not as badly here in Edinburgh as in many other parts of the UK) in recent days, Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis.

Today has been mild and sunny with gusts of wind, but there are signs of the storm all around, including the high water at the weir on the Water of Leith  in Colinton Dell

There were many signs of spring, lots of birds singing and a pair of long tailed tits checking out nest sites (though I couldn't get a photo of these as they were very active and mostly hidden partly by branches).

Much easier to take photos of the beautiful snowdrops in the Hidden Meadow by Redhall Gardens

 I was also very pleased to find these beautiful scarlet elf cups, which I've never seen in the Dells before (though I have seen them elsewhere along the river)

Also these little fungi, which I couldn't identify (if you know what they are, feel free to leave a note in the comments) 

Friday 14 February 2020

Show the Love for Nature

Every year around Valentine’s Day, hundreds of thousands of people join in the Climate Coalition's #ShowTheLove campaign for the places, people and life that we want to protect from climate change.

'Home Truths', a new report from the Climate Coalition shows that we can future proof our homes and make them cosier, greener and cheaper to run. To help us get there though, government needs to ensure that all new homes are compatible with a net zero emissions target, help homeowners to make their houses more energy-efficient and improve flood defences in vulnerable areas. 

If you're looking for inspiration on how to reduce your contribution to climate change, you could take the Climate Coalition's quiz, which is designed to help you choose a pledge (or two).

There are many ways to get involved in the campaign, but central to the ethos is the symbolism of the Green Heart. People across the UK and no doubt elsewhere craft green hearts to wear, share and display! You can see the green hearts that I've made in previous years in this post from last year.

It's also important to campaign on both a local and national (and indeed international) level. Many organisations co-ordinate campaigns to save nature and act on environmental issues. You can campaign by joining in demonstrations and other actions or by taking part in online campaigns (as I do with the Woodland Trust on this blog and other organisations too, whose campaigns I often share on social media).

It's also great to get involved with practical conservation volunteering if you've got the time, energy and ability. I love volunteering with Water of Leith Conservation Trust, which looks after one of Edinburgh's rivers. The trust offers a large variety of volunteering tasks ranging from dragging shopping trolleys out of the river to acting as a visitor centre receptionist.

But most important of all in many ways is to get out there and enjoy nature! Visit your local green spaces regularly, take photos, record the wildlife you see and enjoy the fresh air and birdsong.

Figgate Pond, Figgate Park, Edinburgh

Saturday 8 February 2020

Signs of Spring in Figgate Park

It's been a lovely cold clear day today, blue skies and sunshine (though it seems to be clouding over now). This morning we went to Figgate Park, hoping to see an otter or a water rail, as both these species have been spending a lot of time in the park recently. We didn't see either in fact, but there are always lots of things to see in this lovely place.

The centrepiece of the park is the pond

which has a good number of alder trees lining its banks, which are beautiful at this time of year, with both their catkins and cones on display

The hazel trees are lovely just now too, with their tiny red flowers out alongside the more familiar catkins.

Plenty of birds around too, including this lovely song thrush

and a family of mute swans on the pond

 Meanwhile these grey squirrels had gathered under the trees

It's always a lovely park for a walk and is well served with public transport routes too, meaning it's very accessible from various parts of Edinburgh.

Friday 7 February 2020

Animal Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland by Sharon Jacksties illustrated by Bea Baronowska


Sharon Jacksties, an accomplished storyteller, has gathered together animal tales from all parts of Britain and Ireland, including several fresh retellings of classics,  such as the story of Dick Whittington and his cat, and other, less well-known stories. Jacksties also includes useful explanatory notes where necessary, giving the background of some of the folklore included in the stories.

Several characters and themes occur frequently here. A number of the tales feature King Arthur, while shapeshifting is a common theme. There is a delightful version of the Cinderalla story in which a princess whose nurse, who is also a sorceress, turns her into a bear so she can get out and see the world without being recognised.

A couple of stories feature witches who are able to shapeshift into hares, but in another story hare appears as the daughter of the sun and moon:

"Hare leaped and bounded across the heavens, zigzagging her way between one parent and the other. Every time one of her paws touched the sky, a star appeared. Time smiled to see how her increase was measured across the sky in countless silver tracks."

Another popular theme focuses on how the animals we know came into being for example: how hedgehog got his spines, how robin got a red breast, why magpie is a thief and how nightingale got a beautiful night time song.

Many of the stories contain disguised life lessons such as how Mr amd Mrs Mouse found the most worthy suitor for their daughter closer to home than they had ever expected.

There are stories that arise from very real issues between humans and wild animals, for example the battles between farmers and animals and the importance of managing nature. There's a modern day story about rewilding, which includes this lovely description of the piglets born from a domesticated sow who had bred with a wild boar:

"litters of piglets were born sporting stripy pyjamas and stroppy dispositions."

The book (including the front cover) is beautifully illustrated by Bea Baranowska - you can see more of her illustrations at her website.

This is a very engaging collection of folk tales from across the British Isles, featuring a wide variety of animal and human characters. It gives a very good overview of the way that animals have featured in out stories. I read it speedily for review purposes, but I'd recommend taking it more slowly, perhaps one or two stories a day.

Animal Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland by Sharon Jacksties illustrated by Bea Baronowska, published (February 2020) by The History Press

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book of this title in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday 5 February 2020


It's good to get things repaired when you can, rather than getting rid of them.

I bought these shoes from a 2nd hand shop (though they seemed as though they had hardly been worn). I had allowed them to get very worn down in the sole before realising they needed to be repaired, so I was uncertain whether the cobbler at Sole City in Corstorphine would actually be able to do anything.

However, I'm very pleased with the job he did and in fact the shoes look better than ever! Good for another few years!

If they had been beyond repair I would have taken them to the shoe recycling point at North Face (this link takes you to the US Clothes the Loop page of North Face. But UK stores also recycled shoes and clothing). But repair is better than recycling!

Sunday 2 February 2020


robinsong -
the first wild garlic pushes
through the soil


Delighted to have 2 senryu in the latest issue of Failed Haiku, the senryu journal. You can access the whole issue here