Tuesday, 16 August 2022

The Running Sky by Tim Dee

 The Running Sky: A Bird-Watching Life

 The Running Sky records a lifetime of looking at birds, organised into a bird's year from one summer to the next. Dee maps his own observations and encounters over four decades, from watching storm petrels on the island of Mousa in Shetland (a trip I've made twice and can recommend to anyone who loves birds) to exploring the variety of birds in Zambia. 

There are explorations of the nightingale's song and how the birdlife of the English city of Bristol has changed over his lifetime, plus musings about birds in literature. The writing is often beautiful and thoughtful:

"[The jackdaws'] genius for riding the air seems to show its shape; pockets and waves and channels and funnels; but as I peer at them, the wind watering my eyes, I find myself marvelling at their irreducible and specific marking of the sky at that moment. If you try and empty your head and open your eyes and just watch the birds, you see they are not a metaphor for anything..."

I had a real problem with the January chapter that focussed on a very large collection of dead birds and eggs that had been collected by someone in Zambia. This was presented entirely without context and although it was obvious that most of the collection was historical (and therefore useful for scientific study without being currently problematic, as of course attitudes were different back then...) it seemed as though the collector was still active in collecting nests and eggs, which fact wasn't commented on. (These days we know this is something we shouldn't do, surely?). Plus, alongside this account was a narrative about a current scientific study of birds nests, which didn't entirely dispel the sense that these nests were being raided to study the eggs. This section desperately needed a statement about the importance of not collecting nests or eggs. 

The Running Sky by Tim Dee published (2009) by Jonathon Cape 

Monday, 15 August 2022

The Memory Window

All that colour, perhaps it's green
 Memories of a me I once was  
I can't remember.  
Those small things, are they petals?  
But they're green, so no, something else  
Leaves me confused  
About where I am,
What is this place? 
And what lies between me and there? 
I see nothing, only someone's reflection.  
Is that me?  
I raise my hand, something solid  
Stops me knowing 
I'm not seeing the wood for the trees.
previously published on Kalanopia and originally written in response to a photo of an older woman looking at her reflection in a window

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Water of Leith at Roseburn

 Yesterday we had a lovely walk along the Water of Leith from Roseburn to Stockbridge. It's a lovely shady walk for a hot day.


Part of the walkway has been closed for years, as a landslip happened and the ground needed to be made safe. This part of the walkway has now been opened up again, and it was nice to walk along it again. Someone has created something of an art installation here

While spiders, some of nature's own artists, have been busy making webs in trees and on fences. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Tree Following August Update.

For Tree Following this year, I've chosen a magnificent old cherry tree in North Merchiston Cemetery in Edinburgh. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I started walking round this cemetery every day for our #DailyExercise during the first UK lockdown last year. And we're still doing the same walk regularly, though not quite as often. 

There hasn't been much rain recently here in Edinburgh, but my cherry tree still seems to be thriving

I couldn't see any cherries on it though! It's slightly late in the season though and maybe they've all been eaten. Though I didn't see any cherries or stones round about either. Maybe it isn't a fruiting cherry... 

Although a lot of the vegetation in the cemetery looks very dry at the moment, trees like this cherry provide shade and help keep the soil slightly moister for plants like this Rosebay Willowherb

The cemetery is full of beautiful trees, some of which I have already 'followed'. The sycamore in the photo below is looking particularly resplendent at the moment and may well become my tree for next year!

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

In a Suburban Garden

We visited Crafty Green Boyfriend's Mum's garden at the weekend. The nasturtiums are in full bloom and the bees are loving them, including this Common Carder Bumblebee 

Meanwhile, the Common Frogs were enjoying the pond. Just minutes before I took these photos, a Common Wasp had buzzed this frog's head then suddenly snap! No more wasp and a well-fed frog!  

There were also a few very small froglets running around, but they were impossible to catch on camera!

Monday, 8 August 2022

In the Dells

 Most weeks, I carry out a river patrol for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. The area that I patrol stretches from the Trust's Visitor Centre up to Colinton Village and back, picking litter, recording wildlife and chatting to people as I go. It's a lovely walk through areas of riverside woodland and more open meadow areas, with some wildflower meadows, like the one below, on the site of a former watermill, which the trust has planted with mostly wetland plants

A wildflower meadow with trees in the background
Even alongside the river, much of the vegetation is looking very dry, as we have had very little rain this summer.

a path between two areas of dry grass with trees at either side

However, we aren't in such a bad situation as places down in the south of England, where hosepipe bans have recently been instigated, in an effort to combat the strain on water supplies. There are issues beyond the lack of rain in many areas too, as many water companies are extracting too much water from rivers, or allowing too much extraction. (If you're on Twitter and interested in finding out more about the state of England's rivers, follow Feargal Sharkey, former singer with the Undertones, now keen angler and river campaigner.)

Despite the dry conditions though, the birds in the Dells seem to be thriving. I saw and heard lots of young birds, including long tailed tits, coal tits, chaffinches  and robins. Also, two nests of Sparrowhawks seem to have fledged youngsters successfully this year, judging by the loud calls in the areas where they have nested for the past 15 years or more. I only saw one sparrowhawk in Spylaw Park, somewhere over the trees in the background of the photo below (the bird isn't in the photo!)

a dry grassy area with trees in the background

You never know what you're going to see, here is an interesting growth on a tree stump, I think it's a slime mould (perhaps the slime mould known as False Puffball or Moon Poo?). 

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Pretty in Pink (and a few other colours)

Yesterday we had a lovely walk. We started by walking through Inverleith Park. 

a view of Inverleith Pond with trees in the background

a boardwalk trhough a marshy area with haiyr willowherb and purple loosestrife growing alongside the boardwalk
The marshy area of Inverleith Pond is currently beautifully overgrown with the Purple Loosestrife and Hairy Willowherb offering a wonderful splash of pink

purple loosestrife and hairy willowherb

Swallows, House Martins and (I think) a Sand Martin were flying above the pond, too quick to catch on film (too quick to identify with certainty in the case of the Sand Martin!). There were several birds on the water too, including a wonderful family of Mute Swans 

Two adult Mute Swans on a pond with a nest in the background containing five adolescent cygnets

A nest containing five adolescent Mute Swan cygnets

these Mallards


Two mallards in a bed of reeds

Two mallards on a pond


a female mallard with 2 ducklings

and this coot 

a coot sitting on a pond

We then walked into the Botanic Gardens. 

A path winding between trees and shrubs

where the Hydrangeas are looking particularly beautiful.

a hydrangea bush with pink and purple flowers

a view of several hydrangea flowerheads, some pink and some purple

a close up of pink hydrangea flowers

Friday, 5 August 2022

Hillary and Malibug Beach by Mary Cohen, William Dandurand and Elizabeth Revel


Hillary is a ladybug (or ladybird as we would call her on this side of the ocean!) Hillary has featured in a number of books written by Mary Cohen, William Dundarand and Elizabeth Revel working as a team with Dundarand providing the illustrations. 

In Hillary and Malibug Beach, Hillary and her family are going on holiday to Malibug Beach. Here, Hillary is challenged by local beach goers to a game of volley ball before she is allowed on to the beach. She finds out that some visitors have been littering the beach, and the volleyball is the locals' way of restricting access to the beach. 

After the appearance of a green comet causes the ladybugs to mutate, Hillary embarks on an adventure including learning to surf, exploring Malibug Beach and meeting mermaid ladybugs.  

It's an engaging story, with some nice meditations on nature:

"Out on the horizon, the sky and water met. They seemed to enjoy the comfort of how they were not the same, but how the sky rested on the ocean. They were like friends who liked and needed each other".

It's lavishly illustrated, but although the photography element of the artwork is beautiful, the cartoon ladybugs irritated me, I expected ladybugs to look more like, well, ladybugs, not humanoids with ladybird wings. But I'm not a child and I don't have children, so I'm not the target audience. 

This might be a nice book to introduce children to ideas around the human impact on the marine environment. 

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Wild Carrot

 Wild Carrot has to be my favourite Umbellifer plant, especially at this time of year, when many of the inflorescences are going to seed. These plants are in Edinburgh's Comely Bank Cemetery 

I love the way that the inflorescence folds up once it's gone to seed 

In the centre of most inflorescences of this plant, there is a red flower, which you can see in the photo below. The red flower is just to the right of the Batman hoverfly (Myathropa florea) which seems to have a particular liking for Wild Carrot.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

The Hidden Corner of Old Calton Cemetery

 My work continues, surveying wildlife in the cemeteries managed by the City of Edinburgh Council. Yesterday, I visited the northern section of Old Calton Cemetery. The southern part of this cemetery is one of the well known, historical cemeteries in the centre of the city (you can read about my visit there in this post) while the northern section is hidden away, with the entrance being on a side street. The cemetery was cut into two when Waterloo Place was built - you can see the southern section across Waterloo Place in the photo below 

The two sections of the cemetery are very different. The southern section is full of decaying old monuments and mausoleums, while the northern section is much smaller. It has three lovely Lime (Linden) trees along the wall

and wonderful views across to Calton Hill with its follies and monuments 

There's a fairly good variety of grasses and flowering plants here, though not many insects and the only bird I saw was a woodpigeon!

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


drifting petals –
thinking of myself
in old age


previously published in Scarlet Dragonfly

I'm delighted to have a selection of haiku and senryu on Lothlorien Journal. You can read them here.

Monday, 1 August 2022

Portobello Cemetery

I'm continuing my wildlife surveys of the cemeteries managed by City of Edinburgh Council. Today I made my third visit to Portobello cemetery, which I used to think of as quite small, as I had only ever seen it from the bus before starting this survey work. In reality it is much larger than it seems and contains a good amount of interesting wildlife. Today was warm and sunny, great weather for pollinating insects! Crafty Green Boyfriend joined me for part of the day and took several of the photos included in this post. 

We were delighted to see this beautiful Wall butterfly 

This is a relatively uncommon butterfly, though I saw one last time I visited Portobello Cemetery and we saw one on Saturday when we walked from Cramond Brig to South Queensferry

We also saw a couple of Meadow Brown Butterflies 

a couple of commas, this one was in beautiful condition

while this one looked fairly battered

We also saw a few Speckled Wood Butterflies, chasing each other through the trees, though only this one stopped for a photo 

and this Green Veined White Butterfly 

 I'll be recording these butterfly sightings as part of the Big Butterfly Count, which continues until 7 August.

There were some hoverflies around too, including this Pied Hoverfly (Scaeva pyrastri)

and a few bees, including this Red Tailed Bumblebee  

And we met a cat in the cemetery! This is the first time I've met a cat here, but she was very friendly and we nicknamed her Bella. She only has a stump of a tail and a squeaky voice, and enjoyed playing with grass stalks that we waved in front of her. 

Portobello isn't the only cemetery with a cat, you can see photos in this post of 'Craig' the feline tour guide at Craigmillar Castle Cemetery.