Thursday 30 March 2023


 Not the butterflies, but these lovely flowers that have just appeared in St John's churchyard in Edinburgh (one of our cemeteries that aren't managed by the council (in this case being managed by the Episcopalian church. 

Wednesday 29 March 2023

Birds in Decline - book review


 While Flocks Last by Charlie Elder 

In this book Charlie Elder decides to travel the UK in an attempt to find all the 40 birds that were then (2009) on the Red List of Birds of special conservation concern (the number of birds on the list now is 73). He travels from Devon to Shetland, calling at many places in between. He meets conservation experts along the way and visits nature reserves which are making important efforts to conserve the red listed (and other) species. He sees, eventually, all 40 of the target birds, some birds taking a lot of determined effort to find and others popping up almost unexpectedly. 

Elder had been interested in birds when he was young, but had lost interest for many years:

"In the period I had turned a blind eye to birds, many had suffered catastrophic declines. I felt guilty for not having cared more and ashamed at never having made the time to see them"

is by no means an expert, so he doesn't expect the reader to be familiar with the birds. His enthusiasm is infectious and he shares interesting observations about the birds' behaviour and lifestyles. He notes in many cases the factors that are having a negative impact on the birds populations, such as habitat degradation, changing farming practices and climate change. Oddly though, he has little negative to say about grouse moor management, though the shooting of raptors on these moors is the main driving force behind the decline of the red-listed hen harrier (which features in this book). 

Elder doesn't just talk about the birds and his travels, but discusses why it is important to conserve birds, focussing on the enjoyment they bring and their place in folklore and culture.

This is a very readable book, informative without being academic. It is (for me) let down by the humour, which is often cringe-worthy and facetious. 

While Flocks Last by Charlie Elder, published (2009) by Penguin.

Into the Red curated by Kit Jewitt and Mike Toms.

This is a beautifully produced book containing artwork and writings to celebrate the rare and declining birds that are on the UK Red List.  There are currently 73 birds on this list of species that are in most need of our help if they are not to disappear. In 1997, the first UK Red List of Birds had only 36 birds (still 36 too many, but much better than today's total). The list includes such everyday species as House Sparrow and Starling and iconic birds such as Puffins and Turtle Doves. (The listing refers only to the birds' status in the UK, so some birds included in the list aren't doing badly elsewhere.) It's not all bad news as a few birds have been moved out of the red list due to their recovering somewhat in numbers, these birds include the Song Thrush, redwing and Grey Wagtail).

The book is beautiful, full of varied artwork from 73 different artists, including oil paintings, lino prints, cartoons and sculptures that capture the wonder of the included birds. Each artwork is accompanied by a written piece inspired by the writer's encounters with the particular bird. It's wonderful to see how these declining birds can inspire such stunning artwork and such outpourings of wonder.

Can art save these birds? Not by itself, of course, but every purchase of this book goes towards the work of the British Trust of Ornithology in their important research into our birds.

Into the Red curated by Kit Jewitt and Mike Toms, published (2022) by British Birds.


Some species that aren't on the red list, have nevertheless been of conservation concern in some areas. This includes the chough, the handsome, red legged corvid that had become locally extinct in Cornwall in the 1970s but has now made a recovery in that part of the country. Here's a lovely video about Cornish choughs.

Monday 27 March 2023

Tree Shadows

 After taking part in an event to celebrate Adult Learning with City of Edinburgh Council (you can browse the council's adult education courses here), I took a late lunchtime walk in Princes Street Gardens. The sun was shining brightly and the still mostly leafless trees were casting amazing shadows. Here are just some of them. 

Sunday 26 March 2023

Rhododendrons in Bloom at Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh

 We visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh yesterday, to see the rhododendrons and Azaleas. They're not all in bloom at the moment, some seem to have finished blooming already and some haven't even budded yet. But there were plenty of lovely flowers to see, here's just a selection of photos we took. 

Some of the azalea bushes are full of mosses and lichens growing on the branches and twigs

As well as the rhododendrons and azaleas, a couple of species of larch trees are also in flower at the moment! Their flowers are a lot less showy, here are the flowers of the Polish Larch

and here are the flowers of the Gmelin Larch (a native of Siberia) - the first of these photos shows the young flower alongside a mature cone.


A cherry tree was also in flower

and some of the daffodils are still in bloom

We were also very surprised to find a few earth star fungi growing in the gravel next to the Botanics building, I've never seen these fungi growing in gravel before.

Friday 24 March 2023

Rainbow Magpie Haiku


in a magpie's tail -
double rainbow
Only one rainbow shows up in the photo, but there were two rainbows arcing across the whole sky and a magpie on a chimney pot. Although magpies look very black and white, they have a lot of iridescent colour in their feathers. Just look at these photos in the Lothian Birdwatch Group on Facebook

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Willow Tree in Spring

 One of my favourite trees at this time of year is the pussy willow. There's a lovely example of this in North Merchiston Cemetery and it's looking wonderful at the moment. I took some photos during my lunchtime walk today. 

The daisies and dandelions are starting to flower now too

It's definitely starting to feel like Spring.

Sunday 19 March 2023

Scarlet Elf Caps

 Yesterday, we had a lovely walk in Colinton and Craiglockart Dells alongside the Water of Leith. We were delighted to see these lovely Scarlet Elf Caps, in exactly the same place as in previous years, though we've never seen so many of these lovely fungi before. Here's a selection of photos I took:

We were also impressed by the variety of lichens we found on some fallen trees. Here are some of the photos of those - I've not identified them to species level yet, except for the yellow lichen which is a species of Xanthoria. The moss in some of the photos is a Bristle Moss.

The whole area of the Dells is looking very Spring like at the moment with daffodils particularly being in bloom:

Tuesday 14 March 2023

The Little Book of Gaiku by Alistair Young


I recently started learning Scottish Gaelic (you can read more about that here). I was delighted to find this wee book of photos of the Scottish landscape with accompanying Gaelic haiku and English translations.

Alistair Young is based on the Isle of Skye, and his wonderful photos capture the wild beauty of this island and other parts of Scotland.

This is a beautifully designed and produced small book. Each page contains a landscape photo accompanied by a haiku in Gaelic with the English translation. 

The haiku celebrate the beauty of the landscape and the wildlife to be found there. The haiku below comments on the windfarms increasingly to be found in Scotland's wild places: 

nì crònag-dealain
an-fhloran as ainnimh
eadar-lìon rudan

the hum of electric voices
plundering power from wilderness
the internet of things

I particularly like this haiku about the Snow Bunting, a small bird of the wild high places: 

teachdair an t-àm
fiadhaich furachadh
gealag an t-sneachda 

harbinger of the
wild colding season
little snowflake

There is also an introductory essay in English. I would have liked to see the introduction also in Gaelic to give equal status to the two languages. Other than that, this is a lovely book for anyone who loves the Scottish landscape or haiku. 

You can browse Alistair's photos on his website

The Little Book of Gaiku by Alistair Young, published 2017.

Thursday 2 March 2023

magpie haiku

the iridescence in a magpie's tail -
nothing is black and white


previously published in Under the Basho.


Wednesday 1 March 2023

Wild Hares and Humming Birds by Stephen Moss



Subtitled 'the natural history of an English village' this is a diary of nature observations in a small area of England.

Stephen Moss lives in a small village in Somerset, in the south-west of England. This book is his closely observed diary of nature through the seasons of one year. (The hummingbirds of the title refer to humming bird hawk moths, which are increasingly found in the UK).

The book is full of beautifully observed scenes, many of them focussed on birds. The dunnock is introduced as "the wallflower of garden birds" before describing its surprisingly colourful mating habits, described here as: 

"one of the most extraordinary displays of behaviour in the whole of the bird world, involving more extra-marital affairs than a TV soap opera". 

The old-fashioned feel of a nature rich country parish is undercut by occasional notes on the decline of species:

"Some may wonder why it matters that lapwings, and many other once common farmland birds, have declined. But as well as the loss to our natural heritage, lapwings are also part of our cultural inheritance. And just as, in the words of John Donne 'any man's death diminishes me', so the loss of the lapwing, the skylark and many other familiar birds of the British countryside diminishes us too".

Books like this are vital. Full of loving detail about nature, writing like this can inspire people to learn more about nature. And the more you learn about nature, the more you love it and want to protect it. 

Wild Hares and Humming Birds by Stephen Moss, published (2012) by Vintage Books.