Thursday 29 February 2024

River Haiku

rushing river -
the stillness
of the grey heron


previously published in Haiku Corner 41 of the Japan Society UK



Wednesday 28 February 2024

The Golden Mole and Other Living Treasure by Kathleen Rundell, Illustrated by Talya Baldwin


This is a beautiful book full of stunning illustrations and fascinating essays about twenty-two astonishing and endangered animals, including the wombat, the swift, the hermit crab, the narwhal and of course the golden mole.

In the introduction, Rundell exhorts us to "look, only look at what is here, and would you agree to astonishment and to love? For love, allied to attention, will be urgently needed in the years to come."

 The details shared for each species (or closely allied group of species) certainly inspire curiosity, wonder and affection for each animal. There are Greenland Sharks in the ocean that have probably been alive for over six centuries, a female may take 150 years to reach breeding age. 

Swifts are the only birds to mate in mid-air, they also fly through rain showers with wings outstretched to get themselves clean. Swifts need to catch as many as a hundred thousand airborne insects a day, which means they are acutely sensitive to the current reduction in insect numbers that is happening across the world. 

Elephants may 'bury dead members of their herd, covering them in earth and brightly coloured leaves, working together, surrounding the corpse with fruit and flowers'.

There are intriguing stories here about how species interact with humans, including the crows that brought gifts to a girl who had been feeding them since she was five and one day returned her camera lens cap to her after she had lost it on a walk. Meanwhile, Rooks (also in the Corvid family) have been trained in some places to pick up litter in return for food.

Storks inspired the early aviators and in 1822, an individual with an African spear through its neck arrived in Germany, proving that birds actually migrated (rather than spending the winter at the bottom of a lake or on the moon, as had earlier been thought).

Folklore features here too, such as the Hawai'ian belief that the ʻalalā (another species of Corvid) is a guardian of the soul. A soul needs to meet a guardian ʻalalā so they can jump into the afterlife together. The bird is now extinct in the wild and attempts to reintroduce it have been beset with problems. If this bird cannot be saved, then 'one of the ways in which humans have painstakingly and generously explained death to each other will be dead and there will be no guides awaiting the souls'

Rundell also shares the many ways in which humans are driving these creatures to extinction, including overfishing of tuna, hunting elephants and pangolins, while "noise pollution risks rendering [narwhals] inaudible and effectively mute, thereby unable to protect and teach their young - we have taken their silence and replaced it with a nightclub roar." 

The golden mole, which isn't actually a mole, is the only iridescent mammal: "under different lights and from different angles, their fur shifts through turquoise, navy, purple, gold....... but the golden mole is blind... unaware of [its] beauty, unknowingly glowing."

This is a book to treasure, along with all the wonderful unique lifeforms described in its pages.

I have a copy of the hardback which was published in 2022, but it is now also available in paperback. 

The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Talya Baldwin, published (2022 in hardback) by Faber.

Monday 26 February 2024

Signs of Spring

 It was freezing cold this morning, but the sky was bright blue and there were signs of Spring everywhere. I was doing my regular patrol of the Dells alongside the Water of Leith. I'm not picking litter at the moment (taking it easy after my recent cataract surgery) but there was plenty to do recording all the wildlife. 

This little path is always a delight during late Winter and early Spring. The snowdrops are already in full bloom and the daffodils are starting to open 

In another part of the Dells, crocuses are in full bloom 

The cold weather didn't deter the birds from their Springtime activities. I had a wonderful view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which was drumming enthusiastically, and a Magpie that was collecting nest material. Dippers and a Grey Wagtail were busily dashing around along the river. Lots of birds were singing including Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robin and Wren.

Sunday 25 February 2024

Linlithgow Loch


Yesterday we went to Linlithgow, primarily to walk round the Loch 

 and to hopefully see the Great Crested Grebes in their courtship displays. We only saw about three Great Crested Grebes, and they weren't courting yet, though the male did seem to be practising his moves. However, we enjoyed our walk and did see a lot of lovely birds. Here's just a selection:

There seemed to be a lot of Robins about and some of them were very bold - this one sang beautifully for us:

We saw a group of Bullfinches - three females and two males, the bird below is a male:

Also in the trees, we saw Treecreepers, Wrens, Long Tailed Tits, a Dunnock and a Sparrowhawk

There were plenty of birds on the Loch as well. As well as the Great Crested Grebes we saw a good number of Mute Swans:

Several Coots

a Grey Heron hunting for frogs

and (particularly lovely to see) a Kingfisher that didn't really want to have its photo taken 

The Black Headed Gulls were starting to get their Summer Brown heads - this bird below had the most brown on its head.

On the water, we also saw: Tufted Ducks, Mallards, |Goldeneye, Goosanders, a Little Grebe and Cormorants (some of which can be seen below hanging on branches with their wings outstretched to dry them)


I was very pleased to find my poem 'A Landscape Viewed through Cataracts' in the responses to the painting Green Terrain, by Kelly Austin-Rolo on the Ekphrastic Review website. You can read all the responses here.

Thursday 22 February 2024

The Gaelic Tree Alphabet

 It's World Gaelic Week, so I thought I'd try and find out more about the Gaelic Tree alphabet. The Gaelic alphabet has only 18 letters (which is probably one of the reasons the spelling of the language can seem so difficult to a non-native speaker). Each letter is paired with a tree. This evolved from the earlier Ogham alphabet, which was used to write the old Irish language. 

The Gaelic Tree Alphabet is:

A for Ailm (Elm) 

B for Beith (Birch)

C for Coll (Hazel) 

D for Dair (Oak)

E for Eadha (Aspen)

F for Fearna (Alder)

G for Gort (Ivy)

H for Huath (Hawthorn)

I for Iogh (Ivy)

L for Luis (Rowan)

M for Muin (Bramble)

N for Nuin (Ash)

O for Onn (Gorse) 

P for Peith Bhog (Downy Birch)

R for Ruis (Elder)

S for Suil (Willow)

T for Teine (Holly) 

U for Ur (Heather)

Though some plants also have other names, for example Froach also means heather.

There is an excellent resource on the trees of the Gaelic Tree alphabet on the An Darach website.

If you're interested in finding out more about the old Ogham alphabet, there seem to be a lot of web resources out there, including this guide on Wikipedia.

Wednesday 21 February 2024

The Future of Ice by Gretel Ehrlich

 The Future of Ice by Gretel Ehrlich

 In The Future of Ice, Gretel Ehrlich travels across the world, from her home in Wyoming to the Arctic, to look at winter landscapes and to consider how climate change is damaging our landscapes and the whole idea of winter. 

It's a book packed full of lyrical descriptions, punctuated by snippets of her personal life and snippets about climate science and the science of glaciers:

"A glacier is an archivist and historian. It saves everything no matter how small or big, including pollen, dust, heavy metals, bugs, bones and minerals. It registers every fluctuation of weather. A glacier is time incarnate, a moving image of time. When we lose a glacier - and we are losing most of them -  we lose history, an eye into the past; we love stories of how living beings evolved, how weather vacillated, why plants and animals died. The retreat and disappearance of glaciers - there are only 160, 000 left - means we're burning libraries and damaging the planet, possibly beyond repair."

I found the book to be rather overloaded with lyrical descriptions. I enjoy beautiful descriptions, but here I felt they sometimes lacked substance. 

The Future of Ice by Gretel Ehrlich, published (2004) by Penguin Random House.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

World Gaelic Week

It's World Gaelic Week (Seachdain na Gàidhlig) which aims to raise the profile of Gaelic through community initiatives, projects and events. 

Scottish Gaelic is familiar to many people living in Scotland through place names, particularly in the Highlands. It is also a living language for people in parts of Western Scotland, particularly the Western Isles (the only part of the country where televised election results are read out in Gaelic as well as English). 

I've been learning Gaelic for about a year now, and it's an interesting language, very different to English in spelling and grammar so it feels tricky to learn (though it is no more intrinsically difficult than any other language). 

I'm particularly interested in Gaelic words relating to the natural world, not just place names, but also Gaelic names for plants and animals. 

Here's a nice article on the NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) website about the Gaelic names of birds. I particularly like the fact that one of the Gaelic names for the Dunlin is gille-feadaig, meaning ‘servant of the plover' as the smaller wader will often be found hanging out with plovers. 

NatureScot also has a useful looking dictionary of Gaelic words relating to nature

And National Theatre of Scotland have produced a short film about language based on the play Somersaults by playwright Iain Finlay Macleod. A poetic exploration of language and how it defines who we are, captured on the Isle of Lewis. You can watch it here.

If you're still on Twitter, if you search for World Gaelic Week you'll find a good number of nature organisations sharing nature words from Gaelic.

Monday 19 February 2024

Easter Cards

I always make Easter cards for a few friends and family members, though I often forget to post photos of them anywhere. So here are some of this year's design. All are made using card (mostly second hand from friends or charity shops), old greetings cards and Easter embellishments which I was delighted to recently find in a local second hand shop.

A humorous card

two Easter chick cards

an egg themed card

and a sweet card featuring a hare in heather  

I'm very pleased with all these designs!

Sunday 18 February 2024

Vivid Colours on Edinburgh's Corstorphine Hill

We had a lovely walk around Corstorphine Hill yesterday. 

I had cataract surgery on my left eye last week (I had the right eye done in 2017). One of the advantages of cataract surgery is that colours suddenly become much more vivid, so I was able to appreciate these Scarlet Elf Cap fungi even more than has been normal over the past few years:

Another advantage of cataract surgery is being able to see detail more clearly, so where in the past couple of weeks I had been struggling to find the tiny female flowers on the Hazel trees, yesterday I could see loads of them (though of course this may have something to do with the timing of their appearance as well as with my improved eyesight!). 


Cataracts are actually quite inspiring for a poet, so now seems like a good time to revisit a couple of haiku on the topic that I had published on the Kalanopia website a few years ago.

Monday 12 February 2024

Early Spring Flowers in the Cemetery

I had a quick walk round Edinburgh's North Merchiston Cemetery at lunchtime today. The crocuses and snowdrops are looking beautiful just now 

Saturday 10 February 2024

Birds at the Botanics

It was grey and damp all day today, but we had a lovely walk at Edinburgh's Botanics

We were particularly impressed by the birds we saw at the pond. The Grey Heron was the most obvious: 

but looking carefully around the pond, we noticed a Kingfisher in a bush waiting for a fish to show

There were quite a lot of Mallards around and soon these two males started fighting

One of these males had a blue beak, which is quite unusual and probably means it's a domestic breed of mallard rather than a wild type Mallard.

Away from the pond there were a lot of Grey Squirrels, though I could only get two in the one photo

Thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for the lovely bird photos in this post.

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Birdsong in a Time of Silence by Steven Lovatt


This book was written in response to the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. when restrictions meant that our streets were much quieter and people became more aware of nature, particularly the sound of birdsong. In this book, the author uses his own lockdown observations of birds in his local area as a way into considering the function of birdsong in helping birds to defend a territory and find a mate and also the value that we gain from birdsong - as well as there being a basic enjoyment of birdsong, clinical studies have shown listening to birdsong has positive impact on people's mental health and wellbeing.

There is also an interesting discussion on whether birdsong can be, strictly, considered as music, centring on the observations that 'some species can improvise as well as any jazz musician.' and that some birds sing just as beautifully even after the breeding season is over, demonstrating that the song is more than purely functional.

 Bird vocalisations are divided into calls - short, purposeful vocalisations with specific intent such as contact calls and alarm calls - and song - the more extended, expressive vocalisation used to mark territory and attract a mate. Some birds never seem to sing, the corvids (crows) for example. But the author makes an excellent argument for jackdaw vocalisations to be considered song due to the wide range of sounds they use to converse in.

While lockdown opened a lot of people's ears to birdsong, the numbers of many of the UK's birds have been declining significantly for many years. "Many of the species that would have defined the start of summer even a generation ago are either absent altogether or so depleted for it to be a case of 'out of sound, out of mind'. And these losses are not just an ecological tragedy but also affect humans and our sense of our place in the world. The author notes that "on some level I'm already steeling myself for a time when I may no longer hear [swifts] at all" a sentiment I share, as I'm aware that year on year, fewer swifts are to be seen flying around our Edinburgh neighbourhood.

The text is illustrated with beautiful line drawings by Katie Marland. 

This is a beautiful book for anyone who loves listening to the birds and wants to know more about their musical abilities.

Birdsong in a Time of Silence by Steven Lovatt, illustrated by Katie Marland, published (2021) by Penguin.



Tuesday 6 February 2024

Valentine's Day Gift Wrap

I entirely forgot to post photos of any of the Christmas cards that I made last year! More recently I remembered that I used to share photos of examples of eco-friendly gift wrap (see this Christmas box idea, these two examples of Christmas gift-wrap, this green and white gift-wrap and this Spring themed gift-wrap).

So here is the gift wrap for Crafty Green Boyfriend's Valentine's gift, which re-uses a brown paper bag and card from the back of a kitten themed calendar and hearts from second-hand craft supplies. The gold thread is reused from a previous gift tag, and the parcel tape is paper based.

 I'll try to remember to post more of the greetings cards I make in the future, though not all of them.

Sunday 4 February 2024

Weekend Walks

 A few walks this weekend! To start with, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I popped into North Merchiston Cemetery to check up on the snowdrops, which are looking beautiful at the moment 

Our next walk started at Blackford Pond, where we admired the bulrushes at the water's edge 

There were several Tufted Ducks on the pond, including these males

several Mallards too, including this sleepy looking drake 

We then walked alongside Blackford Hill 

and past Midmar Paddock 

into the Hermitage of Braid 

When you get down to the river at the Hermitage, you can look up into the trees on the high land at either side  

Then today I walked with a friend into the Dells alongside the Water of Leith. The Winter Aconites are still beautifully in bloom 

and more and more Scarlet Elf Caps are appearing 

I was also very pleased with this photo of the red female flower of the Hazel tree, they're so tiny it's very difficult to get a decent photo of them, it was particularly nice to get the flower in the same photo as the male catkins.