Monday, 31 March 2014

Tree Following 4: the larch

I'm studying a larch for Tree Following this year. This photo shows the larch within the context of its surroundings.

The larch stands by the side of the footpath that runs though Colinton Dell by the Water of Leith. This is now one of Edinburgh's most beautiful green spaces, but once was crowded with industry, there were numerous mills along the river. You can see a building in the background of this photo, this is a modern house built on the site of the old Bog's Mill House. The green field behind the larch is where the mill itself used to stand and is currently being turned into a wildflower meadow by the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.

The larch isn't just home to the long tailed tits, who I've watched building their nest in recent weeks (though I didn't see them today), it also has a bat box on its trunk. There are lots of bats in the area, mostly pipistrelles. Both Water of Leith Conservation Trust and the Edinburgh Countryside Rangers lead bat walks in the summer.

The female flowers of the larch are still in bloom and today I managed to get both flower and cone in the same photo.

For Tree Following.

The wild garlic is luxuriant throughout large parts of the Dells at the moment.

The birds are singing loudly. I watched a grey wagtail, running up and down along the riverbank, collecting insects for its chicks.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Windowsill Garden - organic rocket

I sowed some organic rocket seeds in a pot on our windowsill garden a couple of days ago and here they are today!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mist and birds on Arthur's Seat

Very misty on Arthur's Seat today, but that didn't stop the birds singing! The air was loud with the songs of chaffinches, robins and blackbirds! Lots of jackdaws around too. And grey herons! Most of the herons we saw were on their nests in the heronry in the trees by Duddingston Loch, at the foot of Arthur's Seat, but this one was catching frogs by the small loch halfway up the hill. 

We watched this bird fish two frogs out of the water, carry them to a patch of mud then kill them and swallow them.

Meanwhile, the snails were enjoying the damp grass.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Writers Blog Tour

My thanks to Caroline Gill for inviting me to join the current Blog Tour.

My understanding is that I have to answer the four questions below and then invite a fellow writer or two to do the same. So here goes ...

What am I working on?
My main piece of writing at the moment is a novel about climate change refugees in a future, independent and much flooded Hebrides. I'm relatively happy with the first 2/3 of this book and the ending, but between lies a black hole which I'm currently trying to fill. I have the ideas, all I need to do is write.....
I'm always writing poetry too, and perhaps foolishly have signed up to NaPoWriMo, the National Poetry Writing Month, which takes place in April.  The idea being that this will help me to capture more of the inspiring ideas i have before they escape.... (My poem 'Influential Poets' has just been added to my page at Verse Wrights).

I write haiku all the time, mostly inspired by nature. 

I've just come to the end of a term of teaching creative writing at the Ripple Project in the Lochend area of Edinburgh. This is a brilliant class to teach, everyone is so keen to join in discussions about writing (though we sometimes veer off topic!) and everyone in the class is talented and imaginative. Another class will start just after Easter, so I'm looking forward to that. 

For the past 8 years I've enjoyed editing Bolts of Silk, an online poetry journal. I recently decided to bring this to a close though and the last poem will be published there on the day that swifts return to Edinburgh this spring.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
My novel takes a more internationalist approach to the topic of a future climate changed Scotland (there are a few good novels already out there on a similar theme, most notably Angus Dunn's Writing in the Sand).
Why do I write?

I enjoy the process of writing (I have surprised myself by how much I'm genuinely enjoying writing a novel, though admittedly there are times when it's not going well, but overall, definitely an enjoyable experience). 

I feel I have things to say that I want to share with other people.

How does my writing process work?
I write haiku when inspiration strikes, which is usually at least a few times a week.
With longer poetry I have a box of ideas and half worked poems which I add to and work on on an ongoing basis. I also write poetry in response to prompts I find on websites or for competitions.
My novel started out as a NaNoWriMo work a couple of years ago and was largely made up of very bad dialogue, because that was the easiest way to keep up the word count! I have since then entirely rewritten it into something much more readable and have quite thoroughly rewritten the first 2/3, with the help of Crafty Green Boyfriend, who has given me a lot of very useful ideas. Currently I'm a bit stuck, though I have worked up some ideas of where to take the story next, but I just need to write these into the narrative and find the impetus again.

I'm going to pass this on totwo Edinburgh based writers: 

Nasim at velogubbed.
Marianne Wheelagan - read her answers here.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Tree Following 3: Female flowers, larch

I can't believe I've never noticed these gorgeous little female flowers on the larch before!

The long tailed tits were flitting round the tree, certainly they seem very much at home there, though I didn't see them visiting their nest. 

For Tree Following 

Also beautifully in bloom nearby were the celandines

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Gorgie City Farm

I spent a lovely afternoon at Gorgie City Farm yesterday. Some new lambs have just been born, though I could only find one:

The other Poll Dorset sheep were mostly busy eating

or posing for passing photographers

and there's a new rabbit in town, whose name I couldn't find out, but a handsome one indeed (I've since found out this rabbit is called Thumper):

After walking round the farm, I went to the first in the farm's series of Pet Lodge lectures. Lauren Collins (MSc student from Glasgow University) gave a talk on the 'evolution of the symbolic dog in domestic spaces' while the audience cuddled guinea pigs! I didn't get a photo, as it's quite difficult to use a camera with a guinea pig on your knees, specially if you want also to avoid disrupting a lecture! It was an interesting talk though and it was very relaxing to spend time with a very beautiful guinea pig, even if it did get quite energetic at times! 

And I did manage to get a photo of several of the farm guinea pigs in their enclosure in the pet lodge

 Future lectures will feature chickens, a snake and hopefully some rabbits!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Beading and bookmarks

I recently bought a stock of small beads from the Oxfam shop in Morningside (any crafters in Edinburgh, this is an excellent shop for finding cheap crafting supplies and all the profits go directly to charity).

The beads are mostly of the type I use to make bookmarks (a type of bead I had run out of!). So I've made a couple more beaded bookmarks and put them in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Bird dialect

It's Spring and the birds are singing their hearts out! It's the best time of year to start learning bird song, as the summer warblers are mostly yet to arrive (though I have already heard a chiffchaff, which thoughtfully sings its own name over and over).

Birdsong can be very tricky to learn, after all they only sing between late February and mid July, leaving you half the year to forget what they sound like!

To complicate matters, some birds have dialects, depending on which part of the country they come from. The chaffinch is a bird renowned for its dialects. I've noticed that although in Edinburgh chaffinches mostly sing either 'ginger beer' or 'how are you' at the end of their short song, in nearby Musselburgh, they almost all sing 'Scooby Doo'.

The yellowhammer is a bird I had never thought of as having a dialect. However, the Yellowhammer dialect project put me right on that one! This fascinating project is studying the development of dialects in yellowhammers in both the declining UK population and the thriving, introduced and almost a pest population in New Zealand. People in the two countries are encouraged to record yellowhammers in the field and send the recordings to the project. You can find out more about the project and how to take part here. It's a great way to make people more aware of yellowhammers and to contribute to an intriguing study into bird communication!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Figgate Park

Figgate Park can usually be depended on to be the best park in Edinburgh for seeing birds, but today we didn't see as many as we normally would. We still had a lovely walk though.

It was quite windy as you can see from the way the branches are getting blown around in this willow tree

There were a few ducks on the pond, though not as many as usual. Crafty Green Boyfriend caught this male mallard as it was dabbling for food

while in the trees these carrion crows shared a romantic moment

Friday, 21 March 2014

International Forests Day

Happy International Forests Day!

This is an opportunity to celebrate the natural beauty of forests and to help ensure that they are protected for future generations.

You can celebrate forests by going for a walk in your local woodland! In Edinburgh I can recommend Colinton Dell by the Water of Leith; Hermitage of Braid; Cammo Country Park and Corstorphine Hill.

If you enjoy walking in forests and woodlands, then you will be keen to protect them for future generations. In the UK, the Woodland Trust works hard to protect ancient woodland and other areas of woodland. On their website, they offer sone useful ideas for how you can get involved in protecting woodland.

I love  walking in woodlands and enjoying the peace and quiet and the beauty of the trees and other plants, the birds and mammals. I love watching as woodland nature changes through the seasons.

Which are your favourite areas of woodland and what do you most like about them?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The January Flower by Orla Broderick

This, the debut novel by Orla Broderick is the story of Mary, a single mother living in the Highlands of Scotland and trying find herself and to give her daughter the best start in life.

Mary meets Wallace, a man with few redeeming features other than he looks good in a kilt, and then finds herself torn between the various members of his family and her struggles to bring her daughter up while also searching for her own spiritual and sexual identity.

The element I most enjoyed about the book is the obvious connection that Mary feels with nature:

The little robin is perched out on my washing line. ... I search for scraps to scatter. She comes to take them, returns to gently drop the bits in the other beak. A fatter version of herself with a slow stupid look, I presume this is the last of her chicks to fledge.

The whole book is very poetically written, full of lovely phrases. Oddly I felt this sometimes stopped me feeling close to Mary. I also often felt that the individual characters, other than Mary, could have benefited from more consistently and better developed voices.

Having said that, this is a lovely book to read for a different insight into life in the Scottish Highlands and for its portrayal of people living in close connection and awareness of nature.

The January Flower by Orla Broderick, published by Council House Publishing.

As ever red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages, where you can find out more.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Rocket - a film review

This dramatic and heartwarming film takes place against the lush and dramatic scenery of Laos. Ahlo, a young boy is believed to be cursed and his family blame them for all their misfortune.

When a second dam is built in the nearby valley, the family's home and community is destroyed and they are forced to travel miles to the new 'resettlement village' where they are promised running water and electricity. However in reality, the village hasn't even yet been built and the villagers are forced to make their own shelter from plastic sheeting and branches.

Ahlo makes friends with a young girl Kia and her alcoholic uncle (who's obsessed with James Brown). Ahlo's family agree to move to the uncle's village, but when they get there they find it is abandoned and full of unexploded bombs. The local bureaucrats in addition tell the family they can't live there and must leave in two days, once the Rocket festival has ended.

Ahlo is determined to win the rocket festival to win back his father's love. He sets about building a magnificent rocket, with the help of Kia's uncle, who used to be a soldier.

The film ends with scenes from the Rocket Festival, where rockets are sent up into the sky in the hopes that one of them will make the rains start. Ahlo is working on his rocket right up to the last moment, will his first attempt manage to beat the huge Millenial Rocket, built by the team that has won the last several rocket festivals?

This is a beautiful, touching film about hope and overcoming your demons, set within the context of a community and environment pushed to the edge by technological development and progress. 

The Rocket is showing at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh until Thursday 20 March

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Tree Watching: the larch week 2

The European larch (Larix decidua) is a deciduous conifer. It's not native to Scotland but has been planted here in great number because it's wood is very useful. It is also cold tolerant, which is a useful attribute for any species living in Scotland!

Its cones are favourite food for birds including siskin and redpolls.

This morning, I visited my larch in Colinton Dell, alongside the Water of Leith. The long tailed tits were still working on their nest. You can just see the nest in this photo, its part of the dark mass just off centre of the photo:

I couldn't take a photo of the birds, they were moving too quickly! (Also I like to enjoy the moment, rather than to get caught up in taking bad photos!) I noticed that one of them was carrying tiny feathers in its beak, which it was adding to the lining of the nest.

I then turned my attention back to the tree, which has a very distinctive bark

Near the larch, though not in it, I heard the first chiffchaff of the year, repeating its name over and over....

For Tree Following and Nature Notes 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Blogging Award - The Lighthouse Award

I was honoured to receive the Lighthouse Award from Woodland Matters, the campaigning blog of the Woodland Trust.


The award was created by Coach Muller at ‘Good Times Stories’ who says this is
“an award to recognize the people who have created beautiful, heartwarming, and inspirational blogs. Their blogs bring us happiness, enlighten our hearts, and bring a little joy to our lives when we visit their pages. The work that these people have done has truly given us rays of light in a gloomy world."

So I have to choose a few blogs to pass this award on to, and to make it slightly easier for myself, I'll restrict the choice to nature related blogs:

Wild and Wonderful - Caroline's knowledgeable blog about British wildlife.

Weaver of Grass - nature and rural life in northern England 

Where Beechmast Falls - nature notes from England's New Forest.

Ben Cruachan - Duncan's nature notes and poetry from Australia

and, three blogs which give me a useful insight into birds in the USA:

Viewing Nature with Eileen for her wonderful views of American birds and skies

Rambling Woods, the Home of Nature Notes and Michelle's campaigning for Monarch butterflies and other species and for her lovely photos of her garden birds

Run A Round Ranch Report - more bird photos from the USA, specially Whistling Ducks. Oh and horses too. 

There are many others too! 


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Still weaving

My weaving skills are getting better, these are the two latest coasters I've woven using my cardboard loom. I like the contrasting colours and am annoyed that I've run out of the thin dark green yarn so I can't make more coasters in the exact same colour scheme!

Meanwhile I've added another silver and black satin chopstick bag to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Spring Yellows

The pussy willow trees are amazing at the moment (these are male trees, female trees tend to bloom later than the males and the female catkins are longer and thinner).

I love that some of the catkins are still grey and furry while others are opening out gradually and some are almost entirely yellow with the emerging flowers. The first bee of the year was buzzing round in the top of this tree while I was taking the photos.

More spring yellow with this wonderful heart formed lichen (I think it's Xanthoria parietina, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). It doesn't always grow in a heart shape, that's just a lucky accident....

For Nature Notes

Meanwhile I'm delighted to have my plastic bag organiser included in this upcycled 'spring greens' treasury on Etsy.

And I've just added another larger drawstring bag to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop - this one is suitable for storing a descant recorder, a tin whistle or incense sticks.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Tree Following - the Larch

Today I decided I would take part in the Tree Following Project. So when I was in Colinton Dell I was keeping an eye out for an interesting, accessible tree. This area by the Water of Leith is full of beautiful and interesting trees, so I was a bit spoilt for choice! My initial thought had been to study the tree where the tawny owl roosts (and I'm always so taken with watching the owl that I don't even know what species of tree it is!) but the path by that tree has been cordoned off due to another tree needing to be cut down. The tree and the owl are still visible from the barrier but I can't get close to the tree!).

Instead my eye was caught by this European larch tree.

It's an old tree and has ivy climbing on the lower portion of its trunk. 

The larches are the only deciduous conifers and always look strangely bare in the winter.

It always seems to be full of birds, particularly coal tits. What made my mind up for me in choosing this tree to watch for this project was seeing a pair of long tailed tits making their nest in its branches. This is the third time I've watched long tailed tits making a nest, and really it is a wonderful sight, they make such an intricate dainty little nest, a work of art really, from spiders webs and lichens and other things. The nest is in the first photo but it's too small and too well camoflaged to show up. Plus although the long tailed tits were more than happy to have me around, they became agitated when I tried to get closer and take a photo of them and their nest, so I put my camera away and watched them for a little longer.

For Tree Following

Monday, 10 March 2014

A Life of Ospreys by Roy Dennis

Many of you in the UK will be familiar with Roy Dennis from his appearances on Springwatch and Autumnwatch as he follows ospreys on their migrations from the UK to Senegal. Well, here is the book!

A Life of Ospreys is a comprehensive study of the osprey in the UK, it's breeding biology, it's migration habits and the amazing story of its recovery as a breeding bird in this country after been pushed to extinction. The book is full of information about ecology, biology and conservation science, but is written in an accessible style throughout.

Roy Dennis has been intimately involved in many of the projects to help reintroduce the osprey and to help it to breeding success. The book outlines many projects including building artificial nests, monitoring breeding success, combating egg thieves and developing public interest in nesting ospreys.

The book is packed full of fascinating insights into this magificent bird and the work that has been done to preserve it, along with lots of colour photos, diagrams, sketches and graphs. An ideal book for anyone interested in birds and conservation! 

Thanks to Birding 247 for this book, which I won in a competition on Twitter.

A Life of Ospreys by Roy Dennis, published by Whittles Publishing

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A Few Things about Trees

I blogged a while ago about the European Tree of the Year 2014 (the results of which will be announced at a ceremony in Brussels on 19 March 2014.)

Now, preparations have already started for the European tree of the Year 2015.

Scottish Tree of the Year is a new competition organised by the Woodland Trust Scotland, which  aims to find the nation’s best loved trees. The competition is open to any living tree in Scotland that has a great story to tell, and anybody can nominate a tree. Applications close on Friday 9 May. An independent panel of judges will shortlist six trees and in September, the public will vote for the winner. The winner of the competition will go on to be Scotland’s entry in the European Tree of the Year competition in 2015. 
If you have a favourite tree, how about blogging about it through the year? Tree Following is a project set up by Lucy Corrander, which encourages people to blog at least monthly about a chosen tree and the animals and plants associated with it. I haven't decided whether to take part yet! 
This project is similar to Tree Year, which I took part in back in 2011. As you will see if you follow the link, I observed one of the cherry trees opposite our flat and a group of hornbeams along the Water of Leith.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Lauriston Castle

It was a blustery morning for our visit to Lauriston Castle earlier today. The castle, which is more a country house than an actual castle, is set in lovely grounds, with impressive statuary dotted around.

Our favourite part of the grounds is the Kyoto Edinburgh Friendship garden, which is a lovely japanese style garden.

The old Doric column from the original gardens makes a nice focal point to the garden

 which also has lovely views over the Firth of Forth and Cramond Island

We also had a wonderfully close view of a kestrel, which I added to this year's bird list!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Larger drawstring bags

Chopstick bags continue to be the most popular item in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop. As well as recently adding some more of these bags to the shop, I thought I'd branch out a bit and make some slightly larger bags, suitable for storing a descant recorder or incense sticks, among other possible uses. As ever these are made from good quality repurposed materials. I've added one to the shop already and there will be another to follow quite soon.

I now have over 50 items for sale in the shop, which according to some people is supposed to magically bring in more views, favourites and sales (though the same effect is much greater when you hit over 100 items in your shop, a goal which I'm sure is beyond me!).I haven't seen any such effect as yet, but I have been pleased with how many items I've sold over the past year or so. Thanks to everyone here who has bought items!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

haiku and poetry publishing news

sunset -
the dusky singing
of a blackbird

I'm delighted to have had two poems published recently, you can follow the links below to read them:

What is Left on The Bijou Poetry Review.

.In the Office on The Work Literary Magazine.  

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Assault on Nature by Gary Beck

I have been delighted to publish some of Gary Beck's poetry on Bolts of Silk and so was delighted to be offered the chance to review his poetry collection Assault on Nature.

The title gives a clue to the obsessions and concerns of this collection - our destructive relationship with nature and the earth and the breakdown of relationships between different groups of people. It can feel like a depressing read, Beck is straightforward and blunt in his expression of the issues:

oh the bullets fly, our leaders lie,
our conscience goes to sleep.
We watch the war on TV sets 
and we forget to weep. 

from War Song

This is a refreshing change from the roundabout way of saying things used by some poets, but in a collection this length, it can lead to a sense of unremitting gloom. Which is perhaps, an accurate reflection on reality, but doesn't make this a book you want to devour in one sitting.

There are some moments of lightness and hope, Ghost Ships for example talks about recycling of ships and maritime structures, while Rope discusses the benefits of rope and knots. Sometimes Beck's clever use of rhyme and meter can give a poem a bouyant feel, as in Gravity:

Gravity's got me down
got me tight in its grip 
Don't matter how I try 
I can't get loose of it 

even though the poem ends with a note of doom:

but gravity grinds me down
pulls me to the final crash. 

Hidden away in the middle of the book though is Journey, a beautiful love poem

how far I travel 
on your highways
mutilated stranger
distant as stars.

It's a collection that very much has something to say, and the intent of the message is loud and clear. Read this book, but not in one sitting and not if you're feeling low.

Assault on Nature by Gary Beck published by Winter Goose Publishing

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Jackdaws at Cammo Tower

I took my birdwatching class to Cammo Estate today.We saw lots of birds, including a grey wagtail, a grey heron, a buzzard and song thrushes. Great spotted woodpeckers were drumming in the trees, skylarks were singing over the fields and great tits were demonstrating a small selection of their vast repertoire of calls.

I don't take my camera to my birdwatching classes, but here's a selection of photos from our visit to Cammo on Saturday.

Cammo Tower is an early nineteenth century water tower that is today a notable landmark in the Cammo Fields.

These days it's boarded up, with pigeons sneaking in through the cracks to nest. When we were there on Saturday, this pair of jackdaws seemed to be checking out the top of the tower as a potential nest site. Jackdaws are small crows with very pale eyes. Scientists have recently shown that the jackdaws use their pale eyes to scare other birds away from their nest sites.

If my sense of direction isn't deceiving me, the green field in the photo below is the one that is threatened with a housing development, despite it's being home to five declining species of farmland birds which are listed specifically in the Edinburgh Local Biodiversity Action Plan (ELBAP) as being vital for conservation and are rarely found in other areas of Edinburgh. Click here for my previous blog posts about the campaign to save Cammo fields.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. Also, as ever, if you click on the photos you should get a bigger view.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Snowdrops and a friendly robin

Yesterday we went to Cammo Estate to see the snowdrops in the Walled Garden, which traditionally put on a wonderful display. We weren't disappointed! The bright sunshine helped of course.

We made friends with a lovely robin that wanted to be photographed by Crafty Green Boyfriend.

We were also delighted to hear skylarks singing high above the Cammo fields and see linnets hopping around in the hedges. These are the fields that may be built on, despite being home to five declining bird species that are mentioned specifically in the Edinburgh Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) and most of which are rarely seen anywhere else in Edinburgh. When I wrote to a local councillor, she assured me that I shouldn't worry as Edinburgh Council takes the LBAP very seriously when considering where to build new developments. When I pointed out that in that case the council shouldn't even consider building on these fields, she didn't reply.

You can read more about Cammo Fields and the campaign to save them in these earlier blog posts on Crafty Green Poet.

You can keep in touch with the Cammo Residents campaign to save Cammo Fields on Facebook and by following them on Twitter @Cammo_Residents.

I'm taking my birdwatching class to Cammo tomorrow and will blog more of yesterday's photos then. (I don't take a camera on my birdwatching walks).

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.