Monday, 20 October 2014

A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum

Where would we be without bees? A third of what we eat and much of what we wear relies on pollination by honeybees. So the fact that honeybees are in desperate trouble as their numbers plummet across the planet is of major concern to all of us.

A World Without Bees, whose authors are keen beekeepers themselves, outlines the history of the human relationship with the honeybee, going back to early cave paintings of bees. It then explores all the stresses that we put on bees, including trucking bees across the USA to pollinate crops across the country (but especially the Californian almond orchards); the effects of pesticides and fungicides and the spread of parasites such as the Varroa mite. The authors speak to scientists, farmers and bee-keepers to try to analyse how these stresses fit in with the widely observed colony collapse disorder which sees hives suddenly lose all or most of their bees.

This is sobering, depressing reading and doesn't really offer any solutions. But one thing is certain, we need to save the bees, if we are to have any meaningful future ourselves.

A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum published by Guardian Books.

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

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Easter Craiglockart Hill

The day started out bright and still and unseasonably warm as we walked up Easter Craiglockart Hill.

A kestrel hovered above the grass, swerved away but held it's own against the rising winds. It dropped right down to hover just a foot or so above the grass then dropped into the grass. It flew up again, nothing in its beak. It flew away to the trees, but still hovered. Then as storm clouds began to gather, another kestrel appeared, hovering over the golf course.

As both kestrels flew off, we walked back into the woods and found this strange looking fungus, which I don't think either of us have seen before, but I've identified it as Purple Jelly fungus (Ascocoryne sarcoides).

Friday, 17 October 2014

Autumn in the Braids

It's wonderfully warm and sunny today, perfect weather for planning out a new route for a nature study walk I'll be leading the week after next. The group have said they want us to go through the Hermitage of Braid and into the Braid Hills, which I thought was a bit ambitious for the 3 hours we will have, certainly if we're looking at everything from fungi to birds along the way.

Today's walk proved my suspicions and also alerted me to a path that looks like the obvious route to get from a particular A to B but in fact is way too steep, so I had to find another linking path, which I did, though this one is overgrown and muddy, but it isn't too steep. So this proves the value of checking out an exact route and on the day we'll just walk as far as we can and then back again by a slightly different route.

The autumn colours are wonderful at the moment, though I find they never look as wonderful on camera as they do in real life.

The bridle path around Braid Golf course was muddier than ever, but has got plenty of fungi growing alongside it at the moment - these are common puffballs

and this one I don't know, though possibly an egg yolk fungus? If you can recognise the species, then please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A Year of Insects - Hoverflies

I don't know much about insects (apart from butterflies), but I've been making a real effort to teach myself more (and Crafty Green Boyfriend has been a real help as he knows a lot more about all sorts of invertebrates than I do). I've found that some insects are much easier to identify to species level than you might expect, if you have patience and an eye for detail).

For example, these three hoverflies are, on close inspection quite distinctive:

The marmalade hoverfly seems to me to be the most common hoverfly in Edinburgh and is a common wasp mimic
Sericomyia silentis which is also a common wasp mimic,  I've nicknamed the silent hoverfly, due to its scientific name.

Eristalix pertenax is a honey bee mimic, which I've nicknamed the orange shouldered hoverfly (click on the image to see why, though the orange patches don't indicate actual shoulders at all!)

You can find out more about hoverflies here, and scroll down on that page for photos of the species of hoverflies found in the UK. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

My Love of Nature

Recently, Maureen of Josephina Ballerina (where she blogs about life and particularly about her beautiful tortoiseshell cat Josephina) asked me to blog about where my love of nature comes from.

I grew up in suburban Manchester, in a house with a relatively small garden with a wild patch of shrubs and trees at the bottom. This was a great natural den, and I spent a lot of time, particularly in the summer, playing in the shade of the sycamore tree.

I collected nature books, specially books about birds (but I overheard my Dad saying on one occasion "doesn't she think she has enough books about birds?"). I also loved reading a big old book by Enid Blyton, that I remember belonging to my grandparents. I can't remember the name, but it was a fictionalised account of one family's adventures in the outdoors guided by their Uncle Quentin who seemed to know everything there was to know about nature. I don't really like to admit to Enid Blyton being a formative influence but....

A lot of my early interest in nature came from books rather than being outside. We had regular family excursions out, though these were usually to local parks or the local woods. It was relatively rare that our day trips went further than that, though our holidays were always to rural places. All our trips were heavily supervised, I wasn't allowed to run around much or climb trees and I certainly wasn't allowed to go out into the countryside alone or even with friends, though this story (published on Pygmy Giant) is true.

I studied Biology right through high school and took my Biology A level exam then went to University to study Botany. I've maintained my interest in nature ever since, though it's only recently that I've started leading groups on birdwatching walks and nature studies.

There are many reasons I love nature, firstly the sheer beauty, secondly the everchanging seasons and thirdly the fact that there is always something new to learn, whether in identifying a new species of insect or in observing a new behaviour from a favourite bird.

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

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Autumn colours in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

The other day I was in one of the Edinburgh charity shops and noticed that they had bags full of what looked like broken jewellery selling for £3 each. I duly bought three bags, thinking I would find lots of supplies for my crafting projects. I was astonished to find that many of the items weren't at all damaged and hadn't even been reduced in price individually before being thrown into the bags. As a result, I've found myself some lovely new jewellery plus two necklaces for my Mum who asked me to look out some second hand necklaces for her, and then left over some damaged jewellery that I could use for crafting projects.

Here is the first item I've made, from a partly damaged necklace to be exact, an extra long beaded bookmark, specially for those who like to read big books!

This bookmark is now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see it here.

I made this keyring from the odd earrings and broken items from my purchase.

I was very happy to find so many pieces that complemented each other in colour and design and I like the overall autumnal look of the colours. The jewellery course I attend a couple of months ago comes in very handy for creating items like this!

This keychain is also now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see it here

Monday, 13 October 2014

In the Dells

It's beautifully autumnal in Colinton Dell just now.

The larch tree I'm studying for Tree Following is starting to turn subtly yellow and lose some of its needles. The cones are mature but haven't yet opened to release the seeds.

Last year's cones are still on the tree, if you look carefully you can see that they have opened and they'll be empty of seeds.

There were lots of birds around today, but only one wanted to be photographed. This grey heron got a good view of the river from this waste water pipe!