Sunday 31 January 2010

Beautiful Birds (19): RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch ii

Welcome to my post for the carnival, 'I and the Bird'
hosted by Duncan at 'Ben Cruachan'

This is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend.

Dawn broke over Swansea Bay.
It was a cold, snowy morning.

The first birds arrived.

We noticed a flock of Starlings,

then a Blackbird...

... and a Robin.
(Notice those small bud signs of Spring!).

Other birds began to perch on the roof and the larch,
forming flocks of mixed species.

We sat at our window for the specified hour,
with the RSPB bird form to hand,
a pair of binoculars each
and mugs of hot coffee.

We recorded the highest number of a single species seen at a time.
Birds were only recorded if they landed.
Birds who passed over our garden in flight were excluded from the survey.
Each species could only appear once in the list.

We were quite surprised at the range of birds.
These were are results:
  1. 26 Starlings
  2. 4 Chaffinches
  3. 4 House Sparrows
  4. 3 Blackbirds
  5. 2 Bluetits
  6. 2 Magpies
  7. 1 Blackheaded Gull
  8. 1 Dunnock
  9. 1 Feral Pigeon
  10. 1 Goldfinch
  11. 1 Great Tit
  12. 1 Herring Gull
  13. 1 Robin
  14. 1 unidentified bird, slight, a long tail, cream-pink chest, slender bill. This bird perched in a tree.
The RSPB will collate the statistics that have been submitted, and will publish the final results of the Big Garden Birdwatch survey 2010 in March. The survey will include the sightings of half a million people in the UK, representing 28,000 gardens surveyed. The results will give a 'snapshot' picture of bird numbers in each region, alerting the RSPB to species with declining numbers. I was surprised to find that Starlings, the most numerous birds on our form, are listed as 'Red Status' on the conservation list. The mixed flock syndrome we witnessed may have been largely due to the cold weather.

I wonder if you took part? Do leave a link or a comment if you have posted your results.

See also:
P.S. Tuesday 2 February is World Wetlands Day!

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Beautiful Birds (18): RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch - and Blog Carnivals

A little reminder about the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend - on 30 and 31 January 2010. Do consider taking part. You can find the details here. There may even be an organised activity in your neck of the woods.

Festival of the Trees

Festival of the Trees

On the subject of birds and their habitats, there is probably still time for you to take part in two of the forthcoming international nature-orientated Blog Carnivals, 'I and the Bird' (IATB site here, deadline 4 February) and the 'Festival of the Trees' (deadline for blog-post submissions: 30 January).

Don't miss the present IATB carnival, hosted on and around a lake created by Seabrooke Leckie ('The Marvelous in Nature' blog) in rural eastern Ontario. This is well worth a visit for the ingenious artwork in addition to the wonderful linked blogs.

You can read my FOTT post here on my Land&Lit blog for a blend of wildlife and history. If you see trees with an artist's eye, you might well enjoy a virtual wander through the new Cornish exhibition, Of Woods and Trees, at Beside the Wave Gallery in Falmouth, UK.

Don't forget: Tuesday 2 February is World Wetlands Day! It marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the city of Ramsar in Iran, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each year since 1997, participants have tried to find ways of raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Poetic People (31): Sir Andrew Motion's Line, Part iii

'Can Creative Writing be taught as a university subject?'

Well, the voters have not exactly turned out in force - but my thanks to those of you who added your pennyworth to my Creative Writing poll.

The final results were as follows:

Votes cast: 9


1 Yes, of course.
0 No, never.
7 The craft of writing can be taught (but not the art).
1 I'll sit on the fence!

Our Creative Writing jury for the blogosphere is still out!

It would be misleading to draw conclusions from so small a field of voters, but this poll does at least prove that bloggers are not entirely of one mind. This itself is probably a healthy thing. As bloggers, do we value debate? Perhaps we generally blog to let off steam or for promotion purposes; and perhaps we turn to the blogs of others as a means of relaxation or community activity - or, in some instances, as a kind of education. You may disagree. Perhaps you disagree strongly!

You may be interested to read about Malcolm Bradbury, the founder - with Angus Wilson - of UK university courses in Creative Writing. You may also like to look at the following links:
Creative Writing courses abound, and I (for one) choose to side with Sir Andrew Motion. I have not taken a Masters in Creative Writing (to date...), but I have thoroughly enjoyed, and benefited from, the short courses I have undertaken over a number of years. Two of these have been online, two in the community (e.g. run by the WEA), and others have taken place in university settings. A big thank you to my tutors!

Long live good courses that offer an entry into the writing world by helping with matters of craft and technique - and by encouraging students to develop ideas in the context of their chosen areas of creativity. If the students are afforded the privilege of networking opportunities along the way, well, that - for them at least - is surely a bonus.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Poetic People (30): Sir Andrew Motion's Line, Part ii

'Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.'
Anton Chekhov

My thanks, thus far, to Mand (of the Travel Hopefully blog) and to Aidan Baker (Librarian at the Haddon Library, Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge) and for their comments on my previous post (here) on the subject of Sir Andrew Motion's views on the teaching of Creative Writing in universities.

Thank you, too, to those who have voted in my poll.

Aidan Baker refers us on to another article, this time by Louis Menand in the New Yorker (June 2009). The link to this article is here.

If you have not voted in my poll yet (top right of my blog), you might like to read Menand's piece first - but please remember to vote!
Postscript: On the subject of 'new writing' (well, what was once a new way of presenting writing, in this case), do read the marvellous quotation in paragraph 3 (beginning 'an essentially superficial process...') in Professor Henry Farrell's review in the current edition of the THES of A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution by Dennis Baron (OUP, £13.99, ISBN 9780195388442). Henry Farrell is associate professor of political science and international affairs, George Washington University.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Poetic People (29): Sir Andrew Motion's Line, Part i

'Clash over degree courses that try to teach budding authors the write stuff'.

This was the heading in The Times (16 January) linked to a column by the education correspondent, Nicola Woolcock, in the run-up to the announcement of the TS Eliot Prize. The link is here, although the online version has a less controversial heading!
  • 12 out of the 17 on the shortlist of those with the Masters Degree in Creative Writing were women.
  • 7 (of these?) attended UEA.
  • 5 of the 17 (men and women) have been contenders in the Costa First Novel Award since 2005.
Sir Andrew Motion made the valid point that nobody makes a fuss when musicians and actors receive training. He does not agree with those who feel that (creative) writing is not a suitable subject for universities to teach.

'The idea has taken root that writing can be taught as well or badly as acting, painting and dancing,' he concluded.

Do you agree? PLEASE CAST YOUR VOTE IN MY POLL (top right). It will run for a week.

Puffin Quest (4): Winter Water Wings

Above: a single Puffin in a choppy sea off Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK, July 2009
We thought at first it was a castaway decoy (see below)...
... but then it dived.

Below: nesting Puffins, Spring 2009, Yorkshire, UK

'Water, water, every where'

Those who follow my blog will know by now that I have a particularly soft spot for the Puffin!

The BBC has published an amazing account of the winter 'Odyssey' undertaken by this amazing bird. The findings have been made thanks to the adoption of geolocator tags. I am so grateful to Steven of The Golden Fish for drawing my attention to the report. It makes fascinating reading.

The Puffin - or rather a particularly 'snowy-looking' Puffin photographed by Barbara Fryer off Scilly - features in the February 2010 issue of the RSPB magazine, Birds. This Puffin is not an albino, but rather a leucistic specimen, since its eyes and bill have the usual pigments, and its white feathers are edged in black. Albinism (when there is no melanin present) is a genetic mutation: leucism is the result of diluted pigmentation.

The magazine also refers to the story I mentioned on a previous occasion about those silent Sirens, the supposedly alluring Puffin decoys on Ramsey Island off Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Previous Puffin posts:
*This species reminds me of the rare and declining Northern Rockhopper Penguin. I am grateful to Crafty Green Poet, Juliet Wilson, for pointing me in the direction of the RSPB's Letter to the Future campaign (don't forget to click on the green leaf on CGP's blog).

Readers familiar with Coleridge might also like to support the Save the Albatross campaign.

Postcript: my thanks to Matt Merritt of Polyolbion (see comments for this Polyolbion post) for teaching me a new name today. Matt told me that while the scientific name for 'Puffin is Fratercula arctica, confusingly, Puffinus puffinus is Manx Shearwater.'

PPS: On the subject of decoys and bird conservation, take a look at this

Monday 18 January 2010

Wonderful Words (9): Metrophobia

Readers of this blog will know by now that unusual words intrigue me. I wonder if you have encountered the word, Metrophobia, before. I hope you do not suffer from it.

You can read more about it here on the Quill & Quire blog.

Lipogram, incidentally, was new to me, too.

Conservation Corner (3): Lady Scott, wife of Sir Peter

Photo: David Gill
Swans above WWT Llanelli at Penclacwydd

You can read my short tribute to Lady Philippa Scott, widow of the conservationist, Sir Peter, here.

P.S. I saw my first Fieldfare on Gower yesterday. It was part of a flock, but the others were on the wing and I was (the passenger) in a moving car. A flash of 'golden green' and scarlet flew past my window this morning in the watery sunlight. It is the first time I have seen a Green Woodpecker up here.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Beautiful Birds (17): Round Redwing*

White Wigwam?

We were very inspired by the BBC Snow Watch programme last night to look out for something unusual in the snow. Well, we didn't have to look very far, as a Redwing came almost up to our back door, where there is some leafy (and snow-free) undergrowth at the foot of our Hydrangea bush.

Redwings may be quite common at this time of year, but it was a FIRST for us because we have not seen them in the garden before. When I blogged about the species a year ago (almost to the day), I posted a Redwing photograph, taken in the Mumbles area of Swansea by Mary Roberts - here. I love the distinctive white stripe on the head.

Matt Merritt of Polyolbion left the following informative comment on my post:
'They're pretty much Song Thrush sized.Very few breed in the UK, but large numbers arrive, along with Fieldfares (which are more like Mistle Thrush sized), from Scandinavia every winter. They're very fond of berry trees and windfall apples.'

I wonder what avian or 4-legged unexpected visitors have turned up in your garden...

Incidentally, while I am on the subject of wildlife, do take a look at Seabrooke's AMAZING résumé of her 2009 posts on The Marvelous in Nature from the wilds of eastern Ontario. Her photography is wonderful and her natural world stars are often extraordinary!

On the subject of snow, do remember to visit the new Polar Poets blog, hosted by Susan Richardson (from South Wales) and Siobhan Logan. Today's post is about Siobhan's fascination with and studies of the Northern Lights.

*And finally,
talking of Round Robins (quite a controversial blog topic in the run up to Christmas), my thanks go to the 'Snow Watch' team for explaining in basic scientific terms the reason why it is beneficial for a bird to fluff up its feathers in the cold, making itself look more rotund than normal...

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Poetic People (28): Dr Marc Latham of GreenyGrey and Folding Mirror Poetry

'Tangerine beaks'
Swan Summer Serenade

Those of you who read my blog from time to time will need little introduction to the creator of the Folding Mirror poetry form, Dr Marc Latham of the GreenyGrey website. Marc's eBook is now available for purchase as a download from Chipmunka. You can read my shortened review on the Chipmunka site here, or the full review here on my blog:-

Bipolarity and ADHD to Folding Mirrors: Poems reflecting on the Mind, Life, Nature and Space
Author: Dr Marc Latham

ISBN: 978-1-84991-023-1
Published: 2009
eBook: 112 pages

Publisher: chipmunkapublishing, the mental health publisher
Price: £5 (pdf download)

‘Let me take you on a journey, to the centre of my mind.’ Marc Latham

Have you heard of the GreenyGrey? This reviewer first became acquainted with Dr Marc Latham through his GreenyGrey website, in which he explains how his concept of the GreenyGrey ‘encapsulates the dominant natural colours of the British landscape, with the land predominantly green, and the mountains, rivers, sea and sky usually grey.’

Marc’s writing arises out of the wellspring of his medical conditions. His early poems in the eBook were inspired by rock lyrics on the subject of bipolarity, schizophrenia, paranoia, alienation and depressive illness.

‘I ... felt different and knew that my future would not run as smoothly as that of most people,’ Marc explains. He knew that writing was a definite ambition, but it was his creation of Folding Mirror poems that led to his increasing activity as a practising and published poet.

Marc’s Folding Mirror pieces are formed around a folding middle line. They reflect aspects of the bipolar moods swings that compass both sides of what Marc describes as ‘the fine
line of normality somewhere in the mind’. Football matches (with two sides and two halves), reflections, horizons and equinoxes have all been given the Folding Mirror treatment, along with a host of other subjects, such as science and art.

Early poems, prior to the Folding Mirror ones, demonstrate Marc’s understanding of traditional poetry techniques. The World Beyond Reality, for example, employs rhyming couplets and is structured in quatrains. Other pieces make use of poetic repetition and alliteration: the phrase ‘cirrus castellanus clouds’ occurs in Cloudy Sunset.

Pain is a recurring Leitmotif, but Marc is not afraid to explore positive aspects alongside the sometimes stark realities:

From the pain I want to develop
From the pain I seek to grow

Using pain to create...
(From: Me Driven by Pain)

Some poems demonstrate the poet’s anger and frustration: others highlight moments of great beauty. This reviewer’s personal favourite, Swan Summer Serenade, evokes a magical scene:

Tangerine beaks
are raised and lowered
like snakes charmed
in a solar haze
to wondrous praise.

Marc has a great affinity with the natural world in all its wild and wonderful manifestations. He longs for others to share what this reviewer might venture to call his ‘GreenyGrey’ manifesto, and is prepared to communicate his eco-warrior message in unique and arresting ways:

So goodbye Mr. and Mrs. Manatee
it was nice eating you.
(From: Nice to Eat You Mr. And Mrs. Manatee)

A number of Marc’s Folding Mirror poems are laid out like horizontal triptychs (take for instance Motorway Manic Mind Metaphor and Foundations of Independence). Other poems run vertically down the page, with the pivotal line at the halfway point. The collection includes some fascinating ekphrastic Folding Mirror poems, written by Marc in response to his encounters with paintings by artists such as Blake and Constable.

This reviewer’s favourite poem is Hiking Hadrian’s Wall at Summer’s End. The Roman wall runs through the centre of this piece, stretching from coast to coast, between swathes of poppies and thistles. ‘Poetry’, Marc declares, ‘inspires one to learn a little about many things’, and this collection certainly challenges the reader’s perception of what is black and white - and green and grey.

CG, 2010

Caroline is a member of Disability Arts Cymru, and has six poems in 'Hidden Dragons/Gwir a Grymus: New Writing by Disabled People in Wales', ed. Allan Sutherland and Elin ap Hywel (Parthian 2004).

Dr Marc Latham’s websites:

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Poetic People (27): Polar Poets, Susan Richardson and Siobhan Logan

Deep and crisp and even...

Caroline (in Arbeia shirt) with Susan Richardson at the Hay Festival, 2009

Why not pack your snow boots and leki sticks away for an hour or so, and join two polar explorers on their cyberspace journey of writing?

Polar Poets, Susan Richardson and Siobhan Logan are launching their exciting new blog this week, with the evocative strapline 'making wordprints across the Arctic'.

Susan and Siobhan both have first-hand experience of Arctic regions, and hope in their writing 'to evoke the unique appeal of one of the planet's last great wildernesses'. Be sure to keep an eye open for their interviews, quizzes and poems. The site is enhanced by photographs of Greenland taken by Paul Lomatschinsky.

I first encountered Susan as my creative writing tutor when I took part in Disability Arts Cymru's project, The Write Stuff, in 2003. This enterprise led to the publication in 20o4 by Parthian of Hidden Dragons/Gwir a Grymus (I still love the name!), a ground-breaking anthology of 'New Writing by Disabled People in Wales', edited by Allan Sutherland and Elin ap Hywel.

Since those days Susan and I have kept in touch via our blogs, enjoying the occasional chance to meet up over literature, coffee ... or chips ('my one weakness'), in Cardiff and Hay.

I have mentioned Susan's wonderful poetry volume before. For a veritable marine menagerie I would recommend Creatures of the Intertidal Zone (scroll down the linked page), published by Cinnamon Press. The poet follows in the footsteps of Gudrid, an eleventh century 'Viking heroine'. Within the pages of the volume you will encounter not only seals and cetaceans, but other creatures like the hermit crab and - of course - a colony of penguins.

Remember to keep an eye open for those footprints in the snow...
Postcript: you might also like to see the ice and penguins on Professor P. Brain's Swansea ecology blog here.

Conservation Corner (2): Lundy Island

A Maritime Conservation Creature!

Mumbles Lighthouse,

snow on Exmoor beyond,
Lundy to the right (beyond the photograph)

Here in Swansea, I often find myself gazing out to the Mumbles Lighthouse, in the direction of Devon. There is a small island out there in the Bristol Channel called Lundy. I am delighted to read that it has just been designated England's first Maritime Conservation Zone.

Lundy and its waters are the home of seals, corals and lobsters. Take a look at some of the inhabitants in this BBC footage.

Friday 8 January 2010

Seasonal Splash (2): Snow, Ice and Fireworks

'It blows a snowing gale in the winter of the year;
The boats are on the sea ...
The passion of the gale.'

Robert Louis Stevenson

It Blows A Snowing Gale

Robert Louis Stevenson was the grandson of Robert Stevenson (1772-1850),
the lighthouse builder.

The land above the Mumbles Lighthouse in the above picture is North Devon

Keep Warm!

Thursday 7 January 2010

Guest Blogger (2): Hannah Atkinson

Images of Spurn Point, Yorkshire, UK
Copyright: Hannah Atkinson

I am very grateful to Hannah for sending me these fine photographs of Spurn Point in Yorkshire to display on my blog. If anyone would like to contact Hannah with a view to using these images as postcards, please would you leave a note to this effect in the Comments box below, or send me an email.

If you would like to find out a bit more about this extraordinary part of the world, you might like to read my Land&Lit post here.

Beautiful Birds (16): Beautiful Books

Proud Peacock!

The cold weather has brought some surprising birds to our attention. A Bittern (Red Alert status) was sighted at WWT Llanelli in Penclacwydd last weekend, though David failed to hear its haunting boom when he was there. I gather there had been a sighting before Christmas, too. A Bittern (possibly the same bird?) was seen at Crymlyn Bog on 5 January 2010: you can read about it on the Gower Wildlife blog, along with news of other feathered visitors to my area of South Wales. The Rare Bird Alert site informs us that Monday 4 January saw a Black Kite (link here: then scroll down a bit for an image) flying among the Red Kites in Powys, and a Glossy Ibis appearing in Worcestershire. Wow!

If birds and books are joint passions, take a look at the Abe Books Beautiful Book Boutique, which is currently showcasing 30 Beautiful Old Bird Books. The covers alone are worthy of a glance: my favourite design has to be Wise and Otherwise. Peacocks and owls seem to be the most prevalent species. I wonder which designs you like best.

Monday 4 January 2010

Poetic People (26): Kay Weeks

Happy New Year
from icy South Wales!

My apologies for the delay in this post. However, it has meant that I can now pass on guest access (courtesy of editor, Sharmagne Leland-St. John) for the January issue of Quill and Parchment.

You will find my interview ['Twisting and Turning' in the interviews section] with Kay Weeks, writer and poet from historic Ellicott City in Maryland, USA. Kay has two blogs, one about Camilla the cat; but I will let you discover all this for yourself...

You will also find my Bodmin Moor poem, Dozmary Pool (first published in Reach Poetry), about King Arthur's sword, Excalibur.

Empty Shoes, edited by Patrick T. Randolph and sold to raise funds for those who are hungry and homeless, is reviewed in this issue by Karen Schwartz. The book reached number 2 in the pre-Christmas 'Hot New Releases' list of popular new books in the 'religious and inspirational' category. The anthology contains my poem, Stranger.

Please follow the link to the Quill and Parchment site and add the following guest passwords for the January issue:

NAME: january
PASSWORD: snowball