Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Extinct - the Grounding of the SS Makambo

The final story in my series looking at the extinct birds that I stitched during last year's Ghosts of Gone Birds live art studio is perhaps the saddest of them all.  

The SS Makambo Casualty List
On 15 June 1918, the SS Makambo ran aground on Lord Howe Island, Australia.  Although just one passenger was killed, FIVE separate species of bird were casualties of the incident.  Their demise was not instantaneous; it took several days to re-float the vessel during which time black rats made it ashore and began their predation of these five endemic birds:
Lord Howe Gerygone (Rain Bird)
Lord Howe Thrush (Doctorbird)
Robust Whiteye (Big Grinnell)
Lord Howe Starling
Lord Howe Fantail
All of them entirely wiped out by the rat invaders let ashore by the navigational errors of the ship’s crew.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Extinct - the Norfolk Island Kaka

Another beautiful bird vanished from our planet forever, the fifth in the series of blog posts about the extinct birds I resurrected during the Ghosts of Gone Birds live studio is the Norfolk Island Kaka.

Endemic to Norfolk Island, this Kaka was hunted by the settlers that arrived in 1788 when a penal colony was established on the island.  As well as stocking the cook-pots of the newcomers, the beautiful Norfolk Island Kaka was trapped as a pet; the last known bird of the species died in captivity in London in 1851.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Extinct - the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher

Regular readers of this blog, and those with an eye for the name, will know that I am rather fond of our own Kingfishers.  So it may come as no surprise that one of the birds I chose to resurrect for the Ghosts of Gone Birds live art studio was an extinct kingfisher from another part of the world - the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher.

Once inhabiting the rainforests of Java, Indonesia, this Kingfisher seems to have disappeared with the trees.  The deforestation of Java has taken place at a frightening rate, and although not officially extinct, the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher has not been seen since the 1950s.

Such a beautiful bird; this was one of my favourites to stitch.  

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Extinct - the Liverpool Pigeon

Another blog post, another extinct bird from the Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition from last autumn.

Today it's the turn of the Liverpool Pigeon...

Also known as the Spotted Green Pigeon, this bird is rather a mystery.  It is known only from the one surviving specimen in Liverpool, but no record remains of where the bird came from and it bears no strong resemblance to any living bird today.  It seems so very sad that not only has this bird vanished from the face of the planet, but that we really have no clear idea of where it came from in the first place.

(Apologies again for the poor photo quality - my work looked much better in real life I promise!!)

Monday, 17 August 2015

Extinct - Canary Island Oystercatcher

Next up in the series of extinct birds from the Ghosts of Gone Birds live art studio is the Canary Island Oystercatcher...

Confined to the Canary Islands, this oystercatcher disappeared some time after 1913.  It died out when humans depleted the shellfish stocks on which this bird fed.  

(Please excuse the woeful quality of this photo).

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Extinct - Kangaroo Island Emu

So, my post on the Hen Harrier the other day got me thinking more about extinction, and just how perilous the existence of so many of our planet's species is.  You may remember that last autumn I was involved in the Ghosts of Gone Birds live art studio, a day of resurrecting extinct birds in stitch.  Well, I never got around to sharing the stories of my extinct birds, so over the course of the next week or so I'll post about them.  You will have to excuse the quality of the photos - I never managed to get great photos of my completed works sadly.

First up, the Kangaroo Island Emu...
A small Emu that inhabited Kangaroo Island, Australia, its extinction was caused in part by bushfires lit by settlers for scrub clearance.  Last recorded on the island in 1819, three of the birds were taken to Paris, the last of which died in Josephine Bonaparte’s residence in 1822. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Bathing with Hen Harriers

Last Sunday was Hen Harrier Day, which got me thinking again about just how easily an entire species can be wiped from existence.  It's not looking good for Hen Harriers in England at the moment at all, but hopefully the publicity around Hen Harrier Day will be a start in raising awareness and galvanising organisations and the government into offering some meaningful protection for these beautiful birds.

Unfortunately, their preferred breeding areas are moorlands, which rather puts them into conflict with the owners and keepers of grouse moors in our country's uplands.  And raptors of all kinds have been made especially unwelcome in these areas, trapped and killed illegally; the vast majority of the time these crimes go unpunished, if not undetected.  But the scarcity of Hen Harriers has led to some of the very few in England being satellite tagged, which has made their "mysterious" disappearance from the grouse moors very apparent.

But, bad news for the criminals...  Lush have just launched a Skydancer bath bomb, a rather lovely bath treat in homage to the hen harrier.  Not only does this represent the best chance most people have of seeing one of these endangered birds, but all the profits from these avian accompaniments to bath time will be used to fund satellite tagging of hen harriers and perhaps offer a little protection.  Now that's £3.95 well spent in my book, plus which Lush are pretty hot on not testing on animals and keeping their products as natural and chemical-free as possible.  
Bath bombs and satellite tags aside, further action needs to be taken in order to protect our hen harriers.  Dr Mark Avery, a well-known environmentalist, bird-lover and prolific blogger of all things hen harrier, has set up a petition to the government to ban driven grouse shooting, which will eliminate the hen harrier's killers.  Extreme measure?  Not so much when you look into it; there is a host of reasons why the management of grouse moors is bad for the environment as a whole.  For the dubious pleasure of a few rich tweed-clad chaps (and chapesses) (a day shooting grouse is not an affordable pass-time for the vast majority), we see the destruction of blanket bog through burning, illegal persecution of raptors, and a number of negative impacts upon our water course to name but a few.  You can read more about why banning driven grouse shooting is a necessary here.

And here is the link to add your voice to the online petition.  I hope you do!  It's already at over 13000 signatures, which will necessitate a government response.  If it can reach 100,000 then the issue will be debated in parliament.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Wriggly Tin - glamping in a shepherd's hut

After all our camping adventures last year, we kind of missed the boat a bit on getting under canvas this summer, what with pregnancy and PLH spending a couple of months away with work.  By the time he got back I was definitely feeling too massive to deal with packing up the car and all our gear and then sleeping on an airbed.  After 2 months of dealing with all the toddler stuff by myself I needed a more relaxing few days, but we still really wanted to spend some quality family time outdoors.

After scouring t'interweb for some suitable options that weren't a mega trek from home (at 36 weeks pregnant I didn't feel like travelling miles), and on the recommendation of a friend, we settled upon Wriggly Tin.  Set in the Hampshire countryside, not far from the pretty village of Hambledon, Wriggly Tin consists four beautiful Shepherd's Huts well spaced out across a secluded meadow.  

Arriving latish in the evening, "Alex the Shepherd" (as the boy called him) showed us to our hut, "Boundary", briefed us on the use of the composting toilets, the wood burning stove and other essentials then pointed out the jar of marshmallows and left us to it.  We decided that the wood burning stove in the hut might not be the best idea with toddler around, so instead got the campfire burning for a brew and toasting the marshmallows.  I used to cook over open fires a lot in my youth - I was in the Scouts (yes, Scouts not Guides!) and luckily my fire-starter credentials had not deserted me.  Really, is there anything nicer than a campfire?

Actually the rain soon had us seeking refuge in the beautiful hut, but not before we'd achieved a decent sugar-high in the boy!  Boundary is the biggest of Wriggly Tin's huts; it is still exceptionally compact and bijou, but every detail has been thought of.  Fresh flowers, food essentials, a cool box, lovely enamelware, fluffy fresh towels and bedlinen and even a chamber pot if you wish to avoid those late night trips over to the loo hut!  Equipped with a double bed and two bunks (and room for another bunk over the double), there is plenty of room for a family so the three of us were very well catered for, even with my massive bump!  The composting toilet and gas-fired shower were a short walk away, and were spotlessly clean and also rather prettily decorated, which is always nice!

The surrounding countryside is pretty stunning too - lots of footpaths and two pubs within reasonable walking distance, even for the boy!  One evening we took a stroll the mile or so into the village of Hambledon, to avail ourselves of The Vine's (lovely village pub) Pie and Pint night.  Yummy!

We spent three nights there in all, and just loved the place - it is a perfect retreat for couples and families alike.  Judging by all the positive comments in the visitors book in our hut, we weren't the only ones to love the place.  Cooking over the open fire and getting back to basics is just tonic for the soul, and at some point in the future we'd love to go back!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Hen Harrier Day

Today is Hen Harrier Day across the UK.  Why do Hen Harriers need a dedicated day you ask?  Well, the answer is quite simple...  These beautiful birds are on the verge of extinction in England, due to persecution, largely on the intensively managed grouse moors of our uplands.  In 2013 not a single bird fledged, and this year already 5 Hen Harriers have "disappeared" from their breeding sites.

Trapping and killing these birds is illegal, but that hasn't stopped their mysterious disappearances and decline.    A quick google of the issues will tell you that not everyone is behind the protection of the Hen Harrier - there is a conflict of interest with those who like to shoot Red Grouse, some of whom seem to view the near-extinct bird as a grouse-poaching pest.  

You can find out more about these moorland ghosts, what is being done to protect them and how you can get involved by following the links below:

Mark Avery Blog
Birders Against Wildlife Crime
RSPB Skydancer

Saturday, 8 August 2015

DIY stamped baby clothing

Well the Zwischen is ongoing, and the waiting continues...  PLH has had the week off which has meant lots of lovely family time, and plenty of rest and afternoon naps for me.  And after my foray into stamping on baby vests last week, I have become a little obsessed with customising our old baby clothes to give them a new lease of life.  All the old white babygros and vests have now had a little customisation.  I'd like to think it detracts from the well-washed and not-as-white-as-they-used-to-be look!
Anyhow, it's been pretty easy to do, so I thought I'd share a little tutorial and a few tips of how to do your own.  They'd make great presents for a baby shower or someone who's just had a new baby.

What you need:

  • Babygros and/or vests
  • Heat-setable stamp pad ink - I used stamp pads from Yellow Owl Workshop.  They come in a great range of colours and are eco-friendly too!
  • Stamps of your choice (unsurprisingly I used a couple of birdy designs)
  • Alphabet stamps
  • Iron & Ironing board
  • Babywipes and damp kitchen roll
Then, it's simply a case of inking up your stamps and stamping on the baby clothing!  Once finished, the ink is set by ironing on the reverse, or through a tea towel for a couple of minutes.  Here's a few tips I picked up along the way:

  • I think the clothing would need to be washed first - not 100% sure but with possible shrinkage etc its probably a good idea.
  • A little trial and error on paper before committing to the clothing is a good idea, particularly for the lettering.
  • You need quite a bit of ink on your stamp to get a good transfer into the fibres of the clothing.  I found it easiest to achieve this by tapping the stamp very gently and repeatedly on the ink pad.  Pressing the stamp hard into the pad tends to get ink round the edges which then transfers onto the clothes.
  • Before transferring the stamp onto the clothes have a quick look around the edges of the stamp - if there is any ink there then dab it off with a babywipe to ensure a clean transfer.  I found this especially necessary with the alphabet stamps.
  • Put a hard surface under the area of clothing you are stamping -  a tin or a book.  This gives a bit more to press against as ideally you want to press quite hard when transferring the stamp onto the clothes.
  • Clean any ink off the stamp before changing colours - I learn this the hard way and ended up with green tinging in my orange stamp pad!  Babywipes followed by a damp piece of kitchen roll worked a treat for getting the stamps ink-free again.
  • When ironing to set the ink, keep the iron moving.  If you don't you can end up slightly burning the clothing and giving it a yellowish tinge!
And that's all there is to it - such a quick and easy way to jazz up and create personalised baby stuff!    

Other items that have had a new lease of life recently were our old muslins and cheeky wipes (re-usable baby wipes) - both of which had achieved that delightful shade of grey that many, many washes can bring!  So a couple of weeks ago I gave them the colour cover treatment with a couple of packs of Dylon Machine Dye in Sunflower Yellow and Bahama Blue.  I cannot believe how easy this was to do - I've been eyeing up various other items of clothing and household items to breathe new colour into ever since!
So, on with the waiting - who knows, perhaps I'll find some more little projects to do in the meantime!

Kate x

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Keeping mum

I mentioned the other day, in my first post back for rather a long time, that I'd been feeling knackered and not much like blogging.  Well, the reason behind that is me being pregnant, preggo, pregasaurus-rex (PLH's name for me when the tiredness and hormones really kick in).  I'm just about due now, but I've found it hard to motivate myself for a whole lot of blogging in my "condition".  

Perhaps partly due to my previous experiences of pregnancies (I wrote a whole other blog about that before), I am not really one for sharing the news on social media.  I did post a preggo picture of me the other day, but I expect news of our imminent (hopefully) arrival may take some of our more distant friends by surprise.
Last time around, I left work on maternity leave relatively early and spent a rather luxurious few weeks keeping moderately active, resting, watching cr@p TV and getting stitchy and crafty for the arrival of the baby.  I shopped for white babygros, washed babygros and hell, I even ironed them (what was I thinking - I barely ever iron my own clothes)!  The nursery was ready, filled with handmade quilts, blankets and a decoupage stag's head.  I'd carefully arranged the furniture and spent hours sticking a tree decal on the wall.  There was an ikea chair in the corner, artfully adorned with cushions I made from fabric I loved; I fondly imagined that I would be breastfeeding my baby there - oh how naive I was - of course I ended up nursing the boy whilst lying down in my own bed - so much more rest and sleep to be had that way I found!  The nursery became a beautiful storeroom and the boy didn't move out of our room until he was about 20 months old.

Needless to say, the experience this time has been somewhat different.  I am not even contemplating when this baby will move out of our room, my cr@p TV watching has been severely restricted until after the boy's bedtime (unless you count Octonauts, Fireman Sam and Peter Rabbit), and keeping active has involved dragging my preggosaurus self around after a crazily fast 2.5 year old.  Not relaxing at all and not a lot of time or energy for beautiful new-baby crafts!  

However I did dig out all the baby clothes the other day, and decided to give a new lease of life to a few of the white(isn!) vests using some stamps and fabric-compatible ink from Yellow Owl Workshop.  I'm pretty happy with the results...
And the evenings of terrible TV have not been entirely unproductive either - I have managed to actually finish a crochet project (stop the ship!) - only my second completion ever.  A granny stripe baby blanket...
I love granny stripes - they are so quick.  If I pick up the hook and yarn again soon it'll definitely be for the quick and easy satisfaction of a granny stripe!  

In the meantime, here's to the Zwischen!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

What about the Bees?

The bees of the UK (and worldwide) are in a precarious position, something I touched upon in a previous blog post.  The EU, after consulting a wide range of evidence, took the step of banning neonicotinoids in 2013; the World's most widely-used pesticide has been found to cause serious harm to bees.  And serious harm to bees, our most prolific pollinators, is not good news for our global food supplies.

So why on earth has the UK government just suspended the ban to allow farmers some use of these bee-killing pesticides on oil-seed rape crops?  Even more worrying is that this was done under a cloud of secrecy and gagging of the government's own expert panel.  I fear that commercial pressure from chemical companies has prevailed.  If you are interested in reading more about the recent overturn of the ban, see the Guardian articles here and here.

(The stitchy bee in the picture above is a miniature machine-embroidered one I ran up a month or so ago, encased in a 5cm Nkuku frame.  This little worker happens to have a dragonfly companion - they're currently residing on my mantelpiece, sheltering from the abundance of pesticides out in the countryside.)