Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Scotland by Rail - Kirkcaldy Galleries

Kirkcaldy Galleries behind wildflower planting

Exit Kirkcaldy station on the Edinburgh-bound side and the big old building immediately in front of you is Kirkcaldy Galleries, home of museum, gallery, library, cafe.


The museum tells of Kirkcaldy's history - mining, lino, pottery...


The gallery's permanent collection is only four or five rooms but has really top quality works. One room is devoted to the Scottish Colourists, including beautiful small Peploe studies of town and of sea, and a number of his Iona beaches. Another room is for Fife artworks, names I didn't know but am pleased to have discovered. The last room is McTaggart, who I've never managed to never get on with, but there was one of his - The Wave - that had none of his cherubic figures and really did grab me.

The collection is online here - www.artuk.org - many more paintings than are on display in the gallery at any more time. I've been browsing it just now and there it's seriously exciting. One of my favourite paintings for example, Frances Walker's Leaving St Kilda, and companion piece Passing St Kilda. I first saw these two at the opening of her Place Observed in Solitude exhibition in Aberdeen Art Gallery in 2010. One of my favourite exhibitions of all I've seen. Read about it here - www.northings.com.

Scottish Colourists room. plus mum's leg

Temporary exhibitions also take place here, lots of different things. Currently it's a celebration of The Singing Kettle... My brother liked them but I always preferred Mr Boom, Singing Kettle were just so loud.


The cafe does coffee and scones, date slices and very nice carrot cake.


Oh, and the men's toilet downstairs is all nice and aged with a big wooden seat and a pull flush, as in my mum's childhood home. The word 'Modern' is stamped inside the bowl...


Kirkcaldy Galleries is set within Kirkcaldy War Memorial Gardens, a small area of parkland which at the time of this visit was brought absolutely alive by a wildflower bed, primarily poppies. Hundreds of hoverflies and bumblebees and other pollinators were buzzing in the come-and-go sunshine.

Incidentally, why not do your own bit by planting an area of wildflowers in your garden, or even just leaving a patch of lawn to grow long. Easy and quick. Even half a square metre helps to Give Nature a Home - www.rspb.org.uk


How to get there

Trains to Kirkcaldy take 35-45 minutes from Edinburgh Waverley, usually running every half hour during the day, or hourly on Sundays. The views are pretty great.

from the train, between Kirkcaldy and Kinghorn

from the train, Kinghorn

From Dundee it takes about the same length of time but trains are less frequent.

Timetables are all here.

(Recently there have been lots of cancellations on the Fife line so do check the ScotRail app or website before leaving.)

Many thanks to ScotRail for their support of my Scotland by Rail work.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

New York by ocean liner - Central Park raccoons

Central Park raccoon, photo by Jennifer Alexander

We've just got back from three-and-a-half weeks on honeymoon - to New York and back by ocean liner. I stayed offline the whole time, and loved it.

Here's a first blog post, then to my emails...

Central Park night(wild)life

Raccoons in Central Park. This was one particular family that we got to know over several nights. Seriously cute. Extremely tame. Walk around at dusk and it's hard not to see any, especially near litter bins. Rats too - nice to see how many people watched with curiosity rather than fear or fury. And fireflies, hundreds of them, as darkness approaches gently rising and falling over the grasses, soft led bulbs glowing yellow. On... and fade, on... and fade.

Central Park

Central Park is a two-and-a-half mile long, half-a-mile wide, 843 acre greenspace in the middle of Manhattan Island. A haven for wildlife and for people. I could have spent the whole time just there.

A 2008 BioBlitz of Central Park identified and recorded 836 different species in 24 hours, including, "393 plants, 102 invertebrates, seventy-eight moths, ten spiders, nine dragonflies, seven mammals, three turtles, two frogs, and two tardigrades (a microscopic life form). They also identified 46 bird species (and) missed out on hundreds more because of the season."
- https://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/themanhattanproject/field-lab-8/biodiversity-in-central-park-virginia-milieris/

The total number of bird species ever recorded in Central Park is over 280 - www.nycaudubon.org/manhattan-birding/central-park

Central Park Conservancy - www.centralparknyc.org

Ocean Liner

We crossed the Atlantic on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 - www.cunard.co.uk/cruise-ships/queen-mary-2

Lots of info here - www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Queen_Mary_2

2012 Crossing

We made the same journey, one-way, in 2012. Blog post here

on Queen Mary 2, looking to the stern

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Isle of May, April 2016

from Altarstanes harbour

(Apologies everyone, some glitch is preventing me from increasing the text size...)

A week on the Isle of May with: 
Susan Smith - www.susanmcsmith.com
Kittie Jones - www.kittiejones.com
Lara Scouller - www.larascouller.com
Liz Myhill - www.lizmyhill.co.uk
Nye Hughes - www.nyehughes.co.uk

This was my fourth stay and, as seems always the case, my most productive week of the year so far. All day every day to spend outside, watching, walking, working. Wildlife and dramatic landscape everywhere you look. It's a seriously special place.

My previous visits have all been in June, at the height of the seabird breeding season. This time, beginning of April, only a bit of the breeding has started and the island feels a very different place. Shags were on their eggs and gulls were taking up their territories but the auks -puffins, guillemots, razorbills- were mostly not yet on the cliffs, and the eider ducks weren't yet nesting.

The Isle of May is a hugely important centre of research. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Sea Mammal Research Unit and the Isle of May bird Observatory Trust have all been involved for many years. Some more links:

Isle of May blog - keep your eye on this for frequent updates and photos
SNH island website - island homepage
SNH island website - how the island is managed
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology - long term seabird studies

Really nice .pdf booklet here - www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/designatedareas/islemay%20jewel%20of%20forth.pdf
To watch the island on webcam, live, click here and here.

Some of my previous Isle of May blog posts and artworks:
2013 - http://landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2013_06_01_archive.html
2013 - https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/dead-puffins-live-puffins-an-artists-first-view-of-the-may/
2014 - https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/no-rain-leos-blog-post/
2015 - http://landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/isle-of-may-may-june-2015-sketching.html

Lara's 2016 island blog post - www.storehouse.co/stories/sExXBLOYdQqm?s=e

Here's the island. In no particular order, and a lot of them. Get scrolling...

Low Light, where we stay

two robins

spot the chiffchaff

loch, Main Light, walled garden, bathhouse, Scotland's oldest lighthouse


black redstart, male

from Altarstanes

from Main Light

rain at sea

South Horn, spot the artist (www.susanmcsmith.com)

a day of showers


my first ever ring ouzel! honest.

St Aidrian's Priory - www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/isle-of-may/cultural-heritage/st-adrians-priory/

Low Light, low light

short-eared owl, dusk sketches

short-eared owl, dusk sketches

shag pair

shag sketches

shag sketches

island graveyard



Low Light and spot the Bell Rock lighthouse...

see arch?

the Fluke Street loch

hundreds of guillemots & a couple of razorbills

Bass Rock

ink sketch. shag, fulmars, Bass Rock

Green Face cliffs

three-head guillemot, exceedingly rare

May Princess, Liz leaving

Low Light, last night

in the lighthouse keepers' bathhouse
South Horn from bathhouse window

a puffin day!

purple sandpiper. Altarstanes

one of many wet days. Altarstanes

one of many mist days

ditto. Pilgrim's Haven


trying-to-shelter sketchspot, in the giant's sentry box

in the giant's sentry box

Altarstanes, ink draw & wash

Main Light and mother
in the walled garden with goldcrests

shiny shags

behind Low Light

Kirkhaven habour, final sketch
leaving the island

Getting there:

Trips to the Isle of May are by boat from Anstruther in Fife using the May Princess or the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) Osprey, and from North Berwick in East Lothian on a Scottish Seabird Centre RIB

All details are here - www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/isle-of-may/visiting

Do visit.

Low Light, good night