lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info and Lola the labradoodle!

S is for Squirrel

This squirrel image was taken by Tim Green on Flikr:

Squirrel Tim Green

People are divided in opinion about squirrels, particularly grey squirrels.

They are curious, friendly, extremely intelligent, entertaining, and can live in towns and cities and woodlands with equal ease.

They climb. This means there is a downside, sometimes – they can be destructive and chew through things like cables. They need to gnaw to keep their teeth in check, as they grow continuously.

But in the best of circumstances, where there is enough space and food, they are a welcome visitor to the garden for many people.

Some facts about squirrels:

They do eat buds and young leaves of trees – however many trees have defences against squirrels and they seldom actually harm trees in natural surroundings.

In fact, they perform a wonderful service in that they ‘scatter’ hoard – leave nuts buried and hidden all over the forest, so many that they can’t possibly recall where they all are.

In this way they help trees procreate some distance further away than just where the nuts have dropped underneath the parent.

In the US, there are two types of oak tree, red oaks and white oaks.

Richard W. Thorington, Curator of Mammals at Smithsonian University, has studied squirrels. In his books, Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, and Squirrels of the World, he states some fascinating facts.

He says that because white oak acorns sprout easily and early as soon as they are buried, squirrels have learned to either eat them first and just bury the red nuts, or, and this is really clever, bite through the embryo of the white oak acorns, meaning they can’t sprout. Then they bury them.

Other facts:

They can run as fast as 20mph.

They stop quite still to assess danger before leaping away and off – this means that they often get run over on roads.

Their name comes from a Greek word, skiouros, meaning ‘shadow tail’.

When they live in groups squirrel will warn the others of a perceived danger – they have quite a harsh warning cry that sounds almost like a bird. The one that warns stays until all the others have got to safety.

American grey squirrels were introduced into the UK. Unfortunately they are hardier and more able to withstand periods of food shortage than the indigenous UK red squirrel, and carry a disease that they have some immunity to, but which kills red squirrels almost immediately when they catch it.

Now red squirrels are only present in a few small areas of the UK, Brownsea Island off of Poole in the south, a few small areas of Wales, and a contracting population in Scotland.

Here is a red squirrel taken by Paul Buxton on Flikr – they are ridiculously cute!

Red squirrel paul buxton

There are only 140,000 red squirrels left, compared to an estimated 2.4 million greys.

They live on mainly seeds, from pine cones and things like that, and also fungi – they ‘dry’ fungi by hanging it out over branches to store and eat during the winter.

Here is my squirrel poem:

.

Squirrels

.

Let’s celebrate the squirrels

that perform the twig trapeze,

their tightrope walking artistry,

their acrobatic ease,

fuelled by the forest’s music

of buds and nuts and leaves,

they plant the future woodland –

they are spirits of the trees.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Photos © Tim Green and Paul Buxton.

Information from Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide by Richard W Thorington, Forestry Commision, About Squirrels.com.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

R is for Robin

This beautiful image of a UK robin redbreast was taken by Ross Elliott on Flikr.

Robin, Ross Elliott

The robin is my favourite British bird. They are so round and cheerful, with such a wonderfully jaunty carriage as they hop and bounce around the garden.

They tilt their heads and look straight at you with their bright, black, round eyes and you can sense their intelligence.

Robins came to be associated with Christmas in the UK because our postmen used to deliver cards dressed in cheery red, and were nicknamed ‘robins’. I wonder if blue-tits will now become the bird of choice, now our posties are in blue?

Robins are also special to us because they are known as the gardener’s friend – they will sit in company of someone digging the soil, waiting to take advantage of the disturbed worms.

They also have a beautiful, liquid song – they have been mistaken for nightingales when singing at night, kept awake by the street lights. And they even sing during the winter.

Although friendly birds and easily tameable here, in Europe they are much shyer as there they are caught in nets, or shot and eaten, or even shot for sport.

Chris Packham, the nature journalist (@ChrisGPackham) has campaigned against such practises as those in Malta, where there is an annual mass slaughter of more than 24 species of protected, migrating songbirds from 30 European countries.

Robin males are attentive partners, and will feed the female while she is sitting in the nest assiduously.

They are feisty little birds and will fight another robin to the end if it strays into their territory, causing many robin casualties – however the main reason for robin deaths are cats.

The RSPB suggests keeping cats indoors with a litter tray at night from 8pm until 8am the next morning – for the sake of all birds, at all times, but particularly in the breeding season.

Here is my robin poem:

 

Robins

.

Of all the birds,

robins are best,

with bright, round eyes

and long, slim legs,

melodious songs

and sweet moss nests;

and proving they’re

the friendliest,

they both wear red

hearts on their breast.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Photo © Ross Elliott.

Information from RSPB, Onekind, ARKive.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

Q is for Quoll

This image of a sleeping quoll was taken by Lizardstomp, in Trowunna Wildlife Park, Australia, and is on Flikr.

quoll by lizardstomp

There are several types of quoll, they are Australian marsupials, although only one type has a true pouch – the rest form a fold when breeding to tuck their babies into and their young hang from the nipples.

They are very endearing, and also rather cat-like in their appearance and habits.

All have coats in varying shades of brown with wonderful white spots, pink noses and long snouts.

Sadly they are suffering from declining numbers; they are at risk from the cane toad, a non-endemic animal that was introduced to Australia, which is poisonous.

They are also eaten by various predators including foxes and cats; suffer from increasing urbanisation; loss of habitat from other causes, and, because they are carnivores and also scavenge, eating poisoned meat left out for rats.

Added to a very short life span (the lowest estimate is two years), the future does not seem too rosy for this endearing little creature.

Here is a poem about it:

.

The Quoll

.

Mourn for the small

Australian quoll,

it doesn’t have much

life at all,

cute as a cat

with spots upon,

so much peril,

and they don’t live long.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Photo © Lizardstomp

Information from Wiki.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

P is for Platypus!

DSC_0932

The platypus, picture above by Klaus on Flikr, is one of the most amazing animals on earth. It is a leftover from the Miocene period… when creatures had not split into reptiles, birds and mammals as entirely as they have today.

Consequently it has attributes of all three types of species.

It looks very much like a beaver, and has a very beaver-like tail. Its fur is waterproof and extremely dense, and when they were hunted, the fur could not easily be sewn into clothes, so was usually made into rugs.

It also has an unusual, soft, beak, shaped like a duck’s. This beak is very sensitive to vibration and electrical activity – when the platypus is underwater, hunting, it shuts down its senses of smell, hearing and sight and uses just the beak to sense the electric impulses in the muscles of its prey.

One of the most interesting things about them is that they lay eggs – the only mammal apart from an echidna (a hedgehog-like animal) that does.

Their babies hatch from eggs – but the female platypus feeds them milk. Only she does not have nipples – the milk is secreted through pores in her skin, and the baby platypuses (the word is derived from Greek, not Latin, so the plural should be platypodes, but that sounds silly, so everyone calls plural platypuses, platypuses!) lick the milk from her fur.

The male platypus has a spur, like a little tooth, behind each back foot. It is venomous – it squirts poison and can kill quite large animals, including dogs. It is used during the mating season, when the males become quite aggressive. Humans who have been caught by the spurs report that the pain is intense.

This is a (very) quick poem on platypuses:

.

Platypus

.

If you like unique,

then you are in luck,

this creature’s part beaver

plus bits from a duck –

a beaver-y tail

with webs on its legs,

milk for its babies

which hatch out of eggs.

Electro-receptors

in its duck-like bill

detect activity

so it finds its kill.

Most amazing of all,

though till now unseen –

it has mammal and bird

and reptilian genes!*

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

*Information from LiveScience

Species Information from PlatypusFacts.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

O is for Ocelot

This beautiful image of an ocelot was taken by Dan Bodenstein on Flikr.

Ocelot Dan Bodenstein

Ocelots are found in South America. They have exquisite coats, that can vary in colour and markings, and each is unique.

They are solitary, like most cats, and only come together to mate, although sometimes cats of the same sex sleep together during the day, when they rest.

Their coats are incredibly good at camouflaging them – and so beautiful that hundreds of thousands of them were once killed for their fur.

They became endangered, but are now in a much better position after protection.

However they are still hunted illegally and poached for their fur and meat in Trinidad, and in all areas they lose numbers because of habitat loss and from being killed by cars.

Here is my ocelot poem for today:

.

Ocelot

.

The way water

ripples sands

and the little stones

on river beds,

arranges the

dark lines

on the coat

of the ocelot,

patterned for

waiting in its

resting tree

until the night.

.

At dusk

its eyes stake claim

in the hunt

for deer or bird,

with the

insistent gaze

of the obligate

carnivore,

.

stalks its web

of territory

with longing

in its lithe

predator’s bones,

.

ocelot,

exquisitely coated,

its red gold and jet

both a protection

and threat.

.

Photo © Dan Bodenstein

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Information from Wiki.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

N is for Nightingale

This wonderful image of a nightingale singing at night was taken by Derek Thomas on Flikr.

Nightingale, derek thomas

The nightingale, although beautiful, is an unremarkable little bird, pale brown in colour.

It is seldom seen in the open, it is shy and tends to stay hidden in leafy trees and shrubbery.

A member of the thrush family, like all thrushes it sings beautifully.

However the male nightingale sings more sweetly than any other bird, and what is more has an extraordinary vocabulary of musicality – it never seems to repeat a phrase and its song is unpredictably gorgeous.

It also sings by day, and night, and because it is so quiet at night, its song seems even more mesmerising.

In the UK loss of habitat has meant falling numbers and the bird is now on the amber list for conservation.

The nightingale has been written about many times, forms the basis for myths, is mentioned in Homer’s The Odyssey and has been the subject of more admiring poems than any other bird since.

I am adding to that number – here is my nightingale poem below:

.

Nightingale

.

He is shaped

to sing,

beak and eyes wide

in the colourless night,

.

his song flows

into the listening

stillness,

.

each note

of unpredictable

gorgeousness

with no sky

in which to lose itself,

.

rolls its lines

to wrap the silence

and hold the listener

captive in the darkness,

.

he never seems

to know which songs to sing,

so sings them all.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Here is a short video of the nightingale’s song on Youtube by Paul Hindess:

Photo © Derek Thomas

Information from Wiki.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

M is for Marmoset

A gorgeous pygmy marmoset image, taken by Day Donaldson on Flikr.

Pygmy marmoset, Day Donaldson

Some time ago, a couple of years, I wrote a pygmy marmoset poem. I wasn’t that pleased with it, and decided to have another go for this A-Z.

Imagine my horror when I tried to Google information about them, and found nearly every link to be facts about how to keep one as a pet.

Pygmy marmosets are endangered in their native South America. The pet trade is one of the main reasons. Even if you buy a marmoset bred in your own country, you are adding to the chain of illegal capture of these delightful primates.

They do not make particularly good pets, they need a massive amount of attention, have a nasty bite, throw poo, and smell.

Their specialised diet is impossible to recreate – mainly tree sap and gum, obtained by gnawing through bark with their very sharp teeth, and insects.

The worst thing, though, is that they are extremely vulnerable to the herpes virus – if you have ever had a cold sore, and come into contact with a marmoset, they will catch it, even if you don’t have one at the time.

A cold sore is a minor inconvenience to most people, but it is fatal to a marmoset.

They are wonderful, finger-sized monkeys, the smallest in the world, they live in groups of about 12, and they show remarkable care for each other. The BBC has some film of another type of male marmoset staying with and comforting his dying partner for nearly two hours.

So – here is my new (pygmy) marmoset poem.

.

Pygmy Marmoset

.

The pygmy

marmoset is all

chittering, chattering,

clicking call,

he laps at sap,

he leaps the trees,

quick and slick

and small as leaves,

his golden coat

hides him well,

he has an

interesting smell,

so if you want

an ideal pet,

know this – it’s

not a marmoset.

..

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Here is a short video of a pygmy marmoset, Ninita, in a captive breeding conservation program. She was born deaf, and rejected, so has been hand-reared, therefore I can show you this film knowing no marmoset suffered in its making.

 

Poem and text © Liz Brownlee

Photo © Day Donaldson

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Information from Monkey Worlds.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

L is for Lepus europeaus (Hare) and Leveret

L is for the Latin name for the hare. And L is also for Leveret, the name of a baby hare.

hare allan drewitt natural england

This superb image is by Allan Drewitt for Natural England, on Flikr.

Hares are very like rabbits, but a lot rarer, and altogether more wild and beautiful.

For me, a rabbit sits on the grass, fur lifted by the breeze – the hare is the spirit of the wind that parts the grass.

The hare is one of the most common folklore symbols around the world – not only because it is a mysterious creature that is hidden the main part of the year, but because it is extraordinarily adaptable and has spread into many countries all over the planet.

They are mainly seen in March when the females fight the males in courtship (see below, image taken by Allan Drewitt for Natural England), the amazing leaping, dashing and aerial combats are a sign of spring, new life and freedom.


Hares, natural england allan drewitt

 

In fact these displays carry on until autumn, but under the cover of long grasses they are not seen.

Hares do not live in burrows – they make a small scrape in the ground called a form, and stay as still as possible in their wonderful camouflage to avoid being seen.

However, if they are spotted, they will leap up and zig zag away at speeds up to 35 mph.

Females give birth to their young in grass, they are furred and can see and hop within minutes – she scrapes little forms for them to lie still in during the day.

She leaves them hiding in the grass while she eats to provide them with milk – she returns just once in the evening to feed them.

Laurence Poulange

This is a photo of a leveret in grass by Laurence Poulange on Flikr.

Hares are one of the most beautiful creatures in the UK, but they are declining in numbers due to new farming methods, loss of habitat and the use of pesticides.

Poem? Which to do… I have one about a leveret which I have posted before, but which has been changed, and one I wrote more recently. I think I’ll go with the new one:

.

Hare

.

Hare is myth and magic,

soil and breeze,

its soul leaps light

as swirls of leaves,

its pelt of earth

glints in the sun,

forms as the dew

on grasses sprung,

all wild eyes

and legs and ears,

as moon in night-cloud –

disappears.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Photos © Allan Drewitt for Natural England, and Laurence Poulange.

Information from Wiki.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

K is for Kestrel

This beautiful (captive) European kestrel image was taken by Marcus Peaston on Flikr:

Day 198 - Kestrel

Kestrels are one of the most common birds of prey in the UK, and although they have adapted well to man-made environments, often seen hunting alongside roads, their numbers have declined a lot since the 70s.

This was thought to be mainly due to loss of hunting habitat and therefore prey, but new surveys are also pointing to changes in agricultural practice and use of rodenticides.

They have been included on the amber list of conservation importance.

Kestrels are not very large, only about 32 cm in length, and although they are not celebrated for their beauty, I think their feathers are wonderful, rich, soft brown, speckled with black markings. Their amber eyes, and beaks, are rimmed with yellow.

Kestrels hunt by using their extraordinarily keen eyes from a vantage point – either a high perch or by hovering into the wind.

Their eyes distinguish UV light and the urine of their prey shows clearly in UV – mice and voles leave a trail of urine wherever they go, and the kestrel knows that at the end of the trail of urine will be a small, unsuspecting mammal.

As soon as the trail stops, the kestrel falls with pinpoint accuracy towards the earth, snatching its prey in its strong talons.

On the photo above you can clearly see the notch in the kestrel’s upper beak, known as the tomial tooth, a sort of killing tooth – which it uses to quickly despatch its prey.

Here are two images by Borderslass on Flikr of a kestrel – the first of it diving:

borderlass

And the second, of it having lifting its killed vole to take to a post to eat:

Borderslass

I have been lucky enough to have seen a kestrel in our garden, and even luckier to have seen the rarer merlin, sitting in our apple tree. It was even smaller than the kestrel, I thought it was a thrush at first.

One of the most wonderful poems about a kestrel is The Windhover (To Christ our Lord) by Gerard Manley-Hopkins. ‘Windhover’ is an archaic term for the kestrel. The poem is full of the wonderful rhythms of the wind-buffeted bird and exquisite imagery. Manley-Hopkins believed that all creatures were the embodiment of God.

I do not believe that, and neither does naturalist, nature photographer, TV presenter and author Chris Packham, but he shares my love of this poem, that epitomises the beauty of the bird, and also the bird itself, and was kind enough to do a reading of the poem for me.

Thank you to Chris Packham. If you have any land, please leave hedgerows in place for small creatures to hide in and get from field to field, try to leave parts of every field unploughed and planted.

Also, if you have a roadside property, leave your boundaries uncut, plant wildflowers instead of having mown lawn!

Use rat and mouse poison carefully and sparingly – if you have a rodent problem, a kestrel or other bird of prey will help you with that, without you having to use chemicals.

Here is my more modest Kestrel poem:

.

Kestrel

.

Though the vole

hides its swift,

small breaths

under the

grasses hollow,

.

the windhover

has it spied;

its killing tooth

is undivined

by the vole

that left its

tell-tale signs

to follow,

.

and now

right through

it’s pinned;

taken quick

as the shadow

skimmed,

.

its warm and

scarlet soul

lifted in

the wind.

.

Kestrel Poem © Liz Brownlee

The Windhover by Gerard Manley-Hopkins

Information from RSPB, Birds of Britain.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

J is for Jaguar

One of the most beautiful, golden cats has to be the jaguar. Here is a brilliant photo by Diriye Amey on Flikr, of a jaguar in the wild at Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa.

Diriye Amey - Jaguar

 

Jaguar

.

She moves as smooth

as shadow clouds

and leaves the ground

as still,

.

her skin is light

and glides her bones,

her eyes sun bright;

she prowls alone

.

and follows

scent until

.

between breath

in and out

she takes a

heartbeat pause,

.

throws a leap

of teeth and claws,

.

and bites through

the skull

of her kill.

.

© Liz Brownlee

.

Jaguars are the largest cat in South America, and are now mainly confined to the Amazon basin. Formerly they used to roam as far north as the US/Mexico border.

They have the most beautiful coats – golden light marked with black rosettes.

Unlike most other cats they are good swimmers and often frequent river banks to ambush prey going to drink, and using stealth they also tackle creatures like crocodiles and caymen. They drop from trees and stalk prey through the forest – but in each case they kill by pouncing from behind, crushing neck vertebrae and skulls with one powerful bite.

They see six times as well as us in the dark due to a reflective area in the back of their eyes.

Female jaguars usually have two babies, but can have up to four – she defends them fiercely, even from the male, as male jaguars are prone to killing young.

Jaguars are falling prey to fragmentation of their habitat and are still hunted for their exquisite pelt.

Their name derives from the South African word ‘yajuar’ which means he who kills with one leap.

They are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

This video was taken when the President and CEO of the WWF was visiting the Tapajós River in Brazil’s Juruena National Park. By complete coincidence he was in a boat crossing the river when he and the crew spotted one of the world’s rarest cats – a pure black jaguar.

https://www.worldwildlife.org/videos/rare-black-jaguar-sighting

.

Photo © Diriye Amey

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Information from Wiki.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

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