lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info and Lola the labradoodle!

F is for Fish (Seahorses!)

Seahorses are unusual fish – they breathe through gills and have a swim bladder, but they have no scales, instead a bony exoskeleton. They also have a neck and long, flexible, prehensile tail – things that other fish don’t have! This photo taken by Prilfish on Flikr is how most people picture seahorses:

Seahorse by Prilfish

However, seahorses’ bony exoskeletons are held together by fleshy connections, and these can grow into amazing forms to camouflage them – here is a photo by Steve Childs on Flikr, showing a pygmy seahorse camouflaged to fit in with its environment:

seahorse, Steve Childs

Not only can they camouflage themselves in this way, they can also change colour at will, so that wherever they swim they can remain as inconspicuous as possible.

This has to be their best defence from predators – because their swimming style is rather awkward, and they can only reach speeds of 0.01 mph. Mind you – they are rather a bony mouthful, without much flesh, so tend to be eaten by accident rather than design.

Their mating dance is rather glorious and sensual – full of pirouettes and caresses, while they flicker colours and twine tails. The female and male’s territory overlaps and they perform small ritual dances every day for each other.

However reports that the males are monogamous have recently been disputed.

The most amazing thing about seahorses is that they are the only (known) creature on earth where the male gestates and gives birth to the young.

During their courtship, the female deposits her eggs inside a flap on the stomach of the male. He spreads the eggs across the surface of this interior, where he fertilises them, and as they grow they take hold, form placentas, and reach maturity.

Then the male’s stomach contracts in childbirth and expels the babies into the water, where they drift and eat plankton.

Here is another incredible seahorse, a photo taken by Ed Bierman on Flikr, – one that has grown fleshy protuberances like seaweed:

Leafy seahorse, Ed Bierman

I adore seahorses. I lived by the sea when I was young, and now I look back in horror on the fact that I was given a small, dried seahorse. They used to be in big baskets at the seaside, next to baskets of shells, and the buckets and spades for tourists.

Seahorses are still caught today in some places – they and other marine creatures are laid out in the hot sun to die in agony for people to buy and marvel at their tiny, exquisite forms.

Seahorses are becoming rarer everywhere, and it is possible to help them by making sure shrimp that you buy has been sourced carefully, so as not to damage either the seahorses or their marine habitat.

I have a seahorse poem:

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Spiny Seahorse

.

Oh, sinuous sea horse

of snaggle-tooth spines,

arching your back

as your spiral tail twines,

shifting your colours,

fins whirring away

in the rising and falling

of your slow ballet,

gently caressing

as your partner passes,

the animate soul

of the waving sea grasses.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

If you have time, here is a short video of the pygmy seahorses in the second picture on this blog, and how scientists found out whether they could change their colour if put on another colour sea coral:

Photos © Prilfish, Steve Childs, Ed Bierman.

Information from OneKind.

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.

E is for Elephant

Elephant Mara 1

This gorgeous image of a mother and baby elephant was taken by Mara 1 on Flikr.

The more I read about elephants the more amazed I am by the stories and scientific evidence that shows they one of the most highly intelligent, empathetic, loving, noble and social creatures in the world.

Elephants are the largest mammal, their brain is 3 times the size of ours, and they live to a similar age, 70, if they are not murdered before that.

I say murder, because elephants care for each other – they live in social groups, if one baby falls or cries out, every elephant near will respond to help it.

If an elephant falls sick, or is injured, the herd will stay near and feed it, and wait until it is better before carrying on.

If an elephant dies, they mourn – they sometimes dig a hole and cover the body with branches – they have done this for human bodies, too.

When they pass the site of an elephant grave, the whole herd will pause and become quiet. They have been seen caressing the bones of a dead friend.

In South Africa, when conservationist and author Lawrence Anthony (who had rescued two herds of elephants) died, both herds turned up at his house to mourn him.

Neither herd had visited the house for a year and a half, yet on the day of his death one herd turned up, and a day later the second herd arrived.

It must have taken both herds at least 12 hours to walk there.

They stayed around the house, quietly, mourning for a couple of days before moving off.

These are the actions of beings of great sentience.

And yet they are still being killed at such a rate they may be extinct in both India and Africa in the not-too-distant future.

All for the sake of ivory. Read my post last year under E about ivory hunting here.

This is my elephant poem on the Forward Arts Foundation website:

http://www.forwardartsfoundation.org/poetry/remembering/

Remembering

.

The elephant

is bones

in the dust,

.

they trace

its outline

with delicate trunks,

.

each light touch

missing

.

two tusks.

 

© Liz Brownlee

Please do support any initiative that aims to stop this dreadful trade in elephant lives.

Here is one – adopt an elephant at the WWF.

I’m going to leave you with something happy – a baby elephant, playing like any other baby, with a toy. From YouTube.

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Poem © Liz Brownlee

Photo © Mara 1.

Information from WWF,  Happy Elephant,  Beliefnet

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.

D is for Dolphin

Hands up who doesn’t like dolphins? They are one of the best-loved creatures on the planet – maybe for their intelligence, maybe their friendliness – maybe for their smile. Here is my dolphin poem on the Forward Arts Foundation website:

http://www.forwardartsfoundation.org/poetry/to-keep-in-touch/

I’ve made this poem into a shape, which you can see here – not terribly good quality as I had to make the background transparent to enable blue to show through on the jpeg… and making words transparent is a tricky job!:

blue pdf

Dolphins are intelligent. One of the ways scientists test for levels of intelligence is by finding out if an animal has a sense of ‘self’. Do they recognise their reflection in a mirror is themselves, or another dolphin? Dolphins have a sense of self.

They learn very quickly, and what is more can pass that learning on.

A dolphin that was dubbed ‘Billie’ became trapped in a sealock. She was rescued, rehabilitated and released just three weeks later.

In that three weeks she observed captive dolphins ‘tail walking’. On release she proceeded to try it out for herself, and then taught tail walking to her wild dolphin friends.

Dolphins are air breathing mammals, and must surface to breathe. So while they rest, only one half of their brain sleeps at a time – the other half stays alert to remember to breathe. For this reason also, dolphins do not automatically breathe like us. It must be under their control, otherwise they’d risk breathing underwater at the wrong time.

They also cooperate with each other to catch food – they ‘herd’ fish shoals by surrounding them, and then take turns to eat – only when the last dolphin has eaten do they swim away.

Scientists have been amazed by some of the dolphins in one school that herd mullet, a type of fish, in towards the local fishermen.

When the fish are there the dolphins slap the water with their tails to let them know they are ready to be netted. The dolphins gain nothing from this. Why do they do it? Just one of many mysteries!

Dolphins are also gentle and altruistic – they stay with sick and injured dolphins and help them to the surface to breathe. They will even slow down their swimming to allow an older dolphin to keep up.

They are empathetic. It has been recorded on many occasions that dolphins have helped human swimmers up to the surface to breathe.

And lastly for today (although the wonder of dolphins could be expanded into many pages!), each dolphin has their own, unique name, which they make up themselves by their call. They call each other by these names and they respond. It is how they keep in touch as they swim along.

Scientists once played the calls of a group of wild dolphins to a group of captive dolphins from the same group. The captive dolphins became very excited by the speaker in the pool that was playing the names of their old friends. They approached the speaker one by one and called their own names back.

I find this very moving.

We should never keep dolphins captive.

The WDC campaigns to end the captivity of whales and dolphins. This is their website: WDC

If you’d like to make a shape with words, try the Tagxedo website. It’s great fun. This is one I made from the above poem:

scan

Poems © Liz Brownlee

Information from WDC, OneKind and Dolphins World.

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.

C is for Cows

This is a handsome ‘Heeland Coo’ (Highland Cow for those who don’t speak Scottish!) by Arran Moffat on Flikr.

Heeland Coo by

People tend to view cows as placid, stupid creatures without much personality.

In fact they are capable of the same level of intelligence as a dog. In one study they were challenged in tests to find a way of opening a door to get to food – the electroencephalographs connected to them showed that they were elated by their success, some even jumped in the air in triumph.

Cows have good memories (essential for intelligence) and will carry a grudge against a cow or person they don’t like for years. But they also have personal friends among the herd, that they like to be with.

When a cow’s calf is taken away she will cry for days – this is a sound I dread, living in the country, it is heartbreaking.

They have panoramic vision – which means even if they are looking away from you, unless you are standing right behind them, they can see you.

When they lie down, cows seem to align their bodies north/south – which has to be helpful if you are ever lost!

When they lie down and sleep, they dream, but when they stand up and sleep, they don’t.

And – cows in different areas of the country moo in different accents!

 

.Highland ‘Coo’

.

Dear Highland ‘coo’

with soft brown eyes,

chewing the cud

under blue skies,

breathing warm

and sweet grass sighs,

swishing your tail

at pesky flies,

your moos are Scottish

as ‘och ayes’!

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Photo © Arran Moffat

Information from OneKind.

I should point out that cows in the UK are kept in fields. In the US, many are treated very differently. You can read about that here:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html

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.

B is for Bees

Bees today!

If there were no bees, there would be no crops, and humans would starve – they really do perform that important a role in life on earth.

Here is a fabulous photo of a bumblebee by Matt Cornock on Flikr:

Matt Cornock Flikr

Scientists believe that there were bees as long as a 120 million years ago.

Today they are facing a huge number of problems that are threatening their (and our) existence.

One of the most worrying is the exposure to chemicals called neonicotinoids that are in insecticides such as Roundup. Why we should be surprised that a chemical designed to kill insects is affecting bees I don’t know.

Other problems that are stressing bees is a lack of forage plants, exposure to herbicides, as well as the insecticides. They are also being infected by various diseases and mites.

We all need to help bees, and ways of doing this include not pulling up weed plants such as dandelions early in the season, as bees rely on them to survive until the warmer weather comes.

Also, planting wild flowers and plants that bees enjoy in your garden.

BUT – MAKE SURE that any seeds or plants you use are not impregnated with chemical insecticides, or you will instead be killing your bees!

Interesting facts about bees:

They buzz in the key of ‘A’, unless they are tired, in which case they buzz in the key of ‘E’.

Bumblebees have hair on their eyes.

Bees do a waggle dance when they get back to their hive to show the other bees where they have found a good food source.

In other words, they use sign language.

One last thing – if you come across a bumble bee, or other type of bee, that is looking tired and drowsy, just resting on the ground, then it may have overloaded itself with pollen. It will unable, through tiredness and lack of food, to return home. You can save it, the instructions are here, by the RSPB.

Here is a bee poem – first published in ‘What Shape is a Poem’, chosen by Paul Cookson, Macmillan, 2002.

The buzz in liz exi

.Photo © Matt Cornock

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.

A is for Ants and…

My first A-Z blog this year is going to be amazing facts about TWO animals beginning with the letter A.

First, Ants! There are 10,000 (at least) types of ants living all around the world.

They live in colonies, consisting of a queen ant that lays all the eggs, and worker ants which are wingless females, that feed the queen, forage for food, look after the eggs and larvae, and protect the colony. THE WOMEN DO EVERYTHING!!!

Males ants only have one job and that is to mate with the queen, who can live for up to 30 years. Workers live 1 to 3 years.

Amazing facts about ants include:

They nod to each other as they pass.

An ant can detect movement through 5 metres of earth.

They never sleep.

Males develop from unfertilised eggs. Incredible.

And the second animal is the anteater, a strangely but superbly-designed-for-one-job creature, that wouldn’t exist without ants.

It is a very odd-looking animal – here is is in an image taken by Tony Hisgett on Flikr.

Giant anteater, Tony Hisgett

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Here are its facts in a quick poem:

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Giant Anteater

.

What eats the ants

that run about?

It needs a slim, curved

near-ground snout,

plus long, quick tongue

that flicks in, out,

and lots of sting-proof

hair without –

an anteater

without a doubt!

.

Anteaters are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

.

Photo © Tony Hisgett

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.

A-Z of Amazing Animals

Hello!

Starting from Wednesday 1st April, I am entering the brilliant A-Z Blog Challenge 2015.

Every single day of April (except Sundays!) I will be posting the ultimate alphabetic guide to some of the planet’s most amazing creatures.

I will be using photos, videos, poems and facts. I might even do some drawing, if I have time.

Did you know that elephant mothers hum a special song to their newborns? You do if you have read my A-Z challenge blogs 2014!

Did you know that birds have an extra cone in their eyes, which not only enables them to see red, green and blue light and all mixes of it, like us, but also UV light, a spectrum of colours we can only guess at – and all mixes of that spectrum with red, green and blues! Not only that, they see more shades than we can of red, green and blue. They see a completely different, much more colourful world than us.

The poem that goes with that fact is posted below under the title ‘Light’.

I hope you will join me on my A-Z journey this year, I’m very much looking forward to reading and commenting on all your blogs again – please do remember to turn off ‘captcha’ because if it’s on, sometimes I can’t comment.

So – to sum up, this is the sort of creature I will be featuring – if you want to see this little guy under my letter ‘H’, and his poem, do come visit!

When I saw this bird, from La Bioguia’s page, I just had to write a poem about it.

From FB page, La Bioguia.

See you soon! Can’t wait.

Light

Indigo Bunting, Chris by Bowman

As you may (or may not!) know, I am a poetry Ambassador, appointed by The Forward Arts Foundation.

The theme for this year’s National Poetry Day is Light which I’m sure will ‘spark’ many a beautiful poem from the imaginations of all the wonderfully talented poets in the UK!

So why is there a picture of a gorgeous Indigo Bunting, taken by Chris Bowman, at the top of this post?

One of the many initiatives this year is to have a bunting workshop at Hampton Court, during which lines of poems about light will be sewn on consecutive flags, with ribbons between – how fabulous is that? One of mine will be sewn or printed onto the flags and I can’t wait to see it.

The date for this year’s National Poetry Day is October 8th, and in the run up to the day I will be Tweeting, and blogging madly all about it!

Light as Birds

Birds see invisible
in-betweens
of every green
and red with blue,

they see UV,
a secret universe
of hue,

no wonder birdsong
overflows,
dizzy with blues
of sky.

Bird – is your song
of colour trails?
Is the air,
as you fly?

Merry Christmas 2014

Screenshot_19_12_2014_19_22

Save Liverpool Libraries!

Can there be anything more important or more of a sign of our democracy than a building that contains refuge, learning, opportunity, help, advice, warmth, somewhere to look for job opportunities, apply to college or university, find books to learn how to fix your tap, build a wall, write a successful job application, make origami sculptures, direct a play, research practically anything at all, borrow worlds in which to lose oneself for hours at a time – all for free?

These are but a few of the things you will find in a library.

Opening a book and starting to read a story for the first time is so much more than an exploration of another time or place or universe or culture.

Seeing things from another perspective promotes empathy.

People who have read books are much less likely to suffer from mental illness – having a stimulated imagination somehow gives someone who needs a mental refuge somewhere to go at times of stress.

Children who read in their spare time are likely to do better at English – but, surprise, surprise, also maths, than those who don’t.

I could go on and on about the benefits of reading, and do you know what, I couldn’t find one, single negative fact to counter the benefits.

There are those who think libraries have had their day – hey, we’re in the digital world now aren’t we?

Well, no, we aren’t actually. The digital world still contains the tiniest fraction of what a library holds. I research continuously to write – and although it’s so much easier now with the internet, if I want in-depth knowledge, the library is still the place to go.

If I want a particular book, I can Google – and get up Amazon. It will show me the book I want, and a few alternatives. but not as many as a library will.

And what is more, I will not have shelf upon shelf in front of me. A book with a title that I would not have even thought of will not catch my eye. I will not pick it up because of the cover, because it looks interesting, and flick through the pages. I will not find extra information I could not even have dreamed of.

When I am trying to borrow a new Donna Leon, and find that all copies are out on loan, I pick up something else, and borrow that instead. This leads me to finding an entirely new author, writing a completely different type of crime story – not ‘more of the same style’ that Amazon will turn up under my choice.

When my children were small, we bought them a lot of books. They loved reading. But could we afford to buy every book they wanted, or enough books to feed their reading appetite? No. So we went to the library.

Something that every single person in this country is able to do without exception.

As long as there is a library. It is a statutory right.

How is it possible to close any library at all?

If you agree that every single adult and child in this country should have free, easy access to a library, and if you have ever used library at all, please consider writing a love letter to your library.

Write a love letter to Liverpool libraries – 11 out of 16 of which face closure.

Like the ‘Save Liverpool Libraries Facebook’ page.

Look up #saveliverpoollibraries on Twitter and tweet your support.

Join authors, teachers (who know the value of books and reading to all subjects in education), poets and educationalists in their fight against the closure of libraries. Join authors like Alan Gibbons, Cathy Cassidy, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman… fight!

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