A murmuration…

If you have ever been lucky enough to see a murmuration of starlings – where the birds swoop and swirl in amazing aerial ballet creating patterns in the sky – it’s not something you are likely to forget. But have you ever wondered why it is called a ‘murmuration’?

You were probably too enchanted by the magical sight to notice the ongoing background murmur – or murmuration – as caused by the beating of 10,000 pairs of wings at once. And that’s where the term comes from. Most of the collective nouns we use date back to the mid-15th century. But the origins of most collective bird and animal nouns are not always as straightforward as they first appear.

Some are named after specific habits, such as ‘a descent of woodpeckers’, possibly due to their penchant for dropping down from great heights onto ants or ‘a leap of leopards’ or ‘a busyness of ferrets’ while others focus on a personality trait that we believe them to possess.

For instance, the number of sinister sounding nouns for crows, such as murder, mob and horde, probably come from medieval peasants’ fears that the mean-looking birds had been sent by the Devil or were witches in disguise.

Similarly, ‘an unkindness of ravens’ could stem from an old misguided belief that the birds were not caring parents, sometimes expelling their young from their nests before they were ready.

Many bird species have more than one collective noun. As with crows, there are many terms to describe finches (charm, trembling and trimming) and geese, depending on whether they’re flying (skein, wedge, nide) or gathered on water (plump) or land (gaggle).

A book by Chloe Rhodes An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns is fascinating. In it she explains that, unlike proverbs, rhymes or homilies, many of these delightful names endure because they were recorded and published in ‘Books of Courtesy’ – handbooks designed to educate the nobility. So an early sort of ‘one upmanship’ to ensure you made it plain you belonged to the ‘right’ set, something like the Sloane Ranger speak of the 1980s perhaps!

Here are some of my favourite bird terms:

  • A wake of buzzards
  • A commotion of coots
  • A murder of crows
  • An asylum of cuckoos
  • A swatting of flycatchers
  • A prayer of godwits
  • A conspiracy of ravens
  • A parliament of rooks
  • An exultation of skylarks
  • A murmuration of starlings
  • A chime of wrens
  • A booby of nuthatches
  • A quilt of eiders
  • A mischief of magpies
  • A wisdom of owls
  • A committee of terns
  • A descent of woodpeckers
  • A scold of jays
  • A charm of goldfinches
  • A fall of woodcock
  • A deceit of lapwings
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And so, September…

The trusty hydrangea, attractive whatever stage it’s at!

I always feel September really is the turn of the year. There’s that Autumnal nip in the air, the earth smells different – richer somehow – and the days become noticeably shorter. It’s a time of year when you could start to feel melancholy if you weren’t careful. But rather than feel a gathering gloom, reflect and take a moment to savour… and then think of it as a time to plan ahead. The children have started their new school year and it’s harvest festival time, so that means home made harvesting projects like jams and preserves – so there’s plenty to do!

I used to find my garden looking rather forlorn at this time of year. To counter this, I made a point of ensuring I had plenty of plants that come into their own in the Autumn.

Fuchsia, always so pretty.

Hydrangeas became terribly unfashionable a few years ago, but I have always loved them – they are such good value! They go on and on flowering well into September and, nowadays there are so many stunning varieties to choose from, you are spoilt for choice. Allow the final flower heads of the year to stay on the plant, to provide winter interest… and I am sure I don’t need to tell you how wonderful they are dried in arrangements, or sprayed silver and gold for Christmas.

Fuchsias, so very pretty (I thought they looked like ballerinas when I was a child) cannot fail to brighten any garden. Make sure you choose a late-flowering variety such as ‘Marinka’ and you’re guaranteed extra autumn colour.

Japanese anemones.

I have become a recent convert to Japanese anemones, they look so elegant and delicate, yet they flower from August until late October and look fabulous at every stage. Whether tight bud, long-lasting flower or neatly spherical seed head, the Japanese anemone manages it perfectly. There are lots of lovely colours to choose from they are a really uplifting choice!

Try not to be too enthusiastic with the shears and secateurs (I know it’s tempting!) there are lots of flower heads you can leave on over winter to add interest. Here’s a few to leave and admire:

  • Hydrangeas (obviously!)
  • Teasels
  • Nigella
  • Nigella seed head.

    Echinops

  • Eryngiums
  • Artichokes
  • Poppies

And if you are still looking for positive things to do… start planting your spring bulbs!

 

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Congratulations!

This, I thought, would make a great congratulations card for a clever youngster that has managed to get some GCSEs, or A levels, a place at university or an apprenticeship, just a happy card with a wise old owl saying well done!

All levels of achievement with exams are fantastic and I think it helps a child’s self-esteem a lot, if random aunts and family members send some congratulations when the results are announced.

The ingredients in this card are as follows:

Signature dies, Beautiful Owl

Signature Dies, Rose Leaves

Then a Lisa Audit pad 1 or 2 – if you haven’t had a look through her images, do have a wander through… She is such a talented lady and the cards you make will be just a little bit different which is always fun!

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Seals and Surf!

This lovely card was made by Sylvie Ashton for the last TV show. Apart from demonstrating beautifully how fab our Seal Family die is, it also has a fascinating use for our Ocean Corner die.

I think it’s really important to encourage everyone to look at dies and think of different ways to use them. Dies are an investment, they aren’t going to perish or evaporate, they will always be there. So let’s try and get the best use from them that we can.

What this design does is take the coral edging from our Ocean Corner and round the edges a little, snip a little and turn them into the foam on the waves. Very effective and a great additional use for a corner die!

The waves and rocks are also worth pointing out – these are cut/torn papers from our Paper pad volume 3 – so often it’s easy to flip through a pad and say “Nah, not my kind of patterns” but backing papers have many uses and gorgeous flowers and lace are indeed some of my favourite backing papers (see Volume 1!) but we also need creatively inspiring colours and designs to help do something just a little bit different.

The last point I want to make is the sky. Any of you that caught the show will have seen the post it note demo, but for those that didn’t …. the sky is so very simple but effective I reckon! It needs a post it note and a pad of Tim Holtz Distress Inks – one of the blues – and an implement to apply the ink. You can use a lovely whizzy fat brush as I do, or a foam applicator as he does or just use a screwed up old tissue…. it works! Cut the clouds out from the post-it (making sure there’s a piece of tacky left somewhere on the cloud) and position them on a suitably sized piece of white card. Splodge or whisky around the clouds and across the sky …. then remove the post it notes and ta-da … clouds in a blue sky.

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It’s a tall story…

Spot the difference – there are nine sub-species of giraffe, and each one has different patterns on their skin and also some different colourations

Whenever I post anything about giraffes, I get great feedback and a feeling that you all just love these amazing creatures. There are so many things about giraffes that are technically wrong – they look like a poor police photo fit, a peculiar job lot of bits and pieces stuck together – and yet so many people adore them.

They are gentle giants, huge herbivores grazing the treetops in Africa, using their 45cm black tongues to bring the food into their mouths. At the end of that ridiculously long neck is one of cutest faces you will find, a head more suited to a small deer than an 18ft ruminant!

As well as its pretty face, the giraffe also has the most amazingly languid slow motion gait. A running giraffe is never hurried and always graceful, its long limbs making it impossible to make quick movements. A giraffe has only two gaits – walking and galloping, but once it is moving, wow can it move! A giraffe can reach a sprint speed of up to 60 km/h (37 mph) and can keep going at 50 km/h (31 mph) for several kilometres.

The giraffe’s coat is another thing of beauty. There are nine sub-species of giraffe, and each one has different patterns on their skin and also some different colourations. From the pale West African giraffe with widely spaced red blotches on a pale background to the reticulated giraffe whose distinctive coat is made up of sharp-edged, reddish brown patches divided by a network of thin white lines looking very much like crazy paving!

Although generally very quiet animals, giraffes have been heard to communicate using sounds. During courtship, males emit loud coughs, not exactly romantic, but hey… Females call their young by bellowing and their calves will emit snorts, bleats, mooing and mewing sounds. Giraffes also snore, hiss, moan, grunt and make flute-like sounds. And if all that wasn’t cute enough, during the night, giraffes appear to hum to each other! I am so smitten with these animals!

They are sociable creatures, but they don’t form herds. Instead, they meet in groups each day and the makeup of a group changes from day to day – how good is that? No fear of getting stuck with the neighbourhood bore! So, basically, if given the chance, I think I’d like to be a giraffe. But having said that… there are drawbacks. Gestation is 400–460 days… that is an awfully long time to be pregnant. And, while the mother gives birth standing up, a new-born giraffe is between 5’6” and 6’6” tall!!

After more than 400 days of pregnancy, the baby giraffe can be up to 6’6″ tall at birth!

The males, or bulls, establish a pecking order by neck-wrestling. If a strange bull wanders into the area, a resident bull will challenge it, and the two will bang their heads together until one of them retreats! I confess I can think of several leading ‘bulls’ in our world today who I would happily encourage to bang their heads together –­ but no Joanna, don’t go there!

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