“Depending on your perspective, a shoebill either has the same goofy charm as the long-lost dodo or it looks like it might go on the attack any moment.”
National Geographic

The shoebill is a bird of various names including such incredible titles as The Whale Headed King and King of the Swamps, but also the less prestigious Boat Bill or Bog Bird. It’s scientific name, Balaeniceps Rex, deconstructs to ballaena (whale), caput (head), rex (king). The extremes in their names, and the take on them from National Geographic suggests a divise nature akin to marmite; you love it or you hate it.

A coloured sketch of a shoebill's head

With their prehistoric appearance, they are often described as living dinosaurs. More so that other birds which are less obviously descended from dinosaurs. They stand at an impressive 5 foot, with an 8 foot wingspan and their bill is thought to have the biggest circumference of all birds. The centring of their bill in their name is not surprising when you see a shoebill – the clog shaped, razor edged bill can be up to 9 inches long and is so big that babies have trouble standing because of the imbalance.

In addition to being tall, with a long wingspan, they have comically long legs and long toes (their middle toe can be up to 18cm long!). As they live in marshy wetlands, having longer limbs helps to spread weight and enables them to walk more steadily on unpredictable territory. The shoebill could be suggesting that you too spread your weight when facing unpredictability.

Accompanying their large bill is a large head with large eyes that come with a piercing stare. Blinking infrequently gives them an unnerving appearance, combined with their ancient appearance. Their stare actually serves an important function, helping them to catch their prey with about a 60% success rate. They eat lungfish, catfish and even baby crocodiles and, standing perfectly still for hours until prey appears, they attack with speed and ferocity, using their sharp hooked bill as a weapon. The bill holds the fish, allowing no escape.

The wetlands they inhabit are in Eastern Africa and tend to be areas of flood plain with papyrus and reedbeds. As they need fish to come close to the surface, they also frequent areas of poorly oxygenated water; lungfish can breathe through lungs (hence the name!) so will head up to take a breath (Animal Diversity).

Before we move onto mating and raising chicks, there’s just a few other things it’s good to know about the shoebill;

  • They can take off near vertically and their long wings means they don’t have to flap them as often as many birds
  • They aren’t very vocal, but when they do greet other shoebills, they use bill clattering which has been described as sounding like a machine gun or a jackhammer
  • Shoebills are in a taxonomic family of their own and are not, as some people assume, storks; in fact their closest relatives are pelicans
  • They defecate on their legs to keep themselves cool; heat from the warm blood in their legs works to evaporate the liquid poo and the result is that cooler blood circulates back through the bird

They are generally solitary, with the exception of when they are breeding, and even then, the male and female prefer to occupy opposite ends of their shared territory. This feels like sharing is a stretch; even when they want or need to share an area, it is done with a sort of resentment and reluctance. Despite that, they do form pair bonds for the breeding season (although no longer than they have to!), a reminder that sometimes, you do need to engage in team work, even if your tendency is to march on alone.

Strangely, given their seeming distaste for company, both parents participate in every aspect of nest building, incubation and parenting. This includes something called egg-watering, where adults pour a mouthful of water of the nest, this helps to keep the eggs cool. They also place wet grass around the eggs, rolling and turning the eggs over. This all feels very caring and resourceful of the parents, and yet, we shall now see, the offspring are somewhat more viscious…

There are between one and three eggs and once hatched, the chicks start life highly reliant on their parents for food and water. This is likely a key factor in the extreme sibling rivalry between the chicks. The dominating chick (generally the one born first) will bully and torment the submissive chick. This leads to the dominant chick getting more food and water, so they grow faster and are healthier. This can result in a parent making a “choice” to neglect one of their chicks. This is very hard to hear about but if we think about resource management it makes sense; if you haven’t got enough to keep two chicks alive and healthy then neglecting one means the other is more likely to make it to adulthood and to breeding, that is to say, to continue the genetic line.

They have been considered a bad omen with beliefs such as if you see one when fishing, you’ll not catch much and yet this assumption led to protection; because they were seen as bad luck, people were afraid to kill them.

This contrariness is seen again when we consider that despite being terrifying and bad luck, they have also been beloved and appeared in ancient Egyptian artwork; again a bit like marmite…!


Birds: What’s in a name? Peter Barry

National Geographic


Animal Diversity


Animalogic: Shoebills are metal

BBC Earth: The dark side of shoebill chicks

Animal Educate: Dinosaur bird

Kinkajou: Animal Spirit

The kinkajou: relative of the raccoon, that is easily mistaken for a primate and is sometimes called honey bears despite not being ursine.

Ok, I’m guessing you don’t know what a Kinkajou is, so let’s start there. I didn’t either until very recently and since that first encounter, they’ve cropped up a few times in my life so I felt drawn to find out more. That, and they are rather cute (which sadly means there is a horrific pet trade issue around them). They have short, woolly hair that’s golden brown on their backs and creamy yellow on their tummy’s.

A kinkajou on a branch

According to A-Z Animals, the name kinkajou comes from a native Algonquian word meaning wolverine that was taken by the French and applied to the kinkajou. A reminder to us that words aren’t neutral and can have their own, important history, in this case a history that feels like it’s probably linked to colonialism. Other names suggested by the A-Z Animals website include night ape and night walker as well as la Llorona which means crying woman and refers to their loud call.

A long, prehensile tail is probably the Kinkajou’s most defining feature but perhaps their second eye catching feature is their large eyes. As nocturnal creatures living in tropical forests in Central and South America, large eyes are beneficial. Often, nocturnal animals either have very small eyes or very large eyes depending on how much they use sight vs other senses.

During the day, they are often found sleeping in dens created in the hole of a tree with their social group, apparently using their tail as a snuggly blanket! Come dusk, time is spent grooming each other and socialising before heading out alone to search for food.

Their prehensile tail acts a lot like another arm, aiding their balance and they often hang from it, incredibly it can take the entire weight of the kinkajou! This is a unassumingly powerful creature with hidden skills. They are deliberate in their movement, carefully placing their legs and tail for good balance and their tail allows for reaching and grasping branches, or ideas if you’re thinking symbolically or metaphorically.

Incredibly, they are able to turn their feet backwards to run easily in either direction along branches which puts me in mind of moving forward and backwards through time or journeys. This flexibility and manoeuvrability is enhanced by an extremely flexible spine and is perhaps a reminder that life is not always about moving forward. Sometimes you need to revisit the past or perhaps if you’re grieving, it’s a reminder that the so called stages of grief aren’t steps, they are a process and you may, will, move around within that process.

Their nimble claws are dexterous as as we’ve seen with the racoon, it helps them to manipulate food. They can feel more nuance than perhaps the average creature and that might be an encouragement to lean into nuance. Whilst we tend to view the world in very black and white terms, there is so so much greyscale that’s really worth looking into. So often two things can be true at once even if they seem like competeing ideas.

As we’ve seen from the opening statement, the kinkajou doesn’t have a solid image or identity as seen by others. But then nor do we, how people view us or define us depends partly on the lens that they are seeing us through and partly on how we are presenting at a particular point. This doesn’t mean you aren’t a fully integrated whole person, just that the self we show more of in the workplace is different to the self we show more of when we’re catching up with our best friend or on a night out.

Whilst originally thought to be solitary, they actually have complex social interactions with a social group often comprising of two males, one female and offspring. Dominant males mate with the females of their home group as well as females on the edge of the territory. Like with so many animals, scent marking is important for communication, including sexual communication, and kinkajous use scent glands to mark tree branches. They also communicate through grunting and growling, chattering and screaming and when they’re happy, they make a kissing noise! Maybe your communication could be clearer to others?

When it comes to parenting, it’s down to the mums but, as Animal Diversity said whilst “males do not provide any direct care [they] are not aggressive toward young and have been found to regularly share fruiting trees and day dens, and will occasionally play with the pups.” This seems like a key nudge around gender roles in your life – if the kinkajou has shown up for you, what might need rebalancing it terms of gendered work. Are you always the one in the relationship who’s keeping a mental track of upcoming birthdays? Do you wait until the night before the kids run out of clothes to do a wash? None of these are judgements, but if you are in a relationship, you may need to take some time to consider the roles that you’ve fallen into. If you’ve consciously chosen a role that fits your skills and interests (maybe you love to cook) does that mean that your partner is picking up a role that they don’t want (like taking out the bins).

As they eat a lot of seeds and pollinate when they feed on nectar, they are carrying out the role of forest gardener which is an important role to play in an environment. Further, they are food for predators such as birds of prey, jaguars and other predators. Both their roles as food and creating food are vital for the local environment they live in – how are you being benefited and benefiting the place you live?

Superstitions and beliefs

There is a Colombian superstition that if a kinkajou barks during the day, a family member will die. This is often the case with nocturnal animals.

There’s a really interesting link between the kinkajou and tobacco and I’m thinking perhaps I’ll dig into tobacco itself more separately. But for now, the kinkajou are seen by Yanomami people as the animal-person responsible for discovering tobacco and celebrating it.

With the South American Yanamomo people, there was a man who was crying as he walked through a forest. He was crying because there was something he needed, he dodn’t know what it was but his craving for it made him emotionally numb. He came across the ancestral tobacco god, kinkajou. Kinkajou knew just what the man needed – it was tobacco. Kinkajou gave it to the man who started chewing it and wherever he spat it’s juice, tobacco plants grew and flowered and hummingbirds came and sucked the nectar and this resulted in tobacco becoming widely spread.

Other myths expand on the addictiveness of tobacco and there are various versions of these myths, some involve the kinkajou spreading tobacco and some where an agouti was involved who taught the kinkajou how to cultivate the crop. In another version, it was Caterpillar who gave Kinkajou tobacco and there are various versions of man turning into Kinkajou and Kinkajou turning into man.

Regardless of which myth you lean towards, there are clear themes around intoxicating substances, addiction and transformation. How do these apply to where you are right now? Are you in need of a deeper, spiritual awakening through substances? Are you overdoing that use? Or are you in need of a personal transformation? Certain substances can change our perception of our realities, but it feels important to say that we can’t change our realities though our perceptions can make a huge difference.


Nature, Framed

So yesterday was my birthday and I spent it in a way that was very much me but sounds a bit weird to some people…!

I started the day by co-hosting a nature writing workshop with the wonderful Amanda Tuke. She had invited me to be part of a series of workshops she was co-hosting over a year and this one was the last in the series.

If you’ve been here long, you’ll be fully aware I’m disabled and for me that was a key way I wanted to approach the workshop. A lot of my nature is experienced through and from my flat and this naturally shapes my writing.

A couple of incredible writers, Polly Atkin and Josie George, have similar ways of approaching nature and their nature writing. Indeed, Atkin has said:

“We dwell in our bodies; our bodies in the world. Everything we experience of the world we experience in and through and with our bodies. Our relationship with our body informs our relationship with the world. For some people this is easier to forget than for others”.

There are many reasons why it may be easier to forget for some people than others, in my case it’s around my disability but for others it might be around gender or race. I wanted the workshop to reflect that and to start from a place that was hopefully accessible to everyone, or almost everyone; their home.

A warm up exercise focused on what is through the window and I was pleased to be able to write a little whilst the participants did their own writing.

Through the window a car alarm pierces through my nature writing, cuts my reflections, brutally shatters my snail trail of thought.

Settling into my windowside chair, with it’s tarmacked street view, eyes flit over a discarded Double Decker wrapper caught on the winter bare bush. Eyes resolve image, releasing an iris, crocus, iris where the chocolate litter was. Spring crept by, left paint splatters in her hasty retreat. Dots of white on mud, tufts of lime on wet-black twigs. A season on the cusp of committing.

Out the window, nettles leaves wave, so fresh they’re more lemon than lime, but same tang. Browned grass stems drift wearily, remnants from last year, planted by overly zealous starlings as they squabbled for the feeder.

Inside the window, a snail hibernates, stuck itself to the apex of the frame. A gamble with it’s glue, a fall will shatter. I think it’s a male, self confidence borders on arrogance.

My birthday wasn’t just about nature writing though! There was wine and word games and friends and takeaway. That being said, starting it with a nature writing workshop was a great way to kick off the day!

Honey Badger

The honey badger, also known as a ratel, is not as sweet as the name suggests! It also isn’t that closely related to a badger, and is more akin to a weasel. So we’re already getting off to a deceptive start although it’s probably not fair to blame the honey badger for that, we are the ones who named it after all!

One explanation for it’s name comes from a relationship it allegedly has with the honeyguide bird. It is said that the birds can find honey and not get into the hive, so they fly close to the honey badger, calling and inviting it to follow. The bird then leads the honey badger to the hive where it uses it’s sharp claws to break in, eat the larva and leave the honey for the honeyguide. However, there is no evidence of this and the honey badger is nocturnal where the honeyguide is diurnal…

Now, let’s get a bit more familiar with this creature. You probably don’t know much about the honey badger, beyond it’s reputation on the internet…

They are about 60-70cm long, about 25cm tall and weigh between 8 and 12kg and are quite stocky. They have a large skull, a muscular neck and tend to be part black, part grey or white. Strong front feet feature large claws and they have a strange skin feature; it’s thick and loose which means when a predator gets hold of them, they can squirm and twist and bite the attacker. The skin is so tough that it is impervious to arrows and spears and even tough enough to resist a machete. The honey badger has definitely mastered it’s armour and whilst the honey badger does need this extreme version, do you? Of course, we don’t walk round in chain metal but we all have emotional armoury.

In terms of how they sense the world, they have poor eyesight but a very powerful sense of smell. To be fair, they are nocturnal so would have to have really good eyesight to make it a useful sense.

They are solitary and generally only come together to mate. Once mated, the male goes on his way, leaving the female to raise the cubs. Cubs are born blind and hairless, staying in the den for the first few months of life. Every few days the mum moves the cubs to a new den, which feels like a defensive and protective action. At about three months old, they start to forage with their mum and will move burrow every night. At about a year, year and a half, they go their own way.

As already hinted at, they are nomadic, self reliant creatures, not relying on anyone and not getting attached to anywhere. Does this sound familiar? If it does, maybe it’s time to reflect on that a little.

They sleep in burrows and are able to dig tunnels in hard ground quickly with those sharp, large claws but will also appropriate them from other animals. Being able to dig quickly helps them find food as well, uprooting it from a supposedly safe space… They are foragers with a broad diet including eggs and chicks but a lot of their diet is venomous snakes, which they are immune to, giving it a good supply of food as most animals can’t eat them.

However, snake venom is complex and they don’t get away without some effect. It is this that earns them the name nature’s zombies. They attack the snake, and in doing so can get bitten leading to venom getting into the honey badger’s veins. The snake dies and so, it appears, does the honey badger but a couple of hours later they ‘come back to life’ and eat the snake.

If you’ve pulled the honey badger card, perhaps you should be asking yourself if something is worth it, do you want it enough to take the hit that comes with it?

An array of offensive and defensive weapons mean they don’t really have many predators. Their thick skin is hard to grasp, their sharp claws strike a painful blow and then there is their reversible anal pouch… When threatened they can push it out their anus and it emits a foul smell (they are related to skunks). The honey badger is not afraid to attack though and appears to take a fearless approach to facing opponents. Do you need to follow suit? Or are you creating battles when they aren’t needed? If you go into a situation ready to attack, then everything becomes a war. Perhaps this card has appeared to remind you that you don’t need to fight, or that you should ensure you are fighting for the right cause.

Their vulnerable points, the eyes, ears and tail are small which reduces the vulnerability. This is an animal that really sets it’s boundaries. This, combined with all their attack and defence options, makes me ask, what are they afraid to show? In terms of the tarot card or oracle card, what are you guarding or hiding from the world? There’s a huge difference between being appropriately private or cautious about sharing something, and being so private and closed off that it is you that is hurting yourself. Many of us wonder how people will react when we share a facet of ourselves but if the other person is not accepting of it, you learn something about that relationship.

Recently on an episode of Queer Eye, one of the presenters rephrased ‘coming out’ as ‘letting someone in’, do you need to do more work on letting people in?

As well as being physically well adapted for their life, honey badgers are highly intelligent. Their brain is comparatively large and they are ingenious problem solvers, using flexible thinking and tools to break into hen houses, and out of zoos. If there’s something they want, they will get it.

Having an attitude as being scrappy and tenacious is great for keeping predators at bay, except when those predators are humans who want the honey badger for use in traditional medicine. It is believed that their fearlessness and bravery will be transferred to the human. Another human made danger for honey badgers are traps as farmers and bee keepers try to protect their livelihoods, in fact conflict between beekeepers and honey badgers has been documented since the early 1800s (International Journal of Avian & Wildlife Biology).

Being well adapted and also adaptable means honey badgers can cope with a lot of uncomfortable situations but being able to cope with something doesn’t always mean you should. When negative things come into our lives gradually, we can turn around and find ourselves in terrible scenarios that we don’t have the keep coping with, think of the boiling frog metaphor


Thumbnail Nature; Winter

I recently attended a nature writing workshop with Amanda Tuke and Rebecca Gibson; Song of ice and footprints. I’ve attended a couple of Amanda’s workshops now and I love that they get me writing, right there and then.

As the name suggests, we were looking at winter! As the last exercise is about thumbnail nature writing (40 to 50 words), I came out of it with something short and hopefully consise…!

Between barcode poplars, rose gold sun showcases seedhead’s architecture, glimmers the spider woven lace and glints off frost licked grass.

Cold air bites flesh; a price must be paid to witness Winter’s magic. A test is always required to enter a fairytale forest.

New Networks for Nature

A few years ago the New Networks for Nature meeting was held in York which was an incredible opportunity and I really enjoyed the whole event.

This year it’s being held in Bath which isn’t quite as convienient but streaming tickets have now been made available! You can get them for Saturday or Sunday, or a combined ticket, through the Eventbrite page. Click on Tickets and scroll to the bottom of the list for the online ones.

You’ll then be able to access an exclusive live video and audio feed of the event in Bath. Note this is not an interactive attendance, so you will not be able to ask questions or comment live, but the social media around the event was very active when it was in York. If you do get involved in social media use #NatureMatters21 to join in.

Saturday will kick off with an exciting sounding panal about art and environmental awareness. Other Saturday panals include the topic of plastics, young people and climate activism and the future of natural-history tv.

Sunday includes discussion around Nature and Spirituality, nature, health and wellbeing and ecotourism.

A full programme is available for you to find out more about the different panals and the many great speakers.

Whilst my life has been taken over by fighting for basic disability access to York city centre, I am very much looking forward to having a weekend to think about nature instead!

Despite the gushing of love about the event, I haven’t been sponsored in anyway. I just really enjoyed it when it was in York and am very pleased to be able to attend virtually!


Six year old girl, blonde hair, green eyes, hovers over a dead body. Her first dead body. There is no rule book for this situation, there was no picture book to tell her what to do or prepare her for this.

My sister, two years younger, had run away at the sight of the rusted fur but something tied me to the fox. Its body lay sprawled at the base of a horse chestnut tree. One of many that made up our wood; the envy of classmates who dreamt of tree houses and conkers.

Above, in the protective canopy, white and pink candles proudly declared Spring’s presence. I remember the man we found in our driveway staring at the waxy peach cones, amazed, full of questions about this abnormality. Questions we had no answers for, this was just how they grew, with their darker, smaller leaves and empty spiny shells that disappointed our friends. They had expected the rich smooth gift of a conker.

A glassy eye blinked. A muscle reaction I would later find out.

I stood watch over the body; chestnut tail, russet body, milky ruff and charcoal tipped ears.

There was no blood. The small creature lay seemingly as peaceful as a cat basking in the sun. It was not the fox I feared, it was not the death I feared, but I did fear leaving it alone. It felt wrong to witness death and walk away.

We buried it, my Dad and I, under a beech tree. Near the family pets but not so close that the fox would terrorise the guinea pigs, the chickens or the cats in the afterlife.

Boxing Day Floods

One of the tasks from the Wild Words course I did was to write about flooding. In York, in 2015, there were awful floods which affected many people and areas that aren’t usually flooded. York does flood regularly but this was the worst I’ve seen in.

Boxing Day Floods, York

Source: York Flood Inquiry

December 2015
wettest month
since records began
Ouse and Foss catchment

Boxing Day:
unprecedented situation on the Foss

                       weekend Bank Holiday
                       middle of Christmas

challenge escalates

27th BT exchange

loss of landlines internet
mobile phones
no electronic communication
                        misinformation can take hold

four hundred and fifty three
residential properties
one hundred and seventy four

remarkable efforts
generosity community spirit
assistance offered quickly
unstintingly. Donations
                       local, national

spontaneous volunteers
‘unwavering response from responders’
praised for dedication and contribution

thirteen thousand sandbags
                       builders’ merchants very helpful
                       opened depots on request

voluntary sector:
                        evacuation-meals-shelter-warmth-assisting with clean up-warehousing and distributing donated goods-practical emotional recovery support

no warning

‘Recovery from flooding does not simply end
when people move back into their homes.’

problems with insurance claims
managing builders
living in a state of disrepair

long-term issues identified:
                       respiratory problems made worse- mental health problems exacerbated-disruption to home-lost personal possessions-strain of moving in with family-strain of being separated from family-breakdown of relationships-financial pressures-lost ability to earn-went out of business

problems do not recede as quickly as water

York will flood again
an inevitability

‘York as a community would benefit from becoming more resilient
and better prepared for an emergency situation.’

Ancraophobia, fear of the wind

Ancraophobia is the extreme fear of wind.  This is not a word for me.  I don’t fear the wind. But I am not comfortable with it either. I feel attacked by the wind. I feel small. I want to retreat, hide, and escape.

Ancraophobia is never present at birth. The fear of wind most often arises as a result of a negative experience in the person’s past… Most often an ancraophobic person experienced a situation where the wind was blowing heavily and they found themselves afraid that the wind might destroy or kill them.
Wikipedia, accessed 29th January 2020

When I was 7 or 8, there was a horrific storm.  It was Christmas Eve and the power cut out.  For some reason that I no longer recall, my dad had to go outside.  The wind was screeching, lightning striking and the sky was crashing almost in time to the flashes.

I was terrified for my dad.  He was out in this hellish tornado, surrounded by trees, and who knows what was caught in the wind.  I had seen Wizard of Oz a few times.  I knew about hurricanes. 

He had been outside for years.  Hours at least.  I was scared.  I opened my mouth but fear held back the words. It took a few tries before I could raise my concerns with my mother. 

Looking back, I can see she was also afraid. But she snapped at me.  Told me off.  Made me more terrified. My teeth bit down on my lips and my fingers curled, nails in skin. Eyes kept on staring into the storm.

I was already petrified, unable to move from my place, on guard at the window.  I didn’t need someone to yell at me and tell me not to be so stupid.  It had taken so much for me to ask. To ask if she thought he was ok. I didn’t need to be knocked down.

I had visions flashing through my childhood imagination.  My dad knocked unconscious.  My dad trapped under a tree. My dad squashed by a fallen wall. 

I needed to be told he hadn’t been gone very long.  I needed to be told he was ok.  I needed her to be the adult.  To act unafraid, even if she was.  I needed to know that in a fight between my dad and the wind, he would win.  Not to be shouted at to shut up.  I went quiet, silent and alone with my fears.  And that silence was filled with the bawling wind and the cracks of trees just a couple of metres from the house.

I stood between window and curtains, trying to turn the shadows into familiar shapes. Peering into the darkness, knowing I couldn’t have seen him even if he was there. 

I am not afraid of the wind. I am afraid of the power it has inside my imagination. The destructive whirlwind that rips through my imagination and decimates my safety net.

I am not afraid of the wind.

I am afraid my dad might lose the fight.

Written as part of the Wild Words: Place and Environment Writing course.

A short story of the ones left behind

As part of my writing course we looked at a poem called ‘A Short Story of Falling‘ by Alice Oswald and were asked to write a poem following her structure. I don’t normally write rhyming poems, let alone rhyming couplets so this was a challenge for me. It took a lot of work and tweaking and editing but I enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone.

Rugged rocks standing in the tide

A short story of the ones left behind

It is the story of the ones left behind
between ebb and flow of tide

As waves retreat, new worlds emerge
fleeting glimpses, soon submerged

Black rocks gleam, spray kissed, like jewels
stand tall between impermanent pools

Acorn barnacles cling tight
to mussels’ pearly blues and whites

Conical spirals of periwinkles
littered through the seaside shingle

Bladderwrack entangles limpets
cigarettes and fishing nets

Crab’s hermitage, a bottle cap
first cosy home, then prison, trapped

Translucent sea jelly
tentacles of vermicelli

Bag for Life, or Bag of Death?
suffocating final breath

This is the story of the ones left behind
by sea, and, by humankind

Limpets and barnacles cling to black rock