Folklore & Nature: The Night Bird

Ná déin é, ná déin é

If you happen to be on cliffs in the Faroe Islands, Scotland, Ireland or notably, the Isle of Man, at night during the summer, you may find yourself surrounded by an eerie moaning cry. Look as you may, the source remains hidden in the dark night. The ominous moaning sound has been the source of great speculation for centuries and created a belief the source of the noise was associated with death.

But can Waldron’s story (‘Description of the Isle of Man,’ 1731, Manx Soc., vol. xi. p. 67) of the spirit which haunted the coasts have originated in this noise. , described as infernal by modern writers ? ‘ The disturbed spirit of a person shipwrecked on a rock adjacent to this coast wanders about it still, and sometimes makes so…

Continue reading →

Folklore & Nature: Mother Carey and her Chickens

Well, ah fare you well; we can stay no more with you, my love—
Down, set down your liquor and your girl from off your knee;
For the wind has come to say:
“You must take me while you may,
If you’d go to Mother Carey,
(Walk her down to Mother Carey!)
Oh, we’re bound to Mother Carey where she feeds her chicks at sea!”

Anchor Song by Rudyard Kipling

It’s not clear where Mother Carey got her name from, but what is very clear is that sailors did not want to encounter this mythical sea deity. Mother Carey was the very personification of storms and the dangerous sea and sailors feared her. She was known to bring storms and cause shipwrecks sending…

Continue reading →

Folklore & Nature: Sielulintu

A graveyard may not be the most common of places to visit when traveling in a foreign city, but a couple of years ago I found myself walking through one in Helsinki because it was next to the apartment we were staying in. Almost immediately, the thing I noticed about many of the tombstones, were the presence of birds. Many had metal birds in flight on the front, small metal birds sitting on top. As I walked through the tombstones, live birds flitted around the edge of the graveyard in the surrounding wild forested area. Occasionally one would fly in and perch on a tombstone as though it were another of the adornments decorating the memorials.

Although Finns are strongly connected to nature, birds hold an even more symbolic meaning, which I didn’t know at the time. In Finnish folklore there is something known…

Continue reading →

Field Journal: Viikki Nature Reserve

One of the most memorable places I visited the last time I was in Helsinki was the Viikki Nature Reserve and I wanted to return again this trip. Although we spent time exploring the Kivinokka area this summer, it isn’t technically part of the nature reserve. There are many different habitats in the nature reserve and last trip I walked through the north part of Viikki which is fields and some woods. I thought I remembered walking on a boardwalk through reed wetlands, but couldn’t remember where that was. I made my best guess and we decided to walk from Klädesfabriksparken towards Kuusiluoto which was shown on the map as a boardwalk. 

Before entering the reserve, we walked through a park where we saw a group of barnacle geese with goslings and then crossed over a bridge. From the bridge I noticed a small group of hooded crows…

Continue reading →

Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Spring Nesting

This spring our wildlife garden has seen a lot of activity. Last year, during my 365 Nature Project, we watched a Bewick’s Wren pair make a nest in our backyard nest box, while a pair of American Robins built a nest in our front yard. This year the wrens returned, but opted for a different nest box. In our backyard I have put up a red box, which the wrens chose last year. I also have a blue box hanging from the garage which has never been used. Then there’s the wood box built by my husband, also never used. Last year I found another wood box at a thrift store and stashed it in the garage. It’s meant to be mounted on a post and this spring I just wedged it into our forsythia for a lack of anywhere better to put it.

To my surprise,…

Continue reading →

Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Spotted Towhee Nest

A week or so ago I realized we may have a Spotted Towhee nest in our backyard, in addition to the Black-capped Chickadee and Bewick’s Wren nests. I was pulling weeds in the area which used to be a large deck and will one day be a wildlife pond, when a towhee flew up from almost under my feet. Realizing what it meant I quickly retreated and left the area to its own devices for the time being. Instead I started to watch, and indeed, a pair of towhees were constantly on the fence and in the neighbor’s tree. A couple of times I crept back to the corner of the garden trying to find the nest, but after some scolding from the towhees I quickly abandoned the search.

They were very sneaky, flying in and out from different places and I couldn’t discover where the nest was. Once I’d think…

Continue reading →