Thursday, 31 March 2016

Edinburgh's Trees

Silver birches in the 'Hidden Meadow' in Colinton Dell, alongside the Water of Leith.
 
It's almost a month since I promised to write a post about Edinburgh's trees!

Edinburgh is lucky in having lots of greenspaces, many of which are full of beautiful trees. The Woodland Trust website lists all the woodlands (including wooded cemetries) in the Edinburgh area. meanwhile Edinburgh City Council has compiled a list of Edinburgh's 'trees with a story', so you can create your own trail to link up with each one of these special trees.

Not all is rosy for our trees though. Recent years have seen storms rip trees up. Building work too threatens some of our trees. The Flood Prevention works along the Water of Leith have caused controversy over the number of trees that have been felled. There was a huge outcry when trees were chopped down in Canonmills and Stockbridge to make way for that part of the flood prevention work. The outcry was, oddly, much more muted when trees were chopped down near the Murrayfield Stadium (you can see the stumps on the left hand bank of the river in the photo below) so much so that I hadn't even realised how many trees had been killed until I passed by on the bus.

The worst thing is that just along the river from here, there is a natural flood plain, part of a local park and ground belonging to Murrayfield Stadium. The stadium would not allow any of that ground to be used as part of the flood prevention and insisted on artificial flood barriers being built by the riverbanks. I'm sure that barriers could be built closer to the stadium that would allow for the natural growth along the river to be protected. The trees will be replaced but it will take years for newly planted trees to grow to maturity. That's even before we think about the impact of the flood defence construction itself, though I can't say much about that as I don't know what the actual defences will look like.

It's not exactly a secret that trees can help prevent or at least mitigate the worst effects of flooding, read, for example, this article in the Guardian newspaper and this briefing from Friends of the Earth and Rewilding Britian. Admittedly it's trickier in built up areas and I would never deny people the right to protect their homes from flooding (though there are definite planning issues too, houses  built on floodplains are obviously going to be flooded at least sometimes!).


To end on a positive note, Tree Time Edinburgh, a project of  Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust works in partnership with other city organisations and has planted lots of trees in the city and has plans to plant many more.


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

More photos of Pele the Cat

It's over a week now since I promised more photos of Pele, the cat belonging to the neighbours of Crafty Green Boyfriend's Mum. (I couldn't share them alongside the original photos as these ones were taken by Crafty Green Boyfriend and he had left his camera at his Mum's!). So anyway, here we are:



Pele looks like he loves me as much as I love him, but I think the secret lies in the packet of cat snacks you can see in my hand..... He is a very adorable kitten and yes he is curious about the frogs, but he's very cautious about the water, so as long as they stay in the water, the frogs are safe from him.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Larch in bloom!

If you've been following this blog for a while then you may remember that the year before last I 'followed a tree' and chose a larch in Colinton Dell. I posted photos of the beautiful flowers as they developed over the year and became cones. You can see the summary post (with photos of every stage) here.

Last year the same larch tree had almost no flowers! (I'm guessing that like many other trees it has good years and bad years for flowering! This year looks like it will be a good year). I was pleased to catch the blossoms at an even earlier stage today:

Although some of them are already in bloom


These are such beautiful flowers but so easy to overlook, so take a closer look next time you're passing a larch tree (they're easy to recognise as they're the only conifer species that loses their needles in the winter and just now are still half bare).

It was beautifully sunny today, though still quite chilly. The great spotted woodpeckers were drumming in the trees, I saw and heard my first chiffchaffs of the year and saw nuthatches in the downstream end of the Dells for the first time (I've only previously seen them in the upstream end of the Dells, though they can now be seen in various places round Edinburgh - five years ago, you never saw nuthatches in Edinburgh! (They're moving north as the climate warms up).




Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter Monday

We had a lovely wander along the Roseburn section of the Water of Leith today. The walkway smells of garlic as the wild garlic (the thick leaves in the photo below) and the wild leeks (the thin leaves) are all out in abundance, though mostly not flowering yet.

Some lovely daffodils about

and cherry blossom too

We had a wonderful view of a kingfisher as it dashed upstream, but it refused to pose for a photo as did the long tailed tit that was feeding in this tree (and that isn't visible in the photo!)

I watched the long tailed tit for several minutes as it hopped among the branches, looking for small insects to eat or perhaps for small pieces of moss or lichen (or spiders webs) for its nest.

We also wandered through Dean Village, a lovely little part of Edinburgh. You can see a photo of this area, over on my Shapeshifting Green blog.




Saturday, 26 March 2016

Spring at Blackford Pond

It was a dull but dry morning today (it started raining at lunchtime) and we wandered over to Blackford Pond, hoping to see some toads (six years ago the pond was full of toads, but we've never seen them like that again!). We didn't see any toads or frogs, but there was plenty of frogspawn

There were also three herons, which seemed intent on hunting frogs


Four moorhens were fighting, which was pretty amazing to watch, they grappled each other with their feet then pulled their tails right up to display the white and black feathers. They were too far away for our cameras to catch!

The mallards were more amenable to being photographed, in fact this pair were happy to pose. I think they expected food in return, but we didn't have anything for them.

There were lots of other birds around too, including mute swans (who have a nest on the island in the middle of the pond)

Nice also to see marsh marigolds in bloom

and coltsfoot too






Friday, 25 March 2016

Bunnies and Gorse!

It was a lovely day for a lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill! The gorse is beautiful at the moment

and when we looked carefully we saw the first gorse shield-bug of the year.


This species is very closely associated with gorse and has two colour variants of the adult form as well as a number of younger forms, some of which you can see here, on the British Bugs website.

We were also very happy to see these rabbits outside the hotel near the zoo.

This is always a good place to see rabbits, it's right next to a bus stop and the rabbits really don't care how many people are waiting for a bus, they just carry on eating, sometimes coming right up to the edge of the grass. I have been known to miss a bus because I was too busy watching bunnies!

 Rabbits across the UK, I've heard, are currently suffering from an outbreak of rabbit haemorrhagic disease and their numbers are dropping, which is bad news not only for the rabbits themselves but for all the animals and birds that prey on them.

Unrelated to this outbreak, as far as I'm aware, is the Mammal Society's Big Easter Bunny Hunt, in which they're asking people in the UK to send in their records of sightings of rabbits and hares over the Easter weekend. So, I've just logged in and added these two to the record database!


Thursday, 24 March 2016

Passenger Pigeon

There are wild pigeons in winter beyond number or imagination,
myself have seen three or four hours together flocks in the air
so thick that even have they shadowed the sky from us¹

Mile after mile of forest dense with the birds,
each tree creaking with hundreds of nests,
white from the droppings.
Whole trees falling and dying.

And the birds such fools, we could pluck them from the sky,
lift them from their nests. Such billions a sign
from God that this was our promised land
and they our larder.

The war that broke our land blinded us to bird-loss.
We thought only of survival as we carried on hunting
provisions for conflict starved troops,
abandoned families.

And still with the loss there were millions,
riches beyond the thought
of our younger European selves.

And we did not think.

We carried on shooting
and we did not think.

When an individual is seen gliding through the woods
and close to the observer,
it passes like a thought,
and on trying to see it again,
the eye searches in vain;

the bird is gone.²


 
¹ early settler in Virginia 

² naturalist, J J Audobon


As Malta recently gave to go ahead to hunting of the endangered turtle dove, it seems appropriate to re-post this poem, which I first posted here in the early days of the blog and have re-posted at least once previously. The poem reminds us what happened when we over-hunted the passenger pigeon, a close relative of the turtle dove. I sometimes wonder whether we really learn from our mistakes.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Catkins

The pussy willows are at their wonderful best around Musselburgh at the moment.

The catkins on different trees mature at different times, here are some very young male catkins on a tree near the Boating Pond

while these are older male catkins on a tree near the Lagoons Nature Reserve

I love how the anthers (yellow structures) and stamens (the filaments supporting the anthers) emerge slowly and at different times, giving a lovely effect

I think the ones below may be young female catkins on another tree near the Lagoons

(If you are interested in finding out more about pussy willow catkins, there are some amazing photos on the  UK Microscopy site.)

Of course, pussy willows aren't the only trees with catkins. There are lots of alder trees around Musselburgh Lagoons and the John Muir Walkway (a natural place for them as they are, like willows, trees of damp soils. The alders look lovely at the minute, they have male catkins and female cones on the same tree


And all the time, I was surrounded by the glorious sound of skylarksong.



Tuesday, 22 March 2016

World Water Day alongside the Water of Leith

It's World Water Day today, so how better to spend the day than in Colinton Dell, alongside the Water of Leith in Edinburgh. Unfortunately I didn't realise until just now that it was World Water Day, so hadn't taken any photos of the river itself. So here's a photo of Colinton weir taken in August 2013, just to give you an idea of how lovely this river is.



Every week I spend a morning alongside this stretch of river, picking litter from the paths and riverbanks, recording wildlife and chatting to people and their dogs. The Water of Leith, particularly Colinton Dell. is a very important place for wildlife in Edinburgh. Also if the river can be kept clean then less rubbish will ultimately find it's way into the sea. Unfortunately it's an ongoing battle to keep the river litter-free. I don't go into the river to remove rubbish when I'm by myself (for obvious safety-related reasons) but volunteers gather together regularly to remove rubbish from the water. Colinton Dell is not too badly littered but downstream at Leith, where the river joins the Firth of Forth, there is a major litter problem.

Today started with bright sunshine and the birch trees looked wonderful

Later it clouded over, but this patch of coltsfoot brightened up the day at that stage!


Monday, 21 March 2016

Haiku

birdwatching class -
the students all mimic
the great tit

(the great tit call, for those who aren't familiar with it, is 'teacher, teacher'. Or rather the main call, as this species has a very large number of different calls!).

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Frolicking Frogs

It was a lovely spring day today and the frogs were very lively in Crafty Green Boyfriend's mother's garden. The garden was filled with their croaking as well as the songs of  blackbirds and the arguing of magpies. Despite being very active, the frogs were enjoying basking in the sun and were happy to pose for photos

There's lots of frogspawn in the ponds too, as you can see in the photos below

We also saw our first honey bee of the year!

A large queen bumble bee was also buzzing around, but she didn't stop to have her photo taken!

Pele, the neighbour's cat joined us at one point

I hope to share more photos of Pele later in the week.....

***
This book came in the post yesterday - it contains one of my poems about frogs. All proceeds go to the conservation work of the Barn Owl Trust, you can order a copy here.


For Nature Notes, which celebrates its 7th Anniversary this week! A meme for nature lovers to share their photos and observations. Find out more here.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Friday, 18 March 2016

Birds on Corstorphine Hill

Crafty Green Boyfriend invited me to join him on his lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill today and I agreed, on the condition that he could guarantee me sightings of green woodpeckers and nuthatches. He promised so I joined him and indeed we did see green woodpeckers and nuthatches.

The green woodpecker spent several minutes in this tree, laughing at us, no doubt as we couldn't see it. (If anyone can see the green woodpecker in this photo, please let me know! It was definitely in the tree when I took the photo). 

 Once the woodpecker flew off it flew from tree to tree, laughing all the time.

The only thing worse than not getting the photo of a bird, is getting a photo as bad as the one below, though you may be able to recognise the bird as a nuthatch.

We eventually gave up on trying to take the photos of the nuthatches and just enjoyed watching them. There seemed to be two pairs, one of which seemed busy in the low branches of a lime tree, perhaps searching for a nest site. These are beautiful birds, slowly working their way northwards through Scotland as the climate gets warmer.

Not far from these trees someone has put up some bird feeders, which are generally kept well stocked and this coal tit was happy to pose for photos (still not a great photo, but a lot better than the previous one).

We also saw a buzzard (being chased by jackdaws), a bullfinch and dunnocks as well as several more common species.

So plenty to see on Corstorphine HIll today, as there often is, it's a lovely place for a walk!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.




Thursday, 17 March 2016

Liking Lichens

Last night we went along to the Edinburgh Natural History Society to hear a talk on Lichenology given by lichenologist and ecologist, Anthony Taylor. It was a fascinating talk following Taylor round his travels across Scotland looking for lichens, concentrating on the rare and unusual lichens he has seen in various places. He also briefly outlined the basic biology of lichens and talked about how he got interested in what is a relatively obscure and difficult group of organisms.

I've always been fascinated by lichens (a blend of fungi and algae or cyanobacteria), they're very beautiful, as you can see on this tree trunk in Colinton Dell by the Water of Leith, which is festooned with lichens and mosses


They are very difficult to identify though! I have struggled to identify any of the species that I've seem and looking through the field guide to British lichens at last night's talk only made me more confused as so many species look very similar! A very interesting group of species though.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh currently have a (rather underwhelming) exhibition on lichens on display in the Gateway Gallery.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

In the Dells

Colinton Dell, alongside the Water of Leith, is dominated by wild garlic already and the plant isn't even in flower yet! It's thick glossy leaves are growing in many areas and the air smells of garlic!

In the photo below, the wild garlic leaves are punctuated by snowdrops

Raindrops look beautiful on the rosehips

and on this capillary thread moss

I took quite a few photos of lichens, as we're going to a talk about lichens at the Edinburgh Natural History Society tonight so I hope to include some of my photos in a blog post about the talk tomorrow. In the meantime, here is just one of my lichen photos

There were lots of birds singing, and the dippers seem to have found themselves a cosy little nest site behind the vegetation overhanging part of the riverbank.