Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Year in Birds 2013

 We had a lovely walk around Colinton Dell by the Water of Leith today. Two grey herons were chasing each other and one landed on the grass for Crafty Green Boyfriend to capture on camera. He also caught the tawny owl, who today had attracted quite an audience. Just after this photo was taken, he shuffled back into the dark recesses of his roosting hole.

It's been a great year for birds! I've seen 124 species this year - almost all of them in Edinburgh and the surrounding Lothians and all of them in Scotland.

Nine of these birds have been lifers, that is I've never seen them before, these are:

avocet (a very exciting sighting on Musselburgh Lagoons, avocets have come back from near extinction in the UK and in certain places in England are now frequently seen, but they're still rare in Scotland!)

pied flycatcher (we went to Dumfries in Spring this year, specifically hoping to see migrant birds including pied flycatchers and we weren't disappointed! It was on the same trip that I saw my first ever redstart in the UK - previously I'd only ever seen this bird in Vienna, where it was hopping around outside the Natural history museum).

wood sandpiper (on Musselburgh Lagoon, not a particularly good sighting, it was skulking around in some undergrowth!)

little gull (turning in circles on Musselburgh Lagoons)

ruff (on Musselburgh Lagoons, less spectacular in non-breeding plumage than it would have been in breeding plumage, but still a beautiful bird!)

curlew sandpiper, little stint and green sandpiper (on Musselburgh Lagoons)

common scoter (swimming in the middle of a group of velvet scoters at the sea front at Musselburgh).

So you can tell that Musselburgh Lagoons is a great place for seeing unusual birds! (I was sad to miss the spoonbill that visited Musselburgh this year.....)

In addition I've seen (and heard!) more mistle thrushes this year than ever before and have been delighted by the return of the Colinton Dell tawny owl to its rightful roost (scroll down in that post to see the best photo of the owl).Plus I was delighted and amazed to see a murmuration of knots at Musselburgh.

So, what have been your favourite bird sightings this year?

If you're in the UK, remember that the Big Garden Birdwatch is coming up soon, and I'll be blogging about that in early January.

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

Saturday 28 December 2013

Arthur's Seat

It was very windy today, but stayed dry while we were walking round Arthur's Seat.

We were delighted to see this rather large rabbit sheltering in the gorse! At one point it raised one ear, but we didn't manage to get that in the photo!

And just as delighted to see about 20 siskins in the alder trees outside a superstore in a road near Arthur's Seat.

 male siskin
female siskin

 (I took the landscape photo, Crafty Green Boyfriend took the bunny and the siskins). 

We also saw a peregrine falcon dash across the sky, far too fast to be photographed! The first peregrine I've seen for months.

Monday 23 December 2013

Seasons Greetings

Best wishes to all my blog readers for a wonderful holiday season! 

(I took this photo in Colinton Dell by the Water of Leith, 2009.)

Saturday 21 December 2013


We walked round Cammo Estate today, it was very damp, muddy underfoot and distinctly cold! Lots of interesting things to see though, including these fungi, which contrast so beautifully with the moss.

The Cammo Fields (the fields threatened with housing development) were full of greylag geese, with at least one pink footed goose. I think these greylag were truly wild, migratory geese rather than the feral race of greylag that is often found in parks - it's impossible to tell from appearance alone, but its generally the migratory, wild birds that flock on fields in the winter.

There was a group of very lively tree sparrows in the undergrowth at the corner of one of the fields. We were able to get very close to them.

Friday 20 December 2013

Learn to Tie a Tie with the Rabbit and the Fox by Sybrina Durant

A day in the life of a little rabbit, happily eating the tasty green shoots of grass until he spies a fox. A chase ensues (scenes of what a film classification board might describe as mild peril!) and the two animals trace out the actions needed to tie a neck tie.

Beautifully illustrated by Donna Marie Naval and with a fun song at the end, this is a wonderful book for anyone who can't tie a tie or who loves bunnies. You can use it as a family activity, so grab your neck ties and get ready to follow the instructions given by rabbit and fox.

Learn to Tie a Tie  with the Rabbit and Fox by Sybrina Durant

Thanks Story Cartel for my free download of this book

Thursday 19 December 2013

Christmas haiku

Christmas lights -
cherry blossom
still in bloom.

chocolate Yule log
dusted with icing sugar -
snow covered hills

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Christmas Tree

Here's our Christmas tree. It's a living tree, standing in a pot of soil and after the Christmas season it will go back to Crafty Green Boyfriend's mum's garden to return to our flat for the next few Christmases until it becomes too big.

I've decorated it with a variety of items, including a number of odd earrings and a Christmas star made from felted shed fur and red seed beads from our old rabbit Anya.

(The photo's not brilliant because the light isn't great today!)

and for Kat, a close up of the star, though it doesn't want to sit straight for the camera!

I don't know about you, but this year I've been particularly annoyed this year by the number of companies and charities doing '12 Days of Christmas' campaigns and giveaways, starting on the 1 December or sometimes 12 days before Christmas day. In fact, the Twelve Days start on Christmas Day and end on Epiphany, celebrating the arrival of the wise men, which is on 6 January (or 5 January in some traditions). We're currently in the season of Advent, or anticipation of Christmas, which these days most people celebrate by buying more stuff than they need.

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

Tuesday 17 December 2013

No Biodiversity Offsetting

Biodiversity offsetting is the idea that nature can be destroyed in one place and this loss balanced out with nature somewhere else.

The concept allows and even encourages environmental destruction, with the promise that the damaged habitat can be recreated elsewhere. Companies and governments doing the damage can thus claim that they are investing in environmental protection.

Governments across the world are enthusiastically adopting the idea of biodiversity offsetting and creating public policies to ensure that property rights over nature can be transferred to corporations and banks. Often they claim that habitats will only be destroyed in extremis and that offsetting allows such destruction to be balanced. But, as the plan to build houses on Cammo fields in Edinburgh shows, decision makers can't be trusted to leave important sites undeveloped or even to recognise the importance of sites and biodiversity offsetting can lead to increased destruction. 

Nature is unique and complex. Biodiversity is impossible to measure, and specific areas of habitat are impossible to replace. It is ridiculous to suggest that an area of ancient woodland can be destroyed to build a high speed rail link and then replaced by planting a few sycamores somewhere else. Not only is the specific ecological value for the wildlife living in that ancient woodland lost forever, but the people living nearby lose a valuable part of their local culture.

Some conservation organisations are apparently being tempted by the idea that biodiversity offsetting could fund some of their nature reserves. However, it would be appalling to think that nature reserves were to become dependent on funds from environmental destruction.

(It is worth saying that some environmental damage can be made good - one of my favourite birdwatching sites, Musselburgh lagoons was created on the site of an old dunping ground for fly ash from the nearby power station. Many quarries have been made into wildlife friendly areas once the quarrying comes to an end. But the concept of biodiversity offsetting as a general approach to environmental protection is flawed and ultimately dangerous).

If you are a representative of a group or organisation that disagrees with the concept of biodiversity offsetting, please sign the No Biodiversity Offsets Declaration.

Monday 16 December 2013

Yukon Dreams. Remoteness and mystique of the corner of the world. by Damien Tremblay

'The Yukon embodies a distant, cold, and painful elsewhere. Idealized, it tantalizes with its wonders and riches. Strange, its borders are imprecise; a wilderness implacable. Intangible, the territory is a land of dreams'. 

In this book, Damien Tremblay attempts to get to the heart of The Yukon's remoteness. 80% of the region is wilderness and mountains effectively seal it off from the surrounding areas.

The region opened up with the Gold Rush (1896 - 1900) and this short book explores the relationship people have had with the area since then - the native Tinglit peoples; shamans with their intimate connection with the earth; prospectors hoping to find the elusive mother lode of gold; trophy hunters, killing the region's big game; tourists lured by remoteness and adventure; present day residents, many of whom were drawn to the area's remoteness and artists of all types inspired by the area's beauty and wildness.

Through exploring the Yukon, Tremblay also explores the idea of remoteness and its importance to the human psyche, particularly in today's increasingly ubran world.

Yukon Dreams is beautifully written and includes amazing black and white photos of the area. A wonderful meditation on the most remote part of Canada and on wilderness as a concept.

Thanks to Story Cartel for my free download of this book

Yukon Dreams by Damien Tremblay

Saturday 14 December 2013

Ducks on Figgate Pond

male gadwall

male shoveller

Very high winds today. A lot of trees have been blown over in Figgate Park, it looks a mess (though hopefully the council will leave some of the dead wood when they tidy things up, as dead wood is good habitat for all kinds of creatures!) Lots of birds on the pond though including the two handsome ducks shown above!

(Photos by Crafty Green Boyfriend, taken on a previous visit to Figgate Park). 

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

Thursday 12 December 2013

Simple upcycled coaster

You may remember, I recently blogged about an upcycled notepad I made, using half the cover of a used up notebook.

Well that left me with half a notebook cover to use for something. I just carefully cut off the uneven edges and added some shiny tape to two edges and now it's a useful and pretty coaster!

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

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Winter birds

A beautiful murmuration of knots at Musselburgh Lagoons, the birds glowing in the low winter sun. Loads of oystercatchers too and a few teal and wigeon

Five long tailed ducks out at sea alongside the velvet scoters and goldeneye.

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

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Scotland after the Ice Age - book review

Scotland after the Ice Age: Environment, Archaeology and History, 8000BC - AD1000. 
Edited by Kevin J Edwards and Ian BM Ralston

I was delighted to win this book in a Twitter competition from Edinburgh University Press. I was offered a choice of any of their paperback books and felt very much spoilt for choice as they have a wide range of books on various topics. This one though particularly appealed to me for its mix of history and environmental studies.

This is of course, an academic book, so it's written in an academic style. The text is backed up with lots of diagrams, graphs and photos. The book studies 'the nature and extent of human-environment interactions {between} the final melting of the interglacial ice sheets' and the early historical period. It looks at how early people in Scotland were affected by the environment around them and how they in turn affected that environment. The book gives a fascinating overview of this often overlooked area of human prehistory and early history, relying on archaeology and pollen analysis to recreate Scotland as it used to be.

The book covers the changing landscape, soil formation, the changing flora and fauna, the changing climate and the many waves of immigration that swept through Scotland and the islands - including the Vikings and to a lesser extent the Romans.

For anyone who wants to delve deeper into the topics, there is a very comprehensive reading list at the back of the book.

Scotland after the Ice Age: Environment, Archaeology and History, 8000BC - AD1000.
Edited by Kevin J Edwards and Ian BM Ralston published by Edinburgh University Press.

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

Monday 9 December 2013

Fabulous fungi and a sleepy owl

 I don't know the identity of the pretty orange fungus above, but those below are oyster mushrooms. 
seen along the Water of Leith, where I was also delighted that the tawny owl was once again in residence in its hole, looking sleepy (Crafty Green Boyfriend took this photo last week but the owl looked pretty much the same today!).

for Nature Notes

Saturday 7 December 2013

Grey Squirrels at Edinburgh Botanics

 There were several grey squirrels in Edinburgh Botanic Gardens today. The one above was quiet and shy but posed very nicely. Its friend below wasn't at all shy and came over and begged for food
 which Crafty Green Boyfriend then provided.
Not content with that, the squirrel then followed us around for a while.....

We also watched another squirrel for a while, as it ripped bark off a branch, collected it all in its mouth then disappeared off up the tree, no doubt to line its drey with the bark! 

There weren't many birds around in the Botanics today, but this juvenile black headed gull was happy to pose for the camera.

Friday 6 December 2013

Autumn becoming winter

 beautiful autumn colours along the Union canal in Edinburgh the day before yesterday and winter sets in at the John Muir Walkway at Musselburgh today. In between there's been quite a storm with very strong winds, lots of trees have fallen.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday 5 December 2013

How many supermarkets do we need?

When we visited my parents at the weekend, we went up to the local shopping centre. This has changed drastically since I was a child. Several years ago it was renovated and made into a pleasant indoor mall:

but in the last year or so, they've been extending it and extending it. There's a huge supermarket at one end, which seems to be much hated, and nowhere near as well used as other supermarkets of the same chain. There's lots of empty retail space in the extended mall:

But while these spaces all lie empty, what are they building next to the existing huge supermarket? Houses? Community services? NO, they're building, wait for it, another huge supermarket of a rival chain. Meanwhile green fields on the edge of town are being covered in houses.

People need houses of course, and they need somewhere to buy food, clothes and other essentials. However there seems to be absolutely no justification for building a huge new supermarket next door to an existing huge and underused supermarket. Why not build houses on this site and save the fields?

It's the same in another town near where my parents live, two huge supermarkets are being built next to each other, while houses are built on fields. It doesn't make sense to me. It surely doesn't even make commercial sense for the supermarkets involved.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Update on Cammo Fields

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I (and his Mum and his brother) went to the meeting last Thursday to oppose the building of houses on this arable field at Cammo.

The development company talked about their overviews for the site including traffic management and environmental mitigation. The new development if it goes ahead will create huge amounts of extra traffic, with detrimental effects on the health of local residents and on the wildlife as well as destroying habitat for important birds.

The site has been moved up from a possible site for development to a probable site for development, though it is not yet a done deal and the field can still be saved. The meeting however, talked about the development as if it were going to go ahead, and comments were only allowed if they related to the development. Essentially no-one was allowed to stand up and say the site couldn't be built on, which was a little dispiriting, though I think most people who did stand up to comment were able to work in their objections to any development as they made their points relating to the details of any development that might go ahead. (It sounds confusing, well, it was confusing).

I spoke up for the birds and detailed the birds that live on and around the field:

tree sparrow - red listed in UK (ie of major conservation concern)
linnet - red listed in UK
skylark - red listed in UK
yellowhammer - red listed in the UK
reed bunting - amber listed in UK (ie of moderate conservation concern)

all these birds are additionally specifically mentioned in the seed eating birds section of the Edinburgh Local Biodiversity Action Plan as being of specific conservation concern in the city. 

In addition, the field is important in winter for visiting birds such as the fieldfare.

The developers claim they will protect the hedgerow that currently bounds the field, but they can't make any guarantee to protect any of the birds who will be pushed off the field if the development goes ahead. The developers intend that around 600 houses will be built on the site (which will be pretty crowded and will certainly create a lot of extra traffic) yet they claim that there will be parkland areas incorporated into the development.

But remember, this is not yet a done deal, we can save this field! There is still time to tell the developers that you don't want this development to go ahead, by completing this survey.

To keep up to date with the campaign, you can:

follow Cammo Residents on Twitter,
like Cammo Residents on Facebook.

if you live in the area, you can write to your local councillor, get in touch with the local community council and go along to exhibitions and public meetings.

For Nature Notes

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

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Blackleach Country Park

We've just come back from a lovely weekend visiting my parents. These photos are from Blackleach Country Park, Salford, which is just up the road from where my parents live. There were lots of birds on the pond, including three pochards.

We also saw lots of birds in Parr Fold Park, my parents' local park, including a flock of redwings and a nuthatch.

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