Sunday 31 May 2020

Time to Leave the Nest

Though we are in many countries still advised to stay at home as much as possible, the same is not true for young birds.

Today on our #DailyExercise walk round the local cemeteries we saw an amazing number of fledgling birds, including robins, blackcaps and chiffchaffs. We also saw an adorable family of long tailed tits which allowed Crafty Green Boyfriend to take their photos with the zoom lens on his camera - the second photo below shows an adult with one of the chicks. .

In the other cemetery, the young great spotted woodpecker hasn't yet fledged, but surely must do any day soon

We also saw a grey squirrel collecting leafy twigs and taking them to what must be its drey (nest)

The squirrel collected about ten twigs in the short time we were watching. Apparently (according to this page on Wikipedia) dreys begin as a collection of small, gnawed-off branches bearing green leaves. The leaves adhere tightly throughout the winter. A finished drey is a hollow sphere, woven from branches on the outside and lined with finer materials, such as grass and moss.

for Nature Notes and My Corner of the World 

Saturday 30 May 2020

A Hot Day on Corstorphine HIll

It's been unseasonably warm here in Edinburgh for several days now, almost too warm and we really need some rain. However, Corstorphine Hill, which we visited today for our longer weekend walk (now that we're allowed unlimited exercise) looks stunning in this weather.

Look closer too at some of the details, for example zooming in on the first photo above brings a closer look at these ferns (I think they're male ferns, but I recently found out that the male fern isn't the only fern that grows in this shuttlecock format so I may be wrong) 

while the Scots pine in the third photo smells beautiful in the sun and was providing great cover for a coal tit, which however didn't stay still for a photo.

This ash tree

is covered in several species of close growing crustose lichens

Recently I've blogged about a great spotted woodpecker's nest that we've seen on our DailyExercise walks through a local cemetery. Well today we thought we'd found another great spotted woodpecker nest

but when we saw two smaller birds chasing the woodpecker away, we realised it had been trying to steal the chicks from their nest! Woodpeckers will often steal youngsters from other birds nests.

We saw this interesting caterpillar on a sycamore tree on our way home

and this interesting shape that some insect has eaten out of a leaf

(There are more patterns that insects have eaten out of leaves in this post).

Friday 29 May 2020

Update on Woodpecker Nest

A few blog posts back here I talked about a nest hole that we'd seen that we thought probably belonged to a greater spotted woodpecker.

Over the past few days, we've heard the chicks making lots of noise in the hole.

Today Crafty Green Boyfriend was able to catch the female as she came in to feed the youngsters

and with a good zoom lense on his camera he was able to see inside - can you see the face of the young woodpecker? Click on the photo to make it bigger!

Thursday 28 May 2020

No Insectinction!

 a green long horn moth 

Today Buglife launches their new campaign to highlight the crisis in insect populations across the world. No Insectinction aims to halt the declines in insects and has three main aims.

  • Room for insects to thrive – we need to make space for wildlife and reconnect the wild parts of our landscapes
  • Safe spaces for insects – we must free our land and freshwaters from pollutants and invasive species
  • Friendlier relationship with insects – We need to act now to stop insectinction. However, the scale and quality of that action is still limited by our lack of understanding and awareness.
Many people overlook insects or actively dislike them. We briefly chatted yesterday (at a safe, two metre distance) with a woman who was going into one of our local cemeteries just as we were coming out, she was unsure to go in to walk because of 'all those flies!' We assured her that the flies were fine and it was lovely to walk round and she did.

The truth is that most insects are harmless to humans and most that do bite and sting only do so if you disturb them. In fact, many insects are fascinating and often beautiful.

Just look at the green long horn moth in the photo above! Now imagine hundreds of those, dancing in the air around a tree, which is something we saw a few days ago. Beautiful!

Butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies, hoverflies and many many more insects are well worth noticing. They are also vital to the functioning of the world around us. Bees, hoverflies and other insects pollinate flowers and enable plants to reproduce. Many insects are food for birds and other animals. Some insects are pests, of course (think of the locusts swarming parts of Africa at the moment), but most of those only become pests when things get out of balance and often the best control for an insect pest is another insect that will eat the pest species.

The easiest insects to learn to love for most people are butterflies. If you're in the UK, you can join in Big Butterfly Count which runs from Friday 17 July - Sunday 9 August 2020. 

for Nature Notes.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Today's #DailyExercise Highlights

We continue our #DailyExercise walks in the local cemeteries. We were delighted to watch these blue tits in an ash tree today.

This dunnock was busy preening

and the dog roses look lovely

It will soon be June (which seems to have happened very quickly this year, lockdown is making time flow very differently) and June is the month for the Wildlife Trust's 30 Days Wild. You can find out more here.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon

 The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar

Subtitled "Evolution's most unbelievable solutions to life's biggest problems", this book examines some of the weirdest animals in the world.

The book is packed full of amazing facts, including:

* the fish that kills its prey by ejecting snot into the prey's gills,

* the ant decapitating fly that surgically inserts its offspring into a living ant, where the maggpt moves into the ant's brain and mind controls it

* the toad that embeds her eggs into her back where they eventually hatch so the tadpoles emerge from her body.

For anyone interested in the weird aspects of nature this is a fascinating book. However, I really didn't enjoy the writing style, which was full of forced humour and bad jokes. These stories of amazing nature are more than entertaining in themselves without needing all the forced laughter.

The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon, illustrated by Vladimir Stankovic  published by Headline.

Monday 25 May 2020

Young robin

Young robins are adorable at this time of the year. They seem to have loads of confidence but then are uncertain how to behave.

This is one we saw yesterday

If you look carefully you can see the patch of darker feathers on its breast where the red will finally appear.

This is another young robin we saw today, which already has some red on its chest

It could actually be the same bird as in the first photo, but it seems unlikely that it would have developed quite so much red in one day.

Friday 22 May 2020

Birds nests!

It's been a day for seeing birds at their nests! We've seen two blue tits nests, one in the eaves of a roof in a house near one of the cemeteries we visit on our #DailyExercise walk, another in the wall of a block of flats near the park which we also walk through for #DailyExercise.

We noticed this hole a few weeks ago

It's in an old whitebeam that seems half dead but is regenerating nicely with all that new growth sprouting from the bottom!

Over the past few visits, we've noticed the sound of cheeping birds from the hole, if you listen carefully to the video below you may also hear them (though there's a strong breeze blowing which may drown out the cheeping)

We think it's a great spotted woodpecker nest, as we have seen the adults flying round in this particular part of the cemetery, though we haven't as yet seen them visiting this tree.....

Edited to add: the next day we saw a great spotted woodpecker fly out of this hole! This probably proves that the woodpecker is nesting in there, though as woodpeckers are known to raid other species' nests and eat the chicks, it's not final proof. 

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Corstorphine HIll

With lockdown easing slightly in Scotland so we're now allowed unlimited exercise (as long as it starts and ends at home), we've decided that occasionally we'll go on a longer walk than our usual #DailyExercise round the cemeteries.

Today we took the day off and walked along the cyclepath and along a stretch of the Water of Leith then over to Corstorphine Hill.

The weather was wonderful and the hill looked amazing

there are large patches of speedwells

and forget-me-nots

the walls around the hill are always interesting, here's ivy leaved toadflax

yellow corydalis

and a species of nomad cuckoo bee (possibly a Marshams nomad bee) just about to enter a hole which a mining bee had entered (the nomad bee will lay its eggs in the same hole and then it's larvae will eat the larvae of the mining bee)

We were serenaded on the hill by this beautiful song thrush

Monday 18 May 2020

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright

A Short History Of Progress

This is a brilliant short book that gives an overview of human progress that looks at questions posed by the French painter Gaugain who asked: Where do we Come From? What are We? Where are we Going?

Tracing our journey from prehistory to the present day and looking at possible futures, Wright casts an eye on how humans have made progress and how this affects the world around us. There is a strong eco-consciousness in this book, the critique of how human development has had generally a devastating impact on the environment.

The book highlights key elements of human development including the discovery of fire, the development of agriculture, tools, weapons and cities. The history of human development is littered with civilisations that fell victim to progress traps, where progress goes too far. An early example of such a trap given in the book is this:

Palaeolithic hunters who learnt how to kill two mammoths instead of one had made progress. Those who learnt how to kill 200 by driving a whole herd over a cliff had made too much.

The author's overarching premise is that civilisations overreach themselves, get caught in progress traps and then use up all their natural capital in unsustainable ways and then collapse. The classic example given is that of Easter Island but, as the narrative explores, the concept applies (to some degree at least) to many other civilisations from the Romans to the Mayans.

Can we learn from our history to fashion a sustainable future for ourselves? 

It should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of humankind, particularly pertinent as we face the global pandemic of COVID_19. It's also a great introduction to the issues that are explored in greater depth in the work of Jared Diamond (particularly Collapse).

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright published (2005) by Canongate

Sunday 17 May 2020

Baby Bunny and Lots of Ladybirds

Now that lockdown in Scotland has been eased very slightly, allowing us unlimited #DailyExercise, we've decided to take a longer walk on Saturdays, though other days our walk will remain the same route through the local park and cemeteries as it has been every day since lockdown was imposed.

Yesterday we walked along a cyclepath, then along part of the Water of Leith to Saughton Park.

We passed an area of rough bare ground surrounded by bushes, where we saw two rabbits, including this adorable youngster

We studied the green fence outside Saughton Park which is famous for it's insect life and there were several ladybirds, including this, which i think is a variant form of the two spot ladybird

these more normal looking two spots ensuring there will be a next generation of two spots

these pine ladybirds doing their bit for their next generation

this 10 spot ladybird

and this cream spot ladybird

There were lots of other insects on the fence too, some of which we had little idea of what they were (I'm going to post photos on the Edinburgh Natural History Society Facebook group to try and genet things identified!) plus several spiders including this wolf spider which is eating something

It's amazing what you can find on a fence! (Though I do think this is an unusually good fence for invertebrates!)

For Nature Notes

You may be interested to read my short essay about bees Wildlife Drama Under Lockdown on the Pendemic website, you can read it here.

Thursday 14 May 2020

Friendly Robin

Robins are often the friendliest birds to humans (in contrast they can be very aggresive to other robins!). This is a lovely robin we met yesterday on our #DailyExercise walk round the local park and cemeteries.

Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for the photos.

Sunday 10 May 2020

Artistic insects!

We were fascinated to find these patterns in the leaves of an elm tree in one of the cemeteries on our #DailyExercise walk today.

It seems that insects have been nibbling their way through the leaves, leaving these lovely patterns. I have no idea what species of insect is  responsible, but if you think you know, leave a comment below!