Wednesday 30 December 2020

Ice Patterns on Blackford Pond

 It was very cold today and much of yesterdays snow has partially melted and then frozen again, making lots of paths treacherous underfoot. But if you can keep your balance, it's lovely out there! We went over to Blackford Pond today, 

 Most of the pond is frozen, but there were small areas of open water where mallards and mute swans were gathering 

the patterns in the ice are lovely 

We walked round to Midmar Paddock, passing these handsome snow people on the way 

The Paddock itself looks lovely at the moment, though interesting that Blackford Hill seems free of snow while the paddock is snow covered. 

For Nature Notes.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Winter on Corstorphine HIll

 It snowed last night and we went up Corstorphine Hill today to enjoy the winter wonderland! 

The woods are beautiful in the snow 

The gorse is amazingly still in bloom 

and the turkey tail fungus doesn't seem bothered by the snow either 

the ivy looks very pretty in the snow


This great tit came down at the wall at the top of the hill (The Rest and Be Thankful) (Thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo).

We also had great views of a hunting kestrel 

though we didn't see it catch anything. The voles and other small mammals it usually eats are probably all hidden away under the snow at the moment. 

It was nice to see this snow-person that someone had built on the hill 

 You can see more photos of the snow people of Edinburgh over on my Shapeshifting Green blog here.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Phat's Chance for Buddha in Houston by Virginia Arthur


Set in the 1990s, Phat's Chance is a coming of age novel and a road trip, narrated by Galen, a boy from a large family, who's travelling across the US with his eccentric Uncle Phat, a much misunderstood intellectual:

"while he probably would have made a great copier repair guy, Uncle Phat liked to talk but not just any talk,"literary talk" as my mom put it, intellectual stuff, philosophy, politics. Every time Dad sent him on a job, instead of fixing the copier, somehow he'd always find someone to "get literary" with meaning he would end up spending most of the time in some kind of discussion. Inevitably, Dad would get a call from the client the next day not to send the same repair guy." 

On their trip, that Phat claims will 'exemplify Buddhism', he introduces Galen to the natural world, American history and the pitfalls of capitalism, while ostensibly looking for a new motor for their car. Uncle Phat is interested in everything and his way of thinking opens up new mental horizons for Galen just as their drive through America opens up new geographical horizons. On the way they meet up with locals, some of whom are losing their livelihoods to out-of-town malls, survive a road accident and a terrifying tornado. Galen gets drunk for the first time in his life and turns 16. 

This is a very readable short novel (129 pages), moving, thought provoking and amusing in turn. Galen and Phat are both engaging, believable characters and Galen's coming of age is nicely contrasted with Phat's mid-life crisis. An easy read that will make you think - an ideal holiday read for the current times!

Phat's Chance by Virginia Arthur, can be purchased from the links on the author's website here.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book of this title in exchange for an honest review.

I reviewed Virginia Arthur's earlier novel Birdbrain on this blog here.


Saturday 19 December 2020

Dunsapie Loch

 Beautiful sunshine today when we walked up to Dunsapie Loch halfway up Arthurs Seat. Very few birds around though, apart from lots of jackdaws, which were riding the thermals.

Friday 18 December 2020

Tree Following - news about the horse chestnut and plans for next year

 This year for Tree Following I've been following a horse chestnut in North Merchiston Cemetery, which I recently discovered has bleeding canker. 

I discovered this during a walk through the cemetery with a forestry officer from City of Edinburgh Council. (You can read more about that meeting here). On the same walk I chose a tree to follow next year. This is a lovely silver birch tree, all gnarled with age, and one of the trees that we have put a bird box on. So hopefully while following the tree I can also keep an eye on any bird family that chooses to nest there! 



For Tree Following and Nature Notes

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Written in 2005 and subtitled 'Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder' this is a book that has become a classic and alerted the world to the fact that people really need nature in their lives. 

Louv examines the increasing disconnect between humans and nature. He outlines how this has happened in the USA as fewer and fewer people live on the land and more and more live in cities. At the same time parents are becoming more and more anxious about the dangers the outside world poses to their children. As people become more unfamiliar with nature and the outdoors, we become more worried about potential dangers lurking 'out there' and stay indoors,  sitting at our computers. 

The author outlines how being out in nature helps us to: get enough health exercise, develop our senses, develop creativity and imagination, and learn about sensible risks. 

He outlines the barriers to spending time in nature, ranging from excess regulations that effectively criminalise nature play, over-scheduling of children's time (even including the fact that organised outdoor sports take children away from running around freely in the woods), the loss of many green-spaces and the loss of nature studies from schools and colleges and the lure of electronic devices on online indoor activities. 

Louv worries that there won't be enough conservationists in the future. He notes that:Algonquin Books.

 "Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment - but their physical contact, their intimacy, with nature is fading."

However, since the book was written, several high profile young conservationists and youngsters involved in wildlife identification have emerged in the UK (anyone who watches BBC Springwatch will be familiar with some of them). It's also unfair to say that children who don't get to run about wild in nature won't ever understand it. My exposure to nature as a child was limited to excursions accompanied (and heavily supervised) by my parents and time in the garden. I certainly never spent whole days exploring the woods with only a warning to be home for supper. 

The second part of the book focuses more on how cities and towns can be made more nature friendly, this is a slightly depressing read as I couldn't help thinking that in the 15 years since the book was written we should have been able to achieve more of what the author had hoped for. 

My main issue with the book is that it is very US-centric, as a European, I would have really appreciated more data and case studies from Europe. 

it's a good book to read for anyone concerned with nature education, though if you're familiar with the arguments then you may not really need to read the book. 

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv published (2005) by Algonquin Books.

Monday 14 December 2020

Preparing for Christmas Part 2: Christmas Tree decorations

 I found a kit for making felt Christmas tree decorations in a 2nd hand shop for just £1.00! So I have been having fun making some decorations over the past couple of days. The kit contained enough material to make two decorations but I have my own stash of felt and ribbons so was able to make more decorations! I also added in some decorative metal Christmas pins. Most of these will be gifts but I'll keep one of them for us! 

I posted a few days ago about the Christmas cards I've made this year, you can read that post here.

Sunday 13 December 2020

Saughton Park after Rain


We had a lovely walk round Saughton Park yesterday. It had been raining earlier in the day but was mostly dry (or nearly so) while we walked to and round the park. There are some lovely trees round the park including this silver birch 

and the topiary is looking lovely 

The last flowers of the year look quite battered now 

We were delighted (and surprised!) to see a kestrel hunting over the park. At first I thought it was a sparrowhawk, which is the most common bird of prey to be seen in parks and gardens in Edinburgh but once it started hovering it became obvious it was a kestrel, which is the only species that does hover. Kestrels are more commonly associated with the wide open spaces of the hills in and around Edinburgh and it's rare to see them in parks. I was only able to get this photo, not very good admittedly! 

Sadly there has been some vandalism in the park recently, the green houses have been quite badly damaged. The missing panes of glass have been covered over for now.

It's particularly sad to see continued vandalism in this park, as so much money and effort has been put into restoring it to its full glory.

Friday 11 December 2020

Bird Boxes and Tree Preservation Orders

 Today I met with another member of the new Friends of North Merchiston Cemetery group and a forestry officer of Edinburgh Council to put up some bird boxes in the cemetery. The bird boxes were donated by the Friends Group for the nearby Dalry Cemetery. There are two blue tit nest boxes which are now sitting in silver birch trees


We will be following the progress of any bird families that set up home in these boxes. To help make sure I pay attention, I've chosen the second birch tree as my tree for Tree Following next year. It's one of several old gnarled birches in the cemetery

The third nest box is a robin box, which is now hidden away in a holly bush

There's also an old owl box in the cemetery, though it doesn't seem to have been used. 

As well as putting up the bird boxes, we discussed the trees in the cemetery. There is a Tree Preservation Order that covers all the trees in the cemetery. This means that no tree work can be done without the express permission of the council. The council will only remove trees or large branches for health and safety reasons and will aim to keep a sizeable remnant of trunk to allow for wildlife habitat. as is the case with the tree where the great spotted woodpeckers nested this year 

Apparently it seems unlikely that the woodpeckers will use this hole again, as it generally seems that most woodpecker holes are then used by different species the next year. It will be interesting to see what nests in this hole next year!

Sadly, there are a number of mature ash trees in the cemetery which have ash die-back disease. This disease, which is predicted to eventually kill around 80% of the ash trees in the UK,  is often found first in young trees which then spread it to older trees. If a mature ash tree develops die-back then eventually it's upper branches will be entirely hollowed out, meaning that they are at risk of falling and are too weak to allow for tree surgeons to climb up them. If the tree is close to paths then the diseased upper limbs will need to be removed while it is still safe to do so, so sadly some of the ash trees in the cemetery will be cut right back in the near future. The forestry officer also showed us two large branches that overhang the path (one of which overhangs the nearby road) and are very decayed and will soon become hazardous, so these will also be removed. Also trees that are growing through the boundary wall where the cemetery overlooks the railway line will be removed to allow a secure wall to be rebuilt and avoid future stone-falls onto the train tracks. 

As ash trees and others are removed where necessary, other trees will be planted, probably rowan, elder and hazel, native species that won't grow too tall! 

While we were walking round, the forestry officer pointed out that the horse chestnut tree that I've been following for Tree Following this year is infected with bleeding canker! 

This doesn't pose an immediate threat to the tree, which won't be removed, but it is something that we need to keep an eye on! 

For Nature Notes.


Thursday 10 December 2020

Fabulous Fungi in Unexpected Places

 Yesterday I met with a fellow member of Edinburgh Natural History Society for a socially distanced walk round Cameron Toll and Kings Buildings to look for fungi. That's right, a shopping centre and a University campus! I studied at Kings Buildings when I did my Botany Degree (though you can no longer study Botany there, it's all Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and genetics, which are all good, but where are people supposed to learn about actual plants?). So I knew that the campus was a nature rich area but I had no idea about the wealth of nature around the shopping centre and was surprised by how many fungi we found. 

Unfortunately my photos aren't very good, but the highlights of the Kings Building Campus included:

upright coral fungus 

earthstars (probably collared earthstars) 

Wrinkled Club 

lots of these fungi, which I think are some sort of waxcap 

these pretty little things, which we think are porcelain fungi (sorry for the poor photo)

and these lovely bright orange fungi which may be orange wax caps


(the broken fungus at the front of the photo was already broken but conveniently gives a view of the gills!)

Under the trees around  the shopping centre (and the reason we were doing this walk) we saw birds nest fungi! Unfortunately the 'eggs' had fallen out of the fungi and all that was left was the 'nest' 


I have long wanted to see this species of fungus and it's amazing to see it in such a built up place! I was also surprised by how tiny this species is! You can see a photo of the birds nest fungus complete with eggs over on the Woodland Trust site here.