Friday 30 July 2021

There's So Much Life in the Cemetery

 Crafty Green Boyfriend and I started walking through the local cemeteries every day for our allowed Daily Exercise when the coronavirus lockdown was first imposed. It's a habit we still keep to, regularly walking through these lovely green spaces. 

There's an amazing amount of wildlife to see and hear. A couple of days ago the sparrowhawks in North Merchiston Cemetery were making an enormous amount of noise, the youngsters were fledging and a total of seven magpies were chasing them around the tree tops. 

Here are some of the highlights from North Merchiston Cemetery from yesterday: 

One of the small clumps of ragwort in the cemetery is covered in cinnabiar moth caterpillars, which only feed on this plant 

Although these caterpillars are very commonly found on ragwort, this is the first time I've noticed them in the cemetery. 

Sadly many ash trees in the cemetery are infected with ash dieback disease and will need to be removed or cut right back (if they were growing in the middle of a forest they cound be left to die in their own time, but trees with die back become prone to collapse, and this could have tragic consequences in a public greenspace like a cemetery). It's particularly sad to see that one of the beautiful weeping ash tees has die back

There's a lovely patch of feverfew in bloom in the cemetery at the moment

and the thistles are just starting to become thistledown 

Thursday 29 July 2021

Magical Light

 Yesterday evening Crafty Green Boyfriend and I walked over to Arthur's Seat, hoping to see swifts. These lovely birds nest in the street where we live, but at this time of year they can sometimes be seen gathering in large numbers at Arthur's Seat, feeding up on insects before they start their migration to Africa. 

We didn't see any swifts, sadly but the light was beautiful.

I've seen four or five swifts flying around our street this morning, but they will soon have left us!

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Day Walks in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs by Gerald McGarry

This handy book is small and neat, ideal for fitting into your luggage for a walking trip to the beautiful area around Scotland's famous Loch Lomond.

The book starts with brief tips on walking safely, tips on navigation and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, appropriate clothing and the animals that may be seen on the walks.

The twenty walks, ranging in length from 2 miles to 15 miles, can all be walked in the space of a day or less, and include low level walks and more strenuous walks for the more experienced hiker. All follow clear, well trodden paths. 

Each walk is described in a good amount of detail, with a description that includes landmarks, noteworthy historical notes and things to watch out for (such as how crowded a route gets with tourists during the summer season, sometimes with an annoyingly patronising tone towards said tourists). Detailed directions are offered along with excellent maps (Ordnance Survey 1:25,000) and beautiful photos (mostly taken by the author). 

The day before this book arrived in the post, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I visited Loch Lubnaig in the Trossachs and in fact walked part of the route round the Ben Ledi mountain that features in this book. You can read about the walk and see some of my photos of the area in this blogpost here

We have also climbed part of Ben Lomond, another walk that features in this book (you can read about our visit to that mountain here). Whereas on our visit to Loch Lubnaig, we didn't have time to do more than just part of the route, at Ben Lomond we were defeated by the steepness of part of the path (Or rather I was defeated by vertigo). 

Judging from our experiences on these two walks, I would say that the descriptions in the book are a good guide to the difficulty of the walks, Ben Lomond for example is described on a couple of occasions as being very steep and the need for careful footwork is emphasised. 

Day Walks in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs by Gerald McGarry published by Vertebrate Publishing

This is the second Day Walks book I've reviewed recently. You can read my review of Day Walks in Fort William and Glen Coe here

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday 25 July 2021

A Walk through the Dalmeny Estate

We try to walk the beautiful four and a half mile walk though the Dameny Estate from Cramond Brig to South Queensferry once every summer. It's a lovely scenic area, incorporating woodland


coastal views over the Firth of Forth

and farmland, with lovely flower rich field edges

Yesterday was hot and sunny but breezy, which felt like the ideal weather for this four and a half mile walk. It was very warm in the open but the frequent patches of woodland offer cooling shade. We hoped that this would be ideal weather to bring out the butterflies. We have often seen good numbers of butterflies here and although this year's Spring was very poor for these insects, we have seen very good numbers of butterflies in recent weeks including at Arthur's Seat, Lauriston Farm fields and Musselburgh Lagoons. So we hoped yesterday to see good numbers to record for the Big Butterfly Count. Sadly we were disappointed to see only a relatively small number of butterflies, including one green veined white, a couple of other whites and a handful of speckled woods. 

Nevertheless, we still had a good walk, enjoying the magnificent Scots pines that thrive in the woodland (I'd never before noticed just how many of these trees there are here!)

It seems a shame though that one lovely area currently covered in wildflowers, has recently been planted with young trees

Of course trees are good and these newly planted saplings seem all to be native species (Scots pine and birch as far as I could see) but wildflower meadows are good too, a beautiful sight and also excellent food sources for insects including bees, hoverflies and butterflies. It's really nice to see a wildflower meadow alongside a wooded area and it will be sad to see this disappear. 

The bright sunshine made for some lovely shadows, like these thrown by bracken

 We also noticed that a lot of leaves on many of the trees had been eaten away by insects. Hopefully insects that are providing food for the birds, rather than insect pests carrying disease. Either way, the patterns they make in the leaves are quite beautiful

We came across a large number of feathers scattered over the grass at one point. Perhaps the remains of a predation event, some bird having been killed by a bird of prey or fox. I'm not sure which species of bird these feathers came from, they're very pretty though. Edited to add: Looking at the amazing database that is Featherbase, I think these may be curlew feathers.

On the outskirts of South Queensferry we saw an adult oystercatcher with it's young, which was very cute! Crafty Green Boyfriend took some photos, but I don't know where they are to upload them here (we're currently using a temporary computer set up as our own computer is ill at the moment). I'll hopefully find them and share them in the next few days! 

For Nature Notes.

Friday 23 July 2021

Corstorphine HIll

 As we often do at lunchtime, we walked round Corstorphine Hill today (Crafty Green Boyfriend's office is just opposite the hill!). The clashing colours of the (pink) rosebay willow herb and (yellow)  ragwort are wonderful at the moment

We also took the time to pick some raspberries, which are ripening beautifully at the moment. I'm not really into foraging very much, escept for raspberries. We are always careful and don't trample vegetation to get to the raspberries (unlike some people!). The raspberries from the hill are always delicious! 

We also found this beautiful moth, which was lying dead on the path. I think it's a Little Emerald Moth, but if you know otherwise, please let me know in the comments! 

Thursday 22 July 2021

Viewing Loch Lubnaig

At lunchtime today,- we met up with Crafty Green Boyfriend's mother and brother for a trip across to Loch Lubnaig in the Trossachs. It was a long drive through beautiful scenerywith a wee break for lunch at a garden centre which has a lovely wetland area


We had a lovely walk when we got to Loch Lubnaig. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I walked up the hill while his brother and mother took the low road. 

The views from the hill path are stunning, though it was too hot to walk very far to be honest. It's only after looking through my photos that I realise that the loch doesn't feature in most of them! If you look carefully at the third photo below, you should see the loch in the middle distance!

On the way home we stopped just outside Callandar to visit Hamish Dubh (Black Hamish) and Honey the Highland cattle, who like to be fed with special cattle snacks that you can buy in the nearby shop.

 They are lovely, gentle and friendly cattle who obviously appreciated the shade of the trees on this hot summer's day! 

It was lovely to also see a good number of house martins, swallows and swifts flying around, lovely birds of summer.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Carnivorous Nights - On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger

 Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger


Carnivorous Nights, subtitled On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger is the account by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson (with illustrations by Alexis Rockman) of their trip to Tasmania to look for the probably extinct thylacine. 

Journeying through the Australian island of Tasmania, these young naturalists seek out traces of the long lost creature, that is generally believed to have been hunted to extinction. They speak to scientists, conservationists and people who believe they have had recent sightings of the thylacine. 

Along the way they explore the stunning scenery of this unique island, which still holds many species 'of animals that have perished on the Australian mainland (though with non-native predators now ranging trhough Tasmania, how long will these unique species last even here?). It's not only introduced predators that are problematic, but rabbits too. Rabbits 'nibbled grazzing lands bare, destroyed the fragile landscape with their burrowing and displaced native burrowers like the hare wallaby, bilby and bandicoot.' Rabbits have been somewhat controlled since the introduction of rabbit viruses in the 1950s but still have a bad reputation. There's even an inspiring campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby, including chocolate Easter Bilbies (I was fascinated by the reference to Easter Bilblies in the book, you can find out more about the campaign here.)

The group have a lot of adventures on the way, and there's a lot of humour in the narrative. But also an underlying sadness. So much of the native forest is being lost, so many species going the way of the thylacine. Large areas of the Tasmanian forests are being clearcut for timber, with signs along the paths highlighting how much timber could be produced by a particularly large tree, and what this timber could be used for, including, once all the good quality timber has been used up, enough paper to 'photocopy the complete works of Shakespeare 3000 times over'. The authors point out there would (rightly) be an outcry if there were a similar notice in an art gallery: 

'The by products from taking a sledgehammer to just one of Michelangelo's great works can produce enough tiling to panel the bathroom in every suite at the Ritz Carlton. And after that enough scrap marble will be left over to make 800 six inch high souvenir reproductions of David for sale at our gift shop.'

We wouldn't countenance this attitude to human made works of art, so why do we accept it when it refers to unique and magnificent living beings?

The book also features Rockman’s beautifully haunting drawings of flora and fauna originally crafted from natural materials including river mud, wombat scat, and even the artist’s own blood.

Read this book, marvel at the wonder of Tasmanian wildlife and landscape, then hop over to to sign this petition to save Tasmania's native animals.


 Carnivorous Nights, On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson (with illustrations by Alexis Rockman) published by Penguin Ramdon House (2005)



Monday 19 July 2021

Wildflower Meadows in the Dells

 As many readers of this blog know, I volunteer once a week with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. I pick litter and record wildlife along the river as it passes through Colinton and Craiglockart Dells, two beautiful, wooded areas. I was very glad of the shade offered by the trees today as the temperature is ridiculously high for Edinburgh (this is a sign of climate change of course, just as are the current floods devastating parts of central Europe and parts of Africa). 

There are two very different beautiful wildflower meadows along the route I take through the Dells. The brightly coloured meadow in Spylaw Park is a pictoral meadow, sown with a selection of species that guarantee a good, changing show of colour throughout the year. 

In previous years this meadow has hosted large numbers of pollinators, particularly hoverflies. Today I didn't see any hoverflies, only a few white or buff tailed bumble bees, lots of tiny flower beetles and one large white butterfly. I'll add the butterfly record to the Big Butterfly Count website.

The wildfower meadow near the site of Bog's Mill is entirely different. It has been planted with a seed mix that reflects the marshy nature of the site. So there's a lot of meadowsweet, thistles,  yarrow, meadow cranesbill, umbellifers and other flowers. It's not as colourful as the meadow at Spylaw Park but it is just as pretty and more natural.

There are often several insects here, today there were various  bumble bees and a hoverfly that I'm pretty sure was Leucozona glaucia, but it flew away before I could get a photo! 

Saturday 17 July 2021

Big Butterfly Count

Big Butterfly Count is a UK-wide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment simply by counting the number and type of butterflies (and some day-flying moths) we see.

As I had seen recently on social media that Holyrood Park (around Arthur's Seat) was full of butterflies at the moment, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I made a trip there today. 

We certainly weren't disappointed! It was hot and sunny this morning, though a strong breeze stopped it getting too unbearable (though probably meant we saw fewer butterflies than we might otherwise have done!). 

We looked in various parts of Arthur's Seat and in all of them saw plenty of butterflies. We saw several meadow browns:

a few ringlets 

a few small heaths (a species I have only seen previously here once)

several small skippers (a species that not so long ago was never seen in Edinburgh and suddenly now they're everywhere!) 

and a grayling (which is a species I've never seen anywhere other than round the Arthur's Seat area)

I'll record all the species we saw on the Big Butterfly Count website

We were impressed by the number of cinnabar moth caterpillars we saw too! These brightly coloured caterpillars only eat ragwort.

Yesterday I was walking with a friend along an odd little section of abandoned railway line and saw this caterpillar and several others like it

They seem to have eaten away at the umbellifer plants and created large coccoon like structures.

We thought we had identified it, but looking at photos on moth websites, I'm not sure, so if you know what species this is, please let me know in the comments!

Wednesday 14 July 2021

God's Memory by Gershon Ben-Avraham


I was delighted to receive as a gift, a copy of God's Memory by Gershon Ben-Avraham, whose interesting and thought provoking blog you can read here

This is a beautifully produced pamphlet of 25 poems on topics including the human relationship with nature, lost love, death and grief and spirituality, especially spirituality within the Jewish religious context. The poems are beautifully written, thoughtful and often poignant. The title poem God's Memory, which opens the book is particularly impressive and lingers in the mind.

I read these poems while the Wimbledon tennis tournament was showing on the TV, so the poem Kiddush particularly appealed to me. Kiddush, which means holiness, is the prayer over wine (or grape juice) that sanctifies the Sabbath and holidays. The poem compares the post game drinks and snacks to Kiddush, beautifully highlighting the spiritual element of everyday life. 

Ben-Avraham has a great eye for detail too, I particularly enjoyed this very visual description from More Than a Leash Binds Us:

He finds a stick and gently picks it up, 
waves it like a drum major's baton
as we continue our way home. 

The poem Sparrows in Winter, which features in God's Memory first appeared in Bolts of Silk, the poetry journal I used to edit, you can read it here

If there is a criticism to make, it is that for the non-Jewish reader, a glossary of Jewish terms would be really useful. I had to search the internet to find out the meaning of several words. 

That criticism aside, this is a beautiful book of poetry, with poems that will stay in the memory. 

God's Memory by Gershon Ben Avraham published by Kelsay Books.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Summer Fields Dancing with Butterflies

 We had a lovely morning out today (I had a meeting in the afternoon so we couldn't make it a full day!). We went over to Silverknowes and decided to walk through the fields that are going to become a new agro-ecology project on the Lauriston Farm site. The fields are currently being allowed to rewild themselves so that the project managers can work out what wildlife is there before they decide how to manage the fields for community food production. 

The fields look wonderful, especially in today's hot sunshine.

It's good to see that paths have been mown through the fields, and even more encouraging is the fact that people seem to be sticking to these fields, rather than trampling over all the wildflowers. 

And the fields are dancing with butterflies! Mostly meadow browns

but also ringlets 

small tortoiseshells and a small skipper

There were a lot of house martins and swifts flying around, which was wonderful to see. 

It will be interesting to see how the project develops, though there continue to be concerns that not enough space will be made for the wading birds that have made some of the fields their winter homes over many years. 

For Nature Notes.

Monday 12 July 2021

Flowers, Fungi and Invertebrates In the Dells

Crafty Green Boyfriend has some time off this week so joined me on my weekly patrol round Colinton and Craiglockart Dells. 

We heard a bird that we thought was probably a whitethroat, and ended up discovering a new path, while trying to catch up with the bird (I've occasionally been mistaken with whitethroats!). It's a lovely green path (though it ends rather abruptly at a sudden drop with some very odd and uneven steps). The nicest thing though was finding a patch of orchids, a mix (if I'm not mistaken) of common spotted orchids and northern marsh x common spotted hybrids. 

So this makes a total of three separate areas in the Dells, where we know that these orchids grow!

The wildflower meadow up on the former site of Bog's Mill doesn't as far as I know contain any orchids but it looks beautiful at the moment, including meadowsweet, meadow cranesbill, St John's wort, yarrow and various umbellifers. 

There are also some amazing fungi around at the moment

above: little wheel fungus 

I hope eventually to be able to identify all the species here....

We saw several snails, pretty in their stripy shells

a millipede 

and a few hoverflies including this footballer hoverfliy (Helophilus pendulus)