Wednesday 30 March 2022

St Cuthbert's Cemetery

 After a few beautiful, unseasonably warm days, it's back to chilly weather! I braved the low temperatures today to revisit St Cuthbert's Cemetery to continue my work of surveying the wildlife in all the cemeteries managed by Edinburgh City Council. 

St Cuthbert's Church is at the West End of Edinburgh's city centre and the graveyard sits right next to that of St John's Episcopal Church (which manages its own cemetery independently of the council). So the photo below shows St John's Church but St Cuthbert's Churchyard.

The cemetery is definitely coming into bloom with daffodils 

and Glory of the Snows 

If the weather had been as warm as it was on Monday I might have seen some butterflies, but as it was, the only colourful insects I found were a couple of ladybirds, still hibernating including this Harlequin. If you look carefully there's another ladybird behind it, one of the variant forms of 2 spot ladybird, I think.

Two mistle thrushes were wandering around the cemetery. This one posed so long on this gravestone, I began to worry it might be ill

but then it flew down to the grass, energetically poked around for worms then flew into a tree, so I think it was probably okay. 

You can read about my previous (much sunnier!) visit to St Cuthbert's in this post.

Monday 28 March 2022

A Day in the Dells

 I had heard there might be snow today, but was very pleased that the day dawned sunny and bright. I was leading a day-long walk for a mental health project round Craiglockart and Colinton Dells and though the area can look beautiful in the snow, the colder temperatures would have put some people off from doing the walk! 

I don't generally take photos while I'm leading guided walks, but I arrived early to take some then got another chance during breaks later in the day. 

 So today's weather was perfect


We met up outside the Water of Leith Visitor Centre, where the pigeons can be seen and heard in their nest holes in the aquaduct 

The pussy willow trees outside the visitor centre are beautiful at the moment 

The Dells are green with wild garlic (ramsons), which is fully in leaf though it will be a while before it comes into bloom 

We walked slowly through the Dells, looking at both the industrial and social history and nature of the area. We walked as far as Spylaw Park and then back via a slightly different route, ending up at Redhall Gardens, a therapeutic garden run by the Scottish Association of Mental Health. It's a beautiful garden with a lovely woodland area 

and a pond 

as well as areas that grow plants that are for sale to the general public. 


Anyone can visit the gardens to look around and buy plants. To be able to take part in activities or to grow plants in the gardens, you need a referral from a suitable professional.

Sunday 27 March 2022

Glory of the Snows

This beautiful flower, known as Glory of the Snows, is out in bloom in North Merchiston Cemetery just at the minute. If the forecast snow arrives tomorrow, it will really be living up to its name! 

Saturday 26 March 2022

Spring on Corstorphine Hill

 It's a lovely day today, so Crafty Green Boyfriend and i decided to make the most of the sunshine and walk round Corstorphine Hill. We took a different route than we usually do, walking round the wooded part of the hill 

There are some magnificent trees on the hill, including these two Scots pines (in the centre of the photo). The dead tree to the right of the pines looks as though it would be an ideal nest site for a great spotted woodpecker (a bird that does nest on the hill). 

At the top of the hill is the Corstorphine Tower, erected in memory of Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish writer. 

While we were standing at the top of the hill, we saw a nuthatch flying between the trees and the tower as well as a treecreeper flying between trees then climbing up the trunks, searching for insects in the bark. 

You also get wonderful views across to Cramond Island from the top of the Hill 

The daffodils are in bloom across the hill

I noticed this shiny trail left by a snail but no sign of the snail itself

At the bottom of the hill, we heard a couple of field voles squeaking in the grass and saw the grass moving and then a few minutes later we actually saw a field vole, sitting just next to a hole in a wall. We didn't dare move, as we didn't want to scare it (so didn't even try to take a photo). It stared at us for a while, then dashed back into the hole. 

The weather feels almost like summer today, but apparently snow is forecast for Monday (which would be a shame, as I'm doing a guided walk that day and snow may mean the walk being cancelled!)

For Nature Notes.

Friday 25 March 2022

Aren't Birds Brilliant! Book Review

 As most readers of this blog will be aware, I love birds! Here are two books I've read recently about the world of birds. 

Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird

Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead 

This is a fascinating investigation into what it's like being a bird, focussing on the senses. A chapter is devoted to each of: Sight; Hearing; Touch; Taste; Smell; Magnetic Sense and Emotions. Each chapter gives an overview of historical and current research into bird biology, highlighting important insights into birds lives, including mating, nesting, eating, singing and navigating a migration route. Many different bird species are included but the kiwi and the guillemot feature more than any other species, given the author's specific interest in these species.

Birkhead does an excellent job of writing about sometimes complex science in an accessible way, making this a great read for anyone who's interested in birds. 

Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead published (2012) by Bloomsbury.  

There's an interview with Tim Birkhead about his new book 'Birds and Us' on the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) blog. You can read it here.

 The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

 The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman 

 This is an ideal follow up to Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead.

Ackerman offers case studies and observations from scientific experiments to give insight into various aspects of bird intelligence, including singing, tool use (or equivalent), navigation (during migration), aesthetic sense (think the bowers of bower birds) and adaptability.

It's a fascinating book that reveals quite a lot about birds that you may never have thought of before. How do birds learn their songs? How have some birds (including species of crows) learned to use tools? How exactly do birds navigate their way across long migration routes?

The book also investigates the detrimental effects that humans are having on birds, including the effects of habitat destruction and climate change. Not only are we clearly reducing the populations of certain species, but there is evidence that climate change may be making some birds less intelligent (evidence is given for this effect in chickadees living at different altitudes). 

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman published (2016) by Littlebrown.

Taken together, these books offer an excellent insight into how birds work.

Wednesday 23 March 2022

The Dells are in bloom!

 Colinton and Craiglockart Dells along the Water of Leith seem to be full of lesser celandines at the moment! Combined with the warm sunshine they made it feel very much like Spring!

Another lovely yellow flower that appears at this time of year is coltsfoot. There's a bank of these flowers in the Dells, but most of them are behind a temporary fence which is restricting access due to a fallen wall, so it's difficult to get a photo. Luckily these coltsfoots are outside the fence and happy to be photographed.

Another flower has just come into bloom that is much easier to overlook, and that's the larch flower 

Despite my Botany degree, I only first noticed larch flowers when I chose a larch for Tree Following back in 2014. I posted here in 2014 to show the development of the flower into a cone and this post in 2019 to show the early stages of the development of the flower. 

The birds were busy today. Chiffchaffs, song thrushes, chaffinches, robins and wrens were among those singing most loudly, while magpies were building nests and a great spotted woodpecker was drumming. I also saw a pair of bullfinches and a treecreeper

As ever, coloured text takes you to other webpages, where you can find out more.

Monday 21 March 2022

Ladybirds in Cemeteries

 At the weekend, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I visited North Merchiston Cemetery, one of the two closest cemeteries to our flat, and one of the places we discovered as part of our #DailyExercise route during lockdown. We noticed that there were quite a few ladybirds still hibernating on some of the gravestones, although from the photos below, you can see that some of them are starting to move about now that it's warming up for the Spring. 

Two standard form two spot ladybirds (one starting to go for a walk) and one sexpustulata form. 

                                                              cream spot ladybird 


                                                                    pine ladybird

Today I visited Corstorphine Hill cemetery as part of my ongoing wildlife survey of all the cemeteries managed by the City of Edinburgh Council. I've already surveyed every cemetery once, and so now am surveying selected sites for a second time. I saw several ladybirds in this cemetery too, including this crowd of orange ladybirds - you may notice that the ladybird on the top row, second from the right looks as though it has been attacked, probably by a hungry bird. Ladybirds mostly don't taste good to predators though, so the bird probably gave up quite quickly!

Cemeteries are known to be great sites to find hibernating ladybirds, probably because the gravestones offer a good surface for them to land on when they fall from the trees and also because many gravestones are carved with ornate designs that offer nice hiding places where these insects can try to keep warm in the winter.

I was delighted the other day to be invited to a discussion about ladybirds in cemeteries, you can watch and listen to the event here.                                           



Saturday 19 March 2022

Easter Craiglockart Hill and Pond

The weather is beautiful today, mild and sunny. It really feels like Spring! Crafty Green Boyfriend and I walked round Easter Craiglockart Hill. The hill has some wonderful views across Edinburgh

The gorse is in bloom and smells distinctly of coconut in the warm air

We were very happy to get some great views of this kestrel

We also saw a buzzard, which didn't stop for a photo! We continued our walk to Craiglockart Pond, 


where there were good numbers of birds, including these Canada geese.

The bulrushes at the edge of the pond were catching the light beautifully

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Ratho Cemetery and Kirkyard

 I'm continuing to survey the wildlife in all the cemeteries managed by Edinburgh City Council. Sallie of a Full Time Life, recently commented on this blog "what a bit city Edinburgh is. So many cemeteries!". To be honest though, Edinburgh City Council area covers a much larger area than the city itself (though the city is growing and many areas that were recently fields are being built on or will be built on soon). Ratho, which I visited today is on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and is still a quiet village 

surrounded by fields (which hopefully won't be built on!). As you approach the village, you can already see the cemetery on the top of the hill (click on the photo for a bigger view, you can see the gravestones above the wall) 

This is a relatively modern cemetery, which is more or less surrounded by fields, above which skylarks were singing constantly throughout my visit. 

There are a few trees in this cemetery, including this cherry

whose bark is covered in a wealth of lichens.

Overhanging the perimeter wall of the cemetery is a beautiful pussy willow tree, whose catkins are just starting to burst

There are also several gravestones that feature images from the natural world, including these two birds 

 A few minutes down the road is the old kirkyard, the historical cemetery, attached to Ratho Parish Church

and there are plenty more lichens here, including this map lichen

I watched a queen white tailed bumble bee flying low around the trees in the kirkyard. There's a good thread on Twitter, here, explaining this behaviour (searching for a nest site).

It's certainly true to say that if somewhere as small as Ratho has two cemeteries, then Edinburgh does indeed have a lot of cemeteries (43 kirkyards and cemeteries managed by the council, plus at least one large private cemetery and at least one Roman Catholic cemetery).