Wednesday 29 May 2024

Swifts Are Here!

Do you see the swifts are here again?
They swoop so low and soar so high
I think there may be more than ten -
do you see the swifts are here again?
We know it's summer round here when
our favourite bird comes gliding by
You see the swifts are here! Again
they sweep so low and soar so high!


We are lucky enough to live in an area of Edinburgh where there are several active swift nests sites. Sadly, numbers of these amazing birds have been severely declining across the UK over the past several years (a decline of 65% since 1995), due largely to a lack of nest sites and reducing populations of insects (their main food source). (See this 2020 article on the Bird Guides website for some thoughts on the factors behind the decline of the swift).

The swifts arrived back in our local area on 14 May this year. In the past couple of days, I've seen about eight of them, swooping around the sky, hunting for insects. This number is more than we saw this time last year, though not as many as we would regularly see when we first moved to this part of Edinburgh. We put up two nest boxes a couple of years ago (we persuaded the roofing contractor to fit them when our last roofing work was carried out). I haven't seen the swifts going into the nest boxes, though they have been flying close. 

I enjoyed watching this video from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) about how we can help swifts. I played it at quite a high volume with the windows open, hoping that the calls of the swifts on the soundtrack would attract the local swifts to our nest boxes. Another great video from the RSPB is this one, which shows the route of one swift as it flies from its breeding grounds in the UK across Europe and around Africa and back here for the next breeding season, a journey during which it will not land at all! I particularly like this video as it looks as though this swift passed directly over the village where I lived in Malawi for two years!

Sunday 26 May 2024

Arthur's Seat

We have had a lot of rain in Edinburgh recently, the Water of Leith has burst its banks in a few places and swans and other birds have had their nests swept away by the floodwaters.  West Princes Street Gardens and Inch Park are closed due to flooding. Many roads have been made impassable. Yesterday, the rain stopped and allowed us to have a lovely walk around Arthur's Seat (we guessed that this would be guaranteed to be fairly dry as it is such high ground). 

The lower reaches of the hill are beautiful with Cow Parsley at the moment

We were delighted to see lots of toad tadpoles in Dunsapie Loch near the top of the hill, obviously some wildlife has benefitted from the wet weather! 

Two Grey Herons were hanging around the pond, but we're not sure whether they would eat toad tadpoles, as the tadpoles are known to be unpalatable to predators. 

Sadly, we couldn't see many nests in the heronry down on the islands on Duddingston Loch. Around thirty pairs of Grey Herons used to nest there, but we could only see evidence of three nests (admittedly there could be more hidden in amongst the foliage, but normally you'd see herons at most of the nests). If you click on the photo below to enlarge it, you may see a heron close to the centre of the picture.

It was much easier to see this Jackdaw at its nest site, a nice cosy home in amongst the stones of the wall! The young Jackdaws were making a lot of noise as they demanded to be fed.

Lots of Jackdaw nest on Arthur's Seat, and they're very commonly seen! 

as are their larger relatives, the Carrion Crows 

 and the largest of the crow family, Ravens, though we didn't see any Ravens yesterday. 

There weren't a lot of insects around, but we did see a couple of Epistrophe eligans hoverflies

and this lovely cranefly, which I think is a Tiger Cranefly. 

Today it's been raining most of the day, so we were lucky with the weather for our walk yesterday. This volume of rain is very worrying for both people and wildlife.

Thursday 23 May 2024

Coming Soon! 30 Days Wild


Speckled Wood Butterfly, photo taken by Crafty Green Boyfriend on Corstophine Hill


30 Days Wild is The Wildlife Trusts' annual challenge event, which invites you to do one wild thing every day throughout June.

This year marks 10 years of 30 Days Wild!

Sign up on the website today and receive a FREE pack in the post, plus lots of inspiration for activities. 

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Cactus in bloom

 Our cactus is now in bloom! We've had this for years. Oddly it only started blooming after it had fallen off the window-sill and rolled under a table. It has bloomed even more beautifully after we cut its original single stem because it kept toppling over. It now has four stems, all of which bloom to varying degrees. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Butterfly survey at Lauriston Farm

It's butterfly season again and I'm involved in butterfly surveys as I was last year. Butterfly surveys are only to be carried out in certain weather conditions: temperature above 17 degrees C if it is dull, above 13 degrees if the sun is out; no rain and not too much wind. Which makes it tricky to find a suitable day here in Edinburgh, which is renowned for not being particularly warm. Yesterday however was perfect and I enjoyed surveying the fields at Lauriston Farm, which I first surveyed last year. 


These fields are part of a rewilding agroecology project and it is amazing to see how the project is benefiting wildlife in the area. 

On yesterday's survey I recorded around 15 Orange Tip Butterflies, 2 Small Tortoiseshells

1 Speckled Wood and several Small White butterflies (all my actual results have been officially recorded).  

I was also pleased to see that many of the buttercups in the fields were hosting small flower beetles and solitary bees (sadly my photos didn't turn out). It's becoming rarer to find flower beetles these days, it used to be that most buttercups and dandelions held flower beetles, but not any more, so it was very nice to see the beetles here. I also saw a magnificent moth, some kind of hawkmoth, I think, but I didn't get a good look at it. 

There were lots of birds about, including a flock of around fifty House Martins with a few Swallows and a Swift, two Buzzards, a Reed Bunting, a Whitethroat, a small flock of Goldfinches, a flock of Jackdaws. A Roe Deer was browsing in one of the fields. 


I'm delighted to have a haiku published on the Shadow Pond Journal website, you can read it here.

Sunday 19 May 2024

Corstorphine Hill

 Yesterday was a lovely warm sunny day once the haar (sea mist) lifted. We walked round Corstophine Hill, always a favourite place. 


There was, as ever, plenty of flowers, insect life and birds. The speedwell (I'm not sure which species of speedwell...) is in full bloom at the moment 

as is the Cow Parsley 

while many dandelions have finished blooming and are already seeding

We saw a number of butterflies, including Orange Tips, the photos below are of female Orange Tips, only the males have the distinctive orange markings on their wings. The females can be identified by the markings on the underside of their lower wings

but less easy to tell apart from other white butterflies from their upper sides

Speckled Wood butterflies were flying around the wooded area of the hill 

We found this Agriotes sp click beetle

while on the dry path on the exposed part of the hill, we watched three species of solitary bees, two of which appeared to be nest parasites, this one, a type of blood bee, so called for its red markings

and this yellow and black striped bee, a species of Nomad cuckoo bee 

The nomad bees were flying around, looking for nests of other solitary bees that they could lay their eggs in, the other bees will then bring up the young of the nomad bees as though they were their own.

We saw a number of hoverflies, including this Batman Hoverfly (Myathropa florea)

Edinburgh Zoo takes up part of Corstorphine Hill and you can often see the Grevy's zebras at the top of the hill, which overlooks the African plains section of the zoo

Near the zoo, we saw this Willow Warbler, it was singing beautifully, which is how we could definitely identify it as a Willow Warbler, rather than the very similar looking Chiffchaff! 

Friday 17 May 2024

My Latest charity shop find

 I love browsing in charity shops and like to buy clothes and books second hand (though I buy underwear new and will buy new books from small, independent publishers and small independent bookshops). I saw this plate in the second hand shop round the corner and couldn't resist, it only cost 50p anyway. 

Talking of rabbits, I shared some photos of rabbits on Edinburgh's Castle Rock last week. Well, when I went past that area again this week, there were six baby bunnies, that had obviously only just emerged from the warren. They were leaping around excitedly, though they were careful not to stray too far from the rabbit hole! Their parents were eating just nearby.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

House Sparrow haiku

house sparrows
nest in the eaves -
childhood memories

originally published on HaikuNetra.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Hedge Britannia by Hugh Barker


It was National Hedgerow Week (6-12 May) recently, which seemed like a good prompt to read this book. 

Hedge Britannia examines the history of hedges in the United Kingdom, from their first origins in Roman times through their time as hated emblems of land privatisation during the Enclosures (particularly between 1750–1850) to their current status as ecological gems, seen as a type of linear woodland and hosting many species that are not often found elsewhere in our countryside. It is engagingly written and amply illustrated with photos, many of which are in full colour.

The author visits farmers, historians and scientists (including at the Monks Wood nature reserve which was originally an ecological research station with a particular interest in hedges) to study the role of hedges in various aspects of British life, from marking out field boundaries, to defining territories, to ornamental features of grand gardens (including mazes and topiary designs). We are given insights into the ancient art of hedge laying and some of the people working to continue this art in a world moving more and more to rough, mechanised ways of making hedges. We're also given a brief history of the art of topiary, forming hedges into decorative shapes, such as birds. 

The author contemplates our love of hedges with this:

"Perhaps, deep down, we are still a bit scared of 'nature'? We like to use plants and trees for decorative purposes, but there is an ambivalence in our attitude. We allow nature to flourish, so long as we can be sure that we are still in control"

Hedges certainly do seem to embody this ambivalence very well, an attitude to nature that is also seen in removing wild growing plants to replace them with prettier, more well-behaved species or planting squadrons of trees in neat lines, rather than encouraging natural regeneration.

Interspersed with the regular chapters are profiles of outstanding hedges around the UK, including The Elephant Hedge at Rockingham Castle and The Giants Hedge in Cornwall. The author also glances at other aspects of hedges, including the so called hedge schools of Ireland, in which Catholics in the 18th century taught their faith and the Gaelic language in secret schools hidden behind hedges. 

This is a fascinating, readable account of hedges, which will appeal particularly to anyone interested in the history of the British countryside. 

Hedge Britannia by Hugh Barker, published (2012) by Bloomsbury


Here is an interesting link on Hedgerow Plant Diversity from the People's Trust for Endangered Species.  

You may also be interested in my review of A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright, which you can read here.


Sunday 12 May 2024

Walks around Edinburgh

Today, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I visited Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens, as he wanted to see the azaleas that I had photographed earlier in the week, before a class I taught at the gardens (see this post).  We were very lucky with the weather, as it was hot and sunny and the azaleas and rhododendrons were looking lovely (some bushes aren't yet in flower and the beautiful display will continue to develop over the next few weeks). 

Also in the Botanic Gardens, we walked through the Scottish woodland area, which at the moment is full of Ramsons in full bloom

We also admired the magnolias, some of which are still in bloom 

and the old Sweet Chestnut tree that died many years ago and is being preserved to show how nature can regenerate

A number of people in the class I'm currently teaching found this tree very inspiring for their writing, seeing it as a sign of hope and renewal. 

On Friday, I'd met Crafty Green Boyfriend for a short lunchtime walk around Arthur's Seat (which is close to where he currently works and only a short bus ride away from where I teach a Friday morning creative writing workshop). The weather was stunning, and the gorse is looking beautiful at the moment 


Thursday 9 May 2024

Bunnies on Castle Rock

It's years since we first noticed that rabbits live on Edinburgh's Castle Rock. We used to always enjoy watching them when we passed the area at dusk. Then one year (several years ago now) they disappeared. However, I've walked past the area recently and the rabbits are back! Yesterday evening, on the way to the Gaelic Choir that I recently joined, I saw seven rabbits. They weren't interested in posing for group photos, but I did get some nice individual portraits.