Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Swifts

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!



***

I saw my first swifts of the year today at Musselburgh. Several were flying with swallows and house martins above the River Esk and several more were flying with house martins near Musselburgh Boating Pond. 

As many readers of this blog know, the swift is my favourite bird. It arrives in the UK in May and leaves by the end of August. It spends almost all its life on the wing, only landing to build its nest and lay its eggs. The skies outside our flat are full of swifts at this time of the year, they are wonderfully acrobatic. There are at least ten of them most years (I've not seen any outside our flat yet this year, but it is still early days). 

But swifts are in trouble in the UK. 

You can help them by fitting a swift nest box to your home. Swift Conservation can help you with fitting and maintaining a nestbox, you can find their local experts here.


The RSPB is looking for records of swifts, you can find out how you can help them here.


Concern for Swifts Scotland aims to have swift nest site conservation incorporated into building specifications and to support the inclusion of the swift in Local Biodiversity Action Plans. 
***
I was also delighted today to hear a grasshopper warbler in the long grass near Musselburgh Boating Pond. I checked with Lothian Birds and they said these warblers are often found here. Definitely the first time I've heard them there though. I'll need to keep my ears even more open than normal then! 
Musselburgh Lagoons are currently being drained for their annual maintenance, but there was still a good variety of birds, including grey partridges, reed buntings and a pink footed goose, sitting in exactly the same place as last time I was there - it looked as though it was nesting, except that it doesn't breed in this country!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Invasive Non-native plants along Water of Leith

Yesterday evening I went along to the annual Invasive Plant species walk organised by Water of Leith Conservation Trust (WOLCT) for their patrol volunteers. We had a lovely walk trhough the downstream area of Colinton Dell. Hard to believe now, as the rain pours down and the wind howls, but yesterday evening was beautiful and mild and sunny.

The main three invasive plant species that are an issue along the Water of Leith are:

Giant Hogweed is a problem because it can cause burns and scarring if you come into contact with it. It is also very invasive as it produces lots of seeds which can stay fertile for several years. It is however popular with quite a few insect species. WOLCT manages the plant by closely targetted spraying with glyphosate, which is the only herbicide that can control the plant.

Himalayan Balsam is a problem because it is very invasive, as it produces vast numbers of seed. It can totally take over an area and stop anything else from growing during its own season. However, because Himalayan Balsam flowers late, it provides food for bees when there's not much else around. Also it doesn't stop the early spring flowers from thriving. We know from our visits to Dumfriesshire, that areas that are covered in Himalayan Balsam in summer are full of a variety of spring flowers earlier in the year. The real problem occurs by rivers where the growth of this plant can erode riverbanks. Plus it smells vile so I'm more than happy to help WOLCT control it by pulling up the plants I find while I'm patrolling the river.

Japanese Knotweed is one of the most invasive plants in the world. It spreads mostly through its roots and can undermine the foundations of buildings. (If you have Japanese Knotweed in your garden, you are likely to be unable to sell your house). It is very difficult to control, currently the WOLCT is trying to eradicate a patch in Colinton Dell and it will take at least a couple of years more to get rid of it, injecting herbicide into every stem of the plants.

Two other plants are giving some concern in Colinton Dell:

Few flowered leek in some areas of the Dell is already taking over from the native wild garlic. One possible way of controlling its spread is for foragers to pick and eat the leek rather than the garlic. Having said that, the number of dogs that run around (and do other things) in Colinton Dell, makes me nervous of foraging anything that grows on the ground there.

Salmonberries have sprung up in one area of the Dell. I've not really been able to find out much about the status of salmonberries in the UK, they've been here for decades, but I'm only aware of them becoming a problem very recently. WOLCT is looking into how best to control them.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Seaside Horses

Garishly painted horses dash up and down, round the carousel, maddened by mechanical pop songs from yesteryear. White horses canter in the sea, strangled by seaweed and stung by salt spray. No-one rides the carousel horses. No-one swims with the white horses in the sea. No-one is around to turn off the tinny music. The restless horses gallop endlessly in their own little worlds, waiting for the freak high tide that will bring them together. 

Previously published on Paragraph Planet 


Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Man Who Gave Away His Island by Ray Perman

This is a biography of John Lorne Campbell, who bought the Scottish island of Canna in 1938 and lived there until his death, though he gave it away to the National Trust of Scotland in 1981, while continuing to live there.

This is a history of the Campbells of Inverneill and the financial problems that lead to John Lorne Campbell being disinherited from his family lands and eventually buying Canna. It's also an account of Lorne Campbell's work as a Gaelic scholar, an entomologist and laird of the island.

At times the book gets very bogged down in the details of financial and administrative issues that plagued both the Campbells of Inverneill and Lorne Campbell himself. Overall though it is a fascinating book. Lorne Campbell's exhaustive work in collecting Gaelic folksongs and folklore from across Scotland, Ireland and Nova Scotia lead to the Canna House library becoming the most important Gaelic language archive in the world. The House also became a cultural centre with writers and artists regularly visiting from across the globe.

The book also looks at the traditional life of Canna and the struggles to keep a reasonable population living on the island, not helped by official attitudes to crofting (the island's traditional way of life) and poor transport links. This takes the narrative into an interesting discussion about land rights in Scotland.

The book all too briefly looks at the wildlife of Canna, noting how the relatively recent eradication of rats from the island has allowed the native sea bird populations to recover to seome degree.

An essential read for anyone interested in Scotland and the islands.

The Man Who Gave Away His Island by Ray Perman published by Birlinn.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Coming Soon - Scotland's Big Nature Festival


Musselburgh Boating Pond, Levenhall Links




The Scottish Big Nature Festival (which includes Scottish Birdfair) takes place this year on 23 - 24 May at Levenhall Links in Musselburgh, my favourite place for birdwatching!(I was there today and saw shovelers and gadwall at the Mouth of the River Esk and several ringed plovers and dunlin on the Lagoons along with 2 grey partridges and several other birds. Plus there were plenty of swallows around).

The Big Nature Festival has a packed programme of events on all aspects of birding and nature, including events for children and families,including 'design your own nature superhero' which sounds particularly exciting, I might go along and see if I can design a super-hero rabbit (as rabbits are the only animals I can draw!).

Lots of exhibitors will be present to offer information on all aspects of birdwatching and enjoying the natural world in Edinburgh and further afield. 

There will also be opportunities to take part in birdwatching walks around the area,  a bird ringing demonstration and  a cruise through the Firth of Forth.

So there really will be something for everyone and the money raised from the event will go towards conserving the curlew, an iconic wader. The UK supports the third largest breeding population of curlews, but numbers have halved in Scotland since 1995. Curlews are frequently seen (and heard) around Musselburgh Lagoons and the Firth of Forth, so it's a highly appropriate choice. You can read more about the RSPB's work for curlews here.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Cherry blossom

The cherry trees are wonderful at the moment

I particularly like the (relatively rare) trees that have both pink and white blossom, like this one we saw in Dalkeith Country Park yesterday


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Dalkeith Country Park in bloom

We both had a midweek day off today and went to Dalkeith Country park. It's most notable for its oak woodland, this isn't just ancient woodland, but amazing, ancient trees, that have lived through many hardships and still survive



Dalkeith Country Park is also famous for its bluebells. We were slightly too early for the main display of these wonderful flowers but quite a lot of them were out

The flower that stole the show though was the dog violet, which was everywhere! I've never seen so many violets, they were carpetting the ground in places.

There were also a couple of clumps of cowslips

and also the wild strawberries were in flower (surely earlier than normal?)

We were delighted also to have lovely views of a nuthatch, a treecreeper and a great spotted woodpecker, none of which were kind enough to pose for the camera!