Elaine O’Mahony is a Leith resident who has recently started blogging about her encounters with urban wildlife. We’re delighted that she’s agreed to let us re-post her Leith-centric blog posts here on Greener Leith.
We had a lovely sunny morning in Edinburgh recently and I enjoyed a wonderful wildlife-filled walk along my local stretch of the Water of Leith. It really brought home to me how fast Spring is progressing so I wanted to share some of my top wildlife encounters of the season so far. The struggle for spring migrants that I complained about in an earlier post is no more! No sooner had I turned off St. Mark’s path and onto the Water of Leith walkway proper, than I was greeted by a singing Chiffchaff flitting among the branches.
Only last week I spotted one in the Royal Botanic Gardens and another in Pilrig Park. I was delighted to then hear a second migrant: a Blackcap. Although this bird has a very similar song to the Garden Warbler, I was left in no doubt as I had a clear view of the male’s black cap after which the bird is named. Do check out this useful BTO video that highlights the differences between these two warblers.
Just upstream from what must be the last weir of the 80-odd that used to decorate the river in times past, I heard a Song thrush. Although these are considered common birds, I always delight in hearing one as they are on the decline, sadly. A short time later a male Grey Wagtail on the opposite bank caught my eye. It was engaged in a series of short flights from the edge to the middle of the river and back again. It took me a few minutes to realise he was foraging for insects. But my heart melted when I saw him hop upriver to feed his offspring! Although the fledgling was in plain sight, I had missed it earlier as its largely grey colour, with none of the yellow adult plumage, allowed it to blend in with the background.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a Mute swan nest and was relieved to see that it was surviving still. The big nest was attracting many House sparrowsand even a Greenfinch. As I carefully inched closer I could see that some caring neighbours had left scraps of bread. The swan had even used a sliced pan wrapper as nest material! The bread was attracting a lot of attention from Mallards and even two Moorhens were trying to get in on the action. Then the seemingly settled female suddenly lifted off the nest. I could not believe my eyes when I counted 8 large pale green eggs beneath her! And she was ringed with the letters IJY on her left leg; I can’t wait to find out more about her.
In the centre of Leith itself I got a cracking view of a Cormorant resting in the middle of the river. It’s not often that you see the white breeding patch usually concealed beneath the wing. These patches are used as part of a breeding display to attract the opposite sex. From here I went past the back of the Scottish Government Buildings at Victoria Quay. I rarely take this route but it is interesting to see what ships are currently moored at Leith docks. Today I saw the tall ship Jean de la Lune. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see nearly a dozen Sand Martins foraging over the lagoon at VQ. These birds are brown above, white below and have incredibly long pointy wings for their body size. It was only yesterday that I finally spotted several Swallows, a closely related species, in the car park of Cameron Toll shopping centre. I do hope the Sand Martins find suitable nesting sites there and stay for the summer.
As I walked around the side of the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, the screeching of Common Terns filled the air. I really feel summer is on the way when these delicate looking sea birds are around. Some were in the middle of the docks themselves but about 20 or so were resting on this weather-beaten wooden pier pictured above.
For my final stop of the day I visited the small garden outside the car park to the west end of the Ocean Terminal. This garden was created to celebrate Scotland’s most famous botanists. The reason for the stop was not to enjoy the garden but to check out the lamp posts, obviously! A few weeks ago I noticed Blue tits coming and going from holes in the lamp posts, so I assumed that these canny urban Blue tits were nesting there. Unfortunately I didn’t see the same today. Maybe this means that the young have already fledged. This would make sense as lately the food on the bird table attached to my kitchen window has started to disappear very quickly and I think some voracious juvenile Blue tits are responsible!
Thank you if you have managed to read this far. There’s a lot going on out there! Please let me know of other unusual nesting places.
Elaine first published this post on her really rather good, Urban Tails blog.