Tuesday, 26 March 2019

birds, bees, buds, blossoms and butterflies

There was a wee bit sunshine forecast for Monday morning. Having seen lots of photos appearing on butterfly fan-pages I thought I better take a trip to the Hermitage, you know, just in case. Before cracking on with the week's work. It was a lovely morning right enough although I wore gloves and buff. Would any butterflies turn up? I targeted here again because there is a sloped wall garden that catches the morning sun and last year I found early risers there: a comma and a peacock although it was April 20th, a month later in the year, after that extended Winter. This year there has been some ridiculously early starters in that weirdly warm first Spring we had back in February. Being lazy I caught a bus up to Morningside. Then ran home.

can't believe it's not butterfly

Other reasons I am drawn to the Hermitage is the insect hotels to the side of the tiered garden. I have no idea if they attract as many bugs and fliers as they should but they totally get my vote. And there is usually a wren or 2 hopping about if there's no smaller winged beauties. At first inspection I could only find flies, warming themselves on the very timber on which I'd hoped to find butterflies. Well it's a good sign but...

insect hotel


As I skulked around the plants and surrounding trees taking pics of flowering currant bushes, Kathy and Heidi appeared - having a quick run through the place. As we were chatting a butterfly appeared and before I could get a photo Heidi had chased it off. It was only a peacock and I hoped not the only one of the day.

wren with insufficient focus


So I moved downstream to check for dippers. None. Then a peacock fluttered out and settled on the bridge down from the Lang Linn Path over the Braid Burn. As I approached it set off on the South side of the river and disappeared. I saw this small tree full of blossom below which led me along the path on the non-pedestrian side of the burn. A short distance on and there were lots of small lettuce sized flowers and one, then another peacock. I was pleased, particularly because it was on the non-pedestrian side of the burn and I would be untroubled by dogwalkers and their mutts chasing past in a hurry. 

I went as far as the Howe Dean path then returned covering the ground several times slowly using the kick and chase method of stomping around the ground, setting up butterflies and then stealthily chasing them to their landing spots. They all came from low on the ground and went back to low on the ground. Plenty of higher flowers and blossoms which would make for easier and clearer photos but no dice. Many online photos were showing Peacocks, Commas and Small Torts on blossom in trees. Not here. Curses. They turned out to be the least satisfactory photos of the day but seeing any at all was a bonus, I shouldn't complain. First real day of butterflying in 2019 for me.

Every now and then I would see an orange shape in the grass or between railings and creep slowly up on a Comma. Twice at least they got away. It was impossible to follow them or know whether the next one was the same one I had already seen. And covering the same ground several times it was likely I was getting repeats. I saw the really shredded peacock and took it's photo a second time. It was understandably nervous on both occasions and when I saw it was the same beast the second time I apologised for stalking it twice and moved on.  

saw this one with it's additional foliage twice also


A chiffchaff was chiffchaffing away with such vigour it seemed not much further away than my shoulder. I tracked it down to this tree and shot some video of it belting out it's signature tune. The unremarkable drab olive colour and small size (smaller than a robin) and beak shape, reminded me of the bird I had seen in the umbrella leaves of the botanics the day before. Must google that. (Brian H later informed me the other bird in the botanics was a goldcrest, not a chiffchaff.)

loads of great vegetation springing out of the ground 
like slow-motion fireworks

Now if only the superb orange commas (below) would show some interest in the blossoms on the trees (above) there could be a great photo. I encouraged them to consider it, but they only flew off, directly up until caught by the breeze then away beyond my range. To land again on the ground like dropped banknotes. I felt freed up by the success of 3 species to call off the hunt or rather take the safari elsewhere. Check the burn for dippers then head over to Caiglockhart East to see if there were any Red Admirals to make a full house.

nature's velcro

Maybe just double check the walled garden on the way past. Oh look a Peacock with its wings closed. Apart from the bright orange commas this was the first butterfly I'd seen settled on the ground without disturbing it. Although getting in close (but before I had a shot properly in focus) I did disturb it, but followed it to a pile of photogenic leaflitter for the best butterfly photo of the day. And the last. I was pleased to have found a new and successful hunting ground.

Sometimes wandering around not finding anything I begin to wonder if I actually know anything about my quarry at all or am just a bumbling idiot looking in all the wrong places. I could not picture much in the way of flowers or places to nectar on Corstorphine Hill so decided to miss that and just pick up the WoL after Craiglockhart and follow it back down to Leith.

cows-lips or cow-slips or neither?

The common name cowslip may derive from the old English for cow dung, probably because the plant was often found growing amongst the manure in cow pastures.[3] An alternative derivation simply refers to slippery or boggy ground; again, a typical habitat for this plant.[4]
Other common names include cuy lippe, herb peter, paigle, peggle, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, petty mulleins, crewel, buckles, palsywort, and plumrocks.[7]

good advertising for a good cause
starring Mr KF!

I do like robins. Not only are they easy to identify, they seem curious and friendly; and are not skittish or easily frightened. When I saw this one near the WoL path I slowed then stopped for a chat. I got out some mealworms (they haven't yet hatched into beetles but some are on their final (white) instar and possibly quite close). I decided to set the remainder free, not out of some great vegan sympathy but because I really didn't want a plastic tray of beetles on top of the kitchen cabinet. The robin wasn't keen on worms but was much more interested in the seeds I threw in its direction. 

I nearly got into trouble though. A heavy set bloke dressed like the labourers working on the bridge nearby drove up and called me over to quiz me. I was taking photos near a park and there were teenage girls having a picnic and playing music somewhere in the background. He asked was I taking photos of them and I could see maybe I was pointing my camera approximately in their direction with nothing of interest (to him) in between me and them. I said what I was doing and offered to show him the results but he drove off possibly realising, with disappointment, he wasn't going to get an excuse to exact judgement and presumably violence in the name of public decency. It took a little while to get past the bad taste this encounter offered up.

There were various birds along the Water of Leith. Including, as Balgreen turned into Murrayfield, a blue and orange flash of Mr KF. In flight with no sign of landing. A hundred yards on and I got chatting to a dogwalker. Her 2 charges were keen to do battle with the swans who were waddling ashore to take them up on their offer. She leashed them (the dogs not the swans) and walked on. I hoped she had seen the KF land nearby. She had not even seen it fly past. But was chatty and restored my faith in (some aspects of) humanity saying she saw them regularly and recommended Colinton Dell. I laughed and told her I continually bumped into folk who "saw them all the time" and everyone a different place. Upstream of the railway bridge at the Airport. Brandon Terrace. Botanics. And now Colinton Dell. Well I suppose it's great we have so many locally. And the more people see them the less jumpy they will become in urban areas. Any further info much appreciated!

Further downstream and more dipper action. Ever since seeing some really great dipper photos by that guy I told you not to look at on Flickr, I have been feeling examples as above aren't up to muster. I may have to get a walking camera. I was pleased to see grey wagtails as well. Haven't seen them for a while. They are very flighty and won't hang about for pics. There were 2 which seemed to be courting and another; or perhaps they were all males and sorting turf wars. Near the tennis courts at the Dean Village, then along a half mile, maybe others maybe the same. And perhaps the high pitched piping of Mr KF. Maybe he was laughing at my rubbish photos taken in poor light from too far a distance. I realised I had come out chasing wildlife but managed to get in quite a decent length of run. And hadn't noticed the miles fly by. 13 by the time I get home. Or rather, if I add an extra visit down past St Marks Park to check out the ducks there should be about 14miles. Not bad for a Monday after a hectic weekend.

Grey Wagtails

animatronic robin in Stockbridge

When I got to the path past St Marks there were just a handful of goosanders there, a couple of mallards and a couple of swans. They were all pretty well behaved and prepared to wait their turn to be thrown bread and seeds. Although the goosander with the darker smaller head showed up and was a bit toxic male and pushy. The reflections from the nearby flats make great colours on the water when there is enough light about and I stayed there ages trying to get photos. And to get the goosanders to move into the light. The mallards got tired of being beaten to the bread so climbed out and insisted on individual treatment. I'd look up from the water and they'd be right there asking three quarters, profile or front? Who could resist?

14 miles: how did that happen?