I leant upon a
Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs
weakening eye of day.
bine-stems scored the sky
strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that
sought their household fires.
The land's sharp
features seemed to be
Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy
wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of
germ and birth
shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon
fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose
bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted
An aged thrush,
frail, gaunt, and small,
Had chosen thus to
fling his soul
the growing gloom.
So little cause for
such ecstatic sound
Was written on
or nigh around,
That I could think
there trembled through
happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope,
whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Figgate Park and Duddingston Loch
Throughout the whole of last week I had been seeing reports on Twitter
of a pair of Otters showing oﬀ in the pond in Figgate Park, Edinburgh.
Naturally I decided that it would be a great idea to get John and I
down there for our Sunday outing to see them for ourselves. The weather
prediction was optimistic- windy with sunny intervals with little
chance of rain, so it was all systems go! We had breakfast in the ASDA
Superstore at Brunstane, a place we last visited a few years ago. The
food was ok but we found the service a bit unfriendly (7/10).
About Figgate Park, Edinburgh
Soon after, we had parked Baileyﬁeld Road and were entering the park
and being amused with the sight of a small, pimped-up works container
whose sides had been adorned with beautiful spray-painted birds. We
walked round the pond to the wooden feeding platform. On the pond, by
the island, a pair of young cormorants
were squabbling over the the rights to a rocky perch. A wee Blue Tit
tweeted from the bushes just above us while a few Mallards loitered
near us watching for any feeding opportunities. (Also see
“Pictures of the Week 1”, below).
A family of Mute Swans occupied the centre of the pond. The cygnets
were nearly fully grown, their plumages nearly all white with only a
few tinges of pale brown. (See “Pictures of the Week 1”,
below). Behind, in the distance, we could make out hordes of
early-morning climbers on the peak of Arthur’s Seat ,
the remains of an ancient volcano. Meanwhile in front of us, the
Blackheaded Gulls were getting frisky. Could the Otters be nearby?
The Tufted Ducks were looking a bit sheepish and a young Moorhen looked
more nervous than usual. As we moved around the pond towards the
boardwalk, we scanned the water for any signs of Otters but we
couldn’t see any. We met a respected fellow nature watcher who
informed us that a pair of Otters had been seen the previous day on
Duddingston Loch, which, apparently is linked to the Figgate pond by
the Figgate Burn. However, we then noticed that people had crowded to
one end of the boardwalk and were scanning the reeds for, could it be
the Otters? Well no, it was a Water Rail that had captured
their interest. I managed a few nicely-lit shots of the rarely seen
bird, but it didn’t make up for the no-show Otters. A very
friendly female Blackbird appeared, probing the area around our feet. I
had to move back slowly before I could get a decent focus. It
obligingly posed as I snapped I quick couple of shots.
So, sad to say, the Otters didn’t make an appearance. We did see
a lot of nice birds, the Water Rail being the most pleasing.
Pictures of the Week 1:
|Juvenile Mute Swan
Duddingston Loch, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh
Having dipped on the Otters at Figgate Park we thought they may have
moved up the burn to Duddingston Loch . We parked in a public
car park oﬀ Old Church Lane, which is more or less at the foot of the
peak mentioned above. We walked to a quiet spot by the Loch, past a ﬂock
of grazing Canada Geese, and parked ourselves beside a wall to shelter
from the stiﬀ breeze. We could see that there were many birds on the
water that were sheltering in calmer water by the edge of the Loch.
After a patient wait for some sunshine, a handsome wee Coot popped up
through the water. We were checked out by a large Herring Gull as I
attempted to get a picture of a Little Grebe that was fairly near the
We decided to walk along to Hangman’s Rock . I fancied
some shots of the water birds side-lit by the low winter sun, and, from
the path, we may have seen some birds in the bushes. On the path ahead
of us, a pair of Jackdaws were cautiously feeding, before I managed to
put them up. Beyond them, Mute Swans and Canada Geese were gathered at
an area where tourists gathered for a rest and snacks. Amongst the
expectant birds were a gorgeous cock Pheasant and a hybrid goose, a
Canada and Greylag cross (See “Pictures of the Week
||Greylag Canada Goose Cross
From Hangman’s Rock I had a commanding view of the Loch but could
see no signs of the Otters. On the water, near the shore, Mallards,
Tufted Ducks, Goldeneyes and Wigeon were moving in and out of the
shadows making it tricky to capture any decent shots (see also
“Pictures of the Week 2”, below). A familiar call from
overhead signalled the approach of a Buzzard that hovered above us for
a short time. On the walk back to the car I heard another well know
bird call, that of a male Bullﬁnch that was nibbling on the twigs of
the bushes that lined the edges of the Loch. It was our ﬁnal picture of
It had been an enjoyable trip, our second week away from the coast. The
Water Rail kinda saved the day. Our teas were washed down with some tasty
slices of Sponge cake, one of my own creations. Positive comments were
oﬀered from John, so I’m pleased. I’m less pleased with the
Otters though! I have seen Otters many times, particularly on the River
Clyde at RSPB Baron’s Haugh , but you can never see too
Update: I write this on the Tuesday after and I’ve read Twitter
messages from people who have posted pictures of the Otters on each day
from the Wednesday before to Tuesday, except on Sunday - typical! I
suppose it could’ve been down to the high density of people in
Pictures of the Week 2:
|Greylag x Canada Goose Cross
Hopes Reservoir , MAP , PDF
The weather prediction was for dull weather throughout, but with rain
in the west and the prospect of coastal mist. Luckily though I had been
following Twitter reports of a big Redpoll ﬂock at Hopes Reservoir high
in the Lammermuir Hills in East Lothian, a new place for us. So
following our usual breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (8.5/10: nice but a
poor fried egg and drippy teapot let it down) we travelled the winding
route through narrow country roads, the last of which was single track,
eventually reaching a dead end at a spacious car park. As we started
our walk from there, along a well prepared path down a gradual slope
towards the Reservoir, John commented how quiet it was with only the
occasional calls of the Red Grouse interrupting perfect silence.
Eventually we reached a wooded area where I spotted a Robin and, high
in the trees, a small bird that could have been our ﬁrst sighting of a
Redpoll. silhouetted against the grey sky but it might have been our
ﬁrst Redpoll of the visit.
In the same tree I caught a brief view of a female Bullﬁnch, also
poorly lit. Just as we entered the wood I managed a picture of a pair
of Pheasants, a cock and hen. Some trees had trunks covered in pale green lichen .
Eventually we reached the Reservoir dam. Hopes Reservoir covers
approximately 40 acres of land and was opened in 1933. I have read that
part of the dam wall was built using rubble from Calton Jail
in Edinburgh, which was demolished in 1930. We scrambled along a narrow
mucky path on the north side of the reservoir. Below us on the water
there was a solitary Cormorant ﬁshing, but that was all we saw.
Below is the a picture that captures the overcast conditions and yet
shows the appealing view from the west end of the Reservoir as we
looked back to the dam.
Just as we were about to give up ever ﬁnding the Redpolls we noticed a
small gathering of birders on the south side of the water. They seemed
to be scanning the water, but we went on to ﬁnd they were looking at a
large Redpoll ﬂock. The majority of the birds were Lesser Redpolls.
They have warm brownish tones around the head, mantle, and wings that
often distinguishes them from other Redpoll species.
We could see one of those other species, the Mealy (or Common) Redpoll.
It shows a bit more cold and greyer plumage than the Lesser.
||Mealy Redpoll ( Common)
||Lesser and Mealy
We saw one bird that stood out from the rest due to its very pale
tones. It was a Coues’s Arctic Redpoll (sometimes called the
Scandinavian Arctic Redpoll), which breeds in Northern Europe eastwards
into Siberia. We studied the ﬂock (see the “Pictures of the
Week”, below) for a half hour
in ever-deteriorating light before deciding to move on. As we returned
to the dam I snapped one of the dozen or so Mallards present oﬀ the
water and also a passing Buzzard.
On our way down the Reservoir-side road we came across a patch of Silver Birch trees that hosted Birch Polypore
fungi. These were a variety of shapes and sizes. The game birds had
been calling throughout our walk and we got a fairly close view of one,
a Red Grouse, as it ﬂew past us at speed after we had caught it
unawares close to the road. The car was still a mile oﬀ but the view
was idyllic (see the “Pictures of the Week”, below).
We saw further Red Grouse as we plodded on towards the car. One of
these, a hen, was very reluctant to move from where out had been
feeding on the road. John noticed that some kind soul had left a trail
of seed (or maybe they were not so kind - they shoot the grouse in that
area!). We managed to put up another game bird, a Pheasant, that sped
into the vegetation on the opposite slopes. Our ﬁnal picture of the day
was taken by John from the passenger seat of the car as we were leaving
the estate. A few bold Pheasants were loitering on and around the road,
just asking for their pictures to be taken (see also the
“Pictures of the Week”, below).
Despite the weather we were very satisﬁed with the sighting and
pictures. Once again we achieved our main goal - ﬁnding the Redpoll
ﬂock and more speciﬁcally the Coues Arctic Redpoll. Apple Lattice
Danish pastries washed down with strong tea ended the very enjoyable
afternoon. Hopes Reservour was new ground for us and we’ll
deﬁnitely return there.
Pictures of the Week
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