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First bat of 2020

First bat of 2020

Just seen the first bat of 2020, probably a Pipistrellus pipistrellus or a Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications).

I take the bat sighting as a sign of the coming summer. This year is later than most of the years I have recorded when the first bat has been sighted at the end of March. The next thing to look out for is the first swifts returning to nest in Edinburgh.

First Bat of year 2015

First Bat of year 2015

There has just been a shout of Die Fledermaus from the kitchen, nothing to do with the opera by younger Johann Strauss, but Ulli was on the phone to her mother and spotted the first bat of 2015. It was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). It was earlier than last year, which was on the 15th April, but not as early as some years, 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009.

It is great to have such opportunities to see wild life in the centre of a city, which one of the reasons I so enjoy living in Edinburgh.

First bat of 2014

First bat of 2014

This evening I saw the first bat of 2014, it was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). Interestingly this sighting is later than in the last two years, it was 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009. Maybe I haven’t been looking out enough.

I take the bat sighting as a sign of the coming summer, a couple of times recently I thought I heard swifts overhead, but have yet to see any, so I can’t confirm their presence just yet.

Update 19-4-2014: Noticed today the swift calls I have been hearing aren’t actually from swifts, they were from starlings mimicking swifts, which is a new one on me. I have heard starlings mimicking a range of other sounds before, including a car alarm.

A short walk on the Emperor’s Chair

A short walk on the Emperor’s Chair

Der Kaiserstuhl, literally the Emperor’s Chair, a range of hills in south west Germany, is the remains of an extinct volcano rising out of the Upper Rhine Plain like an island, and a fine place to go for a walk. The place got its name from Otto III who held a court nearby in 994. At this time he was merely King of Germany and the hills were given the name Königsstuhl, the King’s Chair. Some time after Otto had himself made ruler of the Holy Roman Empire in 996, the name was changed to Kaiserstuhl, although it is not clear if this happened before his death in 1002 (the change in name may not have occurred until the 13th century).

Walking up the Kaiserstuhl

Late summer shadows on the Kaiserstuhl

The hills today are a fascinating mix of vineyards, woodland and high hay meadows, with a near Mediterranean climate. This leads to it having an interesting flora and fauna, a number of the species living here have disjunct distributions, meaning that they are away from their normal areas. One such species is the European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) which normally only found east of the Alps, sadly we didn’t get to see any. The Kaiserstuhl is also famous for its orchid flora with over 30 different species having been recorded there. However, as we were visiting in September, we didn’t see any of these either. We did get to see a range of invertebrates, including Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) for which the Kaiserstuhl is well known, and a range of other bugs and butterflies.

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)
Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

Streifenwanze or Minstrel Bug (Graphosoma lineatum) on the Kaiserstuhl
Streifenwanze or Minstrel Bug (Graphosoma lineatum)

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) on the Kaiserstuhl
Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon)

Knappe (Lygaeus saxatilis)
Knappe (Lygaeus saxatilis)

Berger's Clouded Yellow (Colias alfacariensis)
Berger’s Clouded Yellow (Colias alfacariensis)

Euplagia quadripunctaria
Russischer Bär or Jersey Tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

There where also a number of snails (as yet unidentified) hanging from grass stalks, I am told they do this to avoid the midday heat.

Snail on grass

Snail on grass

shades of autumn

The floral highlight we did come across was Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale).
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) on the Kaiserstuhl

After the hay cut

Given that this is a wine producing area, after the walk you might suppose that we repaired to a hostelry to sample the local produce, but we didn’t. I once asked a German friend (who harks from the Mosel region) and who is something of a connoisseur to recommend a good German wine. His reply was that there was no such thing and that I should stick with French, Italian and Austrian wines, advice I have followed since (when in Germany). So instead we adjourned to sample the café culture of Freiburg, a visit I touched on in the last post, but I feel that is for yet another post.

First bats of the year

First bats of the year

I have just seen the first bats of the year, two of them flying around at the back of my flat. Unfortunately it was just too dark for taking photos. It was flying in roughly clockwise circles at about 12 to 15 m above the ground, actively hunting, wing span approximately 20 to 25 cm, the body appeared dark, I didn’t see any light patches on the body. First seen at 19:25. It was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus.

Strange voice in the early morning

Strange voice in the early morning

It is strange how some noises can rouse you from a deep sleep to full alertness in a moment. This morning I heard one such noise, a strange voice at about 03:30, the odd thing about this one is that it was it was a blackbird (Turdus merula) singing. At this time of year in Edinburgh the sun rises at 04:26, but it starts to get light about an hour earlier and so that’s when the dawn chorus starts.

Normally the dawn chorus doesn’t bother me too much it is a daily event in spring and early summer, I am used to it and if it does wake me I use roll over and go back to sleep. This time was different the blackbird singing was a stranger, it wasn’t one of the locals which I was used to. The song was less complex and had slightly different tone, possible a juvenile male trying out his voice for the first time or maybe a vagrant who has moved in from another area, although it is rather early in the year for such migrations. Either way I lay and listened to it for half and hour or so before going back to sleep.

Great Grey Shrike in Edinburgh?

Great Grey Shrike in Edinburgh?

This morning, sitting at breakfast looking out at a dreich and misty Arthur’s Seat, I started scanning the trees nearby, just as something to do. Over the last few years we have seen a wide range of birds around this area, Ulli, seeing me looking commented that we haven’t seen anything unusual recently. Just after she said it I noticed something odd in the top of one of the limes (Tilia Sp.), so I dug out a pair of bins and took a closer look. At first we were both puzzled and took some notes and after a wee bit of searching around we able to identify it as a Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor), not your common or garden urban bird, sadly it is too dull a day for photos.

Update:

A couple of hours later there were a number of Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) moving though and I started to wonder if I had made a mistake about the Shrike, but am not so sure, it looked bigger than a tit mouse.

Long-tailed tit 2
Either way this is definitely a Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus).

New Edinburgh Wildlife Website

New Edinburgh Wildlife Website

An Edinburgh lawyer, Anthony Robson, has started a new website listing wildlife sightings in Edinburgh. The web site came about because he had taken a load of wildlife photos over the last year or so, and couldn’t find an on-line ‘this is the wildlife of Edinburgh’ resource. So he decided create one and then get people to send in photos and sightings of their own to create a map of wildlife in the city. Great idea Anth, I hope it will be a great success.

The web site EdinburghWildlife.com can be found here.

First bird to sing

First bird to sing

I didn’t sleep well last night, no particular reason it just happens sometimes, one consequence of this was that I was awake when the first bird started to sing. At 03:27 a robin (Erithacus rubecula) started singing followed by another robin at 03:34, the first blackbird (Turdus merula) to sing a little after 04:00 (did quite catch the time). That last one I identified was a chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) at 04:57, after that I drifted off to sleep until my alarm went off just before 07:00. The thing that strikes me most is that the chaffinch was the closes one to the sun rise at 04:53, it interesting that they started so early, by the time my alarm went off most of the singing had stopped. Could it be that they start early to avoid competing with the noise of the rush hour traffic?

Evicting squatters

Evicting squatters

Just recently I have been watching, with some amusement, a battle between a pair of property developers and a number of prospective but unwanted tenants. This highly desirable city centre property is a renovation of an older property, but which has taken a bit of a battering in recent time. I am keen to see the property developers succeed in their endeavours as I think they will be a good influence on the neighbourhood.

At this point I should, perhaps, point out that the property developers in question are a pair of crows (Corvus corone corone). The property is a nest high in a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) which they built last year. In previous years they have nested in Elm (Ulmus procera yes we do still have elms in Edinburgh) further away from my view point at the kitchen window, so this was an improvement as it gives me a better view. Fast forward to this year, the crows have recently set about rebuilding their nest after the buffeting of the winter storms. The fun starts when they are away from the nest, as there have been visits from a number of prospective squatters. So far there have been a pair of jackdaws (Corvus monedula) who turned up the other day, had a look around then went away again. They came back for another look today and were a wee bit surprised to find a woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) trying the nest out for size. The jackdaws weren’t sure what to do and circled around for a bit, hopping closer branch by branch. At first the woody ignored them, but as they got closer it puffed out its feathers and tried to be scary. At this point the jackdaws decided to make strategic retreat. This left the woody sitting looking a bit smug at having stared down the jackdaws, when it suddenly realised why the jackdaws had made such a hasty retreat. One of the crows had just returned and was not best pleased to find an interloper in the nest. The woody dived out of the nest, closely followed by the crow which took a few feathers off the woody’s neck as a reminder not to come back.

Later, while the crows were away again, a grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) turned up to scope out the nest as a potential drey. At least that is why I think it was taking an interest, as it is a wee bit early in the year for nest robbing. Last year a grey squirrel did attempt to rob the crows’ eggs, but was seen off in no uncertain terms. One of the crows chased the squirrel out of the tree and over a wall. The squirrel then climbed another tree, circling round the trunk trying to hide, but the crow was wise to that move and continued the attack, forcing the squirrel out of the tree and back onto open ground. It then pursued it over another wall out on to a busy road, finally leaving the squirrel to play with the traffic. At this point, the crow ceased the attack and returned to the nest.

The reason I like having the crows nesting nearby is not just that they know how to keep the thieving squirrels in order. It is because they are very good at keeping other unwanted visitors away as well, namely gulls. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of gulls breading in the city, mainly Herring (Larus argentatus) and Lesser Black-backed (L. fuscus) gulls, neither of these species make good neighbours. Fortunately, the crows won’t tolerate these scavenging pests in their territory, so we are able to sleep soundly at night, free of the raucous cry of the gulls. There are gulls thinking of nesting somewhere nearby (but not as I say on mine or the neighbouring tenement), as I saw as couple trying to mob a buzzard (Buteo buteo) the other day. The buzzard did its best to ignore them and continued climbing on a thermal until it could head off over Holyrood Park in search of prey.

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