Saturday, 15 February 2014

Notes from a Wildlife Garden in Edinburgh January 31st 2014

The mild winter (so far) is probably the reason that we have not had the excitement round the bird feeders I have sometimes enjoyed describing. However, yesterday I was pleased to see a siskin on the feeder normally reserved for goldfinches. They are now well established visitors to gardens, so there is nothing rare about this; but they are a most neat and precise yellow and black. The goldfinches are plentiful, with so many of us neighbours feeding them, but they are by no means taken for granted. A pair of collared doves arrived yesterday as well. They have an irritating moaning sort of coo, but are very elegant. When I was a boy we never saw them. Now they are common. Soon the ivy berries will be attracting wood pigeons.

Another remarkable example of how bird populations and habits shift can be seen in Roseburn Park. I was there the other day with my grandson, feeding ducks. The mallards never got a look in, for at least ten goosanders, big, strong bullies with sharp, fish-catching beaks, elbowed them aside and snatched every crumb.

To all but an enthusiast my pond-life tank would be very dull at this time of year; but there are still leeches wriggling up and down like miniature water-snakes, and little water-fleas, the size of pin heads, bustling about. Every so often I top it up with another jar of pond water and one never quite knows what will appear. Asellus Aquaticus, which looks like an under-water woodlouse, is abundant in the pond.

Winter is a time for reading about gardening, not actually doing it. If you enjoy this column you will love “A Plank Bridge by a Pool” by Norman Thelwell. This famous cartoonist was able, in the 1960s, to buy some land in Hampshire and dig not a pond but a lake. He connected it to the river systems, stocked it with trout and rejoiced in the fish and birds and mammals that came onto his property. At least, he rejoiced in most of the wild-life, though the pike and cormorants that ate his fish, and the water-voles that undermined his banks could be an irritant. You can still buy the book fairly cheap second hand. It has beautiful pen-and-ink drawings on every page

Soon the days will get longer and there will be no excuse not to get back outside and hack back dead vegetation. I deliberately leave more stems and seed-heads than a conventional gardener might, in the hope that mini-beasts will find food and shelter. However, they need to go in the end or the wild garden would become a wilderness, which is not what you want in a small urban plot.

And finally, a New Year Resolution for you: Please do not use pesticides.

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