In this guest post for GDCC, local resident Juliet Wilson shares the magic of discovering the drama and diversity of nature right on her doorstep during lockdown.
Please note that as this is a guest post, all views expressed are the sole responsibility of the author, and not Gorgie Dalry Community Council.
When lockdown was imposed and we were limited to walks very close to home in Edinburgh, my partner and I took the opportunity to explore local green-spaces. We chose Gorgie Dalry Community Park and the local graveyards – Dalry Cemetery and North Merchiston Cemetery. Neither of the cemeteries are currently used for burials (the most recent grave in each of them dates from around 2006) and are valued as wildlife havens.
Gorgie Dalry Community Park seems like little more than a path behind the local supermarket with children’s play-parks, some grass bordered by trees that line the nearby road and a grassy bank. However, former local resident, Bob Saville, who used to work for Wildlife Institute (now The Wildlife Information Centre) put a lot of work into cataloguing the wildlife, particularly insects, in the park. So we knew there would be plenty to see if we kept our eyes open.
Early in lockdown, the obvious wildlife in the park was the presence of waxwings (regular winter visitors to the area) in the trees, even on 9 April, which seems pretty late for these birds, who by then have normally returned to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.
As the weather got warmer, the insect life started to appear. We noticed chocolate mining bees around patches of bare soil in one of the grassy banks. These bees are named for their colour, they don’t (disappointingly) mine chocolate! They are solitary bees, nesting in tunnels rather than in hives, though these tunnels are often found close together in colonies.
After a few days, some smaller solitary bees started hanging around near the mining bees. We did some research and found out that these are nomad cuckoo bees, which parasitise the mining bees by laying their eggs in the same tunnels. As time went on, more and more nomad bees were hovering around the entrance to the mining bee colony. The mining bees had to brave their parasites to get into their own homes. One day, we saw a dark edged bee fly, which also parasitises solitary bees by laying eggs in the same tunnels. The first eggs laid deep down in the tunnels by the mining bees will eventually develop into mining bees but the later eggs will be eaten by the larvae of the cuckoo bees and it will be cuckoo bees that eventually emerge, unless of course those eggs in turn have been eaten by the larvae of the bee flies! It’s amazing to witness this drama happening!
Not far from the community park, Dalry Cemetery is a small graveyard. In the lower section, brambles grow profusely along with a variety of trees where lots of small birds nest. We’ve watched fledgling long tailed tits gathering in their family group, while robins, dunnocks, chiffchaffs and blackcaps have also raised young. We have also made friends with one specific robin that often stops to greet us. When the brambles were in bloom, they were buzzing with bees – at least three species of bumble bees plus one or two species of solitary bees. We’ve also recorded over 20 species of hoverflies here! There’s also a resident fox, though we’ve never yet met it.
North Merchiston Cemetery is a large cemetery, with lots of open space and some magnificent trees, including a few old silver birches. This is where we discovered green longhorn moths for the first time, these shiny moths have ridiculously long antennae and gather together in swarms to dance, which is amazing to see.
A pair of great spotted woodpeckers nest right by the side of one of the paths in this cemetery and it was wonderful to watch the youngster grow up. Sparrowhawks also nest here and were very noisy in the couple of weeks before the young fledged.
My most amazing wildlife encounter in this cemetery though came one day as I was watching a pair of blackbirds foraging alongside the path. Suddenly I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and turned slightly to see a stoat running towards me! It almost ran over my foot then over the path and away into the undergrowth! I’ve never seen it since, but like to think of it having a home somewhere in the cemetery.
Edinburgh based blogger, Juliet Wilson is a writer, conservation volunteer and adult education tutor (teaching creative writing and leading guided walks). See more of her work at Crafty Green Poet.