Walking in the Hermitage of Braid today, near the foot of Morningside (Miss Jean Brodie country). The trees are still mostly resplendent in their verdant coat of summer greenery, but Autumn, Autumn is whispering in Summer’s ear “my turn is coming….”
Just outside the Hermitage, over a tall wall of an expensive house, the branches of its trees were laden with the autumn bounty of apples. And me there without my scrumping ladder to grab any…
I normally keep an eye out for the regular breeding pair of swans we have on the nearby Union Canal, especially in spring when they have their cygnets. This year being furloughed for so long during Lockdown, with a single permitted daily exercise walk the only thing I could do outside the house, I had more of an opportunity to walk that way with the camera, and capture photos of them, from the small, fluffball stage of a couple of weeks old, to now, where they are rapidly growing to a similar size to their mother (Papa Swan is rather larger!), so I thought I would post a sequence of pics of this year’s cygnets to show how they have grown in the last few months.
This is our 2020 cygnets when very small – and supercute! I always love seeing them every year, but this year with the grim reality of Lockdown, the isolation and every threatening stress and depression, the magic and beauty of nature became all the more important, a wonderful escape as I took my once a day allowed exercise walk during the Lockdown (and of course where I go walking, the camera goes too).
My friend who runs the Union Canal Swans Twitter and Instagram is so known to the parent swans they let her feed their babies each year, the short video above is her feeding them some porridge (being Scottish swans they love a bit of porridge!)
Sleeping on the grass by the side of the canal
You can see how much larger they are by this point.
Papa Swan shaking it all out.
Quick close up portrait before they slipped back into the water after resting on the banking.
I love that slap-slap-slap of those big, webbed feet on the wet towpath!!!
On the daily permitted lockdown-era exercise walk I’ve been taking photos as I walk, mostly of the unsettlingly empty city streets. I’ll post some of those later, but for now, thinking we could all use something cheering, here are some wildlife photos I’ve taken on those walks. I spotted this pair of swans this evening on the Union Canal:
This lordly heron was on the Water of Leith, next to Murrayfield rugby stadium, surveying his kingdom:
And these goosanders were splashing around just on the other side of the river from the heron:
Meanwhile in an almost deserted Princes Street Gardens, the air is filled with the lovely scent of magnolias, while the cherry blossoms are becoming full and heavy:
Out for a walk with chum and his hounds, spotted this large heron on a pile of rocks in the River Almond at Cramond:
This was next to the old Fair a Far Mill by the weir on the Almond (or as I thought it looked like that day, the ruins of the Palace of Autumn Leaves):
The mill dates from the 1700s and was still operating into the late 1800s, and in later life became a metal working shop as well. Sadly many of the buildings along the river were destroyed in a huge flood during the 1930s, today it is a scenic ruin on the path by the Almond, a popular spot for walkers, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
I saw the Union Canal swan family on my walk home at the weekend. This year the usual mating couple of adult swans had nine cygnets, back in the early spring, and I have been taking photos of them and watching them over the last few months. Back in mid-May they were just these tiny little balls of adorable fluff:
By June they were growing, the fluff moulting out and their grey feathers starting to appear, as they got larger:
By August they had grown to around the same size as their mum and dad – here they are being hand-fed by the lady who runs the Union Canal Swans twitter feed which reports on them:
And now in September they have learned to fly, with most of the babies having now left the canal and gone off to find their own spot, probably one of the nearby lochs like those on Arthur’s Seat, where large groups of young swans stay until they mature (and the grey feathers go to white), then they find a mate and strike out to find their own spot, like their mum and dad have on the canal near me. I passed them at the weekend, and now there is only one cygnet still with the parents, the left have flown the nest. It’s remarkable to see them go from tiny creatures to these large, elegant birds taking wing in just a few months, a small miracle right here in the middle of the city, but at the same time it is also sad to see them leave.
Out walking along the nearby Union Canal, and at last managed to get some decent photos of the swans with this year’s cygnets. I’ve managed to bag pics of them in previous years (I wonder if it is the same swan couple who return to this area each year?), and had heard from friends that they and their babies were in the area, but each time I walked along that way I didn’t encounter them, until a few days ago.
The whole family was on the ramp by the towpath, across from the old boathouse at Harrison Park, some preening themselves while out of the water, others sleeping, while the mother and father swans kept guard so nobody got too close. I managed to take several photos, the cygnets still in the utterly adorable “fluffy” stage of down rather than full feathers yet, beautiful wee things. Amazing the magical sights you can find just a few moments from your home…
I’ve seen the swans and the ducks along this stretch of the canal with their babies a number of times over the years, but each spring it is still something special and quite wonderful to see, and with so much uncertainty and trouble in the world it’s no bad thing to be reminded of the magic and beauty of nature all around us.
And there goes the whole family, off for a wee paddle down the canal after their rest!
“Wherever you live on our planet, you are connected to the sea.”
This powerful and thoughtful documentary by Karina Holden (Magical Land of Oz) arrives at a very opportune time, as recent reports on the unbelievable amounts of plastic waste in our oceans is highlighted in reports and the media, and the Extinction Rebellion movement is pushing the environment further up the news and political agenda. Blue is a sort of ensemble documentary, taking in different aspects of human-made problems in different parts of our vast world oceans, with several guides, Lucas Handley, Madison Stewart, Philip Mango, Doctor Jennifer Lavers, Tim Silverwood, Mark Dia and veteran diver and campaigner for aquatic life, Valerie Taylor, taking us from bleached corals to the industrial slaughter of sharks to seabirds dying of malnutrition with stomachs full of small pieces of plastic and sea turtles dying a long, slow, lingering death caught in abandoned old fishing nets.
From that you may well infer that Blue is pretty heavy going, and in places you are correct – in fact there are moments here that are not just disturbing but sickening and horrific. Lavers performs an autopsy on a young fledgling, which died while still in the “fluffy” stage, its flight feathers not even fully formed. She strokes the tiny, vulnerable body very gently, her sorrow as yet another animal killed by our throwaway junk culture quite clear from her body language and how she handles the small body. When her autopsy reaches the stomach it crunches when pressed, because inside it is full of pieces of plastic, bits of old buttons, pen tops and more, which the chick’s parents had seen floating in the water, mistaken for food and taken back to feed the chick.
Stewart walks among Indonesian fisherman landing large numbers of sharks. She spots many species she has swum with back home in Australian waters, but these are all relatively small, because the fishermen are catching younger and younger sharks, and since this species is slow to mature and reach sexual reproduction levels, this over-fishing is especially devastating, giving little space for the species to recover, new sharks to mature. As the lifeless corpses are hauled into the sheds with hooks, they are lined up and then assaulted with knives, cutting off the fins – the mutilated remains of the bodies are then dumped back in the oceans, the fins sent off to richer markets, often China. It is to Stewart’s credit that while clearly revolted by this mass slaughter for so little (over seventy million sharks a year), she doesn’t blame the fisherman entirely, she is aware that most of these coastal villages are extremely poor, that they know the sea, they know they cannot continue like this, and yet if they don’t then they and their families will starve, they have nothing else but to harvest these creature’s fins to sell to richer markets.
Each of the experts and campaigners here shines a light on different aspects of how humanity is destroying the oceans, from industrialised fishing that exhausts the seas far beyond their ability to regenerate, to disgusting, huge amounts of plastic pollution (not just floating and looking bad but breaking into smaller pieces that life, from microscopic krill upwards eat, then they are eaten by larger fish, dolphins and whales and birds, moving this pollution up the food-chain – eventually to humans), to the increasing damage to delicate corals (and the great array of life they support around them) to the many old nets cut loose by fishermen around the world, drifting slowly in the currents and all-too often claiming more lives – an especially horrific scene shows a long string of nets, dotted with several bodies of seals, gently bobbing in the underwater current, dead. It’s sickening. And as one expert replies when asked who is responsible for all of this, we all are.
But no, this is not just about the horrors humans have inflicted – often not deliberately, just mindlessly, careless of the consequences of our actions – there is also a huge amount of beauty and even wonder to take in here too. There is some truly beautiful cinematography on offer in Blue, which stands in stark contrast to the vileness of the scenes of pollution or the large-scale slaughter. An early aerial shot shows clear water with moving dark patches – for a moment it looks like oil slicks, but then the dark patches move and it becomes clear these are huge shoals of fish, their movements synchronised, creating what looks from the air like dark moving blobs, then we are below the waves, the silvery, teeming balls of fish zipping and darting around Silverwood as he free-dives among them. In another scene he floats upside down as a whale floats above him, as if man and cetacean are observing one another peacefully. It’s stunningly beautiful, majestic, delivering a real sense of wonder – and reminding us what we’re fighting to save.
Blue is a mixture of the shocking and disturbing and even horrific contrasted with remarkable beauty and wonder, and for all the human-made disasters visited on the oceans – the seat of all life on our blue planet – there is a positive message here: we can slow then stop this brutal assault on the natural world (which is, in the long-term, an assault on ourselves too), we can undo some of the damage, protect others sites (the film highlights how some parts of the seas are now getting the protection national parks enjoy on land), and the film actively encourages the viewers to consider what we can all do as individuals to try and help.
There’s a fight going on here, and despite a depressing toll of awfulness, there is hope, there is still a chance, and Blue, for all the devastation in our oceans that it shows, retains a lot of positive energy and optimism that is infectious. More of us should be watching this and thinking about these issues, no matter how far from our own shores some of these events may be, as the opening quote reminds us, all our shores are connected to those great, globe-spanning tides on our vast world of water, and we all have a responsibility to it.
Blue is available now on digital on demand, and will be released on DVD on July 1st by Sparky Pictures Ltd.
Remember the tiny young cygnets I photographed back in early June, sleeping in their nest among the reeds by the side of the canal near my home?
I snapped them again about a month after that, swimming along the canal with their parents, now shedding the adorable fluffball look and starting to grow in their proper feathers:
That last one was early July. Tonight I saw the whole Swan Family again as I walked home alongside the canal, one parent and cygnets all snoozing by the side of the canal and on the towpath, while one of the parents kept a watchful eye open:
It’s as well one of the parents was on guard duty – most walkers, joggers and cyclists moved over onto the nearby grass to give the birds plenty of space, but one utter arsebag of a cyclist came charging at them full speed, with a “out my way” look on his face, he tried to zip past them only inches away. And the parent swan reared up, huge wings opened up, started hissing and lunged to peck his legs. Frightened the hell out of him, you better believe he finally swerved out the way then. Just pure stupidity and arrogance, he could have avoided them easily. Stupid thing to do, he could have harmed one of the swans, and swans can be quite bad tempered anyway if you get too close, but to do it to one guarding its children is just asking for the swan to have a go at you!
Frankly I’d have happily shoved him and his bike into the canal myself if I could. Anyway, most people passing were more considerate, gave them space and were clearly enjoying seeing such a lovely little natural bit of beauty and wonder. Quite lovely to just see things like this on your walk home in the middle of the city, from tiny, fluffy baby cygnets to rapidly growing youngsters, won’t be long before they are taking wing themselves.
Walking home a couple of weeks ago along the Union Canal at Fountainbridge I came across the lovely sight of Mr and Mrs Swan taking their new fledglings along for a wee paddle, a flotilla of fluffy cuteness:
Then this afternoon I found this little natural wonder: the fluffy cygnets all curled up together in their nest in some reeds by the edge of the canal, dozing in the warm afternoon sunlight as their parents floated in the water nearby, keeping an eye on their young charges. What a lovely little wonder to just come across…
And here is one of the proud parents: