Winter Scenes

Monumental Sunset 02
The Scott Monument, lower half already in shadow even in the mid afternoon as the sun is so low in the winter sky, the upper half basking the golden honey glowof the winter light.
Fortress of Winter 01
Across the end of December and the start of January the ice and snow came to Edinburgh. Walking in the frigid, sharp air, the winter sun so low in the sky it casts as much in the way of shadows as it does light, and that light is stretched out, golden-amber. This is the sort of thing you see just going for a stroll in this magnificent city in winter…. (as ever click the pics to see the full sized versions of my Flickr)
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The charming head gardner’s cottage in a wintry Princes Street Gardens, but these days better known as Great Aunt Lizzie’s, after being used as the location in a popular kid’s storytelling show.
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“I got you”. Friend comforting a chum as they walk along the snowy towpath of the Union Canal
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Warming coffee on a freezing day
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Winter promenading in Princes Street Gardens during the snowy weather
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A splash of colour against the white snow – normally I like to shoot in B&W for my people watching pics, but with so much monochrome caused by the snow I felt like switching to colour (especially with such vibrant colours contrasting against all the white)
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Some enjoy a stroll, the crisp snow making that satisfying crunch-crunch-crunch noise underfoot, others decide to sit, chat and warm up with hot cuppas in the Meadows
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In Edinburgh we have a vast extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat, rearing up right in the middle of our city – you can go hill-walking here without even leaving the centre of town! And what a backdrop it makes….
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Who cares about the cold, we’re happy!! Smiling couple walking along by the Union Canal
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Reading as the snow begins to fall once more
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Hot drinks on a cold day, from the floating cafe-barge, The Watershed, a regular haunt of mine on my walks, here serving up hot coffees and hot chocolate as the snow falls afresh
Ice Swan 01
One of the mute swans on the Union Canal, on the only small stretch of remaining free water, bordering the ice that covers most of the rest of the canal. The setting sun’s burnished colours can be seen reflected in the dusk waters
Ice Swan 02
And there she goes, raising herself out of the water and back onto the ice, as dusk falls along the canal
Sunset Along the Canal 01
Winter sunset along the Union Canal (frozen in the frigid temperatures), glimpsed between two tenement blocks on opposite sides of the Walker Bridge over the canal at Polwarth. My view on my walk home yesterday afternoon, breath misting in the cold air, crunch of ice underfoot, sounds of people enjoying a walk nearby, the soft calls of the mute swans, and these colours firing the skies. Glorious.
Sunset Along the Canal 02
Skeletal winter trees and chimneys silhoutted against a fiery sunset sky on a winter’s day.

The Swan Family

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.

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Swan Family 09

Vid - Swan Family

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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).

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Vid - Swans Feeding

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!)

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Sleeping on the grass by the side of the canal

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You can see how much larger they are by this point.

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Papa Swan shaking it all out.

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Quick close up portrait before they slipped back into the water after resting on the banking.

Vid - Swans Taking a Stroll

I love that slap-slap-slap of those big, webbed feet on the wet towpath!!!

Natural Wonders

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:

Swans 01

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Swans 02

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This lordly heron was on the Water of Leith, next to Murrayfield rugby stadium, surveying his kingdom:

The Lordly Heron Watches 01

The Lordly Heron Watches 03

And these goosanders were splashing around just on the other side of the river from the heron:

Goosanders 01

Goosanders 03

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:

Springtime in Scotland 01

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Springtime in Scotland 03

Night Moves

With the clocks going back it is darker earlier each evening here now. Some find this depressing, the long, dark nights. I quite like it, and it is a good chance for some night photography! Sometimes I am out with the tripod taking them properly, other times they are often improvised, taken on the way home from work when I have no tripod handy so I go handheld for rough shots or use things like railings and pillars to sit the camera on to steady it in lieu of the tripod. This is an improvised shot by the Union Canal, the steel skeleton of a new building under construction on one of the last brownfield sites left from the former Scottish and Newcastle Brewery complex which used to dominate this area for years.You can see the flat-topped railing I used to sit the camera on to steady it in the image:

Construction at Night

Another improvised shot on the same night by the Union Canal, bracing the camera against a mooring post to get this image of this houseboat at night – how cosy does it look against the cold, dark night? And below that a short from just a few feet further along looking to the old Leamington Lift Bridge.

Cosy Floating Home

Union Canal at Night

Rough handheld shot in lowlight mode at dusk in Bruntsfield, looking into the windows of Project Coffee – I think for this kind of pic the roughness of the freehand shot actually works:

Project Coffee at Dusk

Zebra crossing at night, Polwarth, another freehand shot walking home from work:

Night Crossing

Another handheld shot, this is the Telfer Subway at night:

Subway at NIght 02

Heading down through the lower part of the New Town to my book group, had been raining a little and the cobbled roads by Drummond Place had that glistening look to them under the street lights:

Drummond Place at Night

Walking through the old boneyard of Saint Cuthbert’s at night – peaceful very dark and quiet and yet only a few steps from busy Lothian Road and Princes Street, bustling with people and traffic, yet down here the quiet of old tombs, the crunch of fallen autumn leaves and so much darker than it looks in these pictures where I could do long exposures. The things you spot, different little realms just a few steps away from busy main streets, if you go a few steps off the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh:

The Path of Night Walks Through the Realm of the Dead

Saint Cuthberts at Night

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And look a the view of the Castle you get from the old graveyard:

Castle From the Churchyard 01

And here’s one taken with a new toy, a cheap LED light panel that fixes to the camera’s flash gun shoe – I turned it on and took a walk through the old graveyard near my flat. The middle is deliberately allowed to become overgrown to become a mini urban wildlife area, and during the day you can hear all sorts of sounds, from twigs snapping to branches rustling. At night you hear even more of it but can’t see the animals making them, just hear the sounds from the undergrowth between the older tombstones. In the darkness of the walled boneyard, you can imagine how creepy that feels, as if something is following you through the cemetery. For added effect I took these on the way home on Halloween:

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Halloween in the Boneyard 02

Swan Life

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:

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By June they were growing, the fluff moulting out and their grey feathers starting to appear, as they got larger:

The Swan Family 03

The Swan Family 01

The Swan Family 05

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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:

Feeding Time With the Swan Family 08

Feeding the Swan Family 06

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.

Family Outing 04

Family Outing Vid

New life

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.

Wonderful New Life 08

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…

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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.

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And there goes the whole family, off for a wee paddle down the canal after their rest!

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Growing…

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?

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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:

The Swan Family 05

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:

The Swan Family 06

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.

The Swan Family 08

The Swan Family 09

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So. Much. Fluffiness

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:

So Much Fluffiness 01

So Much Fluffiness 03

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…

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And here is one of the proud parents:

Proud parent 02

Proud parent 01

Spring has sprung

Out walking along the nearby Union Canal a few days ago, the first properly spring weekend of the year – we’ve had nice, bright days but usually still cold, this was sunny and also warm for the first time in the year. Beautiful light and the welcome return of colour to the world after the long, dark winter. It happens every year and yet each year it still seems like some wonderful magic as the dullness of winter suddenly gives way to a riot of vibrant colours:

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spring has sprung 01

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I have always found the way light reflects from water to be entrancing, and as I walked under one of the canal bridges the bright spring sunshine was bouncing off the water and creating a flickering, rippling dancing pattern of changing light on the stonework. I had taken a photo then thought it would be better in video mode, just to capture the quality of the patterns and movement. In still photo mode it looked better in monochrome (I’m not a fan of altering my pics in PhotoShop, so when you see a black and white photo from me, it means I shot it in B&W, not colour then change in PhotoShop. I know I could do it that way, but it feels better to me to shoot in B&W if a scene feels like it works better in mono, rather than just greyscale it afterwards in an editor), and fortunately the video mode in the new camera allows me to shoot in mono as well as colour, so I took a few seconds:

water under the bridge vid

Slide guitar on a spring evening

Walking home from work along the Union Canal a few days ago, gorgeous (if rather cool) spring evening. As I neared the lovely old Leamington Lift Bridge I could hear a guitar, and not just a guitar, but those long, slow, lazy, drawn-out notes you only get from playing slide. Crossed over the wee bridge and this chap was parked in one corner by the edge of the bridge, happily playing away as folks walked and jogged and cycled past on the towpath. Never seen anyone busking there before, there is a short subway underpass a few moments from this spot where musicians regularly play (the tunnel gives them some cool acoustics) but not here, so it was a rather nice surprise and brightened my amble home. Chatted with the guy for a moment or two, put a few shekels in his guitar case and took a couple of pics of him playing away in the evening light by the old canal:

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A home afloat

Dusk, walking home along the old Union Canal near where the huge Scottish & Newcastle Brewery used to dominate the area (now all gone, the large brownfield site being redeveloped, just as the canal has been already). As well as new wharfs and new buildings at the end of the canal and holiday barges (and even a floating restaurant barge) there are also folks living year round on barges, using them as house-boats, right in the centre of the city – how cosy do they look against the gathering chill of evening fall?