Wildlife

I took a long walk along the Water of Leith at the weekend with a chum. It’s always a delightful stroll – the river runs through the city, quiet paths, trees, running water, birdsong – essentially it offers up a countryside walk right in the city.

Heron On The Water Of Leith 01

Heron On The Water Of Leith 04

This weekend’s stroll came with the added bonus of seeing a lordly heron, overseeing its kingdom, standing by the weir just below the back entrance to the Gallery of Modern Art. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to see a heron on the river before, they normally stand stock-still, just watching everything. This time, however, it started walking around, with that peculiar, long-legged gait, so I snapped more photos and some video (thankful again that my old but serviceable camera has a decent, big zoom lens to get a bit closer)

Heron On The Water Of Leith 05

Vid - Heron on the Water of Leith 1

Vid - Heron on the Water of Leith 2

Signs of Spring

As April trundles on, we’ve had the usual mix of weather in Scotland, from beautiful, warm (ish), sunny spring days to howling wind, grey skies, rain and temeperatures suddenly dropping back to feel like February. We do get a variety here… Regardless, nature carries on to her own timetable, and there have been welcome signs that, despite bursts of colder weather, spring is settling in, and bringing with it a rebirth of colour.

Blooming 02

I loved these white Daffies with the yellow centre, catching the evening light in the old boneyard of Dalry Cemetery

Blooming 01
Sakura Time 02
The cherry blossoms are coming out too – although it varies all over the city. Some have had petals blooming for a couple of weeks or more, others are barely starting to bud, others again are in almost full bloom. It’s remarkable how much it varies across the town.

Sakura Time 01

Spring Petals 02

Fallen Bloom

I found this fallen bloom on the pavement, fallen from a vine running along a garden wall, covered in raindrops, the soft, silken petals in stark contrast to the hard, dark of the asphalt paving.

Floral Sunburst

The Daffies, as ever, provide a wonderful burst of colour after the long, dark, winter months, like miniature, floral sunbursts

(Nearly) White Christmas

Well, it wasn’t a White Christmas, but it was very nearly – this was the view from the parental mansion on December 26th:

Winter Hills 01

We have a great view of the vast, ancient geological vastness of the Campsie Fells, a volcanic formation (some of the dried lava flows on it are dated to around 300 million years ago, give or take a few millennia).

Winter Hills 02

Last colours of summer

The border areas along part of Harrison Park, close to the hedges, have been allowed to overgrow. The resulting long grasses have created a haven for a diverse number of colourful wildflowers, almost like a mini-Alpine meadow micro-enviroment.

Last Bursts of Summer's Colours 05

The result is a delightful, smile-inducing array for different and colourful blooms, nestled amid the long grass. A last burst of flowering colours before autumn slowly brings in the colder weather.

Last Bursts of Summer's Colours 04

As ever, click on the pics to see the larger versions on the Woolamaloo Flickr page (now north of 24, 000 photos on there!)

Last Bursts of Summer's Colours 02

Edinburgh International Film Festival 22 – Le Chêne (Heart of Oak)

EIFF 2022 – Le Chêne / Heart of Oak,
Directed by Laurent Charbonnier, Michel Seydoux

A huge hit in France (the programmer introducing it at the 75th Edinburgh International Film Festival told the audience it had sold over half a million tickets at the box office), Le Chêne – titled Heart of Oak for the English-language market – the film made its UK debut at the EIFF this week. And while it is a French film, worry not if you are no good with subtitled films, as this is a “silent” documentary – there is no narrator or dialogue or talking heads experts. Instead the cinematography and the soundscape carry us through the entire film, essentially a year in the life of a huge, two hundred year old oak tree, and all the myriad varieties of life it supports on it, in it, below it and around it, from insects and fungi and wood mice in the roots to birds and squirrels in the branches, deer and boar around it, through the four seasons.

We open with a beautiful aerial shot over a forest, slowly descending through the canopy into a small clearing around a vast, gnarled old oak (the descent is so slow and gentle it gave me the impression of coming down gently in a hot air balloon). It’s spring/summer and the foliage is in full greenery, the huge, thick branches of this old tree covered in leaves, and there’s that marvellous sound of the breeze moving through the branches and leaves (isn’t that just one of the nicest sounds in the world?).

As the camera moves circle the trees, top, bottom and in-between and around, the camera lingering over the fantastically gnarled, tough bark on this regal tree, and then as we get closer in we see the community of life it sustains. Tiny acorn weevils with their long proboscis giving them a distinctive look, a red squirrel darting around, seemingly defying gravity as it pauses on a vertical climb, face down, leaping and jinking, constantly on guard, looking around for opportunity and danger.

Tiny wood mice who have a colony in tunnels among the roots cautiously stick their heads out while a barn owl scans the area from a high branch, looking for just such an excursion, a mating pair of birds make their home in the oak’s branches, sharing them with the squirrel, the editing of the footage of each giving the distinct impression of an almost human neighbour feeling – not someone you know personally, but like someone whose face you recognise, know they live in your area, the sort you nod to at the bus stop or in the shop. The much larger animals of the forest such as the boars and deer forage around the trunk, the boars using its rough surface for a good scratch while they’re looking endlessly for food.

We move through each of the seasons, watching the animals fight for survival, a whole ecosphere based around this tree, from fungal connections in the earth among its deep roots to the tops of its branches; it is, essentially its own little world that we are visiting here. We see the excitement when the acorns start to drop, especially for the resident squirrel, leaping around to try and grab several then stash them – one it will bury and forget, and by the time the next spring rolls around we wee that acorn has started a small root system below the earth, and a tiny trunk – more like a small branch with a few leaves – above ground; the life cycle continuing.

We see the creature and the tree weather the worst of the winter, the preparation for spring, new births, screeching baby birds in a new nest demanding food, the acorn weevils, all died off at the end of the summer and autumn, have implanted embryos into some acorns, which finally wriggle out, burrowing into the ground below to mature into the next season’s group of insects. The whole natural cycle rolls past us in simply stunning footage – including some clever techniques to let us see below the ground, for instance into the mice nest – or to flip momentarily to give an animal’s perspective (as a hawk hunts one of our mating pair of birds from the tree we see the exhilarating rush of the chase from its point of view for a moment.

I think the only main issue I had with this was that the editors seem to have chosen to avoid showing much in the way of any creature being killed – we see a number of attacks and hunts from and on various creatures, but other than a kingfisher catching a small fish, none of the hunts we see are successful. While I know there’s a high failure rate for even the best predators in a hunt, after several of these on screen it felt more like this was a deliberate choice by the film-makers.

That’s a minor quibble though – in truth this is a film to cherish in our current world of endless worries and fears over environmental collapse, financial hardship, warfare. Here’s a reminder to take time out, listen to the sound of branches moving in the wind, remember that the whole natural world goes on regardless of how buried under stress and worry we are (Lockdown reminded me of that very much, walking in a deserted city and hearing the spring birds calling out so clearly with no traffic to drown them out, and it lifted my spirits). This is like taking a “forest bath”, a cleanser, a reminder of the sheer majesty of our natural world, the simple beauty of a tree, the entire network of life it sustains around and on it. It’s a movie to see on the big screen, and let the visual and sounds immerse you into this tribute to the majesty of our natural world.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Fun on the Water

Sitting on a bench by the side of the Union Canal on a very fine evening, reading. Hear some splashing, look over and see a kayaker coming along, enjoying the spring evening. Managed to grab the camera for some very quick pics as he came towards where I was, then turned as he passed and saw a traditional “Indian” style canoe coming the other way.

Evening Kayaking 01

Evening Kayaking 02

They both moved over to give each other plenty of space, passing with friendly smiles and waves, all enjoying a very welcome evening of warm sunlight after several days of rain and wind.

Evening Kayaking 03

And while we’re on the canal theme, here’s a nice bookend to my recent photos of this year’s new cygnets – this year’s new ducklings on the Union Canal! All looking unbelievably cute and fluffy, also looks like I caught one of them here mid-quack!

Little Quackers 05

Little Quackers 03

As ever, click on the pics to see the much larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr site (now over 24, 000 photos!)

Little Quackers 01

New Life

We’ve reached that time of year when something rather wonderful happens: I heard a few weeks back that our resident breeding swan pair on the Union Canal had nested, laid their eggs, then hatched them. The main nest is along near Wester Hailes, but the pair claim a roughly five mile stretch from there right into the city centre where the canal ends at Lochrin Basin.

Swan Family 05

Well, as you can see from the photos taken on a canalside stroll, the we cygnets are now strong enough to start swimming up and down that range of canal with Mama and Papa Swan keeping a close eye on them. I’ve been waiting for them to be strong enough to start going up and down the canal, and had heard from a friend they were around our area the previous night. I went for a stroll the next day, not really expecting to see them, assuming they would have drifted back down the way before I was there. I had reached the final section of canal and given up on a chance of seeing them – with them moving up and down several miles, it is pure luck if I happen to be walking by a section they are in at the right time.

Swan Family 08

I paused at the Watershed, the floating cafe-barge moored by the old Leamington Lift Bridge, and as I was waiting for my coffee, I happened to look over – and there they were, the Swan Family, happily bobbing around in the water right behind the barge. Just when I had pretty much given up for that day and assumed I had missed them, that they had already headed back down the canal, there they were. I’ve taken photos of their broods each year going back quite some years now, but it still always makes my heart sing to see them with their new cygnets, especially when they are at this size, just adorable, fluffy, beautiful little creatures, sticking close to Mum and Dad.

Swan Family 010

Swan Family 011

Swan Family 014

Swan Family 015

I’m so lucky to have this just a few moments walk from my flat, and right in the middle of the city. Always cheers me to see this little annual miracle of nature, then to try and follow them through the next few months, taking more photos of them as they grow into adolescents, before one by one they fly away to start their own lives. So many people out walking or cycling by the canal stopping to admire them, it really does brighten the world for many of us.

Swan Family 020

They swam back along a little further, then up through the reeds onto the opposite banking, a spot the mother and father know well and often use as a temporary nest for the little ones to rest for a while before heading back along to the main nest. As ever, click on the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr.

Vid - Swan Family 01

Vid - Swan Family 02

Autumn scenes

Autumnal scenes grabbed by my camera this year:

Conker Season 01

Conkers hanging heavy on the bough by the old boneyard on Dalry Road

Morning Light

Morning light illuminating leaves on my walk to work

Crab Apple

Autumnal crab apples

Autumn On The Links

Autumn colours on Bruntsfield Links

(as ever click on the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr)

Autumn calls

Despite some sudden bursts of very fine weather, summer is most certainly giving ground to the approach of autumn here now. Even if we get a warm, sunny day, the shadows are longer, and the sun sets earlier each evening, and when it does the temperature drops a lot quicker than it did in the middle of summer, while the early mornings are noticably cooler. But the light, on a sunny day at least, is now moving towards that glorious golden quality, while the leaves are turning on the trees, right now at that beautiful mix of still some leafy green mixed with increasing golds, reds and browns, and every day there are more fallen leaves along the pavements (yes, I have indulged in my first kicking a pile of dry autumn leaves into the air of the year, it has to be done).

Conker Season 03
The chestnuts are now large on the old tree leaning over the wall of the nearby boneyard, the boughs heavy, the conkers about to fall to the ground below (sadly the days when schoolkids grabbed them to play conkers with seems to be long gone, but it’s still nice to see this annual sight).

Autumn Apples
Autumnal apples approaching full size, hanging over a garden wall on my route home from work, sparking a sudden childish desire to go scrumping. And yes, I did say that partly because I wanted an excuse to use the word “scrumping”. As ever, click on the pics to see the lager versions on my Flickr site.