The Aberdeen Green Times recently published an interesting item drawing attention to urban species that turn up unexpectedly and create a bit of a surprise. The focus of their article was the water rail, but it could just as easily have been water vole, peregrine falcon or otter that captured the headlines in an urban setting somewhere in Scotland.
The water rail story was certainly a good news piece. The bird was found to have bred not too far from the Scottish Natural Heritage office location in Torry, Aberdeen. A notoriously secretive bird, the rails bred at the East Tullos Burn Area.
This was a good choice on the part of the birds as the East Tullos Burn Project has won a number of awards, including being a highly commended in the 2015 Nature of Scotland Awards. An Aberdeen City Council initiative, it is supported by organisations such as SEPA and the NELBAP and provides convenient, outdoor leisure space for the local community as well as local wildlife.
We tend to think of remote mountains, glens and sea cliffs as the natural home for our wildlife, but our urban greenspaces have much to offer if you take a little time to look and listen. Although, the East Tullos site sits cheek by jowl with the high rises of Balnagask, it is rich in wildlife.
Of course the water rails aren’t the only animals to make light of urban settings. In the East End of Glasgow a colony of water voles, one of our most threatened mammals, hit the headlines by setting up home in a site which isn’t obviously linked to any rivers. There are a few terrestrial water vole colonies in the Greater Glasgow area. They effectively live underground like moles, but with no open water anywhere nearby.
Dippers are a surprisingly urban species. Although we tend to associate them with mountain burns and the fast flowing salmon rivers they can thrive in our towns and cities if the water is clean enough and there is some kind of broken water to feed in. Last February on a visit to Glasgow one of our colleagues saw dippers at three spots along the River Kelvin between the Clyde and the Botanic Gardens. In two places there were pairs building nests – one bird giving excellent views as it tugged moss off the stones on the riverbank just behind Yorkhill Hospital. At the third spot, near the bandstand in Kelvingrove Park, a male was in full song perched on a stone in the middle of the river. They breed early and will often start singing in January and February so if you want an early reminder that spring really is on the way get down to your local fast flowing river and listen out for dippers
There is a saying about listening to the grass growing. Whilst not advocating that, it is interesting to note that the Botanical Society Scotland has a project called ‘Urban Flora of Scotland’ calling for members of the public to record plants growing in towns with a population greater than 1000. An example of an interesting plant to look for is the southern European grass ‘water bent’ (Polypogon viridis). The grass has turned up on pavements in Edinburgh and there is a supposition, still to be proved, that it might be growing in towns further north; perhaps one for the dedicated plant hunter. Due to their warmer climate and proximity to human activity some of our urban areas are the first places that some non-native species have been spotted.
In the city of Perth a pair of breeding peregrine falcons adopted a church spire as a crèche for their youngsters following successfully breeding around nearby Kinnoull Hill, whilst the Water of Leith running through Edinburgh has recently become noted for otter and kingfisher. A colleague enjoyed stunning (mid-day) views of a female otter on the Water Leith in the Colinton area just after Christmas – totally indifferent to human presence (and that of various large dogs close by).
Kingfishers are one of the species featured on the Friends of Perth Lade facebook page. This sight shows the sterling work being carried out by Perth citizens with a real sense of care for their urban greenspaces. You can follow their work @ https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfthePerthLade/
Heading back north to Aberdeen, one of the natural highlights of the Granite City are dolphins around the entrance to Aberdeen harbour. Mind you these spectacular animals don’t get things all their own way and have to vie for attention with long-tailed ducks and otters. Inverness of course has regular sightings of dolphins just at the mouth of the River Ness, indeed the dolphins are often visible from South Kessock, particularly when salmon are running.
You can read the Aberdeen Green Times @ http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/planning_environment/environmental/your_environment/cma_yourenviron_Greentimes.asp