My spot in Summer


Looking back through previous posts, I’ve commented on the state of my woodland spot just outside Edinburgh in Autumn and Spring, and now I have something to write about in Summer. Though I have officially moved out, I have returned to Edinburgh for a week before I go and teach on a field course in Oban for undergraduates.

I went out to my spot with none of my usual woodworking tools, because they’re all away in the new house, so I had to divert my attention to something different, though even with only a penknife I still managed to make a blank for a door knob for my new bedside table. The table came from a British Heart Foundation Shop and was VERY cheap, because the plastic knob had snapped off.

Now that it’s summer, the patch of woodland seems a lot closer than normal because of all the leaves. It drew my attention to the smaller saplings and trees which are shooting for the light. I noticed that most of the smaller trees are ash (Fraxinus excelsior), while many of the very old trees are silver birch (Betula pendula). A lot of the birches have started to die, especially down in the wetter bit at the bottom of the ridge, they stand for a long time, going soft and becoming riddled with bullet holes from wood-boring insects. I guess that observation fits with classic ideas of forest succession, but I wonder if that is the true driver of the apparent change in species composition.

Twice, while I was sitting in the sun, I heard taps like a river pebble being bounced off a larger rock. I think this must have been birds smacking snails off a rock to break open the shell, but it might have also been squirrels eating hazelnuts. I found a few middens of scraped out hazelnut shells, which the squirrels had obviously made. I found a few hazelnuts for myself to eat, but I don’t yet have the knack of identifying the ripeness of the nut before picking it. All the mushrooms I saw were dried up and dead, it’s the wrong time of year I imagine, but we’ve had such a hot summer, I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

The limb which fell off the oak tree on the ridge is truly dead now, but thankfully the tree is still going strong. Some of the smaller branches have lost their bark and the heartwood has started to turn dry, with a hollow sound when knocked.

One of the big ash trees near the cliff overlooking the river gorge has lots of woodpecker holes near the top where a part of the trunk has died and snapped off.

There are a lot of quite big and evil looking spiders in the sedge. They have plenty of mummified prey. I watched one disemboweling a fly it had hung from the bottom of its web. A harvestman got stuck in the web and it struggled for a long time to try and get free, it pulled off one of its own legs in the process.

I’m even more convinced that the track I use to come in and out of the woodland is just a very well trodden game track. The only tracks I’ve ever seen are from small deer and badgers. Also the way the path winds around obstacles low to the ground makes me think its not a human path, which would be more direct. I followed some of the tracks on the steep side of the ridge and found an active badger sett.