A Spring bird count is being carried out at the Newington Cemetery. This involves identifying, mainly through their singing, the territories of birds that are resident and probably nesting in the Cemetery.
The count was launched on 4th April by William Walker and Iain Wilson under the guidance of Stan da Prato of the Scottish Ornithological Club. Starting at 7am, the sun shone and there was little wind, giving ideal conditions. The stars of the show were the Wrens (6), Chiffchaffs (5) and Robins (4). We also heard a couple of Willow Warblers and a Blackcap, Blue, Coal and Great Tits, Bullfinches and Goldfinches, and single Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Chaffinches (more were present but silent). Two Woodpigeons were cooing, and pairs of Carrion Crows and Magpies were, regrettably, showing interest in building nests. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed and was later seen high in the large Austrian Pine by the roundel. Although there are several grey squirrels in the cemetery, only one was spotted during our visit.
Not surprisingly, most birds were singing in the northern and western parts of the cemetery where there is plenty of cover and opportunity for nesting. Numbers diminished as we walked towards the relatively bare southern end.
Weather permitting, there will be early morning visits to continue the bird count every week until early June.
It has not been possible to carry out the bird survey at the Newington Cemetery as regularly as had been hoped. However, a reasonably clear picture of the birdlife has emerged. Overall, the number and diversity of birds that visit and nest in this patch of land near the centre of Edinburgh is impressive.
Before going into detail, three observations are worth making. Firstly, birds use the Cemetery both as a place to visit and as a place to reside. Visitors may exceed residents and will include birds that are migrating, naturally nomadic, or come to the Cemetery from surrounding areas in search of food and shelter. Secondly, the heaviest concentration of birds is in the northern section where there is plenty of food, ground cover and opportunity to nest. The less tidy the better for our feathered friends! If a line is drawn across the Cemetery east-west from the war memorial, birdlife is plentiful above and comparatively scarce below it. Thirdly, birds have little respect for boundaries. Our survey should really include the adjacent railway line, allotments and gardens as well as the Cemetery itself. The territories of some birds will extend even further, possibly as far as Arthur’s Seat.
The following birds are definitely nesting in the Cemetery: Blackbird, Wren, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robin and Blue Tit (several pairs of each); Chiffchaff and Blackcap (probably two pairs each); Great Spotted Woodpecker (nesting in a walnut tree’s bough); and probably Great Tit and Wood Pigeon (hard to tell how many). Blue Tits already occupy one of the new nesting boxes. A Song Thrush sings in trees overhanging the wall along the railway line and will nest in the vicinity. Carrion Crows and Magpies (one pair of each?) nest either in the Cemetery or in gardens nearby. Although Goldcrests and Tree Creepers have been seen quite frequently, it is hard to tell if they are resident. There are more wrens present than any other species if singing is a reliable guide (as many as ten pairs?).
The following visitors have been seen and/or heard in the Cemetery: Bullfinch and Goldfinch, Long-Tailed and Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Willow Warbler, Pied Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Jackdaw and Tawny Owl. A Cuckoo stopped by recently! It was both seen and heard by Carolyn (when digging out hogweed) and heard by Iain and others living in the area. Other species will probably have come and gone unnoticed.
Species that one might expect to find in the Cemetery but are absent, as far as we can tell, are Greenfinch (numbers have been reduced everywhere by a virus) and Nuthatch (spreading from the south and already present north of Edinburgh). Sadly, the Waxwings that came to Scotland in large numbers last winter seem to have avoided the Cemetery, presumably because it lacks trees bearing their favourite berries. Spotted Flycatchers would probably have been present in times past. Unfortunately, they have disappeared from most parts of the UK thanks to pollution and the widespread use of chemicals that kill insects in towns and the countryside.