In case you associate Leith with seagulls, seagulls and more seagulls, I want to put you straight. No fewer than 37 different types of bird have been spotted along The Shore, many of them living and feeding on the water.
As well as the usual quacky-ducks that follow you upstream begging for handouts, you’ll often see those elegant black and white tufted ducks with their bright yellow eyes and their wee coo’s-lick comb-overs.
There are cormorants too, bodies submerged, just the neck and beak up, like a periscope. When they go down searching for fish, they’ll travel 100 yards along the muddy bottom.
I saw one come up after a dive like this with a huge eel, half of it wrapped round the cormorant’s throat, the other half down its gullet. There was a two-minute wrestle on the surface until the eel was finally swallowed whole, slithering down like a strand of spaghetti.
Now and again, a big shoal of saltwater fish will swim through the lock gates at the docks and terns will follow them all the way up the Water Of Leith to the bridge at Sandport Place.
Folding their wings tight to their bodies, you’ll see them hurtle into a dive like jet fighters, exploding the water on impact and surfacing with wriggling silver in their beaks.
But my favourite Shore birds are the swans. They float on the black water like magnolia blossoms, necks poised in that graceful S-shape, cool and watchful, often with a string of grey-pink cygnets plootering along behind them.
Soon there will be seven more. On Easter Sunday, hard against the stone bulwark of the bridge we saw a huge round nest of twigs lined with moss and feathers. Snug in the middle were seven greeny-blue eggs and perched on the edge, preening herself like a proud mum was the parent bird, her mate keeping guard a few metres away. In England and Wales, according to some insane, ancient bye-law, all swans are the property of Her Majesty The Queen – as if she doesn’t own enough stuff already. But these are our swans and we need to look after them.
There were three slices of bread next to the eggs, no doubt chucked there by some well-meaning soul with mummy swan’s best interests at heart.
Bread is junk food for swans. It does them no good, although they don’t know that. When they fill up on Warburton’s Toasting Loaf, they don’t bother eating their normal diet of algae and aquatic plants.
Without those nutrients in their diet, they can get an illness known as angel wing. This can deform their wings, hampering the way they fly or stopping them flying altogether, which can be fatal. Fishermen need to be careful too. Discarded nylon fishing line often gets tangled round swans’ legs, necks and beaks. They get lead poisoning too, from eating those tiny fishing weights known as split-shot.
But the saddest thing of all was seeing this beautiful nest, built to hatch and protect a family of seven, now surrounded by a logjam of discarded plastic bottles and litter.
Ten steps away on the pavement was a litter-bin. But in this country, we don’t respect our environment. There is only one proven way to stop people dropping this kind of rubbish: a bottle deposit return scheme where there’s a surcharge of 10-20p on every drink you buy which you get back when you return the bottle.
Coca-Cola, who fought tooth and nail to dissuade the Scottish Government from introducing this measure, recently did a screeching U-turn. We hope AG Barr will fall into line too. You could collect a hundred empty Irn-Bru containers within the square mile where we live. There’s cross-party support for this legislation in Holyrood now. So come on Nicola, what’s stopping you? Get the finger oot.
Can Leithers clean up again?
I had tickets for the Hibs-Aberdeen Scottish Cup semi-final this Saturday (shame on the SFA for imposing a 12.15pm kick-off, forcing Aberdeen fans out their beds at 5am to make a day of it).
We’d have breakfast in the George Hotel, then get the train to Queen Street where we’d meet my son, up from London for the occasion.
It could never match the joy of last season’s cup final win, but I was looking forward to a grand day out, win or lose.
That was until I looked at our calendar and realised that it was the same day we’d set for Leithers Don’t Litter’s Big Spring Clean-Up. Earth Day, Saturday, April 22. I couldn’t be asking loads of Leithers to come out and help and then not turn up myself. So I’ll be visiting Leith Links this weekend, not Hampden Park.
If you fancy joining us, we’re meeting at Dock Place at 2pm. Gloves, litter-pickers and bin-bags will be provided. Let’s hope it’s not a rubbish day out for the Hibees.
Hardy Hibs head back to Scotland’s top flight
Last Saturday, after three long seasons in the Scottish Championship, the Hibees finally stumbled across the finish line, their full-backs leading the way with two goals from Darren MacGregor (who had promised himself he’d score to get the party started) and one from the sainted napper of Sir David Gray.
This time last year, I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears as the villainous Peter Houston and his Falkirk foot-soldiers put the boot into our hopes of an early escape back to the big time. The biggest cheer at Easter Road on Saturday was the one that greeted the full-time whistle at the Falkirk Stadium where Houston’s hoofballers could only manage a draw with St Mirren, guaranteeing Hibs’ promotion.
The Germans have a great word for the feeling I got as I imagined Peter Houston slumping in his seat like a deflating liferaft – Schadenfreude, taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.
It’s the same feeling I have as I see our noisy neighbours slither down the table towards the bottom of the Top Six, deeply unhappy with their new manager and the Anonymous Nine he brought in during the January transfer window.
It’s a good time to be a Hibby. We persevered and we’re enjoying our just rewards, with attendances averaging more than 15,000, another victory over the The Forces Of Maroonness and a fiery-tempered manager who’s put a bit of steel into our play.
It won’t last, of course. But let’s milk it while it does.