Feb 212024

Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF 

Modern sandstone building on a busy street corner under a blue sky.
The National Museum of Scotland
Wikimedia Commons

The National Museum of Scotland hosts a collection of birds donated by two of Scotland’s pioneering ornithologists, Evelyn V. Baxter (1879-1959) and Leonora J. Rintoul (1878-1953). Many birds in the collection come from research and observations around Edinburgh and the Fife coast, with some sites located within this tour such as the Isle of May. Collecting bird specimens was essential in the mid-18th to mid-20th to advance knowledge on avian diversity and differentiate one species of bird from another. Today the collection of around 1,200 bird skins donated to the museum by Baxter and Rintoul is still used for comparative studies.

Black and white photo of a woman with short hair wearing a plaid blazer and jewelry.
Dr. Evelyn Baxter
©Scottish Orinthologists’ Club, National Museum of Scotland
Black and white photo of a woman with short hair wearing a striped blazer and a brooch.
Dr. Leonora Rintoul
©Scottish Orinthologists’ Club, National Museum of Scotland

The two ornithologists are considered pioneers in Scotland as they were honorary members of the British Ornithological Union (BOU), founding members of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club in 1948, novel researchers on the migration of birds, and publishers of a book still considered today as a reference: The Birds of Scotland, their History, Distribution and Migration (1953). 

Brown bird specimen sample laying on its back identified with tan, handwritten tags.
A bird from the Baxter and Rintoul collection at the National Museum of Scotland
©National Museum of Scotland


National Museum of Scotland Website; The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club Website; Scottish Seabird Centre (‘Celebrating Women in Science’)

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Feb 212024

15 Old Church Lane, Duddingston, Edinburgh EH15 3PX 

Hill covered in green and orange foliage next to green loch waters.
Duddingston Loch
©Anne Burgess, Geograph

Located on the southern side of Holyrood Park, in the heart of Edinburgh, the Duddingston Loch is a great place to have a close encounter with several species of ducks and geese, and perhaps even spot some wintering migrants like the Great Northern Diver. It has been a Scottish Wildlife Trust bird sanctuary since 1925 and is home to breeding species of ducks such as the Canada goose, Pink-footed Goose, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebe, or passerines such as Reed Bunting or Willow Warbler.

Profile photo of a tall white, grey, and blue bird with a yellow beak and eye standing in grass.
A Grey Heron
©David Dixon, Geograph

Of particular note, the western end of the loch is the largest heronry in the Lothians. The Northern shore of the loch, accessible from the car park west of Duddingston Village, is the perfect place for a close encounter with the groups of ducks, geese, and swans breeding around the loch.

Profile photo of the head of a dark brown goose with a pink beak amidst lily pads.
A Pink-footed Goose
©Iwolfartist, Wikimedia Commons


Individual Researcher Walk; RSPB (Edinburgh Area Local Group); Scottish Wildlife Trust

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Feb 212024

57 Abbeyhill, Edinburgh EH8 8DZ 

Profile photo of a tan, black, and white bird, with red on the face and yellow on the wing, perched on a branch.
A European Goldfinch
©Francis C. Franklin, Wikimedia Commons

Just in front of the Holyrood Palace gardens, this nest box is among many in Edinburgh and may be easily missed as you walk to the nearby Holyrood Palace or Scottish Parliament. But take a break on your walk and take note! This is a great place to witness some garden birds such as the European goldfinch, the Bullfinch, the Robin, the Chaffinch or the Blue Tit. As you walk in Edinburgh, try to spot some of these garden birds. 

Profile photo of a navy and light blue bird with a salmon colored chest perched on a branch.
A male Bullfinch
©Francis C. Franklin, Wikimedia Commons


Individual Researcher Walk

Feb 212024

Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ 

Green hill with a path to a tall cement structure under a cloudy blue sky, with city views in the background.
The top of Blackford Hill
©Richard Webb, Geograph

The Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill Nature Reserve offers some characteristic birdwatching of the woodlands. You can try spotting birds flying from tree to tree, but the easier option is to carefully listen for the birds singing. Often, their songs are a way to signal and mark their territory or to call their partner. You can train your bird song ID skills with online resources such as the RSPB website but you can also you the Merlin Bird ID App, developed by the Cornell Lab for Ornithology.

A profile photo of a small chartreuse bird with black eyes perched on a branch against a blue sky.
A Greenfinch
©Charles J. Sharp, Wikimedia Commons

The woodlands of the reserve are home not only to passerines such as Tits, the Bullfinch, the Greenfinch, the Goldfinch, the Nuthatch, and the Goldcrest, but also birds of prey like the Sparrowhawk, Owls, Kestrels, and Buzzards. By the Blackford Pond, you may spot some swans, ducks, and gulls.


Individual Researcher Walk; RSPB (Edinburgh Area Local Group); Friends of the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill Local Nature Reserve

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Feb 212024

Flotterstone, Edinburgh, Penicuik EH26 0PR 

Hilly landscape with blue river, green trees, and cloudy sky.
View over Glencorse from Flotterstone
©Walkhighlands, Wikimedia Commons

Located south of Edinburgh, the Pentland Hills Regional Park is a good area to get a glimpse of the Scottish mountains wildlife without going to the Highlands. Along the hiking paths, especially from Flotterstone, you can hear – and perhaps see – some Pheasants, as well as the Red Grouse, an endemic species to the Scottish mountains. Along the few lochs and reservoirs in the park, such as Threpmuir, you can spot some hunting birds like the Cuckoo, Skylarks or Peregrine Falcons. You might also see waders breeding such as the Curlew and the Common Sandpiper. 

Profile photo of a brown bird with black eyes and red eyebrows standing in dry grass.
A Scottish Red Grouse
©MPF, Wikimedia Commons


Individual Researcher Walk; RSPB (Edinburgh Area Local Group)

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Jun 052023

45 Abercorn Terrace, Portobello, Edinburgh, EH15 2DG

Portobello Beach, looking south-east in the direction of Abercorn Terrace.

Joseph McLuskie, house painter and Edinburgh resident, became the first civilian air raid casualty on mainland Britain after being hit by a stray machine gun bullet whilst he was up a ladder in Portobello (16 October 1939). McLuskie also became the first civilian in Britain to receive compensation for an air raid injury. Portobello hosted the funeral for the two German pilots shot down in the raid on the Forth. On 20 October 1939, a Royal Air Force procession escorted their remains from St. Philip’s Church to Portobello Cemetery, Milton Road East. The coffins were draped with the flags of Nazi Germany and hundreds of people lined the route as a pipe band played ‘Over the Sea to Skye’. At the graveside the chaplain stated, ‘There is much to divide us in thought and sympathy from those around whose graves we this day stand as mourners. And yet we do sincerely mourn the sacrifice of life demanded of them, and of so many other young and gallant men of all nations unhappily involved in war’. This suggests that ideas of heroic masculinity and nobility attached to the wartime pilot could transcend national boundaries, even at the height of war.

Tip to see this location: look east from Edinburgh Castle or Calton Hill, or travel to Portobello to see Abercorn Terrace and Portobello Cemetery.

Sources: Daily Express, 13 December 1939, p. 1, The Scotsman, 17 October 1939, p. 8, The Scotsman, 21 October 1939, p. 7 .

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Jun 052023

Rosyth, Dumfermline, KY11

Rosyth in the distance, photographed from Calton Hill.

Scotland was an important centre of naval operations with the naval base at Rosyth mainly acting as a refitting and repairing yard for the Royal Navy. In October 1939, six British sailors killed in the German raid on the Firth of Forth were buried with full naval honours in Douglas Bank cemetery near Rosyth. Many people gathered outside the Dockyard gates to watch the funeral procession. Rosyth was also a base for part of the Norwegian Navy, underlining the close ties between Scotland and Norway during the war. In 1942, King Haakon of Norway opened Norway House at 37 Inverleith Place, Edinburgh to be used as a club for Norwegians for the duration of the conflict. On 11 May 1945, Crown Prince Olav sailed from Rosyth back to Oslo on the same ship, HMS Devonshire, which had first brought the Norwegian royal family and government to the UK in June 1941. The departure of the prince coincided with the arrival of German delegates from the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe in accordance with the unconditional surrender terms imposed by the Allied Supreme Commanders. They were received on board a British warship lying off Rosyth.

Tip to see this location: look north-west towards the Forth bridges from either Edinburgh Castle esplanade or Calton Hill.

Fighting Norwegians go back to Norway, 29 October 1944, Rosyth. © IWM A 26188.
HMS Duke of York Readies for Sea Trials. 24 October 1941, Rosyth. © IWM A 6027.
Rosyth in the distance, photographed from Edinburgh Castle.

An image of King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav abord HMS Glasgow can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-061-593&scache=3lrsr1bqcc&searchdb=scran

Sources: Craig Armstrong, Edinburgh at War, (2018), p. 175-6, ‘Norway House opened by King Haakon’ The Scotsman 2 November 1942, p. 3, ‘Prince Olav arrives in Norway’ The Scotsman 14 May 1945, p. 5, ‘Naval Funeral at Rosyth’ The Scotsman 21 October 1939, p. 7.

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Jun 052023

Mortonhall, Edinburgh, EH16 6UT

Remains of the Mortonhall army camp Nissan Huts.

Recent archaeological excavations undertaken on behalf of Scottish Water revealed that Mortonhall caravan park acted as an army camp during the war. Initially, in July 1940, the camp was occupied by the 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI), converting from tented to permanent accommodation in mid-1942. Following the departure of the DLI on Christmas Day 1942, it is believed that the Royal Signal Corps occupied the camp until the immediate postwar period. Archaeological finds included an ink bottle, a milk bottle, a sauce bottle, and stainless-steel knife blade. Researchers also believe that the site served as a postwar camp for displaced people from Eastern Europe, including Ukrainians and Poles. A tip to see this location: look south from Edinburgh Castle esplanade, the top of Calton Hill or Blackford Hill. Alternatively travel to Morton Hall to see the site in person. The camp can be accessed via a silver gate into the field off Mounthooly Loan, opposite King Malcolm Close.

Remains of the Mortonhall army camp – accessible via Mounthooly Loan.
Remains visible along the tree-line of the field.

Sources: The Excavation of a World War II Army Camp at Mortonhall, Edinburgh – Magnus Kirby, Alasdair Ross and Sue Anderson, Journal of Conflict Archaeology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May 2013), pp. 106-135; ‘How Our Armies are Housed’, The Scotsman 9 October 1942, p. 7

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Jun 032023

Leith Walk, EH6

View from the top of Leith Walk and Union Street, looking north towards Leith.

On the night of 10 June 1940, when Italy declared war on Britain, anti-Italian riots broke out in Edinburgh. These were concentrated in Leith where there was a significant Italian commercial presence of cafes and fish and chip shops. Afterwards, a local journalist reported that the main thoroughfares of Leith looked as if a series of heavy bombs had fallen. Shop windows were smashed and premises ransacked and looted. Hostile crowds of up to 2000 people gathered and the police reported that over 100 shops were attacked. The Scotsman pointed out that an Italian man whose premises were severely damaged had two sons on active service in the Black Watch. This incident illuminates the readiness of British society to identify and target the internal ‘other’ at times of national crisis.

An image of an Italian ice cream shop in Edinburgh, c. 1907, can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-003-554-C&scache=5nhz091lz7&searchdb=scran

Sources: Wendy Ugolini, Experiencing War as the ‘Enemy Other’ (2011), p. 123, ‘Italians Detained: Rioting During Night of Big Round Up’ The Scotsman 11 June 1940, p. 6.

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Jun 032023

20 Picardy Place, EH1 3JT

Site of 20 Picardy Place, former Italian Fascist Club, now a Holiday Inn.

20 Picardy Place was the site of the Italian Fascist Club, set up in 1923, as part of a global project to spread Fascist ideology beyond Italy’s borders. Although it functioned primarily as a social club, members were expected to swear an oath of allegiance to Mussolini and MI5 began routinely monitoring the club in the run up to the war. On 10 June 1940, when Italy declared war on Britain, the police occupied the premises and the press reported that the burning of papers caused a slight fire. Many of those involved with the club were deported as ‘enemy aliens’ on the Arandora Star and lost their lives when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat whilst en-route to Canada. See also the sculpture of Edinburgh artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, entitled Manuscript to Monte Cassino (1991), which pays homage to his Italian heritage and those lost on the Arandora Star. It is located outside St Mary’s Cathedral, Leith Street.

Manuscript of Monte Cassino – current location on Leith Street, outside St Mary’s Cathedral.

An image of The Manuscript of Monte Cassino from 1991 can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-095-300-C&searchdb=scran

Sources: ‘Italians Detained’ The Scotsman 11 June 1940, p. 6, Wendy Ugolini, Experiencing War as the ‘Enemy Other’ (2011), p.60.