When

There's something to see every month.

January: a few trees have kept the last of their leaves (and the conifers are evergreen) but most look bare till you get close. Most are budding, though.

Even so, the lack of foliage allows the walker to see much that wasn't clearly visible before. Not just the more distant landscape that's hidden by summer foliage, but also the life of the trees themselves. It's far easier to spot dreys, nests and resting birds. 

This makes January one of the best months for bird spotting, and some birds come to the Meadows from northern climes in winter (yes there is somewhere dreicher than Scotland in the dark months), such as redwings: 


It's also a good time to see flocks (murmations) of subtly iridescent starlings



The terrible storms of January even have some compensations: it's this time of year you might be lucky enough to see spectacular nacreous clouds, high in the winter polar stratosphere. Sunrise and sunset are the times to look out for these.


February: Now the crocuses are opening, and a few trees are starting to flower (you have to look closely at the branches to spot this). In early February 2016, I took this picture of the tiny flowers on a Raywood Ash twig (at the south end of Middle Meadow Walk).


Many of the crocuses were planted by children from Sciennes Primary: the school has been doing this for decades. There are thousands growing in the verges across the park now.


And here and there the park sends up a snowdrop or two



March: There are no mad March hares duking it out round here, but this pair of dogs marked the first day of March 2016 with crazy joy.



Flowers are opening on the black cherry plums, the earliest flowering fruit trees in the park.


By the end of the month, they're in full bloom.


Unfurling horse chestnut buds are also starting to look spectacularly colourful.


By this time there are narcissi everywhere, and woodpigeons wallowing in them.


The first of the bumblebees are fluttering about and you may well see a queen drinking down nectar among the crocuses at this time of year. 



April:  During this month the sycamores are among the first trees to produce both leaves and hanging bunches of flowers, like lush green grapes. This is a particularly beautiful time of year for them, and the park sycamores and the park chaffinches seem to have an affinity. Maybe it's just because the old trees are so tall.



The maples are opening up too, showing their first flowers.



You'll start to see tiny purplish-red flowers on the ash trees.


You'll also see tiny black or red flowers, and then later the papery fruit pockets, on the elms. All of these are enlarged in these ash and elm photos: in real life they're minuscule. But if you get close to the trees, you'll find they're vibrant with hundreds of little flecks of colour.


The narcissi are still flowering, and the easiest time to get clear snaps of the white ones is in the last of the evening sunlight.


By the end of the month, the beech leaves are unfurled and on a warm sunny day you can imagine summer ahead.



May: If we're lucky, May is full of the promise of summer. May 2016 started off with a host of white daffodils still in bloom, set off here by the deepest red and soft green of a maple tree.




The famous avenues of Kanzan cherries were extraordinarily late to open and even at the beginning of May, there wasn't a full flower to be seen.


Only the bird cherries, wild cherries and some darker fruit trees were showing much sign of flowers.




June:
The foxglove trees come into flower, spectacularly and briefly


Purple catmint in the flower beds and wildflower patches attracts the bees and pretty hoverflies. This is a great time of year for looking for insects. The park has few midges or other biting beasties, so you can sit happily in the long grass and watch. If you're on Twitter or Facebook, #30DaysWild in June is a good excuse for this (if you need an excuse).


Fledgling birds are everywhere and very rarely need rescued, however deformed or vulnerable their twisted little legs look, but do move them carefully off the roads or pavements if you see one. Move them as little distance as you can: the parents will be nearby and worrying. Blackbirds in particular spend days on the ground at this time of year, but nonetheless they manage to survive.


The trees are in full dark leaf now, and although lovely to walk under on a rainy or a hot day, they're mostly a bit unexciting. It's a very good time for leaf identification. But July is when most of the tiny first fruits start appearing and making the trees intriguing again.

July:  The wonderful scent of lime blossom exudes from any lime trees in flower. Strangely, it's easier to smell at a distance than right under the tree. Don't miss it.


The wildflower patches, though partially in bloom throughout late spring, are now overwhelmed with colour and insect life. This is the month to learn wildflower ID.




But surprisingly many insects, such as ladybirds and little shield bugs, can be found on trees, especially the old elms. Below is two Red-Legged Shield Bugs mating.


The first fruits of many trees are fascinating when still green. Here for instance are minuscule acorns on Pedunculate Oak, spiky green horse chestnuts, wild cherry fruits, and the first hawthorn haws.


August: The trees are a bit boring this month: in full leaf but just soaking up the sun. This is the time to look down and around. There aren't many butterflies in the Meadows but this is a good month for spotting winged insects generally, such as this Green-Veined White:


And these elegant craneflies (daddy-long-legs):



 September: Look at the tops of the tree canopies: this is where you'll see the brightest colour. (That's one reason why so many autumn pics are shot from underneath; another is that leaves become partially translucent against the sun and the colours, far from being washed out, are glowing.)


Now begins what can be two long months of gorgeous rowan colour: when the leaves finally fall, the deep berries remain until taken as bird food in winter.



Insects feed on rowans too, such as this adult Hawthorn Shieldbug:


October: the wonderful autumn leaf displays continue, and if you go out just after the rain, you may have the park to yourself as sunlight makes the wet leaves and pathways glitter.

Take a wander off the park and walk along the east part of Warrender Park Road to see the pavement street trees: especially several beautiful thorns in their gorgeous autumn colour.



There's often a late heatwave at this time of year: winter hasn't started yet. The squirrels have moulted, so now is the time to see their warm winter coats and white fluffy chests.

By the end of the month, all that rain has brought out the colours in tree bark, making for some stunning contrasts with the now deep pools of autumn leaves underneath. Trunks that are normally pale grey and coated with a little lichen become deep green and almost black.


November: this month tends to be stormy, which makes walking grim, but also produces the changeable light conditions that can create gorgeous dark skies cut through by golden light.





December: in Edinburgh, this tends to be the month most likely to have crisp, sunny, still days (particularly around the Christmas week), perfect for walking if you're well wrapped up. There may be a respite from the autumn winds.

Some beeches, oaks and alders may still have their autumn leaves (alders will also have their cones) and now you have a chance to look closely at them without being blown over.

It's a great time for photographing silhouettes against colourful skies. This is the one time of year that dawn comes late enough that even slugabeds like me can get out to take photos of early morning mists and pastel sunrises.


Squirrels are still about (they don't hibernate) and may be spotted in groups around the feet of large trees.

Meanwhile the first winter birds are arriving, and in 2016 we had a brief rowan-stripping visit from those beautiful and sociable locusts, the waxwings. The Donald Trump crests are just one of their assets.


@WaxwingsUK on Twitter provides updates on their movements and it's well worth your effort if you're willing to stand under a couple of well-berried rowans waiting for the flocks. Their song sounds like sleigh bells.