Our Expeditions: September 2021
Good Riddance 2020


Week ending: 19th September: Stevenston and Saltcoats

It was another Sunday where “West was best” in terms of the weather. It had been about 7 weeks since our last visit to Stevenston, so we decided to head for the Point, via Stevenston Morrisons of course for two of their fine breakfasts (9/10: excellent but -1 for inferior margarine).


At Stevenston Point the tide was high and there were familiar birds gathered on the rocks. These included Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers and Turnstones. I managed a snap of a young Cormorant splashing down just off the rocks.

Ringed Plover Oystercatcher
Turnstone Juvenile Cormorant

I noticed a few Yellow Fieldcap mushrooms near where I was standing and tried out the camera of my new iPhone 12 mini. I’m fairly satisfied with the results. We walked to the East side of the peninsula but it was quiet apart from the appearance of an inquisitive Rock Pipit. However, we got a big surprise on the West side since about 30 Golden Plovers were on shoreside rocks. We were careful not to get too close as they are very flighty. Our caution was a waste of effort because a very noisy high tech drone started flying at great speed above the Point, putting up most of the small waders as well as the Golden Plovers. The overzealous drone handler had obviously no concern for the well-being of birds.

Yellow Fieldcap Rock Pipit
Golden Plover

After the drone was packed away, a few birds returned to the rocks and I was pleased to discover of a few Sanderlings and a single Knot. Some Ringed Plovers also flew in from the West and settled beside the Sanderlings. One Common Gull, displaced by the influx, flew off rather disconsolately.

Sanderling Knot
Ringed Plover Common Gull

After an hour we relocated to Auchenharvie Golf Course where there is a pond  that often attracts birds of interest. On our walk from the car park we passed a Sea Buckthorn tree that was loaded with orange berries. As we approached the pond we could see a Grey Heron standing at the edge of a small island. John spotted a female Stonechat  on vegetation at the edge of the Loch. I carefully approached the bird and managed a couple of shots as it moved between the clumps of reeds.

Sea Buckthorn Grey Heron
Female Stonechat

Looking to the far side of the pond we couldn’t miss the large (50+) flock of Canada Geese on the waters to the front of the ruin of Auchenharvie Castle. A family of Mute Swans, two adults with five cygnets, was sitting by the shore. Other birds I photographed at the west side of the pond were Coot, Tufted Duck and Great Black-backed Gull.

Canada Geese
Juvenile Mute Swan Coot
Tufted Duck Great Black-backed Gull
 

As we walked back to the car and glanced again at the little island, John noticed a black and white duck that had been disturbed by the Heron. It is most probably a Mulard, a Moscovy X Mallard hybrid. We watched a Black-headed Gull and Common Gull pursue a young Herring Gull that was clutching a slice of bread in its beak. After a long chase the youngster outflew the chasers and made off with its prize.

Muscovy X Mallard Hybrid 1st Cycle Herring Gull

As we drove out of the golf club car park I noticed that there was a juvenile Grey Heron standing in the middle of a small pond. John thought it was dispatching a fish it had caught. Just beyond it there was a lovely Black-tailed Godwit probing the waters for invertebrates. Of course I stopped the car, got out and took a few pictures.

Juvenile Grey Heron Black-tailed Godwit

Next we drove the short distance to Salcoats harbour and walked along the harbour pier. I could see a large flock of Sanderling just below the sea wall on the opposite shore. They were, however spooked by a pair of children exploring the rocks. I photographed passing Gannets and I got a picture of a Turnstone that was standing at the pier-side. We eventually walked around the harbour and were delighted to find a small flock of Redshanks, Sanderling and Dunlin gathered on the rocks just below the sea wall. I managed to photograph them without putting them up.

Sanderling Gannet
Turnstone Redshank
Sanderling Dunlin

We also saw a Curlew that was hiding behind the large rocky outcrop on the west side of the harbour water. A well-lit Turnstone was picking its way across piles of seaweed, as were lots of Starlings, their iridescent plumage sparkling in the strong sunlight. Our final shot of the visit was of a scraggly Pied Wagtail, probably a female, one of many Pied Wagtails that were darting between the large boulders that line the harbour as they hunted flies.

Curlew Turnstone
Starling Female Pied Wagtail

 We were very fortunate to have had almost ideal lighting throughout our visit. It was Strawberry tarts once again that accompanied our strong tea (well, we do like them). The Golden Plovers were a delight to see, as were the close views of the waders right at the end. I’m hoping for sunny weather again next week. No surprise there then.


Week ending: 12 September: Pow Burn

A dull, grey day was predicted for the whole of Central Scotland with only the merest chance of sunny spells to the West. We decided therefore to head for the Ayrshire coast, to a place we last visited over two years ago, Pow Burn, near Prestwick.


We had nice breakfasts in Stewartfield Morrisons (8/10: good, but -2 for overcooked bacon and miniature slices of toast) before whizzing down the M77 to the site just before Prestwick Airport. After parking carefully on the St Andrews Caravan Park access road, it was a 50m walk to the bridge that took us to the southern side of the burn. On the walk we encountered the lateflowering plants, Common Toadflax and Soapwort. Bramble bushes were heavily laden with fruit but a few Bramble flowers were still in bloom. Yarrow , the very common white umbilifer was poking through the grassy path-side verges.

Common Toadflax Soapwort, Rosea Plena Variant
Bramble Yarrow

At the bridge over the Pow Burn we could see a scraggly Woodpigeon at the water’s edge. Nearby, a Carrion Crow was preening on wooden posts that were marked with St Andrew’s flags (probably related to the neighbouring St Andrews Caravan Park). An angry Curlew appeared on the scene, scaring away a younger Curlew that had been out of sight to us. A few Redshank were treading about in the shallows, occasionally making their shrill, piping calls.

Wood Pigeon Carrion Crow
Curlew Redshank

After leaving the bridge our strategy was to walk along the South-west side of the Burn. While that side is raised as much as 10m above the Burn, the problem was that much of the area was filled with impenetrable vegetation such as chest high grasses and Bramble bushes. However there were a few gaps that enabled us to gain access to clear viewing points. Before the first of these I photographed a tiny Nettle Tap Moth on Common Ragwort. John also found one of our favourite hoverflies, The Footballer, Helophilus pendulus. The Curlew we’d seen earlier was making its way downstream past a Black-headed Gull that was paddling in the water.

Common Nettle-tap Moth Helophilus pendulus
Curlew Black-headed Gull

At the next gap in the undergrowth we looked down on the Burn, which was wide like a pool. Oystercatchers were flying past and a few Teal were dabbling in the water. A large Grey Heron was on the opposite bank, but it flew off, possibly disturbed by one of the many aeroplanes approaching Prestwick Airport.

Oystercatcher Female Teal
Grey Heron

John alerted me to a Large White butterfly that eventually came to rest on a wide leaf. I determined it was a female due to the way it presented itself for any passing male. I accidentally disturbed it as I photographed it but it flew only a short distance away, allowing me the chance of a nice profile shot. John, who was spotting particularly well, found a Carder Bee on Ragwort flowers and then a newbie fly, Cynomya mortuorum nearby on the path.

Female Large White Butterfly
Common Carder Bumblebee Fly -Cynomya mortuorum

We passed a large patch of Canadian Goldenrod. Its vivid yellow flowers were attracting an assortment of insects. I snapped shots of a Honey Bee and the Greenbottle, Lucilia Caesar. I noticed a Brown-lipped Snail hiding on foliage beneath the flowers. Further along the path, as we neared the mouth of the Pow Burn where it flows into the sea, I noticed a fungus, which I think was a Fairy Ring Mushroom.

Honey Bee Fly - Lucilia caesar
Brown-lipped Snail Fairy Ring Mushroom

We scanned the seashore for birds but there were too many dog walkers to expect any success on that front. The birds that were there, mainly the usual gulls, were constantly on the move as they searched for a safe resting place.


We both agreed that the Pow Burn was, well, a bit on the quiet side from a bird-seeking point of view. But we moved away from the Burn on our return path parallel to the beach. We came upon a 100+ flock of the Thistle Finch, as it was once known, but is now commonly known as the Goldfinch . They were feeding on masses of seeding thistles. The flock contained a significant number of juveniles, so the birds were very flighty, flying away at the slightest perceived danger. However I did manage a few decent shots.

Goldfinch / Juvenile

We kept an eye on the seafront as we walked parallel to the dunes. My trusty spotter cried, “Incoming!” giving me time to photograph a sizeable flock of about forty passing Goosanders.


I snapped a gloomy shot of a Jackdaw as it flew over us, just as John found a pair of Stonechats that were high on grass stems, probably checking us out. On later inspection of my pictures I think there were three Stonechats , 2 adults and a juvenile.

Jackdaw Juvenile Stonechat
Stonechat Female Stonechat

 Just before we reached the road that would return us to the bridge, we had a last look over the vast beach towards Prestwick. As can be seen from the photo, the sky was overcast (but, typically, it cleared just as we were leaving).


 I noticed a large Buff-tailed Bumblebee, probably a queen, crawling laboriously up the sand dune. I offered it some drops of water on a small leaf and left it in peace. At the foot of the dune there were some late-flowering Field Bindweed, and I photographed a Common Drone Fly  on a Catsear bloom. Just before we reached the road there was a Prestwick Golf Club information board celebrating the club’s “Flora and Fauna ”. It drew attention to a nice variety of fauna but didn’t make any mention of its rich flora, which is a pity since within the area where the board was sited we saw beautiful Evening Primroses and some Sheepsbit. Back at the car we made our final sighting, a big Rabbit snoozing in a field.

Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee Field Bindweed
Common Dronefly Evening Primrose
Sheepsbit Rabbit

We didn’t see the sun (until we were on our way home!) but we certainly enjoyed the trip. We ended up with a fair variety of flora and fauna. We sipped our teas and tucked into large strawberry tarts (which needed spoons!) as we reflected on our favourite moments. Mine were the excitable Goldfinches and the watchful Stonechats. We should return to Pow Burn more often, preferably on sunnier days


Week ending: September 5th: Musselburgh


With a rainy weather front sneaking in from the West, we decided East was best this week. There were encouraging reports of bird activity at Musselburgh, so it was a no-brainer, Dalkeith Morrisons for brekkies (9.5/10: excellent; half off for slight overdone bacon), then we’d park at the Cadet Hall at the mouth of the Esk and then walk to the Scrapes.


When we arrived, the light was quite bright and improving, although , as can be seen from the view over Edinburgh, visibility was poor.


 The tide was coming in and there was a fine variety of birds getting pushed ever-closer to the shore by the advancing waters. Probably the most prominent of these were the Mute Swans, of which there were at least one hundred (a fraction of them can be seen above). There were also large numbers of Goosanders and Greylag Geese. There was a pretty light brown Greylag variant and I also noticed a Pink-footed Goose preening in the middle of the flock of Greylags. Maybe it was carrying an injury that prevented it from heading back north with its own flock.

Female Goosander Greylag Geese
Greylag Goose Pink-footed Goose

As we walked East along the “promenade” towards the Scrapes, birds were already flying from the shore and beating us to it. Impressive “squadrons” of Oystercatchers and Greylags sped past us. There were also a few Turnstones (heading West) and Curlew in the mix.

Oystercatcher Greylag Goose
Turnstone Curlew

A Shag also passed Westwards. The background sounds were provided mainly by Sandwich Terns as they searched and dived for fish. Gannets too were busy doing the same, sadly though they were about 500m from the shore. I think the main fish being hunted by the Gannets was Mackerel whose numbers peak around August. John emitted a joyous sound when he spotted a Common Seal  breaking the surface fairly near the sea wall.

Shag Sandwich Tern
Gannet Common Seal

Another fish-eater we witnessed were Razorbills, members of the Auk family. A parent bird was diving a few metres from the sea wall and emerging seconds later with what looked like Capelin fish, which the waiting hungry chick waiting quickly swallowed. We also saw a large flock of drake Eiders displaying plumages in various stages of development into their familiar white and black. Well away from the flock there was a solitary female Eider draped in the usual, some would say boring brown plumage.

Razorbill
Eclipse Eider Female Eider

On our way into the Scrapes we encountered a Carder Bee on some Crooked Thistles. We next positioned ourselves in the middle hide and proceeded to capture images of the variety of bird species on show, many of which, such as Curlew and Greylags, we saw flying East from the mouth of the Esk. E.g. I picked out the light brown Greylag. I managed a pleasing record shot of a Little Stint  that was active at the near edge of one of the furthest pools.

Carder Bee Curlew
Greylag Goose Little Stint

The pictures below show the masses of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits  that were present on the back pools.


There were a few Black-tailed Godwits  feeding in the pool in front of the hide. But most of the excitement was over the pool as we observed incoming flocks, such as Teal and Greylags. We even saw a passing Buzzard that was swiftly seen off by a few angry Crows. We moved to the left-hand hide and on the way I noticed a Ermine Moth caterpillar on the bark of a Silver Birch tree.

Black-tailed Godwit Teal
Teal Greylag Goose
Buzzard Ermine Moth Caterpillar

A pair of Magpies amused us for a bit until John spotted a Roe Deer lurking in the reeds. I next photographed a Female Pied Wagtail and then I noticed a pair of Common Snipe (linkH) sitting on grassy bank right in front of the hide on the near edge of the centre scrape. Their camouflage is so good I forgave myself for not seeing them sooner. On our way to the the right-hand hide John noticed a few Speckled Wood butterflies fluttering above the Bramble bushes.

Magpie Roe Deer
Female Wagtail Snipe
Snipe Speckled Wood Butterfly

We were pleased to see a pair of Ruff  probing the mud of the left hand scrape, and we were even more pleased when a hovering Kestrel appeared not far from the Ruff. It was escorted off the premises by some Crows but not before I had bagged a decent picture. I snapped a Lapwing and then one of three Grey Herons that were standing a the back of that scrape.

Ruff Kestrel
Lapwing Grey Heron

On our trek back along the “prom” we found that the Razorbills were no longer to be seen but they had been replaced by Common Guillemots, their Auk “cousins”. A fine-looking Black-headed Gull caught my eye as I followed the Guillemots. It was lit perfectly by the sun as it bobbed in the deep blue water. This was followed by a flypast of a juvenile Shelduck flying East. Further along the path there was a Silver Y Moth feeding on Red Clover and this was followed by a sighting of a Honey Bee on Tall Melilot. Our final pictures of the day were of a flock of Gadwall that flew rapidly overhead. At first I thought they were more Teal that we had seen earlier, but on inspection of the pictures I’m now sure they are Gadwall.

Common Guillemots Black-headed Gull
Juvenile Shelduck Silver Y Moth
Honey Bee Gadwall

Well we both thought that it had been a brilliant day - lots of sightings in lovely warm sunny weather. It fairly helped our teas and Strawberry Tarts go down a treat. Highlights for me were the Auks, particularly the Razorbills feeding fish to their chicks, and it was great to see Ruff, Little Stint and Kestrel. More of the same next week wherever we end up.



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