Our Expeditions: June 2022
Good Riddance 2020
and 2021

Week ending: 19th June: Musselburgh

The weather prediction for Scottish central belt was similar throughout: mild with sunny intervals. I thought then that I would try Musselburgh where there had been recent sightings of an immature King Eider . As I headed there, a tweet announced that it was in the mouth of the Esk only one hour before so I went straight there, forgoing my usual Morrisons breakfast.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

When I arrived the tide was very low and the nearest Eiders I could see were at least 300m out.


Undaunted, I set off along the seawall towards the Scrapes to see what I could see. I got off to a nice start when I snapped a Goldfinch foraging on the damp banks of the Eskmouth. This was followed by a shot of some Common Mallow growing by the pathside. Of course there were the usual Herring Gulls on the shore, but I am one of the few people who loves gulls so I never tire of photographing them.

Goldfinch Common Mallow
Herring Gull 1st Cycle Herring Gull

Another under-appreciated bird much in evidence was the Mallard. They were very active, splashing about, quarrelling and flying in and out. One of the photographs below shows a drake in eclipse plumage. The other “usual suspects” I saw were Oystercatchers and Carrion Crows, all taking advantage of the recently exposed sands and pools after the tidal waters had receded.

Female Mallard Mallard in Eclipse
Oystercatcher Carrion Crow

Wildflowers I encountered along the path made up for the rather empty seascape. Dandelions were numerous and some of them were attracting insects, like the one below, hosting the Sawfly, Tenthredo arcuata .Most prominent were “bushes” of Tall Melilot. I also came across two types of Poppy, the Red and the Opium.

Sawfly Tenthredo Arcuata Tall Melilot
Red Poppy Opium Poppy

As I neared the side path that would take me to the Scrapes, a Skylark suddenly ascended from the tall grass, providing me with an excellent opportunity for a flight shot. From the side path I could hear a Reed Bunting calling, and I soon spotted it singing atop a fence post. As I entered the reserve, the footpath to the first hide yielded some nice shots of Hedgerow Cranesbill, followed by a shot of a resting Speckled Wood  butterfly.

Skylark Reed Bunting
Hedgerow Cranesbill Speckled Wood Butterfly

From the middle hide I could see that the reserve was fairly empty, as I had expected given that the tide was low. However, I did see a pair of Magpies lazing about right next to the hide. I also saw a pair of juvenile Grey Herons far to the left and a pair of Shelducks that were pretty mobile enabling me to get a relatively close shot on one of their brief stops in front of the hide. I also managed passable pictures of some of the many Sand Martins that were skimming the water for emerging insects. My final sighting was of a tiny Black Garden Ant  that traversed the hide wall where I was sitting.

Magpie Juvenile Grey Heron
Greylag Goose Shelduck
Sand Martin Black Garden Ant

I decided to walk back to the car (parked near the Cadet hall) to investigate the river fauna and flora. As I walked back by the sea wall I got a distant view of a diving Cormorant and also a fairly pleasing capture of a male Linnet that was feeding at one of the seating areas by the “promenade”. At the final bend, as I reached the river, I once again heard a Reed Bunting, and very soon found it sitting on a vandalised sign. Nearby I snapped a Red-tailed Bumblebee on Tall Melilot.

Cormorant Linnet
Reed Bunting Red-tailed Bumblebee

My stroll up the River Esk began well with pictures of Eider females with their little fluffy ducklings. This was followed with a picture of a very young House Sparrow waiting on a branch overhanging the river. It sat waiting for its adult to return with food. Just past the “Electric Bridge” there were Jackdaws on the grass verge and Carrion Crows on the river shallows. I also photographed a Canada Goose that was on the island beside the footbridge.

Juvenile Eider...
Juvenile House Sparrow Carrion Crow
Jackdaw Canada Goose

I continued up the river, under the New Bridge (which isn’t very) and was delighted to see a Grey Wagtail  catching flies over the areas of exposed pebbles. I very quickly realised that it was catching them for its youngster that was sitting still and fairly camouflaged on the pebbles. It wasn’t long before a male Pied Wagtail turned up also hunting flies. I sat a while watching the wagtails before spotting a large Herring Gull with a beakful of what looked like moss. Maybe the moss surrounded a dead animal, as I’m not aware that Gulls eat plants.

Grey Wagtail Juvenile Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail Herring Gull

On my walk back to the car I managed some snaps of Swallows whizzing low over the river. I also watched a rather vicious scrap between two big Herring Gulls. I noticed that there were some attractive wildflowers on the fortified river edges, including the yellow Biting Stonecrop and the white English Stonecrop. My final shot was of a bloom of Large Bindweed.


Barn Swallow Herring Gull
Biting Stonecrop / English Stonecrop Large Bindweed

I had a quick look for the King Eider at the mouth of the Esk but to no avail. If anything, the tide looked further out. Never mind, I am satisfied with what sightings I did get. Most pleasing were the Wagtails and the Eider ducklings. I celebrated with strong tea and some fancy Parisian chocolates, a Father’s Day gift from my daughter. Hopefully John will be able to join me next week but I doubt if the chocolates will survive until then, but Scottish strawberry tarts will definitely give the French a run for their money.

Week ending: 12th June 2022: Barns Ness



With frequent heavy showers piling in from the west we headed to the east coast, to Barns Ness just beyond Dunbar. We stopped in at Dalkeith Morrisons for a quick breakfast (9.9/10: excellent) before driving down the A1 to begin our weekly nature-watching quest. The weather was dry and windy but there were frequent sunny spells so we looked forward to our circuit of one of our favourite sites.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The tide was reaching its maximum height as we arrived and we spotted a gathering of squabbling female Eider near the shore with their ducklings.



They were feeding from seaweed piles, as were a pair of drake Mallards and the odd passing Herring Gull. We also saw a solitary drake Eider standing on an exposed rock at the other end of the small bay.

Female Eider / Hatchlings Mallard
Herring Gull Drake Eider

Near the drake Eider were a pair of foraging Shelducks and beyond them a group of Cormorants had gathered on the rocks at the edge of the wave-beaten shore. As we continued along the edges of the shore towards the lighthouse we came upon a couple of butterflies, a Green-veined White and a Small Heath, each cowering low on the grass, sheltering from the gusty wind.

Shelduck Cormorant
Green Veined White Butterfly Small Heath Butterfly

We passed a small Herb Robert plant with its pretty pink flower and also a rather larger and equally beautiful Tree Mallow. As we rounded the lighthouse several Gannets passed low over the water. There were also Oystercatchers flying in the opposite direction.

Herb Robert Tree Mallow
Gannet Oystercatcher

 I photographed a wind-buffeted Dog Rose and some Lady’s Bedstraw that was growing around a small ruin on the far side of the lighthouse. John spotted a Goldfinch on the rocky shore. I managed a flight shot as it reacted to an approaching flock of young Starlings that were very active on the huge piles of seaweed that lined the sandy beach.

Dog Rose Lady's Bedstraw
Goldfinch Juvenile Starlings

The Starlings were very flighty, which provided me with the opportunity to photograph them as they passed over the dunes.


We moved along the path beyond the lighthouse and caught sight of a Meadow Pipit  posing atop a small bush. We also saw a Skylark  that had descended onto a fence post after it had been singing furiously high above us. We found a path through the dunes that allowed us to peek onto the shore. We heard, then saw a Reed Bunting  that had presumably been picking invertebrates from the decaying seaweed. We continued along the path to find another path that lead onto the beach. There we found a pair of Shelducks picking at the seaweed near the shore. Looking further along the beach we could see a large flock of gulls feeding on the seaweed. We were excited to see a small group of Ringed Plovers  speeding over the waves.

Meadow Pipit Skylark
Reed Bunting Shelduck
Various Gulls Ringed Plover

After some to-ing and fro-ing the Ringed Plovers eventually decided where on the shore they were going to land in order to get their share of juicy invertebrates.


We next left the beach and passed through a kissing gate to cross a field that lead to a style into the eastern boundary of the reserve. We paused before the style as I heard a nearby call of a Yellowhammer . It eventually appeared on a fence post 8m from where we were standing. Just after I photographed it, a Skylark dropped down into the grass 10m away. I quickly photographed it without disturbing it. We then went to the style but before I mounted it another Skylark was dropping slowly from its high-level stint of singing. I managed a reasonable shot before it disappeared into the vegetation. Next we moved to the boundary wall where I snapped a trio of wildflowers, Bugloss, Hop Trefoil and Common Mallow.

Yellowhammer Skylark...
Bugloss
Hop-Trefoil Common Mallow

Whilst scanning the devastation to the natural environment caused by the quarrying, I spotted a Brown Hare bounding away from us. I took a picture of a flowering Weld  plant then as John and I were sitting on our stools catching our breaths, John signalled silently to look behind him where a male Chaffinch was walking along the path catching flies. It was less than 2m away. We continued our circuit along a rough path that led us to the site of the old caravan park. There I snapped a male Linnet that was high in a tree. A bit lower down was a shabby Goldfinch and I also captured an image of a female Chaffinch on the opposite side of the tree.

Brown Hare Weld
Male Chaffinch Linnet
Goldfinch Female Chaffinch

We finished the day with a late flurry of interesting flower shots. Gorgeous Viper’s Bugloss flowers were just coming into bloom. There were Buff-tailed and White-tailed Bumblebees teeming around them as they probed the flowers for their pollen and nectar. At the edge of the caravan park there were Blue Fleabane and Field Madder  (the latter being a newbie for us) and in a field adjacent to the exit road I found a pretty Fox and Cubs and also a Northern Marsh Orchid.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee White-tailed Bumblebee
Blue Fleabane Field Madder
Fox and Cubs Northern Marsh Orchid

We were very pleased and satisfied with our circuit of Barns Ness. Highlights were the Yellowhammer, Skylark and Chaffinch shots and of course the Field Madder. We actually had our tea at Belhaven Bay at the other side of Dunbar. We did a brief walk to the Seafield Pond where we saw plenty in our short time there, the highlight of which was a close view of a male Reed Bunting on rushes. Our tea and strawberry tarts went down with the usual satisfaction fortified by the thought of all of our wonderful sightings. Hopefully we can replicate that feeling next week.



Week ending: 5th June 2022: Ardmore Point



This week we found ourselves at Ardmore Point on the Clyde Estuary between Dumbarton and Helensburgh. My WeatherPro app predicted bright, warm and calm weather for the west, while the east was to be colder and cloudier. The low tide during our trip would be unfortunate since the bays’ population of birds seems to vanish with the water, however in such circumstances we are pleased to concentrate a little more on flora and insects.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

Our visit to Dumbarton Morrisons was blighted by slow service, mixed-up orders, small plates and dry sausage, but it was otherwise ok (7/10, (generous)). On alighting from the car we could see several Grey Herons spread out on the exposed sands, silhouetted by the Sun. As we walked along the first section of the footpath we could hear the unmistakable rasping call of a Greenfinch . We tracked the source to a particular tree but I could see only a Dunnock in its branches until the Greenfinch flew into a neighbouring tree and started belting out its call. A little further on we were delighted to see our first butterfly, a Large White .

Grey Heron Dunnock
Greenfinch Large White Butterfly

Soon after that we encountered our first bee, a Red-tailed Bumblebee grappling with a Sea Radish flower. As I pursued the butterflies I noticed the rocket-shaped seed pods of Sweet Cicely. I also snapped a couple of shots of one of the many freshly-bloomed White Clover.

Red-tailed Bumblebee Sea Radish
Sweet Cicely White Clover

About a third of the way around the peninsula, where the path crosses a burn, we heard the tones of a male Whitethroat. We quickly located it in the high branches of an Ash tree. Lower in the tree I spied a Goldfinch  sitting on a shaded branch. There were Yellow Flag Irises flowering along the burn and large patches of Green Alkanet all along the section of the footpath.

Whitethroat Goldfinch
Yellow Flag Iris Green Alkanet

We paused briefly at roughly the midway point and were rewarded with a quite distant view of a small flock of Eider ducks. Unfortunately the clouds were covering the Sun at the time. We were treated to some flypasts by a flock of Curlew that were relocating from the South Bay to the North Bay. Flying in the opposite direction, a trio of Red-breasted Mergansers  dashed low just above the waves. Soon after that we watched a pair of Shelducks heading south.

Eider Curlew
Red-breasted Merganser Shelduck

Just before the Sun reappeared, a Herring Gull flew along the shore and hovered a few times in order to drop something from its beak. Was it being sick? We’re not sure. We continued our circuit and were joined by a flighty Peacock butterfly which I did manage to snap on one of its brief stops. I next got a delightful shot of a Common Carder Bee  hanging onto a Red Campion flower. I also managed a distant shot of a well-lit male Linnet  perched on a very large boulder.

Herring Gull Peacock Butterfly
Common Carder Bee Linnet

The Linnet turned out to be the last bird we would see until the very end of the walk. Thankfully there were plenty more things to see. The wildflowers, such as the Red Campion and Silverweed below, were beautiful and they were doing their job of attracting insects. On Hemlock Water Dropwort I found a Dance Fly, Empis opaca and also a Red Mason Bee .

Silverweed Red Campion
Fly-Empis Opaca Red Mason Bee

Tall and very pretty Foxgloves were blooming all along the newly renovated path around the Point. John pointed out a White-tailed Bumblebee that was dangling off of another umbilifer. We passed an area where there were very large dome-shaped Rhododendron bushes standing proud of the long grasses. We trekked along the edge of the North Bay where I noticed an attractive Herb Robert flowering at the edge of the path.

Foxglove White-tailed Bumblebee
Rhododendron Herb Robert

Also close to the path there were patches of Greater Stitchwort, Germander Speedwell and Heath Bedstraw. I glimpsed a small, as yet unidentified moth before it descended down into the undergrowth.

Greater Stitchwort Germander Speedwell
Heath Bedstraw T.B.C.

Throughout our walk we witnessed several times when male and female Orange Tip butterflies met and fluttered around a bit before vanishing in the breeze without copulating. I didn’t manage any decent shots of these encounters but I did get shots of male Orange Tip on Bluebell and one of a female Orange Tip resting on a Bramble leaf. We ended our circuit with shots of a couple of birds. On the damp sands of the North Bay there was a Carrion Crow probing what looked like a large shell. My final shot was of an rather accommodating male Chaffinch that was sitting on the fence, using it as a launch pad for catching flies, presumably to feed its nestlings.

Male Orange Tip Butterfly Female Orange Tip Butterfly
Carrion Crow Chaffinch

It had been a very pleasant circular walk around a very beautiful part of the Clyde Estuary. Once again the stars of show were not on the sea or shore, but by the footpath. My favourites were the Greenfinch and Whitethroat and also the Red Mason Bee. The warm conditions were a welcome change to the often chilly and windy conditions we’ve experienced thus far in 2022. Hopefully the weather in June will continue to be as pleasant.

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