A Backward Spring

The trees are afraid to put forth buds,
And there is timidity in the grass;

The plots lie gray where gouged by spuds,
And whether next week will pass
Free of sly sour winds is the fret of each bush
Of barberry waiting to bloom.

Yet the snowdrop's face betrays no gloom,
And the primrose pants in its heedless push,
Though the myrtle asks if it's worth the fight
This year with frost and rime
To venture one more time
On delicate leaves and buttons of white
From the selfsame bough as at last year's prime,
And never to ruminate on or remember
What happened to it in mid-December.

Thomas Hardy

Our Expeditions


14th April 2019:

Portmoak Moss and RSPB Loch Leven

I had a conversation in midweek with a birder I met at Lochwinnoch, who advised me that if I wanted to see Green Woodpeckers then a good place to go would be Portmoak Moss at Scotlandwell. So I thought I’d check it out and also have a long overdue visit to the neighbouring RSPB Loch Leven (formerly Vane Farm). The weather was to be mainly cloudy with a chance of the odd sunny interval. We called in at Bathgate Morrisons for breakfast (super food and service, with only a slight grumble of over- cooked tattie scone: 9.5/10) then it was across the Queensferry Crossing to bonny Loch Leven. The Portmoak Moss Reserve is owned by the Woodland Trust  and there is an active Community Woodland Group . Once parked we made our way around the reserve’s circular route. We came across a large area of Butterbur by a pathside ditch. Their flowering spikes sat in a bed of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage. There was also a large Green Alkanet plant in flower. 

Common Butterbur Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage Green Alkanet

I was pleased to see an Early Bumblebee feeding on a Butterbur spike. Their comparatively small size and yellow and orange colourings make them fairly easy to identify. As we pressed on, we noticed that many of the tree trunks carried fungi, such as the Hoof Fungus shown below. It was used forthousands of years as a source on tinder. Eventually we emerged from the woods out into the open area central to the reserve. This was the Portmoak Moss, a raised peat bog , the predominant plant in the area being Sphagnum Moss  (commonly called Peat Moss). A lone Roe Deer stood cautiously at the edge of the woods watching us carefully. It looked as if it was casting its coat as it was pretty shabby.

Early Bumblebee Hoof Fungus Sphagnum Moss Roe Deer

Throughout the visit gliders were circling silently overhead. These were from the local Scottish Gliding Centre . We then entered the next
area of woods where we were tantalised by the unmistakable call of a Green Woodpecker . However, despite scanning the area for over
an hour, it didn’t show. The only bird I was able to photograph was a Chaffinch close to the car. As we drove out of Scotlandwell we did also
see a gathering of Swans feeding in the middle of a field. These were mainly Mute Swans with a few Whoopers.

Chaffinch Mute Swan Whooper Swan

We drove the few miles south to RSPB Loch Leven Reserve  and we were soon sitting in the Gillman hide where I was relieved to find some
birds to photograph. A Moorhen was prowling below a feeder. Then some Greenfinches appeared followed by a pair of Tree Sparrows.
A bold wee Coal Tit sped in, nabbed a seed and sped out, in one movement.

Moorhen Greenfinch Tree Sparrow Coal Tit

A Blue Tit, Robin and Goldfinch (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) were other participants in the feeding frenzy. In the reeds by the pond
a Mallard sat preening but there was little else on the pond, but further away from the hide, over the south end of Loch Leven, I could just
make out the movements of groups of Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye.

Blue Tit Drake Mallard Tufted Duck Goldeneye

The view of the hills east of Loch Leven, taken from the Carden Hide:

We moved directly to the furthest hide, the Carden Hide, as we had been tipped off that a Shoveler was showing well there. Of course when
we arrived at the hide another birder informed us that it had flown back to where we’d just left. However, there were lots of birds on the
pond, including a pair of lovely Shelduck. A half a dozen Greylags were also on the water. Prominent, facing the hide, were a colony of
nesting Black-headed Gulls on a fenced-off island. Occasionally some of these gulls took to the air and noisily circled the island, protesting
at some perceived threat (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). A notice carried the information that chicks were expected imminently.
In an adjacent field a large cow was watching its calf as the commotion played out.

Shelduck Greylag Goose Black-headed Gull Calf

Just beyond the island of gulls I spotted a Little Grebe diving for small fish. Around it a few Tufted Ducks moved across the pond.
John had spotted some Lapwings  flying near to the Calf and very luckily for us it landed very close to the hide, well illuminated and
unaware of our attention (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). It was a very handsome bird with its fine crest and beautifully iridescent
wing feathers. Just as we left the Carden Hide, a pair of Shelduck flew in an landed to the west of the hide.

Little Grebe Tufted Duck Lapwing Shelduck
We walked back to the hide we missed, the Waterston Hide, and immediately we could see a couple of pairs of Teal  dabbling in the pond.
The fine plumage of the drakes, especially the green head streak, never fails to impress. A small flock of Meadow Pipits were active in
the grass around the hide, although they were hard to pick out with the naked eye, never mind with the camera. On our walk back,
between the Gillman and Waterston, from through a wooden viewing fence, we got close views of a Little Egret . These are no longer
a rarity in Southern and Central Scotland so they no longer create as much excitement in birders here as once the did. My final capture
was of a fine Primrose  just outside the Gillman Hide. It is one of the earliest flowers to appear in spring, hence the name “Prima Rosa”,
first rose (although it’s not a rose).

Teal Meadow Pipit Little Egret Primrose

Well, we didn’t get to see a Green Woodpecker, although we did hear them, but it was good to familiarise ourselves with the Portmoak Moss Reserve. We will no doubt return there and we may yet catch sight of one of their Green Woodpeckers. One other regret is that we missed seeing a Spoonbill that was reported just as we had to leave. Oh well, that’s how the cookie crumbles - talking of which, our usual end-of-visit tea and Danish pastries went down as well as ever. We always finish on a high.

Pictures of the Week:

Goldfinch Robin
Black-headed Gull Lapwing

7th April:

Troon and Irvine Harbour

Sunday’s weather for Scotland was to be overcast with the best chances of brightness in the west. I thought I’d give Troon a try as I’d heard
there were Purple Sandpipers there. After last week’s poor brekky in Kilmarnock Asda we thought we’d start the day with breakfasts in
Stewartfield Morrison’s, East Kilbride (9/10: slow service in poor lighting). It was indeed overcast when we arrived at the South Beach Esplanade
Car Park in Troon. As we walked onto the beach, a Royal Navy Hawk T1a flew over our heads as it came into land at Prestwick. It was the first
of many frequent passes, leaving us to believe these were training flights. Despite the gloomy conditions the beach was overrun with dog walkers,
however we quickly came across a lovely pair of Stonechats  (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Another Prestwick bound aeroplane passed
overhead, a yellow air ambulance, a  Beech King Air 200C 

Royal Navy Hawk T1a Male Stonechat Female Stonechat Beech King Air 200 C

We made our way towards Meikle Craigs, moving parallel to the world famous and bird-aware  Royal Troon Golf Course. We saw our first pair
of Sandwich Terns  for 2019. They didn’t hang about and I was lucky too get a quick snap. Much closer was a Carrion Crow skimming the salt pools.
A pair of Curlew loitered on the shoreline seemingly tolerating passersby, even dog walkers. John pointed out a distant, dense flock passing over the
west end of Meikle Craigs. I would guess that they were oystercatchers, but the picture doesn’t help much.

Sandwich Tern Carrion Crow Curlew Flock

An attractive 3rd-year Herring Gull caught my eye as it flew past. Gulls take 4 years to reach maturity so ageing  them can be tricky. Offshore there
was a small fishing boat, probably after lobsters. Sadly there wasn’t much more to be seen on Meikle Craig. As we returned to the car we did see a
small flock of twittering Linnets that descended onto rotting seaweed on the beach in front of us. At the car a handsome large
Lesser Black-backed Gull was standing atop a street lamp (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

3rd Cycle Herring Gull Lobster Boat Linnet Lesser Blacked-backed Gull

We drove the short distance to the Troon Harbour car park. John noticed a Rock Pipit preening on the rocks near the car. Also on the same area
I spotted a Wren  moving unpredictably between the rocks. We decided to walk south along the Ballast Bank  to scan the shore for Purple Sandpipers.
There were the usual Redshanks foraging there, and John delighted in his sighting of “Sammy Seal” or Grey Seal, as others refer to it.

Rock Pipit Wren Redshank Grey Seal

Just before the concrete ramp there were lots of just-blooming plants of Hoary Cress. We had just reached the Ballast Bank when I got a nice flight
shot of a large passing Cormorant. I also got a close shot of a fit-looking adult Herring Gull. Then, to our delight, there they were foraging, 15m in
front of us, a half dozen Purple Sandpipers  (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Hoary Cress Cormorant Herring Gull Purple Sandpiper

The light was poor but I got some decent pictures nevertheless. We trooped back satisfied towards the car. John noticed a pair of Black Guillemots
far offshore. I managed a record shot. I also got shots of a passing Gannet and a drake Eider.

Purple Sandpiper Black Guillemot Gannet Drake Eider

A wee male Pied Wagtail landed on a picnic bench in front of me. John directed my attention to a fairly large flock of Ringed Plovers  that had flown
onto the rocks (see also the panorama below). Just beyond them a pair of Seals had surfaced, and as we left a female House Sparrow bid us farewell
from a nearby rooftop.

Pied Wagtail Ringed Plover Grey Seal Female House Sparrow

A view of the flock of Ringed Plovers:

We drove the few miles north to Irvine Harbour, this time seeking Sandwich Terns that had recently been reported. The scene that greeted us as
we arrived was unexpected - there was some sort of kite convention going on. The kites were unconventional, my favourite being the big purple
teddy. As we walked along the side of the riverside I captured nice pictures of a fishing Shag and a Great Black-backed Gull. We scanned the river
mouth for Terns but managed only to see some passing Red-breasted Mergansers.

Wonderful Kites Shag Great Black-backed Gull Red-breasted Mergansers

Almost at the point of giving up I detected the familiar “creaking” call of the Sandwich Tern. Before too long a half dozen birds appeared, each diving
in the water and sometimes emerging with fish in their beaks. (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below)

Sandwich Terns

It had been one of those days when one might have taken a look out the window and decided to go back to bed. But the trip had been rewarding having
seen such a variety of species. Of course we celebrated by consuming tea and very fine Danish pastries. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Pictures of the Week:

Stonechat Purple Sandpiper
Lesser Black-backed Gull Sandwich Tern

Back To Top

April 2019

14th Portmoak Moss
7th Troon
March 2019
31st Doonfoot
24th Musselburgh
17th Stevenston,Saltcoats,Irvine
9th Hogganfield Loch
3rd Baron's Haugh
February 2019
24th Hogganfield Loch /Cathkin Marsh
16 - 18th Strathclyde Park
6th Kilspindie / Musselburgh
2nd Hogganfield Loch
January 2019
27th Fairlie / Portencross
20th Stevenston Point / Troon
13th Figgate Park/Duddingston
7th Hopes Reservoir
December 2018
30th Skateraw/Barns Ness
23rd Musselburgh

16th Tyninghame Bay
9th Aberlady/...../PortSeton

2nd Musselburgh

November 2018
25th Doonfoot/Irvine Harbour
18th Skateraw / Belhaven Bay
11th Troon / Irvine Harbour
4th Stevenston /Saltcoats

October 2018
28th Ardmore Point
21st Troon/Pow Burn
14th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Irvine
7th Musselburgh

September 2018
27th-30th St Andrews
23rd Balgray Reservoir
16th Musselburgh
7th Barons Haugh
2nd Aberlady
August 2018
26th  Stevenston
19th Turnberry
12th Troon
5th Musselburgh
July 2018
19 - 22nd Orkney
15 -18th Orkney
8th Gullane Bents, Aberlady
1st Troon Gailes Marsh
June 2018
24th Doonfoot
17th Barns Ness
9th Baron's Haugh
3rd Saltcoats, Stevenston, Irvine

May 2018
27th Ardmore Point

20th Aberlady
13th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Troon
6th John Muir Country Park
April 2018
29th Barns Ness
19th Leighton Moss
15th Musselburgh
6th Skateraw/Belhaven Bay
1st Aberlady
March 2018
25th Barns Ness/Dunbar Harbour
18th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Irvine
11th Maidens/Doonfoot
4th Strathclyde Park
February 2018
25th Ardmore Point 
18th Musselburgh
11th Skateraw/Belhaven Bay
4th Pow Burn/Troon Harbour
January 2018
28th Maidens
21st Musselburgh

14th Aberlady
7th Musselburgh
December 2017
31st Belhaven Bay
24th Skateraw
17th Troon/Irvine/Ardeer
10th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Irvine
3rd Doonfoot/Loans
November 2107
26th Musselburgh
19th Barns Ness
12th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Irvine
5th Musselburgh
October 2017
29th Skinflats
22nd White Sands/Barns Ness
15th Skateraw/Belhaven Bay
8th Musselburgh
1st Stevenston/Saltcoats
September 2017
24th Tyninghame Bay
17th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Irvine
10th Barns Ness
3rd Pencaitland/Musselburgh
August 2017
27th Troon/Irvine Harbour
20th Belhaven ....Barns Ness
13th Musselburgh
6th Skateraw
July 2017
30th Musselburgh
23rd Doonfoot
16th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Irvine
2nd Aberlady
June 2017
25th White Sands/ Barns Ness
18th Skateraw/Belhaven Bay
11th Musselburgh/Port Seton
4th Barns Ness/Musselburgh
May 2017
28th Tyninghame Bay
21st Belhaven Bay/Dunbar
14th Barns Ness/Torness
7th Pow Burn
April 2017
30th Doonfoot
23rd Stevenston/Saltcoats
9th Musselburgh
March 2017
26th Maidens/Turnberry
19th Dunbar
12th Musselburgh/Port Seton
5th Hogganfield Loch...Belhaven
February 2017
26th Seafield/Belhaven/Dunbar
19th Skateraw/Belhaven Bay
12th Stevenston/Saltcoats/Irvine
5th Pow Burn
January 2017
29th Haddington/Belhaven Bay
22nd Doonfoot
15th Saltcoats
8th Musselburgh
1st Hogganfield Loch
December 2016
18th Belhaven/......Torness
11th Skateraw/Barns Ness
4th Torness/Belhaven/P.Seton
November 2016
27th Doonfoot
20th Kilbirnie.......Irvine
13th Musselburgh
6th Stevenston
October 2016
30th Gullane/...Musselburgh
23rd Troon
16th Musselburgh/Port Seton
9th Pow Burn
2nd Doonfoot
September 2016
24th Port Seton/Musselburgh
18th Tyninghame Bay
11th Musselburgh
4th Stevenston/Ardeer Quarry
August 2016
21st Dunbar/White Sands
July 2106
31st Skateraw
24th Aberlady
17th Barns Ness
10th Musselburgh
3rd Musselburgh
June 2016
26th Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk
19th Musselburgh
5th Kinneil Lagoon
May 2016
29th Belhaven/Barns Ness
22nd Stevenston
15th Doonfoot
8th Musselburgh/Port Seton
1st Lochwinnoch/Muirshiel
April 2016
24th Pow Burn
17th Musselburgh
10th Musselburgh
3rd Musselburgh/Port Seton
March 2016
27th Hedderwick Hill
20th Musselburgh
13th Doonfoot
3rd Ardmore Point
February 2016
28th Pow Burn
21st Musselburgh/Joppa
14th Stevenston/Irvine Harbour
7th Spott,Skateraw,Belhaven
January 2016
31st Musselburgh
24th Yellowcraig
17th Strathclyde Park
10th Skateraw/Torness
3rd Balloch
December 2015
27th Banton/Hogganfield Lochs
20th Figgate Park
13th Musselburgh
6th Torness
November 2015
29th Lochwinnoch/Stevenston
22nd Aberlady
15th Musselburgh
8th Musselburgh
1st Hound Point
October 2015