Our Expeditions: January 2023
Happy New year

Week ending: 22nd January: Musselburgh and Port Seton


A dull and damp weekend was predicted for Central Scotland by my WeatherPro app, with the least chance of rain being in the Edinburgh area. I decided that Musselburgh would be the ideal place to visit. We popped into Dalkeith Morrisons for our usual breakfast (9/10: excellent, only let down a bit by the slow service). When we arrived the tide was low and rising, so I decided to start at the Scrapes and its surrounding area.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

After parking at Levenhall Links, we moved down to the seawall, passing a Carrion Crow that was clutching what looked like a large chunk of excrement in its beak. We were pleased to see that there were birds not far away from the seawall, Teal and Red-breasted Mergansers  and also Cormorants were diving fairly close to the sandy shore, upon which a few Oystercatchers were foraging. John also spotted a pretty Shag that surfaced just below the seawall.

Carrion Crow Teal
Red-breasted Merganser Cormorant
Oystercatcher Shag

There was a large flock of wigeon gathered on the waters adjacent to the Scrapes. We estimated that there were around 50 birds in the flock.


Eventually we moved away from the seawall towards the entrance to the Scrapes. We encountered a large flock of Stock Doves  feeding in the long grass just before the Boating Pond. And just before the entrance we unwittingly disturbed a feeding Magpie, which flew into the trees, emerging again after we had passed. On arriving at the Scrapes’ middle hide, we were disappointed to find that all of the scrapes were iced-over, and at first, all we could see was small group of Oystercatchers. However, when we moved to the left-most hide, I spotted a Mistlethrush working its way along the grassy banking to the right of the hide.

Stock Dove Magpie...
Mistle Thrush

There was a Curlew probing the grass at the far side of the reserve and there were more Curlews roosting far to the right, as can be seen from the picture below of a small flock of Starlings passing over that area. But that was about it for the Scrapes. We set off back to the car, encountering another Mistle Thrush  that was creeping about the playing fields adjacent to the Scrapes before it was flushed by an exuberant dog.

Curlew Starling
Mistle Thrush...

We relocated to the mouth of the River Esk. The tide was almost fully in. However, there was a fair number of birds on the river, such as the usual Mallards. We walked part of the way along the seawall, where we spotted Goldeneyes diving repeatedly. I got some nice shorts of a little Redshank that was making its way along the rocky shore just below the sea wall. John noticed a Linnet  landing near the Redshank. As we carefully watched it, we realised that it was only one of a flock of perhaps a dozen Linnets, all eager to explore what looked like storm debris by the wall.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard
Goldeneye Redshank
Linnet...

While I was photographing the Linnets, John alerted me to an approaching drake Eider flying up the River Esk. I managed a couple of nice shots, and while I was at it, I snapped a Black-headed Gull that was passing at the same time. And, after that a big Herring Gull passed overhead with a small crab in its beak. The last of a quartet of flight shots was of a big Carrion Crow that descended on rocks near the seawall while carrying part of a large shellfish in its beak.

Eider Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull Carrion Crow

As we made our way back to the car, the light was fading fast. In the water to the east of the dusky Esk mouth we could just see a large flock of Wigeon, possibly the same flock we had seen earlier near the Scrapes.


The final port of call (pardon the pun) was Port Seton. I realised how dull it had become when I photographed an oil tanker that was anchored in the middle of the Firth of Forth. Its floodlights were glowing brightly on the gloomy panorama. The area of rocks east of the harbour, called the Wrecked Craigs, was nearly completely under water. A pair of Cormorants clung to one of the few rocks that was still poking above the water. Two Mute Swans were paddling across the scene past some Black-headed Gulls that were bobbing up and down on the passing waves.

Cormorant
Mute Swan Black-headed Gull

A few small groups of Eider  ducks were diving for mussels. In between dives, the males were pursuing females, who were keen to avoid their attention. I’m not sure if this was courtship behaviour or simply the aggressive protection of their feeding grounds. One Eider female was standing on a flood-threatened rocky perch, defiantly shaking its feathers dry. Nearby a young Herring Gull didn’t look quite so self-assured.

 Eider...
1st Cycle Herring Gull

We walked the short distance to the harbour where the view to the west of the familiar, though silhouetted, Lothian hills and Edinburgh skyline, was rather impressive.


As we entered the harbour, a bold adult Herring Gull stood proudly on a tall pole by the harbour pier. A Starling chattered incessantly as it perched on an overhead security camera. A Great Black-backed Gull sat on top of the 10ft sea wall and appeared to watch us with some disdain as we walked towards the harbour mouth. A few Turnstones  and Herring Gulls sped across the mouth of the harbour, having been disturbed by a family exploring the opposite side of the harbour. The sea was very quiet so we walked back towards the car. Back near the Wrecked Craigs I noticed a single Wigeon on the water and I moved towards the railings to photograph it.

Herring Gull Starling
Great Black-backed Gull Turnstone
Herring Gull Wigeon

As I moved back from the railings I noticed that there were birds feeding on a pile of seaweed at a sandy corner below the sea wall. There, I was delighted to see a pretty little Grey Wagtail , bobbing delightfully across rock, sand and seaweed. I was also rewarded with satisfying pictures of a female House Sparrow and also a male Pied Wagtail - a fitting end to our very pleasant visit.

Grey Wagtail...
Female House Sparrow Pied Wagtail

We were a bit concerned that the poor light and very cold conditions would impact on our observations. However, we needn’t have worried since by the end we had seen 23 bird species. Not a bad total. My favourites were the Grey Wagtail, Mistle Thrushes and Stock Doves. It was tea and strawberry tarts again before our drive home. The weather was dull but at least it didn’t rain. Hopefully we’ll get some light next week. The camera kinda needs it.

Week ending: 15th January 2023: Barns Ness and Belhaven Bay

The weather across Central Scotland was to be cold and dry with sunny intervals, the best of the sunshine was to be in the east. I decided that we’d head for Barns Ness since it had been 3 months since we’d last visited there. We had breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons before tanking it down the A1 to just beyond Dunbar where we turned into the winding, single-track road that leads to the Barns Ness car park.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The tide was low but rising and the sky was blue, as can be seen from the view to the west towards the famous gannet colony on the Bass Rock. Surfers’ vehicles were parked all along the approach road. A look at the rolling waves in the picture explains why they were there.


We began our usual circuit of the site on the rocky beach adjacent to the car park where we immediately came across Oystercatchers, Curlew and Redshanks feeding in the damp sands between the many rocks and boulders that are scattered on the shore. A flock of what looked like young Skylarks flew in and began foraging not far from where we were standing.

Oystercatcher Curlew
Redshank Skylark

The heaving tide is shown again in the picture, below, of a group of Cormorants enjoying the sunshine as they dried their feathers before diving for more fish


As we rounded the Barns Ness lighthouse I caught a Curlew as it flew low over the rocks. We paused a while on the beach to watch for birds raking around a large pile of seaweed. John pointed out a couple of Rock Pipits  and while I photographed these a male Stonechat  popped onto the scene. I also managed some shots of a very nippy Pied Wagtail that had been very wary of our presence. However, it plucked up the courage to come a little closer, allowing me to fire off a few shots.

Curlew Rock Pipit
Stonechat...
Pied Wagtail...

John spotted a large flock of birds approaching from the west. On examining the pictures later, their profile and wing markings were similar to that of Golden or Grey Plovers . They circled around for about 20 minutes but, sadly, they never came very close.


When we turned our attention to the pile of seaweed, a female Stonechat appeared and posed for a little while. This was followed by a busy Rock Pipit. Meantime as I photographed these birds John had been scanning the seashore and had noticed a Red-breasted Merganser, as well as other wading birds. We set off to investigate.

Female Stonechat...
Rock Pipit Red-breasted Marganser

By this time, the beautiful blue skies of the morning had been replaced by a blanket of cloud which reduced the light drastically. However, I did manage a record shot of four preening Black-tailed Godwits. Notice also the Dunlin and Ringed Plovers in the picture.


We scanned the seashore further and found a single Turnstone and, nearby, a pair of Dunlins wandering among the rocks. An Oystercatcher and a pair of Mallards flew across the scene, disturbed by an approaching crowd of walkers.

Turnstone Dunlin
Oystercatcher Mallard

The walkers also put up a flock of Dunlin that had previously been out of sight. The birds landed not far from us enabling me to snap away merrily as they moved randomly around the rock pools. Satisfied with our collection of seashore shots, we continued on the route round to the old caravan site. Sadly we did not see any more birds, but I did get a picture of flowering gorse, the only flower we saw on our whole trip, and one shot of the lighthouse.

Dunlin...
Gorse

We relocated to the Shore Road car park at Belhaven, and we were soon scanning the inner bay, and its surrounds. As the Sun got lower in the sky the light became very poor. We found a Teal preening in the path-side drainage ditch. In the Inner Bay there were a few familiar waders, such as Curlew and Redshanks. We also met a young Carrion Crow perched on the sea wall, most probably the same bird we’d photographed on our last visit.

Teal Curlew
Redshank Carrion Crow

Next we moved down to the Seafield Pond where there was a large flock of Wigeon on the water. Eventually they moved onto the short grass. Unusually there was a young Cormorant amongst them.

Wigeon...
Juvenile Cormorant

The flock was put up by an over-zealous birder who got too close for comfort. However, I was glad of the photo-opportunity.


After attempting photographs of a Coot and a Moorhen, we decided to head back to the car since the light had become unacceptably dim. However, the birds were not quite finished with us. As we walked back, a Little Egret  flew across the bay. Also, we saw far to the west, a large flock of honking Geese, but, obviously they too far away to identify.

Coot Moorhen
Little Egret

My final shot had the same subject as the first, the Bass Rock. Very keen surfers continued to ride the waves as I swapped my camera for a flask of boiling water.


Once again John produced a pair of delicious Strawberry Tarts to accompany our teas. The day had been, as it usually is, very enjoyable. My favourite sightings were the Stonechats and the Skylarks. Hopefully next week will be as enjoyable, wherever we end up

Week ending: 8th January 2023: Victoria Park, Bingham's Pond.
( Maps)


John and I were reunited for a trip to Victoria Park (Website), Glasgow, to try to photograph the reported Ring-necked Duck. My WeatherPro app predicted cool, dry weather with some sunshine with a low chance of rain. We stopped in at Glasgow Fort Morrisons for breakfasts (9/10: very good, -1 for small plates).

Courtesy of Weather Pro 

We drove through Glasgow’s West End to reach Victoria Park, which nestles between Whiteinch, Scotstoun, Jordanhill and Broomhill districts. We parked on Westland Drive and set off through the beautiful and sunlit park. I set the ball rolling with a shot of a large Woodpigeon that was perched high in a tall tree. This was followed by a snap of male Blackbird crouched below a hedge. Just before we reached the pond, John spotted a Magpie moving furtively between the leafless branches of pathside tree. At the pond we were pleased to see a large presence of Tufted Ducks . Our plan was to check each and every drake since the Ring-necked Duck has a very similar plumage. It, though, has no tuft, its crown is less round and it has a white band on its bill.


Wood Pigeon Blackbird

Magpie Tufted Duck

The plumages of the drake Mallards were beautiful in the low winter sunlight; less so for the drab females. We also noticed there were lots of Coots present and a few juvenile Mute Swans.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard
Coot Juvenile Mute Swan

One particular young Swan was involved in an altercation with a pair of Coots that looked as if they were preparing a nest. The feisty Coots resisted the attentions of the much larger bird and, after a brief flurry, carried on with their task.


I watched the Coots as they tended their nest until I was distracted by a noisy juvenile Moorhen that was upset by something or other. John pointed out a lovely scene at a small footbridge where some Mallards were enjoying the warm sunlight as they sat at the edge of an island of Rhododendrons. As we pressed on around the pond I snapped a Carrion Crow that had flown overhead onto high tree branches.

Coot Juvenile Moorhen
Drake Mallard Carrion Crow

There were frequent feeding frenzies, mainly involving Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls, when people threw bread towards the ducks and swans. Feral pigeons too, left their favourite tree and took to the air in search of easy food. In between these missions, there was time for a bit of love. I spotted Redwings  in a tree not too near the pond. Redwings are very flighty and usually fly off at the slightest threat.

Black-headed Gull Common Gull
Feral Pigeon...
Redwing

We still hadn’t seen the Ring-necked Duck as we completed our circuit of the pond. We did though see some nice birds such as a Feral Pigeon resplendent in its iridescent plumage. A Mute Swan sitting below the pigeon’s tree almost jumped to its feet when a wee girl appeared with bread. We decided to check out the Fossil Grove, which is at the west side of the park. However before we left the pond, I managed shots of a Great Tit and a Moorhen. A walk through the Fossil Grove produced a photograph of a warbling Robin and one of a Grey Squirrel foraging high in the trees.

Feral Pigeon Mute Swan
Great Tit Moorhen
Robin Grey Squirrel

It was at this point I checked social media to find if there was any information of the whereabouts of the Ring-necked Duck. It told me that it was currently a couple of miles away at Bingham’s Pond  near Gartnavel Hospital. So that’s where we headed next. We employed the same strategy for locating the bird by moving around the pond checking each and every black and white duck we saw. As with the pond in Victoria Park, there were plenty of Tufted Duck to check. Again we got nice views of Moorhens, but we also saw birds that weren’t present at the Vicky, namely Goosanders  and a Greylag Goose.

Tufted Duck Moorhen
Drake Goosander Female Goosanders...
Greylag Goose

As we neared the completion of a circuit of the pond we were beginning to suspect that our target bird had returned to the Victoria Pond, when we heard a fellow birdwatcher mention that it was hiding by the north side of the island. When we investigated we did indeed see it. Luckily for us it was paddling towards us, allowing some nice initial pictures. However, when the Tufties around it took flight, it tagged along. I managed a few pleasing shots of it as it flew to the south end of the pond. As we headed back to the car, John spotted a Grey Squirrel crossing the road before dashing through a hole in the hedges that line the Leonardo Inn Hotel. That’s why I only got an east end view of the Grey Squirrel moving west. Nice tail though!

Ring-necked Duck...

It had been a short but very enjoyable trip. It was John’s first time at Victoria Park and Bingham’s Pond was new to both of us. The fact that we managed to track down the Ring-necked Duck was satisfying. The weather had remained sunny throughout the time we were there, which allowed me to take some beautiful photographs, particularly of the flying Ring-necked Duck. We celebrated by having tea and strawberry tarts (our first for a few months), which, I’m glad to report, were excellent.

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