Our Expeditions: September 2022
Good Riddance 2020
and 2021

Week ending: 25th September: Musselburgh and Port Seton

My WeatherPro app predicted that Sunday was to be overcast with rain spreading in from the west. For that reason and because we hadn’t visited there for 7 weeks, I decided Musselburgh would be worth a visit. The tide would be low but rising according to the BBC Tidal Prediction website, so birds would be flying into the Scrapes as the advancing waters flooded their feeding grounds. So after a wee breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (9/10: excellent, -1 for smaller toasts and small plates) we drove to the Levenhall Links car park and made or way to the Nature Reserve, known to birdwatchers as the Scrapes.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

On our walk to the Scrapes I noticed that Inchkeith Island in the Firth of Forth was illuminated by sunlight. Since the south coast of Fife was in shade, the island stood out prominently.


As we approached the Scrapes, Curlew and Oystercatchers were already flying in from their feeding grounds, mainly around the mouth of the Esk. On entering the middle hide I immediately started to photograph a young Grey Heron that was feeding by the overflow pipe. It became very agitated by the Teal and Dunlins that were getting too close. At the back of the scrape there was a pair of Pink-footed Geese probably newly arrived from Iceland. As well as Curlew and Oystercatchers there was a large flock of restless Lapwings circulating the site.

Curlew Oystercatcher
Juvenile Gray Heron....

Not long after we arrived, Bar-tailed Godwits descended onto the back centre scrape.


We briefly visited the right-most hide where we observed Shelducks dabbling in the shallow water while Dunlin picked their way around them.


We moved to the left-most hide where we got good views of the very active Curlews as they fed, washed and flew about the reserve.

Curlew

An adult Grey Heron was preening by reeds to the left of the hide. I noticed also a few Common Snipe  foraging on the near edge of the middle scrape. They were half hidden at first but one broke its cover after it caught an invertebrate and scurried away from the rest to eat it in peace. Some of the beautiful Lapwings were also very close to the hide, providing excellent photo opportunities. On our way back to the car I noticed a few Fairy Ring Champignons growing in the grass verge outside the Scrapes.

Grey Heron Common Snipe
Lapwing Fairy Ring Champignon

Pleased with our sightings at the Scrapes, we drove next to the Esk mouth where we found that the tide was almost high. There were Greylags on the river bank opposite the Cadet Hall and also a few Wigeon, but little else. We walked east by the sea wall and got nice shots of a Carrion Crow and a Guillemot  close the wall.

Greylag Geese Wigeon
Carrion crow Common Guillemot

John spotted a few Goosanders bobbing further out from the shore. A few female Eiders were also in the choppy water. A couple of Gannets appeared, an adult and a 3rd winter, and proceeded to dive about 100m out. John then spotted a pair of Goosanders with some Redbreasted Mergansers . As we walked back to the car a large Great Black-backed Gull flew past just below the sea wall.

Juvenile Female Goosander Female Eider
Gannet 3rd Cycle gannet
Red Breasted Merganser Great Black-backed Gull

As we neared the car, a youth on the far bank thought it would be entertaining to put up the aforementioned Greylags. It made for a great photo - but really?


We next moved upstream to the Millhill car park, where birds gather principally to get fed by kind humans (much to the chagrin of the occupants of neighbouring houses). However, the birds love it and there I photographed, from close quarters, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Goosanders, Moorhen, Mallard, Jackdaws and Herring Gulls. It’s one of those places where you get close to birds that, elsewhere, you could only get shots from distance.

Canada Goose Mute Swan
Female Goosander in Eclipse Plumage Moorhen
Mallard Jackdaw
Herring Gull 1st Cycle Herring Gull

To finish the trip we relocated to Port Seton Wrecked Crags car park. The tide was nearing its peak and we could see plenty of birds clinging, in the ever increasing wind, to the ever-reducing areas of exposed rocks.


I was puzzled by the behaviour of a large flock of Starlings that seemed very intent on settling on the rocks. They usually prefer the rooftops and, with little chance of food, why were they prepared to brave the near-gale conditions? Aquatic birds like the Shags are very much at home in foaming surf, as, to some extent, are Redshanks. The Gulls, like the Great and Lesser Black backs and the Black-headed Gulls, also seem to cope effortlessly with most conditions. But passerine Starlings?

Starling / Oystercatcher Shag
Redshank Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull Black-headed Gull

A very large flock of Eiders drifted in close to the shore as most other birds were fleeing to better roosting places. The last time we had seen the Eider flock along that stretch of coast, the males were in eclipse plumage. On Sunday they were resplendent in their fine white and black plumage. They were already courting the females by trailing them and calling “a-woo” while throwing back their heads, the equivalent of the Glesga, “Hallo-‘rere, How’s-it-gaun” (English translation: Hello there, how is it going”. Soon though, even the Eider had fled the scene (frustratingly as we were having tea and strawberry tarts so I only captured the last of the flock as it left). The final shot of the trip was of a wee Rock Pipit sitting on a rock just below the sea wall.

Eider.....
Rock Pipit

ohn and I have always maintained that Musselburgh never lets us down, and Sunday upheld that belief. We had seen thirty bird species and one fungus. We were especially pleased to have seen the Guillemot, Pinkfoots and Snipe. However, as we celebrated in our usual way, I missed perhaps the best shot of the visit, high double-figures of Eider taking off in near perfect light. Oh well, some you win…


Week ending: 18th September 2022: Ardmore Point


The weather forecast for Sunday, according to my WeatherPro app, was for fairly gloomy conditions. There was to be a chance of light rain in the east, but in the west the sun might break through in the afternoon. I chose therefore to visit Ardmore Point, a favourite site last visited on the 5th of June. The BBC Tidal Tide Tables website indicated that the tide would be low and rising throughout our visit - so we looked forward to seeing a few waders.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We drove across the Erskine Bridge and on to Dumbarton Morrisons for a fine breakfast (8.5/10: a little cool , slow service). We chose the half-price full breakfasts, but we couldn’t finish them, so we wrapped the remains in napkins for possible bird bait for later. It was indeed overcast and gloomy when we arrived. We got off to a nice start with some shots around the estate’s gatehouse. I photographed some House Sparrows on a feeders and also some very pretty, but unwelcome foreign flowers, Himalayan Balsam . John spotted a Carder Bee  on a flowering Trumpet Vine species that was growing on a hedgerow. Next I snapped a shot of a flower we would see a lot of on our circuit of the peninsula, Large Bindweed.

House Sparrow Himalayan Balsam
Common Carder Bee Large Bindweed

The path along the side of the South Bay was narrowed by the overgrown verges . A large flock of Starlings were in the tree in the centre of the field to our right, although both tree and birds were mere silhouettes due to the dim conditions and white sky. We could hear that the much closer bushes to our left also held birds. In quick succession I captured pleasing images of a juvenile Greenfinch and Goldfinch followed by snaps of male and female House Sparrows. John directed my camera to a shore-side bolder on which a Meadow Pipit was standing.

Starling Juvenile Greenfinch
Goldfinch House Sparrow
Female House Sparrow Meadow Pipit

The path rounded the corner and passed out of the bay and along the north side of the Clyde Estuary. There we noticed the silhouette of a Shag perched on rocks, drying its wings after a session of diving for fish. There were Oystercatchers and Redshanks near the water’s edge and also a couple of Grey Herons. A third Grey Heron flew past intending to land but it got an unfriendly welcome from the other two, so it kept flying. John’s bins picked out a Curlew that had been standing motionless near the other birds. As we sat on our stools making these observations, we were disturbed by a pair of rather large Bernese Mountain Dogs. They sniffed around us almost forcing us onto the shore - a 2m drop. It wasn’t until their embarrassed owner led them away that we realised they could smell the breakfast leftovers we had in our pockets.

Shag Oystercatcher
Redshank Grey Heron...
Curlew

We continued our way north along the path and came across a Carrion Crow with a large Crab. On seeing us it flew further along the shore but I managed a reasonable shot it as it passed by. Further along the path we could hear the familiar tones of a Robin. We sat on our 3-legged stool and waited for it to blow its cover. Thankfully it obliged us. As we progressed, we eventually came on to a renovated section of the footpath. It was a big improvement from the original path which was often sodden and flooded making it difficult to pass. I photographed another Carder Bee, this time on Knapweed. We were delighted to see a Common Seal  basking about 60m out in the estuary.


Carrion Crow Robin
Common Carder Bee Common Seal

As we passed along a section of path where it was difficult to see the shore I concentrated on plants and insects near the path. I found a Syrphus ribesii hoverfly on Sow Thistle and John found a Nettle Tap Moth and a small cranefly, possibly Ormosia lineata. The path passed close to a boggy area in which we found Bog Asphodel. Next we found a Buff-tailed Bumblebee which seemed to be in a state of ecstasy in the nectaries of a Beach Rose. Just us we established visual contact with the shore I encountered another Carder Bee, this time on Marsh Woundwort.

Hoverfly Syrphus ribesii Common Nettle Tap Moth
Cranefly Ormosia lineata Bog Asphodel
Buff-tailed Bumblebee Common Carder Bee

As we neared the North Bay the sun made a welcome appearance and we were pleased to see a pair of Guillemots paddling along the shoreline. I also spotted a Razorbill  flying past, some 50m out. We sat for a while at the entrance to the bay and were rewarded by sightings of flypasts of a Shag and a Curlew.

Common Guillemot Razorbill
Shag Curlew

Below is the view north from Ardmore Point. Note Helensburgh to the right.


We watched the tide line barely advancing into the bay during the time we were watching. There were only Oystercatchers, Herring Gulls and a few Curlew. One of the Herring Gulls flew quite close to us and descended onto the sand. We thought another Curlew flew south from the bay, but it was actually a Whimbrel . I also managed a shot of a Guillemot flying south. We alked along the edge of the North Bay heading back to towards the car. We were slightly disappointed that there was only a single Curlew feeding on the sands.

Herring Gull Whimbrel
Common Guillemot Curlew

At the end of the last section of path John’s bins picked out a large flock of Canada Geese sharing a field with a few horses.


We passed a fairly tall umbilifer that had a purple tinge. On further investigation I decided it was a Wild Angelica plant. I also noticed some small white flowers in the grass verge. They were a double flowered variety of Feverfew, probably an escapee from the garden. Just as we left the path, near the car, a hoverfly, Eristalis nemorum, was on a Yarrow flower head. Our final picture of the visit was of a Curlew, the last of a group of Curlew that were flushed from the seashore by a man and his dog.

Wild Angelica Feverfew
Hoverfly Eristalis nemorum ( a.k.a. Eristalis interruptus) Curlew

Well, despite the gloomy start we were agreed that it had been a productive visit. I share John’s opinion that we’ve ended up with an eclectic mix of sightings. My personal favourites were the Robin, Guillemots and Whimbrel. The weather had improved as the hours passed and we sipped tea and downed Strawberry Tarts in lovely warm sunshine. Hopefully we get similar conditions next week

Week ending: 11th September 2022: Torness



This week we headed for Torness, east of Dunbar. There were reports of various migrants such as the Icterine Warbler  and Wryneck  and, according to my WeatherPro App, the weather was to be mainly sunny. In addition, as the BBC Tidal webpage was indicating that the tide would be low throughout our visit, the walkway at Torness would provide an ideal viewing point for passing birds and, who knows, maybe even cetaceans.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

So after breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (8/10: OK, but let down a bit by small plates, over-cooked and small portions of bacon and a wobbly table) we made the 15 min journey down the A1 to the car park of Torness Nuclear Power Station. I had gathered from Birding Lothian reports on Twitter that the Wryneck was hanging around an area between the car park and the coastal walkway. Unfortunately all we saw were distant views of a Whinchat  and a juvenile Goldfinch. We therefore made our way onto the upper walkway so that we could look back over the area around the car park. John was looking the other way, out into the Firth of Forth where he immediately spotted a pair of Grey Seals bobbing up and down a fair bit out.

Whinchat Juvenile Whinchat
Juvenile Goldfinch Grey Seal

I spied an Oystercatcher probing the exposed rocks just below the walkway and I also noticed a young Pied Wagtail moving along the
sea defences. A juvenile Herring Gull checked us out for chips before a beautiful Meadow Pipit landed just below us on the concrete Dolos

Oystercatcher Juvenile Pied Wagtail
1st Cycle Herring Gull Meadow Pipit

Also moving about the coastal defences were a pair of Wheatear that gave us the runaround on first seeing them, but eventually they plucked up the courage to sit atop the Dolos to pose for pictures. Sandwich Terns were passing fairly often as was the odd defecating Gannet.

Female Wheatear Wheatear
Sandwich Tern Gannet

I noticed some flowering Chicory at the side of the walkway. I snapped some shots of a passing Cormorant as it sped west. We reached the end of the upper walkway and descended stairs which lead to a harbour area. We were met by a very accommodating male Pied Wagtail.

Chicory Cormorant
Pied Wagtail...

 Below is the view west from the harbour looking towards Skateraw and Barns Ness. Notice the Lifeboat in the foreground and also, on the right, the interlocking dolos which form the sea defences.


We spent some time on our stools observing the Gannets circling over the harbour. They obviously noticed fish but never plunged to catch them. A young Herring Gull had a failed attempt but a large Great Black-backed Gull showed them how it was done.

Gannet....
1st Cycle Herring Gull Great Black-backed Gull

I also photographed passing Oystercatchers and Cormorants from our excellent viewpoint. We got a visit from a very tired Large White butterfly that took a rest beside us on the quay. It was a similar story when a Speckled Wood butterfly rested in one of the Dolos.

Oystercatcher Cormorant
Large White Butterfly Speckled Wood Butterfly

Below is a view of the lighthouse at Barns Ness. To the right is the Bass Rock, the site of the World’s largest Gannet colony.


We headed back along the lower walkway where John came across several Craneflies, probably Tipula oleracea , scrambling up the concrete wall. I snapped a copulating pair while John investigated another group of insects, Rove Beetles, probably Othius punctulatus , that were also on the wall. I also noticed a few Red Spider Mites. A bit further along the walkway, John drew my attention to another resting Speckled Wood butterfly. We next ascended the stairs to the upper level to complete our passage along the coast. We met yet more Wheatears and a nice wee female Pied Wagtail.

Cranefly - Tipula oleracea Beetle - Othius punctulatus
Red Spider Mite Speckled Wood Butterfly
Wheatear Female Pied Wagtail

As I took yet another Gannet photo, probably my best shot, John drew my attention to a Brownlipped Snail that was clinging to the sea wall. We left the walkway had another look in the area we had first searched for the Wryneck and Warblers, but sadly it was a fruitless effort. I did though get a fairly nice shot of another Large White butterfly. Our final sighting was of a pair of Grey Herons flying over the field next to the car park.

Gannet Brown-lipped Snail
Large White Butterfly Grey Heron

Although frustrated that we dipped on the Wryneck and Warblers (and we later found out that the action was at Barns Ness!), we were nevertheless very satisfied with a very entertaining afternoon in beautiful weather observing birds and insects at close range. I particularly enjoyed the Gannets and Wheatears. We finished the day supping tea and downing strawberry tarts before returning home.

Week ending: 5th September 2022: Turnberry and Maidens


People of Central Scotland awoke on Sunday to find a vast blanket of cloud and rain spoiling the recent spell of lovely weather. However, my WeatherPro app predicted that sunshine would spread from the south-west to replace the rain by about 10am and that the bright and warm conditions would last throughout the day. It was a no brainier then, we would venture forth to sunny Turnberry and Maidens to search the coast for interesting flora and fauna. The BBC Tide Tables predicted that the tide would be low on our arrival and would be incoming throughout the visit. Of course we nipped into Stewartfield Morrisons in East Kilbride for our customary breakfasts (9.5/10: excellent, but -0.5 for insufficient butter for the toast), then we made good progress down the M77 and A77, and arrived at Turnberry by mid-morning and it was indeed bathed in sunshine.

https://goo.gl/maps/468paB2t4DN2

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We started at Turnberry beach which offers an excellent view of Ailsa Craig, the world-famous island that is the source of the granite used in high quality curling stones. It is now unoccupied and is managed by the RSPB  due to its internationally important site for nesting Gannets (yes, that’s one above Ailsa Craig). We were delighted to find that some of those Gannets were diving just off Turnberry beach. We sat for a short time on our 3-legged stools and watched them as they passed. Although they were very close to us and often looked as if they were about to dive, they unfortunately didn’t while we were there. We were also looking to see a reported Curlew Sandpiper.

Ailsa Craig Gannet

Eventually we cast our eyes along the shoreline and were delighted to see a half-dozen bar-tailed Godwits foraging along the water’s edge.


Just beyond the Godwits there were a similar number of Goosanders  bobbing up and down just behind the breaking waves. We also could just see a pair of Black-tailed Godwits  standing by the shore, probably watching the few people, us included, that were moving along the edge of the sand dunes.

Goosander Black-tailed Godwit

One of those people, an over-eager birder, unfortunately put the birds up and they seemed to land near rocks about 150m to the south. We carefully moved to behind those rocks and sat on our stools waiting on the birds to return. Fortunately some of them did and I snapped them in flight as they arrived. First to be seen was a small family of Red-breasted Mergansers (distinguished from Goosanders by the thin black line through the white patch on each wing). A Common Gull was next to pass and then a Bar-tailed Godwit arrived (note the barred tail) along with some Oystercatchers. A line of Goosanders sped past and settled at the north end of the beach. Finally we heard the familiar call of a Curlew and we watched it land about 40m from where we were sitting.

Red-breasted Merganser Common Gull
Bar-tailed Godwit Oystercatcher
Female Goosander Curlew

The Oystercatchers began spreading out along the shore as they foraged for mussels and cockles.


I noticed a Common Gull and Black-headed Gull amid the Oystercatcher “invasion”. They were probably ready to nick their catches. I managed some shots of the Curlew and the Bar-tailed Godwit feeding side-by-side. Just beyond them were the pair of Black-tailed Godwits we’d seen earlier. We were a bit surprised, but pleased, when a young Wheatear  flew onto a rock 10m from us. It posed for a few minutes before disappearing into the dunes.

Common  Gull Curlew    Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit 1st Cycle Wheatear

Although disappointed not to have seen the Curlew Sandpiper (I read on the Ayrshire Birding Facebook group that a birder had seen it at the time we were there - perhaps it was the “overeager” chap mentioned earlier), we were satisfied with our sightings and decided to move a mile up the coast to Turnberry Point. Our viewing position was at the Turnberry Lighthouse . The view from the approach road is shown below. Note, on the right of the shot, the site of the ruin of Turnberry Castle and Isle of Arran in the distance.


After taking the previous shot, John spotted a Wheatear on the golf tee just left of us. Unfortunately it dashed down the fairway before I could get a more satisfactory picture. The lighthouse is built where the moat of the old castle used to be. On its banks we found an expanse of blooming Montbretia plants. On the grassy mounds around the lighthouse entrance there were beautiful Hedge Bindweed flowers blooming. We could hear the chattering calls of Starling coming from the roof of the lighthouse. We were on the lookout for another reported visitor, a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling. It wasn’t on the roof.

Wheatear Monbretia
Field Bindweed Starling

I heard the familiar warbling tones of a Robin coming from the right edge of the lighthouse. It was singing boldly from a high branch of a bush. We very carefully edged our way around the periphery of the lighthouse to reach the fairly safe low cliff top that overlooks the outer reaches of the Firth of Clyde. Our attentions were immediately drawn to the large number of juvenile Starlings foraging on the crags. Search as we might, their Rose-coloured cousin was not with them. We were briefly entertained by a juvenile Shag splashing about the the water before it flew southwards. Also, a pair of Oystercatchers were poking about the rock pools that were just below our stance.

Robin Juvenile Starling
Juvenile Shag Oystercatcher

A single, lonely-looking eclipse Eider paddled past and in the air, a Gannet and Great Black-backed Gull flew by. Thereafter we headed back along the approach road towards the car. Just before the small car park, as I watched some golfer in action, my eye was caught by a large brown mushroom, standing proud in the short rough. It was the aptly-named, The Prince.

Eider in Eclipse Plumage Gannet
Great Black-backed Gull The Prince

Our final location was Maidens, the coastal village a couple of miles north of Turnberry Point. It was a brief but enjoyable stop, starting with a series of pictures of a pair of mating Small White butterflies. From these I am fairly sure the energetic male was unsuccessful in its repeated attempts to complete copulation.

Below is a photo of a group of Redshanks lined up in the middle of the harbour.


We walked along the north side of the harbour basin and sat on our stools scanning the scene. I snapped a passing 2nd-winter Common Gull. Soon after a Curlew flew in and landed at the waters edge. I could see it had a damaged wing perhaps inflicted by the second Curlew that landed soon after it. I noticed also a hoverfly, perhaps a Common Drone Fly, that was sitting on the Orange Sea Lichen growing on a large fragment of the damaged concrete walkway.

2nd Cycle Common Gull Curlew...
Hoverfly - Common Dronefly

John directed me to a couple of beautiful Small Tortoiseshell butterflies he had seen feeding on some Common Ragwort. After photographing those we noticed a couple of Wheatears lurking about the large broken slabs of concrete ahead of us. Pleased that we had seen a Wheatear at each of our stops we headed back to the car. I spotted an Early Bumblebee on Mayweed just before the car. As we were about to have tea I noticed an unfamiliar plant growing on the kerbside. These turned out to be Black Nightshade.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly Wheatear
Early Bumblebee Black Nightshade

It had been a very enjoyable trip and although we didn’t see the reported birds we were completely satisfied with or collection of sightings, particularly, the Wheatears, Gannets and The Prince. And into the bargain, the weather was sunny throughout the visit. We celebrated with tea and cream caramel tarts (apparently strawberry tarts were out of season).
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