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

Archive

9th June 

John Muir Country Park


Fair weather was predicted for Scotland’s central belt and social media reports of bird activity were very sparse, so our decision of where to head on Sunday was based on finding a location we hadn’t visited in some time. John Muir Country Park (JMCP)  fitted the bill as we last visited there 6 months ago. (We have always referred to the site as Tyninghame Bay, but because everybody else seems to call it JMCP, then to avoid confusion, we will too, although the Park covers a much wider area than Tyninghame Bay). We called in at Dalkeith Morrisons for wee breakfasts (9/10: excellent food but we had to wait for it), and then drove up the A1 towards Dunbar, and arrived at a cloudy JMCP. Undeterred we set off across the salt marsh towards the beach. Our first snap was of a disgruntled Wood Pigeon we put up when I moved towards a huge patch of Crosswort in the long grass on the edge of the salt marsh. We picked our way across the 100m of damp ground of the marsh. In some short grass we passed some Scotch Bonnet , the Fairy Ring mushroom. Also in the damp grasses there were single Thrift flowers dotted around, with only a few of the more usual dense patches.

Wood Pigeon Crosswort Scotch Bonnet Thrift

On the edge of the dunes there were the familiar dainty blue flowers of Field Forget-me-nots, poking through the wiry grass. Also seen were the small white flowers of Common Mouse-ear . Also plentiful were the very attractive pink-purple, pea-like blooms of Common Vetch  Just before the dunes John saw a Cinnabar Moth. It settled low in the grass but I managed to persuade it onto my warm finger where I took a quick shot or two (see”Pictures of the Week”, below). I then noticed a yellow and black-banded caterpillar crawling along a grass stem. It was the larva of another moth, the 6-spot Burnet Moth larva.

Field Forget-me-not Common Mouse-ear Common Vetch 6-spot Burnet Caterpillar

While I was taking pictures with my LUMIX LX5, John took my Nikon D500 and had at go capturing some images. He caught a Red-tailed Bumblebee on Bird’s-foot Trefoil, the first of four bees  we’d see, and a Meadow Pipit studying us from the footpath. Eventually we reached the end of the path and moved out onto the Beach and seashore. We proceeded west towards the mouth of the River Tyne. We had been hoping to see some wading birds, but were to be disappointed. All we saw were a few Herring Gulls and a single Cormorant feeding 30m off shore.

Red-tailed Bumblebee Meadow Pipit Herring Gull Cormorant
 
The view west across Tyninghame Bay showing the Bass Rock  on the right, and important nesting ground of 150,000 of breeding Gannets.


As we walked the shore there was a steady stream of Gannets, quite far out, mainly passing eastwards. Occasionally a few were close enough for some record shots. The one below is of a 3rd year Gannet, with dark brown and white-marked wings. They will have full adult plumage next year. We were disappointed, but with understanding, to find the west extreme of the shoreline sectioned off to protect breeding Terns, particularly the Little Tern. We therefore cut across the dunes into Inner Tyninghame Bay, the tidal Estuary of the River Tyne. As we crossed the dunes we saw a lot of Skylark activity, so much so the John expressed his annoyance at the constant twitterings of the hovering Skylarks. I did managed a shot of one of them as it rose into the air above us. John again took my camera as I once again searched for flowers and insects with my “wee” LUMIX. He got a nice shot of a Meadow Pipit on some tall vegetation. I, in the meantime, snapped some shots of one of the many Common Storksbill plants  that were indeed common on and around the rough path.

3rd Cycle Gannet Skylark Meadow Pipit Common Storksbill

Also on the path I noticed a couple of Snails, the White-lipped  and Dark-lipped Snails. Near the snails was a fairly tall, robust-looking plant with wine coloured conical flowers. This was Houndstongue. Somewhat more attractive, was the exotically-named Viper’s Bugloss. I got a few nice shots of a White-tailed Bumblebee sampling the nectar of its many flowers (see”Pictures of the Week”, below).

White-lipped Snail Dark-lipped Snail Houndstongue Viper's Bugloss

The tide was low, so the vast expanse of Inner Tyninghame Bay, which is totally flooded at high tide, had its sands exposed with only the narrow waters of the River Tyne flowing to the Firth of Forth. On the river were a few Mute Swans and a pair of Shelducks, but again, no waders. We picked our way across the soft damp sands of the Bay towards the mouth of the Hedderwick Burn. From there we walked the north perimeter of the East Links Family Park on our way back to the car park. I photographed some Hedge Mustard by the path and also some pretty Red Clover.

Mute Swan Shelduck Hedge Mustard Red Clover

Midway along the path adjacent to the Family Park we found some interesting flowers and insects. A Dog Rose bush seemed irresistible to bees. Many of the cup-like roses contained a buzzing bee or two that seemed intoxicated by the experience of being immersing in pollen while sipping nectar. The pictures below show two such nectar junkies, a Honey Bee  and a White-tailed Bumblebee. I also photographed a Common Carder Bumblebee (see”Pictures of the Week”, below) on Red Clover. We also saw Red and White Campion, although they didn’t seem to attract any insects.

Wild Rose (Dog Rose) Honey Bee Red Campion White Campion

John spotted a dinky wee Marmalade Hoverfly feeding on Vipers Bugloss. While I photographed it, a black fly, nemorilla floralis, landed on my finger. So I recorded the moment. Our final flowers of the visit were just before the toilet block, where we saw Bittersweet and Common Restharrow. Our final capture was quite pleasing. It was the beetle, amara commonus (see”Pictures of the Week”, below).

Marmalade Hoverfly Nemorilla Floralis Bittersweet Common Restharrow

It would be fair to say that the birds took a back seat for this visit. However, the flowers and invertebrates that drew our interest left us satisfied with efforts. Our tea was accompanied by Danish apple lattice pastries. A very satisfactory end to a satisfying day.

Pictures of the Week:

Cinnabar White-tailed Bumblebee
Common Carder Bumblebee Beetle - amara commonus


2nd June 

Musselburgh and Port Seton


We went to Musselburgh and Port Seton on Sunday. The weather forecast wasn’t encouraging but we approached the visit as something of a challenge, hoping that we’d see enough to report in this blog. Of course we stopped off at Dalkeith Morrisons for our customary breakfasts (9.5/10: excellent fare) before driving to the the mouth of the River Esk. John spotted a female Goosander moving down the river with her chicks. As we walked briefly upstream to photograph them, I noticed a nice Common Mallow plant overhanging the river bank and also some Dove’s Foot Cranesbill. Conditions were dim and the Goosanders were near the opposite bank but I managed a few nice shots of the cute chicks.

Common Mallow Dove's Foot Cranesbill Goosander and Chicks

I came across some Henbit Deadnettle . It was poking out from under the fence wire. We next set off on our usual journey along the sea wall to the Scrapes. The tide was nearly at its high point so we hoped that some of the birds that had been feeding on the sea shore would have sheltered in the Scrapes. A bold wee House Sparrow appeared to wish us well from its perch on the riverside fence. On a telephone wire high above the Cadet Hall boundary fence I spotted a pair of Barn Swallows taking a wee rest between spells of hunting flies (Also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Just past the Hall there were quite a few female Eiders with their ducklings gathered near the shore. Annoyingly though, a pair of beachcombers thought it would be a great place to skim stones across the water. They did a great job in scattering the Eiders.

Henbit Deadnettle House Sparrow Barn Swallow Female Eider  and Chicks

After I captured a fairly decent image of a handsome Herring Gull that circled overhead, a little clump of fungi caught my eye. These were Scotch Bonnets, Marasmius Oreades. A bit further on, a tiny 7-spot Ladybird was scaling the relative heights of Sea Plantain flower stems. Below the sea wall a female Eider was taking a nap.

Herring Gull Scotch Bonnet 7 Spot Ladybird Eider


I caught a pleasing shot of Reed Bunting landing on a Wild Rose bush (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). A Carrion Crow winked as I took its photo, its “nictitating membrane”  is obvious in the picture below. I surprised a pair of female Goosanders that were just below the sea wall. However, apart these and large numbers of Eider scattered along the coastal waters, there wasn’t much else of note as we looked seawards. But as we left the wall and walked towards the entrance to the Scrapes we did find the path-side vegetation more productive because we found a few interesting insects there. First of these was a Soldier Beetle, cantharis nigricans, which is fairly widespread throughout the UK. It is a carnivore that scours hedgerows and flower meadows for smaller insects . Also in the same grassy area we were joined by the Cranefly, tipula vernalis, another common insect of flowery meadows as they dine on nectar.

Carrion Crow Female Goosander Soldier Beetle Cranefly, Tipula Vernalis

The next insect we discovered was the dangerous-looking Dance Fly, empis opaca, on some Spring Vetch. It has a dagger-like snout that it uses on its prey. It has an sinister courtship ritual that necessitates presenting a potential mate with a dead insect. Just as I captured pictures of the Dance Fly we found that a lot of Dandelions had small wasp-like insects feeding on them. They were in fact Sawflies, tenthredo arcuata  feeding on nectar. They also eat smaller insects. As we continued towards the Scrapes we were overtaken by a Large White butterfly (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) that landed, conveniently for us, a few metres away on a flower. I snapped a few shots before it continued on its way. Our final insect was a Whited-tailed Bumblebee on the Spring Vetch.

Empis Opaca Tenthredo Arcuata Large White Butterfly White-tailed Bumblebee

As we stood at the entrance to the Scrapes and looked up the path we could see an adult Starling feeding its fledgling. It fairly rammed a bundle of worms down its throat.

Starling and Fledging


From the first hide (left-most) we could see the usual Oystercatchers, though not in the usual very large numbers. A pair of Shelducks were in the middle of the flock nipping any birds that got in their way. A pair of Gadwall landed fairly close, to the right of the hide. The female Shelduck, probably having had quite enough of the Oystercatchers’ antics, plodded along the poolside away from the flock.

Oystercatcher Shelduck Gadwall Female Shelduck

In the middle of the second scrape a few Bar-tailed Godwits  were feeding. They included one that was in its rust-coloured breeding plumage. Eventually we left that hide for the centre hide. On the way, we came across a twittering Goldfinch high in a tree. And, in low branches directly above the path as we walked, a Willow Warbler nipped between branches, not too concerned we were trying to photograph it.

Bar-tailed Godwit Goldfinch Willow Warbler

From the middle hide we saw Curlew positioned at the back of the Scrapes. While scanning the area using binoculars John caught sight of a female Pheasant watching a the back of one of the Scrapes. We hear the male but could not spot it. Despite being quite far off I managed quite a good record shot. I then noticed, in the middle of the closest Scrape, a female Mallard with her brood of ten ducklings . They seemed quite a handful, and quite big, a testament to their mother’s watchful eye.

Oystercatcher Female Pheasant Female Mallard

As we returned back the way we’d come, we met a Reed Bunting on a fence, probably the same one we had seen earlier. I also photographed a trio of nice wildflowers. First of these was White Campion with a Sawfly on one of its petals, the same species we’d snapped earlier. The next was  Oxford Ragwort, a flower with an interesting history . I noticed later it hosted some Flea Beetles , possibly chrysolina oricalcia. They were very tiny (1-2 mm) so identification was difficult from the picture alone.  The third flower we came upon was a nice specimen of Sea Plantain.

Reed Bunting White Campion Flea Beetle Sea Plantain

We returned to the car to find a large flock of Mute Swans gathered at the river mouth:


As the tide neared its peak, I reckoned the rocks at Port Seton could hold birds “forced in” by the advancing waters. We found this to be the case and soon after arrival I had got some decent pictures of Turnstones. They had to share the diminishing rockscape with Herring Gulls and Eiders (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). A pair of Gannets appeared and dived for fish a few hundred metres offshore. Eventually one passed close enough for a record shot. Our final capture was of a pair of Sandwich Terns that passed by. I was expecting more Tern activity but perhaps it was a bit early in the season.

Turnstone Turnstone Gannet Sandwich Tern
 
The gloomy view of the three Forth Bridges some 20 miles away:

   


Well, despite the rather poor light, the rain had stayed off and we had gathered a lot of photos- over 400. So with so many pictures of birds, flowers, insects and views we agreed it had been a successful visit. Our titbits this week were delicious strawberry tarts. As we were sitting on the promenade wall at Port Seton, 3 birders appeared with scopes. They were tracking 5 Spoonbills that were expected to pass by imminently. It needed more than that to tear us away from our tea and strawberry tarts. The Spoonbills didn’t turn up and the birders left as quickly as they’d arrived. We left satisfied with another successful visit, but still craving better light.

Pictures of the Week:

Large White Butterfly Barn Swallow
Reed Bunting Female Eider

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Archive   
May 2019
26th Pow Burn
19th Stevenston
12th Skateraw
5th Garnock Estuary
April 2019
24th-28th Arran
21st Hogganfield Loch
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