A buzzard calls

while winding gentle spirals in the sky,

a dynamo,

inducing fear and panic in its prey below.

Should mouse or vole forget how easily their moves are seen,

by microscopic eyes that lead the hungry talons down,

then it may disappear,

becoming nestlings’ vital food,

their hungry orphans left abandoned in the field.

James McLeod Campbell

Our Expeditions


September 16th: Musselburgh

We chose to travel east to Musselburgh this week as I’d read reports that some interesting birds had been seen there, namely the White-winged Scoter, Red-necked Grebe and Pectoral Sandpiper. However, the elements were against us as rain and high winds were predicted. Also, the tide was low at the time of our visit so the first two birds would be quite far from the sea wall.

As we got out of the car, parked on the approach road at Levenhall Links Leisure Park, we were already up and running, as I spotted a hoverfly, the Humming Syrphus (Syrphus ribesii) on a Yarrow flower head. We then made the short walk down to the sea wall where a nice pair of cyclists directed us to where they had seen seals on the shore. However we arrived just as the seals disappeared into the sea past a Cormorant preening on a waste pipe. But in a few minutes we realised that they were actually pretty active, and surfaced often as they moved across the bay. We counted at least 5 Common Seals, a few of which, we were told by a local, were juveniles. After about 20 minutes I had managed quite a few shots of their antics.

Humming Syrphus Juvenile Cormorant Common Seal

As we studied the seals, we could see, just to the east, four Sandwich Terns fishing, so we moved there to try for some pictures. As usually happens though, when we got there they had moved on. It wasn’t all bad, a pair of first cycle Gannets turned up and proceeded to fish quite close to the wall. They made repeated low dives, mostly unsuccessful ones, but I dare say they were honing their natural skills up to the level of their more impressive adults (We later learned that there was a “feeding frenzy” of many tens of Gannets much further up the coast, at Skateraw, to the East of their nesting area, the Bass Rock). And then the Sandwich Terns returned, a mixture of adults and juveniles displaying acrobatic skills as the made repeated dives into the sea.

1st Cycle Gannet...ready ....steady ...go Sandwich Tern

After feasting for about half an hour on the diving birds we moved into the Scrapes, otherwise known as the Levenhall Links Bird Reserve. The light was poor but straight away, from the middle hide, I snapped a Shelduck as it flew between lagoons. On the grass, a pair of Curlew were searching for invertebrates. From the left hide, during a brief sunny interlude, I caught a female Ruff as it moved across the shallow waters. Then, just as the rain began again, I caught a distant view of one of our “target” birds, the juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. Just a bit bigger than a Dunlin, it is identifiable by a faint, broad white band above its eye, ochre legs and a pair of white lines along its shoulders. Its boldly streaked breast and white belly form a sharp border.

Shelduck Curlew Female Ruff Pectoral Sandpiper

Fairly pleased and slightly damp, we moved back down to the sea wall to see if we could make out the American White-winged Scoter within the flock of regular Velvet Scoters. Initially we could not as they were too far out and the light was pretty gloomy. We did though get a visit from a Guillemot that popped up in the sea just below the sea wall. A Great Black-backed Gull cruised past, and then a Cormorant surfaced just in front of us. The light improved and the Scoters, about 40 of them, got a bit closer but we couldn’t see the one we were after. On inspecting the pictures later that night I saw a few that might have shown it, but I remain unconvinced.

Common Guillimot Great Blacked-backed Gull Cormorant Common Scoter?

As we struggled back to the car to drive to the Esk mouth, we were startled by a Pheasant that flew over the Scrapes fence, itself obviously startled by something. I managed a couple of shots before it disappeared into the long grass. At the Esk we parked next to the Cadet Hall and looked upstream for signs of a reported Kingfisher. Sure enough, John spotted it taking a fish from the water up to a rung of a ladder on the riverbank. We watched it for about a quarter of an hour during which time I got some nice shots, some as it flew along the bank.

Pheasant Kingfisher....... ....... .......

Our final foray at Musselburgh was a quick look at the mouth of the river. Of course, there were the ever-present Oystercatchers and Curlew, but I love to watch them and I’m always looking for interesting shots like the Curlew dispatching a couple of small Crabs (see below and Pictures of the Week). On our way back to the car John pointed out our first sighting for a few months of a Wigeon as it dabbled along the river shallows. It was John again who noticed a Kestrel hunting in its unique hovering style along the banks of the estuary hinterland. It was a pity the light was very poor, but the photo below shows the bird in action.

Oystercatcher Curlew Wigeon Kestrel

We got our tea and lemon cream muffins from the car and sat at the side of the Esk eating, drinking and watching for any further action from the Kingfisher. No such luck, but it didn’t matter as we were happy enough with our haul of pictures. Still, I might return soon to catch up with the birds we missed.

Pictures of the week

Common Seal 1st Cycle Gannet
Kingfisher Curlew

Friday 4th and 7th September 2018: RSPB Baron’s Haugh, Motherwell

This is a record of a couple of fairly brief visits to my local reserve at RSPB Baron’s Haugh, Motherwell. Poor John was working so I was on my own. The weather both days was very bright and mild, ideal for photographing nature.

Tuesday 4th September:

It was a quiet walk from the car to the reserve hides. There was hardly a twitter, not even a crow or pigeon. However when I arrived at the Causeway Hide, birders there drew my attention to a Water Rail that was lurking in the reeds just below the hide. Before long it emerged into the pools and we all had great opportunities for shots before it scampered back into the reedbed. As I waited for it to re-emerge, I noticed the foliage close to the hide was moving erratically as if something was rummaging below. Then suddenly, it became apparent that it was a fledgling Wren climbing up the vegetation. It was lucky there wasn’t a Sparrowhawk about as it looked very weak and vulnerable. Out on the Haugh, as well as the usual Mallards, I could see a few Black-tailed Godwits, some resting, some preening and others feeding. There was a large flock of Lapwings on the opposite side, but the occasional individual checked out the end I was on.

Water Rail Juvenile Wren Black-tailed Godwit Lapwing

A wee Green Sandpiper also flew past the hide, but didn’t fancy it and kept flying before settling on a sandy bank some 60 m away. That was one of about a dozen that had been seen there in the previous few weeks. And with the beeping of a text message from the wife, that was that for my Tuesday visit.

Thursday 7th September:

My Thursday walk down to the Causeway Hide was a only a bit more productive. A well-lit Magpie sat on a treetop calling to others on trees further down. It was a bit more vacant Haugh when I arrived at the hide than from the Tuesday. Some Snipe gathered around an exposed tree stump was the only sighting close enough for decent shot, but further away I also spotted Curlew, Little Grebes, Green Sandpipers, Cormorants, Grey Heron and, of course, Mallards. I decided to go for a walk around the reserve to see if I could see anything on the River Clyde, and to heat myself up as there was a steady, chilling breeze blowing through the hide. As I sat on a bench by a bend on the River Clyde where Otters frequently turn up, I was startled by a lone Bar-tailed Godwit darting fairly erratically over the River. I wondered where its mates were. I must have missed them.

Green Sandpiper Magpie Common Snipe Bar-tailed Godwit

Next I thought I saw a Mallard paddling close by on the Clyde, but on noticing it’s long bill I think it is a hybrid, possibly with some Shoveler in it. Then, slightly disappointed that the Otter didn’t turn up, I stood up to move on, only to stop when I heard a calling Buzzard circling directly overhead. I got some excellent shots of the back-lit bird against the azure sky. On my way back to the Causeway Hide I came upon another Magpie, this time it was much closer sitting on branches overlooking a field.

Hybrid Duck Buzz ard Magpie

I returned satisfied to the Causeway Hide and then got a few more pleasing shots. First was of Snipe that were happily prodding the shallows for invertebrates, but were spooked by something or other, probably a passing raptor. They fled southwards to find safety. In the middle of the Haugh, I could hear the persistent calls of a Great Crested Grebe chick. One of its parents surfaced with a fish in its beak, paddled towards the chick, who was delighted to receive it. A birder later informed me that there were two chicks and that each was being fed by one of its parents. My last photo from the Causeway Hide was of a group of about six Little Grebes “charging” across the water surface, for what precise reason, I’m not sure. On my way back to my car, I popped into the Marsh Hide but all I observed was a passing Grey Heron.

Common Snipe Great Crested Grebe Little Grebe Grey Heron

As can be seen from the pictures I’ve assembled, RSPB Baron’s Haugh is an excellent reserve for observing wildlife. Also it is worth noting, stating the obvious, that repeated short visits over a few days bring rewards. Finally, I’d like to say that walking a reserve is a therapeutic experience that dissolves away some of life’s worries (but only if you don’t run into one of the, sadly, increasing number of professional dog walkers whose antics tend to raise the blood pressure).

Pictures of the Week:

Water Rail Juvenile Wren
Common Snipe Buzzard

2nd September 2018: Aberlady (Kilspindie)

The weather predictions for Sunday were directing us to the east. Rain was threatened in the west, while the east was to have been dry but, alas, overcast. In Twitter feeds, birders had flagged up encouraging sightings around Aberlady LNR, including Little Egrets, Short-eared Owl, Black-tailed Godwits and Peregrine. So Aberlady it was. First stop was, of course, breakfast at Dalkeith Morrisons (9/10: -1 for John’s over-greasy eggs). At Aberlady, the small LNR car park was full, but we managed to park a 1/2 mile back, at the edge of the town. We decided instead to explore the shore to the north of the town beside the Kilspindie Golf Club. This was new ground for each of us.

The light was very poor as we set off along the damp, marshy edges of the shore, but we immediately were greeted by a trio of beautiful butterflies. First a quite lively Small White settled on a flower of the plentiful violet-tinged Sea Aster. Next a few Painted Ladies appeared and eventually one rested on a wee sandy patch, giving me enough time to capture a few shots. Much less flighty than these was a large Peacock butterfly. I was able to get quite a few nice macro shots on my trusty Panasonic Lumix LX5, although the light level was still depressingly dull.

Small White Butterfly Painted Lady Butterfly Peacock Butterfly Sea Aster

There were a few other insects frequenting the salt marsh. Honey Bees looked busy as they systematically moved from daisy to daisy. Also working the flowers were several species of hoverflies. The Common Banded hoverfly, Syrphus Ribesii, was largest amongst these with prominent yellow and black banded abdomen and gold-topped thorax. I must admit I’ve a soft spot for the UK’s most common hoverfly, the small Marmalade. Its orange-tinged abdomen are marmalade-coloured - hence the name. Less attractive though was my next capture, a spider. I’ve yet to firmly identify it, but it may be the Common Garden spider.

Honey Bee Syrphus Ribesii Marmalade Hoverfly Common Garden Spider

As we trudged on towards Aberlady Point we could see that the sun was shining on the Kingdom of Fife, Methil, to be specific, where a huge wind turbine is currently stationed . We hoped the sun would soon also bless us with its presence. Some incoming Oystercatchers caught my attention just as we passed the Kilspindie Golf Club flag post. A Mallard retreated into the gloom, unimpressed by our attention.

Methil Kilspindie Golf Club Oystercatcher Mallard

At the Point, at the edges of the shore, a pair of fledgling Swallows were being fed by a nervous parent. The young birds were perched on big rocks, waiting for the adult bird to return with insects.Nearer the sea, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Curlew were passing each other without taking any notice of each other, probably because they don’t eat the same food. Then our prayers were answered - the sun came out from behind the clouds! A female Wheatear whizzed passed away to the top of a rock. Notice, from the picture, it’s white rump, from which its name derives- “white erse” became “wheatear”.

Swallow Juvenile Swallow Bar-tailed Godwit / Curlew Female Wheatear

We then came upon an area of shore from which the sea had recently receded. Foraging about the damp rocks and pools were Dunlins and Ringed Plovers. Their sunlit plumages were stunning. I planted myself behind a large rock just low enough to allow me to shoot pictures without distracting the birds. The sun was behind us - a good tip for new birders. If you stay still with sun behind, preferably seated, the birds see you in silhouette and don’t recognise you as being human. As if to prove this, a male Linnet flew over the Ringed Plover and straight towards us, and seeing us at the last second, landed on a rock to our right. I then took a few shots of a lovely grey and white juvenile Ringed Plover. It’s a fact that most juveniles don’t survive past their 1st year, but those that do may live up to 10 years.

Dunlin Ringed Plover Linnet Juvenile Ringed Plover

We set off back to the car, retracing our steps, but in much better light. A well-illuminated female Wheatear stood boldly on a boulder until we got within its “safe distance” when it retreated to another. Then, much to our delight, I spotted a Little Egret walking along the Peffer Burn. This very attractive species is a relative newcomer to Scotland, having spread to the UK from the continent as recently as 1989  . To get a better shot, I carefully moved out over the shore towards it,. I had a 600mm lens, so I didn’t need to get too close, and avoided disturbing it. We passed another historic feature, the old Custom house

Female Wheatear Little Egret Custom House

I noticed a white Sea Aster amid the usual violet ones. We moved off the shore onto the road into the golf club. We were watched by a bird on a wire. At first I thought it was a Sparrow, but I think it looks like a sick Linnet. A pair of Mute Swans powered along the sands just as we reached the car. We moved west to Port Seton where we were met by a Pied Wagtail. But that was it for the day.

Sea Aster Linnet Mute Swan Pied Wagtail

Our trip was an exercise in positive thinking. Things turned out much better than I first thought they might. Main highlight of the day, that had many highlights, was the Little Egret. We celebrated with a Danish Pastry and a cup of strong tea.

Pictures of the Week:

Peacock Butterfly Female Wheatear
Dunlin / Ringed Plover Little Egret

Back To Top

September 2018

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