To Autumn  ( 1st Verse )

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 

     Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 

     Conspiring with him how to load and bless 

     With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; 

     To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, 

    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 

     To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 

    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 

     And still more, later flowers for the bees, 

     Until they think warm days will never cease, 

     For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells. 

John Keats

Our Expeditions


14th October :

Stevenson, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

For the first time in a few weeks, bright, dry weather was predicted for the West of Scotland, so we decided to visit our favourite trio of sites on the North Ayrshire coast - Stevenson, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour. But first we stopped off at Stevenston Morrisons cafe and enjoyed a pair of excellent breakfasts:10/10 - highly recommended if you’re ever in the area.
As we drove onto Stevenston Point, the sun hadn’t quite broken through but I did notice a Skylark scurrying in the grass. I managed to stop and snap it from my driver’s seat. The tide was low and several Cormorants were on the rocks drying their wings. One in particular drew our interest as its back was pure black, in contrast to the rest of its plumage which was a rather dark, metallic, copper-colour. Perhaps it was immature. Next, three large Mute Swans took to the air, no doubt encouraged by the usual Sunday dog walkers looming nearby. As they passed I could see the sunlight wasn’t too far away as across the Firth of Clyde lovely Arran was now illuminated.

Skylark Cormorant Mute Swan The Isle of Arran

The first sunbeams of sunlight uncovered a Grey Heron lurking in the rocks to the left of the Cormorants. It was the first time we had seen one there. The birds seemed to be livened by the brightness. A handsome Redshank picked its way through shallow pools below us, and a pair of Eider sped past south. I picked up a fairly large flock of Sanderlings flying in the opposite direction before coming to rest on the beach amongst some Gulls on a sandy spit. For once we were willing the dog walkers to disturb them so that they might fly back to the Point. It didn’t happen.

Grey Heron Redshank Eider Sanderling

On the south side of the Point I managed a couple of pictures of Pipits. The first was of a Meadow Pipit, with its light, creamier look. On the rocks, I captured a shot of the more drab Rock Pipit. Next, I was attracted by the familiar cheeps of a Grey Wagtail (surely a more apt name would be the Yellow-rumped Wagtail). I traced its calls to shoreline rocks. Our final capture on the Point was of a pair of Mute Swans (probably the ones we’d seen earlier) that were beautifully silhouetted by the now strong sunlight behind them.

Meadow Pipit Rock Pipit Grey Wagtail Mute Swan

Just up the coast from Stevenston we parked the car at Saltcoats Harbour and immediately came across a Curlew foraging close in on the rocks. It seemed to be used to people passing as it was unconcerned by our attention. A Feral Pigeon was a bit more wary, keeping its eyes on me until I was out of sight. No such worries for the “gallus” Herring Gull. I was at the close limit of my camera lens and it couldn’t have cared less. But most skittish were the Starlings. They were up and away at the mere flick of a wrist.

Curlew Feral Pigeon Herring Gull Starling

Walking along the north side of the harbour we could see (against the sunlight) many birds making the most of the low tide feeding opportunities before the tide came in. Oystercatchers were perhaps the most noticeable, and noisiest, as they searched the rock pools. A large group of Ringed Plovers were joined by a single Sanderling. A single Black-headed Gull stood motionless in the midst of the activity as if it had already had its fill. Most of the Redshanks present were roosting in a group but one was climbing over large rocks searching for titbits.

Oystercatcher Sanderling Black-headed Gull Redshank

I was a bit disappointed not to have seen Purple Sandpipers on the rocks of Saltcoats Harbour, and there were no Terns or Gannets. Although very pleasant, it all seemed a bit quiet. We drove to Irvine Harbour for a short visit and as we stepped out of the car we just missed out on a picture of a Seal close to the walkway. There seemed to very little else on the river. The closest birds we could see, some Lapwings, were about 200m away. It was with some delight then when a Cormorant flew past us up the river. Then I noticed, just across the Irvine, a Great Black-backed Gull. We decided to take a stroll up to the river mouth. A noisy Black-headed Gull passed us at just above head height. Most likely it was checking us out for bread.

Lapwing Cormorant Great Black-backed Gull Black-headed Gull

All we saw on our walk were a pair of Rooks on a tower of security cameras (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). As we returned to the car I caught an Oystercatcher bolting downstream over a magnificent preening Mute Swan. John pointed out that well beyond them (~200m), three Seals were sitting on a platform over away on the Garnock. My camera managed an image good enough to distinguish the Seals. I think the right and centre Seals have “doggy-like” heads and are Common Seals and the left, from its “Roman nose”, is a Grey Seal . Our last picture of the visit was of a flock of Feral Pigeons that circled the car park just as we were settling down on our stools, preparing tea.

Oystercatcher Mute Swan Common / Grey Seals Feral Pigeons

It had been an enjoyable trip with a few highlights such as the Sanderlings and Seals, and a few pleasing photographs had been taken (see below). Definite highlights were the cream-filled fruited scones from Morrisons which, with lovely strong tea, drew the expedition to a very satisfactory conclusion. And of course the blue skies had helped to make it one of those outings made us feel that it was a pity we had to go home.

Pictures of the Week:

Meadow Pipit Starling
Rooks. Ralph and Roger!! Feral Pigeon

7th October


With an approaching weather front moving in from the Atlantic set to drench Central Scotland, we travelled east to Dalkeith Morrisons for breakfast. As we dined (9/10), the weather seemed to be darkening and it had started to spitting with rain. We decided to cut our losses and opt for Musselburghrather than travelling further east where the weather may have been just as bad. In the recent weeks, I had visited Musselburgh searching for even a record shot of the White-winged Scoter  but I had always arrived after it had left. “Maybe this time”, I said to John.

We parked on the approach road into Levenhall Links and walked down to the sea wall just to the east of the Scrapes. The first bird we saw was a Cormorant perched on top a yellow sewage outlet. Not surprisingly, a good place to find birds.  “There’s Sammy!”, roared John, our code for “There’s a Seal”, in this case, a Common Seal. It was fairly close to the the wall, but the light was poor. Next, an adult Gannet swept past without diving. About 150m offshore we spotted a small flock of Velvet Scoter. I scanned the flock to determine if one of them was the White-winged Scoter - sadly not.

Cormorant Common Seal Gannet Velvet Scoter

The tide was reaching its high point and birds were pouring on to the Scrapes. They were mainly Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Bar-tailed Godwits. We decided to visit the Scrapes as there were blue skies to the West, so we guessed the light would improve. On our way there we were passed by a couple of Juvenile Gannets and far out on the sea I noticed a pair of winter plumage Slavonian Grebes .  In breeding plumage these are the most attractive of the UK’s grebes, and although their winter plumage is not as fetching, I think their red eyes certainly catch one’s attention.

Oystercatcher Bar-tailed Godwits Juvenile Gannet Slavonian Grebe

From the hides we could see many birds. A group of a dozen Redshanks were roosting in the centre of the Middle Scrape. John estimated that there were over 1000 Oystercatchers crowding the central area of the Reserve. I could also see significant numbers of Curlew and also a pair of Shelduck.

Redshank Oystercatcher Curlew Shelduck

Suddenly, something seemed to put up a lot of the birds and I noticed that there were Golden Plovers among them. In Scotland, they winter mainly on the coast, but in summer they move to upland moorlands.  About half a dozen Dunlin had been feeding near to the Redshanks, but they were also disturbed. Not so the Teal, who dabble contentedly throughout. Gradually all of the birds settled and order was restored. Bar-tailed Godwits had landed at the back of one of the Scrapes but took a while to feel safe enough to tuck their beaks beneath their wings.

Golden Plover Dunlin Teal Bar-tailed Godwit

On leaving the Scrapes we were greeted by about 100 noisy Greylags flying overhead. They approached from the direction of the Esk. Some of them settled in the Scrapes but most circled back from whence they came. We were returning to the car, intending to view the sea from Fisherrow to check that the White-winged Scoter hadn’t been hiding there. A Guillemot popped up just below the sea wall probably attracted in by Mackerel shoals. A juvenile Shag bobbed up and down on the waves as it watched us pass by. Just as I was snapping it, a handsome Cormorant flew past. I wondered if it was one of the continental “sinensis” race, but I’m uncertain.

Greylag Geese Common Guillimot Shag Cormorant

Just as we were about to move away from the sea wall, a Scoter flew across our view, but once again it was a Velvet, not the species we were after. By the path, on the way back to the car I noticed that there were still wild flowers in bloom. Scentless Mayweed, Yarrow  and Common Ragwort a plant with a bad reputation.

Velvet Scoter Scentless Mayweed Yarrow Common Ragwort

I drove along to Fisherrow but we didn’t see any Scoters there, only several boats that might have unsettled them. Undeterred, we travelled back to the mouth of the Esk. We could see poor weather moving in from the west, but were delighted to see a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers fly upstream. A young Herring Gull was continually lifting something from the sea and dropping it. At first I thought it was a Razorshell   but from the pictures I could see it was a shard of wood. Maybe it too thought it was a Razorshell. John spotted flocks of Wigeon  gathered 50m out in the ever more choppy sea. Occasionally some of them flew further into the mouth of the river. We decided we too should get into a more sheltered place - the car for a tea and pastry!

Red-breasterd Merganser Herring Gull Eider Wigeon

 We normally have our tea, by the car, sitting on our stools. However, the wind and rain forced us inside the car, but given the weather prediction, we were pleased the rain held off so long - we even had a period of brightness. From these pictures you can see that our species count was fairly high (25) given the relatively short time we were there. However I’ve finished business with the White-winged Scoter!

Teal Kestrel
Greylag Common Guilimot

Back To Top

October 2018

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