Our Expeditions: June 2021
Good Riddance 2020



Week ending: 20th June: Tyninghame Bay


The weather prediction for Sunday in Central Scotland was that it was to start cloudy but brighten as the day went on. The bright weather was to be better in the East so it was another visit to Dunbar, specifically, Tyninghame Bay. It had been two years since our last visit but also there was a chance that we might catch sight of a White-tailed Eagle that had been seen in recent days. So after a couple of breakfasts in Dalkeith Morrisons (9.5/10) we headed down the A1 for the John Muir Country Park.



It was on the dull side as we began our walk but blue skies were beginning to show as the cloud started to break. As we passed the toilet block, a male Reed Bunting was calling from a small bush. Not far from it, hiding in another bush, was a female. They weren’t the last Reed Buntings we saw as we passed over the dunes into the salt marsh. Also active in the area were many Meadow Pipits. They were very vocal, occasionally flying up into the air then gliding slowly down to the ground singing all the way. John came across a large Garden Snail on the path.

Male Reed bunting Female Reed Bunting
Meadow Pipit Garden Snail

 Also on the path were small patches of tiny, but, lovely pink Sea Milkwort flowers. In the long grass, blue Meadow Cranesbill flowers were bobbing in the breeze. I got some quick snaps of a White-tailed Bumblebee as it visited the Sea Milkwort. John spotted some Rabbits lurking in the undergrowth. I managed a snap of a young Rabbit that wasn’t as scared as it perhaps it should have been.

Sea Milkwort Meadow Cranesbill
White-tailed Bumblebee Juvenile Rabbit

As we observed the bunnies, a pair of Meadow Pipits dropped down from the bushes onto the scrubland. They were obviously courting. As we approached the Inner Bay I photographed an Early Bumblebee as it probed the gorgeous flowers of the wonderfully-named Viper’s Bugloss. We sat for a time on the edges of the Bay surveying it in the hope of seeing a Whitetailed Eagle. We didn’t. Instead we had to make do with some Thrift and a half dozen Sand Martins. The Martins were trickier to photograph but I managed a few decent efforts. The tide was high so the Inner Bay was flooded. However, disappointingly, there were very few birds on or over the water. We decided then to head for the sea shore and moved towards the mouth of the Tyne. We found that the area at the river mouth was sectioned off to protect rare nesting birds. A juvenile Stonechat landed on a warning post before flying into the dunes.

Meadow Pipit Early Bumblebee
Thrift Sand Martin
Juvenile Stonechat

We sat for a while peering over the rope at a large collection of birds that, until then, had been hidden from view. These were about a dozen Cormorants and fifty Goosanders as well as a few Eider.


 As we crossed the dunes we passed through a clearing where some wildflowers were blooming. I used my LUMIX LX5 on macro mode to photograph some of them. Small pink Storksbill flowers with feathery-looking leaves were my first capture, followed by a small, undernourished White Campion plant. John took a nice shot, using my Nikon D500, of a White-tailed Bumblebee on Viper’s Bugloss. I next got some piercing yellow Biting Stonecrop.

Common Storksbill Viper's Bugloss
White Campion Biting Stonecrop

 John also took a few shots of an ascending Skylark just as we caught sight of the breaking waves of the Forth estuary. I retook control of the D500 and stood at the shoreline watching for passing birds. A solitary Sandwich Tern, Shag and Herring Gull were my only captures. I did see a few passing Gannets but they were too far out for a decent shot.

Skylark Sandwich Tern
Shag Herring Gull

We returned to the Inner Bay intending to explore the wooded area at Hedderwick Hill. However, we were delighted to see a few Sandwich Terns had appeared over the river and were diving for fish. I photographed them for over half an hour as they made repeated dives, all the while making their “rusty door”-sounding calls.

Sandwich Tern


John interrupted me to point out a small group of Ringed Plovers that had just landed on the damp sand ahead of us. I got a couple of shots until John made an involuntary cough and put them up. I noticed also that there were more Sandwich Terns across the river.

Ringed Plover Sandwich Tern

 By the time we reached the woods it was time to return to the car. Our walk along the path that lead back to the toilet block produced a few interesting wildflower shots. The first was Restharrow, a pink pea-shaped flower so named as in the days of horse-drawn carriages the thick dense roots of the plant were able to stop (arrest) a small carriage (harrow). Bird’s foot Trefoil was my next shot. Wild Thyme is a low, pretty, purple-pink flowered plant that grows in pastures, cliff tops. It has an attractive fragrance. My final flower was an Opium Poppy, probably a garden escapee. Humans have been extracting painkillers from Poppies for thousands of years.

Restharrow Bird's Foot Trefoil
Wild Thyme Opium Poppy

But we weren’t finished there. We had a late flurry of invertebrate sightings, starting with a fairly large brown and white moth, as yet unidentified, that we found on a tree trunk. I nearly trod on a Small Heath butterfly that was on the short grass of the path. And on a sandy section of path, close to a burn, there was a Common Blue damselfly. Just before we reached the car there was a Speckled Wood butterfly on a Wild Rose bud.

Moth ( T.B.C. ) Small Heath Butterfly
Common Blue Damselfly Speckled Wood Butterfly

It was one of those days where the dearth of birds was more than compensated by the high number of flower and invertebrates sightings. We finished the day in warm sunshine with clear blue sky, supping tea as we ate chocolate cream eclairs - hats off to my weather app. So now we’ve had four sunny Sundays in a row. I’m now holding out for five.


Week ending: 13th June : Musselburgh, Port Seton


Our hopes were high for another sunny Sunday, and my weather app indicated that Musselburgh would be a good choice as it was to be mainly sunny for the duration of our trip.


The breakfasts in Dalkeith Morrisons were very tasty (9.5/10: only let down by slightly overcooked fried eggs) and set us up for a fine start at the mouth of the River Esk where we came across the “usual suspects” - Herring Gulls, Mallards, Oystercatchers and Carrion Crows. I watched a young Oystercatcher jabbing the sand without too much luck, unlike a Crow  that flew over carrying an unlucky Crab.

Herring Gull Mallard
Juvenile Oystercatcher Carrion Crow

The tide was as low as I’ve seen it, with the majority of birds, mainly Mute Swans and Eiders, congregated about 400m from the sea wall. I came across a lonely Turnstone on rocks just below the wall, but there was little else on or over the sea as we made our way to the Scrapes. At the boating pond just before the Scrapes there were a few Common Blue Damselflies  flitting about the grassy verges. Three quarters of the pond surface was covered by weed and the few boats that were on the water were confined to a narrow strip. I snapped a few shots of some Yellow Irises on the pond edges.

Kirkaldy to the North Turnstone
Common Blue Damselfy Yellow Flag Iris

 I had fun trying to catch a decent shot of Sand Martins  that were busy skimming the pond surface catching flies. Next we entered the reserve and walked the long path that connects the hides as there are often interesting flowers and insects there. But it was a bird we found first, a Blackbird sunbathing on the pathway. A few Speckled Wood butterflies were on and around the Hawthorns and I even managed a snap of the chunky hoverfly, the Pellucid Fly, as it hovered above us.

Sand Martin Blackbird
Speckled Wood Butterfly Pellucid Fly

I also managed to photograph a Silver Ground Carpet Moth that was hiding in the shade below some lovely White Deadnettles. When we entered the middle hide we were disappointed to find that all but one of the scrapes, the left-most, were completely dry. We read a sign that explained that this was due to maintenance work (of which there was little evidence). However, there were a few birds to be seen. A couple of quarrelling Shelducks  kept us entertained for a while.

Silver Ground Carpet Moth White Deadnettle
Shelduck

There were also a few Greylag Geese by the wet Scrape, and a few Oystercatchers. I was pleased to see a Pheasant briefly emerging into view from the long grass. And we then noticed a juvenile Grey Heron was standing at the far end of the scrape, occasionally preening but mainly standing motionless. A Black-headed Gull appeared and provided our last shot there before we retraced our steps back to the Esk.

Greylag Goose Pheasant
Juvenile Grey Heron Black-headed Gull

The walk back to the Esk-mouth produced a few photo-opportunities: a sleeping female Eider, a passing Lesser Blackbacked Gull and hordes of Oystercatchers flying back from the sands to the west, to the safety of the Scrapes. That was good news for us as it meant that birds that were left at the Esk would be a lot closer as they followed in the advancing tide. We passed an old Carrion Crow sitting fearlessly on the sea wall. I then spotted a Sandwich Tern  pass 100m offshore. At the river mouth a Cormorant was perching on the dumped supermarket trolley, a familiar feature to regular visitors, until the choppy waves eventually proved to troublesome and it flew off.

Female Eider Lesser Black-backed Gull
Oystercatcher Carrion Crow
Sandwich Tern Cormorant

 There was only a sliver of exposed sand for the Eider to cling to, but in 20 minutes it would be flooded.

The last of a group of Curlews that had been feeding at the shoreline flew off, possibly for the Scrapes. As we neared the Cadet Hall there were Goosanders  gathered at the river’s edge. They were mainly eclipse drakes, distinguished from the females by their larger white wing patches. The females were on the water. I managed a pleasing flight shot of what I think is one of the females as it flew upstream.

Curlew Female Goosander

Midstream, a large group of female Eider looked as if they were giving diving lessons to their ducklings. We watched them making frequent dives and John observed that when they resurfaced there was no sight of any sort of catch, such as shellfish or crabs. Eventually we rounded the Cadet Hall towards the car. I noticed some Hedgerow Cranesbill in the short park grass and in the long grass on the edge of the park some Red Poppies were still in bloom.

Eider Drake Juvenile Eider
Hedgerow Cranesbill Red Poppy

I decided it would be an idea to relocate to Port Seton to see if there were any birds, such as Terns, on the rocks of Wrecked Craigs, but when we arrived we were disappointed to find the tide was still too far out and the rocks were occupied by people beach-combing and sunbathing. However we were treated to a flypast of a large Grey Heron and a near-murmuration of the local Starlings as they made frequent trips between the rocks and the shoreside roofs. My final shots of the trip were of a pretty Oxford Ragwort and a nice example of Hedge Mustard, both found at the edges of the Port Seton Harbour.

Grey Heron Starling
Oxford Ragwort Hedge Mustard

Well it was three-in-a-row in terms of sunny Sundays and the Sunday in Musselburgh was definitely the warmest (23o C). It had been a very pleasant outing and although there had been no outstanding sighting our interests were held throughout the trip. My favourite sightings were of the Shelducks, Crow with Crab and Heron flypast. We of course celebrated as is normal with tea and Danish pastry (apple lattice) consumed sitting on a wee wall overlooking Wrecked Craigs - delightful. But, will it be four-in-a-row next week - you never know!


Week ending: 6th June: Skateraw and Torness


Well, who would have thunk it, another sunny Sunday across Central Scotland. I fancied a trip to Skateraw and Torness, for no better reason than we like that part of the world and, in the case of the former, we hadn’t been there for over a year

Cloud Outlook                                                                                                               Rain Outlook

After a couple of deliciously pleasant Morrisons’ breakfasts (9.5/10: -0.5 because John thinks nothing is perfect) we wasted little time in driving down the A1 past Dunbar to the lovely Skateraw Harbour car park. We walked up a short slope to the top of the Limekiln ruin and were treated to the breathtaking panorama, pictured below.


We continued up the path towards the Torness Nuclear Power Station, carefully watching for anything of interest and were immediately rewarded with a flypast of a pair of Barnacle Geese that circled the bay a couple of times before flying south. Just over the pathside stone wall I came across of Dunnock that had a beak-full of flies. John pointed out a pair of Shelducks that had just paddled in and onto the rocky shore, joining a wee Oystercatcher, about 40m below us. And to complete a satisfying few minutes, a lovely Wall butterfly flew onto the wall beside us and allowed me to snap a few shots.

Barnacle Geese Dunnock
Shelduck Wall Butterfly

On the way back down the brae I captured images of a few wildflowers and the insects they were hosting. There were Cocksfoot Moths on Field Speedwell, and also on Oxford Ragword. One of the Common Vetch plants that were pushing up through the thick grassy verges hosted what looked like spittle, and was in fact, Cuckoo Spit, a telltale sign that an insect known as the Spittlebug or Froghopper  is feeding on a plant. Near the public toilets there was a large group of Beach Roses that, disappointingly, had no little visitors, but was very lovely nevertheless,

Common Field Speedwell Oxford Ragwort
Common Vetch Beach Rose

We next headed out to the west of the Bay to the rocky Chapel Point where there are usually birds to be found. On the way we came across a large bush where Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows  and a Reed Bunting popped in and out of view. At the shore of the Firth of Forth I photographed a passing Carrion Crow, one of about a dozen that were on the rocks.

Goldfinch Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting Carrion Crow

At the Point I captured a picture of another passing bird, this time a Cormorant. It had been disturbed by a guy who had paddled his paddleboard from the beach right up to the rocky tip of Chapel Point where there were Cormorants and a large number of Shelducks. That sort of disturbance of wildlife is becoming a major problem all along the Lothian coast.


A Cormorant and an Oystercatcher winged it and pair of Shelducks scurried for safety into the water with their 9 ducklings. Eventually they returned to the shore allowing us some nice views. However it wasn’t long before the paddleboarder approached the Point once more, causing more birds to flee.

Cormorant Oystercatcher
Shelduck

I took pictures of a passing Herring Gull and of the striking view of Barns Ness lighthouse with the Bass Rock in the background. On our way back to the car I managed a shot of a Small Heath butterfly hiding in the grass. We were pleased to see a Roe Deer grazing in the middle of the field adjacent to the beach.

Herring Gull Barns Ness Lighthouse
Small Heath Butterfly Roe Deer

I noticed some interesting flowers growing around the edges of the field. First of these was the tall, violet-flowered Lacy Phacelia (which is originally from North America ). I then encountered the hairy, blue-flowered Bugloss. There were also patches of the beautiful Star of Bethlehem , aptly named since each white flower is star-shaped. The last of the flowers I found was Red Valerian, a tall plant with imposing ruby-red flower heads.

Lacy Phacelia Bugloss
Star of Bethlehem Red Valerian

We next drove to Torness Power station via the approach road that passes between crop fields. John spotted a Brown Hare  foraging in one of those fields. He also noticed an Oystercatcher sitting at the edge of the field. We moved on quickly as it may have been on eggs. Those fields also held Lacy Phacelia  and I was surprised to see a few Crimson Clover  flowers amongst the other wildflowers. There were Oxeye Daisies on the grass verges. Many of their flowers contained more Cocksfoot Moths. Quite prominent along the edges of the field were large yellow-flowered Brassicae, possibly Oilseed Rape.

Brown Hare Oystercatcher
Lacy Phacelia Crimson Clover
We eventually reached the Power Station car park and, on setting off, we immediately spotted a Yellowhammer singing on top of hedgerows. We walked along the concrete pathway that runs along the sea-facing perimeter of the power station. This forms part of the Torness coastal walkway and is an excellent place to watch the sea. A female Pied Wagtail was fly-hunting in front of us as we walked. We also encountered an Oystercatcher consume the contents of what looked like a Barnacle. And of course there were frequent passes of various sea birds, e.g. Cormorants.

Yellowhammer Oystercatcher
Female Pied Wagtail Cormorant

The walkway has an upper route from which we got magnificent views of passing Fulmars, Gannets and a Great Black-backed Gull. There were also many Skylarks very evident by their very loud and continuous singing. I managed a decent snap of a Skylark as it descended to the grassy plain behind the walkway.

Gannet Fulmar
Great Blacked- backed Gull Skylark



We were very fortunate to be visited by a Skylark that happened to land on a fence a few meters from where we were observing. We were also treated to a nice view of a Cinnabar moth not far from the Skylark. On our return to the car John pointed out a male Pied Wagtail at the edge of the car park. It may have been interesting to meet our final sighting, a “Greenbottle”, probably Lucilia Caesar.

Skylark Cinnabar Moth
Pied Wagtail Fly - Lucilia_caesar

It was then tea and Danish pastry time as we sat by the car in a sun-blessed car park chatting about the great time we’d had. My favourite moments were when we saw the Barnacle Geese, Skylark and Roe Deer and of course I always love the wildflowers I see. And the weather was great. Surely we couldn’t have three sunny Sundays in a row - could we?


Week ending: 30th May: Doonfoot


On Sunday it was wall-to-wall sunshine throughout the west of Scotland and the East was prone to mist, so we headed for Doonfoot on the south of Ayr. We stopped off at Stewartfield Morrisons in East Kilbride for a quick breakfast (10/10: excellent), before driving with great haste down the M77 until we reached Burns country, Alloway, and on to the car park at the mouth of the River Doon.


As we had expected, because it was a Bank Holiday weekend, the car parks were very busy when we arrived, in fact the Castle Walk car park was full so we started at the Greenan car park about a half mile to the south. This actually suited us as the tide was very low on arrival so we resolved to return to the river mouth in the afternoon. Greenan Castle made a welcoming sight after the 9 months since our last visit. A lone Grey Heron flew high overhead raising my expectations that it was going to be a fruitful visit. The bushes around the car park were alive with the chatter of many House Sparrows with their fledglings demanding food. As we set off, a brave male Blackbird was high on a Hawthorn bush vigorously announcing his presence.

Greenan Castle Grey Heron
Juvenile House Sparrow Male Blackbird

A bit further from the busy car park, Starlings, like the Sparrows, were babysitting their young, always though keeping a watchful eye on any potential threat, upon which they would dash unceremoniously from the scene. A single twittering Goldfinch flew down from the Castle area onto the Hawthorns.

Starlings
Juvenile Starling Goldfinch

As we moved around the dunes area I spotted a Brown Silver-line Moth  soaking up the sun atop a Nettle. And without too much effort I managed photographs of three species of butterfly, the Green-veined White, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. The Peacock looked the worse for wear.

Brown Silver-line Moth Green -veined White Butterfly
Peacock Butterfly Small Tortoiseshell

The same dunes area was teeming with wildflowers. The most prominent were Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort and Bluebells. I also noticed the small pink flowers of Doves-foot Cranesbill dotted about patches of short grass.

Red Campion Greater Stitchwort
Bluebell Doves-foot Cranesbill

John pointed out a Chocolate Mining Bee, Andrena scotica, feeding on a Dandelion flower. I then spotted a Red Campion plant that was hosting several Hairy Shieldbugs , and John then discovered a pair of 6-spotted Ladybirds on close to the path. Then at my feet I noticed a freshly dead Earthworm was being visited by a Flesh Fly , possibly Brachicoma devia, the Bee-nest Fleshfly, because its larvae predate developing Bumblebee larvae.

Mining Bee - Chocolate Hairy Shieldbug
7 Spot Ladybird Fly- Brachicoma devia

Just as we rounded the base of the cliff at Greenan Castle, I snapped a White-tailed Bumblebee that was resting on Nettle. A large Herring Gull kept a careful eye on us as we passed. On the other side of the cliff we heard the unmistakable irregular tones of a Sedge Warbler on the dunes. It was against the light but I managed a nice shot nevertheless. We walked along the edge of the field just south of the castle, watching for anything of interest on or near the hedges.

White-tailed Bumblebee Herring Gull
Sedge Warbler Greenan Castle

Our first sighting was of a Dunnock . It wasn’t long until we reached the part of the hedge I’d seen the Sedge Warbler. We sat for a bit and we were soon rewarded as the Sedge Warbler warbled its way up a thorny branch giving us some excellent, well-lit views. We retraced our steps around the cliff base but this time we watched a Rock Pipit feeding on seaweed and I also photographed some Sea Campion that was blooming low on the cliff. As we moved through a gap in the shoreside scrub we came across a Willow Warbler, high on a bush, with a beak-full of green caterpillars.

Sedge Warbler
Dunnock Rock Pipit
Sea Campion Willow Warbler


As per our plan for the day we returned to the Castle Walk car park with the aim of walking to the mouth of the Doon to hopefully observe the birds as they move closer as the tide comes in. We planked ourselves on our wee stools and as we waited we took in the view of the Bank Holiday crowds on Ayr Beach and Low Green.


There were Swallows and House Martins catching flies low over the river and I managed a few reasonable shots after quite a few attempts. Rooks and Jackdaws were very active in the area, coming and going all the time. A few landed on the pebbley riverside near to where we were sitting. On the water beyond the river mouth there were tens of Mute Swans and also a couple of Whooper Swans (who should have had flown to Iceland with the rest of their flock).

Barn Swallow House Martin
Rook Jackdaw
Mute Swans Whooper Swans

An angry cob thundered from under the footbridge out towards the approaching flock of swans who took the hint and retreated a bit. But why was it so angry?


There was a further problem for those Swans as they were also attacked by a large dog that was let off the lead by its irresponsible owner. I informed that person that he was breaking the law only to be, surprise surprise, met with angry denials. After snapping a Black-headed Gull flypast we decided to return to the car. At the bridge we realised why the big Swan was so aggressive. His pen was on the calm waters under the bridge with half a dozen light grey cygnets. The cob just didn’t want the other Swans anywhere near his cygnets. A bit further upstream there was a female Mallard with her ducklings.

Out of control dog Black-headed Gull
Mute Swan and babies Mallard and babies

No complaints about the weather this week. It was fabulous. No complaints either about our sightings. They were many and varied. We celebrated, as usual, with tea and cake (chocolate cream eclairs). I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect another warm and sunny Sunday next week - but it could happen

Week ending: 23rd May: Barns Ness


The weather forecast for Central Scotland was a bit depressing - wild, wet and windy. The glimmer of hope was that East Lothian might see the rain later in the day. With that possibility in mind we headed for Barns Ness for the first time since November. Our breakfasts in Dalkeith Morrisons were very nice (9/10: -1 for runny eggs).



Before we left, I noticed on Twitter a report that a Bluethroat had been seen at Barns Ness on Saturday evening. So that gave us a skip in our steps once we arrived. It had been seen near the “wreck” that is just south of the lighthouse. On the short walk there I snapped a Jackdaw that was hanging about the car park. It looked a bit like a mad scientist. Near the wreck we could see a few birders were already searching for the Bluethroat. Despite a careful watch it seems it had moved on during the night. We did come across a distant Stonechat on a fence. Later, a Skylark and Meadow Pipit landed in posts of the same fence.

Jackdaw Stonechat
Skylark Meadow Pipit

We walked along the seaweed-strewn beach scanning for birds in gloomy conditions.


We had flypasts of Carrion Crow, Herring Gull and a Shelduck  pair. The latter settled for a short time near the wreck, before taking off as the Randy drake courted his female.

Carrion Crow Herring Gull 1st Cycle
Shelduck


There were several pairs active near the wreck, some passing very close.


The sea was choppy as shown by a lone drake Eider that was bobbing with the waves, often disappearing from view as is dipped in a trough. A tall Grey Heron dropped in from the east onto the sea-lashed rocks. But that was it around the wreck. We paused for a while at what I think was once a garden plot, now overgrown. The few bushes there are always worth a  look. We saw a pair of Reed Buntings and …

Eider Grey Heron
Male Reed Bunting Female Reed Bunting

…. A Stonechat pair and a juvenile moving through the branches of the bushes. My attention then turned to flora as I had noticed already that there were many wildflowers in bloom. My first capture was a clump of pink-coloured Bluebells, and nearby some Common Vetch was just coming into bloom.

Stonechat
Bluebell Common Vetch

There were lots of patches of yellow Bird’s-foot Trefoil flowers all along the shore edges. Likewise, dark blue-flowered Germander Speedwell peeked through much of the low grasses along the paths. Near the Lighthouse John noticed a few clumps of dark and light amber Wallflowers. Next I saw Greater Stitchwort growing between rocky mounds of grass, the star-shaped white flowers looking rather ghostly in the dim light of the overcast sky.

Bird's  Foot Trefoil Germander Speedwell
Wallflower Greater Stitchwort

Tiny yellow globular flowers of Hop Trefoil were just coming into bloom on the foreshore and, through the area, Common Scurvygrass was starting to seed. I spotted a small hoverfly (as yet unidentified) on a Bulbous Buttercup while, on permanently exposed rocks on the shore, the beautiful pink flowers of Thrift were bobbing merrily in the breeze.
Hop Trefoil Common Scurveygrass
Bulbous Buttercup Thrift

John commented on the number of Gannets  that were moving south near the shore. That shore was about 150m out from the lighthouse so I carefully picked my way across the rocks to get a much closer view of the passage of the Gannets. Within minutes I had taken a pile of shots, some shown below


Sadly there were no dives but I noticed that among the adult birds there were third-year birds recognisable by the irregular brown-patterned upper wings.


Near the lighthouse, John spotted a Small Heath butterfly  clinging to a grass stem. Despite the gusty breeze I managed a nice macro shot using my LUMIX LX5 camera. Soon afterwards, as I tried (unsuccessfully) to snap one of the Swallows that were circulating above the grounds of the lighthouse, a Skylark landed some 5m from where I was standing. It obliged me with a fine pose that showed off its raised crest. We decided to check out the “wire dump” area in the vain hope of spotting the Bluethroat. What we got though was a dazzling display of mating Wall butterflies  as they danced around and on the bright yellow blooms of Oxford Ragwort - in bright sunshine!

Small Heath Butterfly Skylark
Wall Butterfly

We then moved over to the derelict caravan site, and area usually rich in wildflowers, and Sunday was no exception. I photographed White Deadnettle hosting Carder and White-tailed Bumblebees. Purple, trumpet-shaped flowers of Ground Ivy had pushed through the grass and there were large violet flowers of Greater Periwinkle scattered around the site. I followed a Greenveined White butterfly until it settled on on White Deadnettle.

White-tailed Bumblebee Ground Ivy
Greater Periwinkle Green-veined White Butterfly

I also noticed flowering Garden Strawberry plants near Pink Sorrel (which is new to us). In the same area there was a fine Perennial Cornflower plant that carried several very attractive blue flowers. Further into the old caravan site I was pleased to see a large Yellow Figwort  plant. This plant is specially adapted to get pollinated by wasps rather than bees.

Garden Strawberry Pink Sorrel
Perennial Cornflower Yellow Figwort

We found a well-worn path through the wood that borders the west of the site. There were several bird feeders hanging at various points along the path and I managed a picture of a female Chaffinch that visited one of these. When we emerged from the wood we came across a Millipede, Glomeris marginata, scrambling along part of a fallen wall. We also came across another couple of insects, a Sawfly, Dolerus gonager, and St Mark’s Fly.

Female Chaffinch Millipede, Glomeris marginata
Sawfly - Dolerus gonager St Mark's Fly

When we returned to the car we were greeted by a male Pied Wagtail feeding on the grass. That completed a pleasing and varied set of photographs. We celebrated with mugs of strong tea and Danish Pastries. The weather had been kind to us with only one light and brief shower followed by a lovely spell of sunshine. Hopefully next week’s weather will be better though.

Week ending: 16th May:
 Troon, Irvine Harbour


The weather was to start off bright and become cloudy later with a chance of showers. There was a chance North Ayrshire would escape the rain so I headed for sunny Troon - the last visit was 6 months ago.


After a hearty breakfast in Troon Morrison’s (7/10: overcooked egg and greasy mushrooms) we started at the edge of the North beach with some shots of a few bunny Rabbits nibbling grass. A Wood Pigeon looked on and a Green-veined White butterfly  landed not far from the Rabbits before disappearing with the breeze. I noticed a couple of Collared Doves canoodling in the branches of a tree.

Rabbit Wood Pigeon
Green Veined White Butterfly Collard Dove

I spied a Large White butterfly feeding on a Bluebell and in a large patch of White Deadnettle several brown Carder Bumblebees were busy. We walked around a long line of trees where I managed some shots of a Wren in the branches and on the grass an inquisitive female House Sparrow seemed to be uncertain of its next move.

Large White Butterfly Carder Bumblebee
Wren Female House Sparrow

We next drove to the Titchfield Road Car Park for a stroll along the prom to scan the rocks for anything of interest. My first picture was of a bathing Starling sending circular ripples across a large puddle.


We were pleased to see a pair of Linnets feeding on Dandelion seeds on the grassy verges of the prom. They were unusually tolerant of passing walkers which probably explained why I was able to get such close pictures.

Linnet

Looking out over the Firth of Clyde, towards Ailsa Craig, we had a nicely-lit view of Lady Isle  which is about 4km from Troon.


There was a variety of wildflowers sprouting from the cracks in the perimeter wall along the pathside. The yellow-flowered Sea Radish were the tallest of these. The prettiest were probably the pink Thrift flowers or maybe the strikingly yellow flowers of Silverweed. A Jackdaw appeared on the grass while I was snapping the flowers. There were many Thrushes hunting worms and other invertebrates to feed their nestlings. John spotted a Barn Swallow  gathering nesting materials from a mud hole.

Sea Radish Thrift
Silverweed Jackdaw
Starling Barn Swallow

The only birds we saw on the rocks were a pair of White Wagtails . On the grass near the car I managed a short range picture of a male Pied Wagtail.

White Wagtail Pied Wagtail


We had a look across the rocks below the car park. The view of the Troon seafront was pleasantly sunlit.



We returned to the car, circled by one of the many Herring Gulls checking us out for chips. Having soaked up an hour of sunshine at the coast beside Titchfield road, we relocated slightly north to the car park at the end of Harbour Road. The incoming tide had brought birds nearer the shore. Ringed Plovers and Turnstones were nipping about on large rough sandstone rocks. A large Cormorant landed on a large exposed rock that was occupied by a dozen or so Oystercatchers and a few Gulls.

Herring Gull Ringed Plover
Turnstone Cormorant / Oystercatcher

A trio of Red-breasted Mergansers flew past just as John spotted “Sammy” the Grey Seal. It was looking a bit glum, probably because his lounging rocks were swarming with day-trippers. John drew my attention to a Rock Pipit close by on the rocks. I was excited to see a close and low flypast of a large Gannet skimming the sea only about 50m out.

Red-breasted Merganser Grey Seal
Rock Pipit Gannet

A large mass of cloud was spreading from the south. We could see Ayr was already overcast. We decided then to head for Irvine Harbour for a quick look there before our customary teas. The walking to the mouth of the estuary produced only a photo of perching Herring Gull, however, the rocks nearest the end of the walkway came up trumps. There we got close views of breeding plumage Turnstones as they coped with the incoming tide.


Herring Gull Turnstone

We were both delighted to see perfect views of a half-dozen very beautiful Sanderlings  as they too coped with the tricky problem of where to stand when the water level rises to cover your stance. Some were in their brown-toned breeding plumage, while others were in the non-breeding plumage which is grey/white.


We arrived back at the car fairly satisfied with our day’s haul of sightings. I don’t know what John thinks but our Sunday outings seem to pass more quickly. I feel we’re just getting going only to realise it is time to go home. Of course it was good to get to the bit when we got stuck into chocolate eclairs and John’s home-baked lemon drizzle. My favourite shots of the day were the Sanderlings followed by the Linnets

Week ending: 9th May:   Dunbar Harbour, Belhaven Bay



The weather across the Scottish Central Belt was predicted to be mild and showery with sunny intervals. The prospects were slightly better in the east so we headed for Dunbar for our second Sunday jaunt since the relaxation of travel restrictions.


We started at Dunbar Harbour, where it was mainly sunny. The view below I think captures the charm of the location with the Castle ruin and fishermen’s baskets frame the calm harbour waters.


As we walked around the harbour I spotted a wee Pied Wagtail on the wall of the Battery, and further round a White Wagtail was hopping along the cobblestones. We took up position at the north wall that overlooks tall rugged rocks called the Gripes  with a panoramic view beyond of the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife. Just below the wall a small flock of drake Eiders were vying for the attention of a pair of females. There were plenty of Kittiwakes  calling from the rocks and flying in and out with with nesting material and fish.

Pied Wagtail White Wagtail
Eider Kittiwake

There was a large colony of very active Shags nesting on the rocks. They too were coming and going with small branches of seaweed.

Shag

The third species of bird nesting on the Gripes were Herring Gulls. They offered many photo opportunities and I managed some shots of them flying, swimming, mating and sitting on the nest.

Herring Gull

The annual sight and sound of the Kittiwakes nesting on the walls of the ruins of Dunbar Castle is something I look forward to with great relish. Virtually every nook and cranny of the walls are occupied by the delightfully noisy birds, each regularly screeching its name, “Kitty-i-WAKE, Kittyi-WAKE”. I find a scan of the small bay west of the castle is often rewarding. On Sunday I discovered a Fulmar, the “master of the wind currents”, circulating the bay. After waiting a short time it eventually passed fairly close and low, allowing me to snap a few pleasing shots.

Kittiwake
Fulmar


We sheltered a while from a short shower of rain and then moved on to the Shore Road car park overlooking Belhaven Bay. We walked the short distance to Seafield Pond and managed to find and photograph a few wildflowers: Prickly Sow Thistle, Hoary Cress, Red Campion and White Deadnettle (complete with Carder Bee).

Prickly Sow Thistle Hoary Cress
Red Campion Carder Bee / White Deadnettle

John directed my attention to some Mallards paddling in ditchwater by the path. He also noticed a black insect (yet to be identified), had landed on his phone. Also, he spotted a pair of Swallows swooping over the waters of the incoming tide. I took a couple panning shots of one of them as it passed in pretty poor light.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard
T.B.C. Barn Swallow

At Seafield Pond I heard the unmistakable song of a Sedge Warbler coming from a reed bed. We sat quietly beside those reeds waiting on the bird to show. John pointed out a Grey Heron further along bank. Eventually it was spooked by passing walkers.

Grey Heron
The Sedge Warbler  made a lengthy appearance moving warbling its way up a stalk of reed. A female Reed Bunting appeared briefly, not far from the Sedge Warbler, before disappearing into the greenery. Near it a Moorhen with three chicks were picking their way through the reeds. However, there were only a few birds on the pond. A Tufted Duck was one of them.

Sedge Warbler Female Reed Bunting
Moorhen Tufted Duck

At the south end of the pond a Mute Swan posed in front of a line of reeds. A Coot made a brief appearance, but that was about it. We finished our observations by the car park end of Shore Road where I snapped an inquisitive Carrion Crow and some St Mark’s Flies  that were in the air and on a patch of Hoary Cress.

Mute Swan Coot
Carrion Crow St Mark's Fly

My final shot was of the day was of Belhaven Bridge, also known as the “Bridge to Nowhere”. At most times of the day and night it spans the Beil Burn, but at high tide the whole bay is submerged, isolating the bridge from dry land. The picture below also shows the Bass Rock on the right and the hill on the left is North Berwick Law


Our tea was accompanied by cream and jam filled scones, an appropriate reward for quite a impressive collection of observations. My favourites were the Sedge Warbler and Fulmar and it was a pleasure to visit one of my favourite locations. Hopefully we’ll make many more visits


Week ending: 2nd May:  Stevenson, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour



This week I was accompanied by John - the first he’s been on the road since March 20. The North Ayrshire coast was our destination and, of course, our first stop was a visit to Morrisons Cafe for a long-awaited breakfast fry-up (10/10). The weather at Stevenson Point started sunny with a cold breeze, but it soon clouded over for the rest of the day. We were greeted by a flock of Starljngs feeding frantically on the grassy edges of the “car park”, some were gathering nesting material. A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were loitering on the rocky slab and a pair of Eider were paddling near them. The main bird activity on the Point was due to the Corvids - Jackdaws and Carrion Crows.

Starling
Great Black-backed Gull Eider
Jackdaw Carrion Crow
 
We were very pleased to see a few Gannets passing and even diving. We were also pleased to see a few wildflowers. A hybrid Bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartian, was growing near the edge alongside a solitary Poet’s Daffodil . Some Dandelions were wedged between the large rocks on the west side of the point.

Gannet Bluebell_Hyacinthoides_X_massartiana
Poet's Daffodil Dandelion

On our way to Saltcoats we looked in on the pond at Auchenharvie Golf Course. There were tens of swooping Sand Martins  moving over the water. At the pond edge House Sparrows were feeding on reeds. A pair of Mute Swans were sitting in the middle of a small island at the centre of the pond, perhaps nesting. The island was littered with rubbish such as old car wheels, slabs, crates. A Cormorant sat perched on a large tyre.

Sand Martin House Sparrow
Mute Swan Cormorant

From Saltcoats Harbour the view across to Arran was dim but impressive nonetheless. As usual there were plenty of Herring Gulls watching carefully for discarded chips.

Arran Herring Gulls

We walked to the end of the harbour passing a Black Guillemot resting on the quayside.


More Black Guillimots were paddling in the harbour waters, some flying in from, and out to, the Firth of Clyde. 

Black Guillimot

We sat on the rocks beyond the sea wall, watching for passing birds. A few Gannets passed fairly close without diving. We could see a gathering of Shags  on a small rocky island a few hundred metres offshore.

Gannet Shag

It wasn’t long before we had a much closer view of Shags as they made several close passes, albeit in poor light. There were also a few fly-passes of young Eider.

Shag Juvenile Male Eider

We walked around to the other side of the harbour where we found a Rock Pipit  foraging in seaweed for invertebrates. The photograph below shows it with what looks like a large Sand Hopper in its beak. A White Wagtail  was searching in the same area, watched intently by a cat waiting for the birds to come within pouncing range. However we were generally disappointed by the absence of birds. They were probably in their breeding areas. I did come across a couple of blooming wildflowers - a Hairy Bittercress and Common Scurvygrass.

Rock Pipit White Wagtail
Hairy Bittercress
Common Scurvygrass

Our final stop of the day was at Irvine Harbour. We caught a few brief sightings of a Common Seal at the confluence of the River Irvine and River Garnock. The main attraction though were the Gannets repeatedly diving in the mouth of the estuary. We saw many thrilling dives but they were all unsuccessful as far as we could see.

Common Seal Gannets

A Border Force vessel powered down the channel on some unknown mission. Our final picture was of one of a pair of Sandwich Terns  searching for fish along side the Gannets. They too seemed to be unsuccessful.

Border Force Sandwich Tern

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that our final activity was to sit in the car park supping tea while nibbling on Danish pastries. We reflected on how it was good to get on the road again and compared our favourite sightings. Mines were the Gannets, Shag and Black Guillimots. Let’s hope we are able to keep our visits going uninterrupted by restrictions.

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