What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Leisure By WH Davies

Our Expeditions


17th September 2017:

Stevenston, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

We started our Sunday trip as usual with a Morrisons breakfast, this time in Stewartfield, East Kilbride. It was a new venue for us and we were both very impressed by all aspects of our dining experience (9.5/10).

My weather app predicted sunny weather in the west so we drove to Stevenston. I had been tipped off that there had been a feeding frenzy of birds off the coast there.

When we arrived at Stevenston Point there were Cormorants standing along the breakwater, some in the characteristic spreadwing pose drying their wings. On the paths behind us a huge, very active flock of Goldfinch were very unsettled as more dog walkers were alighting from their cars. On the sea I spotted a fight among young Herring Gulls and one of them fled with a big crab. It was all run-of-the-mill stuff for a couple of Rock Pipits that were patrolling the rocks.

Herring Gull
Rock Pipit

At the end of the Point a Curlew was trying to get some shut eye beside a large flock of Oystercatchers before being spooked by a dog walker who decided to see how far he could pick his way across the rocks towards the birds. Up went the Cormorants, Shags and Redshanks. Trying to keep myself from getting involved with the wanderer, I shifted my attention to a passing Gannet hoping to catch it diving – no such luck.

Cormorant / Shag

Further offshore a Shag was perched on an exposed rock. The light was getting very gloomy as the clouds thickened. I could just make out some razorbills some 100m out. A pair of Gannets flew right over our heads followed soon after by a Cormorant.


There were sizeable flocks of Guillemots quite far out but occasionally one would come much nearer the shore. It was decked out in its distinctive winter plumage. On the shore the redshanks and oystercatchers were excited for some reason and offshore a large flock of Gulls were making a fair old racket dipping and diving probably for fish near the surface.

Mixed Gulls

We moved north to check out Saltcoats Harbour. Immediately we spotted a few Ringed Plovers on rocks. Of course there were the seemingly ever-present Redshanks and a Curlew was resting awaiting low tide. As we peered over the sea wall a half dozen Turnstones flew in and landed just below us and did as their name suggests, they started turning over stones and seaweed in search of tasty morsels.

Ringed Plover

A Herring Gull kept watch from the highest part of the rock as a pair of Pied Wagtails flitted about the Turnstones chasing flies. An adult and juvenile Starling had a similar idea but I think but they were less successful. Our final sighting at Saltcoats was arguably our best. From a distance we thought a bird foraging on the shore was a Redshank but on closer examination it turned out to be a Knot. As we waited for the light to improve it eventually came much closer, allowing a series of nice shots. Its plumage was predominantly grey, although traces of its summer red underbelly were apparent. It was obviously not a flighty bird as it stood its ground as a very naughty boy lobbed a few stones in its direction!

Herring Gull
Pied Wagtail

Our final stop of the day was Irvine Harbour where we usually have our tea and buns before driving home. The light was starting to fade badly so we had a quick scan of the area. A few Mute Swans were feeding at the mouth of the estuary – the confluence of the Rivers Irvine and Garnock. Patrolling the near shore were a number of Sandwich Terns. Their frequent, rapid dives never fail to excite especially when the backdrop was Ailsa Craig, famous for its manufacture of granite curling stones. And just as we were returning to the car a Common Seal made a brief appearance heading out to sea.

Mute Swan
Common Seal

Pictures of the week: juvenile Starling with its adult plumage starting to show; the brave Knot.

Juvenile Starling

10th September

Barns Ness

Before setting off I figured that the weather would be best the further east we could get. The wild, wet and windy weather was to have crept slowly east, reaching Dunbar by about 3pm. So we headed for Barns Ness. After a Morrisons’ breakfast experience, much improved from last week, we outran the rain to reach Whitesands Quarry pool and had a quick search for the reported Bar-headed Goose – to no avail! We pressed on to Barns Ness much encouraged by the big blue areas of skies that were developing and set off eastwards around the coastal path. Our first encounter was with a pretty Fox Moth caterpillar wriggling across the damp grass. The Fox Moth is so-named due to its foxy-red colouration. Soon after, an alert female Wheatear flirted from rock to rock, tracking us as we plodded on. It would probably be in Africa by October, but for now it was happy to patrol its rocky territory on the Lothian coast. We stopped to photograph some nice well-lit wildflowers bobbing in the strengthening breeze. First we admired the very pretty blue Harebell and the scraggy Perennial Sow Thistle, its bright yellow flowers back-lit by the sun.

Fox Moth Caterpillar
Perennial Sow Thistle

Next we noticed three interesting wild flowers. Sea Mayweed with leaves which, when crushed, smell like Chamomile; Eyebright that was used in treatments of eye infections – hence the name; Yarrow that was used by soldiers to stem the flow of blood in open wounds. Throughout this time an inquisitive Pied Wagtail was dotting around the rock pools no doubt seeking out insects.

Sea Mayweed
Pied Wagtail

Suddenly, as we were scanning the rocky shore for waders, a swooping, small raptor appeared chasing a terrified Wheatear. The pair twisted their way around and between rocks, with the raptor occasionally moving to a higher position before swooping again on its intended prey. This continued for about a minute before a Carrion Crow appeared on the scene and chased off the raptor, leaving the Wheatear to live to fight another day. At first we thought the raptor was a Kestrel but when we looked at the images that evening we thought it could have been a juvenile Peregrine. (After posting on Facebook we were advised that it was most probably a juvenile Merlin.) We walked the beach for a half hour but, as it was at low tide, the birds were very far away. We did see a small Stint-like bird fly past but I missed the shot. I did though get some nice shots of another Pied Wagtail foraging on the rocks.

Pied Wagtail

Juvenile Merlin
Pied Wagtail

A large grey cloud was looming threateningly bringing to an end our very pleasant, and at times, exciting walk on the beach. We returned to the car before it rained. As we sipped tea and chomped on lattice pastries we were still debating the identity of the raptor. It had been a brief trip but the young Merlin stole the show.

3rd September 2017

Pencaitland and Musselburgh

It was dull and drookit in the west but much brighter and dry in the east, but, more significantly, there was a very infrequent visitor in the back gardens of Pencaitland- a Hoopoe! This is a bird that is common in southern Europe but visits Scotland very rarely. So after a rather disappointing (cold and late) breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons we drove east in search of this pretty and rather exotic bird. We had to risk getting entangled in the traffic around the Tour of Britain cycle race as Pencaitland was on its route. As it turned out, the queue stopped right beside “The Green”, the housing estate where the bird had be spotted. Within an hour of arriving John and I had tracked it down to a particular back garden and, with the help of a very kind lady who suggested it would be ok if we took pictures over her fence, we rattled off quite a few photos in a short period of time. The Hoopoe occasionally left the garden to the safety of the trees but it seemed fairly settled in the area, especially when it apparently had been getting regular treats of mealworms supplied by a kind resident.


After about an hour we left Pencaitland very satisfied with our work. We headed next to Musselburgh Scrapes seeking the Common, Green and Pectoral Sandpipers and a juvenile Spotted Redshank that had been reported there. Again we managed to see all of these birds, albeit it in dimming light. The Pectoral Sandpiper was probably a passage migrant from America maybe blown by areas of low pressure across the Atlantic from the eastern coast of North America. It is the most common North American wading bird to occur here and has even started to breed in Scotland very recently. The Spotted Redshank is most likely a migrant from northern Europe or Siberia.

Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Juvenile Spotted Redshank

While watching the Spotted Redshank an aggressive cock Pheasant shot out from the reeds and had a right go at the large mass of Oystercatchers that were minding their own business on the short grass. We thought the flock would have gone up but instead a few individuals had a right go back at the aggressor. We then had a flypast of some Widgeon and Shovelers. They circled a couple of times but decided against landing and veered off towards the sea.

I snapped a last shot at the scrapes of a dinky wee Redshank stretching its wings. The light was fading a bit so we decided to call it a day. On our way back to the car we were surprised to see a Slavonian Grebe in late breeding plumage fishing along with its chick. The chick was downing a fair-sized fish. Our final picture was of a Black-tailed Godwits flying overhead into the Scrapes.

Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe Juvenile
Black-tailed Godwit

As we chewed our lattice pastries washed down with strong tea we had a sort of smug satisfaction as we had hit all of our targets for the trip – and that is about as rare as the Hoopoe!


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