Our Expeditions: January 2022
Good Riddance 2020
and 2021


W
eek ending: 23rd January 2022:  Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour


After a gap of 6 weeks John and I were able to resume our Sunday adventures and we headed for Stevenston. The weather was cold, windy and grey, but dry, so we appreciated the warm and tasty breakfast we consumed at Stevenston Morrisons (9/10: very nice but -1 still for the small plates). At Stevenston Point the conditions were very blustery and there were Redshanks sheltering in the rocky shoreline. A large Hooded Crow was getting on with its foraging as were the usual Herring Gulls. We could see another forager, a Curlew busy on the beach to the north of the Point.

Redshank Hooded Crow
Herring Gull Curlew

A little further back on that beach were a large flock of Sanderlings  scurrying about en masse as they evaded the threat of waves and dog walkers.


There were also many Black-headed Gulls at the water’s edge. As we returned to the car, a large Cormorant flew past over the heaving waves followed by a juvenile Herring Gull and then a large Sanderling flock, probably the same birds we had just been watching. On the drive off of the point, John photographed a pair of Magpies from the passenger seat. He also photographed some close views of Oystercatchers when we paused at the pond on Moorpark Road W.

Black-headed Gull Cormorant
1st Cycle Herring Gull Sanderling
Magpie Oystercatcher

We continued north for a mile to reach Saltcoats Harbour car park. We could see the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry battling the wind on its way to Arran. As we trekked around the harbour to the viewing tower, four juvenile Mute Swans passed overhead accompanied by the unmistakable sound of their beating wings. Next I snapped a shot of a wee Rock Pipit that was cheeping from the tallest part of the wall. John spotted a lone drake Red-breasted Merganser  that was diving in the choppy waters across the bay. Much nearer was a large Carrion Crow that was scouring the road for the merest morsel. All we saw from the tower was a Shag repeatedly diving in the heaving waters.

Juvenile Mute Swan
Rock Pipit Red-breasted Merganser
Carrion Crow Shag

The light was poor but we could still make out a large flock of Dunlin flying over the large rocky outcrop on the north side of the harbour.


We peered over the harbour wall as we walked back to the opposite side of the harbour. John drew my attention to a pair of Eiders that were paddling closer to the wall. He also noticed a female Goosander a bit further out. The more I looked at the harbour floor, the more birds I noticed. I photographed a 1st winter Herring Gull standing on the seaweed-strewn harbour floor.

Drake Eider Female Eider
Female Goosander 1st Cycle Herring Gull

I continued with photos of a foraging Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Redshank, while, on the sea wall, three metres to the right of me, two large Herring Gulls were sitting, probably expecting chips.

Oystercatcher Turnstone
Redshank Herring Gull

We were keen to find out if the Dunlins we spotted earlier were still in the harbour. They were. The birds could still have been in an excited state so we moved carefully and calmly around the harbour trying hard not to put them up (Note the difference in size between the Dunlins and Redshank).


Most of the Dunlins were roosting on the very large rocks close to the shore, but there were quite a few moving about, trying to get the best stance. There were also some Dunlins feeding along the shallow edges.

Dunlin

Our last stop was at Irvine Harbour. When we arrived the light had deteriorated and the wind had strengthened. When we left the car and approached the promenade barriers we watched a group of Mute Swans flying down the River Irvine.


As more Swans arrived near us we slowly realised that they were flying to us thinking that we were feeders. We weren’t. There were a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers diving mid-channel. Also diving were a line of Shags that stretched from the Scientist’s Bridge to the mouth of the estuary. Sadly we didn’t see any catching fish. Our final sighting was of a Great Black-backed Gull that was sitting on top of one of the large posts that line the estuary.

Mute Swan....
Red-breasted Merganser
Shag Great Black-backed gull

We had a look around the viewing point beyond the beach car park, but I think the squally conditions were too much for our feathered friends. But it was an impressive sight nevertheless.


Photographically speaking it wasn’t the perfect day out but we were happy with our sightings. The Dunlin and Sanderlings were exciting to watch and definitely the highlights of the trip. Hopefully we’ll manage another one next week. Let’s hope we get better light


Week ending: 16th January: Musselburgh


I managed a Sunday mini-outing this week - an hour at Musselburgh Scrapes. The weather was delightfully bright and dry as I parked at Levenhall Links and then walked West towards the Scrapes. I passed a cheeky Blue Tit high in the bushes and a Carrion Crow fleeing from the gaze of my camera. Once in the middle hide I was pleased to see flocks of Lapwings and Bar-tailed Godwits in the rear scrapes with a sprinkling of preening Teal and restless Curlew.

Blue Tit Carrion Crow
Lapwing Bar-tailed Godwit

I relocated to the left-most hide where the birds were more plentiful and closer. A few beautiful Wigeon  were feeding some 20m from the hide.


The pictures below contrast the plumages of the male and female wigeons. As I took these, a Redshank  and an Oystercatcher were probing the grass even closer to the hide.

Wigeon Female Wigeon
Redshank Oystercatcher

A few Dunlin were at work along the left edge of the scrape that is right of the hide. A handsome drake Shelduck was dabbling in the middle of the left hand scrape. On the near edge I captured shots of Lapwings that were standing alone from the main flock. I then noticed about a dozen Grey Plovers standing in a line at the left side of the scrape (Note the distinguishing black “armpits”).

Dunlin Shelduck
Lapwing Grey Plover

The Grey Plovers stood nervously and were very wary of the movement of the neighbouring birds.



A large Grey Heron stood menacingly at at the back edge of the left scrape and a Common Snipe could just be seen hiding in the long grass. At the near edge, a pair of Carrion Crows were, for reasons unknown, harrying a group of Redshanks and Dunlin. They were not happy. I then noticed a single drake Shoveler  with a Teal feeding with other ducks on the grass some 50m left of the hide.

Redshank / Dunlin Shoveler / Teal

Responding to a threat I couldn’t see from the hide, perhaps a fox, all of the ducks moved rather hastily into the water. A pair of Wigeon and a Mallard led the way, followed by the Shoveler, Teal and the rest of the Wigeon.


I decided to return to the car via the route that followed the sea wall. A group of Bar-tailed Godwits passed overhead as they flew towards the Scrapes. Looking further to the West I spotted a large flock of Lapwings flying past the Esk mouth. I moved close to the sea wall to photograph them and also caught sight, just below the wall, of a Redshank sitting looking up at me. I also saw a small gathering of Goldeneyes  diving for food as they fraternised with the opposite sex. Another well-lit Redshank sped past, providing a nice photo-opportunity.

Bar-tailed Godwit Lapwing
Turnstone Redshank
Goldeneye Redshank

As I passed the Scrapes I could see a drake Long-tailed Duck  diving about 60m from the wall. As luck would have it, just as I started snapping the duck, a Shag surfaced just behind it. Not a bad shot considering the range. I passed a bold Carrion Crow sitting atop one of the tall fence posts recently erected as part of the renovation work. I think it winked at me as I passed. I turned off the coastal path onto the path beyond the eastern boundary of the Scrapes. As I neared the car park I was just congratulating myself on my captures on such a short visit, when a Kestrel flew in and started hovering 40m from me. It hung around for a few minutes, long enough for some decent shots, before it fluttered into the Scrapes.

Shag / Long - tailed Duck Carrion Crow
Kestrel.....

The Kestrel was a great ending to my whistle stop visit. Short and sweet. The weather was perfect and the birds were accommodating. My favourites were the Redshanks, the Shoveler and, of course, the Kestrel. Once again though, as John and I often say, “Musselburgh delivered”.

Week ending: 9th January Strathclyde Country Park, Motherwell and Victoria Park, Glasgow.


On Tuesday I heard that the reported Ring-billed Gull was showing well next to Car Park 4 in Strathclyde Park. On parking there, my heart fell a bit when I saw how many gulls were next to the car park. However, and I kid you not, the first bird I checked turned out to be the Ring-billed Gull. It sat in the water some 50m from the shore. After a patient wait, people emerged from their car with several loaves and the Gull took to the air and joined the melee of very noisy birds scrapping for every crumb of bread. The Gull made repeated close passes enabling me to get some satisfying flight shots.

Ring - billed Gull

I next turned my attention to the Greylag Geese and hybrids that were mobbing the feeders. As well as pure breed Greylags there was a wee group of what are probably escapees, consisting of a couple of Greylag X Swan Goose  and a white-morph (probably domestic) Greylag hybrid.

Greylag Goose
Greylag x Swan Goose Greylag Goose Domestic

I also noticed a group of nicely-lit Goosanders about 40m from the shore.


Also well-illuminated were some Mallards. The drakes were pursuing the females, but they were playing hard to get.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard

My next attempt at photographing a “rare” visitor was at Victoria Park in Glasgow. Despite its relatively small size it has a good variety of regular species, and it has also attracted a few rarities, which includes a colony of Ring-necked Parakeets. Time was limited and rain was threatening so I limited my search to the pond and it’s surrounds. My first capture was of a Jackdaw with a beakful of grass. Next to it were a few perambulating Coots. Of course my main target was to find the Ring-billed Duck, which has similar markings to the drake Tufted Duck, of which there were at least 30 gathered at the West side of the pond. The light was poor and many of the ducks were sleeping, beaks tucked under wings.

Jackdaw Coot
Male Tufted Duck Female Tufted Duck

After a circuit of the pond I failed to spot the duck in question. I did though snap a few Blackheaded Gulls and, surprisingly, a very accommodating Little Grebe , a bird that usually shuns people. I also noticed a suspected leucistic female Mallard with very light-brown plumage. I passed a few Mallards which were busily feeding on the grass along-side a few Mute Swans. I photographed, though, a regal Mute Swan that drifted past me with an air of self-importance.


2nd Cycle Black-headed Gull Black-headed Guill
Little Grebe Female Mallard
Mallard Drake Mute Swan

The light had improved when I completed my first lap of the pond. I had another check of the birds in the Tufted duck flock and I soon noticed, on one particular snoozing duck, silver side panels that distinguished it from the rest. It was the Ring-necked Duck . I waited and watched for the bird to waken. It stirred a few times, disturbed by diving Tufties and Coots and this enabled the shots below. But after about an hour I had to leave sleepy-head in order to return to my “domestic duties”.

Ring-necked Duck


On Sunday afternoon I took advantage of an unexpected spell of sunshine to explore the wooded area at the North-East edge of Strathclyde Loch. As I parked beside the Bothwellhaugh football pitches I noticed a Mistle Thrush feeding on the grass pitch. As I photographed it, a flock of Lapwings flew over on their way to the Loch.

Mistle Thrush Lapwing

I located the Lapwings gather at the starting bays at the north end of the Loch.


I walked towards the site of the Roman Fort. I passed a Blackbird feeding amongst leaf litter below pathside bushes. In trees by the park road there were about a dozen Redwings gathered, and nearby, pairs of Magpies and Woodpigeons were in the high branches of a Birch tree. On the water, near where the South Calder joins the Loch, a large flock of about 40 Goldeneyes were gathered. I next walked along the paths around the site of the Roman Fort but only saw a singing Robin and a Carrion Crow.

Blackbird Redwing
Magpie / Wood Pigeon Goldeneye
Robin Carrion Crow

Back on the Loch there were Cormorants drying their wings on a long raft in the heart of the Loch.


I returned to the car via the paths through the woods to the east of the Fairground. I decided to watch out for fungi as I walked. My first discovery, Oakmoss Lichen, isn’t a fungus, but is pretty nonetheless. My first fungus was a patch of Glistening Inkcaps  growing out of a mosscovered log. I followed this with another log dweller, the aptly-named, Turkeytail . Growing on a fallen Silver Birch, near the bench that overlooks the Funfair, was a bracket fungi that is probably a Red-belted Bracket. Not far from there I found another fungus-covered rotting log. The orange-coloured fungus, which looks a bit like potato crisps, was Stereum rameale . My final, and favourite find was the very pretty Scarlet Elf Cup fungus growing on rotting logs.

Oakmoss Lichen Glistening Inkcap
Turkeytail Red-belted Bracket
Stereum rameale Scarlet Elf Cup

That was a nice conclusion to a successful few days. I was chuffed that I’d managed to photograph the Ring-billed Gull and the Ring-necked Duck. (It’s a pity I hadn’t time to look for third “ringed” bird, the Victoria Park Ring-necked Parakeets, although I’ve already photographed them  4 years ago). I would like to get further afield though, so hopefully John and I will soon be able to start back our regular Sunday visits.  Hear Hear (Ed.)

Week ending: 2nd January: Hogganfield Park LNR



I was on my own for another weekend and I managed a couple of short visits to Hogganfield Park LNR, one of my favourite haunts. As you’ll see below there is a large variety of bird life to observe there, if you know where to look. The weather was similar on Saturday and Sunday: quite sunny with a threat of the odd shower. At the car park there are usually people feeding the Mute Swans and, in the winter months, Whooper Swans. Annoyingly for some, other birds join in, such as the hordes of Black-headed Gulls and Goosanders , while Feral Pigeons “hoover up” the crumbs. You might also see Pied Wagtails  feeding on the scraps.

Mute Swan Whooper Swan
Black-headed Gull Goosander


Less interested in bread are the Coots and Moorhens . I think they must feel safer in the crowd. There were also Goldeneyes on the Loch diving for food as well as doing a bit of courting.

Coot Moorhen
Goldeneye...

Tufted Ducks can be seen sleeping and diving anywhere on the Loch. On Saturday they were south of the car park. There was also an interesting infrequent visitor, a Red-headed Smew. It was quite far out, but I include a closer picture I took a few weeks ago.

Male Tufted Duck Female Tufted Duck
Male Red-headed Smew Female Red-headed Smew

There is a raft close to the car park where mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls roost, but, are often joined by very wet Cormorants keen to spread and dry their wings. Canada and Greylag Geese  often gathered at the area around the Sandy beach.


Cormorant Lesser Black-backed Gull
Greylag goose Canada Goose

The Geese on Saturday were happily munching grass before the inevitable encounter with a dog on the loose caused them to move into the water.


There is usually a steady stream of people treading around the road that circles the Loch. I like to venture off the road and explore the much less busy area to the East of the Loch. At the centre of this wilder spot is a pond that often hold water birds.


Sadly, on my visits, the pond was bereft of birds but, to my delight, I came upon a group of Bullfinches feeding on the Hawthorns that line the gravel pathway. I also encountered a singing Robin there. My delight continued when I heard the high-pitched peeps of a Goldcrest. With patience I waited until I saw it and was lucky enough to photograph it as is nipped about deep in the bush.

Male Bullfinch Female Bullfinch
Robin Goldcrest

That pathway leads out the park to the main road but there is a route to the left along a disused road that takes one to another entrance back into the park. I photographed a Woodpigeon and Magpie that were rummaging in leaf litter at the edges of the old road.

Wood Pigeon Magpie

On re-entering the Park I was keen to explore the wooded area to the North side of the pond. There is a rough, but often muddy path into the wood and, on Saturday, as I carefully moved along the path I stood on a twig and put up some unseen Redwings . I did though get a distant shot of one of them looking back at me and I also spotted a Song Thrush high in a tall tree. I returned there on Sunday when I noticed some Siskins busy feeding on the shady branches of an Alder tree.


Redwing Song Thrush
Siskins....

Blue Tits are very common it the wood. On Sunday, a Buzzard flew above me, harried by a determined Carrion Crow. It was frustrating trying to photograph them through the small gaps in the wood, but I managed a decent snap. As I lingered even longer I heard the high-pitched trill of a Treecreeper . I was fortunate enough to glimpse it landing on a fallen tree which was well illuminated by sunlight. I snapped multiple shots as it crept up the tree trunk. My luck continued when I was able to photograph a Wren picking its way through the undergrowth.

Blue Tit Buzzard
Treecreeper Wren

My walk along the road on the North side of the Loch was fairly fruitless on both days. There was a strong West wind blowing along the Loch and most birds had relocated to more sheltered bits of the Loch. I did though see a large flock of Jackdaws gathered on a large tree at the edge of the Park. Also, as I neared the car park, I heard the familiar calls of a group of Long-tailed Tits in the trees lining the side path out to the main road. I soon spotted them and managed a few quick shots - no easy task as they don’t hang about too long.

Jackdaw Long-tailed tit

My first pictures of 2022 are pleasing and I’m still as keen as ever to get more. Watch this space.

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