The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
 Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires. 

The land's sharp features seemed to be
 The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
 Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
 Seemed fervourless as I. 

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom. 

So little cause for carolings
 Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy

Our Expeditions


6th February 

Kilspindie (Aberlady) and Musselburgh.

There was no Sunday trip this week due to an unfortunate accident I had that left me with an injured arm and temporarily unable to drive or hold my big camera. So I’ve decided to report on a trip I made on the previous Wednesday. Regular followers of our blogs will recall my failed attempts in December to locate the pair of Shore Larks at Kilspindie, Aberlady. I had read in Twitter that they were still there, so I determined that I should have another attempt to see them (I should mention that, in the interim, I had at least half a dozen unsuccessful tries).

Kilspindie (Aberlady):
It was a bright, sunny morning as I parked in the Kilspindie Golf Club overflow car park. The birds had been sited very close to there but they had been moving between the shore and the far end of the golf course. So it was with an air of negativity I plodded onto the sandy shore and began my search. All I could see initially were a Redshank and a pair of Mallards. I soon met a fellow birder who was sitting with a spotting scope. I asked him, “Any sign of the Shore Larks ?” . “Yes, there they are there”, he answered with obvious delight. And so they were, working their way across the sparse vegetation in the sandy area adjacent to the car park. I managed a few shots before they took off over the golf course, spooked by some noisy golfers.

Redshank Mallard Shore Lark

With the tide at its lowest and the sea and associated birds over half a mile away I decided to relocate west to Musselburgh. As I drove out of the car park I noticed that there were House Sparrows in the bushes. With them were a few Tree Sparrows . As I left the Kilspindie Golf club approach road there was a Curlew feeding in the grassy triangle. I snapped a quick shot from the car before leaving Aberlady heading for Musselburgh.

House Sparrow Tree Sparrow Curlew Common Gull


I parked on Goose Green Place by the mouth of the River Esk. I could see there was a rain shower looming on the Pentland Hills. The sun was shining though, so I ventured forth along the Esk mouth and took some close shots of the birds that were feeding on the east bank. These were mainly Redshanks and Wigeon  but a lot of Turnstones were flying in from areas being reclaimed by the incoming tide. (See also “Pictures of the Week”.)

Redshank Drake Wigeon Female Wigeon Turnstone

As the inevitable rain moved in I rushed back to the car for shelter. The shower pelted the car as I sat cozily inside sipping tea. When it had passed I re-emerged from the car and was treated to the beautiful sight of a wonderful rainbow over the Cadet halls.

I set off along the sea wall, scanning the shore for anything of interest. My first capture was of a Little Grebe  searching the Esk for little fish. The rainbow was moving out over the Firth of Forth, inspiring me to photograph a Carrion Crow with a spectral background. Goldeneye  were flying back from the sea, in up the Esk to shelter in much calmer surroundings. A juvenile male passed close to the sea wall allowing me to get quite a nice flight shot. The birds I expected to see at the edge of the sea were not there. The strong winds had probably moved them on. I decided to drive a mile east to the Levenhall Links where I could visit the Scrapes and maybe see sheltering birds. Just as I returned to the car I grabbed some shots of a bold Carrion Crow sitting on a fence.

Little Grebe Carrion Crow Juvenile Male Goldeneye Carrion Crow

As I scanned the sea at Levenhall Links  it was still wild and very choppy. I moved into the RSPB Nature Reserve to the middle hide where I found Teal  close to the hide. There was a big flock of Bar-tailed Godwits resting beside a huge flock of Oystercatchers. Also in good numbers were Lapwings. Flighty at the best times they seemed very edgy, taking to the air at the slightest threat. Perhaps a raptor was about. (See also “Pictures of the Week”). A solitary Magpie was wandering the grass in front of the hide, probing every now and again searching for invertebrates.

Teal Bar-tailed Godwit Lapwing Magpie

The Oystercatchers were also restless and squabbling, but not so the Redshanks. Things settled down after a bit - until a large flock of Wigeon appeared on the scene. They circled the reserve several times before flying east.

Oystercatcher Redshank Bar-tailed Godwit Wigeon

As I retraced my steps back to the car I met a bold wee Meadow Pipit flitting along the sea wall. In the distance I could see a Kestrel  hovering in the air, hunting small rodents. I realised then what was worrying the Lapwings. I hoped to get closer as I neared my car. Meanwhile I spotted a drake Long-tailed Duck  bobbing 50m off the sea wall. It wasn’t diving and the sun was shining so I managed a decent record shot. I carefully tracked the movements of the male Kestrel and I got lots of pictures of it as it hung in the breeze. (See also “Pictures of the Week”).

Meadow Pipit Kes trel Long-tailed Duck

It had been a successful day’s nature watching. I had finally caught up with the elusive Kilspindie Shore Larks and Musselburgh, as usual, offered up a feast of photographic delights.

Pictures of the Week:

Turnstone Redshank
Lapwing Kestrel

2nd February

Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow

It was a solo trip for me this week as John had a big family birthday to see to. Also, I noticed that the weather for Sunday was to be miserable so since Saturday was very sunny, although cold, I decided to cancel the Sunday outing and go on Saturday instead. I made for Hogganfield Park, a personal favourite of mine (No cooked breakfast this week just a bowl of cornflakes and a banana).
One of the “Seven Lochs” , Hogganfield Park is shining example of Glasgow City Council’s commitment  to supporting the environment. The Park was created in the 1920s and incorporated a tearoom and boating facilities . The loch and its surrounding woodlands, marsh and grasslands were declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1998.
It was a winter’s scene when I arrived at Hoggie, with most of the Loch frozen. Only the section by the car park was ice free, due to the hundreds of birds crammed in there. Very kind and caring humans regularly feed them so it was worth their while hanging about in the area of the car park.

I set out capturing some images of the many birds there, starting with a bird that birdwatchers rarely get close to in “wilder” locations, the Goosander  (also see “Pictures of the Week 1”, below). Of course there were Mallards, some skating over the icy shelves. Next I captured images of Whooper Swans, regular winter visitors to the park and easily distinguished  from the more common Mute Swans by their yellow bills and by their noisy honks (also see “Pictures of the Week 1”, below). A large flock of Feral Pigeons are permanent residents of the Loch throughout the year. The white plumage of a Piebald Feral Pigeon caught my eye as it scurried across the snow chasing the breadcrumbs.

Goosander Mallard Whooper Swan Piebald Feral Pigeon

Because the bird population of the Loch was crammed into such a small space the birds were understandably on edge. The feisty Coot was extra belligerent, threatening any birds that came close. The Tufted Ducks were pretty wary between dives. Even the few Goldeneye I could see seemed a bit anxious as they tried to feed (also see “Pictures of the Week 1”, below). This was another bird that had become accustomed to park life while in most other locations they are very hard to approach. I decided to trek around the Loch to check out the quieter east end of the park, between the Loch and Avenue End Road. On the way there I came across a pair of Moorhens on the grassy banks of the Loch.

Coot Tufted Duck Female Goldeneye Moorhen

Pictures of the Week1:

Female Goosander Mute Swan
Coot Goldeneye

It was a Arctic scene before me at the east end of the Park. The wee pond, there, was of course, frozen over and seemed devoid of wildlife.

My expectations were raised when I spotted a Kestrel  sitting atop a small Silver Birch tree, and to my amazement it actually flew towards me, settling on tree some 20m away. Then, a short time after, a Red Fox  prowled by the west end of the pond. I think it heard the click of my camera as it shifted at pace when I started shooting. I next moved out of the Park briefly onto an old road that would take me to the footpath on the other side of the pond. As I walked along the old road I saw several small birds, including a Robin and a family of Bullfinches (see also “Pictures of the Week 2”, below for more shots of these birds).

Kestrel Red Fox Robin Bullfinch

As I re-entered the Park I came face-to-face with a Magpie roosting on a path-side tree. Behind it I could hear the twittering song of a Goldfinch. Soon I had located it and taken a couple pictures. Next I looked beyond the trees to the bushes on the hillock where I noticed a pair of Roe Deer, a buck (m) and doe (f), lurking in the long grass. They stood motionless as they checked me out before slowly disappearing into the undergrowth.

Magpie Goldfinch Roe Deer ( Doe ) Roe Deer ( Buck )

A Carrion Crow then flew overhead, clutching a chunk of bread in it’s beak, followed at a higher altitude by a juvenile Cormorant heading for the Loch. It probably got a shock when it found the water was solid and white! Just as I neared completion of my circuit of the park I came upon a small flock of Long-tailed Tits  feeding on tree branches over the footpath where the many walkers pass unaware of one of the delights of nature above them. The wee acrobats flitted from branch to branch, sometimes hanging upside down as they searched for insects. As I snapped the Tits, a Magpie passed above them carrying a wee dod of bread to some safe area where it could eat it free from other birds.

Carrion Crow Juvenile Cormorant Long-tailed Tit Magpie

Back at the car park I scanned the water for gulls. They were mainly Black- headed, Herring and Common Gulls. I didn’t see any Lesser Black-backed Gulls , a regular sighting in summer months, as they are migratory, wintering in West Africa. My final photos of the day were of a pair of mating Mute Swans. During their courtship the birds swimming side by side and dipping their heads alternately into the water. Then, after copulation, both rose high in the water face to face, giving passionate grunts before settling together, preening. I just about managed the iconic picture of love (see “Pictures of the Week 2”, below), just in time for St Valentine’s Day.

Herring Gull Common Gull Black-headed Gull Mute Swan

I hope I’ve conveyed an impression of the rich variety of wildlife in the Nature Reserve at Hogganfield Park. That richness is further enhanced from Spring to Autumn when flowers an insects appear - but I’ll keep that for a later blog.

Pictures of the Week2:

Kestrel Robin
Bullfinch Mute Swan

Back To Top

February 2019

Kilspindie / Musselburgh
2nd Hogganfield Loch
January 2019
27th Fairlie / Portencross
20th Stevenston Point / Troon
13th Figgate Park/Duddingston
7th Hopes Reservoir

December 2018

30th Skateraw/Barns Ness
23rd Musselburgh

16th Tyninghame Bay
9th Aberlady/Kilspindie/PortSeton

2nd Musselburgh

November 2018
25th Doonfoot/Irvine Harbour
18th Skateraw / Belhaven Bay
11th Troon / Irvine Harbour
4th Stevenston /Saltcoats

October 2018
28th Ardmore Point
21st Troon/Pow Burn
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