Our Expeditions: July 2021
Good Riddance 2020

Week ending: 18th July: Barns Ness and Dunbar Harbour

Unluckily for us, Sunday was to have seen a weak front passing south leading to rather cloudy, but dry, weather. According to my weather app the best chance of sunshine would be in the east. So after a fine pair of Dalkeith Morrisons breakfast (9.5/10) we found ourselves at Barns Ness, east of Dunbar.

Sadly, when we started our circuit of the area around the Barns Ness lighthouse, the tide was low and getting lower. The majority of birds we could see were at least 100m away. I began by snapping a shot of a black-headed gull that was quite a bit closer. I followed this with a shot of some Cormorants drying their feathers on some distant rocks. We were pleased then to find many butterflies  fluttering about us as we moved along the grassy trails. I managed some good shots of a wee Small Heath  butterfly and also the very pretty Common Blue  butterfly.

Black-headed Gull Cormorant
Small Heath Butterfly Common Blue Butterfly

The most common and active butterflies on show were Meadow Browns. As I tracked these down I came across a juvenile Starling and a Reed Bunting on a couple of bushes poking above the long grass. I also photographed a Soldier Beetle on a Creeping Thistle.

Meadow Brown Butterfly Juvenile Starling
Reed Bunting Soldier Beetle

John discovered a pair of Meadow Brown butterflies that were copulating on the grassy footpath. I also found more Common Blues as I turned my attentions to the rocky shore. A Grey Heron flew onto rocks near the water, so I carefully edged out onto the rocks to get a closer view and managed a reasonable record shot.

Common Blue Butterfly
Meadow Brown Butterfly Grey Heron

Apart from butterflies, there were very many 6-spotted Burnet  moths hanging onto blades of grass or flying onto flowers, such as Harebells. We also noticed that the were orange and black-striped Cinnabar moth caterpillars on nearly every Ragwort plant. Next John spotted a Green-veined White  resting on the grassy path and I managed to capture a good image of that particularly strongly-coloured specimen.

6-spotted Burnet Moth
Cinnabar Caterpillar Green-veined White Butterfly

When we moved across the southern part of the circuit we were disappointed not to see the expected Linnets or Yellowhammers, as per previous summer visits. We did see another singing Reed Bunting, but we shouldn’t have worried since when we reached the car we were met by a small flock of twittering Linnets that were feeding on Dock plants and, unusually for that place, a pair of Yellowhammers catching insects. I also snapped an inquisitive Carrion Crow as it sat on a fence close to the car.

Reed Bunting Carrion Crow

I also had photographed a few wildflowers on our circuit, namely Yarrow, Common Mallow, Red Poppy near the southbound art wall, and, near the lighthouse, Scentless Mayweed.

Yarrow Common Mallow
Red Poppy Scentless Mayweed

So after a rather slow start we ended up with a satisfactory set of pictures. We then moved to Dunbar Harbour to view the nesting colonies present on the rocks beyond the harbour walls. My first impression was that the Shag colony was “maturing”. I say that because I noticed that the chicks were almost as big as their parents. Their feeding procedure looked rather uncomfortable for the parent as can be seen from the picture below of the big chick thrusting it’s beak down the parent’s gullet. The main Kittiwake colony was on the Castle ruin. The Kittiwake chicks too were fledging with many making very short flights from and back to the safety of the wall.


The feeding procedure of the Herring Gulls’ chicks looks less violent. When the adult arrives back on the rocks from gathering food, the chick brushes its beak near the red spot on the parents bill. This stimulates the adult to regurgitate the food, which the chick then quickly gobbles up. John spotted a sodden Herring Gull chick paddling rather pathetically in the harbour entrance. It had an injured head, perhaps inflicted during a fall from an unsuccessful first flight.

Herring Gull / Juvenile

We were very pleased with our haul of sightings this week. I particularly enjoyed hunting down the butterflies and moths. And it was interesting seeing parent birds with their chicks. Our tea and strawberry tarts (yes again, and, we know it’s naughty but we like them). A week of hot sunny weather is predicted for next week. I hope it’s lasts until next Sunday

Week ending: 12th July: Largs, Fairlie, Hunterston and Portencross

Our run of sunny Sundays came well and truly to an end this week, although we were spared the rain. It was predicted that the whole of Central Scotland would experience 100% cloud cover with a chance of rain. The rain was least likely in North Ayrshire so we headed for Largs Morrisons to start our exploration of four familiar sites - Largs, Fairlie, Hunterston and Portencross. Our breakfast experience was marred though by very poor service, but the eventual food was fine (7/10).

We began at the gloomy mouth of Noddsdale Water as can be seen by the silhouetted Shags shown below. There were more than several groups of people mulling about the river mouth so our expectations of seeing much were low.

Just off the promenade a Carrion Crow provided a more visible subject, while on the river we watched sleepy Mallards and a family of Mute Swans. A pair of Woodpigeons flew onto the rocky river banks just as I noticed some Scentless Mayweed that was growing by the fence

Carrion Crow Female Mallard
Mute Swan Juvenile Mute Swans
Wood Pigeon Scentless Mayweed

After the quiet start we drove a few miles south to the the picturesque village of Fairlie.

John drew my attention to a Buff-tailed Bumblebee that was feeding on Sea Radish flowers. There were a pair of Mute Swans feeding by the shore and I photographed a Common Gull and Black-headed Gull that were loitering on the short grass near the car park.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Mute Swan
Common Gull Black-headed Gull

We were delighted to hear the familiar creeking calls of Sandwich Terns. They flew around a bit before settling briefly on the rocky shore near where we were sitting. I also photographed a noisy and very active juvenile as it attempted a couple of aborted attempts at a dive into the water. There were a few Herring Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull near the Terns but I was more excited by the appearance of a very red-breasted male Linnet that made a very brief appearance on the shore.

Sandwich Tern Juvenile Sandwich Tern
Herring Gull 1st Cycle Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull Linnet
Next, a small flock of young Starlings descended onto the rocks and began feeding, only to be scattered by an attack of a Sparrowhawk . It managed to get hold of one unfortunate Starling. I photographed the raptor as it held it on the footpath before being disturbing a pair of walkers. Undeterred by the commotion, a pair of Carrion Crows appeared, feeding on Shellfish by dropping the them from several metres onto the rocks.

Juvenile Starling Carrion Crow

After the excitement had subsided we drove south again for a brief visit to Hunterston Sands. On the short walk from where we parked the car we got pictures of a few wild flowers. There were quite a few fading Vipers Bugloss plants and Spear Thistles along the roadside and I spotted a solitary Evening Primrose in bloom. However we were disappointed to find the Sands were largely devoid of birds apart from a young wading Grey Heron catching a few small fish. I did however photograph a few more wild flowers, namely Meadowsweet, Lady’s Bedstraw and Sea Aster.

Viper's Bugloss Spear Thistle
Evening Primrose Juvenile Grey Heron
Trying it's luck Meadowsweet
Lady's Bedstraw Sea Aster

We made our final relocation of the day to Portencross, site of an ancient castle.

We were surprised to find that the car park was very full and the surrounding area was awash with people - which again meant the wildlife would be flushed. Undeterred we pressed on starting with some pictures of a family of Eider catching crabs in the salt pools, before the sight of dogs drove them seaward.

Female Eider and Juveniles

As the place was teeming with people walking, fishing and swimming we decided to plank ourselves on the rocks by the ancient harbour and watch for passing birds. Some Rock Pipits paid us a visit and a large Cormorant flew past. Of course there were also Herring Gulls watching for any titbits, aided and abetted by a few Jackdaws.

Rock Pipit Cormorant
Herring Gull Jackdaw

I also snapped a few bee shots: a White-tailed Bumblebee as it fed on a Spear Thistle and a Tree Bumblebee wrestling with the large stamen of Beach Roses. Also, I managed a couple of shots of a bee-mimic hoverfly, Cheilosia illustrata on a Hogweed flower-head. Our last shot of the day was of a House Sparrow calling from the roof guttering of a cottage near the castle.

White - tailed Bumblebee Hoverfly - Cheilosia illustrata
Tree Bumblebee House Sparrow

It had been a gloomy day weather-wise but our sightings were many and varied, my favourites being the Sparrowhawk and Terns. We finished with tea and Strawberry Tarts (yes, again! Well they were so good last week) while taking in the grey, but still awesome panorama that included Arran to the west and Ailsa Craig to the south. The weathermen are already predicting fine weather for next week. We hope they’re right  ^

Week ending:4th July  Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

There was little chance of extending our recent run of sunny Sundays. A big low pressure system over Central Scotland put paid that. However, it seemed, from my weather app, that North Ayrshire would have a pleasant afternoon while almost everywhere else would see frequent showers. So we decided we’d start in Stevenson Morrisons Cafe, where we enjoyed excellent (9.5/10) breakfasts, each before moving to Stevenson Point.

The sun was coming and going and we could see there were widespread showers in the surrounding areas. There were Shags and Cormorants on the rocks at the Point as well as the usual gatherings of gulls, most prominent of these was a Great Black-backed Gull. The rain was edging in from the south-east so we sheltered in the car for 10 minutes until it cleared.

Shag Cormorant
Great Black-backed Gull
When we emerged from the car, the sun came out and I snapped a pair of flying Herring Gulls, an adult and an immature bird (2-3yr). We watched Gannets  passing over the water a couple of hundred metres away. I managed a clear shot of a mature Gannet with a 2-3yr companion.

Herring Gull
Gannet Adult and 3rd Cycle Gannet

The weather was clearing. The view to Saltcoats looked much more inviting than it did when we arrived.

The Cormorants and Shags were on the move, perhaps encouraged by the brightening sky. Insects, now warmed by the sun, were also on the move. On a Yarrow flower-head we discovered a White-tailed Bumblebee  and then the Sawfly, Tenthredo arcuata. Also, a few Redtailed Bumblebees were visiting the many White Clover flowers. As I followed the bees my attention was drawn by the call of a passing, but quite distant Curlew.

Cormorant Shag
White-tailed Bumblebee Tenthredo arcuata.
Red-tailed Bumblebee Curlew

We could see the sunlit Ardrossan to Brodick ferry, although Arran was still shrouded in cloud and rain showers.

There were fewer birds around the Point, with only a single Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gull on show. A couple of Eider paddled into view, an eclipse drake and a young female.

Oystercatcher Black-headed Gull
Eclipse Eider Female Eider

We were joined by an excited couple who had just guided their dingy back onto the slipway. “Did you see them?”, they asked us. “Seen what?”, I replied. “The Dolphins! We were surrounded by them”, they gushed. We blamed the heavy rain for our missed opportunity. But after about 40 minutes we did spot about four Bottlenose Dolphins about 300m from the shore. We identified them by their curved dorsal fin and obvious “beak”. Two metres away from me, a female House Sparrow seemed interested as we expressed our delight in seeing the Dolphins. John noticed a Hooded Crow  had appeared on the rocks, a bird not seen so much to the east.

Bottlenose Dolphin
Female House Sparrow Hooded Crow

Satisfied that we’d witnessed the presence of the Cetaceans, we relocated to sunny Saltcoats, by which time the tide was at its lowest ebb. I snapped a Starling that was foraging in the car park, before we moved around the harbour watching for anything of interest. There were a few Rock Pipits and Pied wagtails dotted around the exposed boulders, and a half-dozen summer plumage Redshanks flew in.

Starling Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail Redshanks

A big Lesser Black-backed Gull sat on the highest rock at the centre of the harbour, surveying the scene with an apparent air of superiority. Near it were some Feral Pigeons, and a wee Blackheaded Gull stood pensively by a salt pool looking down at its reflection. We passed a large Herring Gull that had taken up position on the sea wall, near teenagers that were eating chips.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Feral Pigeon
Black-headed Gull Herring Gull

Time was getting on so we moved to our final destination, Irvine Harbour, for a quick look and our tea and pastries. It was rather quiet, bird-wise, with only a pair of Mute Swans and a Jackdaw on show near the “Bridge of Scottish Inventors” (closed due to the demise of the Big Idea ). A bit further along, my eye was caught by the brilliant yellow flowers of Biting Stonecrop that were growing at the quayside’s edge. A large Great Black-backed Gull was sitting on top of a metal post near the opposite side of the river.

Mute Swan Jackdaw
Biting Stonecrop Great Black-backed Gull

The light was dimming as a small Shag showed up and made repeated dives near the bridge. The fishes it was hunting must have been small as it didn’t bring any to the surface but seemed to be cleaning its bill after some dives, suggesting it had caught something. John spotted a female Eider paddling with its two duckling at the other side of the river. A large Herring Gull checked me out as I photographed the Eiders, so I fired off a few shots of it giving me my last capture of the day.

Juvenile Eider Herring gull

The weather had been kind to us, warm with sunny intervals and only one short period of rain. We got a reasonable haul of pictures, my favourites being the Sawfly, Jackdaw and of course the distant Dolphins. We celebrated in our usual fashion, but this week John had bought large Strawberry Tarts - delicious! But we need to get back to really sunny Sundays.

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