A Backward Spring

The trees are afraid to put forth buds,
And there is timidity in the grass;

The plots lie gray where gouged by spuds,
And whether next week will pass
Free of sly sour winds is the fret of each bush
Of barberry waiting to bloom.

Yet the snowdrop's face betrays no gloom,
And the primrose pants in its heedless push,
Though the myrtle asks if it's worth the fight
This year with frost and rime
To venture one more time
On delicate leaves and buttons of white
From the selfsame bough as at last year's prime,
And never to ruminate on or remember
What happened to it in mid-December.

Thomas Hardy

Our Expeditions


11th July 

Hogganfield Park

As I was to be on holiday on the 14th of July, I decided to base my weekly blog on a midweek trip. 
It was a bit of a surprise when last Thursday afternoon turned out to be sunny.  Rain, with  thunderstorms, had been predicted. I took advantage of the fine spell by doing a circuit of Hogganfield Park, Glasgow to see what natural delights I could discover. John was working, so I was on my own (or not, if you count the very many walkers that use the park). On getting out my car (the car park is on the west edge of Hogganfield Loch) I could hear the insistent, annoying and loud cheeps of a Great Crested Grebe chick as it shadowed it’s parent across the Loch. The poor adult seemed demented with it and was trying to “shake it off” by moving close to a few flapping Greylags. But its chick hung on. As I got a few shots of the pair I noticed a small Pink-footed Goose feeding beside me on the grassy bank. It should have been in Greenland. A Coot and its juvenile caught my attention as I set off around the Park. It was helping itself to large helpings of Pond weed, under the watchful eye of its nervous parent.

Great Crested Grebe Greylag Goose Pink - footed Goose Coot

I noticed a drake Mallard, its breeding plumage fading, replaced by its less attractive summer feathers (this is known as “eclipse”  plumage). The Mallard female (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) looked much neater. Another duck entering the eclipse phase was a solitary drake Pochard that was wandering rather aimlessly through the crowds of birds. The edges of the Loch were bursting with beautiful wild flowers. I noticed White Deadnettle. Its young leaves are edible and it is known elsewhere as the “bee nettle” because it is a rich source of nectar and pollen for bees. Some tall, gorgeous Meadowsweet  dominated areas of the lochside. It has long been used in making potpourri, wines and beer flavouring, antacid and clothing dyes.

Eclipse Mallard Eclipse Pochard White Deadnettle Meadowsweet

As I explored the masses of wild flowers by the Loch, Mute Swans passed close, checking if I had  anything for them (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Red Soldier Beetles  were having their fill on Yarrow flower heads. They look a bit scary, and, due to their red colour, they are also known as  “Bloodsuckers”, although they are harmless. I also saw tall and pretty pink Great Willowherbs and, pushing through beside them, much smaller, pink Common Spotted Orchids . Their name belies their elegant beauty. As I photographed the Orchid, a Painted Lady butterfly swept in and landed conveniently ahead of me on the grass. The tiny, delicate creature had flown from Mediterranean Africa to be there.

Red Soldier Beetle Great Willowherb Common Spotted Orchid Painted Lady

At the south end of the Loch I found a large patch of Yellow Rattle. When its seeds develop they can be heard rattling inside their container (calyxes) - hence the name. On the grass there were at least a couple of species of Damselflies, the Common Blue and the Blue-tailed. Damselflies are often confused with Dragonflies. Damselflies have smaller eyes, long thin bodies and, when at rest, hold their wings closed along their bodies. As I turned onto the east side of the Loch, there were around ten Canada Geese resting on a pair of the biohaven islands  that are moored around the Loch. The biohavens were intended to provide nesting platforms for endangered Great Crested Grebes. There were none with the Geese.

Yellow Rattle Blue-tailed Damselfly Common Blue Damselfly Canada Geese

I decided to walk around the pond that is in the rough and wilder area to the east of the Loch. Fewer walkers use that route so it promised some interesting sightings. On the water of a reedy ditch at the start of the path to Avenue End Road I snapped a Pond Skater, a master of the surface tension of water, enabling it to skim along the surface catching smaller invertebrates. On the sides of the ditch there were scrappy-looking, pink flowers of Ragged Robin. These used to be a common sight in fields but modern farming methods have meant their numbers have fallen.  Also by the ditch were areas covered in yellow, orange and red flowers of Birdsfoot Trefoil, so-named as each of their leaves forms a triplet that resemble a bird’s foot (linkJ). At the south side of the pond I got a pleasing shot of a Common Wasp on Bramble flowers (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). I heard Goldfinches twittering on the north side of the long hedgerow but they were very elusive. I did though get a nice shot of Common Knapweed that was overlooking the pond.

Pond Skater Ragged Robin Common Bird's-foot Trefoil Common Knapweed

A Ringlet butterfly surprised me by landing on some leaves by the footpath. Normally they only touchdown briefly before moving on. Next I left the Park and moved north along the old road, by Avenue Road, where I passed a few Red Poppies. They were a very vivid scarlet, well worthy of a photo. I re-entered the Park via the next entrance. A Gooseberry bush still had many gooseberries hanging from its branches. The branches close to the path were bare - evidence that walkers may have been sampling them. The Sun shone through a tall flower head of Common Hogweed, creating a fractal-like pattern.

Ringlet Red Poppy Gooseberry Common Hogweed

A male Whitethroat moved nervously between the branches of Bramble, before settling on a shady spot on an adjacent tree. Just before the path joined the main road around the Loch I came across a large patch of Betony in a field of unmown grass. On the verges of the field a few pink Perennial Cornflowers were in bloom. On one of them I spotted a small brown insect. It turned out to be, on later research, a Plain-winged Spring Beegrabber. Apparently it frequents the same flowers as Bees, not just searching for pollen and nectar, but to “grab” bees to lay eggs in them. Also in the field edges were a few blue Cornflowers , another victim of modern agricultural methods.

Whitethroat Betony Plain-winged Spring Beegrabber Cornflower

On the last leg of my circuit I got a nice photograph of a tall Purple Loosestrife. On another biohaven platform I was pleased to see a nest with a couple of Great Crested Grebes. They seemed to be sharing the biohaven with Swans and various ducks. The Grebe looked very small against the Swan. Let’s hope they are successful. I also discovered a couple of pairs of Coots with young chicks. The tiny balls of yellow, red and black fluff look very delicate. But many of them should thrive (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). My last shot of the trip was of a shabby drake Tufted Duck, probably in eclipse.

Purple Loosestrife Great Crested Grebe Coot Chicks Tufted Duck

My lonely ramble around a city park came up trumps as my sightings were many and varied, and most of my photos were satisfactory. The Beegrabber was a newbie for us, so I cannot grumble. It should be business as usual next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Mute Swan Female Mallard
Comon Wasp Coot

7th July : Doonfoot

The meteorological report was clear, Ayr was going to be sunny and mild on Sunday, while the rest of the Central Belt was in for more cloud. It had been several months since we had visited Doonfoot at the south of Ayr. I thought an early summer visit might yield some interesting sightings. We sped down the M77 (although we made a detour into Kilmarnock for a breakfast in Morrisons (7/10: my breakfast was cold)) and arrived at the Doonfoot car park to find the weather was indeed as the presenter had predicted.
We started by exploring the pond area over the grassy bank north of the car park. It was very quiet bird-wise but the vegetation was burgeoning. I noticed a strange growth on a nettle stem, which, on research I found was Nettle Clustercup Rust fungus. A pair of Red Soldier Beetles  were enjoying their time on a fine Yarrow flower head (in more ways than one) (see, “Pictures of the Week“, below). As we pushed through the high grass lining the rough and narrow path I snapped an attractive Dark-lipped Banded Snail that was attached to a nettle leaf. But the most prominent plant at the pond was a six foot tall Giant Hogweed. It’s a dangerous plant if touched, so I hope Ayrshire Council are aware of the risks, and remove it.

Clustercup Rust Brown Lipped Snail Great Willowherb Giant Hogweed

As we neared the River Doon we came across some a pair of Valerians. The first was Red Valerian , just off the point of coming into bloom. The other was Common Valerian , a much more elegant umbilifer and one that has interesting herbal uses. At the river’s edge a little White Wagtail was enjoying a tiny bug it had just caught. Next we followed a Green-veined White butterfly into the sand dunes where it came to rest on  Sea Rocket blooms.

Red Valerian Common Valerian White Wagtail Green Veined White

A large flock of House Sparrows were very active on the seeding grasses of the dunes. Their fledglings waited on the stalks of grass as their parents nervously gathered seeds for them. I wandered out to the mouth of the river where it flowed into the southern reaches of the Firth of Clyde. Hundreds of birds, mainly Gulls and some Mute Swans, were feeding. I noticed a pair of Greenshanks and a Redshank amongst them.

House Sparrow House Sparrow Fledging Greenshank Redshank

Back at the dunes I just missed a picture of a male Linnet , resplendent in its red-breasted breeding plumage. The camera focused on a single blade of grass leaving the bird image frustratingly blurred. An Oystercatcher flew overhead as we retraced our way back past the pond, but this time there was bird action there. A family of Goldfinches were bathing at the water’s edge. Then a pair of Ringed Plovers swooped in, their high-pitched calls unsettling the finches. The Plovers had a wee bath before they too were spooked by a passing dog.

Oystercatcher Goldfinch Goldfinch Juvenile Ringed Plover

In the middle of the shallow pond, two Black-headed Gulls were behaving quite oddly. Both were squawking their heads off as they paddled side-by-side through the water. As we moved round the pond my attention moved again to wildflowers. I caught a nice light on a flower of Meadow Cranesbill. On a Red Clover flower a Buff-tailed Bumblebee was hard at work. The flower heads of Wild Carrot were just developing. On one flower head I spotted a scary-looking common parasitic wasp, Aritranis Director (see, “Pictures of the Week“, below).

Black-headed Gull Meadow Cranesbill Buff-tailed Bumblebee Wild Carrot

As we passed the mainly reed-covered south end of the Pond, we started to hear the competing calls of a couple of Sedge Warblers. At first we couldn’t locate them so we move further round the area. A Painted Lady butterfly landed obligingly on the path in front of me. Just after I’d photographed it, a Sedge Warbler shot vertically in the air from an adjacent bush and descended onto a blade of Reed Mace (see also, “Pictures of the Week“, below). Another butterfly turned up, a Meadow Brown feeding on a flower of Smooth Hawksbeard. We returned to the car and drove the short distance south to the Greenan Shore car park. Where we started our well-practiced circuit around the castle ruin.

Painted Lady Sedge Warbler Meadow Brown

The first part of our walk was very quiet. We saw little of special interest along the shore, hampered no doubt by the high number of dogs and their walkers. It wasn’t until we scaled the slope up to the ruin of Greenan Castle that we were much taken by the view to the south.

We carefully negotiated our way around the Barley fields to the east of the castle and passed a 7-spot Ladybird lounging on a blade of Barley. We passed a few bushes of Lesser Burdock on the edges of the fields. Goldfinches made frequent appearances but didn’t settle as Sunday walkers disturbed them as they moved through the Castle grounds. The House Sparrows were less flighty though. I photographed a demure wee fledgling Juvenile Sparrow (see, “Pictures of the Week“, below). Twice we had Yellowhammers bursting unexpectedly out of the hedges and over our heads. Nice to see but unfortunately no pictures. We eventually descended onto a old tarred road off Greenan Road. On its overgrown verge I found a thriving and very beautiful garden plant with an exotic name, the Everlasting Pea, lathyrus latifolius, Rosa Perle . Our final sighting of the trip was a cracker. As we moved from the road back towards the dunes we heard the unmistakable, shrill call of the Grasshopper Warbler . We sat on our stools for about half an hour and watched the bushes for any signs of their movements. Eventually we spotted one, and after a few photo-opportunities I had a few record shots, unfortunately shooting into the sun. It was a pity the lie of the land didn’t allow me to get on the other side of the bird, withe sun behind.

7 Spot Ladybird Lesser Burdock Everlasting Pea Grasshopper Warbler

Well, the weather held up. It actually felt like summer. Apart from a couple of missed opportunities (the Linnet and Yellowhammer) we built up a pleasing collection of sightings. So back at the car it was with a fine sense of satisfaction that we downed tea with chocolate cream eclairs. What a very pleasant pastime.

Pictures of the Week:

Juvenile House Sparrow Grasshopper Warbler
Red Soldier Beetle Wasp - Aritranis Director

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July 2109

11th Hogganfield Loch
7th July Doonfoot
June 2019
30th Musselburgh/Port Seton
23rd Inner Tyninghame Bay
16th Seafield Pond/Dunbar Harbour
9th John Muir Country Park
2nd Musselburgh
May 2019
26th Pow Burn
19th Stevenston
12th Skateraw
5th Garnock Estuary
April 2019
24th-28th Arran
21st Hogganfield Loch
14th Portmoak Moss
7th Troon
March 2019
31st Doonfoot
24th Musselburgh
17th Stevenston,Saltcoats,Irvine
9th Hogganfield Loch
3rd Baron's Haugh
February 2019
24th Hogganfield Loch /Cathkin Marsh
16 - 18th Strathclyde Park
6th 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/...../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