To Autumn ( Verse 1)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

John Keats


        
Our Expeditions

Archive
December 9th: Aberlady and Port Seton

Like last week we had the same weather predicted across the whole of Scotland’s Central Belt, but this time it was to be bright sunny weather throughout. I rather fancied going to Aberlady as in recent weeks there had been reports of interesting sightings, such as the Shore Lark at Kilspindie. We drove, then, east to the Lothians where, much to our disappointment, we found the skies were filled with low, grey clouds. Hoping that it would soon clear, we went into Dalkeith Morrisons for breakfast (8.5/10, nice food but slow service). When we emerged the clouds were punctuated by patches of blue so we were fairly optimistic as we completed our journey to Aberlady.

Kilspindie

We parked on the A198 just before the approach road into Kilspindie Golf Club. On the shore we immediately found a flock of about 30 Wigeon nibbling in the salt marsh. They were fairly close to us, but the light was still pretty dim (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). We picked our way west along the marshy shoreline. The tide was well out and there were a few patches of birds visible but they were fairly distant. To our great delight the sky cleared pretty quickly to leave the bright conditions we had expected and we got some passable pictures of a few Lapwings that were on the exposed sands. John spotted a solitary Golden Plover near to the Lapwings. We wondered why it had become detached from its flock. Perhaps it was unwell. As we veered north towards the area the Shore Larks had been seen, we passed wrecks of some fishing boats. Apparently there were 8 boats that were sunk there in the period at the end of the 19th to the start of the 20th centuries. 

Wigeon Lapwing Golden Plover Fishing Boats

We searched the salt marshes just to the north of the Kilspindie Golf Club car park but sadly the Shore Larks were nowhere to be seen. Another birder told us they had flown off an hour before we arrived (I subsequently learned they had returned soon after we left!). We observed that there were some birds in the channel of the Peffer Burn, notably more Wigeon, Eider and Mallards. About 500m to the north beyond the Burn, John pointed out an impressive collection of 250 +/- 50 Shelduck . Overhead, in the distance I heard the honking of geese flying in from the Forth. As they came nearer I saw by their orange beaks that they were Greylags. They flew across our view and towards Aberlady LNR.

Eider Mallard Shelduck Greylag Geese

To the north-east, the light of the low sun had coloured the very prominent hill called North Berwick Law . It is the remains of an ancient volcano that was active about 300 million years ago. About a mile away from us we could see the south shores of the Forth where very large flocks of Oystercatchers were in the air, with south Fife in the background. As we retraced our footsteps back to the car, I snapped a few Bar-tailed Godwits flying up the Peffer Burn. A cautious Curlew left the channel and crept towards us along a trickle of water. The low sun was behind us so it probably was unaware of our presence.

North Berwick Law Oystercatcher Curlew Bar-tailed Godwits

Next I captured images of a fly-past of a quartet of Oystercatchers and of a well-lit Lapwing that was sitting amid a nearby pile of rotting seaweed. Greylags were still wandering the skies in an excited state, this time flying even closer. Just as we were about to move off of the salt marsh, John directed my attention to a single Red-breasted Merganser sitting mid-channel looking rather lost.

Oystercatcher Lapwing Greylag Geese Red-breasted Merganser

I used my iPhone to record an impression of the scene before us as we left Kilspindie.



Aberlady LNR 

I next wanted to check out the Marl Loch  in Aberlady LNR as it has thrown up some interesting sightings in the past, such as the
Long-eared Owl . The walk there too can be rewarding, as we found out on crossing the rickety wooden footbridge. We heard the familiar calls of Fieldfares in the Sea Buckthorn thickets, then one of them suddenly appeared just in front of us. It must have been starving as these birds are normally very flighty, and will fly off at the mere glimpse of a human. It was feasting on the mass of orange berries. Then to our surprise and delight, a female Bullfinch joined the feast, although it didn’t seem to eating berries. After snapping a Magpie that had been sitting in the conifers beyond the fieldfares, we moved on to the Marl Loch and sat expectantly on our 3-legged stools waiting for something to photograph. John spotted the fairly uncommon sight of a Moorhen nibbling at the berries on the branches of the
Sea Buckthorn 

Fieldfare Female Bullfinch Magpie Moorhen
.
As the sun started to set and low clouds crept ever-nearer from the west, the light deteriorated. A raptor sped across our view from right to left above the Loch - its dark brown vertical stripes on the underside of its body identified it as a juvenile Peregrine . Somewhat pleased, we headed back to the car, after quickly taking a picture of some Sea Buckthorn berries. Back at the wooden bridge, some Teal  were dabbling in the salt marsh. These are smallest of our ducks. The tide was now coming in and what had been wide expanses of sands had become a seascape. As we crossed the bridge a pair of Teal passed overhead down the Peffer Burn.

Juvenile Peregrine Sea Buckthorn Teal Teal

Port Seton

At the car in Aberlady we decided we were about done for the day and we’d move west along the coast to Port Seton where we’d watch the last of the incoming tide as we sipped our tea inside the car. However when we got there we discovered that rocks nearest the sea wall, which were uncovered by the sea, were covered by flocks of small waders. Most were Dunlin, now in their winter plumage. Also, a few Redshanks were hanging onto the wet rocks. Right by the sea wall on the last remaining patch of sand there were several Turnstones scurrying around, dodging the action of the waves as they tried to feed. Their dark, mottled, brown plumage contrasted with that of a fourth species we saw, the Sanderling  which has light grey and white winter plumage.

Dunlin Redshank Turnstone Sanderling

The light was now very dusky. A pair of Herring Gulls ghosted past, an adult and a first cycle  juvenile. Out in the Firth of Forth we could just make out a navy vessel, HMS Scott, an ocean survey vessel. An impression of how the light was at this point can be had from our final image of the bridges over the Forth, which can just be seen in silhouette, and the flashing warning lights on their posts can also be seen. The rocks that had provided perching positions for the waders had become fully submerged. The birds had flown. It was time for tea.

Herring Gull 1St  Cycle Herring Gull HMS Scott Forth Bridges


One again we had failed to see our target species, and once again we had seen a fair old collection of sightings. My favourite was the Peregrine. Although it was brief and in poor light, it was quite thrilling to see one of the world’s foremost species (IMHO). To our regular readers it probably goes without saying that the teas and pastries were very enjoyable, but this would be an understatement as the Danish pastries were particularly scrumptious. Roll on next week!

Pictures of the Week:
Female Wigeon Fieldfare
Dunlin Sanderling

2nd December:

Musselburgh

This week we had the whole of Central Scotland to choose from as the weather was similar throughout - dull, gloomy and damp - hardly conditions conducive to fine photography, but, we’re experienced enough at watching nature to know that it can be observed in all conditions, and interesting pictures are still possible. We headed east to Musselburgh via Dalkeith where we enjoyed a fine, warm breakfast in Morrisons cafe (9/10, -1 for leaky teapot and messy table).
In Musselburgh I thought it would be nice to start near the Millhill car park that overlooks the River Esk at a point where water birds usually congregate. On arrival it was evident I’d made a good decision as there were lots of birds on the river. I managed some satisfying shots of a few Mute Swans that were feeding off the river bank (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). I quickly moved away from there to capture some shots of a pair of fighting Mallard drakes. It seemed the drake with the brighter-coloured bill was getting a pounding from a male with a duller bill. Apparently a Mallard’s bill colour  is symptomatic of it’s sexual health. Maybe that had something to do with the argument.

Mute Swan Mallards

I don’t know if the duck commotion had an unsettling effect on some of the other birds, but there was an outbreak of preening  and wing flapping. Female Mallards, Mute Swans, Canada Geese and even Herring Gulls were all in a flap.

Female Mallard Mute Swan Canada Goose Herring Gull

We walked up to the footbridge that overlooks an island and the area where some kind people turn up to feed the birds. I noticed a single Duclair Duck  amongst the feeding melee of Canada Geese, Mallards and of course, Black-headed Gulls. Below the footbridge, on the edge of the island, I spotted a pair of geese, a Greylag with a Greylag/Canada hybrid .

Duclair Duck Canada Goose Greylag/Canada Hybrid Greylag Goose

On the walkway that runs along the river, some feral pigeons were picking  up the leftovers after the feeders had gone. One pigeon caught my eye due to its unusual plumage. I have called it a “Pied Feral Pigeon”, which, like most wild pigeons, is descended from Rock Doves . Also nibbling at the crumbs were Jackdaws , the smallest members of the Crow family, and Black-headed Gulls (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). John pointed out a pair of female Goosanders floating mid-channel further upstream. They were inactive. Maybe they were resting after a hard morning’s diving for fish.

Feral Pigeon Jackdaw Black-headed Gull Goosander

Having had our fill of observations at Millhall we moved down to the end of Goose Green Place, just before the Cadet Hall, where we immediately saw a Goldeneye midstream at the mouth of the Esk. We put up a large flock of Redshanks that had been sheltering out of sight on the near bank. The tide was high, so the birds were fairly inactive waiting for the feeding opportunities that would come as the waters receded. That must have been about to happen as waves of Oystercatchers were flying into the area from their high-tide roosts, such as the Scrapes. We came across the Redshanks flock on the rocky shore further downstream (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). Mingling with them were a few Turnstones.

Goldeneye Redshank Oystercatcher Turnstone

The weather had been dull but dry, but as we left the Esk mouth the light got really dull and it began to rain. The view across to Portobello will give you an impression of the conditions - as we say in Scotland, it was “dreich”.


We scanned the seascape as we headed to the Scrapes at Levenhall Links. Some Velvet Scoters were about 70m out. We couldn’t make out much detail with the naked eye, but my camera did not too bad. They seemed to be courting rather than diving. Further east, another diving species, a pair of female Red-breasted Mergansers , were passing. They didn’t dive but seemed to be moving closer. Not far behind were a pair of Shags, more divers, that also edged towards us and actually got close enough for as good a picture as we were going to get in the conditions. The fourth diving bird we saw on our walk to the Scrapes was a winter plumage Great Crested Grebe . It too was close to the sea wall. It dived a few times before it presumably saw us and moved off.

Velvet Scoter Red-breasted Merganser Shag Great-crested Grebe

As I photographed the divers in the rain and gloom I was joined by an insect that looked like a Mosquito or Gnat. It seemed very late in the year to be seeing it, a sign of the mild weather we’ve had. A familiar “cheep” heralded the arrival of a Pied Wagtail, that, given the choice, would surely have gobbled up the Gnat. Simultaneously, a female Reed Bunting (linkI) flew onto the wall. It was no more than 5m away but we could hardly make out its plumage due to the terrible light. Honking Greylags flew overhead and into the Scrapes, leading us to move away from the sea wall to observe them and the birds they had joined.

Gnat Pied Wagtail Female Reed Bunting Greylag Geese

As we entered the Scrapes we weren’t too hopeful of seeing much but we pressed on. From the east-most hide we found about a dozen Wigeon feeding in the grass in front of the hide (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). In the west-most hide we found ten Lapwings resting in the middle of the scrape.
Closer to the hide a half dozen Dunlin and a few Teal were feeding. I felt as if I was taking pictures in the dark, so we called it a day and made our way back to the car. En route John was sure he saw a Short-eared Owl around the area I call “the bing”. As we investigated, we met a couple who also had seen it. Unfortunately it failed to reappear so I didn’t get a picture. However, the banner at the top of this page shows a photo of the Short-eared Owl  we saw in the same area almost exactly three years ago.

Wigeon Lapwing Dunlin Teal

Instead of our more usual al fresco cuppas, we had our tea and very nice Danish pastries inside the car. We’d had quite enough of the cold damp weather. We were satisfied with the sightings (some of which we struggled to see!) and the pictures were satisfactory and fairly interesting. We hope next week’s weather is much better, but if it’s not, we’ll once again do our best to get some more interesting pictures.

Pictures of the Week:
Mute Swan Black-headed Gull
Redshank Wigeon

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Archive   
December 2018

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