Our Expeditions: May 2021
Good Riddance 2020

Week ending: 9th May:   Dunbar Harbour, Belhaven Bay

The weather across the Scottish Central Belt was predicted to be mild and showery with sunny intervals. The prospects were slightly better in the east so we headed for Dunbar for our second Sunday jaunt since the relaxation of travel restrictions.

We started at Dunbar Harbour, where it was mainly sunny. The view below I think captures the charm of the location with the Castle ruin and fishermen’s baskets frame the calm harbour waters.

As we walked around the harbour I spotted a wee Pied Wagtail on the wall of the Battery, and further round a White Wagtail was hopping along the cobblestones. We took up position at the north wall that overlooks tall rugged rocks called the Gripes  with a panoramic view beyond of the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife. Just below the wall a small flock of drake Eiders were vying for the attention of a pair of females. There were plenty of Kittiwakes  calling from the rocks and flying in and out with with nesting material and fish.

Pied Wagtail White Wagtail
Eider Kittiwake

There was a large colony of very active Shags nesting on the rocks. They too were coming and going with small branches of seaweed.


The third species of bird nesting on the Gripes were Herring Gulls. They offered many photo opportunities and I managed some shots of them flying, swimming, mating and sitting on the nest.

Herring Gull

The annual sight and sound of the Kittiwakes nesting on the walls of the ruins of Dunbar Castle is something I look forward to with great relish. Virtually every nook and cranny of the walls are occupied by the delightfully noisy birds, each regularly screeching its name, “Kitty-i-WAKE, Kittyi-WAKE”. I find a scan of the small bay west of the castle is often rewarding. On Sunday I discovered a Fulmar, the “master of the wind currents”, circulating the bay. After waiting a short time it eventually passed fairly close and low, allowing me to snap a few pleasing shots.


We sheltered a while from a short shower of rain and then moved on to the Shore Road car park overlooking Belhaven Bay. We walked the short distance to Seafield Pond and managed to find and photograph a few wildflowers: Prickly Sow Thistle, Hoary Cress, Red Campion and White Deadnettle (complete with Carder Bee).

Prickly Sow Thistle Hoary Cress
Red Campion Carder Bee / White Deadnettle

John directed my attention to some Mallards paddling in ditchwater by the path. He also noticed a black insect (yet to be identified), had landed on his phone. Also, he spotted a pair of Swallows swooping over the waters of the incoming tide. I took a couple panning shots of one of them as it passed in pretty poor light.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard
T.B.C. Barn Swallow

At Seafield Pond I heard the unmistakable song of a Sedge Warbler coming from a reed bed. We sat quietly beside those reeds waiting on the bird to show. John pointed out a Grey Heron further along bank. Eventually it was spooked by passing walkers.

Grey Heron
The Sedge Warbler  made a lengthy appearance moving warbling its way up a stalk of reed. A female Reed Bunting appeared briefly, not far from the Sedge Warbler, before disappearing into the greenery. Near it a Moorhen with three chicks were picking their way through the reeds. However, there were only a few birds on the pond. A Tufted Duck was one of them.

Sedge Warbler Female Reed Bunting
Moorhen Tufted Duck

At the south end of the pond a Mute Swan posed in front of a line of reeds. A Coot made a brief appearance, but that was about it. We finished our observations by the car park end of Shore Road where I snapped an inquisitive Carrion Crow and some St Mark’s Flies  that were in the air and on a patch of Hoary Cress.

Mute Swan Coot
Carrion Crow St Mark's Fly

My final shot was of the day was of Belhaven Bridge, also known as the “Bridge to Nowhere”. At most times of the day and night it spans the Beil Burn, but at high tide the whole bay is submerged, isolating the bridge from dry land. The picture below also shows the Bass Rock on the right and the hill on the left is North Berwick Law

Our tea was accompanied by cream and jam filled scones, an appropriate reward for quite a impressive collection of observations. My favourites were the Sedge Warbler and Fulmar and it was a pleasure to visit one of my favourite locations. Hopefully we’ll make many more visits

Week ending: 2nd May:  Stevenson, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

This week I was accompanied by John - the first he’s been on the road since March 20. The North Ayrshire coast was our destination and, of course, our first stop was a visit to Morrisons Cafe for a long-awaited breakfast fry-up (10/10). The weather at Stevenson Point started sunny with a cold breeze, but it soon clouded over for the rest of the day. We were greeted by a flock of Starljngs feeding frantically on the grassy edges of the “car park”, some were gathering nesting material. A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were loitering on the rocky slab and a pair of Eider were paddling near them. The main bird activity on the Point was due to the Corvids - Jackdaws and Carrion Crows.

Great Black-backed Gull Eider
Jackdaw Carrion Crow
We were very pleased to see a few Gannets passing and even diving. We were also pleased to see a few wildflowers. A hybrid Bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartian, was growing near the edge alongside a solitary Poet’s Daffodil . Some Dandelions were wedged between the large rocks on the west side of the point.

Gannet Bluebell_Hyacinthoides_X_massartiana
Poet's Daffodil Dandelion

On our way to Saltcoats we looked in on the pond at Auchenharvie Golf Course. There were tens of swooping Sand Martins  moving over the water. At the pond edge House Sparrows were feeding on reeds. A pair of Mute Swans were sitting in the middle of a small island at the centre of the pond, perhaps nesting. The island was littered with rubbish such as old car wheels, slabs, crates. A Cormorant sat perched on a large tyre.

Sand Martin House Sparrow
Mute Swan Cormorant

From Saltcoats Harbour the view across to Arran was dim but impressive nonetheless. As usual there were plenty of Herring Gulls watching carefully for discarded chips.

Arran Herring Gulls

We walked to the end of the harbour passing a Black Guillemot resting on the quayside.

More Black Guillimots were paddling in the harbour waters, some flying in from, and out to, the Firth of Clyde. 

Black Guillimot

We sat on the rocks beyond the sea wall, watching for passing birds. A few Gannets passed fairly close without diving. We could see a gathering of Shags  on a small rocky island a few hundred metres offshore.

Gannet Shag

It wasn’t long before we had a much closer view of Shags as they made several close passes, albeit in poor light. There were also a few fly-passes of young Eider.

Shag Juvenile Male Eider

We walked around to the other side of the harbour where we found a Rock Pipit  foraging in seaweed for invertebrates. The photograph below shows it with what looks like a large Sand Hopper in its beak. A White Wagtail  was searching in the same area, watched intently by a cat waiting for the birds to come within pouncing range. However we were generally disappointed by the absence of birds. They were probably in their breeding areas. I did come across a couple of blooming wildflowers - a Hairy Bittercress and Common Scurvygrass.

Rock Pipit White Wagtail
Hairy Bittercress
Common Scurvygrass

Our final stop of the day was at Irvine Harbour. We caught a few brief sightings of a Common Seal at the confluence of the River Irvine and River Garnock. The main attraction though were the Gannets repeatedly diving in the mouth of the estuary. We saw many thrilling dives but they were all unsuccessful as far as we could see.

Common Seal Gannets

A Border Force vessel powered down the channel on some unknown mission. Our final picture was of one of a pair of Sandwich Terns  searching for fish along side the Gannets. They too seemed to be unsuccessful.

Border Force Sandwich Tern

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that our final activity was to sit in the car park supping tea while nibbling on Danish pastries. We reflected on how it was good to get on the road again and compared our favourite sightings. Mines were the Gannets, Shag and Black Guillimots. Let’s hope we are able to keep our visits going uninterrupted by restrictions.

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