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

Archive

17th March

Stevenson, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

It was “business as usual” on Sunday. I was fit enough to drive and the weather was to brighten from the west, so after picking up John for the first time in nearly a month, we headed for the North Ayrshire coast. Things were going well until just before we reached the M77 when a low tyre pressure warning came up on my dashboard. We had to replace the offending wheel with the spare before we could continue the journey.  However off we went onto the coast, specifically, Stevenson Morrisons for you know what - yes, our first Sunday breakfast in nearly a month. Appropriately enough it was a great breakfast that was very difficult to mark down so we gave it 10/10. A short drive then took us to Stevenson point. Sadly there wasn’t much to see there, only a Cormorant on the rocks and some Oystercatchers on the short grass. I quickly decided to move on to Saltcoats Harbour where we were immediately greeted by a wee Rock Pipit on the sea wall. The tide was going out and we could see a Dunlin picking its way through the exposed seaweed.

Cormorant Oystercatcher Rock Pipit Dunlin

At first unseen because of their camouflage,Turnstones became visible as they too moved across the weed, searching for insects, crustaceans and molluscs. Close by, a first winter Herring Gull was dabbling in shallow water, but not catching much. We walked out along the harbour and John spied a pair of Eider. The drake, resplendent in his fine black and cream plumage, was trailing behind the female who might just have been trying to outrun him.

Turnstone Herring Gull 1st Cycle Drake Eider Female Eider

The view over to Arran was very impressive. A CalMac ferry (also see below) was making its way across the Clyde Estuary toward
Brodick nestled below the snow-covered slopes of Goat Fell.



Around the harbour, the wind was quite blustery. We saw only a few diving Shag, some Feral Pigeons on the walls and a couple of Redshanks in exposed rocks. We looked in vain for Purple Sandpipers , as we had seen them there over the years. They only winter in the UK before moving to breed in Iceland and Scandinavia, so perhaps they had already moved there.

Shag Feral Pigeon Redshank

We next walked around to the north side of the harbour. Unfortunately the skies became overcast, but I carried on photographing nonetheless. The paddling pool was busy with the usual suspects, amongst which were various ages of Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. I stalked a wee Rock Pipit as it galloped along the edge of a flower bed. I also snapped some bonny Starlings as they poked around in the seaweed (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Herring Gull Rock Pipit Starling Black-headed Gull


A 2nd winter Herring Gull caught my eye (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). A large Great Black-backed Gull glided threateningly over the pool, but the smaller gulls were having none of it, as they chased it from the area. The main occupants of the pool were a couple of dozen Mute Swans. Occasionally some passers by stopped to feed them bread - much to the excitement of the Gulls. I caught a fleeting shot of a male Pied Wagtail - our final shot at Saltcoats, as we decided to moved south to Irvine Harbour.

Herring Gull 2nd Cycle Great Black-backed Gull Mute Swan Pied Wagtail


We arrived at Irvine Harbour  just as the sun broke through the clouds. Immediately I saw a few Grey Seals about 200m on the River Garnock just before it joins the River Irvine. The photo is not clear (due to the distance) but I think there may be a Seal pup on the rightmost Seal. A bit closer to the car park John spotted a flock of Wigeon just where the two rivers meet. They took off and flew overhead (to my shame, I missed that photo-opportunity due to my monopod setup). We followed the estuary past the Bridge of Scottish Invention  that leads to the unused Big Idea Science Exhibition Centre . Below the bridge a pair of Eider were paddling upstream. The drake gave a wee flap of his wings to show the female he was well up for it.

Grey Seal Wigeon Drake Eider Female Eider

 
A bit further downstream a fine-looking Carrion Crow was foraging on a straw-strewn riverbank. On the quay above the Crow a pair of adult Herring Gulls were basking in the sun (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). On the opposite bank a lone Curlew was working its way along the water’s edge. It seemed to be aware we were looking at it as it scurried behind a rock and out of sight. We continued out onto the viewpoint at the mouth of the river from where I took a panorama shot looking back upstream (see below). On our way back to the car I heard the familiar sound of a huge Goose flock, although when I looked ahead all I could see were a sizeable gathering of Gulsl above some feeders. As we walked on further though I did see the flock of what I think were Greylags - around at least a couple of hundred rising above the Bogside Flats SSSI .

Carrion Crow Herring Gull Curlew Greylag Geese


Below is the view East from the viewpoint at the mouth of the Irvine/Garnock Estuary. Notice, on the right the former Harbour Pilot House .



We ended the visit in our usual way by consuming delicious chocolate eclairs and tea. It had been an enjoyable few hours, mostly in sunny weather and although there were few surprises I managed to accumulate an engaging set of photographs. After a four-week period of recuperation I am pleased with that accomplishment and I look forward to the next trip.

Pictures of the Week:
Herring Gull 2nd Cycle Herring Gull
Carrion Crow Starling


9th March 

Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow

With my mobility still being somewhat curtailed by an injured arm I was limited to a quick Saturday visit to a sunny Hogganfield Loch LNR  in the east end of Glasgow. My first capture was of a line of Black-headed Gulls awaiting the next person carrying a plastic bag, when they will form an noisy aerial mob as each bird competes for each morsel of bread. I’m sure though that those kind people are frustrated that the persistent aerial raids of the Gulls always manage to steal much of the bread intended for the more popular Swans.


On the water, a Moorhen was checking out the skies, for what I don’t know. A couple of quarrelsome drake Goldeneyes  were diving for food. Their diet includes insects, crustaceans, molluscs and fish eggs and aquatic plants. A large Coot was preening on the water’s edge. Not far away on the bank a large patch of Coltsfoot was blooming in the winter sunshine.

Moorhen Goldeneye Coot Coltsfoot


The water birds were brilliantly illuminated by the fine Winter sunshine, providing ideal conditions for photography. I took portraits of some Swans to highlight the obvious differences between Mute and Whoopers. My eye was then caught by an unusual feral pigeon. It is interesting to realise that these birds are descended from the Rock Dove that was effectively domesticated as Neolithic man turned to agriculture around 10,000 years ago.  A big Tufted Duck cruised past before vanishing beneath the water, re-emerging seconds later with a slight damper-looking tuft (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Whooper Swan Mute Swan Feral Pigeon Tufted Duck


There was a significant number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the Loch. The adults have a dark grey back and yellow legs. The immature birds are a bit more difficult to identify. The one shown below is entering its second year where the first bits of adult plumage starts to show, and the 1st year black beak becomes more yellow. Feeders emerged from their car as I was photographing the gulls. As mentioned above, the birds respond to the mere sight of a plastic bag by crowding the shore awaiting what is usually bread (although too much bread  is not good for them). At the front of the resulting feeding melee were the Swans, Whoopers as well as Mutes, packed tightly against bank, their eyes tightly focused on the plastic bags.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Lesser Black-backed Gull 1st Cycle Mute Swans Whooper Swans


Unusually, a large Grey Heron  flew fairly close to the car park, chased by some Carrion Crows. There is a Heronry on the woods at the east end of the island. They are mainly carnivorous and will take small birds, so the Crows were probably defending their territory as they too nest in those trees. I continued my exploitation of the feeding photo-opportunity by snapping some Black-headed Gulls  in flight (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below), of which there were many! When the bread supplies were finished there was still some flapping of wings as Mute Swans arrived too late for their lunch and for others, there was preening to be done.

Grey Heron Black-headed Gull Mute  Swan


I next set off on a quick circuit of the Loch and soon spotted a Cormorant  in its breeding plumage perched in the middle of the Loch. It was defending its position from marauding Gulls who fancied the perch for themselves. Roosting behind one of the many artificial islands anchored in many parts of the Loch, I spotted a pair of roosting Great Crested Grebes . Hogganfield is a great place to study these Grebes as there are usually at least a couple of pairs that breed successfully - so I’m already looking forward to photographing their offspring. The chirps of a pair of Pied Wagtails then drew my attention. They were scouring the water’s edge seeking invertebrates. The male seemed to be calling the shots as every so often it would take flight with a flourish of chirps to be followed almost immediately by the female.

Cormorant Great Crested Grebe Pied Wagtail


As I snapped the Wagtails, a handsome Lesser Black-backed Gull descended onto the Loch (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). It added to the flock already numbering in the dozens. Just what they were up to I’m not sure. Perhaps they were new arrivals. When I reached the East side of the island I was surprised to see even more Mute Swans in the lee side of the island, most of them preening contentedly on the artificial islands.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Mute Swan

A Lesser Black-backed Gull was making a lot of noise after a short disagreement with a juvenile. I then spotted, 50m beyond the island, another pair of Great Crested Grebes. They were trying to get on with their fascinating mating ritual, only to be interrupted, annoyingly, by a noisy bin lorry circulating the park paths. My next capture was of a Blue Tit  that was busy foraging in path-side trees for insects on the branches above the heads of scores of unsuspecting walkers. Another sign of the imminent arrival of Spring was the heart-warming sight of hordes of Daffodils in bloom.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Great Crested Grebe Blue Tit Daffodils

As I rounded the path to the North side of the Loch, one of the Great Crested Grebes unexpectedly appeared from under the surface only 10m away (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). With my car in sight I was pleased to see a pair of Greylags loitering close to the bank, pleased as I had seen them earlier when the light was not quite so good. A demure female Mallard looked at me, checking for food, but I was rather more interested in a beautiful pair of Goosanders. They too were in fine breeding plumage, ready for the emergence of Spring.

Greylag Goose Female Mallard Duck Female Goosander Drake Goosander

My visit had only lasted an hour but in that time I had taken a pleasing number of nice shots. Hogganfield is an unusual Local Nature Reserve (LNR) as it is in every other way just a very well used public park. That the birds and people manage to successfully cohabit the Park is good to see and a tribute to the efforts of Glasgow City Council.

Pictures of the Week:

Black-headed Gull Tufted Duck
Lesser Black-backed Gull Great Crested Grebe


3rd March

RSPB Baron’s Haugh and Dalzell Estate, Motherwell

I ventured out on my own on Sunday on a short visit to RSPB Baron’s Haugh, Motherwell, my local nature reserve, to see if my injured arm was up to it. The weather was sunny but a bit cold. So well-wrapped and camera and monopod at the ready I plodded out of the car park and delved firstly into the neighbouring Dalzell Estate in search of nice pictures.

As I passed along wooded paths I could hear shuffling in the branches above my head. It was a pair of Grey Squirrels searching for food. These cute creatures are much-maligned  in certain quarters, rightly or wrongly, but they photograph well (see also ,”Pictures of the Week”, below). The woods of the Estate are often filled with a rich variety of bird life but I was struggling to find them. The ripening cones of a huge Cypress tree caught my eye as did the Old Man’s Beard Lichen (Usnea) draped on the young Silver Birch trees. Eventually I came upon a little Blue Tit busily searching for food on the twigs and branches.

Grey Squirrel Cone Lichen Usnea Blue Tit


In an area close to Dalzell House  I came across, Wordsworth-like, a host of golden daffodils, and Crocuses. They weren’t wild of course, but they were lovely.  Still struggling to spot any birds I was delighted when a few Jackdaws passed overhead and then I snapped a wee Coal Tit  amongst the coppices. (see also ,”Pictures of the Week”, below).

Daffodil Crocus Jackdaw Coal Tit

I last visited the Dalzell Estate on a Thursday morning a month ago and managed to see Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Song and Mistle Thrushes. I wasn’t so lucky on Sunday. The weather was similar but perhaps the increased number of weekend walkers (and their dogs) had made the birds pull back..

Nuthatch Great Spotted Woodpecker Song Thrush Mistle Thrush

I next left the Estate into the RSPB Baron’s Haugh Reserve and passed along the Chestnut Walk (see map) to the River Clyde. Looking south I saw some Goosanders about 100m upstream. I walked north scanning the river as I walked, as I’d been tipped off that there were geese on the opposite bank. Sure enough I located about 20 Canada Geese and a pair of Greylag Geese. Close by I also snapped a pair of Mute Swans at the near bank. Annoyingly, these pictures were all taken “contre-jour”, as the sun was shining directly behind the birds.

Goosander Canada Goose Greylag Goose Mute Swan

As I walked I came across the first, of what will be many, sightings of a flower that heralds the arrival of Spring, a Lesser Celandine . It was a favourite flower of the Victorian Lakeland poet, William Wordsworth, who wrote several poems  expressing his admiration of the pretty yellow flowers. Another yellow bloom that has been ever-present, even throughout the Winter, has been the Gorse flower of which there are many lining the paths of the reserve. I was also delighted to see quite a few tiny Barren Strawberry flowers below the west-facing bushes. The final flower I saw by the Clyde was an early-flowering Dandelion. Another sign of a very mild winter.

Lesser Celandine Gorse Barren Strawberry Dandelion

Eventually I reached the Centenary Hide from which I got a lovely sunlit view of a flock of around a dozen Curlews about 100m out from the hide.



I also noticed a Lesser Black-backed Gull, with its charcoal grey back and yellow legs. after a quick rest I next headed further round the course of the river to the Phoenix Hide. I paused briefly at a bench by a bend in the river to observe a pair of Buzzards doing aerobatics, probably part of a courtship display. On a shingle bank on the river a few Mallards were resting just opposite the Phoenix Hide ( so-named, apparently, since it rose from the ashes of the original wood-built hide that was torched by vandals). Just below the hide I could see a pair of Little Grebes diving for small fish. These are also known as Dabchicks  (see also ,”Pictures of the Week”, below).

Lesser Black-backed Gull Common Buzzard Mallard Little Grebe

Near the Dabchicks, a Coot was chewing on pondweed, but little else was showing around the hide. I could see across the Haugh to the Causeway Hide. There were birds on the water around that hide, so I walked round to check them out. On the way, some Carrion Crows were perching high on trees that line the fields east of the Haugh. As I arrived they had been scouring the field for invertebrates and they moved back down off the trees when I’d passed. From the Causeway Hide I took some pictures of some feeding Teal. I also photographed a solitary Herring Gull that had been making a fuss about something or other.

Common Coot Carrion Crow Teal Herring Gull

I soon moved to the Marsh Hide but was disappointed to find it devoid of birds. I did though capture some nice shots of Reed Mace and
Goat Willow catkins . I finally trudged up the hill back to the car park. My last captures of the visit were of a Magpie in flight over a field and of a Robin singing on a shadowy hedgerow at the entrance to the car park.

Reed Mace Goat Willow catkins Magpie Robin

A view of Baron’s Haugh, looking west:


I think you can see from the pictures I’ve gathered that my injury has not held me back too much. So I’m looking forward to next weekend, although the weather prediction doesn’t make nice reading.

Pictures of the Week:

Grey Squirrel Jackdaw
Little Grebe Daffodil

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Archive   
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