Our Expeditions: May 2022
Good Riddance 2020
and 2021

Week ending: 15th May: Musselburgh and Port Seton


John and I went East this week. My WeatherPro app told me that it would be dry, mild but a bit cloudy in Musselburgh. The BBC Tides webpage indicated that we would see a rising tide throughout our visit, so after a breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (7.5/10: slightly disappointing - cold bacon and stewed beans) we drove to the mouth of the River Esk to begin our latest quest.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

There was a multitude of Eider ducks in and around the mouth of the River Esk. The males splendidly clad in their white and black plumages, the females were more drab with dull brown feathers. The juveniles had rather mottled brown, black and white plumages.

Eider

There was a large flock of Oystercatchers assembled in rank and file on the opposite bank.


There were also a fair number of Mute Swans, such as the juvenile and adult shown below. Carrion Crows were very active all along the sea wall. John spotted a Shelduck paddling  midstream, which was  dutifully photographed. The Mallards seemed restless. Probably their shenanigans were courtship-related. John, who obviously had his eye in, directed my attention to a white-rumped bird he saw flying past and landing on the rocky shore, I snapped it. It was a female Wheatear.

Juvenile... Mute Swan
Carrion Crow Shelduck
Mallard Female Wheatear

We left the Esk mouth and followed the sea wall East towards the Scrapes. There were very few birds on show on the choppy Firth of Forth so I looked for things of interest on my side of the sea wall. I noticed two species of Plantain that were in bloom: Buckshorn and Ribwort Plantain. John was distracted by the many big black St Mark’s Flies that were hanging in the air. I photographed one of them hanging onto a Dandelion seed head. I followed that with a snap of a pair of them joined at the tip of the abdomen, presumably copulating.

Buckshorn Plantain Ribwort Plantain
St Mark's Fly...

Eventually we reached the Scrapes, or to give it its proper name, Levenhall Links LNR. We got off to an encouraging start when a Red Fox was spotted lurking on the East side of the reserve. I got a quick shot of it just before it disappeared into the long grass. The water level on the scrapes was disappointingly low with few birds on show. We did though see a pair of Shelducks on one of the back scrapes and not far from them a pair of Gadwalls flew in. To the right of the hide a Jackdaw stopped and posed as I took its photograph. There were a few Oystercatchers lining the grassy banks between the scrapes and also some Mallards but that was about it, birdwise.

Red Fox Shelduck
Gadwall Jackdaw
Oystercatcher Mallard

We noticed a tiny red Velvet Mite, Trombidium holosericeum, moving about on the ledge of the hide window, as well as a Woodlouse. Slightly disappointed by the dearth of birds we left to retrace our steps back to the car. As we left the reserve, a Song Thrush bounded into view in front of us on the short grass. And in the longer grass by the seat at the sea wall we located a Skylark that had just descended from a high-level singing session. Further along the path we came upon a Carrion Crow that was sitting on the improvement work fencing. John chucked some leftover bacon from his breakfast, which the bird quickly accepted as I snapped away. I also got a shot of some quite pretty violet Common Fumitory that was growing by the fence.

Velvet Mite Woodlouse
Song Thrush Skylark
Carrion Crow Common Fumitory

Near the Cadet Hall there were Campion plants in bloom. I photographed the Red X White hybrid, Silene dioica X Silene latifolia as well as White Campion. A final look at the River Esk produced some more shots of the Eider. A male White Wagtail was busy catching flies from the large boulders below the sea wall, while a female Goosander was preening by the edge of the water.

Red x White Campion Hybrid White Campion
Eider...
White Wagtail Female Goosander

We headed East to Port Seton hoping to maybe see something of interest around the harbour. Conditions were a bit murky as the view below of Arthur’s Seat to the West.



The tide was in and there were only a few birds to be seen - Herring Gulls clinging to the rapidly flooding rocks. Later I got a fleeting view of a passing Cormorant and a shot of a Herring Gull on top of a Harbour workshop, but nothing else on the sea. My final shot of the visit was of a jaunty Blackbird searching for worms on the lawn by the quayside flats.

Herring Gull Cormorant
Herring Gull Blackbird

It had been an enjoyable, if slightly low-key visit, but it had some pleasing highlights such as the Wheatear, Skylark and Songthrush. We finished on a high though since the Strawberry Tarts were excellent, as was the strong tea washing them down. Let’s hope for richer pickings next week.


Week ending: 8th May 2022: Skateraw and Musselburgh


As I indicated in last week’s Blog, I fancied travelling to the Dunbar area this week, and so that is what I did. The best weather was actually predicted for the West coast, however the weather on the East was to be slightly cooler and more cloudy but sunny intervals were expected. The downside though was the tide was to be low throughout the visit. John was not able to join me, so I passed on the usual breakfast. This was just as well since I needed to make a slight detour to Musselburgh because there had been a King Eider  present at the mouth of the River Esk, but it had usually been appearing before 9 am.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

Musselburgh was very dull when I arrived, as shown below in the wide angle shot of some Mute Swans at the Esk near the Cadet Hall. It also shows how low the tide was.


I continued along the sea wall in search of any Eiders. The only ones I could see were on a sand bank about 400m to the west. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to distinguish the features of the King Eider with any of them. There were no birds near the sea wall so I walked back to the Cadet Hall.



It was at that Hall I watched a Starling carrying food to its nestlings in the eaves of the hall. On a telegraph wire above the hall a Barn Swallow made a very quick stop before dashing off to catch more flies. I heard bird song emanating from the woody copse adjacent to the play park, so I wandered over there and immediately got pictures of a noisy Whitethroat and a just-as-vocal Goldfinch.

Starling Barn Swallow
Whitethroat Goldfinch

I sneaked into the copse and stood very still. Eventually a Wren appeared on the bushes and a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered past me. I photographed one that landed on a Bramble branch and spread its beautiful wings. I also became aware that there were lots of large black St Mark’s Flies  hovering and landing on large Butterbur leaves. I then had one last look at the mouth of the Esk as I walked back towards the car. I was surprised to see a group of Goldfinches gathered around a seaweed pile on the shore. I also saw a lone drake Gadwall paddling midstream. I did a quick visit to the Millhill car park but there were only Mute Swans on the river. I did though capture a nice shot of Green Alkanet that was growing on the riverbank.

Wren Speckled Wood Butterfly
St Mark's Fly Goldfinch
Gadwall Green Alkanet

After that I made the 20 minute drive to Skateraw. I had gleaned from Twitter that there was a Channel Wagtail just past the farm on the old and blocked off A1. I stopped about 100 m west of the farm and waited. I immediately heard a Sedge Warbler  singing on a hedge right next to my car. I was about to give up on the Wagtail when I heard a bird call that could have been, and was, the Channel Wagtail. It was sitting on the stone roadside wall. On the verges I took pictures of a patch of Ground Ivy and a gloriously-blooming Gorse bush.

Sedge Warbler...
Channel Wagtail...
Ground Ivy Gorse

I then drove down the small side road to the Skateraw car park, from where I walked up the coastal path that passes to the Torness Power Station. Below is the panorama seen from that path.


I didn’t walk as far as the Power Station as my intention was to look over the shoreline to the North and fields to the South of the path. I photographed some Cocksfoot Moths that were feeding on Oxford Ragwort. A few Wall Brown butterflies were occasionally passing along the path and making brief stops on the wall and grass verge. I was excited to see a small red moth flying past me and landing on the path. It turned out to be a Ruby Tiger Moth. I next came across a Green-veined White butterfly on some Oxford Ragwort.

Cocksfoot Moth Wall Brown Butterfly
Ruby Tiger Moth Green-veined White

It was just as well the path was so productive as I could see that there were very few birds on the bay, probably due to the low tide and the people visiting on a motorised dinghy. The high productivity continued as I discovered a tiny flower of Dove’s-foot Cranesbill. I also snapped Birdsfoot Trefoil, Common Vetch and a pretty Oxford Ragwort plant clinging to the rugged sea wall. Just as I was ready to turn back to the car park, I spotted a male Linnet posing on a bare tree stalk with the power station in the background. As I  looked down over the bay, I saw a pair of Shelducks just below the wall.

Doves-foot Cranesbill Common Birdsfoot Trefoil
Common Vetch Oxford Ragwort
Linnet Shelduck

I next set off walking in the opposite side of the car park, past a large field that had many blooming wildflowers, mainly Lacy Phacelia. I got pictures of Carder Bees and Red-tailed Bumblebees that were moving from flower to flower. I then came upon a ruin of a small brick building where I saw another two butterflies, a fabulous Green-veined White and a Peacock (which had an ant on its wing).

Common Carder Bee Red-tailed Bumblebee / Lacy Phacelia
Green-veined White Butterfly Peacock Butterfly

As I walked around the bay’s edge I got a better view of a Shelduck but, sadly, no other birds showed up. I did though see some Spanish Bluebells, a beautiful blanket of Common Daisies spread over the cliff edge, and some Bulbous Buttercups. I returned to the car and as I was driving along the old A1 I spotted a Brown Hare nibbling grass in the middle of a farm field. I took the shot (safely) from my parked car. My final capture of the visit was also taken from the car. It was a Linnet that was perched on field fence-wire.

Shelduck Spanish Bluebell
Common Daisy Bulbous Buttercup
Brown Hare Linnet

Given the scarcity of seabirds I was very pleased to have amassed such a variety of photographs of my many sightings. My favourite were the Channel Wagtail and the Ruby Tiger Moth, both of which were newbies for us. I did have a wee cup of tea and some chocolate biscuits before my drive back West, well-satisfied with my efforts.

Week ending: 1st May 2022: Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour


After a few weeks of sunny weather, my WeatherPro app was predicting dull but dry weather for Sunday. The best chance of brightness was once again to be on the Ayrshire coast, hence John and I found ourselves in Stevenson Morrisons enjoying breakfast (9.75/10: near perfection - John felt that the service was a little slow) before heading to Stevenston Point to start our latest attempt to watch nature in action. The tide was rising and according to the BBC website it would peak at around 1.30.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The day got off to a flier, well, a couple of fliers - a Cormorant and then a drake Red-breasted Merganser flew past the Point. We both thought that things were very quiet up until then, with only a few wildflowers taking our notice: Bluebells and Common Comfrey.

Cormorant Red-breasted Merganser
Common Bluebell Comfry

We were delighted then, to notice a rather well camouflaged line of small waders  along the rocky edges of the north side of the Point. There were mainly Ringed Plovers with a few summer plumage Dunlins, Turnstones and Sanderlings but I noticed later when examining my shots that there were also a pair of Purple Sandpipers snoozing near a Ringed Plover. As I walked back to the car I snapped one of the Jackdaws that was foraging on the grass.

Ringed Plover Dunlin in Summer Plumage
Turnstone Sanderling
Ringed Plover with Purple Sandpiper Jackdaw

After that satisfying start we moved on to Ardeer Quarry LNR  where we were greeted by the mellifluous tones of a Song Thrush perched high in the branches of an Alder Tree at the edge of the car park. We then walked to the East side of the park where we were pleased to see a singing Whitethroat and a pair of Blue Tits that seemed to be preparing a nest in a path-side tree. We also spent some time trying to get a shot of a very shy Grasshopper Warbler. We could hear it but we only caught brief glimpses of the bird picking its way through dense Bramble bushes. We also heard a Sedge Warbler but it fled to the middle of the marsh before I could photograph it. Still, we enjoyed seeing these warblers.

Song Thrush Whitethroat
Blue Tit....

As we walked further around the reserve I came across wildflowers such as patches of Garlic Mustard  as well White Deadnettle, Red Campion and Common Fumitory.

Garlic Mustard White Deadnettle
Red Campion Common Fumitory

Near the exit onto Dubbs Road we had a close encounter with another Sedge Warbler. It was belting out its song from the far side of a pathside Hawthorn hedge literally a metre from where we were standing. Luckily I was able to photograph it through a gap in the hedge. We continued along Dubbs Road and re-entered the reserve to continue our circuit. We quickly located a singing Willow Warbler and a warbling Robin in the trees lining the eastern edge of the LNR. We also caught sight of a poor-looking Roe Deer. On our last visit we’d been told that the deer had been culled so it was nice to see that at least one had survived. On our return tour to the car I snapped a Wren with a beakful of food and also watched a Moorhen as it carried a rather large blade of vegetation towards its nest.

Sedge Warbler Willow Warbler
Robin Roe Deer
Wren Moorhen

Our next location was a brief look at the small pond at Auchenharvie Golf Range. It produce sightings of a Lesser Black-backed Gull in flight, some feeding Starlings and a prowling Grey Heron.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Starling
Grey Heron....

We continued westwards to Saltcoats Harbour in search of a reported Whimbrel. Our first shot there though was of the view south to Ailsa Craig. It conveys the gloominess of the conditions. However, we were treated to short spells of brightness.


During one bright period of a couple of Black Guillemots  that were diving fairly close to the Harbour wall. A pair of Feral Pigeons watched me as I snapped the Guillemots, and then them. I also captured a shot of a 3rd calendar-year Herring Gull as it stood on the edge of the Harbour.

Black Guillemot...
Feral Pigeon 3rd Cycle Herring Gull

At the end of the pier we climbed the observation tower. We could see the Arran ferry approaching Ardrossan. Again, note the dull conditions.



We watched, and I photographed a close flypast of a gorgeous Gannet skimming the water as we looked down from the observation tower at the Harbour entrance. It was from there that John sighted what he thought might have been the Whimbrel  flying onto rocks on the opposite of the Harbour. I immediately walked around the bay, in hope rather than expectation, to get a closer view of the the bird. I was very pleased to find that John was absolutely correct, it was indeed a Whimbrel.

Gannet...
Whimbrel...

Chuffed by the success of actually finding the bird we were looking for (something we don’t always achieve) we moved to our final stop of the day, Irvine Harbour. We were behind time so it was primarily a “pit stop” for tea and strawberry tarts, but we had a wee look along the Irvine Estuary for anything of interest. We could hear and then see a pair of Sandwich Terns diving in the confluence of the Rivers Irvine and Garnock. Luckily one flow a lot closer and dived about 40m from where we were standing. It surfaced with a large fish, probably a Sand Eel. Soon after that a pair of Eiders flew downstream. My final shots of the day were of a pair of Herring Gulls that were hanging around us waiting for chips. They were most likely a parent and its 1st calendar-year juvenile.

Sandwich Tern...
Eider Mute Swan
1st Cycle Herring Gull Herring Gull

We then had the tea and tarts. It had been a very enjoyable and surprisingly productive trip starting with the small waders at the Point, then the warblers at Ardeer Quarry. We thought we’d peaked at Saltcoats with the Whimbrel, but no, the Sandwich Tern with a fish rounded off the day splendidly (Well, not quite - that was the job of the strawberry tarts). John will be absent next week but I’m hoping for nice weather in the East as I fancy visiting somewhere around Dunbar. Time will tell though.



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