Our Expeditions


11th August

Musselburgh and Port Seton

Our run of dull Sundays continued this week, but with added wind and rain. We just went for for it, expecting to get wet whichever way we went, choosing Musselburgh, since birds were reported there (Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Garganey, Greenshank). So with raincoats at the ready we sped east, popping into Dalkeith Morrisons for a couple of breakfasts (9/10: VG but bacon a tad cool) before parking at the Scrapes. The rain hadn’t quite got going when we first arrived so we made the most of it, searching (unsuccessfully) for the Spotted Redshank. A big Curlew was grazing in front of the hide but apart from a Black-headed Gull and a few Oystercatchers nothing else was very close. There were masses of birds at the middle back hide but most of those were roosting. A few arriving Sandwich Terns livened them up slightly, as did a passing Fox (see Pictures of the Week“, below), that prowled behind the Scrapes but didn’t attempt to take any birds.

Curlew Black-headed Gull Oystercatcher Sandwich Tern

A Common Sandpiper  flitted onto the concrete ring in front of the middle hide. A couple of tardy Mallards looked on. We moved to the north hide where lots of birders were seeking the Spotted Redshank (unsuccessfully). John pointed out a young Grey Heron far to the right, and soon after a Ruff  flew in briefly before disappearing to the left. At that point the rain came on in earnest, and it only got heavier for the remainder of the visit.

Common Sandpiper Mallard Juvenile Grey Heron Juvenile Female Ruff

We relocated to the River Esk near the Millhill car park where it was more sheltered from the stiffening wind. I noticed some nice wild flowers as I got out of the car. Green Alkanet , whose leaves stay green throughout the year, was growing close to a wall alongside some less pretty, but edible (apparently) Smooth Sow Thistle. Hidden behind those was a patch of Herb Robert  , it’s flowers dotted with raindrops. It has a range of traditional medicinal uses which are largely untested by modern science. As we set off along the river I photographed a Yarrow  plant growing by a tree. Yarrow is also known as Carpenter's Weed as they sometimes use it to stop the bleeding from inevitable wounds suffered as part of their work.

Green Alkanet Smooth Sow Thistle Herb Robert Yarrow

A few Canada Geese were on the riverbank nibbling grass and Feral Pigeons were moving amongst them picking up whatever they could eat. On the river a few Greylags were wading in shallows around the island, where a Moorhen was munching Willowherb.

Canada Goose Feral Pigeon Greylag Goose Moorhen

Jackdaws were patrolling the area looking for any opportunity of acquiring food. A hybrid duck (possibly Mallard X Duclair) paddled into view. As I photographed the duck, a handsome piebald Feral Pigeon  flew onto the fence. We moved further upstream searching for a Dipper. I spotted one under the far arch of the Rennie Bridge and immediately crossed the bridge to try to get a better picture. Taking care not to spook the bird I managed a reasonable shot (see Pictures of the Week“, below). With the rain getting heavier we decided to move to Port Seton for a quick look before heading home. As we passed the footbridge on our way to the car we came across a hybrid goose, a Canada Goose and Greylag cross.

Jackdaw Duclair Duck x Mallard  Piebald Feral Pigeon Canada x Greylag  Goose

After a short drive east to Port Seton the rain was now persistent and the wind strong. Nevertheless, we had a short spell scanning the shore and Harbour for anything interesting. A Black-tailed Godwit was using its dagger-like beak to probe the sands for invertebrates with a few Ringed Plovers scurrying around. The tide was disappointingly low meaning most birds were too far away for decent shots. Clinging to the rocks 100m out there was a large flock of Sandwich Terns. We saw a few more near the harbour so we decided to investigate. On our walk there I snapped a ubiquitous Pied Wagtail moving on the shore just below the promenade.

Black-tailed Godwit Ringed Plover Sandwich Tern Pied Wagtail

View of Port Seton Harbour taken from the harbour mouth:

At the very blustery and wet harbour mouth a Grey Seal gave us the once over before diving and reappearing briefly offshore. It was probably waiting for the return of a fishing boat, hoping for some scraps from the fishermen.  A Shag flew past, close in from the west (see Pictures of the Week“, below). As a fishing boat boat approached the harbour, a Goosander paddled furiously to get out of its way. And with that we had had enough of the weather so we retired to the car, our coats beginning to saturate with water.

Grey Seal Female Goosander Sandwich Tern

As we sipped our tea and devoured our cream jam scones in the comfort of the warm car, we both agreed that we’d done well to accumulate some good photos on such a dreich day. OK, we dipped  on a few birds - but so did the other birders we met. Surely though, after a month of inclement Sundays, by the law of averages at least, we must get decent weather next week?

Pictures of the Week:

Red Fox Dipper
Grey Seal Shag

4th August.

Maidens and Turnberry Lighthouse

Well it happened again. A week of good weather then Sunday’s weather was to have been dull and damp. On checking my weather app I saw that there was a chance of brighter weather in south-east Ayrshire, as the front moved east. We headed for Maidens and Turnberry, places we hadn’t visited since the middle of last year. We had breakfast at Stewartfield Morrisons, East Kilbride (9.5/10: excellent) and made the long drive down the M77 and A77 (made longer because of a diversion at Kilmarnock) to Maidens, a former fishing village just south of Culzean Castle.
The tide was fairly low when we arrived and a few birds were foraging on the exposed harbour bed including Dunlin, a Common Gull and a Herring Gull. We walked out along the north side of the harbour and could see more Dunlin and a great number of gulls on the south end of the extensive beach. A juvenile Pied Wagtail flitted across our path, although it took a bit of spotting as the light was very poor due to the overcast sky.

Dunlin Breeding Plumage Common Gull Herring Gull Juvenile  Pied Wagtail

A Ringed Plover  was standing to attention, anxiously minding its pair of young, who were inexperienced enough to hang about watching our approach (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). We gave them a wide berth so as not to disturb them too much. A small group of Dunlin flew past in a flash on their way from the beach to the harbour. I snapped a shot of a distant Curlew picking its way along a temporary stream in the middle of the sands.

Oystercatcher Ringed Plover Dunlin Curlew

A view of Maidens Harbour  from the beach:

A noisy Oystercatcher skimmed the water as it sped past. A dozy Dunlin paid it little notice. As we sat scanning the beach I took a picture of a lonely Dog Whelk  stuck on top of a large boulder. These live in the zone between low and high tides (unlike the larger Common Whelk, which  doesn’t live in the inter-tidal zone).  I managed to grab a shot of an elusive Rock Pipit as it scurried around the rocks.

Oystercatcher Dunlin Dog Whelk Rock Pipit

As we made our way back to the car the light improved a bit. This seemed to encourage the insect world into action. We could see bees on the Perennial  Sow Thistles and a few Painted Lady butterflies skirting the taller vegetation of the foreshore. We watched a pair of Large White butterflies as they got frisky on some Sea Radish. Our final capture at Maidens was of a solitary male Pied Wagtail chasing flies on the deserted football pitch. I tried to edge closer to it for a better shot, but each time I nudged closer it fluttered further away.

Perennial Sow Thistle Painted Lady Large White Pied Wagtail

With the sun breaking through, we decided to try our luck about a mile to the south at Turnberry Lighthouse. The site is part of Trump Turnberry golf course. We parked in a small recently-built car park and set off on a 600m walk along a tarred road across the golf course to the lighthouse. The roadside is lined with bushes and rough grassland, as well as, as you would expect, manicured golf course grasses. We have found the road fairly productive in the past, and Sunday was to prove no different. Our first sighting was of a huge queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee  on Heather (Ling, Calluna Vulgaris ) (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Further on John drew my attention to a pair of Carrion Crows on a putting green. I started snapping straight away since I noticed that it was a parent Crow with its offspring, which was demanding food. The adult dutifully obliged with a small worm. Midway along the route John found our top spot of the visit, a Spotted Flycatcher  perched on a way marker. We have a lot in common with these bird as we both were looking for moths, butterflies and damselflies. But we only want to take their pictures rather than eat them. We passed lots of wildflowers of interest but the rain was coming on and the light had dimmed dramatically so I hoped the light level would have improved on the way back. Eventually we reached the lighthouse and, ignoring the rainy squall, we moved round it to take up position on the rocks that overlook the sea and sat out the brief. Immediately I got a dim shot of a Rock Pipit and soon after that, a juvenile Black-headed Gull glided past.

Carrion Crow Spotted Flycatcher Rock Pipit Juvenile Black-headed Gull

As the light improved slightly I got some reasonable shots of a passing Shag and then a gaping Cormorant. The next bird to pass is one of our favourites, the Gannet. It came fairly close in nice light so I got a fairly good photograph. Like a beginner, as I examined my efforts on my camera viewfinder, the Gannet did a u-turn and dived into the water before I had time to raise the camera. As we started back, I got a nice shot of an Oystercatcher posing on top of a rock.

Shag Cormorant Gannet Oystercatcher

Looking over the ruin of Turnberry Castle I could see just north of there, a small, rocky island where the Shags and Cormorants had probably been coming from. I found out later it was called Yellow Craig. From a distance it looked as though the birds may have been nesting there. There was a steady stream of golfers teeing off on the 7th hole, “Roon’ the Bend”, that overlooks the Bay. Most of the golfers I passed seemed to have transatlantic accents. I photographed lovely Field Bindweed that is common on the grassy banks around that part of the coast. I was pleased to see a newbie too, a Pied Hoverfly feeding on a purple Knapweed flower. Like the Painted Lady it is a migrant from Europe and North Africa.

Yellow Craig Gowf Field Bindweed Pied Hoverfly

We retraced our steps in bright sunshine, back towards the car park. A monument  on raised ground to the north dominated the view. A tall grey cross inscribed to the memory of airmen who had flown from the WW2 Turnberry Airfield, erected by people of the area. Traces of the runways still remain. As we paused to let golfers tee off I spied a bedraggled Green-veined White butterfly as it paused on a Cats Ear flower. Next I captured my favourite shot of the day, a Small Copper on Crooked Thistle (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). And, to complete a trio of butterfly finds, I managed a fairly decent photo of a butterfly that had given me the runaround for the whole day, a Meadow Brown, feeding on a Bramble flower.

Monument Green-veined White Small Copper Meadow Brown

In an uncultivated area of the golf course there were lots of Harebell flowers nodding in the gentle breeze. By the next golf hole we passed there was a timid, and puzzled juvenile Starling. A golf ball had just landed on the green, and I think it didn’t know what to make of it. A juvenile Pied Wagtail was our penultimate capture. It was aware of our presence but continued foraging, moving to keep a steady safe distance between us. With my car it sight, we were ambling to the end of our walk when we were nearly caught out by a male Yellowhammer  that seemed to come from nowhere to land in front of us on top of a tall roadside bush. It gave us a wee song before flying off.

Harebell Juvenile Starling Juvenile Pied Wagtail Yellowhammer

So despite the poor light and occasional light rain we had a very enjoyable time at each of the sites we visited. The Yellowhammer was the icing on the cake, but the find of the day has to be the Spotted Flycatcher. Talking of cakes, we consumed delightfully moist lemon cream muffins with our tea before tackling the long drive home.  Here’s hoping our run of dull Sundays doesn’t continue next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Ringed Plover Juvenile Ringed Plover
Buff-tailed Bumblebee Small Copper

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August 2019

11th Musselburgh / Port Seton
4th Maidens/Turnberry
July 2109

28th Belhaven Bay / Dunbar 
11th Hogganfield Loch
7th  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