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


19th May

Stevenson, Saltcoats and Troon Harbour

Murky weather was predicted for most of Scotland on Sunday, but the exception was the southwest coast. It was a no-brainier then, Stevenson, Saltcoats and Troon seemed a good choice of destinations. After a delicious breakfast in Stevenston Morrisons (9.5/10) we headed for Stevenston Point. On arrival we were greeted by a flypast of summer plumage Sanderlings . They settled on the rocky Point (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). Also there we noticed that there were a few Dunlin and Turnstones, also in summer plumage. Just off the Point a pair of Cormorants were drying there feathers. John drew my attention to an incoming Gannet that passed without diving, sadly.

Sanderling Turnstone Cormorants Gannet

I spotted a nice example of Thrift, often called Sea Pink, a common sight on cliffs around the coasts of Britain. John commented on how pristine it looked given its exposed position to on the rocks. As I photographed it I noticed a couple of Plantain species, the Buckshorn and Ribwort Plantains. Watching me carefully was a third cycle Herring Gull.

Thrift Buckshorn Plantain Ribwort Plantain 3rd Cycle Herring Gull

The Point was becoming very active with human activities such as kite fliers, jet skiers, fisherman setting off in a boat, and (ahem!) birdwatchers. It was all too much for the Sanderling flock. They flew off in a panic towards Irvine.

On our drive off of the Point we stopped next to some Sea Radish , a foragers favourite. Beside these were nice seeding Groundsel. I also came across a 7-spot Ladybird nestling in the foliage. These were followed by some snaps of a busy and very nippy Carder Bumblebee as it worked it’s way around the flowers of Sea Radish.

Sea Radish Common Groundsel 7 Spot Ladybird Common Carder Bumblebee

We drove onto the pier of Saltcoats Harbour. From the end of that pier we viewed a single drake Eider as it made repeated dives, probably for Mussels. A Shag sped past and made a pretty sight with the Sun behind. On the pier’s edge a first year Herring Gull surprisingly turned its beak up at some breakfast leftovers, black pudding. We walked round to the other sides of the Harbour where we saw a female Eider, probably the mate of the male we’d just viewed, and some Ringed Plovers on the rocks 40m out. John spotted a female House Sparrow which I dutifully photographed before it flew away.

1st Cycle Herring Gull Shag Eider House Sparrow

A bit disappointed with our haul at Saltcoats we moved on to our final stop of the day, Troon Harbour. The car park overlooks the rocky shore. As I stepped out of the car I saw a ringed Herring Gull with strange black cladding on its left leg. We went a walk along the sandy beach to the right of the car park. John spotted a Large White butterfly sitting on leaves of White Deadnettle. I also photographed some nice Silverweed  (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below) and some Sea Sandwort  that was now starting to bloom.

Herring Gull Large White Butterfly Silverweed Sea Sandwort

We stepped onto the beach and immediately put up a fairly big flock of small waders that included Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and Sanderling. Luckily they didn’t go far and soon migrated back to their original feeding area. We walked the beach as intended and I took photos of the plentiful Hoary Cress.

Dunlin Ringed Plover Sanderling Hoary Cress

There were a few patches of Birdsfoot Trefoil .  On the edge of the beach I came across a lovely large plant of  Pencilled Cranesbill. Meanwhile the Ringed Plovers and Dunlin were creeping ever closer I continued to snapped away merrily until an aggressive Jackdaw swooped into the middle of the flock and spooked them. They upped and left speedily towards Ardrossan.

Common Birdsfoot Trefoil Pencilled Cranesbill Ringed Plover / Dunlin Jackdaw

We left the beach and explored the area to the right of the car park. A trio of drake Eiders Lee south past us.  They seemed to be pursuing a female (not in shot).

The ubiquitous Rock Pipits were there as well as the equally familiar Pied Wagtails. The latter were wandering between parked cars hoping for the crumbs left by the car occupants who were dining on fish suppers evident from the scent of vinegar that hung in the air. I discovered another large yellow flowers plant that turned out to be Rape . At this time of year many of the field in the area contain vast areas of this plant which is grown for its Rapeseed oil. We were also being tracked by another common bird, a female House Sparrow (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below), while a member of yet another “usual suspect”, a Starling was scouring the seaweed for food (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). On the way back to the car I was attracted to what must be one of the tiniest bush of flowering Hawthorn that I think I’ve seen.

Rock Pipit Pied Wagtail Rapeseed Common Hawthorn

The weather had been a bit disappointing with only a few minutes of sunshine in each of the locations we visited. However it was a nice set of pictures we talked about as we had our tea and, wait for it ..... large creamed fruit scones with jam. Any negativity ebbed away until I found out that a Bluethroat was posing for birders over at Barns Ness (last weeks destination). Oh well, that’s the way it goes

Pictures of the Week:

Sanderling Silverweed
Female House Sparrow Starling

12th May:

Skateraw, Whitesands and Barns Ness

Sunday was one of those days when we had the perfect weather prediction for the whole of Central Scotland - bright, sunny and mild. I plumped for the Lothian coast east of Dunbar since that area had featured in recent Twitter reports of some nifty birds such as the Spotted Sandpiper  and Yellow and Channel Wagtails at Skateraw. So after a nice breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (9/10: -1 for order mix up) we found ourselves scouring the rocks around the Lime Kilns at Skateraw. However the search was in vain. The tide was very low so the birds had a vast area of exposed bay in which to feed. On the rocks that were normally teaming with Pipits I did manage to see a single Rock Pipit, but little else other than a pair of distant Shelduck. On the bushes by the car park we found Tree Sparrows and, pleasingly, some Whitethroats (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). On our way out of Skateraw we stopped by a small field of manure piles (as you do) where we photographed a Skylark and a Yellow Wagtail from the car. We did see a pair of feuding Channel Wagtails that were, frustratingly, behind the car and so out of view of the camera.

Rock Pipit Tree Sparrow Skylark Yellow Wagtail

On the single track approach road into Barns Ness, John spotted a Buzzard circling overhead. He also noticed a BarnSwallow  that appeared to have a nest on the White Sands toilet block. It posed for me on the roadside fence wire. John snapped a Carrion Crow that was looking down imperiously from the high ridge. After parking in the Barns Ness car park I found a Jackdaw foraging in the nearby “wire dump”.  

Buzzard Barn Swallow Carrion Crow Jackdaw

Starting in the site of a former caravan park, we set off on a circular route that would take us past some woods, through grassy areas overlooking fields and along the sandy shore past the lighthouse then back to the car. However, we spent quite a long time at the derelict caravan park as we found so much there of interest. White Deadnettle was in full bloom with several butterflies flitting from flower to flower. We saw and photographed Wall, Green-veined  and Orange Tip  butterflies.

White Deadnettle Wall Brown Green-veined White Orange Tip

A Carder Bumblebee  was on the Greater Periwinkle  flowers, and also a Common Wasp . I managed a decent shot of a Whitethroat through the branches of a bush. Eventually it heard the camera and flew off. I came across a Dance Fly, Empis Opaca, prowling on some Spanish Bluebells.

Carder Bumblebee Common Wasp Whitethroat Dance Fly

A Red-tailed Bumblebee  showed up and started probing the Periwinkle nectaries. A bright red 7-spotted Ladybird was sunning itself on a Holly leaf while on the stony path I noticed some Ground Ivy was in bloom, it’s violet flowers catching the eye, complementing the much larger flowers of the Greater Periwinkle.

Red-tailed Bumblebee 7 Spot Ladybird Ground Ivy Greater Periwinkle

After a 30 minute stop we pressed on along a stand of conifers to a stone wall boundary wall that overlooked the quarry that supplies the Concrete plant that lies just south of Barns Ness. During the week the ground often shakes as rock is blasted from the now huge hole in the ground.

A pair of Goldfinches flew onto the conifers and appeared to be gathering nesting material (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). As we continued around our circuit we could see four Roe Deer some 200m away by the edge of the quarry. We climbed over a style and crossed a long, wide field and through a gap in the grassy sand dunes, onto a long sandy beach. We passed very close to a solitary, very handsome drake Shelduck. He was very reluctant to leave his rocky stance as we passed. Usually they are quite flighty so maybe he had found some rich pickings. John told me to “freeze!”, as he spotted a Skylark on the pile of Seaweed, only a couple of metres away. I got a few shots in some lovely light (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below for more pictures of the Shelduck and Skylark).

Goldfinch Roe Deer Shelduck Skylark

Looking east from the beach I could see the Moon with an aeroplane contrail passing above it. We left the beach, watched by one of the many Carrion Crows, and rounded the Lighthouse. The attached building is now a holiday home . We sat below the lighthouse, looking north for Gannets, but they were too far out for acceptable shots. On the grass around us though I photographed Greater Stitchwort and Spring Vetch.

Carrion Crow Greater Stitchwort Spring Vetch

I also found two wildflowers whose leaves group in threes. These were Bird’s Foot Trefoil with relatively big yellow pea-like flowers, and Hop Trefoil whose flowers are also yellow but are spherical. Also prominent on the grassy foreshore were Creeping Buttercups. Resting on some of the Buttercups were the jet black-coloured St Mark’s Fly .

Hop Trefoil Bird's Foot Trefoil Creeping Buttercup St Mark's Fly

We moved across the seashore towards the car park. I snapped a Ribwort Plantain flowerhead and a Silverweed , a wildflower often confused with a buttercup. We disturbed a Dunlin which re-settled only 30m further on, so I managed a record shot. On reaching the car, we decided to move on to Belhaven Bay to finish the day, but as we passed White Sands John spotted and photographed a roadside Rabbit from the passenger seat.

Ribwort Plantain Silverweed Dunlin Rabbit

We sipped tea and demolished a pair of chocolate eclairs ( each! JP.) as we gazed across the gorgeous panorama before us. It had been a trip rich in sightings, all, for once, observed in dry, bright sunny weather. Same again next week please.

Pictures of the Week:

Whitethroat Goldfinch
Skylark Shelduck

5th May :

Garnock Estuary and Irvine Harbour

With the brighter weather predicted in the west, we headed for the Irvine area. I decided to explore the area of land at the confluence of the Rivers Irvine and Garnock, guided by the excellent new SOC app . We had never been in that area before so we were keen to find out what it could offer us. We began the journey with an excellent breakfast in Stewartfield Morrisons, East Kilbride (9/10: -1 for slowish service). At Irvine we parked near the very well-used Recycle Centre near Bogside and began a trek that took us under a railway line and towards the Garnock Estuary.  As we got out the car John pointed out a busy Pied Wagtail bobbing its way along the pavement. Around the Centre we came across patches of small pink flowers. These turned out to be Hedgerow Cranesbill , Cut-leaved Cranesbill  and Common Storksbill 

Pied Wagtail Hedgerow Cranesbill Cut-leaved Cranesbill Common Storksbill

Our floral discoveries continued with some White Deadnettle  and blue and white Bluebells (. They continued with a huge patch of what at first looked like very large Rhubarb but what we found out were actually the toxic Giant Hogweed . As we continued to make our way towards the Estuary we passed what looked like the remains of a small orchard of blossoming Apple trees (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

White Deadnettle Bluebell Giant Hogweed Apple

Our journey to that point had not been devoid of birds. We heard Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and Blackcaps but as the woods were fairly dense and dull we only managed fleeting views of the birds. When we emerged from the woods into a more open area between some ponds we were able to actually see the birds. I photographed an obliging and nosey Robin which sat boldly in front of us (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). As I waited for a chance to snap an elusive Willow Warbler I noticed a colourfully marked Brown-lipped Snail on a tree trunk. Eventually I managed a fairly decent couple of shots of the Willow Warbler as it flitted between the branches (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). We next passed into a tall conifer plantation that ran along the north edge of the Garnock Estuary. I surveyed the waters with a great deal of disappointment as it was dull, grey and birdless. We decided that we would be better sticking to were we’d just been, so we made our way back via a tarred path that took us past between the pond we had skirted earlier. On the way we heard, saw and photographed a Chiffchaff and a Goldfinch.

Brown-lipped Snail Willow Walbler Chiffchaff Goldfinch

Close to the Goldfinch I spotted a Chaffinch calling atop a bare branch. When we arrived at the ponds there were a couple of Mute Swans with their cygnets. We also saw a pair of distant and dimly-lit Tufted Ducks. In the reeds close to where we were sitting a Sedge Warbler had been calling before I managed to spook it. I’d have waited until it returned but for the rain that was starting to fall. Just before moving on, I noticed a wee Thyme-leaved Speedwell  flower next to my stool.

Chaffinch Mute Swan Tufted Duck Thyme-leaved Speedwell

Just as we re-entered the wooded area we had passed earlier I snapped a wee Reed Bunting. In the fields near my car there were many Cuckoo Flowers  still in bloom. We had intended moving on to Stevenson Point, however, the slip road from the A78, that we’d used on the way in, was one-way so we had to go through Irvine. We decided then to go instead to Irvine Harbour. As we drove there we passed a field where there were three grazing Clydesdale Horses .

Reed Bunting Cuckoo Flower Clydesdale Horses

The Estuary at the Harbour was initially very quiet. We walked beyond the Coastwatch building to the viewpoint where we spent an entertaining half hour watching some Gannets  diving as near as 50m offshore. I managed a nice series of pictures of one such dive (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Having sated our appetite for Gannets, we made our way back to the car. We came across several types of gull on the way. A juvenile Great Black-backed Gull had acquired the remains of someone’s corn on the cob and seemed happy it had (probably) managed to shake off a mob of other gulls. Across the river, on a post, an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull surveyed the scene, while on our side a 2nd cycle Herring Gull flew over our heads. At the car we positioned our stools ready to take tea. An adult Herring Gull also took up position seemingly aware that food was about to be on show.

1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull Lesser Black-backed Gull 2nd Cycle Herring Gull Herring Gull

However, the Herring Gull had competition. An untidy Rook wandered in, as did a bonny Feral Pigeon. Sad for them, since, as a rule, we don’t feed  the birds in car parks. As we sipped tea and munched into some lovely custard and almond Danish pastries I heard the familiar, creaking tones of a Sandwich Tern. Although it didn’t come close I noticed it eventually settled a couple of hundred metres away on a large object in the River Garnock. The record shot below shows at least 5 adult Terns and 1 juvenile. As I captured the Tern picture a Cormorant appeared below the Bridge along with 4 Mute Swans flying past. I snapped the Swans (potentially more exciting pictures) but the Cormorant flew off before I could train my camera on it.

Feral Pigeon Rook Sandwich Terns Mute Swan

After a slow start we eventually ended up with a pleasing set of pictures. The weather didn’t help us though and I later found out we’d missed a couple of Little Egrets on the Garnock. We’ll probably return there on a better day for a more thorough exploration.

Pictures of the Week:
Robin Willow Warbler
Apple Gannet

Back To Top

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