Our Expeditions: December 2022


Week ending: 4th December: Stevenston, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

On Sunday we headed for the North Ayrshire coast - Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine, since, according to my WeatherPro iPhone app, the rest of Central Scotland was to be in the path of frequent showers moving in from the east. We had breakfast in Stewartfield Morrisons which, I’m sad to report, got our day off on the wrong foot (4/10: poor, due to poor reception at the till, the very long wait for the arrival of our meals and the fact that most of our breakfast items were cold. Apart from that it was fine).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We arrived to find Stevenston Point bathed in late Autumn sunshine, but we could see that the surrounding areas of land and sea were cloud-covered and that it seemed just a matter of time until the cloud would block out our sunshine. Below is the view of Saltcoats as we looked north from the Point.


Unfortunately most the birds on the rocky “end” of the Point were silhouetted by the low sun to the south-west. However, a wee nosey
Rock Pipit landed near us in a ideal orientation for a picture. A large group of Oystercatchers were also well placed but were sleeping. A few Shags and some Gulls were least well placed and difficult to make out with the sun behind them. John also alerted me to a pair of birds, probably Guillemots, that were diving at least 250m from the shore. He also spotted a young Shag that was diving just off the north side of the Point.

Rock Pipit Oystercatcher
Shag Common Guillemot
Juvenile Shag...

Not far behind the diving Shag, a first-winter Herring Gull was diving repeatedly in the shallows, presumably for small fish.

1st Cycle Herring Gull

On our way to Saltcoats we stopped briefly at Auchenharvie Loch which is almost surrounded by a golf course. There is a small pond near the entrance to the golf course, where a few Mute Swans and Mallards were feeding on the pond. We were amused for a time by a pair of Jackdaws foraging around the car. At the Loch I could see a large flock of Canada Geese and three Mute Swans on the opposite bank. There were also Herring Gulls, an adult and a 2nd winter Great Black-backed Gull.

Mute Swan Mallard
Jackdaw Canada Goose...
Great Black-backed Gull

We next drove the half mile to Saltcoats Harbour where the outgoing tide was emptying the harbour of water. We noticed a few Turnstones scouring the damp harbour floor for invertebrates. We could also see a couple of Ringed Plovers and an Oystercatcher with the same idea. A bonny wee Starling was foraging on a seaweed pile and a lone Redshank waded in a large rock pool.

Turnstone Ringed Plover
Oystercatcher Curlew
Starling Redshank

As we walked along the promenade, a quartet of Mute Swans powered north, probably aiming to join other swans at the old paddling pools beyond the harbour.


We doubled back to investigate the opposite side of the harbour. From the pier we watched a young shag battling a flat fish it had just caught. It made several unsuccessful attempts to swallow it before it was pestered by, first a Herring Gull and then a Great Black-backed Gull. In the end the fish was lost and all three birds left with nothing. Presumably, the fish didn’t survive the battle, but you never know.


A flock of at least 80 Dunlin flew into the opposite side of the harbour and populated a long exposed section of rock.


As I confirmed the identity of the Dunlins from my camera, a drake Red-breasted Merganser sped past the harbour mouth. I also spotted, what at first I thought was a Redshank on the rocks at the end of the sea wall, but which I soon realised was a Purple Sandpiper.

Dunlin Red-breasted Merganser
Purple Sandpiper...

Happy with our sightings at Saltcoats we relocated about 8 miles south to Irvine Harbour. It was pretty gloomy when we arrived, but when we looked onto the confluence of the River Irvine and River Garnock John pointed out a surfacing Common Seal and I spotted a Grey Heron on the opposite bank. A bold Pied Wagtail and a few Jackdaws were busy foraging on the promenade.

Common Seal Grey Heron
Pied Wagtail Jackdaw

We walked to the mouth of the estuary. On the way, we passed a few Feral Pigeons picking up scraps discarded by humans. A Cormorant flew up the estuary and disappeared up the the River Garnock. John discovered a Curlew picking its way along rocks on the opposite bank while a large Herring Gull sitting on top of a tall pole watched me take the pictures.

Feral Pigeon Cormorant
Curlew Herring Gull

The light deteriorated and the the wind became uncomfortably chilly, so we retired to the car, poured out the teas and removed two mixed fruit cream tarts from their packs. As we downed them, I reflected on the birds we’d seen. My favourites were the Purple Sandpiper, the Shag that lost its fish and the dipping Herring Gull. Next week’s trip threatens to be even chillier, maybe even snowy. I’ll look out my winter coat and hat then.

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