Our Expeditions: November 2021
Good Riddance 2020


Week ending: 24th October: Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

After a week of largely dull, damp weather, Sunday was to be wall-to-wall sunny across the Scottish central belt. Since we’d been to the Lothian coast in recent weeks, I chose a visit to the North Ayrshire coast - Stevenston, Saltcoats an Irvine Harbour. The Stevenston Morrisons cafeteria served up top-rate breakfasts (Full marks: 10/10 - on big plates!) before we started our quest at Stevenston Point.



When we arrived at Stevenston Point  we were greeted by a beautifully blue panorama. Below is the view to the west.


The tide was high, but there were plenty birds around the small peninsula. A cautious Carrion Crow kept an eye on us, perhaps watching for any discarded food, and a juvenile Pied Wagtail was nipping around parked cars and seemed to pause to look at its reflection in a puddle. I also snapped a passing Redshank - all bright pictures, but my shot of a juvenile Cormorant is less satisfactory as it was shot “contre-jour” (light behind the subject ).

Carrion Crow Juvenile Pied Wagtail
Redshank Cormorant


We saw a gathering of Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings on the rocky edges of the East side of the Point.


Most of the Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings were slumbering with their beaks and faces tucked under their wings, but occasionally some were disturbed by incoming birds which made them put their heads up. A large flock of Sanderlings that were on the beach to the East suddenly took flight and flew around the Point and away to the West. We followed their flight until they vanished out of sight and we ended up standing on the West edge of the peninsula. I spotted a Black-headed Gull swimming below our feet and then I noticed two Redshanks and a few Turnstones scurrying about on the rocks.

Ringed Plover Sanderling
Sanderling Black-headed Gull
Turnstone Redshank

We returned to the East side when the Sanderling returned to the West beach and started feeding along the shoreline. As I drove off of the Point,  John watched for birds and I stopped safely when we thought we could capture an interesting shot. John snapped a few shots of a hungry Herring Gull raiding an overflowing litter bin. He also photographed a Magpie and Starlings that were on roadside bushes.

Sanderling Herring Gull
Magpie Starling

Our next location was Ardeer Quarry Local Nature Reserve  which is less than a mile from Stevenston Point. Half of the site is grass parkland around a pond. There we found only a family of Mute Swans and a fleeing Moorhen. To the North of the pond I discovered a female Reed Bunting high on a large bush. Beyond the park there is a wilder, “less manicured” area, part of which is an old orchard - complete with old apple trees.

Mute Swans Moorhen
Female Reed Bunting Apple

We sat awhile in the overgrown orchard and waited to see if Redwings  would land on the Hawthorn bushes. Our patience was rewarded when a few Redwings flew in from the high trees that surround the orchard, and headed  for the red Hawthorn berries. We were next treated to some Long-tailed Tit antics and also a Robin checked us out before disappearing into the distance. Just before we reached Dubbs Road I spied a male Chaffinch sitting on top of a tall tree.

Redwing Long-tailed Tit
Robin Chaffinch

As we walked along the road that took us to the path that would allow us to continue our circuit of the reserve, John noticed a few Curlews in the fields at the other side of the road. When I investigated I found that there were around 50 Curlew in the field (some of which are shown below).


We re-entered the Reserve to walk its southern pathways. We were pleased to find and get fine captures of Wren, Robin and Goldfinch. We were disappointed though that there were no Roe Deer on show but we were reassured by a local that they were not exterminated as he had seen them, usually in the evening. Back at the Pond I got a nice shot of a juvenile Mute Swan exercising its wings.

Wren Robin
Goldfinch Juvenile Mute Swam

Four Mallards drifted across the water in front of us, beautifully illuminated by the warm tones of the low Autumn sunshine.


We drove the short distance to Saltcoats Harbour  but our stay there was brief. The only birds we could see were an obliging Pied Wagtail on the sea wall and a lot of chip-seeking Herring Gulls.


Pied Wagtail Herring Gull

We also had a distant view of over 100 Redshanks (with a few Ringed Plovers) hugging the sunny side of the harbour rocks.


We cut our losses and drove to Irvine Harbour  to see if we could do better there. As expected, the sunny day had attracted many people to the area, but we still managed to see a few “regulars” such as diving and flying Cormorants and Shags, Grey Herons and a family of Mute Swans.

Cormorant....
Grey Heron Mute Swan

We walked to the head of the Estuary but the rocks were covered due to the high tide. Below is a shot of the view looking back from the viewpoint.


We walked back along the River Irvine to check opposite bank adjacent to Bogside. I snapped a passing Cormorant as it flew downstream. We also saw another Grey Heron just past the Scientists Bridge and then John spied a Curlew and a few Wigeon that were feeding on the far side of the river. Light was fading so we decided it was time for tea before the drive home.

Cormorant Grey Heron
Curlew Wigeon

Although the wind was chilly at times, we had had uninterrupted sunshine throughout our visit, and with a great camera, it is almost impossible not to take pleasing pictures. We were delighted therefore with many of our photos. My favourites were the Robin and Goldfinch, and of course the superb view across to the Isle of Arran. So after tea and strawberry tarts we returned home well pleased.


Week ending: 14th November
 : Musselburgh

With the whole of Central Scotland shrouded in a blanket of cloud, the choice of destination for our Sunday trip hinged upon the likelihood of rain. The East was least likely to see rain so I opted for Musselburgh. We of course started the day with a visit to Dalkeith Morrisons where I had a Wee Scottish Breakfast and John opted for a brace of bacon rolls. (very enjoyable, 9.5/10: -0.5 again for small plates).


We began our exploration at the mouth of the Esk. The tide was high but there were quite a few birds about and it took me just a few minutes to photograph a pair of Cormorants and a group of Wigeon that were at the opposite side of the river. As I took those shots I was aware of Goldfinches foraging in Alders behind where I was standing. I managed a few shots of them before turning my attention to a pair of Mallards at the near edge of the river just below the seawall.

Cormorant Wigeon
Goldfinch Mallard

As we started the trek towards the Scrapes we were delighted to see a Red-throated Diver surfacing only a few metres from the seawall. Birds were constantly passing as they flew in an out of the Esk-mouth. I managed flight shots of an Oystercatcher and then a female Goldeneye  and soon after, a female Eider drifted into view.

Red-throated Diver Oystercatcher
Female Goldeneye Female Eider

Next, an excited Long-tailed Duck  flew in and landed about 40m from the wall.


I was surprised when a female Long-tailed Duck also flew in and settled beside the drake. We were then treated to a thrilling spell of action as the pair dived and dashed about in the area of water right in front of us. A second drake joined the chase before eventually they all moved a lot further away from where we were standing.


John then drew my attention to a Guillemot  that had just surfaced near the rocky shore just before we reached the newly fenced-off portion of the “promenade”. This was the start of the further re-development  of the remains ash lagoons into “a wildlife haven”. As we followed the path beside the tall fence we watched Carrion Crows and Magpies foraging about the fence and road.

Guillemot Carrion Crow
Magpie

We were delighted when a flock of around thirty Twite flew in and settled on the fence. I noticed that they weren’t quite as flighty as normal. Maybe they realised the fence was keeping back the nasty humans.


It’s a pity the light was so poor since I was able to fire off a lot of shots before continuing towards the Scrapes. As we neared the Boating Pond we startled a Kestrel  that had been in the long grass, probably with a kill. In the Reserve we first tried the “middle” hide, only to find that it was full. Instead, we tried the “right-hand hide” which was actually empty and we immediately realised that’s where most of the birds were. There were Wigeon, Redshanks and Oystercatchers poking around the grassy areas close to the hide.

Twite.....

Kestrel Wigeon in Eclipse Plumage

On the closest scrape there were quite large gatherings of snoozing Redshanks and Bar-tailed Godwits.


Not all of the Godwits were napping. There always seemed to be one with its head up, maybe to warn the rest of any impending danger. There were also small numbers of Lapwings and at the edges of each scrape were Dunlins  probing the mud for invertebrates. Both John and I were late to notice that there was large juvenile Grey Heron standing near the front of the scrape to our right (well, as I said, the light was poor).

Bar-tailed Godwit Lapwing
Dunlin Juvenile Grey Heron

A female Blackbird flew into a Hawthorn bush at the entrance to the hide and started to eat some of its red berries. Meanwhile, at the front of the hide, a very bold Redshank was hunting flies. I managed some flight shots of Wigeon as they moved around the site. We next moved to the “left-hand” hide where John spotted a lone Curlew in the back scrape. There were a few Teal dabbling at the front of the nearest scrape. Just before we left the reserve we had another encounter with the female Kestrel as it hovered nearly overhead in a very gloomy sky.

Female Blackbird Redshank
Wigeon Curlew
Teal Kestrel

We retraced our steps back to the car. On our way we again saw the Red-throated Diver at close quarters and a Razorbill  made an appearance about 50m out. A pair of Mute Swans powered westwards accompanied by the powerful sound of their beating wings. I also spotted a few Turnstones that were scrambling over large rocks just below the seawall.

Red-throated Diver Razorbill
Mute Swan Turnstone

We drove the few hundred metres along the riverside road and parked near the bridge at Millhill. Just before we had tea and  strawberry tarts by the river, we saw a Herring Gull, Mute Swan and Canada Goose stretching their wings and a Canada X Greylag Goose stretching a leg. We got close views of very active Goldeneyes as the females were playing hard to get.

Herring Gull Mute Swan
Canada Goose Canada  x Greylag cross
Goldeneye Female Goldeneye

Well, despite the greyness of the day we managed to gather over 400 shots of 27 species of birds. So as we drove home we were very pleased. My favourites were the Long-tailed Ducks and the Red-throated Diver. Sunshine is predicted for next Sunday. Here’s hoping!

Week ending: 7th November
 : Barns Ness and Belhaven Bay

The BBC Scotland Weather lady’s Sunday evening report was promising. It was to be dry, sunny but breezy in the East. I opted then, for Barns Ness as there had been a few recent sightings there, of birds that were passing through. Our usual Dalkeith Morrisons breakfasts were very enjoyable (9.5/10: -1/2 for the small plates still), after which we sped down the A1 to Barns Ness.


The weather was as predicted - sunny, dry and breezy. The tide was low but rising and we started at the bay adjacent to the car park (now £2.75 using Ringo!) and we immediately saw a Rabbit at the “wire dump”. There were Curlew, Oystercatchers and Carrion Crows foraging on the rocky foreshore but we could see a lot more activity at the shoreline some 150m out.

Rabbit Curlew
Oystercatcher Carrion Crow

Near the lighthouse at the start of the beach to the East we came upon a group of busy small birds. An inquisitive Robin was first to get its photo taken. I followed this with pictures of a Rock Pipit  and then a Stonechat  turned up. I had to track down the Pied Wagtails as they were very flighty.

Robin Rock Pipit
Stonechat Pied Wagtail

We sat for a short time on the east beach, sheltered nicely from the chilly west wind, and watched for passing birds. A Redshank walked over the sands and then another Stonechat showed up. I spotted a small group of Grey Plovers (with their tell-tale dark “oxters”) moving along the distant shoreline. I snapped a passing Herring Gull before we decided to check out the old Campsite.

Redshank Stonechat
Grey Plover Herring Gull

As we crossed the field to reach the Old Campsite, I spotted a Reed Bunting that was on top of a small tree. At the campsite there were no birds we could see but we did pass some wildflowers that were still in bloom: Red Campion,  Lesser Periwinkle and even Vipers Bugloss . This is a consequence of the very mild weather for the time of year, but the first hard frost will surely finish them off. 

Reed Bunting Red Campion
Lesser Periwinkle Viper's Bugloss

We returned to the place we started and saw that the small bay had become filled with water. A pair of Mallards sat at its edge preening, while Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls were feasting on invertebrates emerging from the shallows. The picture below of the Barns Ness Lighthouse was taken from the field we crossed to get to the old campsite.

Mallard Common Gull
Black-headed Gull Lighthouse

We next moved location to Belhaven Bay Shore Road car park. We were pleased to see that the inner bay was well populated with birds. Most attractive of these were the Wigeon that were dabbling at the edges of the salt marsh closest to the car park. The Sun was sinking in the sky and it’s light was tinged with amber. The water was still rising, making it not so shallow causing some birds, such as Oystercatchers, to move away to seek shallow water at the other side of the bay. John spotted a Curlew near the Wigeon, but it too moved away.

Wigeon.....
Oystercatcher
Curlew.....


We had a brief look around Seafield Pond. There were more Wigeon there but these were put up by a pair of out-of-control, off-lead Cairn Terriers which, having scared the ducks, turned their aggression on a pair of Mute Swans. At the far end of the pond we stood, disappointed that it was empty, when John pointed out that there was a juvenile Grey Heron lurking in the undergrowth a mere 3m away at the pond’s edge. We photographed one of the Swans a few minutes later at the other side of the pond. They were joined by a flock of Mallards that saw us from afar and decided that we might have food. Sadly we hadn’t.

Juvenile Grey Heron Mute Swan
Female Mallard Drake Mallard

The juvenile Heron we’d seen earlier flew from the pond into the bay and landed just below the sea wall. It proceeded to catch a few tiddlers before being spooked by passing barking dogs. On our way back to the car we came upon a well-lit Rock Pipit posing on a large, dead tree branch that had ended up in the salt marsh. My final shot of the day was of another still-blooming wildflower - White Deadnettle.

Juvenile Grey Heron....
Rock Pipit White Deadnettle

It was a very enjoyable visit, the most pleasing sightings for me being the Grey Plover and the Stonechats. The Wigeon at Belhaven were beautiful in the golden sunshine. Our tea and strawberry tarts were delicious as always. I wonder where we’ll end up next week?

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