To Autumn ( Verse 1)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

John Keats

Our Expeditions


11th November :

Troon and Irvine Harbour

The weather predictions for Central Scotland were not encouraging. A period of rain was to have cleared slowly from the west. I decided to go to the Ballast Bank at Troon and hoped conditions would improve as the afternoon progressed. We visited Stewartfield Morrisons cafe for breakfast (8/10, slow service) before travelling through some quite nasty weather, via the M77, to Troon.


The rain had eased as we arrived in Troon. We noticed bird flocks busy on the shore near the North Shore Road car park. The light was very poor for photography, nevertheless, I was able to take some record shots of some small waders that were shuffling across the damp sand. Redshanks and Dunlin made up much of the flock but I also spotted a few Ringed Plover and the odd Oystercatcher. I also captured an image of rain-soaked Bittersweet berries (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Redshank Dunlin Ringed Plover Oystercatcher

We didn’t spend long at the North Shore Road as the rain was intensifying. Instead we drove along Harbour Road to the car park at the north end of Ballast Bank. We sat there in the car until the rain went off. The tide was coming in as we moved slowly along the north shore. A few Turnstones were picking their way along the shingle beach, foraging for invertebrates. We then came across a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull (2nd calendar year) fending off other smaller gulls that were after the large fish it had claimed. Anxious to consume it as quickly as possible before it could lose it to a more dominant gull, it tried to down it in one but try as it might, the fish was just too big. The Turnstones we had been watching earlier suddenly fled off around the harbour wall.

Turnstone Greater Black- Gull with Lunch Turnstone

A pair of very pretty drake Eider passed overhead heading south. John spotted the bobbing snout of a Grey Seal only about 20m out. We then decided to walk along the shore along the length of the Ballast Bank. A pair of Oystercatchers and a Redshank were standing in the rain. I wondered if they were as annoyed as us that it hadn’t cleared up by then.

Common Eider Grey Seal Oystercatcher Redshank

A Shag flew south. We discussed the quickest way of telling Shags from Cormorants. I always look at forehead, eyes and beak. In the Shag, the beak and forehead meet at a point rather than being on a continuous line. The Shag’s eye set in feathered plumage rather than edging onto an unfeathered area. Lastly, the Shag’s beak is slimmer and doesn’t have as prominent a hooked tip as that of a Cormorant. A wee Rock Pipit made a brief appearance. We had had an eye open for a reported Water Pipit  but it didn’t show, sadly. However, a small flock of Purple Sandpipers did make an appearance. They weren’t very skittish so I was able to get some close shots, albeit in poor light. Near the car I got a picture of a Starling, but the light was so low, and the rain was so unrelenting that we decided to move north to Irvine Harbour. We could see that it was much brighter there.

Shag Rock Pipit Purple Sandpiper Starling

Irvine Harbour :

We got a very sunny welcome at the Irvine Harbour car park as is shown by the panorama below. The sunlight broke through the rain clouds and created a double rainbow as it fell on the last of the raindrops 

Heartened by the presence of light, we set off along the path toward the mouth of the River Irvine. As we passed the “Bridge of Scottish Inventions” we saw a Shag sitting drying its wings, midstream on top of a metal post. Close to there, a Grey Seal, very like the one we saw at Troon, appeared for a short time before submerging and disappearing out of sight. A majestic adult Great Black-backed Gull  coasted past overhead to survey the sand dunes to the south of the river. Higher in the sky, and travelling in the opposite direction, a Coastguard rescue helicopter passed by, probably travelling from Prestwick to Glasgow airports.

Shag Grey Seal Great Black-backed Gull Coastguard
Next we got our first view of a Cormorant, a handsome specimen dashing down the Irvine, bathed in orange sunlight. Note the heavy hooked beak and shallow-sloping forehead. John was amused by a pavement Lottery sign that was pathetically bobbing at the edge of the water. Perhaps a customer was so disillusioned he chucked into the river, or maybe it was a mindless vandal. Next to the Coastwatch/toilet block, a fine-looking Herring Gull sat waiting for that tasty chip casually tossed from one of the many parked cars. At the viewpoint at the end of the walkway we got a dramatic and very picturesque, and amber, view of Ailsa Craig  some 50 miles to the south.

Cormorant Herring Gull Ailsa Craig

As we walked back to the car, a Red-breasted Merganser flew up stream, emptying its store of guano as it passed. Yet another Shag eyed us as I snapped it, while a few metres away, a Common Seal surfaced for a few moments until it noticed it was getting its picture taken. Note the “W” shaped nostrils and “dog-like” head, which are characteristics of the Common Seal. Our final shots were of a pair of birds that were hanging around the car as we prepared for tea, a Carrion Crow and a Jackdaw (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). They were lucky as I had kept a few bits of food from the morning’s breakfast. There was no way they were getting any of our pastries, but they were very enthusiastic when I chucked them bits of toast and fried bread - in competition with sharp-eyed gulls who wasted no time zooming in on the goodies.

Red-breasted Merganser Cormorant Common Seal Carrion Crow

We had endured another spell of miserable weather, but another fairly satisfactory day in terms of sightings. We had cream filled chocolate eclairs with our teas. We do hope for better weather next week.

Pictures of the Week:
Bittersweet Purple Sandpiper
Irvine Harbour Jackdaw

4th November

Stevenston and Saltcoats

Brighter weather was forecast for the west coast of Central Scotland so we made for “old faithful”, Stevenston. Our usual breakfast choices at the normally brilliant Stevenston Morrisons Cafe were disrupted by some annoying menu changes (7/10). On Stevenston Point we were surprised by the strength of the wind and roughness of the sea. The tide was high but ebbing and birds seemed unsettled by the conditions. As we got out of the car, a sizeable flock of small waders  flew north over the Point. These were mainly Ringed Plovers, Sanderlings and Dunlin. On the water south of the Point, many Black-headed Gulls were bobbing up and down and only very occasionally would they take to the wing (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).
Stevenston Headland Ringed Plover Sanderling Black-headed Gull

A 3rd cycle Herring Gull seemed perfectly at ease as it hovered in the wind. John pointed out that the waves had created sea foam, or spume, on the rocky shore. Next our attention was drawn to the concrete outflow that had emerged into view as the tide fell. A Redshank and 5 Purple Sandpipers  were wading in the shallow water over the concrete structure.
3rd Cycle Herring Gull  Spume Redshank Purple Sandpiper

A 1st cycle Herring Gull coasted over the choppy waters followed by a few Black-headed Gulls. A lone juvenile Oystercatcher with a dirty bill completed our observations on the Point as we’d decided to check out the Ardeer Quarry LNR , as we had not been there for a while. On arrival I got a couple of nice shots of a Mallard nicely lit by the low Autumn sun (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).
1st Cycle Herring Gull Black-headed Gull Oystercatcher Mallard

A family of Mute Swans looked right at home at the north end of the pond, but that was about it. The rest of the pond was very quiet, but then I spotted a flock of Curlew in what used to be a pitch and putt course. As we moved to a better position to photograph the Curlews I snapped a wee chattering Wren (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) and, in the same bush, a Robin and a Dunnock. Before we could get to the Curlews, a dog walker put them up. All was not lost though as they settled some 100m away, at a point we’d pass on our way around the reserve.
Mute Swan Wren Robin Dunnock

A few years ago the managers of the nearby Ardeer Peninsula  ordered a cull of “a three figure number” of Roe Deer. Since then, fewer Roe Deer have been seen in the Ardeer Quarry LNR. We didn’t see any on this visit. Many of the footpaths were lined with berry-laden Hawthorn bushes. We were disappointed not to find any Blackbirds, Thrushes or Starlings feeding on those red berries. As our mild Autumn continued I noticed a few flies were still about, some resting on oak leaves, lapping up the sunshine. The Curlews has moved on again from where we had seen them settle, however I did see some Great Tits were flitting about feeding in the high branches, but there were far fewer birds than we had expected. On our way back to the car though we passed the Curlew flock in the place we had first noticed it. They were fairly close and very well lit.
Hawthorn Berries Graphomya-Maculata Great Tit Curlew

Our final destination was Saltcoats Harbour. There was still a stiff breeze but the tide had receded a fair bit. Oystercatchers and Curlews were picking their way across the damp rocky shore. As we moved around the sea wall we passed an adult Herring Gull that was sitting rather regally on top of tall rock. John spotted a Seal bobbing up and down in the choppy waters some 50m offshore. I, sadly, didn’t catch it before it dived, never to be seen again.
Saltcoats Harbour Oystercatcher Curlew Herring Gull

The view to the north across South Bay to Ardrossan is dominated by the Ardrossan Wind Farm high above the town. As I photographed the windmills from the promenade,  a pair of Herring Gull were sounding off below me. What they were getting quite so animated about, I’m not sure, but it probably involved food. I snapped a few Turnstones  foraging amongst the seaweed. Back at the car, just as we settled for tea, our final picture of the day was of a young Starling that was moving in amber light about the car park picking up little morsels left by those messy humans.
Ardrossan Wind Farm Herring Gull Turnstone Starling

The tea was accompanied by a delicious vanilla and almond Danish pastry. We were fairly satisfied with our haul. Ardeer Quarry LNR was a bit of a let-down though. In the past we’ve seen a lot more there, such as Roe Deer, Buzzard and Kestrel. The local newspaper reported recently of regular anti-social behaviour in the Reserve . What a shame it might be having a bad effect on the consolidation of the site as a nature reserve.

Pictures of the Week:

Purple Sandpiper / Redshank Black-headed Gull
Mallard Wren

Back To Top

 November 2018

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