Archive - April 2018
 

29th April

Barns Ness

The weatherman said there was to be a North-South split in the forecast and, guess what, for once we were to get the best of the weather, particularly the Lothian coast. By luck there were Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear seen at Barns Ness, that is where we went. So after our pit stop into Dalkeith Morrisons for a hearty breakfast (9/10 - point dropped for overcooked egg and bacon), we arrived filled with sunny optimism at a sun-bathed Barns Ness car. As we set off we were met by the plaintive tweets of a Reed Bunting that was perched on a nearby bush. A rather tattered Peacock butterfly fluttered past and descended to feed on a Dandelion flower. The edges of the shore were decorated by the freshly blooming white flowers of Common Scurvygrass. John spotted three Grey Herons on distant rocks and pointed out how many Gannets there were flying east in a sporadic series of “squadrons”.

Reed Bunting
Peacock Butterfly
Common Scurvygrass
Grey Heron




I decided to clamber over the 100m or so of rocks to the sea’s edge in order to get better pictures of the Gannets. John stayed perched on the beach  preferring to " stay well clear of a hip replacement episode". On the way I encountered a friendly Meadow Pipit, it too was picking its way through the rocky obstacles. I managed some satisfactory shots of the Gannets that were passing at a rate of about 10/minute, albeit in a random fashion. Out in the middle of the Firth of Forth a ship was sailing past, a UK LPG tanker, TESSA KOSAN.

Meadow Pipit
Gannet
Gannet
Tessa Kosan




Encouraged by the encroaching sea, I returned to the safety of the grassy path. I noticed a pair of Cormorants on the rocks to the west, an adult and a juvenile. A small flock of Oystercatchers passed overhead no doubt looking for drier stances. As we rounded the Lighthouse John spotted another Reed Bunting - it may even have been the same one. As we approached the path bypassing the sandy beach we came upon a well-lit Skylark sitting on the fence.

Cormorant
Oystercatcher
Reed Bunting
Skylark




Rather than moving across the beach, and into the sun, we had used the path to enter the beach further east and then walk back west with the sun behind - better for photographing any birds we saw, not just because the birds were better lit, but to the birds we were in silhouette and, providing we didn’t move too rapidly, we were hard to distinguish from inanimate object such as trees! First birds sighted were a pair of Eider swimming quite close in. We then came to very odorous rotting seaweed piles on which a lot of birds were feeding. Another female Wheatear immediately caught my eye and closeby on the rocks I realised I was being studied by a beautiful female Shelduck.

Eider Drake
 Female Eider
Female Wheatear
Shelduck




Then, parachuting in, a Skylark descended onto the seaweed and, needless to say, the opportunity wasn’t wasted. Yet another Reed Bunting appeared on the scene and, despite my encroaching presence, wasn’t spooked. Then, a eureka moment as I picked out a little spot of yellow, 30m ahead on the seaweed. It was the Yellow Wagtail, and goodness, it certainly was yellow. I attempted to creep nearer but couldn’t get close enough for a really clear shot before it upped and went. A male Pied Wagtail stood its ground wondering what all the fuss was about.

Skylark
Reed Bunting
Yellow Wagtail
Pied Wagtail




As we trekked back east along the sandy beach we came across a rather bold female Wheatear that paused long enough for a couple of useful captures. The last sighting before leaving the sulfurous stench of the seaweed was of a male White Wagtail, distinguished from the Pied by its light grey back and light flanks. We then crossed the fenced-off area (a conservation grazing scheme), south of the lighthouse, to reach the wooded area adjacent to fields. Immediately I heard and then located a singing Yellowhammer, glowing bright yellow in the strong Spring sunshine. We climbed a short distance to a grassy area heavily populated with bright yellow Gorse bushes.

Female Wheatear
White Wagtail
Yellowhammer
Barns Ness Lighthouse




John pointed out a Brown-lipped Snail nestling deep in the Gorse bloom. As we sat in a corner of the clearing, sheltered from the wind by tall conifers, I saw a couple of Goldfinches twittering as they sat by the pine cones. A calling Chaffinch also paid a visit (see Pictures of the Week below). As we neared the car park, having trodden out a big circle around the lighthouse, I noticed that White Deadnettle plants were starting to flower. And resting on a nettle leaf was a female Orange-Tip butterfly, a true sign of Spring.

Brown-lipped Snail
Goldfinch
White Deadnettle
Female Orange Tip




We weren’t sure when we set off if Barns Ness would come up with the goods, as sometimes it can be a bit quiet. We needn’t have worried as we got lots of fine and varied captures in excellent light. That was well worth teas and Danish pastries (although we’d have finished with these in any eventuality!).

Pictures of the Week
Skylark
Gannet


Shelduck
Chaffinch


19th April

RSPB Leighton Moss

While on holiday in the Lake District I popped south to RSPB Leighton Moss, just to the North of Morecambe Bay. The weather was excellent - bright blue skies with unbroken sunshine, so when I set off round the reserve I was filled with eager anticipation. I hoped to cross paths with Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Bearded Tit and Cetti Warbler. The reserve has 7 hides. I decided to start with the two hides at the north end of the site, the Causeway and Lower hides.
I walked along the Causeway, a very long straight path with 6 feet high reeds to the left and right. Every so often there were gaps in the reeds where canals cut across, or where there were small clearings in the marsh. At one of these there are a few bird tables with the aim of encouraging Bearded Tits. Sadly they didn’t show. There were some Greylags there but I did hear the booming sound of a Bittern which was like a giant blowing across the mouth of a big bottle! I also heard an otherwise elusive Cetti Warbler. It sounded a bit like a very loud Wren call. From the Causeway hide I took pictures of some familiar birds that gave the distinct impression that love was in the air, Gadwall, Tufted Ducks, Great Crested Grebes and Shoveler pairs were obviously courting.

Gadwall
Tufted Duck
Great Crested Grebe
Shoveler




There was also a fair bit of aerial activity that tested my camera skills as birds darted across the front of the hide. Greylags, Grey Heron, and a group of Shelduck passed. And, just as I left the hide, a Marsh Harrier circled directly overhead.

Greylag Goose
Grey Heron
Shelduck
Marsh Harrier




Further along the Causeway there was further raptor excitement when I spotted a hunting Osprey over some open water. It made several loops in the near distance but, disappointingly, it didn’t swoop down to catch a fish. As I snapped the Osprey, a Greylag landed in the water to the front of me, then a Cormorant sped past - busy place! At the end of the Causeway I turned left through a gate leading to the Lower hide some 200m beyond. As I passed through the gate I was met by a very fine cock Pheasant clucking to its mate lurking in the undergrowth.

Osprey
Greylag
Cormorant
Pheasant



As I moved slowly along the path I could hear, “teacha, teacha, teacha”, the call of the Great Tit. This led me to find it wooing it’s mate in a low tree. Beyond this I then heard the descending tones of a Willow Warbler sitting boldly on the branches of a well lit tree. From the Lower hide I couldn’t see much nearby other than a single Lapwing. But just as I left the hide, a Marsh Harrier flew low over the reeds, although it didn’t come as close as I’d have liked.

Great Tit
Willow Warbler
Lapwing
Marsh Harrier




I then made my way back to the Visitor Centre car park and drove about half a mile south to the Eric Morecambe Hide perched between pools at the north edge of Morecambe Bay. There I found that the source of the bird noise I’d been hearing on my approach was actually coming from hundreds of nesting Black-headed Gulls. I was delighted though to find four pairs of Avocet feeding in the water around the island in the middle of the right pool. I spotted one Avocet sitting on a nest as its mate aggressively poked away any birds that invaded their space. In the left pool a group of Shelducks were in the throes of courting disputes. Their bad-tempered exchanges were spectacular but no birds seemed to come to harm.

Black-headed
Gull
Avocet
Shelduck




I then drove back to the Visitor Centre to explore the remaining areas of the reserve. At Lillian’s Hide I got a clear picture of a female Pheasant that was unusually tame. Inside the hide I got shots of a Little Egret feeding in the low reeds. From the Tim Jackson hide I got nice views of feeding Teal. I got my closest views of a Marsh Harrier (see Pictures of the Week) from the Grisedale Hide. There seemed to be two pairs nesting within view of the hide. On my way back to the Visitor Centre I came across a few Blackcaps cavorting in the bushes, the males calls reminding me of Eric Morecambe’s line that the tune has “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”!

Female Pheasant
Little Egret
Teal
Black Cap




At the end of the afternoon, my final captures were around the Visitor Centre. I noticed that the nice warm weather was encouraging some wildflowers into bloom. Beautiful white Wood Anemones lined some of the paths, while the rather unattractive green Dog’s Mercury had also sprung up. Under a footbridge very pretty yellow Marsh Marigolds were also freshly blooming. As I, and other visitors left the reserve, a fearless Robin sang at shoulder level from a pathside tree, as if it was bidding us farewell until we meet again.

Wood Anemone
Dogs Mercury
Marsh Marigold
Robin




I didn’t get sight of a Bittern, Bearded Tit or Cetti Warbler, but this just gives me a great excuse to return to Leighton Moss, which surely must be one of the top RSPB sites. It never fails to impress.

Pictures of the Week:

Osprey
Greylag Goose


Pheasant
Marsh Harrier


15th April:

Musselburgh

As we began our walk along what I’ll call the “sea promenade” east of the mouth of River Esk at Musselburgh (although it is not really pedestrian-friendly as it is muddy, pitted and very often flooded), the sun was making frequent appearances, colouring what had, for most of the last month, been various shades of grey. An encouraging first picture was of a Peacock butterfly taking in the heat of the sun from within the shelter of tufts of grass. Also resting, just below the seawall, were a pair of Mallards. The mouth of the Esk was disappointingly free of birds apart from a lone Mute Swan. The tide was high and feeding time was over for some species. We nearly missed very well-camouflaged Turnstones nestling on low rocks below us.

Peacock Butterfly
Mallard
Mute Swan
Turnstone




Flocks of Oystercatchers passed, probably heading for roosting areas such as the Scrapes, where we were also headed. As we walked further east, quite a few male and female Goldeneye and Eider were bobbing about on the waves some 50m out. There were a few very distant Velvet Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks, but they were too far out for decent pictures. The odd passing Curlew also drew our attention as they too flew in the direction of the Scrapes.

Oystercatcher
Female Goldeneye
Eider
Curlew




At the Scrapes we found what we expected, lots of Redshanks, a few Teal, tens of Oystercatchers and a few Wigeon.

Redshank
Teal
Oystercatcher
Wigeon




Half a dozen Wood Pigeons were quite active between the Scrapes. They may have been indulging in courting behaviour. A male and female Teal pair dabbled their way past the hide allowing some well-lit photo opportunities. The biggest photo-opportunities, however, presented themselves when four of nine Shelduck, that had been in the furthest Scrape, flew into the Scrape in front of our hide.

Wood Pigeon
Teal Drake
Female Teal
Shelduck




Another two, a male and a female followed a minute or two later. Eventually all nine were in front of us. We were treated to a show of Shelduck courting procedures as the males jostled for position near the females, occasionally calling with pleading and rather plaintive sounds.


Shel
duck





Once we’d had our fill of the Scrapes we left and made our way back to the car. We had only reached the Boating Pond when I saw a pair of Willow Warblers that, conveniently, sang their very familiar song of descending tones, allowing me to determine that they were Willow Warblers and definitely not Chiffchaffs. In the grassy areas surrounding the Pond I found patches of the early flowering Germander Speedwell and also lots of Coltsfoot. There wasn’t much to add to our haul of pictures after that, just a close flypast of a Cormorant in its mating plumage.

Willow Warbler
Germander Speedwell
Coltsfoot
Cormorant




Back in the car we decided to drive the short distance east to Port Seaton to see if we could catch the last stage of the incoming tide as it finally covered the rocks there and drove the birds near to the shore. We were too late though. There was nothing to see but the sea. That didn’t stop us enjoying our tea and Danish pastries, after all, we had had a successful day in relatively lovely weather - what’s not to like about that!

Pictures of the week:

Mute Swan

Turnstone
Shelduck


8th April:

Skateraw and Belhaven Bay

Brighter weather was predicted for the Dunbar area than any other part of the Central Belt so that is where we headed for - specifically Skateraw as there had been sightings of a male and female pair of Black Redstarts there. So after our customary Dalkeith Morrisons breakfasts (8.5/10) we were soon at the Skateraw car park, which was nearly full, such was the interest in the Redstarts. We clambered east along the rocky shore past the old limekiln towards Torness power station. Our first sightings were of a quite distant  Pied Wagtail and beside it a singing Wren. Fellow birders already on the site described how we’d just missed the Redstarts but we hung about for a bit to see if they’d reappear, but to no avail. While we waited, a female House Sparrow paid us a visit and I captured some images of some recently flowered Common Scurvygrass.

Pied Wagtail
Wren
Female House Sparrow
Common Scurvygrass




Scurvygrass got its name from the observation that it cured scurvy, and it was taken on board ships in dried bundles and included in sailors diets. When I examined my Scurvygrass pictures I noticed that an insect was prowling among the flowers. I think it was the Sawfly, Dolerus Gonager looking for places to lay her eggs. You may see the sting-like tail that is actually its genitalia specially adapted for penetrating surfaces to deposit eggs. As the Redstarts had seemed to have disappeared we then did our usual circuit out to the west side of the bay to observe the birds present at the rocky outcrops there. That too was a bit of a disappointment as there had been a clean-up operation going on brought about by a spillage of wooden planks into the sea from a vessel some 100 miles to the south. Apparently the planks made landfall over an area stretching from Torness to St Andrews. At any rate, the workmen scared all the birds away! However a beautifully-lit Reed Bunting treated us to some nice photo-opportunities but other birds were few and far between. Just as a juvenile Herring Gull flew overhead, we decided to cut our losses and trudge back to the site of the Redstarts to see if they’d reappeared.

Sawfly, Dolerus Gonager Reed Bunting
View
Juvenile Herring Gull




On our way I nearly got a picture of a female Reed Bunting, then some Curlews made a flypast just as we neared where we thought the Redstarts might be. Overlooking this spot was a tower associated with the Power Station. Nine Cormorants were perched there unconcerned by the accumulation of the birders gathered before them. Then at last I got some brief glimpses of the Black Redstarts, albeit from 50m away. I would have got some closer views were it not for the amount of observers and passing walkers.

Female Reed Bunting
Curlew
Cormorant
Black Redstart




I did get another passable shot of the Black Redstart before we moved on. On our way back to the car I managed shots of the familiar birds, Meadow Pipit, and Robin, which are not usually seen on rocky shores. Also a Rock Pipit moved across the rocks in courting mode, with head bowed and wing tips lowered.

Black Redstart
Meadow Pipit
Robin
Rock Pipit


We changed location to Belhaven Bay, west of Dunbar, but found it deserted. A pair of Mallards made their getaway as we approached the seawall. But as we sat bemoaning the lack of feathery friends a Rock Pipit descended before us, as they do during their breeding season, and landed on a well lit spot just on the other side of the wall like a gift from the heavens. At Seafield Pond our bad luck seemed to continue as it was in flood. But I glimpsed a Common Sandpiper feeding with some Moorhens. On our return to the car a patrolling Herring Gull glided past and I said, “time for Tea and Danish pastries”.

Mallard
Rock Pipit
Common Sandpiper
Herring Gull




Not our most prolific week but we managed a pleasing variety of sightings in fine comfortable weather - and the apple and caramel lattice pastries were very fine!

Pictures of the Week:

Reed Bunting
Common Scurvygrass


Rock Pipit
Herring Gull


1st April:

Aberlady and Port Seton

Oh dear, it was one of those visits where all looked promising over our Dalkeith Morrisons breakfast (9.5/10; -0.5 for burst fried egg) until we left and headed for Aberlady, where, on arrival, the skies darkened and didn’t really recover until we got home. To see how bad the light was, see our first picture, of Starlings passing overhead, taken as we crossed the wooden bridge over the Peffer Burn. Apart from a few distant Redshanks and Mallards, the first part of our walk was very quiet - and dull, dull, dull! It wasn’t until we were past a deserted Marl Loch that a couple of photo-opportunities presented themselves- a pair of Greylags in the long grass and a lone Roe Deer buck. Further along the route to the dunes we entered an area that showed a lot of Skylark activity. I caught a shot of one sitting in a leafless bush by the footpath.

Starling
Greylag
Roe Deer
Skylark




As we watched a few Larks ascending (Vaughan William’ music in my head), a flock of Teal passed by, obviously in a disturbed state. Something must have put them up from the pond some 100m to the east, maybe a wayward golf shot! Next we came across a Meadow Pipit posing on a concrete block. Maybe it couldn’t see us -the light was that poor. We clambered over the dunes that line the long sandy beach at the East side of Aberlady Bay. The view of the shore that met us left us quite downhearted as it was completely devoid of birds. Nevertheless, we descended down onto the beach and plodded back towards the footbridge, hoping that we would find something. We did indeed see some birds, a few distant Shelducks dabbling in the shallows.

Teal
Meadow Pipit
Eider
Shelduck




As we moved across the marshland towards the main footpath, we had a couple of unexpected sightings. The first was of a big Hare I disturbed as I picked my way through the salt marsh. It was up and away before I got my camera going. The other sighting was equally as sudden. I put up a group of what looked like Woodcocks that had been resting unseen in the long grass. Again they were too fast for me, but it was an exhilarating moment. Looking over to the Firth of Forth we could see it was fairly busy with sea vessels. Below is a picture of the SMT Seraya, an offshore supply ship. We could also see a couple of oil tankers and a container ship. Looking south the sky showed looming sleet showers so we pressed on with increased vigour before the bad weather caught up with us. A Herring Gull and a passing Greylag were our final shots at Aberlady. We left longing for better weather and the time there, when there would be flowers and invertebrates to photograph.

SMT Seraya
View
Herring Gull
Greylag Goose




We made for Port Seton where it seemed bit brighter. At Seton Burn we spotted an Oystercatcher by the shore. John was intrigued by a large number of sponge-like deposits that were on the sandy shore. These were Whelk egg cases displaced by stormy weather from their rocky positions in the sea. A flock of Turnstones flew in to feed by the shore. Also there were some Curlew that continued to fly in as we observed them.

Oystercatcher
Whelk Egg Cases
Turnstone
Curlew




Our final location was at the promenade leading from Port Seton Harbour. A fairly large flock of mainly Sanderling with a lot of Dunlin was moving swiftly around the rocks. The incoming tide had just about completely flooded the rocks and the flock was obviously seeking a dry place to settle. This turned out to be close to where we were standing. It’s a pity the light was very poor as there were some great opportunities for great shots. I did my best though with light I had though. Groups of courting Eider were moving around just offshore, several drakes chasing each female. A female that had shaken off her suitors took time to flap her damp wings before she was once again a target of attention. This was our final shot.

Sanderling
Sanderling
Dunlin
Female Eider




Although the quality of our photographs could have been vastly improved if the sun had made an appearance, we did fairly well and had captured pictures of a fair number of interesting sightings. We took shelter in the car from the bitter wind and celebrated with warm tea accompanied by jam and cream-filled scones - lovely!!

Pictures of the week:

Meadow Pipit
Turnstone


Curlew
Sanderling


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