Archive - April 2019
 

24th-28th April  

Isle of Arran highlights


This is a short account of a recent 5 day break taken by my wife and me on the wonderful Isle of Arran  in the Firth of Clyde. Below are highlights of the many photos I took in locations  around the island.
The ferry journeys between Ardrossan to Brodick are always exciting. These are usually spent on deck scanning the water for passing birds and sometimes Cetaceans such as Dolphins, Porpoises and even Orcas are possible. As the ferry left Ardrossan on Wednesday 24/4, some Eider and Black Guillemots were each socially active. Further out we encountered a few Common Guillemots and a couple of Manx Shearwaters, but that was it. It was a relatively quiet crossing.

Eider Black Guillimont Common Guillimot Manx Shearwater


On the next day, Thursday 25/4, we explored the coast  from Lamlash to Clauchlands Point. The tide was low and the sun was over the shoreline making it tricky to photograph in that direction. However, I came across a few interesting passerines  and the Common Seals were nice to see. A fine Song Thrush was cautiously searching for invertebrates on the lawn of one of the houses that lined the route. On trees just before the Arran Outdoor Centre I came across a singing Willow Warbler, and opposite the Centre I noticed a male Linnet that was uncharacteristically calm as it sat on a branch as I approached to take its photo.

Common Seal Song Thrush Willow Warbler Linnet

View across Lamlash Bay from the Arran Outdoor Centre:


On an adjacent bush I heard the unmistakable song of the Sedge Warbler . Eventually I got a few decent shots when it made its way up to the top branches. In a field a bit further down the road I got a pleasing flight shot of a Hooded Crow moving between the cattle. I captured a quick snap of pair of mating Chaffinches but I had a bit longer to get a photo of a Garden Tiger Moth  caterpillar crossing the road.

Sedge Warbler Hooded Crow Chaffinch Garden Tiger Moth Caterpillar

In the afternoon I stopped near Corrie at a picnic spot overlooking the sea. The weather had dulled but a few birds were active on fresh piles of seaweed. Of most interest were several Common Sandpipers  feeding there but who, every so often, would fly several metres towards each other while making a high lingering call. I also got a flight shot of a passing Red breasted Merganser.  On the seaweed I saw a wee Meadow Pipit hopping between rocks and also a White Wagtail.

Common Sandpiper Red-breasted Merganser Meadow Pipit White Wagtail

With rain predicted on Friday 26/4 we planned a drive from Brodick to Lochranza and back. The first stop was along the north side of Machrie Moor after I spotted a distant Hen Harrier  on its swooping passage  across the Moor. I hurriedly, and safely, parked the car and readied my camera by which time the Harrier had got a wee bit closer. Sadly though it disappeared over a ridge and that was that. The next sighting was a bit further along the road where a big cock Pheasant was getting over an attack of what looked like a female Hen Harrier on his family of Hen and chicks. The whole lot scattered leaving the cock wandering the field crowing pathetically. The next encounter was near Pirnmill where a pair of exotic Peacocks were wandering out into the middle of the road. They had most likely escaped through an unsecured gate from one of the houses along the road. Just before Pirnmill I saw a small flock of Red-breasted Mergansers swimming near the shore.

Hen Harrier Pheasant Peacock Red-breasted Merganser

The rain was a very annoying drizzle when we entered Lochranza and apart from a close shot of a Jackdaw and a juvenile Herring Gull, it was a wash-out. We made our way back to Brodick without any further sightings. During a brief sunny interval I snapped a male Pied Wagtail and a vociferous Herring Gull.

Jackdaw 1st Cycle Herring Gull Pied Wagtail Herring Gull

We drove further south into Lamlash where I spent a very enjoyable hour photographing a pair of Gannets  diving just off the pier into Lamlash Bay. Impressive birds! They were probably from Ailsa Craig, about 10 miles to the south  (See also, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Gann ets


On Saturday 27/4 we drove around the south of Arran and stopped briefly at Blackwaterfoot. It was another wet day but we were lucky to catch the sun as I explored the coast south of the Hotel. I got some nice shots of a very accommodating Rock Pipit. There was a small colony of Common Seals on rocks just offshore (See also, “Pictures of the Week”, below).  By the rough shore road i heard the melodious call of a Dunnock  and found it only a couple of metres away on a small bush (See also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). As I returned to the car I noticed a few Ringed Plover on the shore picking their way over the seaweed.

Rock Pipit Grey Seal Dunnock Ringed Plover

Later that day, after a few coffee shops, I returned to the Corrie car park hoping to get some more shots of the antics of the Common Sandpipers. Dog walkers put paid to that idea but rather unexpectedly as I sat in the car bemoaning the poor weather and poorly behaved dog walkers, a Sparrowhawk landed on the edge of the car park a couple of metres from the drivers seat. Without opening the window I hastily snapped the couple of shots shown below. It flew off as I took the second shot through the raindrop-covered car window. An exciting moment.

                                   Sparrowhawk

On Sunday 28/4, we were scheduled to return home but since the weather had improved considerably, we squeezed in a quick visit to Machrie Moor, famous for its ancient stone circles . From the car park there is a 100m walk across a sheep’s field. Many of the sheep had young lambs. Beyond the field there was a further 400m to walk to reach the main area of circles. Alas we didn’t come across many birds on the way. I did glimpse another Hen Harrier, but way too distant for a good shot. The Stone Circles  are fascinating, connecting present day peoples with those of Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages. On the way back to the car I was rather more fortunate to come across an impressive Skylark, first hovering high in the air rapidly repeating its familiar tones  before descending onto a Gorse bush only metres away (See also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). I had similar luck soon after when I heard the equally-familiar song  of a Willow Warbler, just as I passed through a gate.

Sheep Stone Circles Skylark Willow Warbler

We returned to the Mainland just as the weather once again took a turned for the worse. The crossing didn’t yield much of interest in the way of birds, or Cetaceans for that matter. I didn’t mind though as I was more than happy with my collection of shots, despite the inclement weather. I always enjoy Arran and I’m sure it won’t be too long before I return there for another break.

Pictures of the Week:

Gannet Common Seal
Dunnock Skylark


21st April 

Hogganfield Park LNR

John was on family Easter duties, as was I, but I sneaked out before lunch and visited Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow (but no breakfast this week as I was “on the clock”). The weather was ideal - warm, calm and bright. I decided to do a simple circuit of the Reserve to see what I could come up with. Right at the car park, where a worker had just emptied a sack of seed into the Loch, I was surprised to see that not all of the wintering Whooper Swans  had returned home as there was a single Whooper feeding with the flock of Mute Swans. Maybe it has an injury. On the platform, a pair of female Goosanders were having a disagreement with a Lesser Black-backed Gull. The Black-headed Gulls were also very active.

Whooper Swan Female Goosander Lesser Black-backed Gull Black-headed Gull

I passed a Great Crested Grebe and watched it make repeated dives for fish, but it drifted further away. From previous recent visits I know there were at least 3 pairs around the Loch. Usually there is one pair that successfully produce chicks.  A brightly-marked Peacock butterfly  landed near me, and soon after I noticed a male Orange Tip butterfly  on a Cuckoo Flower. There were also patches of Siberian Squill by the Loch side.

Great Crested Grebe Peacock Butterfly Orange Tip Siberian Squill

At the south-east corner of the island a few water birds  were active, mainly Mallard, Coot and Moorhen. Occasionally one of the many Grey Herons that were nesting on the island (we could call it a heronry) flew dramatically overhead.

Drake Mallard Coot Moorhen Grey Heron

A Grey Heron stood prominently high in the trees, maybe waiting on its mate to return. The Sycamores that line the Park road in that area house many birds, some of which I managed to photograph - a pair of finches  namely a rasping Greenfinch and male Bullfinch, and a pair of restless Long-tailed Tits .

Grey Heron Greenfinch Bullfinch Long-tailed Tit

I continued my circuit by following the rough path towards the exit to Avenue End Road. That took me past a pond that often holds some interesting birds. I saw a Canada Goose floating motionless mid-pond. On the opposite side, a Heron emerged from the reeds to probe the water’s edge for tasty morsels such as fish, frogs, newts.  A pair of Gadwall drifted across the water. In the area just east of the pond a pair of buck Roe Deer saw me and legged it just as I saw them (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Canada Goose Grey Heron Gadwall Roe Deer

In the bushes behind me I heard the descending tones of Willow Warblers (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). I managed to get some decent shots. I also snapped a few shots of a Whitethroat. As I rested on some wooden seats, a Goldfinch appeared on top of a tall bush in front of me. A Magpie flew past just as I passed out of the Park.

Willow Warbler Whitethroat Goldfinch Magpie

I walked the short distance to the other park entrance. On the way I came across a group of Field Horsetail standing proudly amid some fly-tipped rubbish. Also there was a lovely Yellow Archangel plant. Some pretty Field Speedwell and Forget-me-nots also brightened an otherwise depressing sight.

Field Horsetail Yellow Archangel Field Speedwell Forget-me-Not

After snapping some smart-looking Dandelions, I re-entered the Park. A Chaffinch was singing on a high branch. A Kestrel loomed midway up another more distant tree. I eventually rejoined the main Park road where I noticed a nesting Mute Swan. I watched a Great Crested Grebe as she attempted to build a nest. She soon moved away after being disturbed by a large dog.

Dandelion Kestrel Mute Swan Great Crested Grebe

View of the Loch from the east end of the Park. It shows BioHaven  artificial islands, installed with the aim of cleansing the water. The picture shows a Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Tufted Ducks and passing Goosanders, as well as large patches of Marsh Marigold.


The Grebe attempted a return to its would-be nest, with a huge stick in its beak, only to find its path to its preferred site too narrow to move the stick through. A pair of Greylags weren’t making her task any easier (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). As I neared the end of my circuit I managed a photograph of a male Blackbird with its beak stuffed with worms. I also came across an attractive enclave of Common Chickweed at the base of a tree.

Great Crested Grebe Blackbird Common Chickweed

As you can see above, the Hogganfield Park LNR is a great place to commune with nature. It is surprising to find such close access to a wide variety of plants and animals in a busy public park. If you’ve not visited the Park then you now know what you’re missing.

Pictures of the Week:

Roe Deer Chaffinch
Willow Warbler Greylag Goose



14th April 

Portmoak Moss and RSPB Loch Leven

I had a conversation in midweek with a birder I met at Lochwinnoch, who advised me that if I wanted to see Green Woodpeckers then a good place to go would be Portmoak Moss at Scotlandwell. So I thought I’d check it out and also have a long overdue visit to the neighbouring RSPB Loch Leven (formerly Vane Farm). The weather was to be mainly cloudy with a chance of the odd sunny interval. We called in at Bathgate Morrisons for breakfast (super food and service, with only a slight grumble of over- cooked tattie scone: 9.5/10) then it was across the Queensferry Crossing to bonny Loch Leven. The Portmoak Moss Reserve is owned by the Woodland Trust  and there is an active Community Woodland Group . Once parked we made our way around the reserve’s circular route. We came across a large area of Butterbur by a pathside ditch. Their flowering spikes sat in a bed of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage. There was also a large Green Alkanet plant in flower. 

Common Butterbur Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage Green Alkanet

I was pleased to see an Early Bumblebee feeding on a Butterbur spike. Their comparatively small size and yellow and orange colourings make them fairly easy to identify. As we pressed on, we noticed that many of the tree trunks carried fungi, such as the Hoof Fungus shown below. It was used forthousands of years as a source on tinder. Eventually we emerged from the woods out into the open area central to the reserve. This was the Portmoak Moss, a raised peat bog , the predominant plant in the area being Sphagnum Moss  (commonly called Peat Moss). A lone Roe Deer stood cautiously at the edge of the woods watching us carefully. It looked as if it was casting its coat as it was pretty shabby.

Early Bumblebee Hoof Fungus Sphagnum Moss Roe Deer

Throughout the visit gliders were circling silently overhead. These were from the local Scottish Gliding Centre . We then entered the next area of woods where we were tantalised by the unmistakable call of a Green Woodpecker . However, despite scanning the area for over an hour, it didn’t show. The only bird I was able to photograph was a Chaffinch close to the car. As we drove out of Scotlandwell we did also see a gathering of Swans feeding in the middle of a field. These were mainly Mute Swans with a few Whoopers.

Chaffinch Mute Swan Whooper Swan

We drove the few miles south to RSPB Loch Leven Reserve  and we were soon sitting in the Gillman hide where I was relieved to find some birds to photograph. A Moorhen was prowling below a feeder. Then some Greenfinches appeared followed by a pair of Tree Sparrows. A bold wee Coal Tit sped in, nabbed a seed and sped out, in one movement.

Moorhen Greenfinch Tree Sparrow Coal Tit

A Blue Tit, Robin and Goldfinch (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) were other participants in the feeding frenzy. In the reeds by the pond a Mallard sat preening but there was little else on the pond, but further away from the hide, over the south end of Loch Leven, I could just make out the movements of groups of Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye.

Blue Tit Drake Mallard Tufted Duck Goldeneye

The view of the hills east of Loch Leven, taken from the Carden Hide:


We moved directly to the furthest hide, the Carden Hide, as we had been tipped off that a Shoveler was showing well there. Of course when we arrived at the hide another birder informed us that it had flown back to where we’d just left. However, there were lots of birds on the pond, including a pair of lovely Shelduck. A half a dozen Greylags were also on the water. Prominent, facing the hide, were a colony of nesting Black-headed Gulls on a fenced-off island. Occasionally some of these gulls took to the air and noisily circled the island, protesting at some perceived threat (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). A notice carried the information that chicks were expected imminently. In an adjacent field a large cow was watching its calf as the commotion played out.

Shelduck Greylag Goose Black-headed Gull Calf

Just beyond the island of gulls I spotted a Little Grebe diving for small fish. Around it a few Tufted Ducks moved across the pond.
John had spotted some Lapwings  flying near to the Calf and very luckily for us it landed very close to the hide, well illuminated and unaware of our attention (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). It was a very handsome bird with its fine crest and beautifully iridescent wing feathers. Just as we left the Carden Hide, a pair of Shelduck flew in an landed to the west of the hide.

Little Grebe Tufted Duck Lapwing Shelduck
 
We walked back to the hide we missed, the Waterston Hide, and immediately we could see a couple of pairs of Teal  dabbling in the pond. The fine plumage of the drakes, especially the green head streak, never fails to impress. A small flock of Meadow Pipits were active in the grass around the hide, although they were hard to pick out with the naked eye, never mind with the camera. On our walk back, between the Gillman and Waterston, from through a wooden viewing fence, we got close views of a Little Egret . These are no longer a rarity in Southern and Central Scotland so they no longer create as much excitement in birders here as once the did. My final capture was of a fine Primrose  just outside the Gillman Hide. It is one of the earliest flowers to appear in spring, hence the name “Prima Rosa”, first rose (although it’s not a rose).

Teal Meadow Pipit Little Egret Primrose

Well, we didn’t get to see a Green Woodpecker, although we did hear them, but it was good to familiarise ourselves with the Portmoak Moss Reserve. We will no doubt return there and we may yet catch sight of one of their Green Woodpeckers. One other regret is that we missed seeing a Spoonbill that was reported just as we had to leave. Oh well, that’s how the cookie crumbles - talking of which, our usual end-of-visit tea and Danish pastries went down as well as ever. We always finish on a high.

Pictures of the Week:

Goldfinch Robin
Black-headed Gull Lapwing

7th April:

Troon and Irvine Harbour

Sunday's weather for Scotland was to be overcast with the best chances of brightness in the west. I thought I'd give Troon a try as I'd heard there were Purple Sandpipers there. After last week's poor brekky in Kilmarnock Asda we thought we'd start the day with breakfasts in Stewartfield Morrisons, East Kilbride (9/10: slow service in poor lighting). It was indeed overcast when we arrived at the South Beach Esplanade Car Park in Troon. As we walked onto the beach, a Royal Navy Hawk T1aflew over our heads as it came into land at Prestwick. It was the first of many frequent passes, leaving us to believe these were training flights. Despite the gloomy conditions the beach was overrun with dog walkers,however we quickly came across a lovely pair ofStonechats; (also see Pictures of the Week, below). Another Prestwickbound aeroplane passed overhead, a yellow air ambulance, a Beech King Air 200C


Royal Navy Hawk T1a Male Stonechat Female Stonechat Beech King Air 200 C

We made our way towards Meikle Craigs, moving parallel to the world famous and bird-aware; Royal Troon Golf Course. We saw our first pair of Sandwich Terns  for 2019. They didn't hang about and I was lucky too get a quick snap. Much closer was a Carrion Crow skimming the salt pools. A pair of Curlew loitered on the shoreline seemingly tolerating passersby, even dog walkers. John pointed out a distant, dense flock passing over the west end of Meikle Craigs. I would guess that they were oystercatchers, but the picture doesn't help much.

Sandwich Tern Carrion Crow Curlew Flock

An attractive 3rd-year Herring Gull caught my eye as it flew past. Gulls take 4 years to reach maturity so ageing  them can be tricky. Offshore there was a small fishing boat, probably after lobsters. Sadly there wasn't much more to be seen on Meikle Craig. As we returned to the car we did see a small flock of twittering Linnets that descended onto rotting seaweed on the beach in front of us. At the car a handsome large Lesser Black-backed Gull was standing atop a street lamp (also see Pictures of the Week, below).

3rd Cycle Herring Gull Lobster Boat Linnet Lesser Blacked-backed Gull

We drove the short distance to the Troon Harbour car park. John noticed a Rock Pipit preening on the rocks near the car. Also on the same area I spotted a Wren  moving unpredictably between the rocks. We decided to walk south along the Ballast Bank  to scan the shore for Purple Sandpipers. There were the usual Redshanks foraging there, and John delighted in his sighting of Sammy Seal or Grey Seal, as others refer to it.

Rock Pipit Wren Redshank Grey Seal

Just before the concrete ramp there were lots of just-blooming plants of Hoary Cress. We had just reached the Ballast Bank when I got a nice flight shot of a large passing Cormorant. I also got a close shot of a fit-looking adult Herring Gull. Then, to our delight, there they were foraging, 15m in front of us, a half dozen Purple Sandpipers  (also see Pictures of the Week;, below).

Hoary Cress Cormorant Herring Gull Purple Sandpiper

The light was poor but I got some decent pictures nevertheless. We trooped back satisfied towards the car. John noticed a pair of Black Guillemots far offshore. I managed a record shot. I also got shots of a passing Gannet and a drake Eider.

Purple Sandpiper Black Guillemot Gannet Drake Eider

A wee male Pied Wagtail landed on a picnic bench in front of me. John directed my attention to a fairly large flock of Ringed Plovers  that had flown onto the rocks (see also the panorama below). Just beyond them a pair of Seals had surfaced, and as we left a female House Sparrow bid us farewell from a nearby rooftop.

Pied Wagtail Ringed Plover Grey Seal Female House Sparrow

A view of the flock of Ringed Plovers:


We drove the few miles north to Irvine Harbour, this time seeking Sandwich Terns that had recently been reported. The scene that greeted us as we arrived was unexpected - there was some sort of kite convention going on. The kites were unconventional, my favourite being the big purple teddy. As we walked along the side of the riverside I captured nice pictures of a fishing Shag and a Great Black-backed Gull. We scanned the river mouth for Terns but managed only to see some passing Red-breasted Mergansers.

Wonderful Kites Shag Great Black-backed Gull Red-breasted Mergansers


Almost at the point of giving up I detected the familiar “creaking” call of the Sandwich Tern. Before too long a half dozen birds appeared, each diving in the water and sometimes emerging with fish in their beaks. (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below)

Sandwich Terns

It had been one of those days when one might have taken a look out the window and decided to go back to bed. But the trip had been rewarding having seen such a variety of species. Of course we celebrated by consuming tea and very fine Danish pastries. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Pictures of the Week:

Stonechat Purple Sandpiper
Lesser Black-backed Gull Sandwich Tern

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