Archive - April 2021

Week ending: 25th April: Musselburgh, Port Seton

Musselburgh was my long awaited destination this week. I parked at Levenhall Links and made my way to the Scrapes via the sea wall. Sadly the sea was bereft of birds. I did however get a shot of a passing Grey Heron. It was uncommonly high in the air, probably because it was being pursued by gulls. At the Scrapes I was pleased to see a handsome Pheasant  traversing the near edges of the ponds, stopping occasionally for a sip of water. I was disappointed though to have missed a Spoonbill that had been seen earlier before it had been spooked by a lady yelling on her runaway dog. I wasn’t too sad as I got nice shots of the antics of a jealous Shelduck defending his mate.

Grey Heron Pheasant

Next I walked to the mouth of the River Esk. I spotted a Reed Bunting singing from the top of a bush, and further along there was a hovering Kestrel . The tide was high and there were Mute Swans and large flocks of Oystercatchers flying in from the Esk-mouth.

Reed Bunting Kestrel
Juvenile Mute Swans Oystercatcher

There were also passing Curlews and Carrion Crows and a single Redshank was foraging on the water’s edge in the very chilly breeze. Mid-channel there was a pair of stationary drake Eider resplendent in their summer plumage.

Curlew Carrion Crow
Redshank Drake Eider

From time to time there was a series of passes of birds rushing seawards. These were Gadwall , Herring Gulls and Wigeon . I continued my walk up-river to the footbridge bridge where I saw a drake Mallard taking a break from chasing female Mallards

Gadwall Herring Gull
Wigeon Mallard

At the west side of the New Bridge I spotted a Grey Wagtail  flittering over the rocky river shingle catching flies. A bit further upstream its pair of cousins, the Pied Wagtails, were similarly employed. There were a few Canada Geese loitering around the island, no doubt waiting for bread to be thrown by people parked by the water. As I got into my car I noticed some Green Alkanet growing by the wall.

Grey Wagtail Pied Wagtail
Canada Goose Green Alkanet

I decided to retrace my steps back to the car, popping back into the Scrapes on the way. From the north-most hide I photographed a huge flock of Oystercatchers that had been disturbed by an unseen menace. A pair of Wigeons remained unalarmed, as did a solitary Curlew at the back of the north-most pond. I photographed a nice patch of Red Deadnettle that I found growing just off the path.

Oystercatcher Wigeon
Curlew Red Deadnettle

I also got a glimpse of a Speckled Wood butterfly warming itself on the grassy banks by the path. Just as I exited the Scrapes entrance I caught sight of a Chiffchaff that had been Chiffchaff-ing on top of a tree. I came across a pair of Bullfinches nibbling on bushes by the path on the south side of the Scrapes.

Speckled Wood Chiffchaff
Male Bullfinch Female Bullfinch

I next decided to chance my luck at Port Seton. Below was the view looking west from Port Seton:

When I arrived there were birds standing on the partially exposed rocks of Wrecked Craigs. The closest were Knot  and Turnstones and a bit further out a Cormorant was tolerating the waves that were lashing its rock. I wandered out to the edge of the harbour mouth and I spotted a single Razorbill 
diving some 100m offshore. It was also spotted by the large flock of Herring Gulls that flew out from the harbour and descended on it and whatever it had found to eat. My outing was finished nicely when a pair of sunlit drake Eider paddled past me at a range of about 10m.

Knot Turnstone
Cormorant Razorbill
Herring Gulls Drake Eider

Week ending: 18th April 2021: RSPB Barons Haugh, Dalzell Estate, Hogganfield Loch LNR

The pictures below were taken on Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings at Barons Haugh and Dalzell Estate. The Haugh was disappointingly bereft of birds during my visits so I concentrated my efforts on the surrounding area which was alive with a great variety of passerines (perching birds). This time of year is the start of the breeding season, so there was a lot of territorial chatter to be heard. Goldfinches  were twittering and Wrens  were whistling emphatically. The recently arrived Chiffchaffs  and Willow Warblers  were perhaps the commonest bird calls heard. The Blackcap’s  song is, to my ear, a random collection of notes (although I’m sure it must make sense to the birds). I love the mellow, warbling tones and variable tempo of the Robin’s  song and I feel that it is a bit of ventriloquist as often it’s sound seems to emanate from the next tree.

Goldfinch Wren
Chiffchaff Willow Warbler
Blackcap Robin

In Dalzell Estate I revisited the Nuthatches’  nest that I photographed a couple of weeks ago. I was pleased to see them still attending to its construction by adding mud and leaves to the tree-hole entrance. I also managed pictures of a Chaffinch and a busy Treecreeper.

Chaffinch Treecreeper

I was excited to see five species of butterfly this week. A pretty Small Tortoiseshell was first to cross my path, followed by a rather ragged Peacock. I discovered a deliciously neat female Orange Tip (which doesn’t have orange-tipped wings) dining on a Cuckoo Flower, but I had to wait until the following day to capture an image of the male (which does have orange-tipped wings).

Small Tortoiseshell Peacock
Female Orange Tip Male Orange Tip

My fifth butterfly, the Green-veined White, is easily confused for the female Orange Tip since each have white-coloured upper-side wings. However the undersides are completely different in colour. The Green-veined White has, well, green vein-like markings! I also photographed a couple of hoverflies, Eristalis Arbustorum and Syrphus Ribesii. I was delighted to get pictures of one of my favourite hovering insects, the Dark-edged Beefly (although it is formally in the family of flies, rather than hoverflies). To feed, it hovers at the front of the flower and inserts its feeding tube into the nectaries.

Green-veined White Eristalis Arbustorum
Syrphus Ribesii Dark-edged Beefly
As usual I was on the lookout for any interesting wildflowers. I found many instances of tiny flowering Dog Violets on the west facing banks by the footpath. Dandelions were also in full bloom, as were the Barren Strawberry plants. The banks of Few-flowered Leeks were at their prime but I could see the next set of wildflowers sprouting through them, such as Crosswort, Garlic Mustard and Comfrey. Also in full bloom at various places around the reserve were patches of Wood Anemones and near the car park I came across a few Cowslips just beginning to flower.

Dog Violet Dandelion
Barren Strawberry Few-flowered Leek
Wood Anemone Cowslips

As I wandered the reserve I occasionally came across some mammals, namely Roe Deer and, of course, Grey Squirrels. Others told me of Foxes but there was no mention of Otters.

Roe Deer Grey Squirrel

The Scottish Parliament First Minister made an unexpected announcement that enabled unlimited travel throughout Scotland. I took advantage of this new freedom on Saturday afternoon by visiting Hogganfield Loch for the first time in 20 weeks. Unlike at Barons Haugh, where water birds were scarce, as always there were plenty of them on Hogganfield Loch. It was nice to see a couple of pairs of Great Crested Grebes, one of my favourite birds. I noticed a nesting Coot on one of the artificial islands. Nearby a Canada Goose was sunning itself near the water’s edge. Also on the water there were quite a few Goosanders, seemed unconcerned by the presence of the people on the shore (at BH the Goosanders are much more flighty).

Great Crested Grebe Coot
Canada Goose Male Goosander

I took a few portrait shots of birds on the water nearest the car park. The strong sunlight helped show up the colours and contours of the faces of the birds - Mallard, Whooper and Mute Swans, and Tufted Duck.

Male Mallard Whooper Swan
Mute Swan Tufted Duck

I snapped a lochside shot of a male Pied Wagtail as I headed to the pond area to the east of the Loch. In the middle of the pond an aggressive Mute Swan was chasing any bird that got anywhere near the nest. I took a pleasing shot of a perching Woodpigeon followed by a shot of a passing Grey Heron.

Pied Wagtail Mute Swan
Wood Pigeon Grey Heron

There were many small birds active in the trees around the pond. Recently arrived Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were filling the area with their songs. I also managed a shot of a permanent resident, a Dunnock.

Black Cap Willow Warbler
Chiffchaff Dunock

Week ending: 11th April 2021:  Strathclyde Park

This week I visited Strathclyde Country Park over several days and accumulated a nice set of photos, which I’ve presented below arranged by location.
The North end of the Loch was fairly quiet over the week but the Jackdaws and Crows were always at hand to liven up the proceedings. Of course, there were Robins warbling in the bushes, and Greylags honking on the shore.

Jackdaw Carrion Crow
Robin Greylag Goose

Car park 4 is a popular spot where people can park near the water’s edge and feed the birds without having to carry their loaves too far from their cars. With so much bread on offer there are usually many birds waiting to be fed - well, it’s easier than searching for food elsewhere. Whilst I seldom feed the birds, I do take advantage of the situation to seek out photo-opportunities. The lively Goosanders are always good for a quick snap, as are Greylags  and their hybrids. Jaunty wee Pied Wagtails often appear on the scene to mop up the crumbs.

Female Goosander Greylag Goose
Greylag X Canada Goose Pied Wagtail

However, the feeding-time action heroes have to be the gulls. Although they are despised by most of the people throwing the bread, who would rather their food went to the “nicer”, quieter birds like ducks, swans and geese, rather than the noisy aerial robbers, photographically speaking, the gulls are much more fun. The main gull species parked at car park 4 are Black-headed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls.

Black-headed Gull Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull Common Gull

There is also a lot of action further from the shore. This week there were literally hundreds of small Sand Martins that had flown in from Africa especially to dine on the vast numbers of flies now emerging from the Loch. The Martins nest in the sandy banks of the River Clyde, hence their name. Also feeding offshore are dozens of large Cormorants, many hunting for fish in diving groups as large as twenty. It always amazes me that they are largely unnoticed and people aren’t gasping in amazement as a group passes. Snapping flying Mallards is a personal favourite activity, as is searching for passerines such as Blue Tits, in the bushes around the car parks.

Sand Martin Cormorant
Drake Mallard Blue Tit

At the opposite side of the Loch, the mouth of South Calder Water is often rewarding for nature watchers. There are Grey Squirrels is the woods (and also Roe Deer). Mallards and other ducks feed in the often calmer waters. It is probably the best area in the park to see a large variety of wild flowers. This week Wood Anemones caught my eye.

Grey Squirrel Goldfinch
Drake Mallard Wood Anemone

I was delighted to discover that the Plantation car park was closed for repairs. With no people or cars there, it meant that there were many more birds than normal. Gorgeous Greenfinches  and Chaffinches were my first subjects.

Greenfinch Female Greenfinch
Chaffinch Female Chaffinch

Goldfinches flew in small groups and twittered on the tree tops. I was delighted to hear the “descending” song of the Willow Warbler  for the first time this year. I managed a few shots of it as it hopped about the branches of a willow bush. I was even more delighted to capture photographs of a Blackcap as it belted out its song, a seemingly random collection of notes. As I was photographing the Blackcap, a Wren appeared from the hedgerow beside me.

Goldfinch Willow Warbler
Blackcap Wren

In the air 100 metres to the south there was a huge “cloud” of Sand Martins - almost a starlinglike murmuration. They were probably chasing a rising mass of insects (or maybe they were freshly arrived from Africa). I also noticed what at first I thought were Martins sitting on the top of the bushes on the car park, but soon realised they were my first Barn Swallow  sighting (and photo) of the year. They were resting between spells of chasing flies. I photographed a Blackbird as I checked out a patch of Red Deadnettle that I found growing at the edges of the car park. This wildflower is less common in the West of Scotland that elsewhere in Central Scotland.

Sand Martins Barn Swallow
Blackbird Red Deadnettle

Common Daisies are very common throughout the country. I got pictures of several insects in the Plantation Car Park. A Common Wasp  was feeding on the flowering hedgerow while Red-tailed and Buff-tailed Bumblebees searched the grassy edges of the car park presumably for suitable nesting sites.

Buff- tailed Bumblebee Common Daisy
Common Wasp Queen Red-tailed Bumblebee

Week ending: 4th April 2021: RSPB Barons Haugh and Dalzell Estate, Motherwell

My couple of visits to Barons Haugh this week started on a dull Wednesday. The view from the Marsh Hide was fairly encouraging with a large Grey Heron creeping amongst the reeds at the far end of the pool. A few ducks,  Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal, were at the opposite end, while a Moorhen, a member of the Rail  family of birds was busy to front of the hide.

Grey Heron Gadwall
Wigeon / Teal Moorhen

It was a similar roll count at the Causeway Hide. A Coot, another member of the Rail family, was dipping for pondweed close in to the right, as a drake Teal paddled past. I noticed more Coots fighting at the far right side of the Haugh with a Grey Heron looking on. A bit to the right of the commotion there was a pair of Mute Swans preparing a nest in the reeds.

Coot Teal
Coot / Grey Heron Mute Swan

I snapped a nice shot of a pair of drake Gadwalls lifting off heading towards the Clyde. I followed them round to the Pheonix Hide where I was pleased to see a pair of Tufted Ducks below the hide, but sadly little else. I moved to the seat just west of the Hide and was delighted to see a Kingfisher  darting just above the surface of the river over to a riverside perch some 150m away. Above the river there were many tens of Sand Martins, members of the Hirundine family, swooping with smooth but unpredictable paths, the sound of their chirps reminding me that Spring was well under way. Below is a record shot.

Gadwall Tufted Duck
Kingfisher Sand Martin

I next headed for the Centenary Hide. I watched a pair of courting Blue Tits that were feeding on a Willow tree. As a Magpie glided past, I noticed a Roe Deer  cautiously picking its way through the long grass to the left of the hide. It was followed by its pair of juveniles who were soon spooked by the sudden splashing sound of Coots fighting on the Haugh.

Blue Tit Magpie
Roe Deer

As I neared the Chestnut Walk I heard my first Chiffchaff of the year and, after a wee wait, it obliged me with a decent pose from which I got an acceptable picture. It used to belong to the Warbler (linkF) family but has now been designated to the separate Leaf Warbler family (although not by the RSPB it would seem). Next I passed a large Tree Bumblebee , probably a queen, that was motionless on the path. I suspect it was injured. At the graveyard at the start of the Walk, a calling Wren gave me another photo-opportunity, which I took. Dandelions are, of course, a real pain for gardeners, but in the wild, as it were, they are as beautiful as as any wildflower.

Chiffchaff Tree Bumblebee
Wren Dandelion

On Friday I once again headed for Barons Haugh, starting with a walk through Dalzell Estate. I met a fellow birder who very kindly showed me the location of a tree in which Nuthatches were nest-building. He pointed out the tree hole they were lining with mud, probably to make it more difficult for predators to penetrate the nest. Over half an hour we watched the birds making repeated visits carrying mud and leaves into the nest.

 My friend then very generously pointed out another tree that was being visited by nest-building Treecreepers . This too we watched for a half hour, once again taking care not to disturb the birds. In that time we saw them making repeated visits, carrying nest-building materials such as leaves and branches. The nest was out of sight behind a large crack in the tree trunk. It was amusing to see such a tiny bird manipulating long twigs through the crack in the trunk.

I managed a snap of a Goldfinch that had been twittering through much of my nest-watching. When passing the graveyard at the bottom of the White Walk, the very familiar call of the Chiffchaff allowed me to locate the wee beauty and get a nice shot of it announcing its presence. As I walked along the path that follows the course of the River Clyde (part of the Clyde Walkway, in fact), there were, unusually, Oystercatchers on the opposite banks. Further along I heard the unmistakable erratic call of a Blackcap. Sadly it never showed, however, I did manage a nice shot of a Long-tailed Tit.

Goldfinch Chiffchaff
Oystercatcher Long-tailed Tit

As I neared the Phoenix Hide I captured shots of a female Goosander (a member of the family of Ducks) on the Clyde, and on the bank, a large Mute Swan. Just past that hide there was a drake Gadwall paddling near the far bank. My last shot of the trip was of another Treecreeper, taken near the car park. It was uncharacteristically stationary leading me to believe that it was waiting for me to pass to allow it to fly to its nest.

Female Goosander Mute Swan
Gadwall Treecreeper

Highlights April 2021

We present last month’s gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during April 2021. They are not listed in the order they have been taken, but according to a series of themes. I’ve kept commentary to a minimum, preferring to let each picture talk for itself.









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