Archive - August 2018

26th August 2018: 

Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

What a pain! After a week of nice weather, widespread rain was predicted for Sunday. It was to fizzle out gradually from the west by late afternoon. My mind therefore turned to how I could rise to the challenge of taking interesting pictures of birds in the rain. We decided West was best and chose to visit our favourite section of the North Ayrshire coast, Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour.


After our usual brekkies in Stevenston Morrisons (9/10, -1 for asymmetrical toast), we drove onto Stevenston Point and waited for a lull in the continuous driving rain. That didn’t happen, but we found that if we sheltered by the side of the car, sitting on our 3-legged stools, then by covering my camera with a plastic bag, I could take shots of birds active in the area. And active they were! Cormorants were on the rocks at the tip of the Point, Gannets were passing regularly and were even treating us to some dramatic diving and Shags were coming and going unconcerned by the rain. John spotted a pair of Razorbills diving just offshore. I also managed to catch a Common Guillemot to the left of the shot

Cormorant Gannet Shag Common Guillimot /  Razorbill

A wee Pied Wagtail looked very vulnerable as it sat on the jagged rocks. Overhead, a Curlew flew effortlessly south against the very stiff breeze (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). A few croaking Sandwich Terns patrolled the waters, seeking out small fish. After an hour of dodging the wind and rain we felt we’d seen all we were going to see and headed for Saltcoats. As we passed by an area of short grass, I noticed a Great Black-backed Gull and its juvenile feeding there. The adult didn’t seem too interested in feeding the young bird which eventually got the message and started to forage for itself. A Common Gull glided across the grass at camera height and provided a nice photo-opportunity (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Pied Wagtail Sandwich Tern Great Black-backed Gull Great Black-backed Gull 1st Cycle

We parked at Saltcoats Harbour and were greeted by a Herring Gull hovering above us. Out in the Harbour entrance a few Gannets were making multiple dives into the choppy waters. The rain wasn’t letting up but as we were sheltered by the high Harbour wall, I simple stood and waited for the birds to pass. A female Eider and its juvenile paddled past, but we were disappointed by the otherwise empty seas and sky. We cut our losses and made for Irvine Harbour hoping we’d have more luck there. As we returned to the car, I snapped a few shots of a Herring Gull making short work of a rain-saturated slice of bread.

Herring Gull Gannet Female Mallard Herring Gull

Irvine Harbour

We got out the car at Irvine and much to our surprise and delight, the rain had stopped! A drookit Carrion Crow was picking its way through the grass and in the estuary a few Eider were making their way under the footbridge that leads across to the disused “Big Idea” science museum.

In the middle of the largely vacant car park, a pair of juvenile Herring Gull were harassing their parent for food, which was not forthcoming. Their instinct is to tap the red spot on their parent’s bill which, in turn, is supposed to stimulate the parent to regurgitate some food. That did not happen, but like human children, that didn’t stop them carrying on with their pleas. (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). As we neared the toilet block (now taken over as a base for Coastwatch), a couple more members of the Corvid family were in evidence. A bedraggled-looking Jackdaw was sifting its way through the grass and ....

Carrion Crow Female Mallard Herring Gull Jackdaw

..... a pair of Rooks surveyed the area from the relative safety of the Toilet Block roof. Nearby, on the side of the, now renovated Pilot’s House, a pair of Feral Pigeons were caught canoodling. We made our way out along the walkway separating the beach from the Estuary. Several Pied Wagtails were scurrying about on the sloping edges. A few Herring Gulls were there too, ever-watchful for the discarded chip or biscuit from pedestrians.

Rook Feral Pigeon Pied Wagtail Herring Gull

From the walkway we observed a Cormorant as it flew North onto the Ardeer Peninsula. Over the Pavilion I spotted a Sparrowhawk circling and then it too went onto the Peninsula, pursued by some Crows. On the other side of the Estuary mouth, yet another Cormorant was sitting drying its wings atop a post. There has been some debate as to why Cormorants  spread their wings,  however the consensus seems to point to obvious reason, they’re drying their wings! As we made our way back to the car, a pair of Mute Swans glided past. Our species count had certainly climbed since arriving At Irvine Harbour.

Cormorant Sparrowhawk Cormorant Mute Swan

And so it continued. A Black-headed Gull made appearance. We hadn’t seen as many of them on our recent trips, probably as they were reproducing. An immature shag flew upstream and under the footbridge, followed seconds later by a lone Oystercatcher. Opposite where we had parked, a Great Black-backed Gull stood proudly on a wooden post (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Our final capture was spotted by John. It was a juvenile female Goosander diving for fish fish at the confluence of the Rivers Irvine and Garnock. Easy to confuse with a female or juvenile Red-breasted Merganser, its white chin and thicker bill point me towards Goosander. Its plumage is not full and seems to be that of a juvenile.

Black-headed Gull Shag Oystercatcher Juvenile Female Goosander

Well I think we managed to find a fairly interesting set of pictures for this blog, so the weather didn’t defeat us. Of course we celebrated with a repeat of last week’s treat, cream muffins loaded with lemon curd, washed down with strong tea (Had the weather defeated us we would have consoled ourselves in exactly the same way!). Surely the weather will be better next week?

Pictures of the Week:

Curlew Common Gull
Herring Gull 1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull

19th August 2018: Turnberry and Maidens

The Saturday evening weather prediction for Sunday was very similar to that for the previous week: rain clearing from the south-west, getting brighter by late afternoon. So once again (after a lovely breakfast in Stewarton Morrisons East Kilbride (9/10)) we found ourselves belting down the M77, this time heading for Turnberry Lighthouse. Twitter has reported a previous day’s sighting of a Basking Shark there as well as a long list of fairly common birds. As luck would have it, the Sun was shining when we arrived, and our walk from the new car park, across the world-famous Trump Turnberry golf course to the Lighthouse was very pleasant . We stopped to photograph beautiful, raindrop-covered Harebells. By the path on Yarrow I noticed the aptly-named Thick-thighed Hoverfly, syritta pipiens. Its swollen rear upper legs made it look as if it had eaten some Popeye’s spinach. Beside it was a neat-looking female Hoverfly.

Harebell Thick-thighed Hoverfly Turnberry Lighthouse  Hoverfly T.B.C.
Hoverfly TBC

We settled just above the rocks that were recently exposed be the receding tide, and scanned the horizon and waited for the birds, or sharks, or dolphins, to come to us. First to pass was an Oystercatcher with its familiar piping call. There were fairly frequent close passes of Gannets that were probably based on Ailsa Craig. The sky was now mainly cloud with only a few dashes of blue. A lone Curlew was next to catch the eye as it sped north, and to complete the set of familiar feathery friends a few Cormorants flew across the rocks.

Oystercatcher Gannet Curlew Cormorant

In the far distance, against the light, a flock of mainly Ringed Plovers zig-zagged a path onto rocks a few hundred metres away. It was then that John thought he may have spotted the Basking Shark, but ultimately decided it was just a rock. He took a couple of shots of it anyway. However when looking at our pictures later that evening, I edited the pair of shots so that their backgrounds were identical and I compared the position of the “rock” in the photos. As you will see below, in “Pictures of the Week”, it changes position from one picture to the other, leaving me to conclude that it may very well have been the Basking Shark! Certainly the fin has shape of a Basking Shark’s dorsal fin and it was in that area the previous day (and the day after). So “Well spotted John!”.

We decided to relocate to Maidens. On our way around the Lighthouse I snapped a couple of shots of a hairy, black and orange-striped caterpillar I noticed on the grass. It was a Fox Moth caterpillar. On our way back to the car park we came across some wildflowers now getting to the end of their blooming season. A few areas of Bramble bushes were in fruit.

Golden Plover Basking Shark Fox Moth Caterpillar Bramble

By the roadside, in long grass, I snapped a rather worn-looking Yellow Fieldcap mushroom. I noticed very pretty flowers of Field Bindweed in the same patch of grass. Their pink and white blooms were about 3 or 4cm across. Further down the road it’s “big cousin”, Large Bindweed was in flower. Its all-white blooms were up to about 7cm across. I also photographed a beautiful example of Red Campion, one of my favourite flowers (see “Pictures of the Week” below”). As we got into the car I noticed that the car park was line with large examples of Fat Hen, a plant that is cultivated as a grain or vegetable crop in Asia and Africa, but other parts of the world, especially Europe and North America, it is treated as a weed.

Yellow Fieldcap Field Bindweed Large Bindweed Fat Hen

We drove the mile and a half up the road to the bonny coastal village of Maidens. It was now rather overcast, and the dog walkers were out and had already flushed the birds from the beaches and harbour. Oystercatchers were put up, followed by Dunlin and Redshank. A more tolerant Rock Pipit seemed to accompany us as we picked our way along the rocks to the shore.

Oystercatcher Rock Pipit Dunlin Redshank

We paused at a Ragwort plant which was laden with insects. Prominent amongst these was a largish (~5cm), tired-looking moth, uresiphita gilvata. It was brown with worn markings but had distinctive orange hind wings with black border, which aided identification. Beside it, on the other end of the scale (~1.5cm) was a Pale Straw Pearl moth, udea lutealis. It’s pale markings were rather faint, but adequate for identification. Third in the trio of moths was a Rosy Rustic moth, hydraecia micacea. This disappointingly un-rosy moth was about 3cm long and had a hair back. It is disliked by farmers as its caterpillar bores into their crops’ lower stems and roots. As we approached the beach, John was impressed by the Wild Rose bushes heavily loaded with bright red hips. Perhaps he remembers his mum giving him rose hip syrup. Apparently Wild Rose hips contain twenty times as much vitamin C that oranges do.

Moth - Uresiphita Gilvata Moth - Pale Straw Pearl Moth - Rosy Rustic Wild Rose

We surprised a young Herring Gull that had been merrily devouring a crab on the rocky edges of the Harbour. It carried it over onto the sea wall in order to complete its meal in peace. A stately Great Black-backed Gull posed atop the large rocks, with a grey Isle of Arran in the background. Another large bird, a Grey Heron, stood motionless on neighbouring rocks, before moving south, no doubt searching for its next meal. More dogs in the area displaced a young Cormorant availing us of the opportunity of a flight shot as it passed us. Dog walkers can be useful sometimes.

Herring Gull 1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull Grey Heron Cormorant

So eventually it turned out to be “mission accomplished”, albeit without a super-dooper picture of the Basking Shark. From the shore we were only ever going to see a couple of fins anyway. I’m pleased with my detective work of comparing successive photos to establish it was moving. The reward for our good work was tea and cream muffins loaded with lemon curd. They were scrumptious! The weather/light was ok at times but let’s hope it improves further next week.

Pictures Of The Week

Basking Shark Red Campion

Mute Swan Cormorant


12th August 2018

The weather forecast was very poor - the whole of Central Scotland was to be cloaked in a gloomy sheet of slow-moving rain. But in the south-west the rain was to clear by late afternoon, which offered us a glimpse of opportunity for some nature photography. We headed down the M77 towards Ayr, making our customary pit stop in Kilmarnock ASDA for breakfast (7/10 - duff toast and cold cafe), but as we approached the turn-off for Prestwick, the rain had stopped and we decided to settle for nearby Troon.

We parked in the South Beach car park and walked towards Meikle Crags and in the far distance we could see Ayr. First up, a pair of Jackdaws pecking at something or other on the seaweed-strewn foreshore. I spotted some small waders ahead of us. For once, a dog walker helped us out as his best friend put up the birds, who then flew past us. I shot multiple exposures from which I could see they were mainly Dunlin with a few Ringed Plovers. I could no longer see Ayr as it had been shrouded in rain advancing from the south. We turned tail and made for the car. On the way I snapped a Carrion Crow as it foraging on the stinking seaweed.

Ringed Plover
Carrion Crow

We relocated to the Harbour car park, by which time the rain arrived. As we waited for it to pass, a reproduction Viking boat sailed past. I Googled “Viking longboat Troon” but ended up none-the-wiser as to what it was doing there. From the picture it seems well kitted out with engine, radar, aerial and cabins so it may not be local, and could have been just making its way around the coast. From inside the car I photographed the Vikings as well as a drookit Cormorant that seemed right at home in the rain. On the grass, by the car, a very damp Starling was raking through litter for any tit-bits it could find. Meantime, a small, twin-hulled boat had appeared offshore. It had what looked like four divers onboard. After watching it for some time John thought they were laying marker buoys, for what, I don’t know.


Three adult Herring Gulls parked themselves on the grass beside a car whose occupants were devouring fish suppers. The gulls were very vocal, but unsuccessful in the efforts, as the greedy humans ate the lot. The rain stopped about an hour before we were due to leave so we got out the car and walked north towards the Harbour wall. Oystercatchers on the rocks had their beaks under wings as they rested at high tide. A few small waders scurried ahead of us. They were Ringed Plover and Turnstones, but they fled before I could capture their images. On the wall there were a few Shags, but little else.

Herring Gull
Ringed Plover

On and around the pebbly beach below the sea wall there were several species of wildflower still in bloom. Prettiest of these was a patch of Pencilled Cranesbill, a type of Geranium. Possibly a garden escapee, it’s flowers were attractively covered in pearls of water. Next I noticed the yellow crucifer, Sea Radish. It had only a few flowers as most had gone, leaving swelled, seed-rich ovaries. Clinging to the wall, a Silverweed plant, sometimes mistaken for a buttercup, still had its distinctive yellow flower. There were a few patches of Common Ragwort growing at the base of the wall. The beauty of the nice, wee yellow flowers belie the fact that all parts of the plant are poisonous to mammals, including us, if eaten.

Pencilled Cranesbill
Sea Radish
Common Ragwort

Another wildflower in the running for the prettiest bloom was the Large Bindweed. Even in the low light it was beautiful. Less attractive, Sea Rocket was another plant showing seed capsules. Each capsule contains a pair of smooth, brown seeds. Our exploration of the seashore flora was interrupted by the croaking of a Sandwich Tern that was diving for fish. The light had improved well enough for us to be able to see the lighthouse on Lady Isle. The small island has quite a bit of history.

Large Bindweed
Sea Rocket
Sandwich Tern
Lady Isle Lighthouse

We decided to have a scan of the area to the south end of the car park. Before long, John uttered, “There’s Sammy at one o’clock!” (our code for “I see a Seal just to the right of straight ahead!”). In fact, it was a Grey Seal taking a bit of a breather between dives. We sat on our wee 3-legged stools on a slipway, giving us a grand view over the rocks. Some divers had just been fishing offshore and were cooking them in the area just behind us. So with the smell of BBQ in my nostrils I photographed in quick succession two ever-present favourites, a Pied Wagtail and a Rock Pipit. Our final capture was a nice one, a female Wheatear. I remember seeing one in the same place in August last year. Maybe it was the same bird.

Grey Seal
Pied Wagtail
Rock Pipit
Female Wheatear

So, after a promising start, the middle of the visit was a bit of a damp squib, but once the rain stopped we got a lot of sightings in a short time. We celebrated that “grand recovery” with tea and caramel-iced eclairs. Hoping to see the sun next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Herring Gull
Ringed Plover

Rock Pipit
Female Wheatear

5th August 2018:


This weekend we returned to one of our favourite sites for the first time in about 15 weeks - Musselburgh. Reports of bird sightings on social media were encouraging, as were weather predictions, so by mid-morning on Sunday we found ourselves tucking into breakfasts in Dalkeith Morrisons prior to what we hoped would be a productive few hours around the mouth of the Esk and Scrapes.

We parked at the Levenhall Links and made our way across the 100m footpath across wild grassland. We saw lots of butterflies there including the Small White and the more flighty Meadow Brown (which managed to evade the camera). We also snapped a White-tailed Bumblebee on a Perennial Sow Thistle. At the sea wall John pointed out a pair of immature Herring Gulls fighting over a Starfish. We moved westwards accompanied by the familiar call and sight of Oystercatchers as group after group sped from their resting places in the Scrapes towards the feeding grounds at the mouth of the Esk.

Small White Butterfly
White Tailed Bumblebee
Herring Gull

The familiar “rusty door hinge” call of the Sandwich Tern was next to draw our attentions. They too were streaming seawards out of the Scrapes in fair numbers. We noticed that a few of them were juveniles and we theorised that parent birds were tutoring their latest offspring in the skills of fishing. This was supported by our observation that many were returning back to the Scrapes with silvery fish in their bills. On our way into the Scrapes I took a few pictures of 7-spot Ladybirds nesting in the grassy verges of the path. Just outside one of the hides a few Speckled Wood butterflies were very active, males searching for females and frequently tussling with other like-minded males.

7 Spot Ladybird
Speckled Wood Butterfly

As expected, since the tide was now low, the Scrapes were a bit short of birds. A single Lapwing sat opposite the middle hide and a pair of Shelduck were feeding in the middle of the centre scrape. A distant Common Sandpiper foraged far to the right, but, apart from some distant Mallards and a Curlew that was it. I noticed a large patch of Hare’s-foot Clover immediately in front of the hide and manage a fairly good picture using my big zoom lens.

Common Sandpiper
Hare's-foot Clover

As we left the Scrapes, John directed me towards a Meadow Brown butterfly, which, for once, sat still long enough for a quick shot. On the footpath that lead us back to the seawall we came across three rather nervous juvenile Pied Wagtails scouring the path for invertebrates. The flew off as we apprached. At the seawall we had a close encounter with a strangely approachable pigeon. Each of its legs were ringed, which could indicate that it was a Racing Pigeon having a bit of a pit-stop. As we sat observing the pigeon, a Kestrel sped past and proceeded to hunt the grassy banks that run parallel to the “promenade”.

Meadow Brown Butterfly
Juvenile Pied Wagtail
Racing Pigeon

As we continued west, I noticed what, at first I thought was a golf ball, until I discovered it was a small Grey Puffball. This fungus releases its spores by the action of raindrops, each drop causing a “puff” of spores (hence the name) that are then carried away by the wind. We leaned on the wall scanning the sea, lamenting how vacant it looked when we realised that the action was going on around our elbows. A tiny, well-camouflaged Zebra Back Spider (Salticus Scenicus) meandered across the top of the wall seeking out its prey. This little jumping spider uses its 4 eyes to stalk its prey before pouncing on it. Next we encountered a small brown Larch Ladybird clinging to the landward side of the wall. This Ladybird, unlike its 7-spot cousin, uses camouflage as a defence. It usually resides in wooded environments, so how it managed to get onto a sea wall is a bit puzzling. Our final discovery on the wall was spotted by John - a Broad Damsel Bug. To allow me to get a picture, he encouraged it onto a fag packet, ( I'd found it on the ground and was taking it to a litter bin! Ed.).  I think you’ll agree, it’s not a pretty creature.

Grey Puffball
Zebra Back Spider
Larch Ladybird
Broad Damsel Bug

We found many more birds when we reached the Esk. There was a very large flock of Mute Swans at the mouth of the river. A pair of adults with five large cygnets glided past us. Then there was a bit of a commotion when a female Mallard flew across the river chased by a Black-headed Gull. The duck had got hold of a crab and wasn’t going to let it go. After a brief struggle it flew up the river leaving the gull trailing far behind. A minute later, a Great Black-backed Gull flew over the calm scene. We wondered if it would have intervened had it passed seconds earlier.

Mute Swan
Female Mallard
Black-headed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

More of the “usual suspects” were to be seen going about their business on the riverside, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlew. The sky had become overcast and the light was low so we started on our return journey. The sea remained disappointingly bereft of birds but microlight aircraft buzzed westwards overhead giving me something to photograph.

Bar-tailed Godwit
Air Jockey

Just past the east end of the Scrapes I got a nice shot of a 2nd cycle Back-headed Gull on the shore (see “Pictures of the Week” below. Close by, a 2nd cycle Herring Gull was finishing off a Razorshell. On a large seaweed-covered waste pipe Eider and Cormorants were lounging in the gloomy conditions. Just as we reached the car, a pair of Buzzards circled overhead but the poor light meant my shots were little better than silhouettes.

2nd Cycle Herring Gull

After the longer-than-usual circuit we were more than ready for our tea and buns with cinnamon icing. Not a bad outing with some nice pictures taken and even a couple of newbies, the Larch Ladybird and Damsel Bug. What a pity it ended on a literally dull note as the Buzzard shots could have been great - oh well, maybe next time!

Pictures of the Week:

Sandwich Tern

Speckled Wood
2nd Cycle Black-headed Gull

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