Archive - August 2022

Week ending: 28th August : Barns Ness

According to my WeatherPro app, mild weather was predicted for Sunday, but it was to be largely overcast in the east and the west was threatened with rain. Since I hate rain I opted for Barns Ness, east of Dunbar. A welcome rising tide was predicted by the BBC website. So after a hearty breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (9/10: excellent, but service was slow) we drove down the A1 to begin our latest quest.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We made our first sighting by the car park - a Buff-tailed Bumblebee on a Smooth Sow Thistle flower. This was quickly followed by a snap of one of the many violet-coloured Harebells that were bobbing in the light breeze.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Harebell

The tide was out as predicted and we walked along the edge of the shore watching for waders. It wasn’t long before we sighted some - Ringed Plovers picking their way between the rocks and seaweed. We planked ourselves down on our 3-legged stools and waited for them to pass near us. Eventually they passed close enough for reasonable shots, although the light was very poor. We were pleased to see that there were also Dunlin among them and also a few White and Pied Wagtails and a Meadow Pipit that had chirped their way onto the scene.

Ringed Plover Juvenile Ringed Plover
Juvenile White Wagtail Meadow Pipit

As we moved towards the lighthouse I noticed a gull with a wing-beat that was more rapid than the other gulls. It was a passing Fulmar. As we tracked a flighty flock of Linnets, John spotted a Rock Pipit posing on a a large boulder. We didn’t manage a shot of the Linnets and we also glimpsed, but didn’t photograph, a Wheatear that saw us before we saw it.

Fulmar Rock Pipit

A favourite perching point for Cormorants drying their wings is the corner of rocks just west of the lighthouse.

John spotted a small family of silhouetted birds near a large bush. The camera picked them out ok though and I could inform him that they were Stonechats . John drew my attention to a large Grey Heron standing about 150m away on the rocks. About a dozen Oystercatchers sped past as I was photographing the Heron.

Stonechat Female Stonechat
Grey Heron Oystercatcher

We walked past the lighthouse and continued further east along the footpath south of the line of sand dunes, until we reached a path through the dunes onto the beach. We once again assumed our positions on our stools and scanned the shoreline for birds. The picture below shows the view to the east with Torness Power Station in the distance and on the right of the picture you can just make out a large flock of gulls gathered on the rocky shore.

We could pick out a pair of Curlews standing by the water’s edge. A Grey Heron, perhaps the same bird we’d seen earlier, flew east past the Curlews and landed far out of sight. Despite the worsening light level I could just make out a flock of Starlings perching on a line of rocks. I got a bit excited when I thought I recognised a Spotted Redshank  in a nearby rock pool, however it turned out to be a Common Redshank. Just before we left the beach I snapped some shots of a couple of flypasts - a Carrion Crow and a Great Black-backed Gull.

Curlew Grey Heron
Starling Redshank
Carrion Crow Great Black-backed Gull

Next we left the beach and walked the few hundred metres to the southern boundary of the site. There we found several flower species still in bloom. The first of these was Common Restharrow, so named as their tough roots caused farmers to rest their harrows (farm weeding frame). There were also a few Red Poppies by the boundary wall and many Yarrow plants in flower at the edges of the long grass. Yarrow, a herb, has a range of uses in herbal medicine. Also seen were some pretty White Campion flowers, also known as Grave Flowers since they are often found growing wild in graveyards.

Common Restharrow Red Poppy
Yarrow White Campion

We continued our circuit by walking through the old caravan site where we encountered more interesting plant life. Viper’s Bugloss  plants were still just about in bloom with White-tailed Bumblebees searching the few remaining flowers for pollen. Beside these plants, Common Ragwort, known locally a “Stinking Willie”, were seeding. Just before leaving the old caravan site I photographed a patch of wildly flowering and very beautiful Broad-leaved Everlasting Peas. No doubt they were probably planted by the former Caravaners but they are known to grow in the wild and are listed as such in most reference texts.

Viper's Bugloss White-tailed Bumblebee
Common Ragwort Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea

Finally we decided to drive to Belhaven to have our usual teas and on the way out of Barns Ness I managed to (safely) get a picture of a Goldfinch that was perched on a roadside bush. Similarly near the exit to the A1087 John captured images of some young Barn Swallows that were sitting or the fence wire.

Goldfinch Juvenile Barn Swallow

Sadly we didn’t manage any pictures at Belhaven Bay. This was partly due to the fact that the tide was not yet in, and partly to the activities of a large group of paddle-boarders gently rampaging through the inner section of Belhaven Bay. Surely the slow spread of water sports, some witnessed each week by us, that is consuming Scotland’s coastline must be stopped and even reversed before the entire ecosystem is damaged beyond repair. Despite these thoughts, we had a fine time at Barns Ness. Sure, the light had perhaps limited the quality of the photography and the number of sightings but it had not lessened our enjoyment of experiencing nature at first hand, such as seeing the waders or the passing Fulmar. Nor did we let the negatives put us off our teas and strawberry tarts. (Some regular readers may have already concluded that our primary sources of enjoyment occur at the start and finish of each outing. They may not be wrong.

Week ending: 21st August 2022: Port Seton, Aberlady, Longniddrie

This week we headed for Aberlady to follow up report of various interesting birds, such as Skuas, seen there recently. My WeatherPro app predicted fair weather and the BBC tide predictor indicated a falling tide. We had fine breakfasts in Dalkeith Morrisons (9.5: excellent only a bit let down by their persistent use of tiny plates).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We stopped off briefly at Port Seton to check the Wrecked Craigs for birds. The tide water was further out than I’d expected but there were many birds about 80m away from the promenade. Nearer us were a few Ringed Plovers scurrying about the wet sands. Furthest away were Cormorants on the rocks. Just in front of them was a large flock of Terns. Something caused them to take to the air. They were mainly Sandwich Terns  (with yellow-tipped black beaks) with a few Common Terns  (with red, black-tipped beaks). I also noticed other birds in their midst: Eider, a possible Yellow-legged Gull  and a juvenile Grey Heron.

Ringed Plover ... ...Juvenile
Sandwich - Common Tern Eider
Yellow-legged Gull Juvenile Grey Heron

Beyond the furthest exposed rocks there was a large flock of Goosanders.

We quickly moved on to Kilspindie, the area west of Aberlady Bay. We settled on the shore, near the Kilspindie Golf club flagpole, and watched for passing birds. We immediately saw a passing Whimbrel. On the water there was only a Black-headed Gull but there were frequent passes of Sandwich Terns. Occasionally one would return making its familiar “creaking-door” call while carrying a fish in its bill. Several Redshanks also passed. As I admired the view east over the Aberlady Bay towards North Berwick Law, John and his binoculars had been scanning the shore to the west and spotted a Bar-tailed Godwit foraging in seaweed-strewn rock pools.

Whimbrel Black-headed Gull
Sandwich Tern Redshank
North Berwick Law Bar-tailed Godwit

Eventually we decided to further investigate the shoreline to the west. I noticed that there were Cormorants lined up along rocks about 150m away. John asked me if I noticed anything else and gave me a hint that “those aren’t big pale rocks below the Cormorants”. Indeed they weren’t - they were a herd of Common Seals languishing on the sunny pebbled beach.

We trekked a bit further west to get a better view of the seals. John spotted some Bar-tailed Godwits There was also a Curlew and a bit further along I saw a Whimbrel, possibly the one I’d seen flying past me earlier. Notice the difference in the shape and length of their beaks - often a good way of telling them apart. An excited John then directed me to where he had sighted an unusually dark large gull. Although it was about 200m away and was travelling north, away from us, I managed to capture an image. It was in fact an Arctic Skua, one of our target birds. This was quickly followed with a sighting of a couple of summer plumage Grey Plovers .

Curlew Whimbrel
Arctic Skua Grey Plover

We reached a point on the shore where I could get a more detailed picture of some of the Common Seals, but where we would not disturb them. It was obvious that they could see us so we doubled back soon after I had the capture and thereafter the seals carried on happily with their day.

On our return back along the shore we noticed that there was a gathering of Sandwich Terns close on the shoreline. We once again took to our stools and waited for any action. As I waited I noticed a daytime crescent Moon high to the west. To the north a crude oil tanker, the NordPenguin, sat like a whale, beached far out in the Firth of Forth. Eventually a parent Sandwich Tern arrived with a fish. It circled a few time, calling for its chick, which it found on a rock just off shore. The fish was transferred and the adult flew back out to catch another one.

Sandwich Tern....

A small group of Sanderlings  flew past and then a juvenile Cormorant , just as we continued back to the car. Our final shots at Kilspindie were of a Carrion Crow and its demanding juvenile, and a eclipse-plumage Mallard.

Sanderling Juvenile Cormorant
Carrion Crow Mallard in Eclipse Plumage

We stopped off at Longniddry Bents as we’d noticed that there were Terns and Gannets diving quite near the shore. The view on the horizon was of the Edinburgh skyline.

On alighting from the car there was a wee Pied Wagtail looking at me longingly perhaps watching for a scrap on food. We made our way down to the rocky shore where, once again, we took up our positions on our three-legged stools, waiting for the Terns and Gannets to arrive. I snapped a young Carrion Crow that was foraging on the shore about 10m from the camera. It was nice to see a lovely Curlew fly past and land in a rock pool about 40m away.

Female Pied Wagtail Juvenile Carrion Crow

I also enjoy the passage of Oystercatcher flocks and I wasn’t disappointed since there were many in the time I sat there.

We’d noticed that the Gannets had a sort of “circuit”. Since they seem to prefer hunting flying into the wind,  they flew down wind (roughly east) and proceeded to track west along the shore, diving when they see the silver flashes of fish moving in the water below.

I composed a rough composite photo of the complete dive of one particular Gannet.

Like the Gannets, the Sandwich Terns followed a similar “circuit”, but their dives are a bit more difficult to photograph since their flight paths are a bit random and are shorter. However, I did manage a few dramatic shots.

We finished our session with a nice shot of a Goosander flypast and John found a moulting Eider hiding behind large rocks on the shore.

Female Goosander Eider Duck

This was a very enjoyable outing with several special moments, such as seeing colony of Common Seals, the Arctic Skua, the Grey Plover and of course watching the thrilling dives of the Terns and Gannets. Our teas and strawberry tarts were therefore well earned and certainly enjoyed. Also the weather exceeded our expectations - same again next week please

Week ending: 14th August 2022: Troon Harbour and Irvine Harbour

Although my WeatherPro app predicted that there was a band of potentially stormy weather edging in from the west, sunny intervals were predicted on the North Ayrshire coast and haar (stubborn mist) was to cover the Fife coast. I opted then for a trip to Troon on the west coast. The BBC website indicated that the tide was favourably rising during our visit.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We arrived at Troon Morrisons for a wee brekky (8.5/10: good but deductions for small plate, undercooked fried tomato and overcooked black pudding) after which we parked at the harbour car park. There were Starlings and Herring Gulls being fed by another driver (bit early for chips?). As we made our way onto the beach to the right of the car park, we passed a lovely flowering Pencilled Cranesbill plant that was attracting a few Buff-tailed Bumblebees and also a bug, Plagiognathus arbustorum , in the centre of one flower. John spotted a lone Curlew foraging on the rocky shore and close to it, an Oystercatcher was jumping between rocks.

Juvenile Starling 1st Cycle Herring Gull
Buff-tailed Bumblebee Plagiognathus arbustorum
Curlew Oystercatcher

As he scanned the shoreline with his bins, John located a group of small waders, mainly Ringed Plovers with a few Dunlin, Sanderlings and a single Turnstone.

I edged closer to the waders, taking care not to put them up and managed reasonable shots of adult and juvenile Ringed Plovers, a wee group of Dunlin and a pair of snoozing Sanderlings. A large Herring Gull kept me in its gaze as John directed me towards a Redshank he had sighted. I got a few shots of the Redshank as it picked its way along the water’s edge.

Ringed Plover Juvenile Ringed Plover
Dunlin Sanderling
Herring Gull Redshank

When we reached the end of the small beach we settled on our 3-legged stools and watched the harbour entrance for any passing birds. John could just make out an Eider bobbing about 100m out and took the shot below. There were Shags  coming and going from their perches on the tall harbour wall. Some were in the water close to the wall but most were flying in from further afield. I also saw a trio of passing Sandwich Terns and also a handsome Gannet.

Eider in Eclipse plumage Adult and Juvenile Shags...
Sandwich Tern

As we moved back off the beach I snapped a shot of a lovely Beach Rose. Less pretty were a half dozen dead Blue Jellyfish lying on the sands. I also noticed a couple of sand-loving wildflowers, Sea Rocket and Spear-leaved Orache.

Beach Rose
Sea Rocket Spear-leaved Orache

We were a bit surprised by the sudden close passage of a large Gannet that flew over the rocky area in front our parked car.

While standing near the car, scanning the panorama, a small, white-rumped bird fluttered past low over the rocks. It was a Wheatear, (its name is a corruption of “white-erse”). To John’ s great delight he spotted “Sammy”, a Grey Seal , partially surfaced, looking back at the car park. I managed a couple of shots before it dived. A wee female House Sparrow landed on a bollard looking nervously towards me, perhaps looking to be fed. Just before we moved on to our next location, an adult Shag flew past heading south.

Wheatear Grey Seal
Juvenile House Sparrow Shag

We stopped briefly at the North Shore Road car park to check out the south end of Barassie Beach. The tide was well out and there were several dog walkers on the sands. However we did see a Buff-tailed Bumblebee on Common Ragwort and also a pretty shot of Bramble fruit.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bramble

We had a similar experience at the Titchfield Road car park - no birds due to beachcombers and only a panoramic view of the Troon South Beach.

We next relocated to Irvine Harbour. On a brief walk along the promenade by the River Irvine we saw a Mute Swan searching the river edges for food. On the opposite bank there was a juvenile Shag standing, resting between sessions of diving for fish. Further upstream, opposite the Maritime Museum, a Grey Heron was lurking on the riverbank ready to snatch any unsuspecting creature that passed its gaze. John noticed that there were three large Grey Seals on a platform some 200m away along the River Garnock.

Mute Swan Juvenile Shag
Grey Heron Grey Seal

After I had photographed the seals, a small flock of Oystercatchers flew up the estuary and across to Bogside, where there were large numbers of birds amassed.

At the Scientists’ Bridge we watched a juvenile Shag diving for fish in the water below. We were luck enough to see it with a fish. The fish didn’t show for long - probably 3 seconds. However it did take a few minute to get it down its long neck into its stomach. Note the increased thickness of its neck as the fish is being swallowed. On snapping these shots my eye was drawn to a wildflower at my feet. It had small and daisy-like with yellow petals. It was Sticky Groundsel.

Juvenile Shag...
Sticky Groundsel

We finished our observations at the mouth of the estuary, watching a group of Sandwich Terns repeatedly diving for fish. Note the speckled plumage of the juvenile is unlike the adults’ black and white plumage.

Sandwich Tern Juvenile Sandwich Tern

I finished with a wide shot of the gulls  on the opposite bank of the river mouth. Close scrutiny of the photo reveals Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls. There are also Oystercatchers and a Sandwich Tern.

My weather app got its predictions right. There was no rain and the sun shone for most of the time. My favourites sightings were the Shag with a fish and the Wheatear. We of course celebrated another successful Sunday outing by consuming Tea and Strawberry Tarts. The warm spell was predicted to end the next day but surely it is not out the question that next Sunday could also be warm and sunny.

Week ending: 7th August 2022: Musselburgh

Weather predictions for Sunday were pointing clearly to the east for the best chance of sunshine. I decided to visit Musselburgh since it had been six weeks since our last visit. So after our customary Dalkeith Morrisons’ breakfast (9.5/10: excellent, marred only by the John’s over-fried egg) we parked by the mouth of the River Esk, on Goosegreen Place near the Cadet Hall and immediately set off for the Scrapes. The sun was breaking through a generally cloudy sky but we could see large patches of blue sky over surrounding areas, so we were optimistic.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The Esk mouth was very busy with Mute Swans some of whom were being fed bread by walkers.

A few Cormorants and Eider were standing on the opposite sea wall while quarrelsome Goosanders were splashing around in the water below them. As we progressed further from the Cadet Hall more and more Common Eider  came into view. We reckoned that there must have been around a hundred birds made up of eclipse males, juveniles and females. Sadly, we couldn’t see the reported juvenile King Eider amongst them. Carrion Crows were busy foraging along the river edges.

Cormorant Female Goosander
Eider in Eclipse Plumage Female Eider
Juvenile Eider Carrion Crow

As the path along the sea wall took us away from the river, John spotted a very large gathering of Goosanders  a few hundred Metres from the shore. Individuals in the flock were periodically making “sprinting” through the crowd. I’m not certain but I think they are hunting fish and when any one bird is successful some of the others pursue it to steal its catch.

Eventually we reached the Levenhall Links Bird Reserve, better known as the “Scrapes”. We started in the middle hide. As the tide was high, the reserve was well populated with birds. Straightaway we noticed some Curlews close the the hide. We also noticed Greylag Geese, Canada Geese and four juvenile Shelducks . We moved to the left hand hide (the right hand hide was fruitless). There was a large accommodating Wood Pigeon on the path to the hide and I also photographed the hoverfly Eupeodes latifasciatus  on a Large Bindweed flower.

Curlew Greylag Goose
Juvenile Shelduck Oystercatcher
Wood Pigeon Hoverfly - Eupeodes Latifasciatus

We were surprised to see a Grey Heron prowling a mere 10m from the hide. I took quite a few shots as it crept ever closer. There were Greylag and Canada Geese 20-40m from the hide. Six more Canada Geese flew into the reserve and settled between scrapes. I also spotted a Canada X Greylag hybrid goose at the near-edge of the right-most scrape. We were pleased also to see a Black-tailed Godwit  wading close to the hybrid. I later noticed that there was a large group of Black-tailed Godwits and Curlews roosting in the pond on the far scrapes.

Grey Heron Greylag Goose
Canada Geese...
Greylag / Canada Goose Hybrid Black-tailed Godwit

The four juvenile Shelducks flew onto the back of the right scrape and proceeded to dabble in the now steady sunshine. A pair of moulting Magpies flew down from the bushes and bounded close the the hide. Suddenly there was a bit of noisy action when a pair of Sandwich Terns  arrived back to the scrape after their fishing expedition in the Firth of Forth. I managed a few shots of them as they circled the site looking for their chicks calling in their distinctive rasping voice. Only one of the Terns found their youngster. The other flew away to search further afield. I also managed a shot of a much less noisy flier, a Meadow Brown butterfly on Red Clover.

Juvenile Shelduck Magpie
Sandwich Tern Meadow Brown Butterfly

Satisfied with our sightings at the scrapes we set off on our return journey. I noticed a Sunflower growing at the back of the Boating Pond, probably propagated from walkers’ bird seed. At the sea wall I photographed a pretty patch of Sea Mayweed and also a pink-coloured Yarrow flowerhead upon which there was a small fly, Eriothrix rufomaculata, a parasite whose young develop inside moth larvae. A couple of birds checked us out as we walked by the sea wall - a Pied Wagtail and a Stonechat , both juveniles.

Sunflower Sea Mayweed
Yarrow Fly - Eriothrix rufomaculata.
Juvenile Pied Wagtail Stonechat

We were entertained for a time by a pair of diving Sandwich Terns (perhaps the same birds we’d seen at the Scrapes). Although they were about 100m away I managed a decent set of shots of a typical dive.

As the tide goes out to reveal the sandy shoreline, most of the birds we saw left the Scrapes to seek out food from the damp sands and rock pools. We watched one such group of birds, Oystercatchers, flying low below the level of the sea wall. They were but one “squadron” of many that passed us.

Passing also were gulls: Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls

Herring Gulls...
Lesser Black-backed Gull Black-headed Gull

We passed a long line of Mute Swans just before we reached the Eskmouth.

There were some interesting sights on the near side shoreline of the river. I snapped an Oystercatcher that was standing in the shallows just as a Carrion Crow flew to the base of the seawall with a Shore Crab. We watched as it started to dismember the crab. Interestingly the other Crows didn’t harass it. We finished with a shot of a Curlew working it’s way along the shoreline and one of a Bar-tailed Godwit, the cousin of the Black-tailed Godwits we’d seen at the Scrapes.

Oystercatcher Carrion Crow
Curlew Bar-tailed Godwit

John and I often comment that Musselburgh seldom lets us down with regard to the number and quality of sightings. Sunday was confirmed this. We accumulated a very satisfactory number of photographs of a pleasing range of species. Afterwards there was nothing else for it - tea and strawberry tarts by the River Esk as we discussed our favourite sightings. Mine was the young Stonechat and I alway love watching Terns diving. Hopefully the heat wave predicted for next week will extend to next Sunday when we can further hone our observational skills at another interesting site

Highlights - August 2022

We present this month’s gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during August 2022. 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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