Archive - August 2023

Week ending: 27th August: Ardmore Point

The weather predicted for Central Scotland for Sunday was pessimistic - both the Lothian and Ayrshire Coasts would probably experience dull, rainy conditions. However, the areas in between, sheltered from the north wind by the highlands, could have brighter, dry weather. Ardmore Point in the inner Clyde estuary is one such place. My WeatherPro app predicted it would experience fine, dry conditions after a dull start. And so it proved. We had a decent breakfast in Dumbarton Morrisons (8/10: OK, but no black pudding available and some items were cold) on our way to Ardmore.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

On arrival, the weather was indeed dull, but we could make out Curlew and Oystercatchers feeding on the South Beach. We started our clockwise walk around the peninsula, photographing a close, low-flying young Herring Gull and a rather more distant Gannet.

Curlew  Common Gull
1st Cycle Herring Gull Gannet

A larger number of Oystercatchers were amassed on a temporary island that had appeared as the water level fell.

We got a much closer shot of a Gannet when we left the South Bay, then John spotted a Grey Heron standing in the field behind us. I snapped a Carder Bee that was exploring some Common Ragwort flowers and also noticed nice Green Alkanet  flowers (which are actually blue).

Gannet Grey Heron
Common Carder Bumblebee Green Alkanet

John pointed out a second Grey Heron in the field but I disturbed it as I attempted to photograph it. I followed this with a Small White butterfly that had landed on Sea Radish flowers. John drew my attention to a young Shag that was drying its wing atop a boulder just offshore. We could also just make out some eclipse Eiders sitting at the end of a line of rocks that run into the water.

Grey Heron Small White Butterfly
Shag Eider in Eclipse plumage

Below is the view looking east from the line of rocks:

There were also Red-breasted Mergansers on the line of rocks. They looked as if they were shedding eclipse plumage.

Flocks of Starlings were busy foraging on the rocky shore just in front of us. I moved a bit closer to the line of rocks to get a better view of the Mergansers and on the way I came across a juvenile Robin. We moved on and passed a Curlew that was walking on large boulders by the water’s edge.

Starling Red-breasted Merganser
Juvenile Robin Curlew

On our way to the North Bay John pointed to a big Woodpigeon on a tree, away to our right. We passed a rock where two Herring Gulls were voicing their concern at who knows what, watched by a large Great Black-backed Gull. Nearby, a pretty Black-headed Gull was preening on another rock. I managed a shot of a beautiful Harebell just as a fly landed on it.

Wood Pigeon Great Black-backed Gull / Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull Harebell

John mentioned that the bees were very active around the many flowers we passed. As he spoke I noticed a Buff-tailed Bumblebee on a spike of Rosebay Willowherb. I followed that with a shot of another on Sheeps-bit Scabious and completed the trio with a Carder Bee leaving a Himalayan Balsam flower. This became a quartet when I noticed another Carder almost buried among the stamens of a Sow Thistle flower.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Sheep-bit Scabious
Common Carder Bumblebee...

A noisy flock of ducks passed overhead. Unfortunately they were silhouetted against the overcast sky, so we’ve been unable to identify them. I was able to identify the small Shag that flew past and also another Gannet. I was pleased to see another Red-breasted Merganser, preening on a large boulder near the shore.

Gannet Red-breasted Merganser

I was photographing many of the interesting wildflowers we passed. As I did this it occurred to me that the names of many of these ended in “wort”. That suffix is derived from the Old English word 'Wyrt', meaning plant, herb or root, but through time it came to signify that the plant has a particular use. E.g. Woundwort,  plants can be prepared in a particular way and applied to wound to speed the healing process. Likewise, Stitchwort can aid a stitch in the side, Gypsywort  was thought to be used by Romani people to dye their skin (although they seemed to use it actually to dye linen and ground leaves of Sneezewort can cause a sneezing fit.

Marsh Woundwort Lesser Stitchwort
Gypsywort Sneezewort

As we approached the start of the North Bay, a Curlew was flying out of the bay and lone juvenile Grey Heron was standing motionless on seaweed-strewn rocks. As the tide receded, there were many Oystercatchers probing the damp sands. I spotted a Redshank as it passed one such bird. On the far side of the bay I could just make out a pair of Shelducks .

Curlew Juvenile Grey Heron
Redshank / Oystercatcher Shelduck

Our walk along the north side of the peninsula produced nothing until we reached the last section that leads to the car park. A large number of geese, mainly Canada Geese with a smaller number of Greylags, descended honking onto the sands of the North bay, although they were a bit too far away for a decent shot.

John noticed a Robin on the last bit of path. I think it may be a young adult as it seems to still have remnants of its juvenile plumage. Back at the car a wee Wren was making its way stealthily along the hedgerow, skilfully managing not to present a clear image for my camera lens. I noticed there was a bird feeder on the wall of the lodge house at the entrance to the Ardmore House. I very quickly managed a shot of a Chaffinch and Blue Tit as they clung to the feeder.

Robin Canada Goose
Wren Blue Tit / Chaffinch

The weather had turned out better than expected. After a dull start, warm sunshine and light breezes made for a very pleasant walk. We would like to have seen more birds though and the usual Seals were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they were off breeding somewhere. I was however pleased with some of our insect and flower shots. We finished the trip with tea and strawberry tarts, after which a Common Wasp decided to finish of the tart by consuming the last bits of syrup from my cup. You’re welcome Mr Wasp!

Common Wasp...

Week ending: 20th August 2023: Troon

This week we headed west to Bonnie Troon on the Ayrshire coast. Our last visit there was in February so we were looking forward to the sunny day predicted by my WeatherPro weather app. Unlike a lot of destinations, Troon actually has a Morrisons Café, which, of course we visited (10/10: excellent service, and food) prior to getting the camera and binoculars out of their bags.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We parked very close to the supermarket at the North Shore Road car park, which overlooks the whole of Barassie Beach. As can be seen on the photo below, the tide was low when we arrived.

There is a rough path from the car park onto the beach. The 10m long path was rich in wildflowers and insects. John got the ball rolling when he spotted a Meadow Brown butterfly sitting on Marsh Woundwort. He then directed me to a Small White butterfly, which eventually landed on yellow flowers of Sea Radish. Our next three sightings were three members of the Nightshade family: Bittersweet , Black Nightshade, and most surprisingly, Tomato. Each of the flowers have the same form but different colours and only the fruit of the tomato plant is edible. (Interestingly, the Potato is another member of the nightshade family).

Meadow Brown Butterfly Small White Butterfly
Bittersweet Black Nightshade
Wild Tomato...

Still on the short path, I observed the green bottle Lucilia Caesar on Mayweed flowers and then noticed the hoverfly, Eristalis Arbustorum, resting on small boulder. Eventually, we made our way  onto another rough path that leads along the edge of the shore to a viewpoint. We came across patches of the foreign flower invader, Himalayan Balsam, whose flowers were being visited by Carder Bumblebees. I found another white butterfly, which is probably a Large White female, resting on some sun-soaked foliage. And, while John scanned the beach for birds, I was delighted to find a Small Copper butterfly dining on Common Ragwort flowers.

Fly - Lucilia Caesar Hoverfly - Eristalis Arbustorum
Himalayan Balsam Large White Butterfly
Small Copper Butterfly...

I was observing Bindweed clinging around Himalayas Balsam when yet another white butterfly, another Small White, descended onto a large leaf on the ground at the edge of the path. I didn’t manage any pictures of birds on the beach, as any birds that were there we had,  very common and too far away. I was, however, impressed by the very rusty colours of lichen on some of the the rocks dotted along the shoreline. I think it may have been Elegant Sunburst Lichen. John noticed that the large hedgerow that lined the path consisted in part, of Sea Buckthorn trees which were loaded with orange berries. These are rich in vitamin C and have a variety of medical uses. We returned to the car via the mowed grass at the other side of the hedge. I nearly stood on a newbie, a Blackening Waxcap . Near the car,  a family of Carrion Crows were foraging. I snapped a juvenile crow that was checking the edibility of a dead leaf.

Large Bindweed Small White Butterfly
Elegant Sunburst Sea Buckthorn
Blackening Waxcap Juvenile Carrion Crow

We drove the short distance to the parking area at the west side of the harbour peninsula. As we made our way onto the sandy shore north of the car park, John noticed a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on Sea Radish. As I photographed it, John mentioned we were being watched by a family of Starlings that were perched on the top of a harbour building. A Cormorant and a Shag flew past low, side by side over the water, although I think it was a chance encounter. We settled on our 3-legged stools on the flat shore rocks in order to scan for waders, or anything of interest. I got a pleasing shot of an Oystercatcher before we noticed that a significant number of Ringed Plovers were gathered on the low rocks at the water’s edge. I also noted a pair of snoozing Dunlins with them.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly Starling
Cormorant / Shag Oystercatcher
Ringed Plover Dunlin

As birds were displaced by the incoming tide, a group of Sanderlings came into view. Most were resting with beaks under wings but a few were foraging. As time went on, more and more Plovers moved closer to where we were sitting. There was also a big adult Herring Gull sitting watching us from the top of a big boulder.

Ringed Plover Herring Gull

The Sanderlings joined the migration , flying past us to join the Ringed Plovers.

A pair of passing walkers disturbed the Adult Herring Gull I had photographed earlier causing it to take flight, flying south, possibly joining the “chip patrolling” gulls that were gathered around the parked cars. John pointed out a summer-plumage Turnstone that was wandering on low waterside rocks. A juvenile Pied Wagtail was wagging its way along the base of the seawall trying to keep up with a couple of adults wagtails. We both noticed the steady number of Shags that were flying around the end of the sea wall, out into the Firth of Clyde. One came close enough for a pretty decent shot.

Herring Gull Turnstone
Juvenile Pied Wagtail Shag

We moved closer to the north end of the sea wall and saw that there were quite a number of Shags perched on the wall.

A few passing Gannets drew our attention, although we would like to have seen even one of them dive, but they didn’t. We moved back along the shore towards the car and when we moved off of the sandy shore I snapped some Bloody Cranesbill that were growing at the edge of the car park. We sat by the car for a few minutes, scanning the rocks for any action. We were amused at the antics of a Starling that had taken possession of a chip and was running from, and dodging any Starlings that had their eyes on it. A older Starling was watching us from the top of a waste bin.

Gannet Bloody Cranesbill

The Ringed Plovers we had photographed earlier had amassed on the rock below where we were sitting.

We decided to move to the Titchfield Road car park for a wee stroll along the prom where we often see birds on the rocks and seaweed piles that line the shore. The photograph below shows the shore at the car park with Troon seafront and South Beach in the background.

There were some Turnstones and Ringed Plovers active on the shore at the car park.

We set off for the walk along the promenade with some pessimism since we could see that there were holidaymakers on the walls and rocks we were aiming to explore. I photographed a Black-headed Gull in the hope it may turn out to be an immature Mediterranean Gull. It wasn’t. A bit of a sea breeze had started to blow which drove waves against the rock below the sea wall, making it a bit too wild for birds to settle on. However just as we were about to call it a day, a summer plumage Turnstone  turned up along with its juvenile. I think the parent was caring for its chick otherwise it probably would not have been there in such inclement conditions.

Black-headed Gull Turnstone..

The weather had been kind to us as we had seen rain showers in the distance, but it had remained dry and sunny in Troon. We had a healthy set of varied sightings. My personal favourites were the trio of Nightshade plants, the Sanderlings and the parent and juvenile Turnstones. We had tea and strawberry tarts as we agreed that it was one of those days when it was nice just too be there. Hopefully we can experience that on our next trip.

Week ending: 13th August 2023: Musselburgh and Port Seton

John and I headed for Musselburgh this week. Sunday’s weather across the whole of the Central Belt was to be similar to last week’s weather - mild with showers and sunny intervals. I was particularly drawn to Musselburgh since reports in social media indicated that it was rather teeming with birds, most prominent of these being the juvenile King Eider and a Stejnegar’s Scoter. Of course, we nipped into Dalkeith Morrisons for our usual Sunday morning breakfasts (10/10: excellent food and service).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We parked at the Levenhall Links car park and then walked towards the sea wall near the Lagoons nature reserve, known popularly as “the Scrapes” (now the “old” scrapes since the recent opening of the “new” scrapes, the latest section of land reclaimed from the coal tip used by Cockenzie power station). My first shot of the trip was of a glaikit-looking juvenile Carrion Crow. I followed that, eventually, when it settled, with a snap of a nippy Wall Brown butterfly. At the sea wall there were Goosanders on the water and some preening on a narrow sandy shore. John spotted a Razorbill  as it surfaced about 40m away and then a juvenile Common Guillemot  that popped up a bit further along the water. John was then delighted to see a Common Seal, possibly a juvenile, surface near a group of Goosanders.

Juvenile Carrion Crow Wall Brown Butterfly
Goosander Razorbill
Juvenile Common Guillemot Common Seal

It would be fair to say that the Goosanders “legged it”, hastily paddling as they didn’t fancy being the seal’s next meal.

We could see a large flock of Eiders spread along approximately 400m of water near the sea wall. With well over 100 birds in the flock, picking out the King Eider seemed impossible. To make matters worse very dark clouds were gathering and we could already feel spots of rain. So it was with a bit more urgency that we paced along the road beside the sea wall. Although we had increased our pace we managed to notice passing Oystercatchers and a few nervous Linnets that were flitting about the wall. John warned me of the approach of first a Sandwich Tern  and then a Gannet. I knew the juvenile King Eider  plumage was mainly a light shade of brown so as I scanned the huge flock gather before us, I snapped any brown ones with their head raised (since most were snoozing with heads under wing). I wasn’t doing well and I was very pessimistic as to our chances of locating the King. However a very kind fellow observer may have noticed my exasperation and very kindly pointed out the King Eider which happened to be one of the closest birds.

Oystercatcher Juvenile Linnet
Sandwich Tern Gannet
Female Eider Juvenile King Eider

Suddenly, the skies opened up and deposited a week’s rain in a matter of minutes. Luckily I was semi-prepared and had a rain jacket in my back pack. John wasn't as lucky though as he had no rainwear and his clothing was saturated within a minute. Luckily the downpour only lasted a few minutes and I was able to locate and photograph the huge scoter flock that was positioned at least 500m from the shore. The picture below conveys the size and remoteness of the flock:

These next photos were as detailed as I could identify  but I could not distinguish a Stejneger’s Scoter within the mass of Velvet Scoters. (I subsequently read on social media that there was also a Surf Scoter in the flock.)

To escape the rain we hastily retreated to the cover of trees around the boating pond. We watched a family of Mute Swans and could also make out a family of Little Grebes diving for fish. Eventually the rain went off and we walked to the (old) Scrapes. From the middle hide we were pleased to see that the reserve was teeming with birds, and I set about photographing them, starting with a Curlew that was just in front of the hide. A Black-headed Gull was wading close to the hide.

Mute Swan Little Grebe
Curlew Black-headed Gull

A Redshank flew in just as the Sun came out and John noticed an eclipse plumage drake Mallard in the middle of the lagoon. Scanning the rear lagoons he also pointed out a pair of Dunlins foraging on the near side. (These may, though, be Curlew Sandpipers). A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits then flew into and around the reserve…

Redshank Mallard in Eclipse plumage
Dunlin Bar-tailed Godwit

 … before settling on the rear lagoon.

We moved to the rightmost hide where we saw very active Lapwings. There were also a pair of Greenshanks  and several Ruff wading near the hide. A juvenile Pied Wagtail appeared briefly at the grassy edges of the water before darting off further around the lagoon.

Lapwing Greenshank
Ruff Juvenile Pied Wagtail

Finally we moved to the leftmost hide. There were quite a few Redshanks, mostly snoozing.

I noticed a solitary Black-tailed Godwit  harassing the Redshanks not far from about a dozen Little Gulls  that were preening at the water’s edge. An incoming Woodpigeon redirected my attention to the left to where a pair of large Grey Herons were standing in the water, hiding in plain sight. John redirected my gaze to the right of the hide, where a juvenile Shelduck was gliding over the water, occasionally submerging it head in search of invertebrates. The next shower was moving in so we decided to relocate to Port Seton. Just outside the reserve entrance a beautiful Peacock butterfly fluttered around a bit before settling onto a Creeping Thistle.

Black-tailed Godwit Little Gull
Wood Pigeon Grey Heron
Juvenile Shelduck Peacock Butterfly

At Port Seton we were delighted to see the Wrecked Craigs were hosting a healthy number of birds. However, before we could photograph them, we had to endure another very heavy shower of rain. Thankfully we watched the rain “stoatin’ aff the grun” from inside my warm and dry car. The rain passed and we were able to quickly scan the rocks before the next shower arrived. Sandwich Terns were arriving periodically carrying small silvery fish in their beak, calling persistently as they searched for their chicks. There were also a few Common Terns standing on the rocks among the Sandwich Tern chicks. I also noticed a Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit standing fairly close to the shore. Overhead there were the usual comings and goings of Gulls, such as the Common Gulls …

Coming down so hard it was going back up! Sandwich Tern
Common Tern Curlew
Bar-tailed Godwit Common  Gull

 … and the Herring Gulls.

In the gloom, we almost overlooked a pocket of small waders that were scurrying about in shallows in the middle distance: Turnstones and Ringed Plovers. There was also a trio of summer plumage Knots , preening and snoozing beside a Black-headed Gull. My final shot was of a White Wagtail

Turnstone Ringed Plover
Knot White Wagtail

 We managed to have al fresco tea and strawberry tarts before it rained again. It had been a very productive visit during which we amassed a very pleasing number of observations. Most notable for me were the King Eider, Godwits, Ruff, Greenshanks, and I do love Terns. John pointed out though that it was the first time in our 17 years of Sunday outings that we’ve taken a soaking from the rain. I hope it’s as long until our next soaking

Week ending: 6th August 2023: Doonfoot

My WeatherPro predicted that the best Sunday weather in Central Scotland would be in the East. However there were several events planned in and around Edinburgh so to avoid any problems on the roads, we (yes John made it this week) instead headed westwards to Doonfoot in Ayr. The weather there was to be nearly as good as in the East. We popped into Ayr Morrisons on Castlehill Road for our customary breakfasts (8.5/10: very good, the only blemish was slightly overcooked fried eggs (-0.5). Read on to find out how Morrisons lost the other point ).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

Some cheery House Sparrows welcomed us to the Castle Walk car park. As predicted, the Sun was blazing and only a few clouds were scattered on a mainly blue sky. We started our walk to the mouth of the River Doon by taking a path behind the car park beside a small pond. John pointed out a Red-tailed Bumblebee  that was feeding on Sow Thistle. I followed that up with a shot of a Small White butterfly that had a damaged wing and a Tree Bumblebee  on Water Mint.

House Sparrow Red-tailed Bumblebee
Small White Butterfly Tree Bumblebee

John then beckoned me to get a shot of a Carpet Moth that had landed on foliage just in front of where he was sitting. We couldn’t see the pond such was the height of the vegetation that surrounded it. Within that foliage I noticed Hemp Agrimony  and Yellow Loosestrife . I also got a photo, from distance, of a clump of Michaelmas Daisies.

Common Carpet Moth Hemp Agrimony
Yellow Loosestrife Michaelmas Daisy

When we emerged from the path onto the banks of the bonny River Doon I looked back along the shore to Greenan Castle.

We sat at the Doon scanning the birds that were gathered on the estuary. The tide was low but rising very slowly. The only duck we saw was a solitary female Mallard. I also spotted a distant Grey Heron amongst the throng of gulls. They were mainly Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls of various ages. We saw no Black-headed Gulls. John directed my attention to a shallow area of the estuary where Jackdaws and Rooks were active. As we made our way off of the riverbank I came across Sea Mayweed where insects were feeding. There was a tiny Mining Bee  (exact species difficult to determine from a photo) on one flower.

Mallard in Eclipse plumage Grey Heron
Lesser Black-backed Gull Jackdaw
Rook Mining Bee (TBC)

We decided to explore the opposite side of the river. We paused for a few minutes on the footbridge when we noticed a family of Mute Swans feeding on bread just upstream. These are shown in the picture below along with the cygnet and Mallards.

The swans, including the cygnet, left the water probably following the bread-thrower. John then noticed a juvenile Goosander cruising downstream eventually joining the ducks. What I thought was another Mallard flew in and landed on the water. When I viewed the photos I concluded it was in fact a female Gadwall. Before leaving the bridge I photographed a beautiful Lesser Black-backed Gull (yes, I think gulls are very pretty) swimming just below us.

Juvenile Mute Swan Juvenile Female Goosander
Female Gadwall Lesser Black-backed Gull

We strolled along the footpath towards Ayr, watching for any bird or insect activity. I saw Common Comfrey was still in bloom and followed this with a shot of an unsuspecting Carrion Crow as it pecked at seaweed as I viewed it through a gap in the thick foliage. There was a fair bit of Marsh Woundwort that was attracting lots of insects, such as the Red-tailed Bumblebee and Grayling Butterfly

Common Comfrey Juvenile Carrion Crow
Red-tailed Bumblebee Grayling Butterfly

An impressive wild flower garden had been created, presumably by the Council, on the extensive area of short grass on the opposite side of the path. There were blue Cornflowers, Red Poppies and Corncockle as well as a sea of yellow Corn Marigolds, irresistible to an army of hungry hoverflies such Eristalis arbustorum, shown below.

Cornflower Red poppy
 Corncockle Hoverfly - Eristalis Arbustorum

Rather disappointed by the dearth of birds, we made our way back across the footbridge towards the car. Below was the stunning view of the Doon estuary as seen from the bridge.

We relocated a few hundred metres west, to the Greenan car park. On arrival there was a female Stonechat watching us from a fence post. We set off on our usual circuit around the castle, starting on the field just west of the car park. There I came across a Fairy Ring Champignon (aka Scotch Bonnet ) as well as another Small White butterfly on yellow Sea Radish flowers. As we passed the cliff below Greenan Castle, a wee Rock Pipit flew down to meet us.

Female Stonechat Fairy Ring Champignon

Small White Butterfly Rock Pipit

We walked along the small beach at the opposite side of the castle and positioned ourselves at the side of the field of barley to the south, where we paused a while to observe the surroundings. I watched Large White butterflies cavorting on the Sea Radish. John alerted me to a Yellowhammer that was sitting with a beakful of caterpillars atop a Hawthorn tree. Our walk along the edge of the barley field produced a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly that settled on yellow Common Ragwort. I noticed also that the Mugwort plants were in bloom, with brown flowers. John also pointed out a Brown-lipped Snail parked on Fern leaves.

Large White Butterfly...
Yellowhammer Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Common Mugwort Brown-lipped Snail

When we reached the foot of the slope that leads to to castle plateau, a wonderfully-patterned Peacock butterfly landed beside us on Creeping Thistle and posed obligingly for pictures. We climbed that slop (slowly) and made our way south along another the edges of another barley field. John found that parts of the large hedgerow at the eastern edge of the field contain Damson bushes that were actually bearing small Damson fruits. He also found a Meadow Brown butterfly shortly before I tracked a Goldfinch that I heard land on the hedgerow.

Peacock Butterfly Damsons
Meadow Brown Butterfly Goldfinch

We completed our circuit of Greenan Castle, arriving back at the car just as the Waverley paddle steamer steamed west past us on its circuit around Ailsa Craig.

As I mentioned earlier, we were unhappy that there weren’t more birds to photograph, however, the invertebrates, such as butterflies and bees didn’t let us down. Besides, It was one of those good weather days when one looks at the beauty of the surroundings and is just pleased to be there. We would like to have celebrated with tea and strawberry tarts, however, Morrisons didn’t have any (-1) so we made do with rather delicious chocolate eclairs. Come on Morrisons, get it sorted for next week.

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