Archive - August 2019

25th August

Hogganfield Loch

With Central Scotland basking in late summer sunshine, our prayers had at last been answered after weeks of dismal Sunday weather. We headed for Ardmore Point, west of Dumbarton, popping into Dumbarton Morrisons for a wee brekky (7.5/10, very slow service) before disaster struck - my car wouldn’t start. The AA got the engine started but advised me to drive straight to my garage and not to stall on the way. So that was Ardmore gubbed. It wasn’t all bad though because as we waited John spotted an Eyed Ladybird, Anatis Ocellata,  (a newbie!) on my car bonnet. We got home by mid afternoon and John called it a day, but I grabbed the wife and her car and headed for a quick trip to Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow, one of my regular haunts. It used to be a popular boating pond, but it’s now a Local Nature Reserve (LNR). When we arrived I got nice pictures of three of the “regulars” - Mute Swan, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Moorhen.

Eyed Ladybird Mute Swan Lesser Black-backed Gull Moorhen

After a brief mid-summer absence the Tufted Ducks  were back. I presume they were off to breeding grounds as I don’t think they breed in the reserve. Most of the Greylags that were here during winter were gone, but I saw an individual amongst the swans. Some gaping Cormorants were drying out on perches following spells of diving for fish. I could also see a few first-year Black-headed Gulls, easily identified by their white and brown plumage.

Tufted Duck Greylag Goose Cormorant Black-headed Gull 1st Cycle

I walked along road on the west side of the Loch watching out for interesting plants and insects. There were lots of “Greenbottle” flies, Lucilia Caesar  on Michaelmas Daisies. Further on, a Buff-tailed Bumblebee was working its way up a spike of Purple Loosestrife. Nearby, a number of Drone flies , Eristalsis Interruptus, were on more Michaelmas Daisies. I noticed an unfamiliar caterpillar at the top of a stem of Stinging Nettle. I identified it later as a Painted Lady larva. There were lots of Painted Lady butterflies passing, as they had been throughout the summer. The week before I photographed one on Knapweed, (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Lucilia Caesar Buff-tailed bumblebee Eristalsis Interruptus Painted Lady Caterpillar

I noticed a plant I had only seen further south (Lake District), Great Burnet, a member of the Rose family. The plant was once used in wine-making. It was in a particularly pretty lochside section of wildflowers including Purple Loosestrife, Wild Angelica and Bittersweet. A much despised insect, the Common Wasp , was feeding on one of the Wild Angelica flower heads (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Great Burnet Purple Loosestrife Wild Angelica Bittersweet

I followed the lochside path running east past a small pond where a Grey Heron sometimes stands motionless and unconcerned by the many passers by. At the start of the month I photographed a pair of mating Common Blue Damselflies lingering at edge of the pond. Also on that occasion I heard the familiar and chilling call of the Buzzard . It actually flew low overhead and was probably a young bird flexing its wings and testing the air. It was a bit quieter on Sunday but my interest was stimulated as I observed how much Water Mint was decorating the pond’s edge and drainage ditch.

Grey Heron Common Blue Damselfly Buzzard Water Mint

I made my way off of the main tarred footpath along a rougher path that gave good views over another pond. As I walked slowly along the path I came across a few Dragonflies sunning themselves on the warm gravel, (see “Pictures of the Week”, below, one I snapped there recently). As I looked onto the pond and I recalled my last visit when I startled a Grey Heron that flew west and drew my eyes to a Roe Buck grazing in the long grass. It looked as though it was blind in the right eye. Eventually it strolled into the long grass and out of sight behind Hawthorn bushes. On Sunday there were a few eclipse Gadwalls lounging and preening in the low sun, but little else. I did though manage some shots of a Sunfly  dining on a pathside Knapweed flower. The Sunfly common name probably came about from a misreading of the Greek/Latin scientific name, Helophilus Pendulus, which actually means
“dangling marsh-lover”.

Grey Heron Roe Deer Gadwall Sunfly

I moved to the north path that ran west back onto the main lochside road. I noticed some Sneezewort  on the verges of the path. These were once used to induce sneezing (not to cure it!). I also noticed some beautiful, vivid yellow Goldenrod , Solidago Virgaurea, by some dense Hawthorn thickets. I also caught a delicate Chequered Hoverfly feeding at the centre of a Dog Rose. The slopes of the grassy hillock overlooking the lochside road were filled by flowers of Devil’s Bit Scabious . I got a picture of a Peacock butterfly on one of those charming flowers.

Devil's Bit Scabious Goldenrod Chequered Hoverfly Peacock Butterfly

The last stage of my circuit of the reserve I watched a Common Wasp chase a Peacock butterfly that was peacefully probing a Knapweed flower. As soon as I captured that interaction I noticed a Great Crested Grebe fishing near the side of the Loch (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). I saw no signs of the chicks I had seen 10 days earlier. That maybe had something to do with a guy in his canoe who was obviously unaware the Loch was no longer a boating pond.

Peacock Butterfly Great Crested Grebe Great Crested Grebe

We had walked slowly around the reserve, seeking the shade, as it was very warm in the sun. I had acquired the day’s cakes and flask of tea when I switched cars. The lemon cream muffins were delicious. As we ate the muffins I reflected on how I’d managed to redeem to day through a simple one hour circuit of sunny Hoggie! That was satisfying but then I remembered the hassle with the car... and what’s the odds of next Sunday being sunny?
( or having a car!!! Ed.)

Pictures of the Week

Painted Lady Common Wasp
Common Darter Great Crested Grebe

18th August  2019:

Barns Ness

Windy, showery weather sweeping in from the west was predicted for Sunday, so I reckoned it might have burned itself out by the time it reached Dunbar. Our records showed that we had not visited Barns Ness in 2019, so that’s where we headed. Our customary breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons was excellent as usual (9.5/10) and set us up nicely for the day. At the car park at Barns Ness an information board describes how it is an important geological site. It contains the most extensive limestone outcrops in central Scotland. As we arrived we could see a fair bit of that outcrop as the tide was very low. After parking we set off on an anti-clockwise route around the area starting with a stroll through the old caravan site. As soon as we set foot there we couldn’t believe the number of butterflies we saw. In the space of a few minutes I had photographed Red Admiral , Peacock , Small Copper  and Wall  butterflies. From the pictures below you can see that some of them were a bit “worse for wear”. It was late in their season and they had probably passed across many thorny bushes by the time we saw them. Apparently  the hindwings, which the pictures below show to be damaged, aren’t needed for normal flight, but are needed for “evasive” flight.

Red Admiral Peacock Small Copper Wall

Some flowers remained from the time of the caravan site. I snapped a Carder Bee on some lovely Sweet Pea flowers. In the same spot I was pleased to see neat purple flowers of Greater Periwinkle and luscious deep orange Montbretia blooms. John pointed out a pair of juvenile Starlings loitering on a power line.

Carder Bee Greater Periwinkle Montbretia Juvenile Starlings

With Autumn, season of “mellow fruitfulness”, just around the corner, the pretty Brambles were ripening, while the flowers of Viper’s Bugloss, in full bloom a few weeks ago, were now starting to fade as their fruits were forming. We passed patches of sunlit White Deadnettle that were in full flower but a tiny Teasel plant, growing in what looked like infertile ground, had lost its tiny purple petals and was almost ready to bear seeds.

Bramble Viper's Bugloss White Deadnettle Teasel

As we left the old caravan site we met even more ragged butterflies. A pair of mating Large Whites were moving acrobatically across the low bushes. A very tousled Painted Lady  landed on some Common Ragwort. I think it needed a second coat! Next I found a female Meadow Brown  presenting on a sheltered area of grass. At first I thought it was a Gatekeeper until I remembered that it should have a double white spot in each forewing’s black eye mark (the Meadow Brown has only a single white eye mark on each forewing). Also, the hind wing of the Gatekeeper  has an orange smudge). The underwing pattern (seen when the butterfly rests with its wings brought together) confirmed it was a Meadow Brown.

Large White Painted Lady Female Meadow Brown Female Meadow Brown Underwing

As we continued east by the south east boundary wall I came across a Dungfly on a Yarrow flower. A bit further along, a Meadow Pipit landed on the dry stone dyke. We then traversed the fenced off central field to reach the sandy beach that lies to the east of the lighthouse. The tide was low and the sea was more than 100m out over very rocky shore that, at our time of life, would be very risky to cross. We walked towards the lighthouse hoping for seaweed, as birds are usually attracted to the invertebrates living in these stinking piles. We were in luck. There was such a pile and there we found a Carrion Crow flying off with an orange-coloured titbit. A juvenile Pied Wagtail was also sampling the food whilst keeping an eye on us as we observed it from the comfort of our 3-legged stools.

Dungfly Meadow Pipit Carrion Crow Juvenile Pied Wagtail

Several juvenile Starlings were squabbling and screeching while they too picked out tasty morsels. I caught sight of a male Linnet peeking over the top of some seaweed. It looked as though it was moulting. At the end of the sands a very pretty Meadow Pipit swooped in briefly before changing its mind when it saw us (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). We saw plenty of bird activity happening along the distant shoreline, such as fishing Cormorants, passing Gannets and small wader  flocks, but they were frustratingly too far off for decent pictures. However on the small bay to the west of the lighthouse we had a close encounter with some small waders. I noticed some Ringed Plovers foraging the damp rocky sands about half an hour before the tide advanced to fill the bay. We took up a position on the shore and watched them as they crept ever closer to us.

Juvenile Starling Linnet Meadow Pipit Ringed Plover

The Plovers were soon joined by Dunlin and then about a dozen Sanderling flew in. The Dunlin came as close as 5m at times, while the Ringed Plovers were a bit less adventurous, staying about 8m away and the Sanderling were very cautious, keeping to at least 20m from where we sat (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below for more wader shots). We had a narrow escape as a Grey Heron defecated as it passed overhead. Luckily its droppings landed on the grasses beyond the shore.

Dunlin Sanderling Grey Heron

We returned to the car after observing the waders until they flew off as the bay filled with seawater. A rain shower encouraged us to relocate to Belhaven Bay for our tea and chocolate cream eclairs. We agreed the visit had been blessed with brighter weather than the visits of the previous 4 weeks and our pictures certainly benefited. Highlight of the day was certainly the wader experience closely followed by the butterfly experience at the beginning of the walk.

Pictures of the Week:

Meadow Pipit Juvenile Ringed Plover
Dunlin Sanderling

11th August 2019:

Musselburgh and Port Seton

Our run of dull Sundays continued this week, but with added wind and rain. We just went for for it, expecting to get wet whichever way we went, choosing Musselburgh, since birds were reported there (Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Garganey, Greenshank). So with raincoats at the ready we sped east, popping into Dalkeith Morrisons for a couple of breakfasts (9/10: VG but bacon a tad cool) before parking at the Scrapes. The rain hadn’t quite got going when we first arrived so we made the most of it, searching (unsuccessfully) for the Spotted Redshank. A big Curlew was grazing in front of the hide but apart from a Black-headed Gull and a few Oystercatchers nothing else was very close. There were masses of birds at the middle back hide but most of those were roosting. A few arriving Sandwich Terns livened them up slightly, as did a passing Fox (see Pictures of the Week“, below), that prowled behind the Scrapes but didn’t attempt to take any birds.

Curlew Black-headed Gull Oystercatcher Sandwich Tern

A Common Sandpiper  flitted onto the concrete ring in front of the middle hide. A couple of tardy Mallards looked on. We moved to the north hide where lots of birders were seeking the Spotted Redshank (unsuccessfully). John pointed out a young Grey Heron far to the right, and soon after a Ruff  flew in briefly before disappearing to the left. At that point the rain came on in earnest, and it only got heavier for the remainder of the visit.

Common Sandpiper Mallard Juvenile Grey Heron Juvenile Female Ruff

We relocated to the River Esk near the Millhill car park where it was more sheltered from the stiffening wind. I noticed some nice wild flowers as I got out of the car. Green Alkanet , whose leaves stay green throughout the year, was growing close to a wall alongside some less pretty, but edible (apparently) Smooth Sow Thistle. Hidden behind those was a patch of Herb Robert  , it’s flowers dotted with raindrops. It has a range of traditional medicinal uses which are largely untested by modern science. As we set off along the river I photographed a Yarrow  plant growing by a tree. Yarrow is also known as Carpenter's Weed as they sometimes use it to stop the bleeding from inevitable wounds suffered as part of their work.

Green Alkanet Smooth Sow Thistle Herb Robert Yarrow

A few Canada Geese were on the riverbank nibbling grass and Feral Pigeons were moving amongst them picking up whatever they could eat. On the river a few Greylags were wading in shallows around the island, where a Moorhen was munching Willowherb.

Canada Goose Feral Pigeon Greylag Goose Moorhen

Jackdaws were patrolling the area looking for any opportunity of acquiring food. A hybrid duck (possibly Mallard X Duclair) paddled into view. As I photographed the duck, a handsome piebald Feral Pigeon  flew onto the fence. We moved further upstream searching for a Dipper. I spotted one under the far arch of the Rennie Bridge and immediately crossed the bridge to try to get a better picture. Taking care not to spook the bird I managed a reasonable shot (see Pictures of the Week“, below). With the rain getting heavier we decided to move to Port Seton for a quick look before heading home. As we passed the footbridge on our way to the car we came across a hybrid goose, a Canada Goose and Greylag cross.

Jackdaw Duclair Duck x Mallard  Piebald Feral Pigeon Canada x Greylag  Goose

After a short drive east to Port Seton the rain was now persistent and the wind strong. Nevertheless, we had a short spell scanning the shore and Harbour for anything interesting. A Black-tailed Godwit was using its dagger-like beak to probe the sands for invertebrates with a few Ringed Plovers scurrying around. The tide was disappointingly low meaning most birds were too far away for decent shots. Clinging to the rocks 100m out there was a large flock of Sandwich Terns. We saw a few more near the harbour so we decided to investigate. On our walk there I snapped a ubiquitous Pied Wagtail moving on the shore just below the promenade.

Black-tailed Godwit Ringed Plover Sandwich Tern Pied Wagtail

View of Port Seton Harbour taken from the harbour mouth:

At the very blustery and wet harbour mouth a Grey Seal gave us the once over before diving and reappearing briefly offshore. It was probably waiting for the return of a fishing boat, hoping for some scraps from the fishermen.  A Shag flew past, close in from the west (see Pictures of the Week“, below). As a fishing boat boat approached the harbour, a Goosander paddled furiously to get out of its way. And with that we had had enough of the weather so we retired to the car, our coats beginning to saturate with water.

Grey Seal Female Goosander Sandwich Tern

As we sipped our tea and devoured our cream jam scones in the comfort of the warm car, we both agreed that we’d done well to accumulate some good photos on such a dreich day. OK, we dipped  on a few birds - but so did the other birders we met. Surely though, after a month of inclement Sundays, by the law of averages at least, we must get decent weather next week?

Pictures of the Week:

Red Fox Dipper
Grey Seal Shag

4th August 2019:

Maidens and Turnberry Lighthouse

Well it happened again. A week of good weather then Sunday’s weather was to have been dull and damp. On checking my weather app I saw that there was a chance of brighter weather in south-east Ayrshire, as the front moved east. We headed for Maidens and Turnberry, places we hadn’t visited since the middle of last year. We had breakfast at Stewartfield Morrisons, East Kilbride (9.5/10: excellent) and made the long drive down the M77 and A77 (made longer because of a diversion at Kilmarnock) to Maidens, a former fishing village just south of Culzean Castle.
The tide was fairly low when we arrived and a few birds were foraging on the exposed harbour bed including Dunlin, a Common Gull and a Herring Gull. We walked out along the north side of the harbour and could see more Dunlin and a great number of gulls on the south end of the extensive beach. A juvenile Pied Wagtail flitted across our path, although it took a bit of spotting as the light was very poor due to the overcast sky.

Dunlin Breeding Plumage Common Gull Herring Gull Juvenile  Pied Wagtail

A Ringed Plover  was standing to attention, anxiously minding its pair of young, who were inexperienced enough to hang about watching our approach (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). We gave them a wide berth so as not to disturb them too much. A small group of Dunlin flew past in a flash on their way from the beach to the harbour. I snapped a shot of a distant Curlew picking its way along a temporary stream in the middle of the sands.

Oystercatcher Ringed Plover Dunlin Curlew

A view of Maidens Harbour  from the beach:

A noisy Oystercatcher skimmed the water as it sped past. A dozy Dunlin paid it little notice. As we sat scanning the beach I took a picture of a lonely Dog Whelk  stuck on top of a large boulder. These live in the zone between low and high tides (unlike the larger Common Whelk, which  doesn’t live in the inter-tidal zone).  I managed to grab a shot of an elusive Rock Pipit as it scurried around the rocks.

Oystercatcher Dunlin Dog Whelk Rock Pipit

As we made our way back to the car the light improved a bit. This seemed to encourage the insect world into action. We could see bees on the Perennial  Sow Thistles and a few Painted Lady butterflies skirting the taller vegetation of the foreshore. We watched a pair of Large White butterflies as they got frisky on some Sea Radish. Our final capture at Maidens was of a solitary male Pied Wagtail chasing flies on the deserted football pitch. I tried to edge closer to it for a better shot, but each time I nudged closer it fluttered further away.

Perennial Sow Thistle Painted Lady Large White Pied Wagtail

With the sun breaking through, we decided to try our luck about a mile to the south at Turnberry Lighthouse. The site is part of Trump Turnberry golf course. We parked in a small recently-built car park and set off on a 600m walk along a tarred road across the golf course to the lighthouse. The roadside is lined with bushes and rough grassland, as well as, as you would expect, manicured golf course grasses. We have found the road fairly productive in the past, and Sunday was to prove no different. Our first sighting was of a huge queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee  on Heather (Ling, Calluna Vulgaris ) (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Further on John drew my attention to a pair of Carrion Crows on a putting green. I started snapping straight away since I noticed that it was a parent Crow with its offspring, which was demanding food. The adult dutifully obliged with a small worm. Midway along the route John found our top spot of the visit, a Spotted Flycatcher  perched on a way marker. We have a lot in common with these bird as we both were looking for moths, butterflies and damselflies. But we only want to take their pictures rather than eat them. We passed lots of wildflowers of interest but the rain was coming on and the light had dimmed dramatically so I hoped the light level would have improved on the way back. Eventually we reached the lighthouse and, ignoring the rainy squall, we moved round it to take up position on the rocks that overlook the sea and sat out the brief. Immediately I got a dim shot of a Rock Pipit and soon after that, a juvenile Black-headed Gull glided past.

Carrion Crow Spotted Flycatcher Rock Pipit Juvenile Black-headed Gull

As the light improved slightly I got some reasonable shots of a passing Shag and then a gaping Cormorant. The next bird to pass is one of our favourites, the Gannet. It came fairly close in nice light so I got a fairly good photograph. Like a beginner, as I examined my efforts on my camera viewfinder, the Gannet did a u-turn and dived into the water before I had time to raise the camera. As we started back, I got a nice shot of an Oystercatcher posing on top of a rock.

Shag Cormorant Gannet Oystercatcher

Looking over the ruin of Turnberry Castle I could see just north of there, a small, rocky island where the Shags and Cormorants had probably been coming from. I found out later it was called Yellow Craig. From a distance it looked as though the birds may have been nesting there. There was a steady stream of golfers teeing off on the 7th hole, “Roon’ the Bend”, that overlooks the Bay. Most of the golfers I passed seemed to have transatlantic accents. I photographed lovely Field Bindweed that is common on the grassy banks around that part of the coast. I was pleased to see a newbie too, a Pied Hoverfly feeding on a purple Knapweed flower. Like the Painted Lady it is a migrant from Europe and North Africa.

Yellow Craig Gowf Field Bindweed Pied Hoverfly

We retraced our steps in bright sunshine, back towards the car park. A monument  on raised ground to the north dominated the view. A tall grey cross inscribed to the memory of airmen who had flown from the WW2 Turnberry Airfield, erected by people of the area. Traces of the runways still remain. As we paused to let golfers tee off I spied a bedraggled Green-veined White butterfly as it paused on a Cats Ear flower. Next I captured my favourite shot of the day, a Small Copper on Crooked Thistle (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). And, to complete a trio of butterfly finds, I managed a fairly decent photo of a butterfly that had given me the runaround for the whole day, a Meadow Brown, feeding on a Bramble flower.

Monument Green-veined White Small Copper Meadow Brown

In an uncultivated area of the golf course there were lots of Harebell flowers nodding in the gentle breeze. By the next golf hole we passed there was a timid, and puzzled juvenile Starling. A golf ball had just landed on the green, and I think it didn’t know what to make of it. A juvenile Pied Wagtail was our penultimate capture. It was aware of our presence but continued foraging, moving to keep a steady safe distance between us. With my car it sight, we were ambling to the end of our walk when we were nearly caught out by a male Yellowhammer  that seemed to come from nowhere to land in front of us on top of a tall roadside bush. It gave us a wee song before flying off.

Harebell Juvenile Starling Juvenile Pied Wagtail Yellowhammer

So despite the poor light and occasional light rain we had a very enjoyable time at each of the sites we visited. The Yellowhammer was the icing on the cake, but the find of the day has to be the Spotted Flycatcher. Talking of cakes, we consumed delightfully moist lemon cream muffins with our tea before tackling the long drive home.  Here’s hoping our run of dull Sundays doesn’t continue next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Ringed Plover Juvenile Ringed Plover
Buff-tailed Bumblebee Small Copper

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