Archive - December 2017
 

31st December 

Belhaven Bay 

The last visit of the year was on Hogmanay, to Belhaven Bay. Once again the weather along the Central Belt was predicted to be wild, wet and windy, except for the Dunbar coast, which was to have been just wild and windy, but, significantly, with a chance of sunshine. And so it turned out. After a speedy journey east, that I felt I hardly had to press the accelerator as the gale-force wind was at my back, I was on my own again for Dalkeith Morrisons breakfast (9.5/10) as John was preparing for New Year celebrations. Then after a 20 minute drive further east to the car park at Belhaven Bay I stepped out into the sunshine and immediately got my first shot - a Curlew feeding on the salt marsh. With it were quite a few Wigeon and Oystercatchers highlighted nicely by the low midday winter sunlight. As I walked west along the path that followed the seawall I was startled briefly by a very fine Little Egret that I had unwittingly disturbed. It flew into the area of the Seafield Pond, where I was headed. 

Curlew
Wigeon
Oystercatcher
Little Egret





The tide was in and as I scanned the inner Bay, the birds I could see, on and above the water, were almost all gulls, predominantly Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls. Some Mallards were dotted about and some more Wigeon. 

Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Herring Gull
Mallard



At the Pond I caught up with the Little Egret which was perched on a tree along with a pair of Grey Herons. On a raft in the middle of the pond a young Cormorant was drying its wings, but apart from these the pond was very quiet. I plodded back to the car intending to move on but then noticed three Little Egrets by the seawall. I got back out of the car and marched back over the wall to get some nice shots, nicely lit and from close range. I think the birds must have been tired as they didn’t take off as I photographed them, as I’m sure they must have seen me, and the walkers who passed. I returned to the car for a cuppa, pleased with the pictures I had so far. Right beside the car a small flock of Greenfinches landed long enough for me to snap a decent shot.

Little Egret
Cormorant
Little Egret
Greenfinch




After tea, as the light was still fine, I had another wee walk along the seawall where I observed the antics of some really close-in Wigeon. One particular pair were mating, the female almost submerged. She had good post-coital flap of her wings before she and her mate got back to foraging.


Wigeon
au naturel




As I headed back west into the wind and rain and dullness I felt satisfied with my collection of shots. Let the Hogmanay festivities begin! 

Pictures of the Week:

Little Egret
Cormorant


Wigeon
Little Egret



24th December 2017

Skateraw and Spott

I headed East, alone this week as John had “seasonal family duties” to perform. So after the usual Dalkeith Morrisons’ breakfast and a check of my weather app I determined that my best chance of sunshine was at Skateraw. It was a brave decision as the rest of the Central Belt was experiencing dull and damp weather, and, as I arrived at the car park, it was raining. But, the clouds seemed to be parting, and I saw that there were birds waiting to be photographed. So off I went. The first birds captured were a few Mallards close to the shore. Near them a small flock of Ringed Plovers were scurrying along the water’s edge, stopping suddenly every so often to check me out. I edged my way around the Harbour and settled below the edge of Chapel Point to shelter from the very stiff breeze. A Cormorant flew overhead just as I noticed a Whimbrel quite far out on the exposed rocks. It took flight and landed a bit closer (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Mallard
Ringed Plover
Cormorant
Whimbrel




At this point the sun made an appearance. The Barns Ness Lighthouse sat brightly amid the background of the very dark grey rain clouds. A group of Cormorants on the rocks was similarly illuminated. I then heard a familiar chirping of a Wagtail that had flown in and landed before me. It hopped its way across the rocks, occasionally making rapid detours to catch the odd passing fly. From its plumage I could see it was a White Wagtail. I moved northward round the shore until I came upon a pile of seaweed where Redshanks and Rock Pipits were foraging for invertebrates.

Barns Ness Lighthouse
Cormorant
White Wagtail
Redshank




I paused there for a time as I sheltered from a brief passing shower. As I sat there, waves were breaking violently on rocks just offshore. After the squall had passed I pressed on along the shore towards some Oystercatchers, and beyond them, some Wigeon. Behind these, the sky over the sea was rainbow coloured – caused probably by the remnants of the rain I’d just experienced. As I edged out towards the water’s edge I discovered a Curlew probing the beach.


Oystercatcher

Curlew




I then managed some decent shots of a male and a female Wigeon before they noticed me and paddled away leaving a Bar-tailed Godwit alone at the water’s edge. It too saw me but looked as though it was in two minds as to whether or not it should take flight. A 1st cycle Herring Gull flew just overhead seemingly encouraging me on.

Wig
eon
Bar-tailed Godwit
1st Cycle Herring Gull




Eventually I reached Dryburn where about 100 Gulls were gathered on rocks but I could see rain approaching so I decided to make my way back to the car. As I reached the beach I noticed the Ringed Plovers were still there, this time well lit by sunlight. I also saw a Sanderling and a couple of Dunlin. A pair of Oystercatchers were also working away on the shore (see “Pictures of the Week”, below), and beyond them, a Curlew picking its way carefully among the rocks.

Herring Gulls
Ringed Plover
Sanderling
Dunlin




I decided to move make my way back west, but via the fields around Spott to see if there were any geese there. As I left Skateraw I was surprised to find Pink-footed Geese in the field beside the road. By this time the light was fading so I proceeded towards Spott. My luck was in as I noticed a few Red-legged Partridges pecking at the roadside. Further along the road the adjacent fields held more Pinkfoots. They watched me nervously as I took a few pictures. I didn’t put them up but wished somehow I should have as it would have made for some nice pictures.

Curlew
Pink-footed  Geese
Red-legged Partridges
Pink-footed  Geese


And that was that for this week. I drove west filled with a fair degree of satisfaction. I wonder how many walkers, birders or, photographers were cowering indoors from the rain when they could have come to East Lothian for a wonderful time – Merry Christmas!

Pictures of the Week

White Wagtail
Whimbrel


Oystercatcher
Red-legged Partridge



17th December 2017

Troon, Irvine Harbour and Ardeer Quarry LNR

As we set off west it was raining but was predicted to have cleared by early afternoon. There had been a report of an Iceland Gull in Troon, so we were headed there hoping the weathe arrived arrived rman was right. We had a pit stop at East Kilbride Stewartfield Morrisons where we had a very enjoyable breakfast (9/10). When we eventually arrived at Troon Harbour, the rain, and more annoyingly, the light was not conducive to good pictures. However, we pressed on, and it wasn’t long before I had captured images of a passing Cormorant and a Rock Pipit. John spotted a Herring Gull tackling a crab, pestered all the time by an eager 1st cycle juvenile, maybe one of its young.

Cormorant
Rock Pipit
Herring Gull
1st Cycle Herring Gull




Lady Isle to the SW of Troon became visible – evidence that the rain was clearing. I snapped a Starling as it leapt from inside a litter bin and a lone Redshank stood at the water’s edge, but there were very few other birds about. We moved round to the harbour but we didn’t see the Iceland Gull but there were plenty of Eider.

Lady Isle
Starling
Redshank
Eider




We then moved north of the harbour to scan the shoreline for any waders. Apart from a few Redshanks there were no waders but in the bushes above the shore we came across Collared Doves lurking in the gloom. Beyond them we saw a large flock of Greenfinches and Goldfinches, but they were very flighty and it was a wee while before I managed any decent shots. We decided to move up the coast to Irvine Harbour, but all we saw there were a colourful piebald feral Pigeon and a passing Shag.

Collard Dove
Greenfinch
Piebald Feral Pigeon
Shag



We moved on again to another location, Ardeer Quarry LNR, Stevenston. We were greeted by a large family of Mute Swans. The cygnets were less than pleased that we didn’t feed them, showing their displeasure by hissing loudly as we moved past them. There were Tufted Ducks and Mallards on the pond but were were more interested in the small group of Duclair Ducks moving about the reedbed. Our final destination was Stevenston Point. We moved there to have tea and a Danish but before the water was poured John spotted a small Common Seal attempting to crawl onto the slipway. It seemed to have been in the wars, showing some sort of injury on its right lip. As we photographed the seal, a flock of Dunlin swept past and landed about a 100m away.

Mute Swan
Duclair Duck
Common Seal
Dunlin




We sheltered from the stiff wind behind the sea wall and had our tea and Danish. It had been a bit of a damp dash around multiple sites and although we failed in our original mission of locating the Iceland Gull, we had some good shots in the camera despite the unfavourable conditions.

Pictures of the Week:

Herring Gull
Collared Dove


Starling
Common Seal



10th December 2017


Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

I was on my own this week as John had family business. The weather, always the primary consideration, was cold, but, with cloudless sunny skies, I headed west to Stevenston Point to see what it could offer me by way of natural spectacles. I had a lovely, lonely brekky (9/10) in Stevenston Morrisons to set me up with the calories I’d need to combat the frosty coastal air. After parking on the Point I couldn’t fail to be immediately impressed by the panorama before me. Arran, cloaked white in snow, surrounded by the richest shades of blue from the sky above it and the sea before it. Amid this awesome scene the Ardrossan Ferry seemed tiny as it crept towards Brodick. Much nearer I noticed flocks of birds foraging in the shallows. Redshank, Black-headed Gulls and Sanderling frantically scoured the sands and rocks for a precious food. In the background my peace was continuously disturbed by the annoying droning of motorcycles that were speeding up and down Ardeer sands. It was time to move on.

Arran
Redshank
Sanderling
1st Cycle Black-headed Gull




I next tried my luck at Saltcoats Harbour. Beautifully marked Starlings were scurrying around the grass verges of the car park. The rock pools in the Harbour held a few Redshanks and a solitary Dunlin that was probing small rocks and weed just below the sea wall. I walked out to the south end of the Harbour and was delighted to discover a group of busy Purple Sandpipers exploring the rocks. I disturbed some Oystercatchers as I crept carefully around the end of the wall to get a better angle for shots of the Purple Sands.

Starling
Dunlin
Purple Sandpiper
Oystercatcher




As I returned to the car, the sun light illuminated a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls, probably parent and juvenile, sunbathing on the sea wall. On another part of the wall, a cock Feral Pigeon tried his luck, stopping and prancing as he attempted to catch the eye of a seemingly disinterested female. My final capture was of a well-lit Carrion Crow eyeing me up lest I dropped something edible.

Great Black-backed Gull
1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull
Feral Pigeon
Carrion Crow




My final stop of the day was Irvine Harbour. The confluence of the Rivers Garnock and Irvine were surprisingly active with various divers – Mergansers, Grey Seals and Cormorants. By this time the sun was starting to set and was reddening by the second, adding a pleasing, rich, ruddy hue to my photos.

Female Red Breasted Merganser
Male Red Breasted Merganser
Common Seal
Cormorant




A pair of Mute Swans cruised past just as a large flock of Wigeon swept past overhead. I think the flock were spooked by a passing boat carrying four technical-looking guys dressed in high-vis waterproofs and headgear. A Curlew and a Grey Heron on the bank were unconcerned by all the commotion and simply got on with their business.

Mute Swan
Wigeon
Curlew
Grey Heron




After a quick cuppa, it was back up the M77, fairly satisfied with my haul of photos.

Pictures of the week:

Arran


Starling
Purple Sandpiper



3rd December 2017

Doonfoot and  Loans near Troon

We headed west this week, primarily to check out reports of Pink-footed Geese south of Loans near Troon in Ayrshire. After a rather disappointing breakfast in Kilmarnock ASDA (5/10 – served on cold plates), we made our way down the A77 then up the A78 to the turnoff for Loans. We found the Geese right where they were supposed to be, sitting in a big field south of Loans. I took several rather boring pictures of them nibbling grass and just as we were about to move on they were disturbed by something and took to the air enabling me to get some more spectacular photos. John estimated there were around 800 birds, mainly Pink-footed and Greylag Geese, but I did spot a Barnacle flying with the Pinkies.

Pink-Footed Geese
Greylag Goose
Barnacle Goose
Pink-Footed Geese




The vast multitudes of geese circulating the air above Loan made an awesome sight. Right in the middle of the field stood a Grey Heron, probably wondering what all the fuss was about. Eventually the geese settled in the far side of the field. This was our signal to move on to Doonfoot on the south side of Ayr, the “toon that all surpasses for honest men and bonny lassies”. Burns might have added that there are quite a few birds there too. Moments after parking near the mouth of the Doon we found a small flock of very pretty Teal. They were obviously used to people walking past their wee pond as I was able to get to fairly close (~10m) for my shots.

Grey Heron
Pink-Footed Geese Te
al




A large number of birds were assembled in the river shallows. Carrion Crows and Jackdaws were having a water bath. Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls were merely standing, probably waiting on the tide receding.

Carrion Crows
Jackdaw
Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull




Overhead, Lapwings were performing aerial acrobatics as they moved from one unsatisfactory site to another. A Common Gull joined the merry throng, and, as I snapped it mid-flight, I happened to notice a tight group of Redshanks with Lapwings and Turnstones on the opposite bank.

We moved on to Greenan Shore at this point, a site dominated by the ruin of Greenan Castle.

Lapwing
Common Gull
Lapwing
Greenan Castle




As we left the car, we were met by a jolly little Pied Wagtail. It was unconcerned with my pictures-taking antics and I managed to capture some nice shots. On the sea, a lonely Mute Swan bobbed about carelessly as several Redshanks scoured the shoreline for titbits. Apart from these birds, the Shore was very quiet so we moved back along an adjacent field. We immediately came across a Wren darting about the undergrowth.

Pied Wagtail
Mute Swan
Redshank
Wren




In the midst of the now leaf-free bushes I also caught sight of a lovely Robin (see “Pictures of the week”). The wildflowers should all be gone by now, but due to the mild weather a few hardy specimens were still in bloom, such as Red Campion and Black Nightshade. All that remained, though, of the umbilifers that were so plentiful at the height of summer, were brown and brittle skeletons that were, nevertheless, quite attractive. I nearly got a good shot of a restless Goldcrest. I had to settle for the south view as it headed north.

Red Campion
Black Nightshade
Umbilifer
Goldcrest




I had a bit more luck with a shy Greenfinch sitting amid the bush branches. At least it was there, as proof that the species is recovering from its recent disastrous disease. As we trekked back along the beach, I took a few photos of an Oystercatcher and one of the town of Ayr, well lit across Ayr Bay. Our final capture of the day was one of the best, a female Stonechat in the field behind the car park. As I sidled ever-nearer to it, it actually took to the air and landed a few feet from me, allowing me to get some really good pictures.

Greenfinch
Ayr
Oystercatcher
Female Stonechat




As the northbound A77 was closed for re-surfacing, we had to travel home via the A78. We stopped off at Irvine Harbour for tea and chocolate eclairs. No photos were taken there – we had enough already. As we supped tea, Herring Gulls circled above our heads hoping to get some eclair action – note a hope!

Pictures of the week:

Teal
Pied Wagtail


Robin
Stonechat


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