Archive - December 2022

Week ending: 30, 31 December: Hogganfield Park LNR (Map)

Weather-wise, it was a miserable end to the year. Our usual jaunt to the coast was postponed once again due to Festive duties. However, I did manage a couple of short, but productive visits to Hogganfield Park LNR ( Website).

Courtesy of Weather Pro 

My first visit was on Friday afternoon. The rain abated temporarily, and the Sun even made a brief appearance as I parked, so I set off smartly while the rain was having a rest. As usual there were birds by the lochside car park: Herring Gulls, Goosanders and Whooper Swans  but there weren’t any Mute Swans. I was especially concerned by this as there had been an outbreak of bird flu at the park resulting in the death of many birds, mainly Mute Swans

1st Cycle Herring Gull Herring Gull
Drake Goosander Whooper Swan

There were a few Moorhens and more than a few quarrelsome Coots  at the car park end of the Loch. As usual, there were also many Feral Pigeons waiting for the next bread-throwing individual. Warning signs were posted instructing people NOT to feed the birds since the crowding increases the risk of spreading the virus throughout the bird population and also may infect dogs and even humans. Unfortunately there is a sort of individual who treats such a warning as a challenge. On my two visits there was never a time when there wasn’t at least one person standing by the warning signs throwing bread. The birds of course were delighted, especially the Black-headed Gulls. Realising that there was nothing I could do about it, I redirected my attentions to the Goldeneyes diving yards from the water’s edge and the lively Whooper Swans.

Coot Moorhen
Feral Pigeon Black-headed Gull
Goldeneye Whooper Swan

I set off on an anticlockwise circuit of the site. Very soon I came across the heartening sight of a large flock of Mute Swans amassed in the southwest corner of the Loch. I can only guess why they had all gathered there; maybe it was part of their courtship behaviour.

I snapped a Magpie foraging on the short grass as a honking Canada Goose and female Mallard flew past. I turned right onto the rough path past the wee pond where I encountered a group of Bullfinches that were feeding, or perhaps drinking from the footpath. I heard some Fieldfares darting overhead and managed a decent record shot before they vanished behind the trees.

Magpie Canada Goose
Bullfinch Fieldfare

I was delighted to see some Roe Deer  at close quarters as they drifted slowly through the undergrowth. At first they were no more than about 10m from the path until they were spooked by a passing high-viz cyclist.

The rest of my circuit was fruitless and it had started to rain, so I called it a day. I returned to the park on Saturday, despite the weather conditions being damp and grey. However I pressed on, determined to get some more decent pictures and made an encouraging start with a shot of a young Great Crested Grebe as it dived just beyond the usual melee at the car park. Mute Swans were in attendance on this occasion, as well as the Whoopers. A park official was dispatching a sack of feed into the Loch, attracting bids from far and wide. Moorhens and Coots were tucking in despite the turmoil created by the crowding of the much bigger birds.

Great Crested Grebe Mute Swan
Whooper Swan Moorhen

The Coots battled each other for the best feeding territory.

Tufted Ducks had joined the party, although they were sweeping up seed from the periphery rather than getting stuck into the rabble. Again, I spent some time observing the Goldeneyes as they made repeated dives underneath the feeding birds. Each time a Goldeneye surfaced it hightailed it, squawking, away from the dangers of the feeding zone.

Female Tufted Duck Drake Tufted Duck
Drake Goldeneye...
Female Goldeneye

Once again I set off on my customary circuit of the park. Near the play park I noticed a pair of Mute Swans getting all lovey-dovey . I watched to see if I could get the classic shot of their heads and neck in the shape of a heart - close, but no banana! There was a large Grey Heron perching on branches on the east side of the island, and near the wee pond I photographed a Blue Tit as it moved rather acrobatically about the high branches. I was excited to see a Kestrel sitting high on a branch of a distant tall tree just beyond the east end of the loch. I attempted to get a closer shot but the bird was aware of me and kept a distance between us. 

Mute Swan Grey Heron
Blue Tit Kestrel

As my circuit neared completion, another Blue Tit landed on a low bush, this time about 4m away, rather than 40m. It posed nicely for me, although the light was fading. Near the car park there were damp Velvet Shank mushrooms at the base of a lochside tree stump, while a couple of Mallards paddled beyond the other side of the stump. Back at the car, a bold Coot left the safety of the water to search the bank for any remaining seed grains. I finished the trip with pictures of a 2nd year Black-headed Gull and a pretty Feral Pigeon hybrid.

Blue Tit Velvet Shank
Mallard Coot
2nd Cycle Black-headed Gull Feral Pigeon

There’s always something to see at Hogganfield and that’s why it is one of my favourite places to visit. Now that the Festive Season has passed, John and I should manage a trip further afield, hopefully in fairer weather. A guid New Year tae yin an’ a’

Week ending: 24,25th December 2022: Strathclyde County Park

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, I had to curtail my ramblings but managed an hour’s walk in Strathclyde Country Park (Website) on Christmas Eve and also Christmas Day. Once again John couldn’t make it, so I once again had to rely on my own spotting. The weather was a bit hit and miss and, as it turned out, Saturday was a hit, but Sunday was a bit of a miss (as indicated by my WeatherPro app, below).

Courtesy of Weather Pro 

When I arrived at the Foreshore car park there was hardly a cloud in the sky. There were Mute Swans feeding on the short grass and the sound of flocks of lively Carrion Crows was emanating from the surrounding trees. At the lochside I spotted one strangely marked crow, a hybrid of Carrion Crow and Hooded Crow . By the water’s edge there was a large Canada Goose standing on one leg and a few Greylag Geese were nibbling grass.

Mute Swan Carrion x Hooded Crow
Canada Goose Greylag Goose

A trio of honking Greylags flew in, circling the area briefly before descending dramatically onto the grass.

I set off towards the bridge over the mouth of the South Calder. There were a few Mallards on the river. As I photographed one, a small blue bird darted past. It was a Kingfisher. I managed to see it land but, typically it was in an area surrounded by dense bushes so all I managed was a shot of its back. As I approached the footbridge I scanned the boom that  was stretched across the river to catch debris before it emptied into the Loch where it might interfere with the various watersports activities. There were a couple of Goosanders poking around the debris gathered at the boom and also a large Grey Heron. There was also a well-illuminated drake Mallard preening by the water’s edge. I crossed the bridge and walked past the preserved ruin of a Roman Bathhouse. A female Mallard paddled along the river in line with me as I walked along the riverside footpath.

Drake Mallard Kingfisher
Female Goosander Grey Heron
Drake Mallard Female Mallard

I heard some unfamiliar bird calls from overhead and on looking up immediately realised it was a Sparrowhawk  being mobbed by a couple of Crows. I was lucky enough to snap them just before they vanished behind the treetops by the site of the Roman Fort. 1

The Sparrowhawk, a male, evaded the crows rather easily and returned briefly a few moments later. I noticed a few Goldeneyes diving in the Loch and also a few Goosanders, some of which were drying off on a large chunk of tree about 100 mts away from the mouth of the river.

Sparrowhawk Goldeneye
Female Goosander Drake Goosander

A large number of Cormorants were assembled along what looked like a long tree log.

I came across a Buzzard  that was perched on a small tree. It was only about 40m from the footpath and was watching me as I calmly photographed it. I returned to the edge of the Loch trying not to spook it, but to no avail, since a dog walker managed to put it up. However that allowed me to take a few flight shots of it before it flew over the treetops and out of site.


On my way back to the car I spied two Grey Squirrels high up on the roadside tree nibbling it’s fruits. I think the smaller of the two was a juvenile. They too were frightened off, this time by a passing cyclist with blaring radio.

Grey Squirrel

On Christmas Day I parked at the south end of the park. The weather was wet, cold and dull. However I waited for a lull in the rain and set off for a simple walk around the edge of the Loch. I was looking for the reported Ring-billed Gull, probably the same bird that visited last year. I remembered that it preferred to perch on a large buoy labelled “F”. No such luck as that berth was taken on Sunday by a Common Gull. There were Goldeneyes near the Finishing Tower, as well as plenty of Mute Swans. Almost every orange lane buoy was occupied with a perching bird, mainly juvenile Herring Gulls, although there was a Great Black-backed Gull  among them and a few diving Goosanders. Of course there were also large numbers of Black-headed Gulls.

Common Gull Goldeneye
Mute Swan 1st Cycle Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull Black-headed Gull

Below is a view of the Boathouse and Finishing Tower as seen from the opposite side of the Loch.

I walked to the Beach car park where I was watched carefully by a Jackdaw as it waited for the next feeders to arrive. On the Loch, a pair of Cormorants surfaced but I could hardly see them through the gloom caused by the approaching rain. Before I returned to the car though, I photographed a group of Greylag Geese honking on the small sandy beach and also a hybrid duck, a cross of Domestic (Mallard) and Muscovy ducks, a nice find to end my brief visit to my favourite park.

Jackdaw Cormorant
Greylag Goose Mallard x Muscovy Hybrid

I was very pleased with my sightings over the two short afternoon visits. The highlights were the raptors, the squirrels and the hybrid duck. Next weekend will be New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, so will probably be another pair of mini-outings, probably in similar weather conditions. I’m looking forward to it.

Week ending: 18th December 2022: Musselburgh

The weather prediction for Sunday was quite depressing: still icy cold but cloudy and windy with heavy rain moving in from the Southwest. My best option seemed to be in the East, where those conditions would arrive by mid-afternoon. So my plan was to do a whizz-bang tour of my favourite spots in Musselburgh, aiming to get sufficient sightings for this blog - and then hightail it home to catch the start of the World Cup final. My faithful companion, John, had to call off, so it would be a solo mission, but one I was looking forward to. Could I take decent pictures in wet and windy conditions?

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

To save time, I didn’t have my customary Morrisons breakfast, so after a comfortable drive along the M8 and A1, I arrived at Levenhall Links car park and I was soon pointing my camera lens at an accommodating Carrion Crow that was standing on a frozen mound at the edge of the car park. The light was very poor and the few birds I could see on the Firth of Forth were too far out for decent pictures. The Scrapes were equally disappointing. They were covered with layers of ice and the only bird I saw was a Carrion Crow ripping into what looked like a frozen bird carcass.

Carrion Crow

Disappointed but not discouraged, I returned to the car and drove to the Millhill car park, by the River Esk. I was delighted to see and hear many birds in the area. As soon as I got out of the car I was accosted by a hungry juvenile Herring Gull bounding down the riverside footpath. There were many adult Herring Gulls on the river shallows, as well as the smaller Black-headed Gulls. Also the usual Mute Swans and Mallards were present, but not in any great numbers.

1st Cycle Herring Gull Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull Mute Swan / Mallard

I could hear birds chattering above me, most of which were Starlings, but but I also photographed Goldfinches  and Woodpigeons. Their cousins, the Feral Pigeons were on the slipway below, awaiting bread-throwing humans.

Starling Goldfinch
Wood Pigeon Feral Pigeon

I walked further upstream towards the New Bridge and I came across Mallards that were very mobile, probably due to courtship behaviour. The males were competing for the attention of the females, but their attentions didn’t seem to be entirely appreciated by the females, who frequently took to the wing, only to be pursued by the hot-blooded drakes. I suspect it was a similar story for the Goosanders I saw, as they too were similarly mobile.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard
Female Goosander Drake Goosander

One frantic female Goosander flew in and made a big splash opposite where I was standing. However, a drake appeared within seconds to carry on his quest for a mate.

I passed under the New Bridge and continued towards the Roman Bridge and managed a few shots of a Moorhen that was foraging on a narrow island. Near the island, a female Goldeneye appeared but was off as soon as it saw me. I heard the familiar calls of a flock of Long-tailed Tits moving about the bushes on the island. There were also Blue Tits accompanying the them.

Moorhen Female Goldeneye
Long-tailed Tit Blue Tit

A large flock of Canada Geese  were grazing on the grass by the Roman Bridge. They didn’t seem to mind my presence.

 Most of the geese were around the Musselburgh Archer statue. I got some nice shots of the birds as they argued, flapped and fed. Also, I noticed a couple of Canada X Greylag hybrids among the flock. As I walked back to the car I got some nice shots of a Herring Gull on a Council bin and a shabby Oystercatcher searching the short grass for worms and snails.

Canada Goose...
Canada x Greylag Hybrid
Herring Gull Oystercatcher

I scanned the River Esk as I drove down Goose Green Crescent and sure enough I spotted something of interest. A sizeable flock of Wigeon were on the river beside the opposite bank. They were probably feeding on the grass and had taken to the safety of the water after being spooked by a dog .

After photographing the Wigeon, I continued my short drive to the Eskmouth, parking near the Cadet Hall. The tide was going out and birds were starting to gather at the edges of the estuary as the rocky seabed became exposed. A drake Wigeon was one such bird. Next, I noticed a Ringed Plover which was almost impossible to see when standing still in the dim light. Rather easier to see was a lone Curlew. A couple of Dunlin turned up and then a Black-tailed Godwit. Perhaps my favourite sighting of the day was a Grey Plover that toddled along the shallows looking rather forlorn.

Wigeon Ringed Plover
Curlew Dunlin
Bar-tailed Godwit Grey Plover

Earlier I witnessed the courtship shenanigans of Mallards and Goosanders. A similar sort of story was playing out on the River Esk estuary. The birds this time were Goldeneyes. The drakes try to get the attention of the females by throwing back their heads onto their rear accompanied with a high croaking sound called a peent.


As I photographed the Goldeneyes, I admired the dull but still impressive panorama to the west. The left of the picture shows the impressive snow-covered Pentland Hills far in the distance behind Portobello with Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat prominent on the right.

On my way back to the car I photographed some Turnstones that flew in from the opposite bank. They settled on the water’s edge just below the sea wall. They seemed to set off a pair of Oystercatchers that started their annoying high-pitched calls. My final picture was of a Bar-tailed Godwit passing one of the protesting Oystercatchers.

Oystercatcher Bar-tailed Godwit

Satisfied with my haul of photographs, I headed home. It had been good timing because as I left, the light deteriorated and it started to rain. As I drove home, I decided that my favourite shots were of the Grey Plover and the Tits and I enjoyed observing the various courting birds. I think I achieved my objective. Mission accomplished.

Week ending: 11th December 2022: Doonfoot

My WeatherPro app predicted cold and bright weather for the Ayrshire coast so we headed to Doonfoot, our first visit there since July. We tried out the cafe in Castlehill Road Morrisons. It was the first time we’d been there and we were very pleased with our breakfasts (9/10: very good, -1 for cold toast) so we’ll probably return there on future outings.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The sky was blue, the Sun was low but bright with a golden glow and there was hardly a breeze. It was cold though, but we were well-wrapped. We parked at the Castle Walk car park and immediately were surrounded by birds. I hurriedly unpacked my camera and within a few minutes I had photographed a Song Thrush , Robin and Greenfinch , all within a few metres of the car. The pond adjacent to the car park was frozen over but I saw (but didn’t photograph) Teal flying from there, disturbed by a few kids playing with ice. We walked towards the mouth of the River Doon, encountering House Sparrows and a female Blackbird in the bushes and also a pair of Rooks foraging on the short grass.

Song Thrush Robin
Female Greenfinch House Sparrow
Female Blackbird Rook

Looking south from the river we could see the familiar view of the ruin of Greenan Castle.

The incoming tide was approaching its maximum height so there were fewer birds there than we would have liked. Even so, I got pleasing shots of a Black-headed Gull, a flying Carrion Crow, possibly leucistic, and a Redshank, all close to the footbridge that spans the river. Further out on the water there were a few diving Goldeneye and various birds flying past, such as Teal  and Crows.

Black-headed Gull Leucistic Carrion Crow
Redshank Goldeneye
Teal Carrion Crow

John drew my attention to a large flock of Turnstones that were flying along the opposite bank. They settled on a rocky section across the river from us, where we could see a large deposit of beached seaweed. Since seaweed equals wee beasties equals bird feeding frenzy we decided to cross the footbridge to investigate.

As we crossed the bridge, John pointed out a large group of snoozing Redshanks on the river bank and a Little Grebe that was diving in the blue water below us.

Redshank Little Grebe

Below is the view towards Ayr as seen from the bridge.

A bold male Stonechat  was keeping a beady eye on us as we stepped off the bridge. As we suspected, there were many birds feeding on and around the seaweed. I quickly fired off shots of Dunnock, Starlings and Rock Pipit  as they scurried over the stinking weed catching emerging invertebrates. 

Stonechat Dunnock
Starling Rock Pipit

We got closer views of the Turnstones we had seen fly in. As their name suggests, they turn over stones as they search busily along the water’s edge for invertebrates. Just beyond them on the water there were several Teal doing much the same, only beneath the water. My attention turned back to the seaweed when I heard an incoming Pied Wagtail that landed near the Turnstones and then hopped over to the smelly pile of seaweed.

Drake Teal Female Teal
Robin Female Pied Wagtail

Accompanying the Wagtail was a Dunnock and then John spied a wee Wren nipping in and out of view among boulders and light scrub. John used his binoculars to keep track of its movements until I managed to snap it when it briefly climbed onto some branches. Next, a very pretty female Stonechat appeared, not far from where we were sitting. With the Sun behind me, I managed to carefully approach the bird and get a photograph without upsetting it.

Dunnock Rock Pipit
Wren Female Stonechat

Looking back across the river, I could see where we were standing earlier was now flooded by the incoming tide leaving only a narrow spit of sand which was occupied by some gulls, mainly young Great Black-backed Gulls.

We were pleased to see a male Linnet near the seaweed. It was soon disturbed by a large, but beautiful Carrion Crow, it’s glossy, black plumage shining in the bright, winter sunshine. We decided to move back to the car and from there drive a few hundred meters down the coast to the Greenan car park. But before we had even reached the footbridge, the “birdfest” continued with shots of a pair of Turnstones, a juvenile Stonechat and two sightings of Song Thrushes, one on the seaweed, and the other in the weedy undergrowth.

Linnet Carrion Crow
Turnstone Juvenile Stonechat
Song Thrush...

By the time we had reached the Greenan car park, the Sun had become obscured by clouds. We did however, set off to walk up to and around the castle ruin. John quickly noticed yet another Song Thrush which was standing about 20m away on the machair as it tackled some morsel it had caught. The beach beyond it was birdless at high tide, although a single Mute Swan glided over the water some 50m out. We found several Greenfinches feeding on the Hawthorns by the machair and John spotted a Redshank, curiously bobbing its head up and down.

Song Thrush Mute Swan
Greenfinch Female Greenfinch

The light worsened so we decided to climb up to the castle before returning to the car. I’m glad we did because we got a lovely twilight panoramic view of the castle.

My final shots were of an Oystercatcher passing below the Castle and a Robin bobbing in other short grass just before the car park.

Oystercatcher Robin

I can’t recall a visit when we made as many sightings in such a short period of time. The majority of birds in this blog were photographed within the first hour. My favourites this week were the Stonechats and Teal. Needless to say, we rewarded ourselves with tea and chocolate eclairs, then, we drove up the A77/M77 with a sense of satisfaction and with hope that we could repeat the process next week.

Week ending: 4th December 2022: Stevenston, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

On Sunday we headed for the North Ayrshire coast - Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine, since, according to my WeatherPro iPhone app, the rest of Central Scotland was to be in the path of frequent showers moving in from the east. We had breakfast in Stewartfield Morrisons which, I’m sad to report, got our day off on the wrong foot (4/10: poor, due to poor reception at the till, the very long wait for the arrival of our meals and the fact that most of our breakfast items were cold. Apart from that it was fine).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

We arrived to find Stevenston Point bathed in late Autumn sunshine, but we could see that the surrounding areas of land and sea were cloud-covered and that it seemed just a matter of time until the cloud would block out our sunshine. Below is the view of Saltcoats as we looked north from the Point.

Unfortunately most the birds on the rocky “end” of the Point were silhouetted by the low sun to the south-west. However, a wee nosey
Rock Pipit landed near us in a ideal orientation for a picture. A large group of Oystercatchers were also well placed but were sleeping. A few Shags and some Gulls were least well placed and difficult to make out with the sun behind them. John also alerted me to a pair of birds, probably Guillemots, that were diving at least 250m from the shore. He also spotted a young Shag that was diving just off the north side of the Point.

Rock Pipit Oystercatcher
Shag Common Guillemot
Juvenile Shag...

Not far behind the diving Shag, a first-winter Herring Gull was diving repeatedly in the shallows, presumably for small fish.

1st Cycle Herring Gull

On our way to Saltcoats we stopped briefly at Auchenharvie Loch which is almost surrounded by a golf course. There is a small pond near the entrance to the golf course, where a few Mute Swans and Mallards were feeding on the pond. We were amused for a time by a pair of Jackdaws foraging around the car. At the Loch I could see a large flock of Canada Geese and three Mute Swans on the opposite bank. There were also Herring Gulls, an adult and a 2nd winter Great Black-backed Gull.

Mute Swan Mallard
Jackdaw Canada Goose...
Great Black-backed Gull

We next drove the half mile to Saltcoats Harbour where the outgoing tide was emptying the harbour of water. We noticed a few Turnstones scouring the damp harbour floor for invertebrates. We could also see a couple of Ringed Plovers and an Oystercatcher with the same idea. A bonny wee Starling was foraging on a seaweed pile and a lone Redshank waded in a large rock pool.

Turnstone Ringed Plover
Oystercatcher Curlew
Starling Redshank

As we walked along the promenade, a quartet of Mute Swans powered north, probably aiming to join other swans at the old paddling pools beyond the harbour.

We doubled back to investigate the opposite side of the harbour. From the pier we watched a young shag battling a flat fish it had just caught. It made several unsuccessful attempts to swallow it before it was pestered by, first a Herring Gull and then a Great Black-backed Gull. In the end the fish was lost and all three birds left with nothing. Presumably, the fish didn’t survive the battle, but you never know.

A flock of at least 80 Dunlin flew into the opposite side of the harbour and populated a long exposed section of rock.

As I confirmed the identity of the Dunlins from my camera, a drake Red-breasted Merganser sped past the harbour mouth. I also spotted, what at first I thought was a Redshank on the rocks at the end of the sea wall, but which I soon realised was a Purple Sandpiper.

Dunlin Red-breasted Merganser
Purple Sandpiper...

Happy with our sightings at Saltcoats we relocated about 8 miles south to Irvine Harbour. It was pretty gloomy when we arrived, but when we looked onto the confluence of the River Irvine and River Garnock John pointed out a surfacing Common Seal and I spotted a Grey Heron on the opposite bank. A bold Pied Wagtail and a few Jackdaws were busy foraging on the promenade.

Common Seal Grey Heron
Pied Wagtail Jackdaw

We walked to the mouth of the estuary. On the way, we passed a few Feral Pigeons picking up scraps discarded by humans. A Cormorant flew up the estuary and disappeared up the the River Garnock. John discovered a Curlew picking its way along rocks on the opposite bank while a large Herring Gull sitting on top of a tall pole watched me take the pictures.

Feral Pigeon Cormorant
Curlew Herring Gull

The light deteriorated and the the wind became uncomfortably chilly, so we retired to the car, poured out the teas and removed two mixed fruit cream tarts from their packs. As we downed them, I reflected on the birds we’d seen. My favourites were the Purple Sandpiper, the Shag that lost its fish and the dipping Herring Gull. Next week’s trip threatens to be even chillier, maybe even snowy. I’ll look out my winter coat and hat then.

Highlights - December  2022

We present this month’s gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during December 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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