Archive - December 2019

29th December 

Aberlady and Port Seton

We travelled east to Aberlady on Sunday where the weather was to be the sunniest in Central Scotland. It was cloudy when we stopped off at Dalkeith Morrisons for breakfast (6/10: disappointing due to cold items and skimpy bacon) but as we arrived at the Kilspindie Golf Course the sun was breaking through. It was windy though, as can be seen from the picture of the club’s fluttering flag. The tide was very low, but slowly coming in. A small flock of Oystercatchers flew down the channel that carries the Peffer Burn to the sea. They’d been disturbed by some beachcombers a hundred metres ahead of us. A calling Curlew followed. John scanned the extensive area of exposed sands and pointed out a large group of Shelducks  dabbling about a couple of hundred metres away.

Oystercatcher Curlew Shelduck

We wandered along Kilspindie Point where we came across about fifty Sanderlings scurrying along the burn waters’ edge. They were fairly distant when we first saw them but, as they seemed to be getting closer, we planked ourselves on our stools and waited for them to come within range for decent shots - which they did. There wasn’t much else there so we returned to the car park where John noticed some small flies, Fannia Mollissima , were on an information board. A huge flock of Lapwings went up and we wondered what had put them up.

Sanderling Eider Fannia Mollissima  Lapwing
We next tried to relocate to the Aberlady Nature Reserve car park, but it was full, so we parked about 400m west of there on Gullane Road by Sea Green. It was the nearest point to the wooden bridge across Peffer Burn where roadside parking was legal. It did, however, allow us to scan the shoreline from the pavement as we walked to the bridge. We saw hundreds of Wigeon in the nice low amber light of the winter sun. We were delighted to find a single Little Egret foraging in the salt marsh near the Reserve car park. It was fairly mobile and we were lucky enough to see it fly past us, so providing an excellent photo-opportunity. John noticed a pair of  Teal  in a pool very close to the pavement.

Wigeon Little Egret Female Teal Drake Teal

Eventually we reached the wooden bridge over the Peffer Burn. It leads walkers into the Aberlady Bay Nature Local Nature Reserve but we decided that there wouldn’t be enough time to do it justice, so we made do with a few pictures taken from the bridge. A Curlew was feeding very close to our stance. It had got hold of what looked like a type of long worm. On the east side of the bridge a feeding Redshank and its reflection made a very pretty picture. Next, a pair of Teal swam closer to us in order to sample the muds just below the bridge.

Curlew Redshank Drake Teal Female Teal

On our return journey along Gullane Road we noticed a commotion amongst the huge flicks of Lapwings. They’d been disturbed by a Peregrine Falcon. It was also probably responsible for the disturbance we’d seen earlier. I managed a couple of distant record shots of it as it circulated the inner bay causing widespread panic as it went. Only the Greylags and Shelducks stayed put. The Falcon had a wee rest on a stump that was poking through the sands, before settling off in the direction of Kilspindie.

Peregrine Falcon Greylag Goose Shelduck Peregrine Falcon

The view of Aberlady Bay as seen from Gullane Road:

A large flock of Golden Plovers  flew in, probably returning from their escape from the Peregrine. They looked particularly golden in the rich winter sunlight. We also saw a Curlew and a Herring Gull before we arrived back at the car. We then had our teas and cream scones on a bench on Sea Green, and watched the birds gradually fly to better feeding areas as the tide reclaimed the bay. Although a few of them got their eyes on our scones, a Herring Gull and a pair of Jackdaws edged in and may have got a few crumbs when we left but there weren’t many (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Golden Plover Curlew Herring Gull

On our way home we stopped briefly at Seton Burn, Port Seton, where birds gather at its mouth at high tide. The orange-tinged sunlight on the drake Mallards’ plumage was eye catching. I was surprised to see a pair of Gadwall  there and even more surprised when a beautiful Fantail Pigeon flew past. There must be a pigeon loft in the vicinity.

Mallard Gadwall Fantail Pigeon

Our final stop was at the wee car park that overlooks the rocks at Port Seton. They are called “Wrecked Craigs” and we usually find birds there especially as the tide “pushes” them nearer the sea wall. That was the case on Sunday when a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Curlew were less than 10m away. They probably couldn’t see me as the low sun was behind me. I finished the day with a nice snap of a lively pair of Black-headed Gulls squabbling over food.

Bar-tailed Godwit Curlew Turnstone Black-headed Gull

We headed home satisfied with another camera-full of sightings, our last of 2019, in fact, of the decade. Best for me were the Peregrine and Little Egret. The fly and Sanderling were also a delight. It was very mild for the time of year, so that too added to our enjoyments. So have a Guid New Year, lang may yer lum reek, and we’ll see you next year.

Pictures of the Week:
Sanderling Little Egret
Herring Gull Jackdaw

21st December 2019:

 Figgate Park and Duddingston Loch

I had been reading all week of Otter sightings at Figgate Park, just to the east of Edinburgh. It was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day, the day where the elevation of the Edinburgh midday sun wouldn’t rise to double figures. Good for atmospheric shots when the sun shines, but not so good in cloudy conditions. We called in at the Morrisons on Portobello Rd, Edinburgh for a couple of breakfasts (8/10: nice food, but very slow service) before parking at the gates of Figgate Park . As we entered the park we passed a small container decorated with very attractive, brightly-coloured birds, courtesy of “DacoGraff”. Soon we were walking along a large wooden viewing platform at the east side of the pond, where several folk were scanning the still waters eagerly for Otters  which had been seen within the previous few minutes. Sure enough, they did appear and gave us a wonderful show as they repeatedly broke through the water’s surface and dived again. We could follow their movements by the trail of bubbles left by their exhaled air. One caught a fish and settled on the island to consume it.

Daco Graff Otter

We moved around the pond to see what birds there were. A family of Mute Swans were gliding towards the west side of the pond where bread was being tossed into the water. Many Black-headed Gulls were competing anxiously for every scrap. So too were some Canada Geese and the other Swans.

Mute Swan Black-headed Gull Canada Goose Mute Swan

A shy Moorhen picked its way around the bank, avoiding the Mallards, and staying clear of the crabbit Coots. John pointed out an acrobatic Great Tit feeding in the branches of a nearby tree.

Moorhen Drake Mallard Coot Great Tit

We followed the path in the direction of Arthur’s Seat, the hill looming to the west. In the trees we saw a flock of Long-tailed Tits and also a Blue Tit. John spotted a busy Goldcrest  working on the branches of a bush near the footpath. It was always on the move, weaving about the dense branches, but I did manage a few decent shots. Near the bush a Jackdaw was searching the grass for invertebrates. It was completely unaffected by our presence, so used was it to park users passing without threat. Either that or it was blind.

Long-tailed Tit Blue Tit Goldcrest Jackdaw

I snapped a Woodpigeon perched high in a tree and at the foot of the tree a Carrion Crow poking around in a puddle, occasionally downing whatever it had found. Then, below the branches of a group of trees, we came upon a quartet of nicely-lit, nibbling Grey Squirrels. They too seemed used to people as I could get photos from fairly close in. Unusually, I also got close to a female Blackbird, close enough to see the details in its brown plumage.

Wood Pigeon Carrion Crow Grey Squirrels Female Blackbird

Back at the Pond we watched a group of Goosanders diving for fish. They were perhaps aware the Otters had gone, but were encouraged by their fishing successes. I took some pictures of a female with her catch as it downed it speedily to avoid losing it to greedy onlookers.


Looking on was a large cobb Mute Swan, its proud head nicely lit by the low winter solstice sun. A pair of Canada Geese paddled into view just as we had a last look along the path. We disturbed a female Bullfinch that was feeding on seeds of tall vegetation beyond the grassy verge. I snapped a few shots of it hiding in a nearby bush. We came upon another one of DacoGraff’s masterpieces on the rear side of a garage inside the Park. An excellent depiction of a flying Goldfinch.

Mute Swan Canada Goose Female Bullfinch Daco Graff

We decided to make a quick visit to Duddingston Loch which was just a mile to the west. When we got there the sun was blocked by incoming clouds, but, after re-adjusting my camera settings we strolled towards the soggy water’s edge. A few Mute Swans foraging around a stream. On the Loch I got some shots of a very upset Greylag-Canada Goose hybrid as it took to the air after chasing another Goose. With the light becoming too low we headed back to the car, passing our last capture, a fine pair of Mallards.

Mute Swan Greylag x Canada Goose Mallard

At the car we had tea and cream scones which we downed with a great sense of satisfaction. The Otters were the top sighting but I also enjoyed seeing the fishing Goosanders and the Squirrels. It’s alway good when you see what you were looking for.

Pictures of the Week:

Canada x Greylag Goose Grey Squirrel

15th December 2019:

RSPB Loch Leven

“An improving picture throughout the day for Central Scotland” the weather girl announced on Sunday morning. I fancied a visit to
RSPB Loch Leven  (formerly named “Vane Farm”) to see if we could get some Pink-footed Goose action. We called into Bathgate Morrisons for a wee breakfast (9.5/10: excellent) on our way up the M8, before making for the Queensferry Crossing on the M90 that took us to the turn-off for the south of bonny Loch Leven. After a dull start it was certainly brightening up, but we were disappointed to realise that, during our visit, the low December sun would not peek over Benarty Hill  (known locally simply as “Benarty”) to the south of the reserve. But undeterred, we set forth on our mission, passing first through the new underpass, which has been built mainly to improve accessibility for disabled visitors. From the Gillman hide I watched some Pheasants, a cock and 2 hens, (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below) poking about around a feeder for seed dropped by the many passerines that were coming and going.

New Underpass Male Pheasant Female Pheasant

The aforesaid passerines were nipping in and away pretty rapidly: Chaffinches, Coal Tits and a Robin (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Chaffinch Female Chaffinch Coal Tit Robin

A perky wee Blue Tit clung onto the feeder longer as it selected just the right seed before flying off to the relative safety of the hawthorns. A Great Tit made a brief appearance. John pointed out a Robin sitting on a bush directly opposite the hide doorway we were exiting. It was obviously used to people and was probably hoping we’d chuck it an easy meal. It was disappointed. The gliders of the Scottish Gliding Centre of Scotlandwell were enjoying the sunny but breezy conditions high above us, while we remained in permanent shadow.

Blue Tit Great Tit Robin Up, up and away

On our way to the next hide, the Waterston hide, I snapped some swans feeding in a pool. There was a family of Whoopers, cobb, pen and two large cygnets. A couple of Mute Swans were also in the pool , but the two species didn’t interact. As we entered the Waterston hide I spotted a Grey Heron as it peeked over the banks of a grassy hollow.

Whooper Swan Juvenile Whooper Swan Mute Swan Grey Heron

From inside the hide we were treated to a close view of four Little Egrets  feeding and courting. We had seen three of these as they fed individually about 50m apart, but as we arrived they had flown in and joined together as a group to forage the the stream that runs in front of the hide. One of them, presumably a male, was getting very frisky, displaying his plumage and harassing the other Egrets. He realised he was onto nothing and flew off leaving the remaining trio advancing slowly  down the stream (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Little Egret

As we made for the last hide, the Carden hide, I noticed over 500 Crows, probably, over the crest of the ridge to the south. The picture below shows about 130 of them. From the hide, in the dimming light we could see and hear Teal and Wigeon dabbling in the large loch. Around its edges there were masses of Icelandic Whooper Swans  who were also very voluble - as their name suggests.

Carrion Crow Teal Wigeon Whooper Swans

There was no sign of Pink-footed Geese , although there were many Greylags  (also see the panorama below). There were also many Mallards. Annoyingly, in the distance we could see sheep and cattle standing in bright sunlight.

Greylag Goose Female Mallard Mainly Coos

Greylags as seen from the Heritage Trail  just along from the Reserve west exit gate

With the light becoming very dim, we headed back to the car. However, we had a surprise find at a pair of feeders near the car park. We noticed, despite the gloomy light, a lot of bird activity, so we hung around a bit to see what would turn up. First to appear were a few Goldfinches, looking very fine even in the dusk. Next a flock of Long-tailed Tits  appeared and swarmed around one of the feeders, nine of them feasting on the fat balls. John drew my attention to one hanging on a branch just above our heads. It was hanging by its left claws while clutching seed in its other claw. It was a nice end to the visit.

Goldfinch Long- tailed Tit

It had been an enjoyable trip that was not spoiled by being in the shadow of Benarty. The highlight for me were the Egrets, but it was disappointing not to have seen the Pinkfeet - but we did enjoy looking for them. We ended the day with tea and cream scones. There was a bit of a surprise inside the scones. Instead of the usual layer of jam below the cream there was a layer of chocolate paste. I’d have preferred jam.

Pictures of the Week:

Pheasant Robin

Little Egret

8th December 2019:   Dunbar and Port Seton

It was to be wild, wet and windy throughout Central Scotland with just the possibility that the sun would break out in East Lothian. I opted then for an exploration of the shores along the coast at the wonderful town of Dunbar. So after a fine breakfast in Dalkieth Morrison’s (9/10) we drove to the east end of Dunbar at the golf course and started a wind-buffeted trek along the coast. Below is the view of Dunbar harbour as seen from the golf course.

We were between showers so we had started in good light. A Black headed gull flew past and into the wind, followed by a female
Red-breasted Merganser  and a speeding Redshank (also see “Pictures of the Week” below). Further out a single drake Eider was bobbing in the choppy water.

Black-headed Gull Female Red-breasted Merganser Redshank Eider

A flock of Starlings flew up from the rocks where they were feeding on seaweed, before settling on a dry boulder (see “Pictures of the Week” below). Also on the seaweed were a few Turnstones probing for invertebrates. Further out on a more exposed rock I believe I saw some Purple Sandpipers sheltering from the wind. I got a nice couple of flight shots of Curlews trying to find some acceptable feeding locations on the busy rockscape.

Starling Turnstone Purple Sandpiper Curlew
Seven nicely-lit Redshanks stood on a low, sheltered ledge, and 6 metres behind them a flock of Grey Plovers  were also lined up on the rocks, with more flying in. Like all of the seaside sites we have visited, there were lots of Oystercatchers filling the air with their strangely comforting racket.

Redshank Grey Plover Oystercatcher
The dark clouds were rolling in, so we hastily escaped a soaking by legging it back to the car. I then drove the short distance along the “low” roads to the Harbour and waited until the sun reappeared. The harbour waters were filled with Eider. I managed pictures of a strikingly marked juvenile male, a female and a drake (see “Pictures of the Week” below). As well as Eiders there were, of course, plenty of Herring Gulls . I photographed a typical 2nd year Herring Gull swimming with the Eider. As we moved back to the car I noticed a bold adult Herring Gull standing on the deck of one of the fishing boats moored at the harbour.

Juvenile Eider Female Eider 2nd Cycle Herring Gull Herring Gull

Below is a view of a Rainbow as seen from Dunbar Battery :

Our final location in Dunbar was Winterfield Park. At the cliffs the wind was disturbingly strong. I nearly lost my camera’s rain cover when it was caught by the wind and propelled towards the cliff edge. However John managed to retrieve it centimetres from the edge, impaled on a young Buckthorn bush. After a quick refit I snapped a shot of a sizeable flock of Feral Pigeons gathered on a great rock 50m from the cliff. John noticed a couple of the Pigeons were white - probably hybrids. Looking out along the Firth of Forth we could see the Bass Rock  appearing rather less white than a few months ago, the nesting Gannets and their young having left weeks before. Given the winds strength we were surprised to see birds flying past the cliffs. Oystercatchers, though, didn’t seem to be too bothered by the gale, and neither were the Curlews (see “Pictures of the Week” below).

Feral Pigeon Bass Rock Oystercatcher

We still had a bit of time left before heading back home so we called into Port Seton. We were lucky with the light as the clouds cleared for long enough to catch some pictures of a Bar-tailed Godwit probing the sands for invertebrates. Just below the promenade a Rock Pipit flew onto a seaweed pile and allowed me to grab a few shots before darting off. John spotted a couple of pairs of Red-breasted Mergansers 100m away frolicking offshore. They were pretty animated, probably courting since the females flew off followed by the drakes.

Bar-tailed Godwit Rock Pipit Red-breasted Merganser 1st Cycle Herring Gull

Pictures of the Week:

Redshank Starling
Eider Curlew

1st December 2019Gourock and Fairlie

Cold, dry and bright weather was predicted for Scotland, but in the Central Belt that was to be after early-morning mists had lifted. We headed for Erskine once more, to finish our exploration of the south side of the Clyde estuar,y beginning at the Erskine Bridge. However the mists hadn’t lifted after our usual Morrisons breakfasts (9/10: -1 for scented black pudding), so by 11 o’clock we decided to abandon the Erskine walk and drive west to Gourock  where the mists could have cleared. So when we arrived in Gourock we were pleased to discover that they had, so we parked in the Battery Park  car park and set forth scanning the Gourock Bay shoreline. Below is a view north to Kilcreggan that shows the extent of the mist as we set off.

Our first spot was of a Curlew probing the rocks by the Water Treatment works. A bonny wee Robin turned up on the path a few metres ahead of us before flying into the trees in the grounds of the Works. I snapped a picture of one of the many Oystercatchers we could see, but the numerous Eiders sited offshore were a bit too far away for a decent shot. We did see a Greenfinch briefly on a branch of the same tree the Robin had been in.

Curlew Robin Oystercatcher Greenfinch

We strolled westwards along the prom and saw an Oystercatcher jealously guarding a shell. A bold second-year Herring Gull stood watching. Far away on the rocks there were a few Ringed Plovers and even more distant Turnstones. A Curlew flew in and settled further to the east.

Oystercatcher 2nd Cycle Herring Gull Ringed Plover Curlew

The view of Gourock Harbour with Dunoon beyond, taken from Battery Park:

A dog was cavorting on the part of the shore closest to the main road. Just beyond it a pair of Mute Swans went about their business relatively unconcerned, as did a small group of Redshanks and a mature Herring Gull.

Mute Swan Redshank Herring Gull

We passed into Cove Road where I caught a shot of a Curlew in flight, carrying a Crab. A few elusive Goldfinches were twittering in the roadside trees, but eventually I managed a passable shot. In the Bay we saw a dozen or so fairly close Eiders  diving for Sea Urchins (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). I framed a handsome Black-headed Gull as it posed on the railings, a much underrated species I’ve alway thought.

Curlew Goldfinch Eider Black-headed Gull

We returned to the car having decided to drive south, past Largs to Fairlie . Just before we left, four Eider flew past, already heading in that direction.

At Fairlie the low sun bathed the village in amber light.

We were parked at the car park to the south of the village. It is a great vantage point for views of passing birds as well as birds feeding in the bay and rocky shoreline. On arrival there was a flock of about 50 Wigeon on the shore. Offshore a few Red-breasted Mergansers seemed to be courting. A Common Gull was circling overhead ever-vigilant to any feeding opportunity that presented itself. Occasionally passing pedestrians unwittingly scared some of the wary Wigeon to take to temporarily to the water.

Wigeon Red-breasted Merganser Common Gull Wigeon

As we walked across the small bridge over the Fairlie Burn, a Dipper  darted past and settled on a small midstream rock. I slowly manoeuvred myself into a good position for a picture and I was surprised the bird let me get quite close  (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). We both noticed a wee brown bird preening on a small tree by the shore. It was a shabby-looking, but very accommodating Dunnock . We planked ourselves on a bench that was partially hidden from the shore and was also beside more small trees that we’d seen perching birds. Before too long a few Starling swooped down onto seaweed piled on the sand. Also a female Hedge Sparrow landed briefly on the nearest tree, before it too went down to the seaweed.

Dipper Dunnock Starling Female House Sparrow

Three Goldfinches then landed on the tree and provided a very welcome photo-opportunity (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). They are very photogenic, being brightly coloured, and the light being so warm. As we walked back to the car, a big Carrion Crow flew onto the grass with a slice of bread in its beak, which it quickly dispatched. In the water, as the sun lowered in the sky, the birds were becoming orange - as can be seen in the photos of the female Red-breasted Merganser and drake Teal  Time for tea.

Goldfinch Carrion Crow Red-breasted Merganser Teal

So after an uncertain start the outing became rather enjoyable. The Clyde Coast is certainly a very beautiful place in sunny weather. We photographed a lovely selection of birds, my favourites being the Eiders, Dipper and Goldfinch (see below). So before the picturesque backdrop of the island of Great Cumbrae (know to many as Millport), we had our usual teas with cream and jam muffins. A delicious end to a scrumptious day (or should that be the other way round?).

Pictures of the Week:

Male Eider Female Eider
Dipper Goldfinch

Highlights - December 2019

Here’s the last gallery of my favourite pictures of 2019, taken during December. Once again they are in loose sets of themes and not in the order they have been taken.


Curlew Lapwing
Black-headed Gull Common Gull


Whooper / Mute Swan Whooper Swan
Mute Swan
Juvenile Mute Swan


Female Goldeneye Grey Heron
Lesser Black-backed Gull Tufted Duck


Greylag Goose Pink-footed Goose
Roe Deer Eider
Displaying Goldeneye


Curlew Red-throated Diver
Redshank Turnstone


Goldfinch Oystercatcher
Female Siskin Male Siskin


Fieldfare Mistle Thrush
Moorhen Redwing
Robin Female Tufted Duck
Male Goosander

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