Our Expeditions: December 2021
Good Riddance 2020

Week ending: 26th December : RSPB Baron’s Haugh, Dalzell Estate

For the second week running, John and I were unable to make our weekly visit. I did though manage to sneak in a brief pre-Christmas-dinner visit to RSPB Baron’s Haugh, Motherwell. The weather was brighter than it had been throughout the week so I was hopeful that the birds would be coming out to play. I was also on the lookout for Fungi. Having decided to take the clockwise route around the reserve (to keep the sunlight behind me), I passed through the west end of the Dalzell Estate since there were usually more photo-opportunities to be had compared to walking down the White Walk road to access the Haugh. My first spots were of fungi: Jelly ear growing on a fallen log near the entrance to the Estate and the orange crust-type fungi, Stereum ramealet  growing on another felled log by the Dalzell House. I was surprised to see Grey Squirrels still rummaging around in the leaf litter as I thought they hibernated. Eventually I reached Chestnut Walk and entered Baron’s Haugh nature reserve. The view below is of Easter Braes looking over the very old Curling pond towards the flats at Muirhouse.

Jelly Ear Stereum rameale
Grey Squirrel

I snapped a distant image of a Wood Pigeon picking Hawthorn berries and I got another distant shot of a Redwing waiting for me to pass before joining the Wood Pigeon. As I trundled along the riverside path I was aware of being followed by a bird making gentle tweets. It was a bold Robin who suddenly presented itself to me at eye level. I of course took its picture but I had no food to reward it for its service. Soon afterwards I heard a Bullfinch calling and found him on bushes picking seeds.

Wood Pigeon Redwing
Robin Bullfinch

I noticed that there were Canada Geese on the opposite side of the river. They were slightly concerned by my presence, but I managed a quick shot without putting them up.

The Sun came out after that and stayed out after then. That was very fortunate since I came across a pair of Bullfinches on the top branches of a Hawthorn bush. They must have been starving as they must have noticed me standing not far below them. Again I managed not to disturb their meal, even when a loud Carrion Crow landed above them on a Silver Birch. As I walked along, congratulating myself on what I believed was a nice set of shots, a Buzzard flew low over the bushes. It swerved sharply when it saw me, but I managed a decent photo nevertheless.

Male Bullfinch Female Bullfinch
Carion Crow Buzzard

I walked in another few steps, and was even more pleased, when I heard Siskins picking their way through the branches of Alder trees, nibbling on the Alder fruit. They are acrobatic wee birds, and very pretty with it.


After watching the Siskins I was a bit surprised to see an Alder in flower, since the male flowers usually show in January. I next popped into the Centenary Hide for a look over the Haugh. The water level was high and waders and dabblers were absent. There were gulls though and beyond them a group of 15 Wigeon, but they were about 300m from the hide. I continued my circuit and reached the bend in the path that took me to the stretch of the River Clyde that was adjacent to the Phoenix hide. Just before the river I managed a snap of a Magpie flying overhead.

Alder Wigeon
Greylag Geese Magpie

A pair of well-lit drake Mallards were preening on the opposite bank. Near them, a Moorhen was poking about the riverbank before disappearing into the undergrowth. A Grey Heron was perched on branches a bit further downstream and as I turned away from the river on the path back to the car park, a wee Great Tit appeared flitting about the branches of a pathside tree.

Mallard Moorhen
Grey Heron Great Tit

The view from the Phoenix hide was poor. There was no sign of the Wigeon so I pressed on until I reached the next bend in the river where I spotted a female Goosander diving just beyond the bend.

I gave the Causeway hide a miss, given that I already knew there were no birds on the Haugh. It was a similar story at the Marsh hide, although I did meet a handsome Wren at close quarters as I walked down the access path.


Well, I had accumulated a pleasing set of pictures in just over an hour. But I wasn’t quite finished for the week. I had a wee hour in Dalzell Estate just before lunch on Boxing Day. The weather was very drab, nay dismal. I decided that it would be pointless photographing birds in such poor light, so I set off to capture images of Fungi using only my iPhone as it seems to thrive in low lighting. As I trod the pathways of the Estate I looked amongst the very plentiful leaf litter where I fairly quickly discovered a fairly large-capped Buttercap mushroom. Rotting trees are another source of fungi. I found Velvet Shank mushrooms sprouting from a damaged branch of a Willow tree. I also came across some Stump Puffballs grouped on the top side of a felled tree trunk. Candlesnuff  fungi were growing from its ends.

Buttercap Velvet Shank
Stump Puffball Candlesnuff

There were chunks of Oakmoss Lichen(not fungi) scattered on the forrest floor and over small bushes. They were probably dislodged by the wind. I passed a branchless tree that had several large Southern Bracket fungi clinging to its bark. I also found a smaller tree absolutely covered in much smaller and prettier Ochre Bracket fungi.

Oakmoss Lichen Southern Bracket
Ochre Bracket.....

I also photographed the largest fungi I saw, Birch Polypore, on a fallen Silver Birch tree. There were cute little Turkeytail  bracket fungi decorating the branches of a small diseased tree. I spotted yet another bracket, Alder Bracket, on the decaying stump of, presumably, an Alder tree.

Birch Polypore...
Turkeytail Alder Bracket

It was good to stretch the legs and get away from the stresses and strains associated with Festive Fun. I was delighted with my captures, especially the Bullfinches and Siskins. Of you may also have gathered that I am fascinated by fungi.

As this is the final blog of 2021, John and I would like to wish you a very happy and safe New Year.

Week ending: 17th December 2021:  Musselburgh

There was no Sunday outing this week but I did manage an hour, on Friday, watching nature in Musselburgh. The weather was sunny and mild, ideal conditions for photographing birds, so I intended making the most of my hour. I started at the River Esk, at the Millhill car park, where there is usually a large gathering of birds. In no time at all I had photographed Canada Geese, Mallards and, pleasingly, Goldeneyes.

Canada Goose Drake Mallard
Male Goldeneye Female Goldeneye

The Herring Gulls were very active, calling as they washed, and leaping into action when feeders showed up.

Herring Gull

Less noisy were the Mute Swans, but they were usually first in the queue. Less noisy and less interested in bread were the Canada Geese who were contentedly nibbling the grass on the banks of the river. I captured a picture of a bathing Magpie (which I can’t recall ever having done before). Near the Magpie, a couple of Jackdaws were foraging amongst the large pebble at the edges of the small island. Satisfied with my quick haul of snaps I’d made in 10 minutes, I decided to return to the car to drive to the Cadet Hall at the mouth of the Esk. As I approached the car I noticed a couple of Goldfinches in the tree branches above the car. Halfway along Goosegreen Crescent I spotted a flock of Wigeon on the water near the opposite bank. I stopped the car and watched them for a while as they flew onto the grass at the other side of the river.

Mute Swan Canada Goose
Magpie Jackdaw
Goldfinch Wigeon

It wasn’t long before most of them had returned to the river. They were scared of passing dogs, of which there were frequent appearances.

At the Cadet Hall I got a lovely shot of a beautifully sunlit Starling sitting atop a telegraph pole. This was followed with a shot of Arthur’s Seat looking towards Joppa. As I took that shot, I heard a group of four Magpies chattering in the bushes behind me. On closer inspection I managed to capture a pleasing shot of one of the Magpies climbing across the branches.

Starling Joppa

The tide was high and the few birds that I saw at the river-mouth were flying away from there, repelled by beachcombers and dog-walkers. Of course Black-headed Gulls were not as easily scared off (although this one does seem a bit camera-shy), however Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers and Redshanks are more skittish.

Black-headed Gull Bar-tailed Godwit
Oystercatcher Redshank

After 15 minutes at the Eskmouth, I drove to the Scrapes and, since the tide was high, my expectations were to see it packed with birds. I wasn’t disappointed. My first view from the middle hide was of about 100 Lapwings wading in strong sunlight.

It wasn’t long before something put them up. They circled above the Scrapes for a few minutes then gradually they landed back where they started. Some came quite near to the hide so I managed some satisfactory flight shots. However, it wasn’t long before they were up again.


Looking over to the left, there were about 100 Redshanks lining the edge of the “second” scrape.

I relocated to the “left-most” hide and on my way there I encountered another Goldfinch, in bushes just before the hide. At the hide I noticed there were teal in the large scrape to the left of the hide.

Goldfinch Teal

In front of the hide, a large group of over 100 oystercatchers were gathered, standing, waiting for the tide to drop. 

A cock Pheasant passed in front of the hide, providing a prolonged photo-opportunity.


At times it seemed to stop and pose for the camera.

A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits swept in and circled above the Scrapes before flying off towards the Firth of Forth. A small flock of Dunlins then appeared at the near edge of the closer of the two hides. They also mingled with the line of Redshanks mention earlier.

Bar-tailed Godwit Dunlin

And that was the end of my whistle-stop visit to Musselburgh. Considering the brevity of this photo-session I’m pleased with the collection of pictures I’ve amassed. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Pheasant, the Goldeneyes and the Goldfinches. I was lucky with the weather because I just happened to be in the East and not at home in the west which was shrouded in mist. Sunday visits are unlikely over the festive season so I hope there are bright days ahead during the week.

Week ending: 12th December 2021: Port Seton, Aberlady and Prestongrange

After the lovely, sunny day last week we were reminded it was Autumn going into Winter, as the weather, although mild, was to start cloudy throughout and get more cloudy and wet in the afternoon. Since the rain was spreading from the west I chose to start at Port Seton and then move to Aberlady.

After our breakfasts in Dalkeith Morrisons (very nice: 9/10, -1 for the tiny plate) we drove to Port Seton where we found the tide to be low and getting lower and the light to be very poor and getting poorer. However, it wasn’t all bad because there were birds. The usual Redshanks and Oystercatchers were scouring the rock pools for feeding opportunities and Starlings were commuting from the rooftops of local houses down to the invertebrate-rich piles of seaweed. A solitary Grey Heron was standing motionless at the water’s edge, but soon it opted for a spot further along the coast after a dad and his very small son set off with pond-dipping net out along the rocks.

Redshank Oystercatcher
Starling Grey Heron

We decided to check out the harbour area and on the short walk there I photographed a couple of Herring Gulls, an adult and a first winter bird. While snapping these I became aware of the familiar chirps of a Robin only to find it was perched on a fence a couple of meters in front of me. John pointed out a Turnstone busily turning stones on the damp rocky shore just below the walls of the harbour.

Herring Gull Robin
1st Cycle Herring Gull Turnstone

Perhaps the most pleasing of all was the very sizeable flock of Eider  in and around the harbour.

There were adult drakes and females, as well as a few eclipse males. Those who weren’t busy pursuing females were busy preening and flapping.


Below is the view West over Port Seton Harbour mouth:

A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls  were watching the world from positions at the Harbour entrance. On our was back to the car I got quick shots of a Cormorant on its rocky perch, preening, and also of a big adult Herring Gull that swooped in and began foraging on the rocky shore.

Great Black-backed Gull.....
Cormorant Herring Gull

We decided to relocate a few miles up the coast to Aberlady Bay LNR. Once we had parked, we set off across the wooded bridge over the Peffer Burn. We were delighted to see a Little Egret  standing in the middle of the Burn, some 40m upstream. Nearer the bridge were a few Redshanks and a group of Wigeon . Further over the bridge I got closer shots of a Wigeon that was resting on a grassy tuft. A couple of quarrelling Carrion Crows flew in and landed on the bridge handrails and looked towards us rather defiantly.

Little Egret Redshank
Carrion Crow....

We decided to check out the thickets around Marl Loch for Redwings and Fieldfares as they are attracted there by the orange berries of the Sea Buckthorn bushes. We did catch glimpses of them and heard their calls throughout the search but they were very flighty and managed to evade the camera. However, we did snap a pair of Mallards, a female Blackbird and a couple of Bullfinches.

Female Blackbird Mallard
Male Bullfinch Female Bullfinch

We next drove to Kilspindie, which is across the Bay from the reserve. On on brief visit we saw birds gathered at the edges of the deep channel through the Bay, along which the Peffer flows at low tide. Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew  and a few Dunlin  waded along the shallow edges of the Burn. I also managed to capture a decent shot of a female Pied Wagtail that was catching flies along the rocks.

Bar-tailed Godwit Curlew
Female Pied Wagtail Dunlin

John thought there were Shelducks  on the rocky shore not far from the main road. We drove back there and did indeed see a few Shelducks as well as washing Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and many Lapwings. As the pictures show though, the light was deteriorating rapidly.

Shelduck Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull Lapwing

We drove back along the coast to a car park opposite Prestongrange Museum. The car park is adjacent to Morrisons Haven, a historic site. We walked briefly along the coastal path and were delighted to see a Red-breasted Merganser, a fishing Shag, a flying Cormorant and a winter plumage Slavonian Grebe. John was especially pleased to see an inquisitive Common Seal popping its head out of the water to check us out.

Red-breasted Merganser in Eclipse plumage Shag
Cormorant Slavonian Grebe in Winter plumage
Common Seal....

Back at the car, as we supped tea while scoffing strawberry tarts, we agreed that the trip had been fairly successful. My highlights were the Little Egret, the Bullfinches and Sammy the Seal right at the end. The weather bulletin later that evening informed us that the weather over the next couple of weeks was to be dry and mild, but rather grey. Let’s hope it is not as grey as we’d just experienced.

Week ending: 5th December 2021: Troon and Irvine Harbour

After a week of cold, dull and often rainy conditions, the weather in the West for Sunday was confidently predicted to be sunny and dry (but still cold). I therefore chose Troon as a nice place to be in such a day. It usually never lets us down.

After breakfasts in Troon Morrisons (excellent, 9.5/10: only let down by slightly underdone toast), we began our photographic quest at the North Sands where we found the tide was coming in. The view of the beautiful blue waters around Troon Harbour with snow-tinged Isle of Arran in the background was a delight.

As soon as I collected my camera from the car, a Little Egret flew across the North Beach and seemed to go down beyond Ballast Bank, where we were heading next. We started walking around the large Sea Buckthorn hedgerow that overlooks the beach and immediately came across a sleepy Dunnock and a rather more busy Blue Tit. There were also several warbling Robins keeping an eye on us from the jaggy Buckthorn and branches.

Little Egret Dunnock
Blue Tit Robin

In the short time it took us the go around the Buckthorns, the tide had advanced considerably, bringing the sea birds into clearer view. There were about 50 Oystercatchers as well as the usual hordes of Herring Gulls on the shore…

… and a few Mallards were getting ever closer to the Redshanks and Curlew wading at the water’s edge. I snapped a few House Sparrows I’d noticed in the hedges before we made for Troon Harbour.

Mallard Redshank
Curlew House Sparrow

The sandy shore to the north of the Harbour car park was very quiet and we had to walk to its furthest point before we caught sight of a single bird. In fact the Harbour Wall was home to a colony of Shags. I got some great flight shots of a Shag as it arrived at the wall.


The rocky shore to the front of the car park was similarly quiet. However, we were delighted as we approached the Ballast Bank when we spotted the Little Egret that we’d seen earlier as it foraged in the rock pools in front of the car park. We spent an enjoyable 15 minutes watching it at relatively close quarters before moving on.

Little Egret

A fellow photographer mentioned that he’d been searching for a large flock of Dotterel that someone else had told him were on that stretch of coast. John and I then set off on the low path at the base of the Ballast Bank, keeping an constant eye on the rocky shoreline. The setting sun was in our faces as we searched so we had to be careful not to miss them as they were likely to be silhouetted. Half way along the path we were very pleased to find them. As I suspected they were not Dotterel, but Golden Plover in winter plumage.

As I had suspected, the Golden Plovers were silhouetted, but with the right settings on my camera and some computer magic I managed to produce passable pictures.

We decided to continue walking to the Titchfield Road car park to see if there were any other surprises in store. On rocks between the Ballast Bank and the Titchfield car park we came across the flock of Golden Plovers we’d just seen. They had relocated to a large, fairly remote area of rocky coast and had settled beside flocks of Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers.

On the shore by the car park we were surprised to see some Greenfinches  feeding on seeding grass stems. They must have been hungry as they were rather more accommodating than normal as I got fairly close without spooking them.


Beside them were Pied Wagtails and also John spotted a Grey Wagtail when it appeared on the scene. Also, I tracked down a Rock Pit after I heard it’s familiar call. I also photographed a beautiful Starling that descended onto a seaweed pile to search for invertebrates.

Pied Wagtail Grey Wagtail
Rock Pipit Starling

On our way back to the car, as we passed Port Ronnald, I got a long shot of a Curlew snoozing by the shore. And just below the seawall, a group of Turnstones were all over a pile of brown seaweed and neighbouring rocks. I also snapped a shady Redshank that was exploring a rock pool. Earlier, on our way down to Titchfield, we had noticed that we were being passed by women in very long bulky coats. John wondered if they may have been wild swimmers. That was confirmed when we passed a gathering of, mainly jolly women, some swimming slowly and carefully just off the rocks by Ballast Bank. No offence to the swimmers, who have every right (currently), to be there, but this is yet another disruption to coastal wildlife, joining that of paddle-boarders, jetskiers and of course dog-walkers.

Curlew Turnstone

We headed to Irvine Harbour for a quick look there before tea. When we arrived we could see a group of Common Seals mid-stream, a few hundred metres down the River Garnock, basking in the orange light of the setting sun. A Stock Dove crossed my view as it flew towards the Scientist’s Bridge. As I photographed a Mute Swan that was struggling to consume an apple as it dabbled below the promenade, a Curlew flew upstream and over towards Bogside.

Common Seal Stock Dove
Mute Swan Curlew

A Shag sat drying its wings, perched on one of the tall quarry wooden posts that line the mouth of the estuary. On the opposite bank a Grey Heron was treading slowly through seaweed, occasionally pausing to make a rapid plunge downwards with its beak to catch small fish and invertebrates. We passed a pair of lively Carrion Crows as they sat squabbling on the bridge’s barriers. A young Herring Gull flew past, checking what all the fuss was about.

Shag Grey Heron
Carrion Crow 2nd Cycle Herring Gull

A young Cormorant appeared in the waters near the bridge. It was diving for fish, but it suddenly suddenly flew downstream in a dramatically long take-off. It caught the attention of the Grey Heron on the opposite bank, but the pretty Black-headed Gull, that was watching us from its perch on a tall post, didn’t bat a eyelid.

Grey Heron Black-headed Gull

We returned to the car for tea and delicious strawberry tarts. It had been a very rewarding trip. My highlights were the Little Egret, the Greenfinches and of course the Golden Plovers. Once again Troon came up with the goods.

Highlights - December 2021

We present last month's gallery of my favourite pictures I've taken during December 2021. They are not listed in the order they were taken, but according to a series of themes. I've kept commentary to a minimum, preferring to let each picture speakl for itself









Back To Top