Expeditions: December 2021
Good Riddance 2020
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
I also photographed the largest fungi I saw, Birch
Polypore, on a fallen Silver Birch tree. There were cute
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.
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.
The Herring Gulls were very active, calling as they washed, and leaping
into action when feeders showed up.
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.
It wasn’t long before most of them had returned to the river.
They were scared of passing dogs, of which there were frequent
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
|1st Cycle Herring
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
|Female Pied Wagtail
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.
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.
Merganser in Eclipse plumage
|Slavonian Grebe in
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
Week ending: 5th December 2021: Troon and Irvine
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
|2nd Cycle Herring
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.
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.
- 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
ON THE WATER
OUT FOR A WALK
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