Archive - February 2020

23rd February 

Linlithgow and Blackness

After another very changeable week of weather, the prospects for Sunday were actually very good - for the east. Having made multiple visits to the Lothian coast in recent weeks we decided to try Linlithgow Loch and Blackness.

We last visited Linlithgow on September 15th last year, so we were curious to see what we could find on a winter visit. But first, after an unfamiliar detour, due to a slip road closure on the M8, we stopped off at Bathgate Morrisons where we enjoyed a perfect breakfast (10/10: excellent). So after that very encouraging start to the day we drove the few miles to Linlithgow . We parked very near the Loch and straight away I spotted a pair of Cormorants on the water. Also, a bit closer, a few Black-headed Gulls were loitering, waiting for bread no doubt. As we moved around the west side of the Loch, John pointed out a Moorhen hiding in the lochside shrubbery. Just beyond it were a pair of Great Crested Grebes  were fishing in the shallows.

Cormorant Black-headed Gull Moorhen Great Crested Grebe

Along the same stretch we met a pair of Tufted Ducks. The female was diving for food but the drake seemed to have the female on his mind. A pair of Little Grebes were also diving in that area. Occasionally one emerged with a little minnow in its beak. On the north side of the river we came across some early-blooming flowers, miniature Daffodils and Snowdrops, no doubt escapees from the gardens of the lochside residences.

Tufted Duck Little Grebe Dwarf Daffodil Snowdrop

Below is the view of the Linlithgow Loch and Palace as seen from the houses.

Just past the houses I heard the dulcet tones of a Song Thrush. I scrambled up onto the top of a 25m mound to investigate, but the Thrush flew off, but I discovered several Redwings on some high trees. On my descent off the mound I also managed pictures the first of some common garden birds we’d see,
namely a Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Dunnock.

Redwing Chaffinch Goldfinch Dunnock

A very brightly coloured Blue Tit was darting about the branches of a pathside tree. Below it, by the reeds at the edge of the loch, a Coot was chewing on water plants. We decided to re-trace our steps in order to explore the south side of the Loch. We passed a Blackbird probing the damp grass for worms, unconcerned by passing walkers, primarily us.

Blue Tit Coot Blackbird

We got closer views of the Great Crested Grebes and Little Grebes, and as we reached the jetty of the FAFA Anglers Clubhouse , a well-illuminated drake Mallard paddled towards us looking for bread.

Great Crested Grebe Little Grebe Mallard

I got nice portrait shots of a drake Tufted Duck, showing the colours in its facial plumage, and a large and very forward white domestic goose, probably an Embden Goose , (see these birds in, “Pictures of the Week”, below). A large cob Mute Swan approached us as I stood by the water’s edge photographing the goose, but it paddled off again when it realised we had no food. On our way back to the car park I snapped some pictures of a few Bullfinches feeding on seeds that had fallen off of the trees onto the short grass. Up in the branches of one tree, a large Rook posed threateningly.

Mute Swan Female Bullfinch Bullfinch Rook

Next we drove about 5 miles east to Blackness, a village on the edge of the Firth of Forth. We walked along the castle approach road, followed by a busy Pied Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail

The tide was almost fully in, but there were still exposed rocks in front of the castle. We noticed there was bird activity around the rocks, so we trekked out along the shore for a closer look, taking care that we didn’t become stranded by the tide. I was pleased to find a couple of dozen Ringed Plovers and a similar number of Dunlins. I became aware of movement at the edge of my vision. It was a Redshank “bobbing” on rocks about 10m away. On the furthest rocks I noticed a single Curlew surrounded by other birds.

Ringed Plover Dunlin Redshank Curlew

The “other” birds were a few Oystercatchers and some Bar-tailed Godwits. But, as I was photographing them, we watched a flock of around 100 Godwits swoop in and onto the already crowded rocks.

Bar-tailed Godwits

John was of the opinion that our exit route from the promontory was vanishing with each advancing wave, so we did the sensible thing and retreated smartly to the sea wall. From there we watched a Grey Heron pass above the shore with several slow and deliberate flaps of its wide wings. Just before we left the magnificent 3-bridge panorama, I managed our final capture of the afternoon, a bold Robin sitting, almost begging for a tasty morsel (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below, for the Heron and Robin pictures).

We had plenty sunshine, for once, and both our sites were naturally sheltered from the strong chilly wind, and both were stunningly beautiful. For these reasons we’d have enjoyed the trip even if we hadn’t seen such a wide variety of sightings - well, perhaps not. However, it was with great satisfaction that we had our apple and caramel Danish pastries and tea. Here’s hoping we get another sunny outing next weekend.

Pictures of the Week

Tufted Duck Embden Goose
Grey Heron Robin

16th February 2020:

North Berwick and Yellowcraigs

For the second week in a row our Sunday outing was threatened by an impending storm. “Dennis” was looming, although the Scottish Central belt seemed to be getting off lightly compared with the rest of the UK. The east was to have lighter winds and less likelihood of rain. A Tweet on Friday reported Purple Sandpipers and a Red-throated Diver at North Berwick so we decided we’d head there.

So after our usual breakfast pit stop in Dalkeith Morrisons (9/10: VG apart from overcooked bacon and tattie scone) we drove along the A198 to North Berwick. It was very windy, as expected, but very sunny. Below is the magnificent view from the West Bay Beach. To the right, the small island of Craigleith  and in the centre of the picture is North Berwick Harbour, just beyond which is the Seabird Centre

Our first sighting was of a hungry (but aren’t they all) Herring Gull feasting on some carelessly strewn toast. On the beach I snapped some shots of a foraging Redshank and a Carrion Crow probing the rocks for shellfish. Eventually we reached the Harbour, passing the RNLI building, and St. Andrew’s Old Kirk . There were at least a half dozen Pied Wagtails active on the edge of the Misley Bay Beach. I got a few shots of some of these, among the a nice flight shot (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Herring Gull Redshank Carrion Crow Pied Wagtail
We moved past the Seabird Centre onto the rock promontory beyond the site of the old outdoor swimming pool (now a parking area). Prominent on the rocks were many very flighty Starlings (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). In the channel between Craigleith and our rocky viewpoint we didn’t see many birds other than a few passing Eider, more Wagtails and Herring Gulls.

Eider Pied Wagtail Herring Gull

We watched the channel for about an hour without even a glimpse of a Diver or Sandpiper, so we retreated, disappointed but not disheartened, to view the rocky east side of the promontory. Standing on the walkway above the old changing cubicles we scanned the exposed rocks. It wasn’t long before John spotted a few Purple Sandpipers  amongst the seaweed. They were being pelted by the wind-driven waves but they always seemed to emerge unscathed. John then noticed a surfacing winter plumage Red-throated Diver about 50m from our stance. Mission accomplished as far as North Berwick was concerned, so we started to retrace our way back to the car. But not before I had taken a photo of a Turnstone that made a brief appearance on the edges of the rocks.

Purple Sandpiper Red-throated Diver (Winter) Turnstone

Flushed with success of locating our target birds, we drove east to Yellowcraig (PDF Download ) , a site we last visited in January 2016. On the 200m walk from the car park to the seashore we saw sure signs that Spring wasn’t far away, as a few flowers were in bloom, namely Snowdrop, White Deadnettle  and Coltsfoot . There were also large patches of Alexanders, a member of the Carrot family.

Snowdrop White Deadnettle Coltsfoot Alexanders

Below is the view of the shore dominated by the island of Fidra, which is reputed to have been the inspiration for “Treasure Island” after Robert Louis Stevenson visited the island with his father, who had a hand in the design of the tower.

Many Herring Gulls, of all ages, were present on the water and on the many exposed rocks. At the water’s edge, well camouflaged Turnstones picked their way through seaweed and pebbles, searching for invertebrates.

Herring Gull Turnstone

There were also many Carrion Crows on the shore and in the air (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). I noticed that one of the Crows had the distinctive plumage markings of a Hooded Crow X Carrion Crow hybrid.  As I watched a particularly aerobatic Herring Gull performing tricky aerial manoeuvres, for no obvious reason, it was difficult not to presume it was simply having fun. Groups of Oystercatchers were dotted about the rocks. They seemed quiet and restful for a change.

Carrion Crow Hooded x Carrion Crow Herring Gull Oystercatcher

John noticed several beached Common Starfish (also known as Sea Stars) amidst the seaweed. They seemed lifeless and were probably victims of our recent stormy weather. I managed a fairly nice shot of three Eider as they passed us some 40m out. This encouraged me to clamber our over the boulders to get some closer shots of an Eider flock I’d spotted. As I made my way out I was surprised by a Curlew that seemed to appear in front of me from nowhere before taking off again when it noticed me. A beautifully lit Oystercatcher standing in a rock posed for me for a time (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below) before it too flew to a less threatening location. A green-coloured Shag flew past, reminding me of last week’s sightings at Dunbar Harbour.

Common Starfish Eider Curlew Shag

My final shots of the day were both taken as I sat on my 3-legged stool on my precarious rocky stance overlooking the charming island of Fidra. I photographed just 10 of what turned out to be a massive flock of Eider that were bobbing up and down in the stormy waters to the west of island. My final capture was an image of the Fidra lighthouse 

Eider Fidra Lighthouse

Although the weather was windy, we had almost unbroken sunshine and no rain. We also accumulated a pleasing number of sightings. Our final task was to down our Danish pastries and tea, which we managed with ease and no small amount of enjoyment. A great trip, but, please, no more storms.

Pictures of the Week:

Female Pied Wagtail Starling
Carrion Crow Oystercatcher

9th February 2020:
Belhaven Bay, Dunbar and Barns Ness

From the middle of last week there were multiple warnings of Storm “Ciara” which would bring storm-force gusts of wind, driving rain, hail, snow and thunder. Those are not ideal conditions for taking pictures. However, on Sunday morning we noted that the west coast would take the brunt of the bad weather so it was with hopeful optimism that we set off for the Dunbar area, as far east as we normally go on our Sunday expeditions.

Over breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (9.5/10: cold bacon but otherwise excellent) we decided our best strategy was to concentrate on areas which might be sheltered from the wind. We started at the west of Dunbar, at Seafield Pond adjacent to Belhaven Bay. It was dull and gusty, but dry as we scanned the Pond. Most of its occupants were Wigeon and a few Teal clustered on the far side sheltering from the wind. A few Tufted Ducks paddled nearer, and I came upon a single Redshank on the edge of the water. A Grey Heron also made an appearance fishing at the far side on the pool.

Female Tufted Duck Tufted Duck Drakes Redshank Grey Heron

A flock of Curlew flew overhead and onto an adjoining field. The light had improved as the sky got much less cloudy. On the Bay a larger flock of Oystercatchers were jostling for position as the tide  was creeping in.

Curlew Oystercatcher

By the sea wall I found a small flowering White Deadnettle that was about to get a fright, because  frost was predicted. Looking towards Tyninghame Bay we could now see a large band of colours - not quite a rainbow though. At the other side of the wall a few Wigeon were dabbling (see also, “Pictures of the Week”’ below). When we returned to the car there was a lonely, thin Curlew foraging on the grass.

White Deadnettle Wigeon Curlew

We moved into the town and parked at Dunbar Harbour. There were a lot of gulls on the water, mainly Herring Gulls of various ages. A Cormorant surfaced metres from where we were standing, leading to my favourite picture of the visit (see “Pictures of the Week”’ below).

Herring Gull Herring Gull 1st Cycle

We were disappointed that there were only a few Eider in the harbour, as are there are normally quite a few in similar weather. As we walked around the harbour, passing a friendly wee tabby cat  just before we crossed the footbridge. John pointed out a juvenile male Eider preening in the relatively calm conditions of the inner harbour. We came across a Rock Pipit dodging gulls and people, as well as having to deal with the sharp gusts of wind.

Eider Juvenile Eider Rock Pipit

Below is a view of Dunbar Harbour looking back from the harbour mouth. A brief showery squall has just passed, leaving blue sunny skies.

I peeped over the harbour sea wall and was delighted to see four Shag  standing on the rocks (see “Pictures of the Week”’ below). They were in early breeding plumage that seemed to be glowing dark emerald green. I snapped another Shag clambering out of the sea onto the same rocks, before spreading its wings for drying in the now strong sunshine, assisted of course by the ever-present wind. Only a few birds flew by, but I got a nice shots of an adult Herring Gull and a Cormorant showing the grey neck feathers so prominent in its breeding plumage.

Shag Shag Herring Gull Cormorant

With another shower threatening, we decided to drive the short distance east to Barns Ness, our final destination of the day. Being a much more open location, the wind was much stronger, however the tide was almost in and some Turnstones and Oystercatchers were feeding on piles of seaweed cast onto the shoreline. They were picking their way through the piles, dodging the occasional waves and gusts of wind. Further out on exposed rock, waves were pounding a few determined Cormorants. I managed to capture a shot of the scene just as a Dunlin flock passed. As we trekked around the lighthouse we watched the wind blowing walls of spray off of the breaking waves. Sunlight refracted by the spray produced very attractive bands of colour. We caught sight of a male Stonechat (see “Pictures of the Week”’ below) that darted from the beach onto a dry hogweed stem for just enough time for me to record the moment.

Turnstone Oystercatcher

Below is a view of the Barns Ness lighthouse as seen from the eastern shore.

We passed a small flock of distressed-looking Mallards that were obviously unsettled by the weather conditions. We gave them a wide berth as we didn’t want to add to their discomfort. I was rather surprised to find a female Skylark in grass near the shore at the lighthouse. They are resident in the UK throughout the year, but I don’t recall seeing them at Barns Ness during the winter. Next I managed a photo of a couple of winter plumage Knot  sunning themselves as they sheltered from the wind on rocks just off the shore. Our final capture of the day was of a Great Black-backed Gull cruising through the air, seemingly relishing the wild winds.

Mallard Female Skylark Knot, Winter Plumage Great Black-backed Gull
We found our own shelter in the car at the end of an exhilarating and rewarding day. We reflected on our haul of sightings, and agreed that Storm Ciara had been kind to us since we had seen plenty of sunshine and the winds had been tolerable. My favourite moments were the seeing the surfacing Cormorant (as I’ve said), the green-feathered Shags and the unexpected Skylarks. Hopefully we’ll get calmer weather next week (but as I write the predictions don’t look good).

Pictures of the Week:

Wigeon Cormorant
Shag Stonechat

2nd February 2020:

Figgate Park, Fisherrow, Musselburgh and Port Seton

The weather prediction for Sunday was depressing. There was to be rain across Central Scotland lasting the whole day.

Cloud Cover  Rain forecast between  10.00 a.m.- 11.00a.m.

I decided we’d go east but since the light would be poor, we’d concentrate on places where we were likely to see birds at close quarters. So after another fine breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (10/10:excellent) we started our quest at Figgate Park, on the east end of Edinburgh. The rain had stopped and the light seemed to be improving. Our first sighting was of a Treecreeper (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) near the park entrance. At the boardwalk viewing platform I snapped a few pond “regulars”, a Moorhen, a pair of Mallards and a cheeky wee Great Tit making its “teecha-teecha” call from a high nearby branch.

Moorhen Mallard Great Tit

A few Goosanders were gliding across the water, occasionally diving for fish. Also, a pair of Mute Swans were getting very friendly, nearly making a “love heart” pose as they repeatedly dipped their heads rather ceremoniously in the water. A few Canada Geese were exploring the pond edges, some coming very close.

Female Goosander Drake Goosander Mute Swan Canada Goose

John noticed an easy to miss Grey Heron hiding on branches on the island. We had been on the lookout for Otters that had been seen just before we’d arrived, so we were excited by a ring of water waves spotted at the periphery of our vision. It turned out to be a small Cormorant. As we walked around the pond I got some nice shots of a Robin in bushes near a patch of Common Snowdrops.

Grey Heron Cormorant Robin Common Snowdrops

Also near the path, a small flock of twittering Goldfinches flew between the trees. A lost-looking Redwing stopped briefly on low branches before darting off in a panic. On the grass I spotted a low, ragged garden “escapee”, probably Camellia Japonica. As we made for the car I snapped some Feral Pigeons around the Pond. Also, I found a patch of lovely yellow-flowered Winter Aconite (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) beneath young trees near the railway line.

Goldfinch Redwing Camelia Japonica Feral Pigeon

We relocated to Fisherrow Harbour in Musselburgh. The tide was low and the harbour floor was fully exposed. Small waders, Redshanks and Dunlin, were feeding in the damp mud. There were also a few Oystercatchers. A Pied Wagtail appeared on the harbour wall and I managed a few shots.

Redshank Dunlin Oystercatcher Pied Wagtail

I caught a nice flight shot of a large Herring Gull as it took off from a lamppost. We made the return journey around the harbour edge where I noticed a Dunlin getting right stuck in to the mud. A flock of Bar-tailed Godwits that had been feeding on the shore to the west of the harbour, were put up by some dog walkers. They flew past the Harbour, providing an excellent photo opportunity.

Herring Gull Dunlin Bar-tailed Godwits

Next we drove along to the shore road to the town centre and eventually parked by the River Esk near the Millhill car park. As we alighted the car, a Great Tit was calling from a garden bush. We strolled along the east side of the river past quite a few Herring Gulls that were gathered at the island. I noticed a striking 3rd year Herring Gull showing the adult plumage beginning to form. For no apparent reason, the sizeable flock of Canada Geese that had been grazing further upstream, flew low along the river, once again providing a great opportunity for flight shots. Among the flying flock was the Canada X Greylag Goose I had photographed earlier (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). On the way back to the car I noticed Crocuses that were starting to flower.

Great Tit 3rd Cycle Herring Gull Canada Goose Crocus

Our final port of call was the harbour at Port Seton. Below is a view east showing a brightly sunlit Gosford House with North Berwick Law prominent in the background.

We walked around the harbour which just beginning to fill with water. A Great Black-backed Gull was paddling in the shallows. On a street lamppost a Starling was singing it’s head off, the iridescence of its plumage highlighted by the now strong sunshine. Near the harbour mouth we watched a juvenile Herring Gull begging its parent for food. The adult obliged by digging out of fishing boat netting what looked like a Starfish, which the juvenile rapidly downed (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Great Black-backed Gull Starling

There were Herring Gulls perching on the harbour floodlights, making an interesting composition. John noticed a Red-throated Diver diving about 100m offshore. We hoped it might come further in, but it wasn’t to be. On our way out of the harbour I was quite surprised to find a flowering Sea Mayweed nestling by a capstan. Perhaps its late flowering is a symptom of a mild (so far) winter. Our final sighting was of a lone Curlew wandering the shore by the Wrecked Craigs.

3rd Cycle Herring Gull Red-throated Diver Sea Mayweed Curlew

We were delighted with our many and varied sightings. The unpromising weather didn’t hold us back. The birds seemed to be coming at us thick and, some literally, fast. We repeated last week’s pastry, chocolate and cream eclairs, washed down with strong tea. I’ve just seen the likely weather forecast for next week. It’s to be stormy. Let’s hope it misses Central Scotland.

Pictures of the Week:

Treecreeper Winter Aconite
Canada X Greylag Hybrid Herring Gull

Highlights - February 2020

We present my best pictures from February 2020 arranged in broad themes, not in the order they have been taken, but according to a series of themes.


Blue Tit Goosander
Grey Heron Greylag Goose
Greylag Goose Lapwing


Crocus Jelly Ear
Lesser Celandine Snowdrops


Coot Feral Pigeon
Goldeneye Female Goosander
Goosander Drake Greylag Goose
Greylag Goose Greylag Goose Hybrid
Mallard Drake Mistle Thrush
Mute Swan Whooper Swan


Greenfinch Mistle Thrush Robin


Blue Tit Bullfinch
Goldfinch Siskin


Black-headed Gull Feral Pigeon
Goldeneye Mallard


Carrion Crow Chaffinch
Goldcrest Great Tit
Jackdaw Magpie ( with Third Eylid )
Redwing Wren

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