Archive - February 2019
 

24th February 

My Garden, Hogganfield Loch and Cathkin Marsh

Still unable to drive due to my injured arm, my “cabin fever” reached a peak by last Wednesday when I decided I must be able to overcome my temporary disability and that I should at least try to take some pictures. So I dug out my old monopod and attached it to my Nikon D500 and sat at my back door ready to snap any birds that visited the feeders I’d set up. The first customer was a jaunty wee Robin. I held the monopod steady with the hand of my slinged-up injured arm and took the photo using my left hand. It was slightly painful, but bearable. A wee Dunnock was next to wander in, foraging the ground below the feeders for spillages. It wasn’t long before the House Sparrows showed up, emerging from inside the large hedgerow that runs along the side of my garden. They took turns raiding the seed feeder, resting between raids on my trellis. The sun disappeared behind the clouds, and my scolding wife showed up - so that was that.

Robin Dunnock House Sparrow Female House Sparrow

 
Not discouraged by the experiences of the previous day, the next day I managed to persuade my wife to drive me to Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow. The light was nice for taking pictures so I got to work using camera on monopod, but from a standing position. I was under strict instructions to get what I could in 30 minutes, but such was the density of birds on the Loch by the car park, I had accumulated over 80 shots in about 20 minutes. Dominating the feeding area were the Swans , mainly Mute Swans with a few Whoopers  amongst them, and Mallards (see “Pictures of the Week”,  below). The Whoopers’ head and neck feathers were tinged with brown. During summer months the Whoopers were most likely resident in Iceland  where they feed in areas where the water is rich in Iron compounds. These stain the feathers of the swans with a rust colour. During their winter moults the stained feathers will be replaced. Weaving precariously through the waters between the Swans, Tufted Ducks dived for invertebrates running the wrong side of the moody Goldeneyes.

Mute Swan Whooper Swan Tufted Duck Goldeneye


Black-headed Gulls sat on the water awaiting their next feeding opportunity as did the Goosanders, males and females now coming into breeding plumages (also see “Pictures of the Week”,  below). I noticed a patch of Coltsfoot  was in early bloom due to the (as yet) mild winter. Satisfied that I was up and running, if still somewhat limited to low and slow subjects, I called it a day and headed home.

Black-Headed Gull  Male Goosander Female Goosander Coltsfoot


Next morning, Friday, I again sat inside my just-open back door, with camera peeking through the gap and waited for some feathered action. Soon the Hedge Sparrows became lively and they commuted between the hedges and the feeders (also see “Pictures of the Week”,  below). A few young Starlings joined in. I spotted a 2nd-cycle Herring Gull on a rooftop some 50m away. A bit nearer, a pair of Blue Tits seemed to be courting, but they may just have been competing for territory.

House Sparrow Starling 2nd Cycle Herring Gull Blue Tit


On another roof opposite my garden, a Magpie was using a TV aerial as a perch, only to have its position usurped by a pair of crafty Jackdaws. One of the pair kept flying off in a circle, returning seconds later - could be more courtship behaviour. Just before lunch I finished my morning session with a charming shot of a female House Sparrow.

Magpie Jack daws Female House Sparrow


On Sunday afternoon my wife once again was kind enough to run me to the SWT Reserve Cathkin Marsh, near East Kilbride. Conditions were very pleasant. The weather was unseasonably warm but the reserve was fairly quiet, as the panorama below shows.


In one circuit of the reserve all I saw was a Carrion Crow, a Moorhen and a pair of lively Great Tits (also see “Pictures of the Week”,  below). I noticed catkins  on many young trees throughout the small reserve. I think they were Alder  trees.

Carrion Crow Alder Moorhen Great Tit

It was pleasing to get back behind a camera again. Hopefully my arm will have continued to improve next week, sufficiently enough to allow me to get behind the driving wheel again. Fingers crossed.

Pictures of the Week:

Goosander Mallard
Whooper Swan House Sparrow
Female House Sparrow Great Tit


Birdwatching around Strathclyde Loch (Winter), Motherwell.

There was no trip again this week since I’m still recovering from an arm injury and I still can’t drive or hold a large camera. Rather than let a week pass without a blog, and since I’m still able to use my index finger to operate a keyboard, I’ve prepared this short guide to winter birdwatching in Strathclyde Park . When asked of birds at Strathclyde Park, most Park visitors could tell you that there are swans, ducks and geese but few of them realise that the list of birds is much more extensive than this. Indeed many will be surprised that the pictures shown are all taken from the most used path around the Loch (Please refer to the link here  for a map of the Park. I’ll be following the blue route starting with the Motherwell-side of the orange route). Although they have been accumulated over the last 4 years, the majority of these can be seen any day of the week.
The main entrance of the Park is off Hamilton Road, Motherwell. The landscape there is very familiar to me as I well remember as a schoolboy fishing at the old Clyde Park Boating Pond before it was incorporated, a decade later, into the south end of Strathclyde Country Park. The trees that surround the children’s playground is rich with bird life, as can be heard from the familiar loud calls of squabbling Magpies to the more subtle and quiet whistles of Bullfinches. On the grassy slopes, that were once a pitch and put course, you’ll often see large flocks of grazing Greylag Geese. In winter, amongst the leaf litter, you might catch some very skittish Redwings as they search for insects, worms and even berries. These are winter visitors from mainly Scandinavia.

Magpie Bullfinch Greylag Goose Redwing

Cousins of the Redwings that also winter here are Fieldfares. Handsome and just as flighty, they have a similar diet to their Redwing companions. Another member of the Thrush family  , the Mistle Thrush, is resident in the UK all year round. Like their cousins, they too feed on invertebrates and berries. Two very well known and popular birds present in the trees and bushes are Robins and Blue Tits. Both will tolerate modest human attention, indeed Robins often follow walkers almost begging food.

Fieldfare Mistle Thrush Robin Blue Tit

Probably the first wild flower of the year to blossom is the Snowdrop . It’s scientific name is Gallanthus from the Greek meaning “milk flower” since the flower resembles 3 drops of milk hanging on the green stem (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). You may see and hear Blackbirds rifling through the leaves and flowers at the base of trees. If you look very carefully at the trunks of the trees, and maybe listen for a high ring-tone-like chirps, you may come across a little bird that is a bit smaller than a sparrow, the Treecreeper . They behave as their name suggests, by creeping up trees and branches in search of small invertebrates. Also heard in the trees are the “teecha-teecha” calls of the Great Tit. They are easily identified by the black vertical stripe on their yellow breasts. Occasionally you might also see a Grey Squirrel  leaping between the branches.

Blackbird Treecreeper Great Tit Grey Squirrel

The southern shores of the Loch is just short walk north of the play area. It is an easier place to see birds. The most common birds are gulls, mainly Black-headed and Herring Gulls, but rarer birds often appear, such as the Ring-billed  and Iceland  gulls.

Black-headed Gull Herring Gull Iceland Gull Ring-billed Gull

The southwest area of the Loch is rich in birdlife and includes the Pavilion and Southern Tower, along the lochside path and past car parks 1-4. Mischievous Jackdaws  are very common. They are very mobile opportunist thieves, always on the lookout for a quick steal from other birds or unsuspecting humans. Along the waters’ edge, Mallards and Mute Swans predominate. There are usually a few Goosanders fishing further off the shore. Occasionally one will bring its catch to the surface. A very exciting sight but one that is surpassed by another species. There is an ever increasing flock of Cormorants in the Loch, 100+ according to some. These birds hunt in huge groups by moving along the middle of the Loch, diving in unison and often rising to the surface with fish. The group is usually accompanied by Gulls hoping to snatch their quarry.

Jackdaw Female Mallard Goosander Cormorant

From time to time, Pied Wagtails flit along the pebble banks seeking insects. There are a couple of other Wagtail species that frequent the Park, the White and Grey Wagtails. The Grey Wagtail is easily identified by its yellow rump and underside, but distinguishing Pied from White can be tricky. Around car park 4, where car drivers can park at the water’s edge and easily feed the birds, an accumulation of birds is usually found there. A puzzle to me is that there are Tufted Ducks there (and in similar sites in other parks) even although they are not attracted to bread. They are diving ducks that eat invertebrates. Perhaps they like the protective company of so many other birds.

White Wagtail Grey Wagtail Pied Wagtail Tufted Duck

Earlier I said that the most common birds on the Loch are Gulls, but the most prominent birds are probably Mute Swans. There are certainly over 100 Swans on the Loch (but I’ve never seen any Whoopers there) and they are certainly a crowd favourite that give a lot of pleasure to a lot of folk who travel a long way to feed them. The second most prominent birds are probably the Geese. These are mainly Greylags, whose population has grown in recent years, and who can be found in any area around the Loch. A few other geese species are amongst them, including the white Embden Goose and hybrids such as a Greylag-Swan Goose cross. Before turning my attention to the north end of the Loch, and as an example of the infrequent sightings one can see in the Park,
I’d like to mention a Kittiwake that turned up three years ago. Kittiwakes  are small gulls almost always seen by the coast or at sea. When they appear at inland sites there is usually something amiss. This was the case as sadly it died within a couple of days.

Mute Swan Embden Goose Greylag x Swan Goose Kittiwake

The north end of the Loch, including the water sports starting area, mote and surrounding trees is a rewarding area to investigate. It is the site of the Bothwellhaugh mining village, now completely gone, submerged beneath the waters of the Loch. Lapwings (and their cousins the Golden Plovers) like to roost on the starting bays. A couple of years ago I captured an image of a wee Goldcrest in the bushes behind the tower. Also there I often see Long-tailed Tit flocks, and recently there has been a large flock of Siskins in feeding and on the trees. They make fascinating viewing but they are under-appreciated as few walkers even notice their presence. The water channel around the starting area is a favourite haunt of the Grey Heron, as well as for Coots (see “Pictures of the Week”, below), Moorhens and Little Grebes.

Lapwing Goldcrest Siskin Grey Heron

Another area worthy of a visit is around the mouth of the South Calder Water. The site contains Roman  archeology. An impressive Roman Bathhouse is certainly worth seeing but the Roman Fort just up the hill from there is unimpressively un-excavated. Birds seen on the water include Goldeneye, Scaup and Little Grebes. In the trees you can find a large population of Carrion Crows, another very common bird throughout the Park. It is also a good place to see Buzzards as one often perches on the trees at the back of the marsh that nestled below the site of the Roman Fort. And if you are lucky you may catch sight of a Red Fox (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Siskins and Goldfinches are common there too. 

Goldeneye Scaup Little Grebe Goldfinch

If you are walking around the Loch in Strathclyde Park I hope you will look out for the many birds I have listed above. Please note that there are other areas of the Park that I’ve not covered (subject of a future blog maybe). Please refer to the Park map (referred to in the first paragraph).

Pictures of the Week:

Snowdrop Long-tailed Tit
Common Buzzard Coot
Red Fox Carrion Crow

 
6th February 

Kilspindie (Aberlady) and Musselburgh.

There was no Sunday trip this week due to an unfortunate accident I had that left me with an injured arm and temporarily unable to drive or hold my big camera. So I’ve decided to report on a trip I made on the previous Wednesday. Regular followers of our blogs will recall my failed attempts in December to locate the pair of Shore Larks at Kilspindie, Aberlady. I had read in Twitter that they were still there, so I determined that I should have another attempt to see them (I should mention that, in the interim, I had at least half a dozen unsuccessful tries).

Kilspindie (Aberlady):
It was a bright, sunny morning as I parked in the Kilspindie Golf Club overflow car park. The birds had been sited very close to there but they had been moving between the shore and the far end of the golf course. So it was with an air of negativity I plodded onto the sandy shore and began my search. All I could see initially were a Redshank and a pair of Mallards. I soon met a fellow birder who was sitting with a spotting scope. I asked him, “Any sign of the Shore Larks ?” . “Yes, there they are there”, he answered with obvious delight. And so they were, working their way across the sparse vegetation in the sandy area adjacent to the car park. I managed a few shots before they took off over the golf course, spooked by some noisy golfers.

Redshank Mallard Shore Lark

With the tide at its lowest and the sea and associated birds over half a mile away I decided to relocate west to Musselburgh. As I drove out of the car park I noticed that there were House Sparrows in the bushes. With them were a few Tree Sparrows . As I left the Kilspindie Golf club approach road there was a Curlew feeding in the grassy triangle. I snapped a quick shot from the car before leaving Aberlady heading for Musselburgh.

House Sparrow Tree Sparrow Curlew Common Gull


Musselburgh:

I parked on Goose Green Place by the mouth of the River Esk. I could see there was a rain shower looming on the Pentland Hills. The sun was shining though, so I ventured forth along the Esk mouth and took some close shots of the birds that were feeding on the east bank. These were mainly Redshanks and Wigeon  but a lot of Turnstones were flying in from areas being reclaimed by the incoming tide. (See also “Pictures of the Week”.)

Redshank Drake Wigeon Female Wigeon Turnstone

As the inevitable rain moved in I rushed back to the car for shelter. The shower pelted the car as I sat cozily inside sipping tea. When it had passed I re-emerged from the car and was treated to the beautiful sight of a wonderful rainbow over the Cadet halls.


I set off along the sea wall, scanning the shore for anything of interest. My first capture was of a Little Grebe  searching the Esk for little fish. The rainbow was moving out over the Firth of Forth, inspiring me to photograph a Carrion Crow with a spectral background. Goldeneye  were flying back from the sea, in up the Esk to shelter in much calmer surroundings. A juvenile male passed close to the sea wall allowing me to get quite a nice flight shot. The birds I expected to see at the edge of the sea were not there. The strong winds had probably moved them on. I decided to drive a mile east to the Levenhall Links where I could visit the Scrapes and maybe see sheltering birds. Just as I returned to the car I grabbed some shots of a bold Carrion Crow sitting on a fence.

Little Grebe Carrion Crow Juvenile Male Goldeneye Carrion Crow

As I scanned the sea at Levenhall Links  it was still wild and very choppy. I moved into the RSPB Nature Reserve to the middle hide where I found Teal  close to the hide. There was a big flock of Bar-tailed Godwits resting beside a huge flock of Oystercatchers. Also in good numbers were Lapwings. Flighty at the best times they seemed very edgy, taking to the air at the slightest threat. Perhaps a raptor was about. (See also “Pictures of the Week”). A solitary Magpie was wandering the grass in front of the hide, probing every now and again searching for invertebrates.

Teal Bar-tailed Godwit Lapwing Magpie

The Oystercatchers were also restless and squabbling, but not so the Redshanks. Things settled down after a bit - until a large flock of Wigeon appeared on the scene. They circled the reserve several times before flying east.

Oystercatcher Redshank Bar-tailed Godwit Wigeon

As I retraced my steps back to the car I met a bold wee Meadow Pipit flitting along the sea wall. In the distance I could see a Kestrel  hovering in the air, hunting small rodents. I realised then what was worrying the Lapwings. I hoped to get closer as I neared my car. Meanwhile I spotted a drake Long-tailed Duck  bobbing 50m off the sea wall. It wasn’t diving and the sun was shining so I managed a decent record shot. I carefully tracked the movements of the male Kestrel and I got lots of pictures of it as it hung in the breeze. (See also “Pictures of the Week”).

Meadow Pipit Kes trel Long-tailed Duck

It had been a successful day’s nature watching. I had finally caught up with the elusive Kilspindie Shore Larks and Musselburgh, as usual, offered up a feast of photographic delights.

Pictures of the Week:

Turnstone Redshank
Lapwing Kestrel



2nd February

Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow

It was a solo trip for me this week as John had a big family birthday to see to. Also, I noticed that the weather for Sunday was to be miserable so since Saturday was very sunny, although cold, I decided to cancel the Sunday outing and go on Saturday instead. I made for Hogganfield Park, a personal favourite of mine (No cooked breakfast this week just a bowl of cornflakes and a banana).
One of the “Seven Lochs” , Hogganfield Park is shining example of Glasgow City Council’s commitment  to supporting the environment. The Park was created in the 1920s and incorporated a tearoom and boating facilities . The loch and its surrounding woodlands, marsh and grasslands were declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1998.
It was a winter’s scene when I arrived at Hoggie, with most of the Loch frozen. Only the section by the car park was ice free, due to the hundreds of birds crammed in there. Very kind and caring humans regularly feed them so it was worth their while hanging about in the area of the car park.


I set out capturing some images of the many birds there, starting with a bird that birdwatchers rarely get close to in “wilder” locations, the Goosander  (also see “Pictures of the Week 1”, below). Of course there were Mallards, some skating over the icy shelves. Next I captured images of Whooper Swans, regular winter visitors to the park and easily distinguished  from the more common Mute Swans by their yellow bills and by their noisy honks (also see “Pictures of the Week 1”, below). A large flock of Feral Pigeons are permanent residents of the Loch throughout the year. The white plumage of a Piebald Feral Pigeon caught my eye as it scurried across the snow chasing the breadcrumbs.

Goosander Mallard Whooper Swan Piebald Feral Pigeon

Because the bird population of the Loch was crammed into such a small space the birds were understandably on edge. The feisty Coot was extra belligerent, threatening any birds that came close. The Tufted Ducks were pretty wary between dives. Even the few Goldeneye I could see seemed a bit anxious as they tried to feed (also see “Pictures of the Week 1”, below). This was another bird that had become accustomed to park life while in most other locations they are very hard to approach. I decided to trek around the Loch to check out the quieter east end of the park, between the Loch and Avenue End Road. On the way there I came across a pair of Moorhens on the grassy banks of the Loch.

Coot Tufted Duck Female Goldeneye Moorhen

Pictures of the Week1:

Female Goosander Mute Swan
Coot Goldeneye

It was a Arctic scene before me at the east end of the Park. The wee pond, there, was of course, frozen over and seemed devoid of wildlife.


My expectations were raised when I spotted a Kestrel  sitting atop a small Silver Birch tree, and to my amazement it actually flew towards me, settling on tree some 20m away. Then, a short time after, a Red Fox  prowled by the west end of the pond. I think it heard the click of my camera as it shifted at pace when I started shooting. I next moved out of the Park briefly onto an old road that would take me to the footpath on the other side of the pond. As I walked along the old road I saw several small birds, including a Robin and a family of Bullfinches (see also “Pictures of the Week 2”, below for more shots of these birds).

Kestrel Red Fox Robin Bullfinch

As I re-entered the Park I came face-to-face with a Magpie roosting on a path-side tree. Behind it I could hear the twittering song of a Goldfinch. Soon I had located it and taken a couple pictures. Next I looked beyond the trees to the bushes on the hillock where I noticed a pair of Roe Deer, a buck (m) and doe (f), lurking in the long grass. They stood motionless as they checked me out before slowly disappearing into the undergrowth.

Magpie Goldfinch Roe Deer ( Doe ) Roe Deer ( Buck )

A Carrion Crow then flew overhead, clutching a chunk of bread in it’s beak, followed at a higher altitude by a juvenile Cormorant heading for the Loch. It probably got a shock when it found the water was solid and white! Just as I neared completion of my circuit of the park I came upon a small flock of Long-tailed Tits  feeding on tree branches over the footpath where the many walkers pass unaware of one of the delights of nature above them. The wee acrobats flitted from branch to branch, sometimes hanging upside down as they searched for insects. As I snapped the Tits, a Magpie passed above them carrying a wee dod of bread to some safe area where it could eat it free from other birds.

Carrion Crow Juvenile Cormorant Long-tailed Tit Magpie

Back at the car park I scanned the water for gulls. They were mainly Black- headed, Herring and Common Gulls. I didn’t see any Lesser Black-backed Gulls , a regular sighting in summer months, as they are migratory, wintering in West Africa. My final photos of the day were of a pair of mating Mute Swans. During their courtship the birds swimming side by side and dipping their heads alternately into the water. Then, after copulation, both rose high in the water face to face, giving passionate grunts before settling together, preening. I just about managed the iconic picture of love (see “Pictures of the Week 2”, below), just in time for St Valentine’s Day.

Herring Gull Common Gull Black-headed Gull Mute Swan

I hope I’ve conveyed an impression of the rich variety of wildlife in the Nature Reserve at Hogganfield Park. That richness is further enhanced from Spring to Autumn when flowers an insects appear - but I’ll keep that for a later blog.

Pictures of the Week2:

Kestrel Robin
Bullfinch Mute Swan




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