Archive - January 2018
 

28th January

Maidens

There was cold, miserable weather throughout Central Scotland, the only glimmer of hope was a possibility that it would clear from the southwest by midday. The decision was taken then, head south down the M77, past Ayr if necessary, until the rain stopped. This we did, stopping off at Asda in Kilmarnock, for a very nice breakfast ( 9.5/10 ), and it was with some relief that, by the time we had reached the lovely fishing village of Maidens,the rain was off and the clouds were whitening. Good plan.

Maidens  is just north of Turnberry Golf Course, now famously owned by the world’s most powerful human being, Donald Trump. The village is steeped in history. In 1307 it was the landing place of Robert the Bruce on his return from exile in Ireland prior to the War of Independence that would result in him ruling the new Scottish nation for 23 years. Another interesting figure with links to the area was Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns. One of his most famous poems, Tam o’ Shanter, was set on Shanter Farm just north of Maidens.

As we alighted from the car we found the light was poor and the tide was low and a host of birds were feeding in the sands of the Harbour. About a dozen Shelduck were preening and posturing. The ever-present Redshanks were there foraging in large numbers. John then pointed out that there were a half dozen or so Pale-bellied Brent Geese present, close to the Shelducks.

Shelduck
Redshank
Shelduck
Pale-bellied Brent Goose




A beautiful Mute Swan swam in, probably expecting bread. We then noticed a lone Curlew behind us on the grass that surrounds the car park and playground. It flew off when we turned, which gave me a chance to get a nice flight shot (see Pictures of the Week). As we edged along the north side of the Harbour, the Brents got nervous and took off over our heads for the adjacent sands of Maidenhead Bay – another photo-opportunity! Other flight shots were of a Great Black-backed Gull and ....

Mute Swan
Curlew
Pale-bellied Brent Goose Great Black-backed Gull




.... a Herring Gull. I then spotted four Red-breasted Mergansers in the Harbour, where the Brent’s had been. They too toddled off as we showed them some attention. It was a shame we had no cover as our presence seemed to have been clearing the birds from the Harbour. The Dunlins were more tolerant though as the large flock had all their attentions on their search for insects, snakes and worms. In the shallows of the Harbour a Little Grebe, or Dabchick, was diving for small fish or larvae. They are more common on inland waters but often can be found in coastal areas during winter.

Herring Gull
Red-breasted Merganser
Dunlin
Little Grebe




As we cautiously picked our way across the rocks, a pair of familiar, fast moving birds flew in. Their high-pitched, “weeest” flight calls and their jizz told us they were Rock Pipits. On the sands beyond the rocks were a small flock of scurrying Ringed Plovers – however we soon spooked them too! Further north of these we spotted the Brent Geese but a dog put them up and provided yet another chance to snap them in flight. One of the many Cormorants from the surrounding area flew over the Harbour just as we decided to walk out onto the harbour wall.

Rock Pipit
Ringed Plover
Pale-bellied Brent Goose Cormorant




As we walked back around the Harbour there were very many noisy Oystercatchers probing the grass searching for worms. Needless to say we upset their peace too! More flight shots! Also on the grass were some of the Brent Geese cautiously watching us. As the weather improved, more humans were out walking so I was glad we weren’t the only ones annoying the birdlife. As we reached the wall the Mute Swan sailed over to us again. Sad to report we didn’t see much from the wall, a single distant Eider was our only picture.

Oystercatcher
Pale-bellied Brent Goose Mute Swan
Eider




Although the quality of our pictures was relatively poor due to the poor lighting conditions, we sipped our teas and munched our cinnamon whorl Danish pastries satisfied that we’d got any pictures at all, given that everywhere north and east of Maidens had been drenched with rain. Maybe we’ll catch the Sun next week?

Pictures of the Week:

Shelduck
Curlew


Pale-bellied Brent Goose
Rock Pipit


21st January 2018

Musselburgh

With snowy, rainy and overcast conditions forecast for the west we drove east to Musselburgh with a sense of jeopardy as we were taking a chance on the return journey being possible. Through the week the M8 had been blocked by snow at Harthill. But it was Sunday so traffic was lighter and the warning was yellow rather than amber so it was a calculated risk.

Breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons was excellent as usual (9.5/10: 1/2 off for asymmetrical toast). When we arrived at the mouth of the Esk the light was fading as heavy clouds moved in, but I started photographing straight away. Tide was low and Goldeneye, Mallard, Wigeon and Oystercatchers were feeding on the Esk.

Goldeneye
Mallard
Wigeon
Oystercatcher




As we walked east towards the Scrapes we came upon a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits vigorously probing the sand for vegetation, invertebrates and crustaceans. With their heads almost fully submerged beneath the surface they emerged, more often than not, with juicy morsels. A bit further round the coast a small group of Velvet Scoters were diving. Their diets consists mainly of shellfish, crabs, sea urchins, fish, insect larvae and plants. A solitary Slavonian Grebe accompanied the Scoters – understandable as they have a similar diet.

Bar-tailed
Godwit
Velvet Scoter
Slavonian Grebe




As I panned the camera following a flock of Turnstone in flight, John directed my attention to a newly-surfaced Cormorant just below the sea wall. It gave me a worried look before disappearing below the surface only to resurface 30m offshore. I did though manage to get a good clear shot when it was close. Almost invisible in the worsening light, about 50m offshore, a Long-tailed Duck was diving, typically, for molluscs, crustaceans and some small fish. Not far from him an Eider was also diving for similar foods. Its favourite nibble are mussels, so it was in the right place – well, it’s not called Musselburgh for nothing!

Turnstone
Cormorant
Long-tailed Duck
Eider




On the sea adjacent to the Scrapes we were disappointed to see large flocks of Wigeon and Teal because this meant the Scrapes were probably iced over and so would be bereft of birds. And it was! The nearby Boating Pond too had ice on its surface. Only the feeding motions of a pair of Mute Swans kept it from completely icing over as they searched for water plants, molluscs, and invertebrates. A single, lost-looking 1st winter Black-headed Gull was standing on the ice, probably waiting for some kind humans to feed them with chunks of bread.

Wigeon
Teal
Mute Swan
1st Cycle Black-headed Gull




At this point we noticed that we couldn’t see Edinburgh as snow moved in from the west. It was time to make our way back to the car. Across the Forth Kirkcaldy was in brightness but it too was soon to engulfed by snow. At the Esk, as I photographed another 1st cycle Black-headed Gull, I thought a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits had started fighting but it quickly became apparent they were copulating. It was all rather violent but seemed to end with caring, submissive postures.

Edinburgh
1st Cycle Black-headed Gull
Bar-tailed
Godwit




By this time it was snowing quite heavily so we drove a couple of hundred metres upstream to view the birds there. I took pictures from the car of a courting Goldeneye. Several males surrounded each female and basically harassed her while throwing their heads back onto their tails! Occasionally a female performed a head throw but always with less vigour. As the snow subsided I went a short walk along the bank and photographed a few nice sights. First of these was a mature, winter plumage Herring Gull.


Goldeneye

Herring Gull




There were a fair few Canada Geese foraging on the now snow covered grassy banks. On the river a Duclair Duck drifted past carrying flakes of snow while Goosanders darted frantically towards bread-yielding dog walkers. My final capture was a close-up of a Canada Goose that was taking a rest from scoffing some seed provided by a nice wee lad.

Canada Goose
Duclair Duck
Goosander
Canada Goose



It had been a “game of two halves” - pictures from along the sea wall, then pictures in the snow from the river bank. The light was poor but the birds were very active. We finished it all off, as is our custom, with tea and apple caramel Danish pastries. Then it was down the M8 in double quick time - there were far fewer cars on the road than normal due to the news media's over-cautious predictions ( not for the first time during the recent cold spell)
Better safe than sorry?

Pictures of the week:

Bar-tailed Godwit
Cormorant


Bar-tailed Godwit Goldeneye


14th January 2018

Aberlady LNR

Reports of the return of the Long-eared Owl at Aberlady drew us east once more. The weather forecast was encouraging. It was to be cloudy with sunny intervals and low probability of rain. So after a hearty breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (9.5/10) we sped up the A198 to Longniddry, then along the coast to Aberlady Local Nature Reserve. We had a dull start though, but as we crossed the footbridge we managed to see a group of Teal and a Curlew feeding at the mouth of the Peffer Burn. As we reached the end of the bridge the sun broke through, illuminating a Carrion Crow foraging in the long grass. Just before the path passed through the dense thicket of Sea Buckthorn a kind birder pointed out a Peregrine Falcon sitting a couple of hundred metres away near the shore. Perhaps it was eating some unfortunate prey.

Teal
Curlew
Carrion Crow
Peregrine Falcon





As we snapped the Falcon we became aware that there were lots of Fieldfares feeding on the orange Sea Buckthorn berries. John thought he’d read that these berries, ‘hippophae rhamnoides’, were rich in alcohol when ripe. Maybe that explains their excited behaviour! However when I researched the Sea Buckthorn berry I could see no mention of alcohol but apparently the berries are very oily and very rich in vitamin C, so they’re a rich energy source for birds.
When we reached Marl Loch, where the Long-eared Owl had been seen, more Fieldfares were very evident as hordes of them were arriving onto the berry-rich bushes, settling only for a short time and then fleeing nervously. We used my spotting scope to scan the lochside for the owl, but to no avail. It hadn’t been seen that day. Undeterred, we moved further into the reserve. Out into the Firth of Forth we could see a very imposing sea vessel that we researched later in the pub and concluded it was a jack up rig ship. Exactly what it was up to, we don’t know. Maybe the passing Herring Gull could’ve told us! We eventually reached yet more Sea Buckthorn and, yes, you may have guessed, even more Fieldfares gorging themselves on the juicy berries! This time we got much closer views to these very flighty subjects.

Fieldfare
Jack Up Rig Ship
Herring Gull
Fieldfare




We pressed on further along the footpath towards the dunes and soon were surprised by a wee male Reed Bunting that flew in, settled on a low bush and posed long enough for me to get some good shots. We then struggled over the dunes onto the beautiful beach. The tide was in and I headed immediately towards some waders I’d spotted to the south. They were Sanderling rather comically scurrying along the edge of the shore. The ever-present Oystercatchers and Common Gulls were also feeding there.

Reed Bunting
Sanderling
Oystercatcher
Common Gull



Further round we met another small flock of Sanderling probing a small area of the beach seemingly unaware we were there. The light was fading as the clouds rolled in but as we left the beach I captured a picture of a Knot, one of quite a large flock. We then plodded back to the car, and as we passed back over the footbridge we again came across Curlew and Teal, sadly in very poor light.

Sanderling
Knot
Curlew
Teal



At the car it was tea and chocolate eclairs before driving back home. Although we failed to catch a glimpse of the Long-eared Owl the outing had been a success as it had been very enjoyable and we left with pictures of some lovely birds.

Pictures of the week:

Carrion Crow
Fieldfare


Reed Bunting
Sanderling



7th January 2018

Musselburgh

With festive celebrations behind us we were on the road again heading merrily east to Musselburgh. The weatherman assured us that we’d experience bright but cold conditions and he wasn’t wrong. So after our customary Dalkeith Morrisons breakfast (9.5/10) we nipped over to the mouth of the Esk where we found the tide was well out but there seemed to be sufficient birds to keep us interested. Our first shots were of some well lit Mute Swans and Mallards by the east bank of the river. A little further along, a Bar-tailed Godwit was vigorously drilling into the sand using its long sharp bill that was evolved precisely for that purpose. All the time there were birds passing, among them were a fair number of Goldeneye flying upstream.

Mute Swan
Mallard
Bar-tailed Godwit
Goldeneye




Other flypasts included the ubiquitous Black-headed (unphotographed), Common and Herring Gulls as well as Carrion Crows searching for shellfish and occasionally dropping them from on high, presumably to encourage the occupants of the shells to leave their shells - only to be gobbled up. Below the seawall a solitary Curlew used its long curved beak to forage for invertebrates buried in the sand.

Common Gull
Herring Gull
Carrion Crow
Curlew




Seeking out birds is often done with the ears before eyes. In the trees by the path I heard a group of Linnets resting in the lovely sunlight. Their “chichichi-chit” calls were very distinct from the other birdcalls. The equally familiar calls of Oystercatchers (“kleeep, kwik, or k-peep”) and Redshanks (“tuleeu-tuleeu-tuleeu”) attracted my attention back over the seawall. Another familiar sound, that of  of a Meadow Pipit (“seep, seep or swip, swip, swip”) allowed me to locate it and capture its image as it explored the grassy verges of the path.

Linnet
Oystercatcher
Redshank
Meadow Pipit




As I followed the Pipit I heard a Reed Bunting calling from a distant bush - “seeoo”. I edged my way towards it but it was spooked by a passing cyclists before I could get as close as I would have liked. About 80m offshore I spotted a flock of Ringed Plovers as they sped westwards over a pair of Velvet Scoters diving. Before too long one of the Scoters also flew west. As I photographed it, a pair of Reed Buntings flew onto the seawall, settling only metres from where we were standing - a great opportunity to capture pictures of these bonny birds.

Female Reed Bunting
Ringed Plover
Velvet Scoter
Reed Bunting




On the sea, spread over a couple of hundred metres adjacent to the Scrapes, we came upon at least a couple of hundred roosting Wigeon. I guessed that the Scrapes were iced-over as I would have expected the birds to have settled there instead of on the sea. As we walked over to the entrance of the Reserve I spotted a female Kestrel sitting atop one of the trees. It posed rather obligingly before flitting off a bit beyond our view. At the hides we were presented with a deserted, icy panorama. Only a couple Magpies braved the Arctic conditions. Later, a few groups of  Wigeon swooped over the frozen ponds, intending to land, but changing their minds at the last minute before heading back over the seawall to the relative safety of the sea.

Wigeon
Kestrel
Magpie
Wigeon



On leaving the Scrapes we found the Boating Pond held quite a few Wigeon, all bathed in the low, amber winter light. On the return journey we noted that the Velvet Scoter was a lot closer to the wall, allowing us to see a bit more detail. As we approached the mouth of the Esk we found several Turnstones doing exactly as you would expect from their names, and at the very end of our walk as we reached the car I got pictures of another Curlew as it slowly made its way upstream into the rays of the setting sun.

Female Wigeon
Velvet Scoter
Turnstone
Curlew



On reaching the car it was time for our tea and Danish pastries. It was John’s first post-walk tea for a few weeks and the caramel crown Danish pastries were delicious, made all the more enjoyable having had made a fairly successful circuit of one of our favourite locations.
 
Pictures of the Week:

Carrion Crow
Female Reed Bunting


Kestrel
Wigeon


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