Archive - January 2020

26th January

Doonfoot, Troon

Central Scotland was to be dull, wet and cold on Sunday. The one note of optimism was that brighter weather would push in from the west, so we headed for Doonfoot, south of Ayr. We stopped off at Stewartfield Morrisons in East Kilbride for a quick breakfast (9.5/10: excellent), before belting down the M77 to not quite sunny Ayr, but it was an improving picture. A Greenfinch  and a Stonechat  welcomed us on arrival at the Castle Walk car park close to the footbridge at the mouth of the River Doon - Burns country, appropriately, as it was a day after Burns Night. We surveyed the pond and were pleased to see some Black-headed Gulls and a dozen or so noisy Teal.

Greenfinch Female Stonechat Black-headed Gull Teal

The tide was very high so we couldn’t access the beach so we decided to cross the footbridge over the Doon to see what we could find on the shoreline there. On the banks of the river were gathered a pair of juvenile Mute Swans and around them a large flock of roosting Redshanks. Growing near them, John spotted our first flowers of the year, a patch of Snowdrops . On the other side of the bridge, a pair of Stonechats (see also “Pictures of the Week”) were sitting no more than 5m away, high on the withered vegetation.

Juvenile Mute Swan Redshank Snowdrop Stonechat

On the short parkland grass a half dozen Rooks  were feeding, some of them squabbling over a large snail. A Common Gull circled overhead, ready for the quick steal should the opportunity appear. A few more Teal were dabbling in the burn mouth.

Rook Common Gull Female Teal

An extensive pile of seaweed was strewn along the shoreline and scores of Turnstones were getting stuck in looking for invertebrates, although they were frequently interrupted by passing dogs (see “Pictures of the Week”). Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits were also nipping about on the seaweed. Also, John noticed a pair of Goldeneye 40m offshore.

Pied Wagtail Rock Pipit Goldeneye

We returned to the car and made a brief visit to the Greenan Shore car park. A quick scan produced pictures of a Swan on the sea, a wee cock House Sparrow on a hedge and a Carrion Crow foraging in the short grass but, on seeing that our normal route along the beach was blocked by the high tide, we decided to cut our losses and head for Troon.

Mute Swan House Sparrow Carrion Crow Starling

At Troon we parked at the Titchfield Road car park  and walked along the Italian Gardens to the South Beach.  A Grey Wagtail (see “Pictures of the Week”) darted onto the promenade and began pecking at weeds before descending to the vast mass of seaweed on the shore. A Cormorant flew north over very choppy waters. Close in were a few Black-headed Gulls riding the waves, presumably picking off invertebrates dislodged from the seaweed. A Pied Wagtail scurried past us on the Prom as it searched for scraps to eat. I spotted a Rock Pipit exploring a more sheltered stairwell in the sea wall.

Cormorant 2nd Cycle Black-headed Gull Female Pied Wagtail Rock Pipit

A first-year Herring Gull was floating in the calmer water, waiting on a chance for food. Only metres away, a solitary Redshank (see “Pictures of the Week”) was scouring the seaweed pile paying little attention to the passing crowds. Less trusting were a flock of wary, nervous Starlings that settled for only seconds at a time as people passed.

1st Cycle Herring Gull Starling|

We returned to the car and drove to the Harbour car park. The wind was fairly brisk as we explored the sandy area near the harbour wall. We came across a large flock of Ringed Plover  and Dunlin (see also “Pictures of the Week”).  They were very unsettled by the wild waves lashing their preferred area of shingle.

Ringed Plover Dunlin

On rocks in front of the car park we were delighted to see a large flock of roosting Knot.


Unlike the Dunlin flock, the Knot (see also “Pictures of the Week”) were very settled, only stirring when the waves threatened or when Oystercatchers muscled in on their patches. A watchful Curlew was at the edge of the rocks just out of the way of any commotion. Our final picture was of a bird liable to cause a commotion at any time, a Herring Gull, standing on a rooftop waiting for any chips discarded from the many parked cars (The chips smelled lovely).

Knot Oystercatcher Curlew Herring Gull

Throughout the trip the sun never really broke through the clouds, but the light was passable. We had plenty to photograph and our tally of photos was pleasing. It was a successful trip which we celebrated in the usual way by imbibing tea and nibbling chocolate coated cream eclairs. Frustratingly, the sun came out as we started the drive home. Typical!

Pictures of the Week:

Female Stonechat Turnstone
Grey Wagtail Redshank
Dunlin Knot

19th January 2020:

Stevenston Point, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

For the first Sunday in a couple of months the weather prediction for West Central Scotland was favourable, so we headed for Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine. As we consumed our breakfasts in Stevenston Morrisons (10/10, another super breakfast), it was overcast, although we could see patches of blue sky to the north. We hoped the cloud would clear by the time we’d finished. However at Stevenston Point it was very gloomy with very few birds on view. We could see that Goat Fell on Arran has become illuminated with sunshine so we decided to relocate to Saltcoats where we expected it would soon become sunny. On our way off of the Point, from the car, I snapped a Common Gull and an Oystercatcher, two of the very many birds that were hunting worms on the large extensive areas of mown grass.

Isle Of Arran Common Gull Oystercatcher

In the middle of, a now sunny Saltcoats Harbour, we came across a Common Seal  apparently sleeping in the the water, or was it ill? We scanned the rocks at the end of the harbour hoping we’d find some Purple Sandpipers. Unfortunately not, but I got nice shots of a pair of Herring Gulls , a 3rd year and a first year juvenile. A few small, back-lit Shags dashed past the harbour.

Common Seal 3rd Cycle Herring Gull 1st Cycle Herring Gull Shag
The stunning cloudscape, looking south towards Ailsa Craig, just before the sun broke through:

The tide was at its lowest so the rocks of the harbour basin were fully exposed. John pointed out a small flock of snoozing Dunlins  nestling on the rocks. We decided to walk around the harbour to get nearer the exposed rocks, hoping for more waders. John took a picture of a Feral Pigeon perched inside a drainage hole in the sea wall. He also spotted a Curlew that was feeding on the harbour floor. On top of the wall a rather less shy Feral Pigeon made a lovely subject.

Dunlin Feral Pigeon Curlew Feral Pigeon

The pleasing view across the harbour, looking towards Arran:

We continued our walk by moving towards the North Beach. We were met with the impressive sight of a dozen Mute Swans flying in from the North beach. They splashed down onto the outdoor pool. On rocks adjacent to the pool I noticed a few Ringed Plovers  cowering in the stiff cold breeze. A bit further along the rocks a few Dunlin were also sheltering. On our way back to the car I got some interesting shots of an Oystercatcher chipping Mussels off of the rocks (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). It then made short work of removing the contents. On the same rock pool a Redshank was also pecking the seaweed and rocks albeit for smaller invertebrates.

Mute Swan Ringed Plover Dunlin Redshank

Our final destination was Irvine Harbour. There were many more cars than usual in the car park. We were a bit puzzled by that until we realised that there were crowds of people wandering the paths looking down at their phones. It was a Pokemon Go event. One participant told me they were looking for a virtual Penguin. I told her we were after real birds. Our first sighting was a beauty, a close range drake Red-breasted Merganser (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Close by we also saw a juvenile and a female. A bit further upstream a pair of Mute Swan cygnets were cruising close to the bank, hoping for bread. Across the river we could see half a dozen Wigeon, some feeding, but most were sleeping on the rocky bank.

Juvenile Red-breasted Merganser Female Red-breasted Merganser Juvenile Mute Swan Wigeon

We walked along the promenade to the estuary mouth. As I snapped a nice shot of a Blackheaded Gull on a big orange buoy, a Cormorant surfaced just below where I was standing. Just beyond the foot bridge on the opposite bank an elegant Grey Heron stood in the low winter sunshine. It took flight after a time and settled on a sandy patch neared the river mouth (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). The largest gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls had claimed perching rights on two mid-river metal columns, which they guarded stubbornly.

Black-headed Gull Cormorant Grey Heron Great Black-backed Gull

Four Red-breasted Mergansers darted down stream and out of the estuary.

I managed to capture a shot of a 2nd winter Herring Gull dropping a shellfish onto the rocks - but missing as it was over the water! John snapped a few pictures of an adult Herring Gull’s attempts to access a bundle of shellfish. Next we noticed the pair of cygnets we’d seen earlier flying down the estuary. After photographing the Swans I caught a Carrion Crow flying across the sandy shore.

2nd Cycle Herring Gull 3rd Cycle herring gull Juvenile Mute Swan Carrion Crow

The view of the mouth of the Estuary of the Rivers Irvine and Garnock:

Satisfied with our collection of sightings, we made away back through the Pokemoners along towards the car. A Cormorant passed us as it flapped ts way toward down river and seemed to herald the arrival, low overhead, of a large flock of Wigeon. A large Herring Gull perched on by the pier side seemed unimpressed. Our last sighting of the day came as we poured out the tea. A Rook loitered around the car (see “Pictures of the Week”, below), obviously waiting for any scraps we’d care to offer.

Cormorant Wigeon Herring Gull Rook

After a slow start at Stevenston point the day certainly picked up and by the end of our trip we had, as can be seen above, a very satisfactory collection of pictures. Our well-earned teas and Danish pastries were, as usual, very enjoyable - just like the trip.

Pictures Of The Week:

Oystercatcher Red-breasted Merganser
Grey Heron Rook

12th January 2020:

Musselburgh and Port Seton

We travelled east to Musselburgh where blue skies were promised, though a stiff cool breeze made the wooly thermals a good idea. We got off toa fine start as Dalkeith Morrisons Cafe served up perfect breakfasts (10/10), making up for their recent minor lapses. We first explored the Esk  by the Millhill car park. It was fairly quiet, but the low golden sunlight provided excellent illumination for some nice shots of a circling adult Herring Gull and a standing first-year Herring Gull (see “Pictures Of The Week”, below). John noticed a hybrid goose, probably a GreylagCanada goose  cross. Of course, there were also many Feral Pigeons at the popular feeding spot. Most of these were unremarkable but a handsome piebald caught our attention.

Herring Gull Canada X Greylag Goose Feral Pigeon Piebald Pigeon

I snapped a damp Canada Goose as it posed briefly in the amber light. Behind it a pair of Goldeneyes also caught the luscious light, before the drake suddenly flew upstream (see “Pictures Of The Week”, below). Unusually we saw only a single Mute Swan.

Canada Goose Drake Goldeneye Female Goldeneye Mute Swan

We moved to the mouth of the River Esk where we came across tens of Turnstones picking their way along the water’s edge. The flock included a solitary Dunlin. A very fine Curlew also moved along the bank and seemed relatively unconcerned by passing pedestrians or my clicking camera. I caught a few shots of a juvenile drake Goldeneye that flew upstream. It can be distinguished from the similarly-marked female by its faint white cheek spot (that will become much more prominent in adulthood).

Turnstone Dunlin Curlew Juvenile Male Goldeneye

We walked east towards the Scrapes  (or “Lagoons”, as they’re also known), scanning the very choppy waters. The tide was well in and many“squadrons” of Oystercatchers (see “Pictures Of The Week”, below) were on the move as they headed for more sheltered roosting spots. Near the Scrapes a flock of over a hundred Bar-tailed Godwits swooped and circled over the sea. They’d obviously been disturbed in the Scrapes, maybe by a fox or a raptor.

Eider Bar-tailed Godwits

From the hides all seemed calm. There were a vast patch of stationary Oystercatchers and some Godwits. A few Teal dabbled on the side of the pool and mid-pool a single Shelduck  was working the mud.

Oystercatcher Teal Shelduck

After an event-less return journey to the car we decided to check out Port Seton as it can provide close shots of waders just before the tide is fully in. This was the case at mouth of the Seton Burn. I got a lovely picture of a bonny wee Turnstone (see “Pictures Of The Week”, below) on top of a boulder. Just offshore some Wigeon and Mallards were feeding.

Wigeon Mallard

The Wrecked Craigs  were completely submerged but we had a lovely view of Gosford House  and North Berwick Law  to the east

To the north, across the Firth of Forth, we watched a striking rainbow form as the rain passed eastwards. The sky darkened and we lost the sun for the first time behind the advancing clouds. However, I managed one more capture, a pair of Eiders flying west.


We took to the car for our teas and Danish Pastries and agreed it had been a pleasing trip. My highlight was the breathtaking aerobatics of the Godwit flock. Well worth the petrol money.

Pictures Of The Week:

1st Cycle Herring Gull Goldeneye
Oystercatcher Turnstone

5th January 2020:

Barns Ness and Dunbar Harbour

It was one of those days when the weather across Central Scotland was to to be dry and breezy, but very dull. However, there was a chance of brightness to the east, so that’s where we went - Barns Ness. Our breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons was alright (8/10) and it gave the clouds time to break and reveal encouraging patches of blue. As we drove along the single track approach road towards the Barns Ness car park, I spotted a large flock of Greylags on a hillock. Looking out to sea, towards the Bass Rock, the wind was whipping up huge plumes of spray. The shore was lined with walkers and their dogs - not a welcome sight for a nature watcher. Still, most of the birds, such as the Rock Pipits , returned to what they were doing, so we just waited for a gap in the “traffic” before setting off.

Greylag Geese Rock Pipit

We came across the “usual suspects”, which I never tire of photographing. Redshanks, Turnstones and Oystercatchers were working the shoreline (see also, “Pictures of there week”, below). Mallards were also busy in the bay as the tide slowly crept out. The shallows made easier feeding conditions since the invertebrates the birds were after were easier to catch.

Redshank Turnstone Oystercatcher Mallard

We settled on the sandy beach to the east of the lighthouse to see what would pass. A huge Great Black-backed Gull  circled above the rocky shore. A few Curlew (see also, “Pictures of there week”, below) flew in for a forage, and of course, there were plenty of Carrion Crows exploring the rock for shellfish and crabs.

Great Black-backed Gull Curlew Carrion Crow

John directed my attention to a few Red Breasted Mergansers that were diving just offshore, but that was about it. We next crossed the dunes and field to the south boundary wall and old campsite. We saw no birds there but I did come across a couple of winter blooms. We found many Gorse  bushes, their yellow flowers reminding us of summer’s days. In the “ruins” of the campsite a single Horticultural shrub,Koreanspice viburnum, was still in bloom, and I noticed its branches were showing signs of early growth.

Red-breasted Merganser Gorse Korean Spice viburnum

We relocated to Dunbar Harbour. Once again there were no surprises in what we saw. There were lots of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. Sadly, “Sammy” the Grey Seal didn’t show probably because the fishing boats were all at sea.

Great Black-backed Gull Herring Gull Herring Gull 1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull

Off the sea wall we watched a pair of diving Eiders . The drake managed to catch an unfortunate Crab. It trimmed off the legs before swallowing its catch, shell and all (see also, “Pictures of there week”, below).

Female Eider Drake Eider and lunch

We made a bit of mistake in Dunbar. We should have checked out the East Beach for the reported Black Redstart . I found out later that it was showing just as we drove past the beach. Oops! Maybe we were too eager for our end-of-trip Danish pastries. Highlight of the trip was the Eider, but it had been a very pleasant walk in some very beautiful, sunlit places.

Pictures Of The Week:

Redshank Turnstone

Oystercatcher Eider

Highlights - January 2020
Below are some of my favourite pictures taken during January 2020 listed in loose themes. There’s no commentary. We hope you enjoy the photos.


Canada Goose
Female Goldeneye Greylag Goose
Lesser Black-backed Gull Mallard Drake
Mute Swan


Jelly Ear Fungus Winter Heliotrope


Greylag x Swan Goose Hybrid Female Tufted Duck
Male Tufted Duck Wigeon


Female Bullfinch Male Bullfinch
Goldfinch Jackdaw
Oystercatcher Redshank


Carrion Crow Great Black-backed Gull
Teal Female Tufted Duck


Buzzard Linnet
Female Pied Wagtail Robin

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