Archive - January 2024

Week ending: 28th January: Aberlady and Port Seton

We headed for Aberlady this week following a vain hope that the cloud might clear to allow the sunlight to illuminate our sightings. The cafe in Dalkeith Morrisons was our first stop, for our usual breakfasts (10/10: excellent, well prepared food, served within a few minutes by friendly staff).

Courtesy of Open Street Map and BBC Tides

Our first impressions on arrival at the Aberlady LNR car park (apart from our amazement that there were actually spaces) was the unexpected strength of the wind - not ideal for birds. The tide was fairly low and there were flocks of Wigeon and Teal congregated on the Peffer Burn, just downstream from the wooden footbridge. A Redshank was busy wading midstream while we could see a flock of geese, probably Pink-footed Geese, spiralling over Kilspindie golf course on the other side of the bay. Flying over us as we crossed the wooden footbridge was one of many Herring Gulls, obviously relishing the gusty conditions.

Pink-footed Goose ( Perhaps) Herring Gull

Below is a view of the wooden footbridge looking back to the car park.

We had an uninspiring trek to Marl Loch where we saw only three Mallards sheltering from the wind.

Beyond the loch we had a bit more luck. Fieldfares and Carrion Crows flew out of the areas of Sea Buckthorn that surrounds a water treatment facility. Some minutes later Curlew flew in…...

Fieldfare Carrion Crow
Sea Buckthorn Curlew

 …. and landed in the field between the reserve and Luffness Links golf course ….

 ….but not for long though, since they were spooked by a young man in a hoodie who thought it was ok to wander the reserve off the path, across the field.

John spotted dark shapes in the middle of the saltmarsh to the west of the path. Visibility was poor due to the thick low cloud, but we both agreed at the time that the shapes were either low bushes or boulders. However, I’m now of the opinion that the shapes are actually Hebridean Sheep used to graze down the grasslands over the autumn and winter, as part of a longterm grazing scheme to improve the grasslands for plants and animals.

As we walked back past the Marl Loch, a pair of Mallards flew in and landed on the loch with a splash. Back at the bridge the tide was a bit higher but there were still some birds still wading, such as Oystercatchers and Curlew. John pointed out a nice pair of Teal paddling upstream from the bridge. We had been keeping an eye out for a reported Little Egret  and, just before we had reached the end of the bridge, the bird appeared behind the far bank of the burn.

Mallard Curlew    Oystercatcher
Teal Little Egret

It foraged in a small pool for a bit before flying down to the edge of the burn.

Delighted with our eventual success in photographing the Little Egret, we moved on to the other side of Aberlady Bay to Kilspindie. Walking along the foreshore John scanned the water’s edge with his trusty binoculars and informed me that a few Teal were dabbling near the shore and that there were several waders on the shore.

Teal / Oystercatcher

A bit further along the shoreline a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits were stabbing the wet sand with their long, straight bills as they searched for invertebrates. There were also Dunlin scurrying around them as they foraged for different, smaller invertebrates.

Dunlin / Bar-tailed Godwit

Further along still was a curved-billed Curlew with more Dunlins .

Dunlin / Curlew / Bar-tailed Godwit

As the tide filled the bay the birds were gradually edging up the shore in their search for food.

Oystercatcher / Dunlin /  Bar-tailed Godwit

I noticed there were birds - Carrion Crows and Oystercatchers, on a sand pit about 200m away near the centre of the bay.

Carrion Crow / Oystercatcher

 Looking even further, to the other side of the bay, there were what looked like 20 Pink-footed Geese sitting on the beach.

We moved westwards around the rocky shore and immediately came upon a Bar-tailed Godwit at relatively close quarters. A Rock Pipit then appeared on the scene and obliged us by posing on a rock just in front of where we were standing. We sat on our stools for a few minutes to see what might turn up. We weren’t disappointed because a large Curlew emerged from behind a boulder and began probing the salt pools. An Oystercatcher passed overhead and out into the bay.

Curlew Rock Pipit
Curlew Oystercatcher

Next a large Carrion Crow descended onto a boulder to checkout seaweed growing there. In the meantime the Godwit we’d just photographed spotted an approaching dog and took flight, as did a few Oystercatchers. Returning to the car John heard the sound of distant geese. They flew close to the geese I’d just seen sitting on the beach across the bay. They look like Pink-footed Geese but I’m not 100% sure.

Carrion Crow Bar-tailed Godwit

We returned to the car and drove to Port Seton to check out reports of the King Eider and Surf Scoter that had been seen there in recent days. On arrival at the car park overlooking Wrecked Craigs, the tide was still well out and Eiders, Cormorants and Oystercatchers were active on and around the most distant exposed rocks.

Eider / Cormorant

Although we could make out that birds were in the water beyond the rocks, identification was difficult due to the very choppy conditions. We decided to walk to the harbour. Along the promenade we discovered many Redshanks and Turnstones were sheltering in the rocks just east of the harbour. There were a few drake Eiders there too and John spotted a Purple Sandpiper  among the Redshanks - great find.

Redshank Turnstone
Eider Purple Sandpiper

At the harbour, a pair of Mute Swans were on the lookout for bread from visitors. Herring Gulls and a Great Black-backed Gull were searching for food scraps on fishing nets on the harbourside. When a fellow birder claimed to have seen the King Eider ) landing in the waters just outside the harbour, I scanned outside the harbour - but to no avail.

Mute Swan Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull Eider

We returned to the car after a final check that the King Eider wasn’t with the Common Eiders off Wrecked Craigs. It didn’t seem to be.

Despite the overcast sky and stiff breeze, it had been a fairly satisfying outing. My favourite sightings were the Little Egret, the Purple Sandpiper and the Hebridean Sheep. We had tea and chocolate cream eclairs on the leeward side of the car. Hoping for ideal conditions next week when very mild weather is predicted (but I’ll not mention the likelihood of rain).

Week ending: 21st January 2024: Linlithgow Loch and Blackness

On Sunday the whole of the UK was waiting for the arrival of Storm Isha. From mid-morning it would move in from the Atlantic, bringing moderate weather at first but, by the evening, heavy rain and high winds would prevail. I chose to visit Linlithgow Loch, a fairly sheltered inland site where sufficient sightings would be possible. On the way there, John and I popped into Bathgate Morrisons for breakfast (10/10: excellent food and service). When we arrived in St Ninian car park the rain was threatening so we set off without delay around the west side of the Loch.

Courtesy of Open Street Map and BBC Tides

The light was very gloomy but the birds were gathered around the edges of the water. Tufted Ducks, Coots and Moorhens made it easy for me to photograph them as they seemed to have little fear of the people walking on the lochside paths. There had been reports of a Ring - necked Duck but we didn’t see it with the Tufted Ducks.

Tufted Duck...
Coot Moorhen

Mallards too were there in good numbers. Also unafraid of the camera was a very accommodating Robin that was perched on a pathside bush, literally a few centimetres from us as we passed.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard...

Of course there were many Mute Swans. Four of them passed overhead as we reached the northwest corner of the loch. Unfortunately it started to rain, but thankfully it was light rain.

We encountered another Robin that was sitting at the entrance of one of the houses that overlooks the loch. A foraging Blackbird stood ahead of us on the path and as I moved slowly towards it, a Grey Heron came into view, standing at the water’s edge, a few metres from the path. We continued along the north side of the loch and I noticed that the birds on the water, Tufted Ducks and Goldeneyes, seemed to be less tolerant of people, moving away from us as we passed. John spotted some distant geese that were paddling across the loch. As we got nearer to them I could see that they were Canada Geese. They had moved across to join a white goose, probably an Emden Goose or a leucistic Greylag, and a few Mallards. There was still no sign of the Ring-billed Duck.

Robin Blackbird
Grey Heron Tufted Duck
Goldeneye Canada Goose / Greylag Goose / Embden Goose

We stood directly across the loch from the ruin of Linlithgow Palace, a significant building in the history of Scotland. As can be seen, it is currently undergoing renovation work.

We were pleased to see a Little Grebe surfacing near us at the edge of the loch. Of course when it saw us it dived and swam to the perceived safety of nearby reeds. With the rain starting to fall a bit more heavily, we decided to track back to the car. On the way I photographed a few Herring Gulls. One immature Herring Gull was trying, unsuccessfully, to break open what looked like a Freshwater Mussel, probably the Duck Mussel

Little Grebe Herring Gull
3rd Cycle Herring Gull Duck Mussel

We walked the lochside path between the car park and the angling club jetty. When we were passing some tall trees we heard what at first sounded like a Magpie with a sore throat, but I wondered if it was the sound of a Grey Squirrel.  A quick scan up the tree trunk confirmed my suspicion. I also got shots of a female Tufted Duck that was paddling about the jetty. Also, three Little Grebes were fishing in the same area.

Grey Squirrel Wood Pigeon
Female Tufted Duck Little Grebe

There were about a dozen Jackdaws foraging on the short grass between the loch and car park. We were, though, disappointed not to have seen any Rooks. We had been unsuccessful in our search for the Ring-necked Duck but maybe it was on the loch east of the palace.

We relocated to the Tesco car park and crossed the main road in order to access the loch just east of the Palace. From the access path adjacent to the chapel we saw a Blackbird raking through leaf litter. John noticed a Dunnock that was watching us from its perch on a bush. He also spotted a Chaffinch just above the park gate. A big Carrion Crow didn’t flinch as we passed it and continued foraging along the banks of the loch.

Blackbird Dunnock
Chaffinch Carrion Crow

 Below is the view of the east side of Linlithgow Palace as seen when we re-entered via the path from the main road.

John and I scanned the loch for the Ring-necked Duck. There were a few Tufties and Goldeneyes, but once again, sadly, no Ring-necked Duck. A Cormorant flew past every now and again. As we returned to the car I snapped a hungry Goldfinch that was feeding in the reeds. From the path out to the street I managed shots of a Great Tit and a Chaffinch that were moving on the leafless branches of surrounding trees. Back at the car we decided to finish the trip at Blackness, a small port that used to serve the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow.

Female Tufted Duck Female Goldeneye
Cormorant Goldfinch
Great Tit Chaffinch

We made the 10 minute drive to Blackness and had a quick scan of the Forth estuary. At first there weren’t birds showing, but, with patience, I captured images of an Oystercatcher that flew in from the east. John then noticed a young Rook sitting on top of a telegraph pole. As we returned to the car due to the worsening rain, a Common Gull was paddling in the water near the pier and a Redshank flew in and landed on the shoreline. Our final sightings were of a Cormorant that surfaced near a Herring Gull that was bobbing up and down about 40m from the shore.

Oystercatcher Juvenile Rook
Common Gull Redshank
Cormorant Herring Gull

The wind was getting stronger, as predicted. Storm Isha was knocking at the door. We had our tea and strawberry tarts in the car rather than outside on our 3-legged stools. The conditions had not been ideal for a nature-watching mission, however we managed to see 26 species (none of which were the RND) and bagged a few decent photos. My favourite pictures were the Goldfinch, Grey Heron and young Herring Gull with the shellfish. Mild, wet and windy weather is due to continue through next week. Hopefully we’ll get some sunshine next time

Week ending: 14th January 2024: Troon

The weather predictions for Sunday indicated that Central Scotland would be cold but dry until late afternoon with sunny intervals, the best of which would be in the west. I opted then for Troon, on the North Ayrshire coast, which John and I last visited in late October ‘23. We were pleased to see blue sky and bright sunshine when we arrived the the car park of Troon Morrisons for our customary breakfasts (8/10: tasty enough but let down massively due to cold beans and tepid bacon).

Courtesy of Open Street Map and BBC Tides

We drove across the road to the North Shore Road car park which overlooks Barassie Beach. The tide was low but rising and there was a bit of a breeze as can be seen below by the rather choppy sea.

A few Mallards were lounging by some rock pools close the the shore.

Other birds around the rock pools included Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Turnstones. We next investigated the bird sounds emanating from the bushes at the edge of grassy areas close to the shore. A very accommodating Robin watched us as we did so, but a female Hedge Sparrow was more wary. I also managed a decent shot of a busy wee Blue Tit. However, we weren’t able to photograph a Redwing and Collared Doves we also saw.

Oystercatcher Redshank
Turnstone Robin
House Sparrow Blue Tit

We drove towards Troon Harbour and on to the sea-facing car park. First impressions were that there were very few birds on the rocks in front of the car park. A cold, stiff northerly wind was blowing across the rocks so we checked the more sheltered southern end of the rocky shoreline. We were pleased to discover a Curlew standing there and also a few Rock Pipits were exploring the area. Oystercatchers flew in as well as Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.

Curlew Rock Pipit
Oystercatcher Herring Gull
1st Cycle Herring Gull Black-headed Gull

John spotted some Dunlins scurrying around some rock pools near the Oystercatchers. I snapped a pair of Shags that flew past, heading north. John noticed a commotion some 200m out (too far for a decent picture), involving a large number of gulls that seemed to be mobbing fishing Cormorants or Shags. As John was discussing this with an inquisitive motorist, I photographed a Starling that was watching us from a boundary fence. A south-flying drake Eider sped past as we moved on to the short beach just north of the car park.

Oystercatcher / Dunlin Shag
Starling Eider

As we approached the end of the tall harbour wall, we came across more Dunlin, closer than the last. Note there is also a Purple Sandpiper at the top and centre of the picture.

Dunlin / Purple Sandpiper

I peered through the stiff wind, studying the harbour wall where Shags usually perch. At first I thought there were no Shags, but later inspection of my  photos they revealed a pair coorying into the gaps between the large wall bricks. I was pleased to get an opportunity to photograph a passing Cormorant which was possibly returning from the fishing expedition mentioned above that interested the mob of gulls. On returning to the car, one last look towards the rocks produced pictures of a female Red-breasted Merganser and a Rock Pipit.

Shag Cormorant
Female Red-breasted Merganser Rock Pipit

We relocated to Titchfield Road at the south end of the Ballast Bank. The road runs parallel to the rocky shore and we usually check there each time we visit, as it can be fairly productive in terms of sightings. On getting out of the car I noticed straight away that there were a pair of Turnstones on the short grass beside the road. They were soon scared off by dogs but I watched where they went - onto the rocky shore - so I checked it out and found a sizeable flock of Turnstones very close to the footpath. I was delighted to see a Purple Sandpiper in their midst, foraging in and around the small pools.

Purple Sandpiper..

We noticed a large bird presence on the exposed rocks a good bit further along the shore. Unfortunately the sunlight was behind the birds making identification difficult. However, the images were made much brighter during processing.

We walked along the shoreside path, almost to the Titchfield Road car park, and I took pictures of the various flocks gathered there. Later I identified them (as mentioned above) as mainly Oystercatchers and Dunlin, with some Sanderlings , Golden Plovers and Ringed Plovers.

Golden Plover Herring Gull
Dunlin Ringed Plover

In the gardens beyond the car park John directed my attention to a group of well-lit Starlings and also a Jackdaw and Carrion Crow. After these I was surprised to see a Meadow Pipit in the grass. We emerged from the gardens onto the main promenade of Troon South Beach. A wee female Pied Wagtail popped onto the tarred promenade and searched for scraps of food that had been discarded by the day-trippers (and of which there were many). Nearby a juvenile Herring Gull was tucking into good old seafood it had probably pinched from another gull.

Starling Jackdaw
Carrion Crow Meadow Pipit
Female Pied Wagtail 1st Cycle Herring Gull

Looking further along the shore we could see a huge pile of seaweed that stretched along the beach for about 100m. We reached the seaweed pile and realised that it was attracting lots of small waders including very unsettled Sanderlings. Time and again a group of around 30 flew in…..

 …landed on the pile ….

 ….only to take flight, circle out over the water and land again….

The Sanderlings joined Turnstones and Dunlin on the seaweed. There were also Pied Wagtails on the seaweed searching for invertebrates and Herring Gulls on the seawall watching for chips.

Sanderling Herring Gull
Pied Wagtail Female Pied Wagtail

We had our warm teas and strawberry tarts sheltered from the cold wind . We agreed that it had been a decent outing - 27 species seen, not bad considering the conditions. My favourites were the Purple Sandpiper, Sanderlings and Meadow Pipit. Warmer weather is predicted for next week (hurrah), but it will be dull and wet (boo) - but they often get it wrong. Here’s hoping

ek ending: 7th January 2024: Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

For the first time in over a month, the weather prediction was best in the West. The weather for Stevenston was encouraging: early mist would clear to leave blue, sunny skies with little chance of rain. So after a very fine breakfast in Stevenston Morrisons (9/10: only the slightly undercooked fried tomatoes prevented a perfect score), John and I drove to Stevenston Point to start our exploration

Courtesy of Open Street Map and BBC Tides

The Isle of Arran was shrouded in mist with only the peaks of Goat Fell treated to the light of the Sun.

The blanket of mist stretched south, hiding the familiar view of Ailsa Craig. Instead, we had a view of a passing ship.

It soon became obvious that Stevenston was in an oasis of light when John noticed that the land to the east and north was also covered in mist. I snapped a passing Herring Gull and John drew my attention to what we thought was a Redshank on the large concrete slab off the north side of the Point. It turned out that it was a Purple Sandpiper. I then spotted a Redshank that was picking its way across the rocky tip and also spied a distant pair of Eiders flying north past the breakwater.

Herring Gull Purple Sandpiper
Redshank Eider

We moved to the parking area just before the main picnic spot, since there were many birds feeding around that shore. We found a Curlew and the usual noisy Oystercatchers as well as Black-headed and Common Gulls. Carrion Crows were also very active. I also got a pretty shot of a wee Ringed Plover on the wet sands.

Curlew Oystercatcher
Common Gull Black-headed Gull
Carrion Crow Ringed Plover

 Reports of a Glaucous Gull near Auchenharvie Loch drew us there, but the low winter sun was right behind the roof and unfortunately silhouetted any gulls gathered there. Instead we checked out the Loch and were delighted to find that it was teeming with birds, most of which were Canada Geese.

The Geese were grazing on the short grass of the Auchenharvie golf course, as was a Curlew. John pointed out a Grey Heron that was on the island, and on the water a pair of Mallards paddled past.

Canada Goose Curlew
Grey Heron Drake Mallard

The female Mallard looked particularly fine in the golden winter light.

A few Goldeneyes, including a juvenile, Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes were diving in the blue waters of the Loch. I got very close to one Little Grebe because with the Sun behind me I was silhouetted. However, when it resurfaced with a small fish it turned its back to the Sun, so obscuring its head and the fish. A proud cob Mute Swan glided across the water with its wing feathers held like sails. There was no sign of the Glaucous Gull on or around the Loch, just the usual Herring Gulls.

Drake Goldeneye Juvenile Goldeneye
Tufted Duck Little Grebe
Mute Swan Herring Gull

As we left, a person appeared on the opposite side of the Loch and began feeding the birds unfortunately disturbing the Canada Geese causing them to escape to the safety of the Loch.

We moved to Saltcoats Harbour where we found that the tide was low and there didn’t seem to be many birds around.

There was a pair of Feral Pigeons at the harbour’s edge. As I snapped these I noticed that there were Dunlins foraging among the exposed rocks at the edge of the harbour floor. We ascended the stairs onto the walkway on the high sea wall which leads to a viewing tower at the harbour mouth. From there I snapped a pair of Rock Pipits that had flown onto the sea wall, and also a Herring Gull resting on a post.

Feral Pigeon Dunlin
Rock Pipit Herring Gull

Looking back from the sea wall I photographed Cormorants that were standing on a rocky crag, alongside some gulls and small waders.

We drove the short distance to the car park beyond the opposite side of the harbour. I spotted a Common Seal lying on top of rocks at the water’s edge. From the viewing tower we could see that there were many small waders feeding around the rocks. Closest to us was a Redshank and furthest were a group of Shags standing on a large rock. John noticed a Curlew poking around in the rocky surrounds of the neighbouring paddling pools. A dog then appeared on the scene, putting up many of the waders, including a Purple Sandpiper which landed conveniently to the side of where we were standing. Likewise I captured images of Ringed Plovers.

Common Seal Redshank
Shag Curlew
Purple Sandpiper Ringed Plover

The commotion caused by the dog spread to a large flock of Dunlins and Turnstones …..

 ….. which took flight and disappeared to the north.

We relocated 5 miles south to Irvine Harbour and immediately came across a drake Red-breasted Merganser diving in the River Irvine. We got excellent views of it since it came within about 20m of the promenade. Across the river a Curlew was moving along the water’s edge. Next, John sighted a trio of Common Seals that were relaxing on a wooden float a few hundred metres up the River Garnock. I then snapped a Mute Swan paddling midstream, while John discovered a Grey Heron standing in the water by the other side of the River Irvine.

Red-breasted Merganser...
Curlew Common Seal
Mute Swan Grey Heron

I also got nice shots of the flypast of an Oystercatcher, which led my eye to some Wigeon that were grazing on the top of the riverbank. I was pleased to find a Greenshank picking its way along the edge of the opposite side of the river, not far from the Heron. At this point a helpful passer-by informed us that there was an Otter  diving a little further upstream. We had no bother finding it since it had attracted an audience of people gathered at the harbour’s edge.

Oystercatcher Wigeon
Greenshank Otter

 We watched it making several successful dives for fish for about 10 minutes before it moved into a shadowed area.

We headed back to the car for tea and strawberry tarts (well, John couldn’t resist buying them because they made him think of warm summer weather). It was agreed that it had been a very enjoyable and productive trip - 28 species seen. My favourites were the Otter, Seals, Greenshank and Purple Sandpiper. The weather was cold but colder weather, maybe even snow, is predicted for next week. Let’s hope it’s sunny

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