Archive - July 2021

Week ending: 25th July: Maidens and Turnberry

This week we headed for the sun-kissed shores of South Ayrshire where we hoped to see its flora and fauna at least well-lit and hopefully we’ll-seen. We had morning breakfasts in Stewartfield Morrisons in East Kilbride (6/10: very slow service and overcooked food) and then we made speedy progress down the M77+A77 to Turnberry and Maidens. As we expected, Maidens was filled with holidaymakers but the north side of the harbour was quiet so we concentrated our efforts there. I managed our first shots of the day by snapping some Sand Martins as they swooped for flies over the harbour waters. A few House Sparrows and Pied Wagtails were foraging amongst the seaweed on the rocky edges of the beach, along with a pair of very accommodating Rock Pipits. In the middle of the beach there was a large gathering of assorted gulls but the strong sunlight was behind them so I didn’t attempt a photo.

Sand Martin Female House Sparrow
Pied Wagtail Rock Pipit

Looking out to the rocks at the mouth of the harbour I missed a shot of a Grey Heron disturbing Feral Pigeons as it settled on the furthest rock. A Cormorant on the same rock stood still and unconcerned by the commotion. Meanwhile on the harbour waters a class of about a dozen water boarders had finished their lesson allowing a family of Mute Swans to emerge from between the boats. They were single parents as we could see only one cygnet. We moved to the scrubland that borders the beach where we proceeded to look for insect life. We found a Pied Wagtail who had the same idea, albeit with different intentions when it found them.

Feral Pigeon Cormorant
Mute Swan Pied Wagtail

John pointed out a female House Sparrow trying to hide in a Sea Radish plant. I fired off a few shots and then I noticed that now we had the sun behind us and I could view the aforementioned gulls in much more favourable lighting. I got reasonable shots of a Herring Gull in flight and also shots of a Great- and a Lesser-black Backed Gull as they stood amid the large flock.

Female House Sparrow Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull Lesser Black-backed Gull

Finally, turning our attention to the butterflies, I was pleased to see a Large White on a Creeping Thistle, and then a Green-veined White on some Lesser Burdock flowers. John spotted a Small Tortoiseshell on the Thistles and I then came across a black and white hoverfly, the Pied Hoverfly , that was feeding on a Smooth Sow Thistle flower.

Large White Butterfly Green-veined White Butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly Pied Hoverfly

We looked for, and found, Cinnabar moth caterpillars on a Common Ragwort plant, and on top of a Wild Carrot flower, a Soldier Beetle  was battling its way through the stigmas and stamen as it searched for food. We finished our short insect safari with the sighting of a couple of Bumblebees, the pollen-covered Red-tailed and the fresher-looking Buff-tailed, each working tirelessly on their day-long search for pollen.

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar Red Soldier Beetle
Red-tailed Bumblebee Buff-tailed Bumblebee

We next moved to a new location for us, Turnberry Bay, just south of Turnberry Hotel. On the short walk down to the beach we noticed a patch of Wild Mignonette on the edges of the golf course. On its flowers there were Red-tailed Bumblebees, some with bulging pollen sacs. While photographing these, an inquisitive female House Sparrow appeared a couple of metres from me, apparently posing for a photo. Of course, I obliged.

Red-tailed Bumblebee Female House Sparrow

The picture below shows the view of the beach looking north-ish towards Turnberry Lighthouse. The beach was filling with sunbathers and although it was not “mobbed”, there were enough people there to have scared off any wading birds. However, we walked along the shoreline in the hope we were wrong.

We did find a small gathering, sitting about 100m away, of Black-headed Gulls with a few Sandwich Terns. Unfortunately the birds went up before I got a record shot. The sea too was very quiet and just as we were plodding wearily back to the car John spotted a wee Ringed Plover trotting along a stoney part of the beach. Delighted at its showing we sat on our stools and watched its behaviour. It seemed to be trying to find a place on the pebbles for it to nestle. It tried a couple of times to clear some stones with its tail before sitting in the small crater it had created, only to be scared away when a small dog got too close. Eventually it just gave up and flew further along the shore.

Ringed Plover

We made our final stop of the day at Turnberry Lighthouse, which overlooks Turnberry Point. The property is within the grounds of Trump Turnberry Golf Course but visitors are welcome provided they show courtesy to the golfers. Below is the view of Turnberry Hotel looking back from the lighthouse.

We parked by the start of the private road that leads to the lighthouse from the A719. At the start of the walk I spotted a juvenile Yellowhammer  on top of a high bush, probably waiting for its parent to return with food. As I took the picture I spied a Meadow Brown butterfly resting on some Yarrow. As we continued the walk I photographed a further two butterflies, a Small Heath and a female Common Blue.

Juvenile Yellowhammer Meadow Brown Butterfly
Small Heath Butterfly Female Common Blue Butterfly

When we reached the lighthouse we shimmied around its perimeter wall in order to get onto the area on its sea-side which offers a fine view of the coastline and of any passing birds. To the south we could see a silhouetted view of cormorants and shags gathered on a large exposed rock.

Over the hour that followed we watched young Starlings foraging on the rocks below us and above us various gulls passed such as 1st and 3rd year Herring gulls. We were delighted to see a few passing Gannets - only fair given how close we were to Ailsa Craig, their likely nesting grounds.

Juvenile Starling 1 st Cycle Herring Gull
3rd Cycle Herring Gull Gannet

Other birds that we saw were Curlew and Shags however they were too far off for impressive shots. Our final pictures of the day were of Field Bindweed  at the entrance area of the lighthouse.

Curlew Shag
Field Bindweed

We had our tea and (wait for it) Strawberry Tarts (yes, again). For me the stars of the visit were the butterflies, and of course the Ringed Plover. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Large Whites. The sun shone brightly throughout the trip and it would be nice to see the same next week. I’d like also to see some more waders as they’ve been in short supply in recent weeks due to their breeding habits. Their babies must surely be in-depth now though?

Week ending: 18th July 2021: Barns Ness and Dunbar Harbour

Unluckily for us, Sunday was to have seen a weak front passing south leading to rather cloudy, but dry, weather. According to my weather app the best chance of sunshine would be in the east. So after a fine pair of Dalkeith Morrisons breakfast (9.5/10) we found ourselves at Barns Ness, east of Dunbar.

Sadly, when we started our circuit of the area around the Barns Ness lighthouse, the tide was low and getting lower. The majority of birds we could see were at least 100m away. I began by snapping a shot of a black-headed gull that was quite a bit closer. I followed this with a shot of some Cormorants drying their feathers on some distant rocks. We were pleased then to find many butterflies  fluttering about us as we moved along the grassy trails. I managed some good shots of a wee Small Heath  butterfly and also the very pretty Common Blue  butterfly.

Black-headed Gull Cormorant
Small Heath Butterfly Common Blue Butterfly

The most common and active butterflies on show were Meadow Browns. As I tracked these down I came across a juvenile Starling and a Reed Bunting on a couple of bushes poking above the long grass. I also photographed a Soldier Beetle on a Creeping Thistle.

Meadow Brown Butterfly Juvenile Starling
Reed Bunting Soldier Beetle

John discovered a pair of Meadow Brown butterflies that were copulating on the grassy footpath. I also found more Common Blues as I turned my attentions to the rocky shore. A Grey Heron flew onto rocks near the water, so I carefully edged out onto the rocks to get a closer view and managed a reasonable record shot.

Common Blue Butterfly
Meadow Brown Butterfly Grey Heron

Apart from butterflies, there were very many 6-spotted Burnet  moths hanging onto blades of grass or flying onto flowers, such as Harebells. We also noticed that the were orange and black-striped Cinnabar moth caterpillars on nearly every Ragwort plant. Next John spotted a Green-veined White  resting on the grassy path and I managed to capture a good image of that particularly strongly-coloured specimen.

6-spotted Burnet Moth
Cinnabar Caterpillar Green-veined White Butterfly

When we moved across the southern part of the circuit we were disappointed not to see the expected Linnets or Yellowhammers, as per previous summer visits. We did see another singing Reed Bunting, but we shouldn’t have worried since when we reached the car we were met by a small flock of twittering Linnets that were feeding on Dock plants and, unusually for that place, a pair of Yellowhammers catching insects. I also snapped an inquisitive Carrion Crow as it sat on a fence close to the car.

Reed Bunting Carrion Crow

I also had photographed a few wildflowers on our circuit, namely Yarrow, Common Mallow, Red Poppy near the southbound art wall, and, near the lighthouse, Scentless Mayweed.

Yarrow Common Mallow
Red Poppy Scentless Mayweed

So after a rather slow start we ended up with a satisfactory set of pictures. We then moved to Dunbar Harbour to view the nesting colonies present on the rocks beyond the harbour walls. My first impression was that the Shag colony was “maturing”. I say that because I noticed that the chicks were almost as big as their parents. Their feeding procedure looked rather uncomfortable for the parent as can be seen from the picture below of the big chick thrusting it’s beak down the parent’s gullet. The main Kittiwake colony was on the Castle ruin. The Kittiwake chicks too were fledging with many making very short flights from and back to the safety of the wall.


The feeding procedure of the Herring Gulls’ chicks looks less violent. When the adult arrives back on the rocks from gathering food, the chick brushes its beak near the red spot on the parents bill. This stimulates the adult to regurgitate the food, which the chick then quickly gobbles up. John spotted a sodden Herring Gull chick paddling rather pathetically in the harbour entrance. It had an injured head, perhaps inflicted during a fall from an unsuccessful first flight.

Herring Gull / Juvenile

We were very pleased with our haul of sightings this week. I particularly enjoyed hunting down the butterflies and moths. And it was interesting seeing parent birds with their chicks. Our tea and strawberry tarts (yes again, and, we know it’s naughty but we like them). A week of hot sunny weather is predicted for next week. I hope it’s lasts until next Sunday

Week ending: 11th July 2021: Largs, Fairlie, Hunterston and Portencross

Our run of sunny Sundays came well and truly to an end this week, although we were spared the rain. It was predicted that the whole of Central Scotland would experience 100% cloud cover with a chance of rain. The rain was least likely in North Ayrshire so we headed for Largs Morrisons to start our exploration of four familiar sites - Largs, Fairlie, Hunterston and Portencross. Our breakfast experience was marred though by very poor service, but the eventual food was fine (7/10).

We began at the gloomy mouth of Noddsdale Water as can be seen by the silhouetted Shags shown below. There were more than several groups of people mulling about the river mouth so our expectations of seeing much were low.

Just off the promenade a Carrion Crow provided a more visible subject, while on the river we watched sleepy Mallards and a family of Mute Swans. A pair of Woodpigeons flew onto the rocky river banks just as I noticed some Scentless Mayweed that was growing by the fence

Carrion Crow Female Mallard
Mute Swan Juvenile Mute Swans
Wood Pigeon Scentless Mayweed

After the quiet start we drove a few miles south to the the picturesque village of Fairlie.

John drew my attention to a Buff-tailed Bumblebee that was feeding on Sea Radish flowers. There were a pair of Mute Swans feeding by the shore and I photographed a Common Gull and Black-headed Gull that were loitering on the short grass near the car park.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Mute Swan
Common Gull Black-headed Gull

We were delighted to hear the familiar creeking calls of Sandwich Terns. They flew around a bit before settling briefly on the rocky shore near where we were sitting. I also photographed a noisy and very active juvenile as it attempted a couple of aborted attempts at a dive into the water. There were a few Herring Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull near the Terns but I was more excited by the appearance of a very red-breasted male Linnet that made a very brief appearance on the shore.

Sandwich Tern Juvenile Sandwich Tern
Herring Gull 1st Cycle Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull Linnet
Next, a small flock of young Starlings descended onto the rocks and began feeding, only to be scattered by an attack of a Sparrowhawk . It managed to get hold of one unfortunate Starling. I photographed the raptor as it held it on the footpath before being disturbing a pair of walkers. Undeterred by the commotion, a pair of Carrion Crows appeared, feeding on Shellfish by dropping the them from several metres onto the rocks.

Juvenile Starling Carrion Crow

After the excitement had subsided we drove south again for a brief visit to Hunterston Sands. On the short walk from where we parked the car we got pictures of a few wild flowers. There were quite a few fading Vipers Bugloss plants and Spear Thistles along the roadside and I spotted a solitary Evening Primrose in bloom. However we were disappointed to find the Sands were largely devoid of birds apart from a young wading Grey Heron catching a few small fish. I did however photograph a few more wild flowers, namely Meadowsweet, Lady’s Bedstraw and Sea Aster.

Viper's Bugloss Spear Thistle
Evening Primrose Juvenile Grey Heron
Trying it's luck Meadowsweet
Lady's Bedstraw Sea Aster

We made our final relocation of the day to Portencross, site of an ancient castle.

We were surprised to find that the car park was very full and the surrounding area was awash with people - which again meant the wildlife would be flushed. Undeterred we pressed on starting with some pictures of a family of Eider catching crabs in the salt pools, before the sight of dogs drove them seaward.

Female Eider and Juveniles

As the place was teeming with people walking, fishing and swimming we decided to plank ourselves on the rocks by the ancient harbour and watch for passing birds. Some Rock Pipits paid us a visit and a large Cormorant flew past. Of course there were also Herring Gulls watching for any titbits, aided and abetted by a few Jackdaws.

Rock Pipit Cormorant
Herring Gull Jackdaw

I also snapped a few bee shots: a White-tailed Bumblebee as it fed on a Spear Thistle and a Tree Bumblebee wrestling with the large stamen of Beach Roses. Also, I managed a couple of shots of a bee-mimic hoverfly, Cheilosia illustrata on a Hogweed flower-head. Our last shot of the day was of a House Sparrow calling from the roof guttering of a cottage near the castle.

White - tailed Bumblebee Hoverfly - Cheilosia illustrata
Tree Bumblebee House Sparrow

It had been a gloomy day weather-wise but our sightings were many and varied, my favourites being the Sparrowhawk and Terns. We finished with tea and Strawberry Tarts (yes, again! Well they were so good last week) while taking in the grey, but still awesome panorama that included Arran to the west and Ailsa Craig to the south. The weathermen are already predicting fine weather for next week. We hope they’re right .

Week ending 4th July 2021:  Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

There was little chance of extending our recent run of sunny Sundays. A big low pressure system over Central Scotland put paid that. However, it seemed, from my weather app, that North Ayrshire would have a pleasant afternoon while almost everywhere else would see frequent showers. So we decided we’d start in Stevenson Morrisons Cafe, where we enjoyed excellent (9.5/10) breakfasts, each before moving to Stevenson Point.

The sun was coming and going and we could see there were widespread showers in the surrounding areas. There were Shags and Cormorants on the rocks at the Point as well as the usual gatherings of gulls, most prominent of these was a Great Black-backed Gull. The rain was edging in from the south-east so we sheltered in the car for 10 minutes until it cleared.

Shag Cormorant
Great Black-backed Gull
When we emerged from the car, the sun came out and I snapped a pair of flying Herring Gulls, an adult and an immature bird (2-3yr). We watched Gannets  passing over the water a couple of hundred metres away. I managed a clear shot of a mature Gannet with a 2-3yr companion.

Herring Gull
Gannet Adult and 3rd Cycle Gannet

The weather was clearing. The view to Saltcoats looked much more inviting than it did when we arrived.

The Cormorants and Shags were on the move, perhaps encouraged by the brightening sky. Insects, now warmed by the sun, were also on the move. On a Yarrow flower-head we discovered a White-tailed Bumblebee  and then the Sawfly, Tenthredo arcuata. Also, a few Redtailed Bumblebees were visiting the many White Clover flowers. As I followed the bees my attention was drawn by the call of a passing, but quite distant Curlew.

Cormorant Shag
White-tailed Bumblebee Tenthredo arcuata.
Red-tailed Bumblebee Curlew

We could see the sunlit Ardrossan to Brodick ferry, although Arran was still shrouded in cloud and rain showers.

There were fewer birds around the Point, with only a single Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gull on show. A couple of Eider paddled into view, an eclipse drake and a young female.

Oystercatcher Black-headed Gull
Eclipse Eider Female Eider

We were joined by an excited couple who had just guided their dingy back onto the slipway. “Did you see them?”, they asked us. “Seen what?”, I replied. “The Dolphins! We were surrounded by them”, they gushed. We blamed the heavy rain for our missed opportunity. But after about 40 minutes we did spot about four Bottlenose Dolphins about 300m from the shore. We identified them by their curved dorsal fin and obvious “beak”. Two metres away from me, a female House Sparrow seemed interested as we expressed our delight in seeing the Dolphins. John noticed a Hooded Crow  had appeared on the rocks, a bird not seen so much to the east.

Bottlenose Dolphin
Female House Sparrow Hooded Crow

Satisfied that we’d witnessed the presence of the Cetaceans, we relocated to sunny Saltcoats, by which time the tide was at its lowest ebb. I snapped a Starling that was foraging in the car park, before we moved around the harbour watching for anything of interest. There were a few Rock Pipits and Pied wagtails dotted around the exposed boulders, and a half-dozen summer plumage Redshanks flew in.

Starling Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail Redshanks

A big Lesser Black-backed Gull sat on the highest rock at the centre of the harbour, surveying the scene with an apparent air of superiority. Near it were some Feral Pigeons, and a wee Blackheaded Gull stood pensively by a salt pool looking down at its reflection. We passed a large Herring Gull that had taken up position on the sea wall, near teenagers that were eating chips.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Feral Pigeon
Black-headed Gull Herring Gull

Time was getting on so we moved to our final destination, Irvine Harbour, for a quick look and our tea and pastries. It was rather quiet, bird-wise, with only a pair of Mute Swans and a Jackdaw on show near the “Bridge of Scottish Inventors” (closed due to the demise of the Big Idea ). A bit further along, my eye was caught by the brilliant yellow flowers of Biting Stonecrop that were growing at the quayside’s edge. A large Great Black-backed Gull was sitting on top of a metal post near the opposite side of the river.

Mute Swan Jackdaw
Biting Stonecrop Great Black-backed Gull

The light was dimming as a small Shag showed up and made repeated dives near the bridge. The fishes it was hunting must have been small as it didn’t bring any to the surface but seemed to be cleaning its bill after some dives, suggesting it had caught something. John spotted a female Eider paddling with its two duckling at the other side of the river. A large Herring Gull checked me out as I photographed the Eiders, so I fired off a few shots of it giving me my last capture of the day.

Juvenile Eider Herring gull

The weather had been kind to us, warm with sunny intervals and only one short period of rain. We got a reasonable haul of pictures, my favourites being the Sawfly, Jackdaw and of course the distant Dolphins. We celebrated in our usual fashion, but this week John had bought large Strawberry Tarts - delicious! But we need to get back to really sunny Sundays.

Highlights - July 2021

We present last month’s gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during July 2021. They are not listed in the order they have been taken, but according to a series of themes. I’ve kept commentary to a minimum, preferring to let each picture talk for itself.









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