Archive - July 2019

28th July 

Belhaven Bay and Dunbar Harbour

Isn’t just like the thing, at the end of a week of record-breaking weather, Sunday was predicted to be misty, wet and miserable. The least lousy weather seemed to be in the east, so we headed for Dunbar. After a brief pit stop to Dalkeith Morrisons (9.5/10: excellent stuff) we found ourselves walking up the path towards Seafield Pond to the south of Belhaven Bay. Along the edges of the path were many wild flowers. A large patch of Germander Speedwell caught my eye, as did some Common Fumitory , which is often called a garden weed, but which has some medicinal uses. I asked John to use his binoculars to scan the treetops for a Greenfinch I had heard. He quickly located it and, despite the gloom, I managed a record shot. I noticed some Lesser Burdock was in bloom, a plant with surprisingly many uses  such as its sliced root is used for stir-fry, especially good with sesame seed and soy sauce.

Common Field Speedwell Common Fumitory Greenfinch Lesser Burdock

We next scanned the Bay for birds. There were many gulls, mainly Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed. Many had juveniles trailing behind them. There were no waders though.

Lesser Black-backed Gull 1st Cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull Herring Gull 2nd Cycle Herring Gull

Just beyond the caravan site we turned into the attractive area where Seafield Pond is situated. We stopped briefly at a rough verge where I noticed lots of insects, mainly hoverflies, were on the flowers of Creeping Thistle. Marmalade hoverflies and the Humming Syrphus were most prominent (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). I also came across a few tiny Flea Beetles, probably Altica Lythri, . These dark, blue-tinged beetles were a few millimetres long and surprised me by jumping many times their own length as I attempted to photograph them. Another beetle very much in evidence was the Soldier Beetle. Every other flower played host to these large orange insects.

Marmalade Hoverfly  Humming Syrphus Hoverfly Flea Beetle Red Soldier Beetle

We found even more beetles crawling in and around the Common Ragwort flowers, the millimetre long Pollen Beetles, Meligethes aeneus. One source describes how these have a great liking for yellow flowers. We moved to the pond, where several Mallards were squabbling. The drakes were in summer plumage and could easily be mistaken as females. At the edge of the pond I noticed a nice Amphibious Bistort plant just managing to survive amid surrounding vegetation.

Pollen Beetle -
Meligethes Aeneus
Female Mallard Drake Mallard Eclipse Plumage Amphibious Bistort

We were pleased to see a healthy number of butterflies were on show. We saw the Green-veined White and Large White, but they were vastly outnumbered by Painted Lady butterflies. Surely 2019 has seen the biggest influx ever of Painted Lady butterflies. We also saw, but didn’t photograph, the Small Tortoiseshell. While pursuing a butterfly I came upon a fly, probably a Tachanid fly, Dexiosoma Caninum. These flies lay their eggs on other insects, but not other flies. The larvae from these eggs then feed on the host insect, weakening, and usually killing it.

Green-veined White Large White Painted Lady Dexiosoma Caninum

John directed my attention to the middle of the back pool of Seafield Pond where a Little Grebe was feeding its two chicks, making repeated dives bringing up a small fish each time. On our way back we found a pair of Common Inkcap mushrooms growing in the short grass. On the long grass beside the path, a Smoky Wainscot moth clung onto a grass stem. Just before we reached the car, I noticed the flower bug, c crawling across a Ragwort flower. Also crawling, or should it be “slithering”, was a Brown Slug ( taking its life into its hands by traversing the busy footpath (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Apparently a slug has more teeth than a shark (see the last link for more such facts).

Little Grebe Common Inkcap Smokey Wainscot Anthocoris Nemoralis 

We relocated to Dunbar Harbour, by the Battery, and walked to the harbour mouth to view the Kittiwakes nesting on the walls of the castle ruin. Most chicks were fledged or nearly fledged, but a few looked young and vulnerable (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). It was a very active and noisy scene as birds were constantly coming and going uttering their “kitt-i-wake” calls as the went. A Cormorant emerged from underwater and made its way into the harbour, no doubt looking for scraps of fish occasionally thrown out by the fishing boats. On the rocks to the north of the harbour most Herring Gull chicks looked big enough to look after themselves but some were still harassing their parents for food.

Kittiwake Kittiwake Cormorant Herring Gull

A view of the Dunbar Harbour from the mouth:

Looking over the harbour north wall we could see the Shag colony had depleted as chicks had reached independence, but a few had still to get to that stage. We spent a bit of time looking around the renovated Battery and managed to observe a hovering Silver Y Moth  as it fed off White Valerian flowers in the coastal garden there (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). At the car a pair of Sandwich Terns flew low directly overhead making their distinctive creaking calls as the went. Our last sighting was of some tiny Diamondback Moths  I found resting on my car windscreen. These are also called Cabbage Moths and since they feed on cruciferous crops, they are considered by farmers to be pests.

Shag Sandwich Tern Diamondback Moth

Well, despite the dull weather we managed a wide and varied set of sightings, well worth the reward of tea and apple lattice pastries. Hopefully though we’ll get brighter weather next week as pictures do look better with more light.

Pictures of the Week:

Marmalade and Humming_syrphus Hoverflies Brown Slug
Kittiwake Juveniles Silver Y Moth

11th July 2019:

Hogganfield Loch

As I was to be on holiday on the 14th of July, I decided to base my weekly blog on a midweek trip. 
It was a bit of a surprise when last Thursday afternoon turned out to be sunny.  Rain, with  thunderstorms, had been predicted. I took advantage of the fine spell by doing a circuit of Hogganfield Park, Glasgow to see what natural delights I could discover. John was working, so I was on my own (or not, if you count the very many walkers that use the park). On getting out my car (the car park is on the west edge of Hogganfield Loch) I could hear the insistent, annoying and loud cheeps of a Great Crested Grebe chick as it shadowed it’s parent across the Loch. The poor adult seemed demented with it and was trying to “shake it off” by moving close to a few flapping Greylags. But its chick hung on. As I got a few shots of the pair I noticed a small Pink-footed Goose feeding beside me on the grassy bank. It should have been in Greenland. A Coot and its juvenile caught my attention as I set off around the Park. It was helping itself to large helpings of Pond weed, under the watchful eye of its nervous parent.

Great Crested Grebe Greylag Goose Pink - footed Goose Coot

I noticed a drake Mallard, its breeding plumage fading, replaced by its less attractive summer feathers (this is known as “eclipse”  plumage). The Mallard female (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) looked much neater. Another duck entering the eclipse phase was a solitary drake Pochard that was wandering rather aimlessly through the crowds of birds. The edges of the Loch were bursting with beautiful wild flowers. I noticed White Deadnettle. Its young leaves are edible and it is known elsewhere as the “bee nettle” because it is a rich source of nectar and pollen for bees. Some tall, gorgeous Meadowsweet  dominated areas of the lochside. It has long been used in making potpourri, wines and beer flavouring, antacid and clothing dyes.

Eclipse Mallard Eclipse Pochard White Deadnettle Meadowsweet

As I explored the masses of wild flowers by the Loch, Mute Swans passed close, checking if I had  anything for them (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Red Soldier Beetles  were having their fill on Yarrow flower heads. They look a bit scary, and, due to their red colour, they are also known as  “Bloodsuckers”, although they are harmless. I also saw tall and pretty pink Great Willowherbs and, pushing through beside them, much smaller, pink Common Spotted Orchids . Their name belies their elegant beauty. As I photographed the Orchid, a Painted Lady butterfly swept in and landed conveniently ahead of me on the grass. The tiny, delicate creature had flown from Mediterranean Africa to be there.

Red Soldier Beetle Great Willowherb Common Spotted Orchid Painted Lady

At the south end of the Loch I found a large patch of Yellow Rattle. When its seeds develop they can be heard rattling inside their container (calyxes) - hence the name. On the grass there were at least a couple of species of Damselflies, the Common Blue and the Blue-tailed. Damselflies are often confused with Dragonflies. Damselflies have smaller eyes, long thin bodies and, when at rest, hold their wings closed along their bodies. As I turned onto the east side of the Loch, there were around ten Canada Geese resting on a pair of the biohaven islands  that are moored around the Loch. The biohavens were intended to provide nesting platforms for endangered Great Crested Grebes. There were none with the Geese.

Yellow Rattle Blue-tailed Damselfly Common Blue Damselfly Canada Geese

I decided to walk around the pond that is in the rough and wilder area to the east of the Loch. Fewer walkers use that route so it promised some interesting sightings. On the water of a reedy ditch at the start of the path to Avenue End Road I snapped a Pond Skater, a master of the surface tension of water, enabling it to skim along the surface catching smaller invertebrates. On the sides of the ditch there were scrappy-looking, pink flowers of Ragged Robin. These used to be a common sight in fields but modern farming methods have meant their numbers have fallen.  Also by the ditch were areas covered in yellow, orange and red flowers of Birdsfoot Trefoil, so-named as each of their leaves forms a triplet that resemble a bird’s foot (linkJ). At the south side of the pond I got a pleasing shot of a Common Wasp on Bramble flowers (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). I heard Goldfinches twittering on the north side of the long hedgerow but they were very elusive. I did though get a nice shot of Common Knapweed that was overlooking the pond.

Pond Skater Ragged Robin Common Bird's-foot Trefoil Common Knapweed

A Ringlet butterfly surprised me by landing on some leaves by the footpath. Normally they only touchdown briefly before moving on. Next I left the Park and moved north along the old road, by Avenue Road, where I passed a few Red Poppies. They were a very vivid scarlet, well worthy of a photo. I re-entered the Park via the next entrance. A Gooseberry bush still had many gooseberries hanging from its branches. The branches close to the path were bare - evidence that walkers may have been sampling them. The Sun shone through a tall flower head of Common Hogweed, creating a fractal-like pattern.

Ringlet Red Poppy Gooseberry Common Hogweed

A male Whitethroat moved nervously between the branches of Bramble, before settling on a shady spot on an adjacent tree. Just before the path joined the main road around the Loch I came across a large patch of Betony in a field of unmown grass. On the verges of the field a few pink Perennial Cornflowers were in bloom. On one of them I spotted a small brown insect. It turned out to be, on later research, a Plain-winged Spring Beegrabber. Apparently it frequents the same flowers as Bees, not just searching for pollen and nectar, but to “grab” bees to lay eggs in them. Also in the field edges were a few blue Cornflowers , another victim of modern agricultural methods.

Whitethroat Betony Plain-winged Spring Beegrabber Cornflower

On the last leg of my circuit I got a nice photograph of a tall Purple Loosestrife. On another biohaven platform I was pleased to see a nest with a couple of Great Crested Grebes. They seemed to be sharing the biohaven with Swans and various ducks. The Grebe looked very small against the Swan. Let’s hope they are successful. I also discovered a couple of pairs of Coots with young chicks. The tiny balls of yellow, red and black fluff look very delicate. But many of them should thrive (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). My last shot of the trip was of a shabby drake Tufted Duck, probably in eclipse.

Purple Loosestrife Great Crested Grebe Coot Chicks Tufted Duck

My lonely ramble around a city park came up trumps as my sightings were many and varied, and most of my photos were satisfactory. The Beegrabber was a newbie for us, so I cannot grumble. It should be business as usual next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Mute Swan Female Mallard
Comon Wasp Coot

7th July 2019: Doonfoot

The meteorological report was clear, Ayr was going to be sunny and mild on Sunday, while the rest of the Central Belt was in for more cloud. It had been several months since we had visited Doonfoot at the south of Ayr. I thought an early summer visit might yield some interesting sightings. We sped down the M77 (although we made a detour into Kilmarnock for a breakfast in Morrisons (7/10: my breakfast was cold)) and arrived at the Doonfoot car park to find the weather was indeed as the presenter had predicted.
We started by exploring the pond area over the grassy bank north of the car park. It was very quiet bird-wise but the vegetation was burgeoning. I noticed a strange growth on a nettle stem, which, on research I found was Nettle Clustercup Rust fungus. A pair of Red Soldier Beetles  were enjoying their time on a fine Yarrow flower head (in more ways than one) (see, “Pictures of the Week“, below). As we pushed through the high grass lining the rough and narrow path I snapped an attractive Dark-lipped Banded Snail that was attached to a nettle leaf. But the most prominent plant at the pond was a six foot tall Giant Hogweed. It’s a dangerous plant if touched, so I hope Ayrshire Council are aware of the risks, and remove it.

Clustercup Rust Brown Lipped Snail Great Willowherb Giant Hogweed

As we neared the River Doon we came across some a pair of Valerians. The first was Red Valerian , just off the point of coming into bloom. The other was Common Valerian , a much more elegant umbilifer and one that has interesting herbal uses. At the river’s edge a little White Wagtail was enjoying a tiny bug it had just caught. Next we followed a Green-veined White butterfly into the sand dunes where it came to rest on  Sea Rocket blooms.

Red Valerian Common Valerian White Wagtail Green Veined White

A large flock of House Sparrows were very active on the seeding grasses of the dunes. Their fledglings waited on the stalks of grass as their parents nervously gathered seeds for them. I wandered out to the mouth of the river where it flowed into the southern reaches of the Firth of Clyde. Hundreds of birds, mainly Gulls and some Mute Swans, were feeding. I noticed a pair of Greenshanks and a Redshank amongst them.

House Sparrow House Sparrow Fledging Greenshank Redshank

Back at the dunes I just missed a picture of a male Linnet , resplendent in its red-breasted breeding plumage. The camera focused on a single blade of grass leaving the bird image frustratingly blurred. An Oystercatcher flew overhead as we retraced our way back past the pond, but this time there was bird action there. A family of Goldfinches were bathing at the water’s edge. Then a pair of Ringed Plovers swooped in, their high-pitched calls unsettling the finches. The Plovers had a wee bath before they too were spooked by a passing dog.

Oystercatcher Goldfinch Goldfinch Juvenile Ringed Plover

In the middle of the shallow pond, two Black-headed Gulls were behaving quite oddly. Both were squawking their heads off as they paddled side-by-side through the water. As we moved round the pond my attention moved again to wildflowers. I caught a nice light on a flower of Meadow Cranesbill. On a Red Clover flower a Buff-tailed Bumblebee was hard at work. The flower heads of Wild Carrot were just developing. On one flower head I spotted a scary-looking common parasitic wasp, Aritranis Director (see, “Pictures of the Week“, below).

Black-headed Gull Meadow Cranesbill Buff-tailed Bumblebee Wild Carrot

As we passed the mainly reed-covered south end of the Pond, we started to hear the competing calls of a couple of Sedge Warblers. At first we couldn’t locate them so we move further round the area. A Painted Lady butterfly landed obligingly on the path in front of me. Just after I’d photographed it, a Sedge Warbler shot vertically in the air from an adjacent bush and descended onto a blade of Reed Mace (see also, “Pictures of the Week“, below). Another butterfly turned up, a Meadow Brown feeding on a flower of Smooth Hawksbeard. We returned to the car and drove the short distance south to the Greenan Shore car park. Where we started our well-practiced circuit around the castle ruin.

Painted Lady Sedge Warbler Meadow Brown

The first part of our walk was very quiet. We saw little of special interest along the shore, hampered no doubt by the high number of dogs and their walkers. It wasn’t until we scaled the slope up to the ruin of Greenan Castle that we were much taken by the view to the south.

We carefully negotiated our way around the Barley fields to the east of the castle and passed a 7-spot Ladybird lounging on a blade of Barley. We passed a few bushes of Lesser Burdock on the edges of the fields. Goldfinches made frequent appearances but didn’t settle as Sunday walkers disturbed them as they moved through the Castle grounds. The House Sparrows were less flighty though. I photographed a demure wee fledgling Juvenile Sparrow (see, “Pictures of the Week“, below). Twice we had Yellowhammers bursting unexpectedly out of the hedges and over our heads. Nice to see but unfortunately no pictures. We eventually descended onto a old tarred road off Greenan Road. On its overgrown verge I found a thriving and very beautiful garden plant with an exotic name, the Everlasting Pea, lathyrus latifolius, Rosa Perle . Our final sighting of the trip was a cracker. As we moved from the road back towards the dunes we heard the unmistakable, shrill call of the Grasshopper Warbler . We sat on our stools for about half an hour and watched the bushes for any signs of their movements. Eventually we spotted one, and after a few photo-opportunities I had a few record shots, unfortunately shooting into the sun. It was a pity the lie of the land didn’t allow me to get on the other side of the bird, withe sun behind.

7 Spot Ladybird Lesser Burdock Everlasting Pea Grasshopper Warbler

Well, the weather held up. It actually felt like summer. Apart from a couple of missed opportunities (the Linnet and Yellowhammer) we built up a pleasing collection of sightings. So back at the car it was with a fine sense of satisfaction that we downed tea with chocolate cream eclairs. What a very pleasant pastime.

Pictures of the Week:

Juvenile House Sparrow Grasshopper Warbler
Red Soldier Beetle Wasp - Aritranis Director

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