Archive - June 2018
 

24th June

Doonfoot

Clear blue cloudless skies filled us with optimism as we arrived at Doonfoot, south of Ayr. A cool, but welcome sea breeze made the sun’s warmth comfortable. All we needed was for nature to let us see its workings. The chirping of House Sparrows and House Martins filled the air as we set off to explore the mouth of the River Doon. I snapped a couple of the Martins as they had a pit stop at the side of the pool adjacent to the Castle Walk car park. Also present at the poolside were masses of Sea Club-rushes, a plant known to foragers as its roots, shoots and seeds are edible (not recommended though). A busy White-tailed Bumblebee was harvesting the nectar in flowers of purple Tufted Vetch. White Bramble flowers decorated the edges of the grassy dunes, promising juicy fruits in weeks to come.

House Martin
Sea Club-rush
White-tailed Bumblebee
Bramble



The tide seemed to be going out. We could see lots of gulls. Yellow legs and charcoal grey back told me a fairly large passing bird was a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It’s brown wing tips and grey back lead me to think it was immature, probably it was in its second cycle. A much smaller Gull with a dark brown head was a Black-headed Gull. A bold Rook passed, unmistakable through it’s large grey beak as a nosey Mute Swan checked us out for bread - no chance. It is our policy to observe with a minimum of interference.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Rook
Mute Swan




Most prominent in the group of gulls gathered on the sands were Great Black-backed Gulls. They were the biggest birds and had light pink legs with the black backs and wings. Another familiar Gull, the Herring Gull flew in. Somewhat smaller than the Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, it had pink legs and light grey back and wings. What looked like a 2nd cycle Great Black-backed Gull breezed in carrying a mystery object in its beak. It dropped it several times, presumably to reveal its edible contents, however it left it to other gulls after a while. And with that, as we looked south to the picturesque scene dominated by the ruin of Greenan Castle, we decided to move on to Greenan car park to see what goodies would reveal themselves there.

Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
3rd cycle Great Black-backed Gull Greenan Castle




At the car park as we started our circuit around Greenan Castle, more Sparrows were moving from branch to branch in the bushes. It is always nice to see them as their UK numbers have mysteriously plummeted over the last few decades. In the bushes just below the Castle I got a picture of what I think is a juvenile Willow Warbler, though I’ve yet to confirm this. On the grassy dunes I photographed a couple of pretty wildflowers. The first was Meadow Cranesbill. A member of the Geranium family, its origins are in the Altai mountains in Central Asia, but it is now native to Europe as well as Asia.

Male House Sparrow
Female House Sparrow Juvenile Willow Warbler? T.B.C.
Meadow Cranesbill




The second flower that was beautifying the dunes was Lady’s Bedstraw. It got its name from the belief that the Virgin Mary filled her baby’s cradle with these lovely yellow flowers, and not the more usual drab grass straw. Away from the dunes, on the rocky cliff supporting the Castle ruin, I found a handsome patch of Thrift. It reminded me of the old “threepenny bit” - the coins minted 1937-52 had an image of the plant on the reverse side. John drew my attention to a Grey Heron that was prowling along the seashore. I plodded out toward the sea to get a closer picture. While I was there a Carrion Crow was trying to get in on the action.

Lady's Bedstraw
Thrift
Grey Heron
Carrion Crow




We scaled the steep path ( Very bloody steep! Ed ) up to the Castle and the made our way along the sides of the field behind the Castle. Before too long we caught sight of a Goldfinch twittering from its perch high on a tree branch. Moments later a Yellowhammer flew in (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) and landed high on the next tree and proceeded with its call, “a little bit of bread and no cheese” (say the first seven syllables quickly then “no cheese” slowly). I noticed a few tiny, but very pretty Field Pansies at the edges of the potato field. Pansies are loved for their seemingly smiling faces. Their “cousin” in the Viola family, the Violet, is famed for its scent. Nearer the hedges there were also some tiny, but nice Field Speedwell, another Asiatic plant which was introduced here in the 19th century. Completing a trio of interesting wildflowers we found around at the side of the tattie field was Greater Sea Spurrey. It is more commonly found around salt marshes, but recently has been turning up on salty roadsides - thriving on salt provided by the road gritters.

Goldfinch
Field Pansy
Common Field Speedwell
Greater Sea Spurry




We eventually descended off of the raised field onto Greenan Road and from there back North onto the footpath that leads to the Car Park. On that path we were joined by a pair of Stonechats.
The female came closest to us, although I wondered if it was merely trying to get away from the attentions of the Male. We then spent some time on the beach behind the car park. Dominating the shore at that point was a huge Wild Angelica plant. Oils extracted from this species have been used in medicine, perfume and confectionery. We watched yet more Sparrows foraging, and apparently eating green seaweed. My final capture of the afternoon was of a fine Oystercatcher that had been gradually edging its way towards us, as it probed the many little saltwater pools for food. Eventually it reached its limit of tolerance and flew off further down shore.

Female Stonechat
Wild Angelica
Female House Sparrow
Oystercatcher




What a very pleasant trip. The Doonfoot coast is very scenic and we always seem to find many photo-opportunities, as can be witnessed on this page. What better reward then than a cup of tea with strawberry tarts! The pastry was a bit on the soft side, but oh how tasty. ( In future blogs, Strawberry Tarts will be encoded as "Rich Tea Biscuit"!  Ed.)

Pictures of the Week:

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Goldfinch


Yellowhammer
Oystercatcher



June 17th 2018

Barns Ness

For the first time in a few weeks the brighter weather was to be in the east, so all we had to decide was what part of the Lothian coast would suit us best. The tidal prediction was low throughout the visit so I decided perhaps Barns Ness with its varied hinterland would give us the best chance of some interesting pictures.

Dalkeith Morrisons served us up a pair of fairly disappointing, tepid breakfasts (7/10) but we pressed on regardless to the Dunbar area. As we turned into the approach road for Whitesands and Barns Ness the weather was rather similar to the brekkie - on the cool side, although the wind was light. I spotted a Skylark as it descended onto a fence post. The charm of the song of the ascending Larks was to wear off after an hour or two. Their incessant high pitched warblings get to you after a while. We parked and then walked through the derelict caravan site towards open fields to the south. A Scorpion Fly caught my eye as it darted erratically between high blades of grass at, typically, 0.5 m/s with 28 beats of its wings every second. John noticed a doe Roe Deer in a distant field, and then another much closer with a pair of spotted fawns. The fawns looked quite young. Their gestation period is 10 months - so they are born well developed. The deer were drifting east, so we moved east behind the high wall along the field edge in an attempt to meet them and perhaps get a closer shot. No chance - they were spooked by a pair of walkers cutting across the next field! A Yellowhammer appeared atop a nearby tree, one of over 700,000 Yellowhammer breeding territories in the UK (according to the RSPB website).

Skylark
Scorpion Fly
Roe Deer
Yellowhammer




The unmistakable sound of a Song Thrush perched on the topmost branch of a tree drew us north toward the sea. I passed a solitary young, blue-flowered Bugloss plant with its spiny stem and leaves. It was rather unimpressive but was actually the first one I’d photographed. A large flock of Starlings fled past, most of them seemed to be brown juveniles. We sat in a copse waiting for the birds coming to us for a change. A female Chaffinch obliged.

Song Thrush
 Bugloss - Anchusa Arvensis.
Starlings
Female Chaffinch




And so did a female Common Blue Damselfly. It flew onto gorse bushes just below the Chaffinch. We were well away from water, where they’re usually found, but it is not unusual to see them in woody grassland. We left that area, crossed a sheep’s field and moved through the dunes onto the beach. The seashore was, disappointingly, bereft of birdlife, or so it seemed at first. As I snapped a few pictures of White-tailed Bumblebees on Sea Rocket, a large Grey Heron squawked as it moved along the along the water’s edge some 100m away.

Female Common Blue Damselfly
White-tailed Bumblebee
Sea Rocket
Grey Heron




Shortly after the flight of the Heron we had the flight of the Shelducks. A male Shelduck passed in an easterly direction to join its mate. They both then passed us travelling west to settle quite close to us. We were surprised at how much closer we were able to edge up to them before they were spooked, not by us, but by another male Shelduck who has eyes for the female. We moved on west towards the lighthouse and eventually came upon a huge pile of seaweed with a sulphurous stench that hung in the back of the throat. A bold little Reed Bunting appeared scouring the pile for invertebrates. A pair of ever-present Herring Gulls lounged on the rocks as we neared the car park.

Shelduck
Shelduck Reed Bunting
Herring Gull




A walker had told us there were Shelduck chicks further on, so we rounded the Point to have a wee look for them but all we could see were roosting Black-headed Gulls. I did though locate a bonny patch of the rock-loving Biting Stonecrop. Familiar to gardeners, this plant, although a wildflower, is easy to control as its roots are short. The Starlings were still very lively, darting in flocks across the shore. I managed to photograph a ruffled individual on a bush. At the Point I was delighted to come across a few plants of Hound’s Tongue. It is thought that the name derives from the roughness of the leaves. In the past, herbalists have used it as part of a cure for madness.

Black-headed Gulls
Biting Stonecrop
Starling
Hound's Tongue




As we made our way back to the car park a male Pied Wagtail was busy on the rocks gathering grubs, presumably for his nestlings. Close by, a Rock Pipit was similarly employed, although it seemed to be having a bit less success. As I sat snapping shots of the Pipit I noticed a clump of Lady’s Bedstraw on the rocks. In Scandinavian mythology it is called “Frigg’s grass” and used it as a sedative (Frigg, the wife of Odin, gives her name to the day of the week, Friday). Our final capture of the day was of a juvenile Meadow Pipit that appeared as I was pouring out the teas.

Pied Wagtail
Rock Pipit
Lady's Bedstraw
Meadow Pipit




With our teas we savoured a pair of Apple Lattice Danish pastries, very contented with the wide and varied collection of pictures we had amassed. We discovered a newby in the Bugloss so, that alone made the day worthwhile.

Pictures of the Week:

Skylark
Scorpion Fly


Biting Stonecrop
Pied Wagtail



June 9th 2018

RSPB Baron’s Haugh

It was my turn to have Sunday family commitments, so I decided on a solo Saturday visit to our local RSPB reserve, Baron’s Haugh, Motherwell. It is a place that is very familiar to me, so much so, I thought there was a danger that I could haven taken many of its features rather for granted. I turned off Manse Road, through a metal “kissing gate”, down along the path through luscious, verdant woodland toward the first hide. I noticed that much of the woodland floor adjacent to the path was populated with a couple of uncommon wildflowers. The first of these was the Piggyback plant, Tolmiea Menziesii. It originates in the North American west coast and was brought into the UK as an ornamental garden plant, before escaping and naturalising to our environment. The other fairly rare plant was European Sanicle, whose name derives from the Latin for “healthy”, a clue that it was once used as a medicine. In the past it has been used to heal wounds and to treat a wide range of conditions such as dysentery, ulcers, bowel pain, skin conditions, to name but a few.

Eventually I reached the side path that leads into the Marsh Hide. A Scorpion fly caught my eye as I paused by some tall grass. Scorpion flies are not related to Scorpions and are not harmful to humans, although they do look a bit scary. I then heard frantic and continual tweeting from just above my head. Looking up I could see a Blue Tit working very hard, scouring a Willow Tree for caterpillars.

Piggyback Plant
European Sanicle
Scorpion Fly
Blue Tit




Following its movement lead my eyes to the source of the tweeting, a fledgling fluttering its wings as it sat on a branch higher in the tree. I managed a shot of the adult Tit feeding the young bird (see Pictures of the Week, below). Inside the hide I scanned the rather bare area of reserve before me. It had been overgrown with vegetation and was ‘renovated’ some months back to re-establish the ponds. It was only now just beginning to attract some birds. A small group of Gadwall were squabbling and I managed a couple of flight shots. I next moved on to reach the Causeway Hide.

Fledgling Blue Tit
Gadwall
Gadwall
Causeway Hide




Across the Haugh I could see a Grey Heron carefully stalking some unfortunate prey beneath the water. On the Haugh there were several Coots nests, each viciously guarded by ever-vigilant parents. I next got a picture of a Moorhen chewing on a Blue-tailed Damselfly - and I thought they were vegetarians! A nervous female Mallard rushed her ducklings past the hide. She had done a good job so far as her eight little ones were now not so little.

Grey Heron
Coot
Moorhen
Female Gadwall




About 50m away from the hide I watched another concerned parent, a Great Crested Grebe, gently positioning its large ochre egg as the other parent brought nesting material to shore up their flimsy-looking nest. Just as I was about to leave the hide a pair of Mute Swans appeared on the scene with their 5 cygnets. They must have been been resting out of sight on the far side of the island in front of the hide. I next moved on along the footpath beside the River Clyde. On its bonny banks I found a lovely yellow Welsh Poppy and a few insects of interest. The first was a pair of Blue-tailed Damselflies caught in the act, you might say. They weren’t alone. I also got shots of Common Blue Damselflies (see Pictures of the Week, below). When mating they join together in the so-called “wheel” position and the male will then usually remain joined to the female until she she has laid her eggs, yes, even in mid-air.

Great Crested Grebe
Mute Swan
Welsh Poppy
Blue-tailed Damselfly




The next insect I met by the Clyde was a Silver Ground Carpet Moth. It was a long way from a carpet but did its best to hide under a blanket of leaves. As often happens, as I tried to get shots of one creature, another turns up, this time it was a Clouded Border Moth, then seconds later I spied a ragged Peacock butterfly on a spike of Dame’s Violet. My quartet of insect observations concluded with a snap of a White-tailed Bumblebee sipping nectar and gathering pollen from the purple flowers of Comfrey. Behind each of its rear thighs its pollen baskets were bulging orange, so it had been working hard, but it showed no signs of slowing.

Silver Ground Carpet Moth
Clouded Border Moth
Peacock Butterfly
White-tailed Bumblebee




Further along the path I admired the plentiful, and therefore often overlooked flowers of Wood Avens (sometimes called Herb Bennet) and their equally attractive spiky, maroon-coloured seed heads. An ancient protection against rabid dogs and poisonous snakes, it is a herbal remedy for a wide range of ailments including diarrhoea, heart disease, halitosis, mouth ulcers and colic. Alerted by its unmistakable call, I then caught a fleeting glimpse of a probable juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker clinging to the bark of a small riverside tree, before fleeing across the river when it caught a glimpse of me. I reckoned it was a juvenile as it had a red bar across the top of its head, rather than on its nape. As time was pressing I started back to the car park. The Phoenix and Centenary Hides would have to wait for another day’s blog. I retraced my steps along the River Clyde, in awe of its many wildflowers, now in the peak of bloom.One ubiquitous wildflower I am very fond of is Red Campion. Its beautiful flowers though are designed to attract insects, not humans. Butterflies, bees, moths and hoverflies are guided towards the flowers’ stores of nectar and in the process they unwittingly transfer pollen from flower to flower, so participating in the flowers’ sex lives!

Wood
Avens
Great-spotted Woodpecker
Red Campion




Another flower common to the area is Crosswort, a member of the coffee family whose flowers smell of honey. I also came across some Lesser Stitchwort, more delicately formed than the larger Greater Stitchwort (obviously). I passed a large bush of Wild Roses which was alive with all sorts of insects moving from flower to flower. One of these was the hoverfly Eristalis Arbustorum (see Pictures of the Week, below). One final look along the river for otters (there were none, but often they are there) and I turned right along a rough path through the woods to the path that lead to the car park. As I passed the Marsh Hide entrance I heard the call of a Buzzard and easily found it perched high in a bare tree. Just before it took off I snapped a shot of it, although it was against the light.

Crosswort
Lesser Stitchwort
River Clyde
Buzzzard




So rather than taking its features for granted I think I actually benefited from my detailed knowledge of the reserve as I didn’t have to search too hard discovering where the birds, flowers and insects were as I’d been doing just that weekly for the last decade. I think I’ve given an indication in this blog of what a splendid place it is for the nature lover. Maybe you’ll go there?

Pictures of the Week:

Scorpion Fly
Blue Tit


Common Blue Damselfly
Hoverfly- eristalis_arbustorum



3rd June 2018

Saltcoats, Stevenston, Irvine

With a low chance of sunshine across most of Central Scotland we were guided by a report on social media that Skuas and Great Northern Divers were seen at/from Saltcoats Harbour- that very morning. So it was west! We are quite fond of the cafe in Stevenston Morrisons as their food and service is consistently good. On Sunday they were offering a 19-item breakfast, the “Big Daddy” for 6 , which was a bit of a heart attack on a plate at our age so I stuck to my usual “Wee Scottish”. Service was predictably slower so we rated it 9/10.
The sun was shining at Saltcoats and a pair of Feral Pigeons were soaking it up on the rocks. The usual Herring Gulls were hanging about waiting for chips, the one shown below being a 2nd cycle individual. We made our way to the Harbour end where we sat waiting for passing Skuas. A very brave Rock Pipit foraged on the rock and around an angler’s bags. A few Cormorants and Shags flew past but nothing more exotic.

Feral Pigeon
2nd Cycle Herring Gull
Rock Pipit
Shag




A solitary Grey Heron ghosted low over the water, south towards Stevenston. On a tiny rocky island just north of the Harbour mouth a pair of Shags watched warily as a Seal swam past. We realised that we were probably not going to see Skuas or Divers so we decided to walk to the other side of the Harbour. On the way there we encountered an inebriated gent feeding and conversing with the Gulls. As they circled him I snapped a handsome Lesser Black-backed Gull in flight. By the seawall I found a neat little Common Scurvygrass plant. This is so-named as, before the widespread availability of citrus fruits, it was eaten by sailors to prevent scurvy.

Grey Heron
Shag
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Common Scurveygrass




Further round the Harbour we came across another edible plant, Sea Radish, although I’m told it is an acquired taste. Offshore we saw lobster fishermen checking their traps. A pair of Eider and a single Oystercatcher were the only birds we saw. We decided then to move on to Stevenston Point.

Sea Radish
Lobster Boat
Eider
Oystercatcher




It wasn’t as sunny at the Point but we soon had seen interesting sights. A Shag flew by close to where a couple of male Eiders were resting, one a juvenile. As I photographed these I could hear Starlings emanating from the rocky shore. Eventually they came into view - an adult with two fledglings, both screaming to be fed. I managed shots of the adult picking the legs off of a small crab before ramming it down the throat of one of its young.

Shag
Eider
Star
ling




John spotted a female Eider with 3 ducklings swimming across the small bay north of the Point. The mother was having a good preen followed by the usual flapping of wings. The ducklings got a wash too as they were so close to the action. Next I caught a quick shot of a diving Gannet about to hit the surface 100m out. We moved on again after that, to Irvine Harbour. We were greeted by the croaking calls of a pair of Sandwich Terns as they flew over the River Irvine towards its mouth. In the water below them a juvenile Shag was diving for fish.

Eider
Gannet
Sandwich Tern
Juvenile Shag




On the grassy and stony verges of the footpath I found some Biting Stonecrop that was just coming to bloom. A succulent, it can store water in its leaves, so may thrive even in very dry environments. Very close to it was Common Birdsfoot Trefoil, a member of the pea family. It is often used as food for livestock. At this point our peace was disturbed by a pair of motorcyclists riding their bikes over the old Big Idea building on the other side of the river. We decided to call it a day, but not before I had captured a final image - of a handsome and proud Mute Swan sailing up the river unconcerned by the unwelcome commotion.

Biting Stonecrop
Common Birdsfoot-Trefoil
Big Idea
Mute Swan




Overall though it had been a very pleasant excursion. We didn’t see the birds we were after but our teas and chocolate cream eclairs made it all good. There’s always next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Herring Gull
Rock Pipit


Starling
Common Seal



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