Archive - March 2020

28th and 29th March:

In and around Jim’s Garden

This weekend, with the Lock-down measures in full force, my car was locked in the garage and my nature-watching was confined to my home grounds. At the first opportunity, domestic duties completed, I managed some nice pictures from my bedroom window of birds that had gathered on top of the hedge. Just why they had gathered there became apparent when the lovely birdkiller, Kitty, passed through my backyard. House Sparrows and Starlings watched the cat until it was gone (see also, “Pictures of the Week”,below). A younger cat might have tried to catch one of the birds, but Kitty knew hunting the birds would be a complete waste of time as her movements were well watched.

Kitty House Sparrow Female House Sparrow Starling

Other birds on higher positions of safety, were a pair of Woodpigeons who, from the branches of the Ash tree, were more interested in birdy love than the cat. Higher still, gulls were circling noisily seeking scraps of food put out for the smaller, more loved birds. I was surprised that they were Lesser Black-backed Gulls (I’d assumed they were Herring Gulls). The roof and chimney stacks were popular with chattering Jackdaws and coo-ing Feral Pigeons.

Wood Pigeon Lesser Black - backed Gull Jackdaw Feral Pigeon

In a shady area under trees I found Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage. Close by there were patches of Dogs’ Mercury. These wild flowers had just come into flower, but some weeks before the Coltsfoot had burst into bloom, even before its leaves had formed. I also noticed Variegated Periwinkle, a somewhat invasive garden escapee on an uncultivated area of ground.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage. Dog's Mercury Coltsfoot Variegated Periwinkle
I thought it might be a bit too early in the year for umbilifers , but I came across Sweet Cicily  just coming into bloom. It’s a forager’s favourite, having many uses. Growing on the edges of my car runway was a plant normally considered to be a garden weed. Leaves of Hairy Bittercress are actually edible (after washing, of course), tasting “spicy-hot, rather than bitter”. Also lining the runway (to my shame) was another so-called “weed”, Common Whitlowgrass . Its very pretty, tiny flowers have four white, toothed petals and yellow anthers. It seems a shame that they are so poorly appreciated. Certainly a lot more well-thought of flowers are Forget-me-nots. My neighbour had these, an Alpine variety, below his garden wall. How they got there I’m not sure since his garden is slabbed over and flower-less.

Sweet Cicely Hairy Bittercress Common Whitlowgrass
Alpine Forget-me-Not
Whitlowgrass - Common

I have bird feeders in my back garden in an attempt to lure some garden birds . The usual visitors include the Sparrows and Starlings mentioned above, but other regular visitors include the Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Magpie.

Robin Wren Dunnock Magpie

Birds that are usually heard, rather than seen, include the Greenfinch, Great Tit, Goldfinch and, overhead, passing, the Grey Heron.

Greenfinch Great Tit Goldfinch Grey Heron

Over the weeks ahead I will continue to photograph the flowers, birds and invertebrates in and around my home. I do take my daily, social-distanced walk, and would love to take my cameras, but that would go against the spirit of the current restrictions. However, I’m quite looking forward to studying my immediate environment, and of course you’ll be the first to see my observations. Stay safe.

Pictures of the Week

House Sparrow Starling
Wood Pigeon Dunnock
Tree Bumblebee Wren

22nd March 2020:


Stevenston Point

This week I managed a carefully managed social-distanced trip to Stevenson. The weather was pleasantly sunny but a little cool on the coast. I started on Stevenson Point with a good clear view of a Curlew in flight. I then walked along the sands to the south of the Point to examine the Rabbie Burns  portrait decorating part of the dunes barrier wall. On my way back I came across a Linnet  feeding on seaweed. A pair of Carrion Crows loomed overhead, but the feisty Linnet held its ground.

Curlew Rabbie Burns Linnet Carrion Crow

A view of Stevenson Point, viewed from the south.

Back on the north shore of the Point I snapped a couple of shots of a Turnstone and a pair of Redshanks that were sheltering from the stiff breeze tucked between rocks. I noticed a gathering of birds sitting in offshore shallows to the north. They seemed to be tolerant of the dog walkers on the beach, so I decided to go and check them out. I passed a pair of good-looking Herring Gulls standing by a puddle. Gulls aren’t popular with most folk, but, their anti-social habits aside, I think they are good-looking birds, well adapted to their environments. When I reached the area of beach closest to where the birds were, the tide had gone out a bit more, resulting in the shallows becoming a temporary island. A flock of Sanderlings had flown in and were fairly close to the waters edge.

Turnstone Redshank Herring Gull Sanderling

That was until a dog-walker started throwing his dog’s ball into the channel. The Sanderling moved to settle at the far side of the “island”.

At the same location I also saw some Common Gulls, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a large number of Oystercatchers. It’s a pity that the light was from behind the birds as they were partially silhouetted. As I made my way back to the car I photographed a Meadow Pipit when it landed on a small bush.

Common Gull Bar-tailed Godwit Oystercatcher Meadow Pipit

I decided that my next site was Ardeer Quarry Local Nature Reserve  (The LNR is an ongoing project of Garnock Valley Futurescapes). I was pleased to see that there were no cars in the car park and very few people about. I noticed a beautiful Daffodil near the car, just before the steps to the Pond. On the water, a well-lit Moorhen emerged from the reed bed, while on the grassy banks an adult Mute Swan was nibbling grass. Its well-grown cygnets were not too far away in slightly longer grass.

Daffodil Moorhen Mute Swan Juvenile Mute Swans

Throughout the reserve, Willow trees were showing very attractive white and yellow catkins on which were many small birds, such as Blue Tits and Great Tits. I was very pleased to, first hear, then see, my first Chiffchaff  of the year (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Willow Catkin Blue Tit Great Tit Chiffchaff

While strolling in the sun along the path on east side of the reserve, I was serenaded by a shady Robin sitting on a Bramble branch. Less-pleasing was the sight of a very large Buff-tailed Bumblebee on the ground, obviously in some discomfort. Eventually it flew off, but when I examined some of the shots I took, I noticed what looked like parasitic mites clinging to its sides. I was on the lookout for wildflowers, but it was still early in the year. I did  find some Hairy Bittercress though, considered as a weed by many, but to a few it is a salad food .

Robin Queen Buff- tailed Bumble Bee Hairy Bittercress

From the west side of the LNR I almost missed a big sighting when I stooped to capture a picture of a lovely yellow Lesser Celandine. From the corner of my eye I saw a Roe Buck  moving through the long grass (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). It was the first I’d seen since a big cull some years ago. As I passed the pond, on my way back to the car, I got nice shots of a Tufted Duck and also of a lovely Common Daisy.

Male Roe Deer Lesser Celandine Tufted Duck Common Daisy

My final location was Auchenharvie Loch which is found in the grounds of Auchenharvie golf course. A ruined castle overlooks the loch, hinting at the history of the area. I took a quick shot of a wee Coot and a Canada Goose which were in the middle of the loch, just as a man with bread turned up and attracted some gulls over to get their pictures taken. A bold Herring Gull and an energetic Lesser Black-backed Gull (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below) put on an impressive show of aerial acrobatics as they competed for slices of Mother’s Pride. A wee Black-headed Gull didn’t stand a chance and left empty-bellied.

Coot Canada Goose Herring Gull Black-headed Gull

A Grey Heron, which I’d not seen previously, made a dash for safety when I got too close.  My final shot was of the Lesser Black-backed Gull , its charcoal wings and yellow legs (its main identification features) were very prominent in the bright sunlight.

Grey Heron Lesser Black-backed Gull

Social distancing made it a lonely visit to Stevenston. However, it was satisfying that I saw some nice things - the Chiffchaff, Sanderlings and Roe Deer being my highlights. I had a quick cup of tea and a biscuit before returning home. Lock Down may curtail future visits, but I’ll take a camera on any spells of exercise and who know, I might get a blog or two from those walks.

Pictures of the Week:

Chiffchaff Great Tit
Male Roe Deer Lesser Black-backed Gull

15th March 2020:

Stevenston, Saltcoats, Troon and Irvine Harbour

For once I decided not to head for the area of best weather prediction (which would’ve been the eastern Central Belt) but instead, simply because I’d not been there for a couple of months, I headed for the Ayrshire Coast between Saltcoats and Troon.

I was on my own since John was busy with family duties, so I skipped breakfast and had a quick cuppa on Stevenston Point. As you can see from the picture below, there was a very strong south-westerly wind driving the waves to shore. It was also driving birds into more sheltered areas.

It seemed that the only birds brave enough to take on the wild wind were the Herring Gulls and Oystercatchers  (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). The only other bird I saw was a Curlew on the sands south of the Point.

Herring Gull 1st Cycle Herring Gull Oystercatcher Curlew

I decided to checkout Saltcoats Harbour, as it is a more sheltered area.

From the harbour, a pair of Eider were the only birds on the water. A Cormorant passed overhead but there were no other birds to be seen. A walk beside the sea wall on Windmill Street produced sightings of a few Oystercatchers probing the sands for invertebrates and Starlings on seaweed.

Eider Cormorant Oystercatcher Starling

I also snapped a nice Curlew and a wading Redshank. On a large rock I noticed three Herring Gulls, two adults and one first winter.

Curlew Redshank Herring Gull

A bit disappointed at the lack of birds at my first two locations, I drove the short distance down the A78 to Troon Harbour, but it too drew a blank. I next moved to the Titchwell Road car park hoping for a change in fortunes. Just as I arrived a huge flock of Knot swept in and landed on the rocky shore a mere 100m north of where I was parked.

I walked along the sea wall and sat and waited for the flock to get nearer. The birds were walking over the shore, the flock moving like a feathery quilt over the rocks. Soon I managed a good few shots from a fairly close range (chosen by the birds, I hasten to add)  (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). A few Dunlin were in the flock. It’s interesting to compare the difference in size of the two waders. I also noticed a single Ringed Plover amid the invasion of Knots. It didn’t look confident as the invasion spread closer.

Knot...... Dunlin Ringed Plover

I needed a toilet break, so I walked towards the Town Hall where I knew there were Public Toilets. On the way I came across a sheltered area of rocky shore where a single Purple Sandpiper  and a Turnstone were searching for food  (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). There were also the usual Crows and Starlings there too.

Purple Sandpiper Turnstone Carrion Crow Starling

Satisfied that the day had taken a turn for the better, I headed for my last stop, Irvine Harbour. I walked along the Esplanade scanning for anything of interest. A few Mute Swans were interested in me, hoping for bread. I saw a drake Goldeneye near the far bank of the River Irvine, and beyond it on the banks, some Wigeon were nibbling the grass. A flock of Starlings was coming and going, failing to settle for any length of time.

Mute Swan Goldeneye Wigeon Starling

Below is a view of the Bridge of Scottish Invention over the River Irvine.

I walked past the bridge and photographed a passing Oystercatcher, and below it, a Blackheaded Gull showing its breeding plumage almost fully formed. It’s head is actually dark brown, not black. After I had captured those images, at my feet, at the edge of the walkway I noticed what I think were flowers of Danish Scurvygrass just emerging from their buds. I took my penultimate shots of the day, a foraging Jackdaw, near the pilot’s building. I returned to the car and just as I was opening the door a Magpie posed on the promenade railings (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below)

Oystercatcher Black-headed Gull Danish Scurvygrass Jackdaw

After a slow start I managed to accumulate a pleasing number of sightings, the highlight being the Knot flock. I rounded off the day with a cup of tea and a Kit-kat (bought to get change for entry to the loo). My only regret was the lack of good light, but at least the rain stayed away. Maybe next week we’ll get a dry, sunny, calm day.

Pictures of the Week

Herring Gull Knot
Purple Sandpiper Magpie

8th March 2020:


No storms this week, just the usual clouds, wind and threat of rain. After reviewing my weather app, it was apparent that east was best, so we decided a day at Musselburgh might be rewarding. There had been reports of Long-tailed Ducks, Black-throated and Red-throated Grebes, not to mention the White-winged and Surf Scoters that had been around for weeks.

After our Dalkeith Morrisons’ breakfasts (9.5/10: VG) we parked on Goosegreen Place near the Cadet Hall and started our walk to the Scrapes with a quick scan of the mouth of the river Esk. A lone Cormorant was perched on the river wall. It was facing into a cold, brisk westerly wind, but at least it was dry. The tide was well in and there were many Turnstones foraging on the, by now, narrow sandy banks, along with a couple of Carrion Crows. As we moved past the Hall, John noticed that the Common Daisies  were in bloom.

Cormorant Turnstones Carrion Crow Common Daisy

There were a lot of Goldeneye  activity on and over the water. The drakes were frisky but the females were playing hard to get.

On the sea wall we came across another pair of Carrion Crows fighting over a dead Shore Crab  (see also,“Pictures of the Week“, below). John thought it might not be a recent kill as the Crab looked scrappy. From the sea wall at the Scrapes we saw Velvet Scoters as they dived for food. A single, good-looking Long-tailed Duck  was also diving for food. From high overhead we could hear a very familiar sound of Spring, a Skylark. I watched it as it ascended and then descended, whistling madly.

Carrion Crow Velvet Scoter
Long-tailed Duck Skylark

We reached the Levenhall Links bird reserve, otherwise known as “the Scrapes”. In the trees lining the path into the hides, I snapped a Blue Tit before it flew off. On settling in the middle hide I noticed a flowering Hairy Bittercress  growing in the cracks of the hide wall. In the middle of the nearest scrape, a pair of Shelducks  (see,“Pictures of the Week“, below) were dabbling cautiously, while around the edges several Teal were feeding.

Blue Tit Hairy Bittercress Shelduck Teal

In the central grassy area of the reserve there were many Curlews, Oystercatchers and Woodpigeons, either eating or sleeping. On the grass in front of the hide, there was a large Magpie probing for food whilst keeping a careful eye on the clicking cameras.

Curlew Oystercatcher Wood Pigeon Magpie

A trio of Redshanks flew in to join the Teal at the water’s edge. I noticed a pair of cute drake Wigeon were squabbling at the far edge of a scrape. We decided to set off on return journey to the car. Just as we reached the sea wall, a huge flock of birds swept out of the reserve and flew over our heads and out into the Firth of Forth.  There were some Wigeon but the vast majority of the birds were Bar-tailed Godwits. Another birder mentioned that he’d seen a few Black-tailed Godwits on the site, but we didn’t see them.

Redshank Wigeon Wigeon Bar-tailed Godwit

There was no sign of the Grebes but I did get some nice close shots of courting Eider (see,“Pictures of the Week“, below). I also photographed a passing first year Common Gull and an Oystercatcher in flight.

Female Eider Common Gull 1st Cycle Oystercatcher

Eventually we reached the car. We decided to relocate to the Millhill riverside parking area for a quick scan before tea and Danish pastries. The scan was quite productive as the Goldeneye were very active and John spotted a Grey Wagtail  exploring the brickwork on the opposite bank just below a row of roosting Redshanks. I was gathering together our tea stuff when I heard the high-pitched call of a Treecreeper  (see,“Pictures of the Week“, below). After a quick visual search of the surrounding trees I spotted it creeping up one of the riverside trees.

Goldeneye Grey Wagtail Redshank
So by the side of the lovely River Esk we munched on custard and almond Danish pastries washed down with cups of strong tea. We’ve always maintained that Musselburgh never lets us down, and it was no different on Sunday. We saw a great range of birds, my favourite sighting being the Crow with Crab. The rain held off until we were leaving, and the sun was out for lengthy periods. All-in-all it had been a great day out.

Pictures of the Week

Carrion Crow Shelduck
Drake Eider Treecreeper

1st March 2020:

Skateraw and Dunbar Harbour

Storm Jorge  was our main weather concern in planning this week’s journey. My weather app weather maps showed conditions on Sunday morning were not encouraging, however, as the prediction below shows, the weather prospects for Dunbar looked good: sunny intervals with a low risk of rain in the afternoon, but very windy.

We decided to head for Skateraw,  a few miles east of Dunbar. There had been reports of a Bean Goose with Pink-footed Geese there, so we were happy to set off on an actual wild goose chase. We had breakfasts at Dalkeith Morrisons (8/10: tepid food and shoogly table) before driving down the A1 to Skateraw. The weather was dry, very windy with a shy sun breaking through the clouds. We started our quest with a quick search of the fields around Skateraw but there were no geese. We began a walk along the shoreline at the old limekiln . The stormy wind made it difficult to hold my camera steady but I managed to snap some courting Mallards and also a pair of Oystercatchers. A Redshank was feeding there too, and was soon joined by a small group of Ringed Plovers 

Mallard Oystercatcher Redshank Ringed Plover
Around thirty Curlew  emerged from Chapel Point and flew over us heading for fields to the south. As we moved west towards the beach, a Mallard took off chasing a female. At the edges of the beach I spotted a Rock Pipit with a curious blue mark on its wing feathers, most probably blue paint.

Curlew Mallard Rock Pipit

We trekked over to Chapel Point where we were impressed by the view of the Barns Ness lighthouse. A male Cormorant in breeding plumage flew low over the spray of wind-whipped waves. We unfortunately put up a couple of Shelducks  that were lurking around the rock pools.

Barns Ness Lighthouse Cormorant Shelduck

The tide was very low with vast areas of exposed rocks, upon which we noticed a foraging Stoat. It spotted us first but was reluctant to dive for cover. This allowed me to get some nice pictures of the wee cutie (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

As we sat watching the Stoat, John noticed a drake Wigeon over a large rock pool. I got a quick picture of as it flew off. We came across a sandy area within the rocky expanse, where we found a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits  with some Ringed Plovers (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). We parked ourselves on our 3-legged stools and watched the birds as they foraged. After a short time a pair of Dunlin  flew in and began searching the wet sands for nibbles.

Wigeon Bar-tailed Godwit Ringed Plover Dunlin

The wind was getting very strong, so strong that we were almost blown off our feet. Taking photographs was very tricky but I did get fairly good shots of a Rock Pipit nestled in a pile of seaweed. John directed my attention to a group of Eiders sheltering on a finger of rock close to the water’s edge. Soon we reached the Dry Burn. It was anything but dry, since huge torrents of opaque brown water raged down its narrow channel and out into the Firth of Forth. I decided to cross the bridge to scramble up the steep slope to see if the Pink-feet or Bean Goose were in the fields beyond the boundary wall. ( I decided to wait at the bottom rather than risk a new hip! JP)
I discovered a Fairy Ring Champignon (also known as a Scotch Bonnet) on the grassy hillside.

Rock Pipit Eider Curlew Fairy Ring Champignon

At the boundary wall I cautiously looked over. Were there Geese? No. Was it a wasted climb? No, there were four Roe Deer sitting in the middle of the field, a buck with three does.

After an exhilarating battle against the wind, we arrived back at the car. I decided to drive to the shelter of Dunbar Harbour for a final few shots before tea. We were pleased to see a few Great Black-backed Gulls on the water, 3rd year, 1st year and adult, and of course, Herring Gulls (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Great Black-backed Gull 3rd Cycle Great Black-backed Gull Great Black-backed Gull 1stCycle Herring Gull

A small flock of Eider were also swimming on the harbour water, occasionally diving for food (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). The drakes were courting the females by raising their heads while calling “a-whoo”. Just as we were about to unscrew the vacuum flask and break open the
Danish pastries, John spotted a small Shag at the harbour mouth. My final picture taken was of a very pretty Crocus, Ruby Giant, that was on a patch of grass close to the car.

Eider...... Shag Ruby Giant Crocus

Our teas and pastries were, as usual, very enjoyable. We didn’t manage to see the Bean Goose, or any Goose come to that, but the bonny wee Stoat and Roe Deers certainly made up that disappointment. Storm Jorge was certainly the liveliest storm so far this winter, but it was more invigorating than scary. But let’s not have any more storms. We’re now into meteorological Spring so we’ll be looking for more flowers and invertebrates from now on. Can’t wait.

Pictures of the Week

Stoat Ringed Plover
Herring Gull Eider

Highlights - March 2020
We present last month’s gallery of my favourite pictures taken during March 2020. They are not listed in the order they have been taken, but according to a series of themes. They’ve all been taken before the COVID19 Lockdown.


Blue Tit Bullfinch
Female Chaffinch Chaffinch
Dunnock Goldcrest
Robin Wren


Barren Strawberry Coltsfoot
Crocus Daffodil
Few-flowered Leek Lesser Celandine


Great Crested Grebe Grey Heron
Pink-footed Goose Roe Deer
Song Thrush Whooper Swan


Canada Goose Common Frog
Coot Dipper
Gadwall Goldeneye
Goosander Moorhen
Pink-footed Goose Tufted Duck


Buzzard Juvenile Kestrel


Goldeneye Great Crested Grebe

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