Archive - March 2018
 

25th March 

Barns Ness and Dunbar Harbour

At last, it happened - a dry, sunny Sunday throughout the whole of Scotland! We had our choice of a full range of our favoured destinations. There was a report of an American White-winged Scoter off the Musselburgh coast but I decided that it would be so far out it would be a unlikely we’d get any decent shots. So after our usual excellent Dalkeith Morrisons breakfast (9.5/10) we zoomed down the A1 to Barns Ness, east of Dunbar, a place that’s always be very kind to us.

The tide was well out as we arrived and as we walked along the rocky shoreline we immediately got shots of a foraging Oystercatcher, the usual and ever-giving Rock Pipits moving amid the piles of insect-rich seaweed and beyond and a pair of male Shelducks sailing in the blue rock pools. We moved around the lighthouse and down the grassy path that runs parallel to the beach. Over the fields to our right we heard hovering Skylarks singing their hearts out. As luck would have it, one of them descended onto a fence post very close to us, so I of course, took its picture.

Oystercatcher
Rock Pipit
Shelduck
Skylark




We had spotted bird activity around a large pile of seaweed on the beach so we continued on the path to enter the beach through the dunes to the east of the seaweed, as the sun would have been behind us, enabling better lit pictures of the birds there. On the way we came across a Meadow Pipit pausing a few moments on the fence, long enough to get a snap. On the beach I settled down at the seaweed on my trusty 3-legged stool and waited for the birds to fly in - and fly in they did. After only 30 minutes I had observed and captured images of Rock Pipits, Pied Wagtails and even Reed Buntings.

Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Reed Bunting




The feeding must have been really good for them as they didn’t seem to be bothered by our presence. The one exception were the Starlings. Occasionally a flock of Starlings would fly in only to swoop away when they saw us. Reed Buntings and the quite similar looking Skylarks flew past us and just got stuck in. I got a glimpse of a female Reed Bunting on a rock and also a distant Stonechat caught my eye as it picked its way through the seaweed.

Meadow Pipit
Skylark
Female Reed Bunting
Stonechat




There came a point though when the Starlings overcame their reticence and started to occupy the seaweed. John was first to spot the huge cloud of birds as they few in from distant rocks. One particular bird settled fairly close, and of course I took its picture. When we decided to move on I just missed a small group of waders, probably Dunlin, that had been probing around some rocky pools adjacent to where I had been sitting. I did though get pictures of a nodding Redshank. We left the beach and moved across the fenced-off field to the trees to the south of the area. We looked over the stone wall into the field beyond where we just managed a decent shot of a retreating Brown Hare, the first I’d seen there.

Starlings
Starling
Redshank
Brown Hare




I had a good look for any others Hares, as often they gather in groups, but to no avail. I did though manage a picture of a wee Rabbit which was sitting just over the wall. As we walked back to the car a Song Thrush was loitering in the grass below a small bush. Close by a Magpie was showing off how the sunlight drew colours from the feathers on its wings and long tail. We drove out of the Barns Ness car park along the single carriageway road approaching Whitesands when John suddenly implored me to stop the car as he had spotted a Kestrel hovering very close to the road. I obliged and fired off some shots of the bonny bird. Apologies to the driver I obstructed as I did so!

European Rabbit
Song Thrush
Magpie
Kestrel




At Dunbar we parked at our usual spot by the Castle overlooking the Harbour. I was delighted to spot a handsome Pied Wagtail on a rock literally beside the car, so I took its picture. As we alighted from the car we were met by the calls of the birds on the walls of the Castle ruins, “kitt-e-wake, kitt-e-wake”. Unsurprisingly they were Kittiwakes! In the harbour a few very beautiful Eider were circulating. Occasionally a lone Grey Seal bobbed up briefly to check if the fishing boats were discarding any scraps of fish. My last shot of the day was of a Herring Gull with a beakful of crab, spotted by John’s eagle eyes (see Pictures of the Week, below).

Pied Wagtail
Kittiwake
Eider
Grey Seal




So it’s was then just a matter of polishing off a pair of Custard and Almond Danish pastries washed down with some strong tea. We got more than a few good shots justifying my choice of destination. I’ll probably check out the Yanky Scoter through the week though .

Pictures of the Week

Skylark
Kestrel


Herring Gull
Pied Wagtail



18th March

Stevenston Point, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

I’m glad to report that for Sunday’s trip I was rejoined by John following his 3-week absence. With the prospect of a bit of better weather, in the West at least, than I’ve experienced in recent weeks, I was optimistic of a successful outing. We agreed to return to one of our favourite areas encompassing Saltcoats, Stevenston and Irvine. Our breakfasts in Stevenston Morrisons were first rate. John rated his double eggs on toast as 10/10, but I lopped a half mark off my “Wee Scottish” due to what I term “asymmetrically-sliced” buttered toast - impossible to construct a correctly aligned toast sandwich of beans and sausage (sad, I know)!

At Stevenston Point we got the ball rolling with a 1st winter Herring Gull showing its emerging adult plumage. On the north side, a group of around 5 Red-breasted Mergansers were showing courting behaviour in between diving for food. Nearby a Great Black-back Gull swooped impressively leading our eyes to a previously unnoticed flock of Purple Sandpipers on the old pier. As the tide came in they moved to rocks by the shore.

Herring Gull
Red-breasted Merganser
Greater Black-backed Gull
Purple Sandpiper



A pair of Sanderling were displaced by the Purple Sandpipers, but not so the few Dunlin that stubbornly held their ground. A Redshank snoozed through all the commotion, but some Turnstones showed from their rocky crevices as the Sandpiper invasion continued.

Sanderling
Dunlin / Purple Sandpiper
Redshank
Turnstone




Things settled down after that series of sightings so we moved North to Saltcoats harbour. A juvenile Herring Gull was sitting on the seawall by the car park, unconcerned by passing pedestrians. As I snapped the gull John spotted a solitary Black Guillimot a the start of the harbour. We moved round to get a better picture and on the way came across a beautiful adult Herring Gull, obviously as used to people as its junior earlier and posed for its picture. The Black Guillimot was spooked by a chap who had driven his car onto the harbour and started photographing it. I turned my attentions to the harbour waters where three drake Eiders were trailing behind a female, however she quickly lured them out of sight behind some rocks.

Juvenile Herring Gull
Black Guillimot
Herring Gull
Eider




On the rocks just north of the Harbour we came across more Purple Sandpipers with Turnstones. They were sheltering from the the now very stiff and bitter East wind. John spotted another group of courting Red-breasted Mergansers as they moved south into the Harbour. Occasionally the over-vigorous attentions of the males caused the female to take flight eagerly pursued by the males who weren’t going to be shaken off so easily.

Turnstone
Turnstone /  Purple Sandpiper
Red Breasted
Merganser




As we moved back to the car, passing sheltering Oystercatchers and Redshanks, we met the courting Eiders who were now very close to the sea wall. The males were raising their heads and calling “a-woo, a-woo”. The female seemed unimpressed. The Red-breasted Mergansers were also present, their males similarly wooing the female, but with more frantic posturing and screeching calls.

Oystercatcher / Redshank
Eider
Eider
Red-breasted Merganser




We drove to Irvine Harbour for our tea. We had a quick scan for anything we could see along the harbour mouth. Just as we thought all the birds had gone home, I spotted a Stonechat on the seashore (see Pictures of the Week, below). Back in the warm car, as we chomped our way through our caramel and custard lattice Danish pastry washed down with well-brewed tea, we reflected on what we’d seen. We had been frustrated a bit by the sunny intervals being out of phase with our bird observations - sun, no birds, then birds, no sun! However it was good to have someone, other than myself, to complain to!

Pictures of the Week

1st Winter Herring Gull
Eider


Red-breasted Merganser
Stonechat



11th March:

Maidens and Doonfoot

It was a foggy start to the day, but skies were to clear from the south-west by the afternoon so I headed SW to Maidens (John was unfortunately indisposed for a third week) and, after a breakfast pit stop into Stewartfield Morrisons in East Kilbride (9/10), I moved carefully through the fog onto the M77 south to Ayr. I then took a right through Alloway, Robert Burns’ home village, to the A719 coast road which lead to Maidens. On arrival I was a bit disappointed to find the skies were leaden and, to make matters worse, the tide was well out and the area was overrun with dog walkers, so I decided it would be a quick visit as the light was better in Ayr. I walked out to the north side of the Harbour mouth where I found a Mute Swan and a Common Gull. On the rocks a pair of Pied Wagtails were darting about as if they were going through some courtship behaviour. As I scanned the rocks on the south side of the harbour mouth I noticed a solitary Glaucous Gull. I believe from its plumage it was a 1st winter juvenile.

Mute Swan 
Common Gull
Pied Wagtail
Glaucous Gull 1st Winter




I edged further towards the shore where a Cormorant was posing on top of a lantern stand. To my right a few Ringed Plovers were moving across the sand in their ‘fast then pause’ manner. Meantime, the Glaucous Gull was on the move. It flew a half mile to the north end of the beach, probably attracted by a flock of excited smaller gulls that were being fed by a walker, but they had dispersed by the time it got there so it flew back to the harbour where I got some flying shots. As I made my way back to the car I managed a decent shot of a Rock Pipit sitting on a rock.

Cormorant
Ringed Plover
Glaucous Gull
Rock Pipit




A 20 minute drive took me back north to Doonfoot. At the mouth of the River Doon there were large flocks of Gulls - Black-headed (the smallest ones), Lesser Black-backed (yellow legs) and Great Black-backed (largest, pink legs and black backs!). The missing members of the usual set of Gulls seen here are the Common Gull (see above, medium-sized, Black-eyed) and Herring Gull (large, grey back, pink legs). As I got out to the shoreline I noticed four Whooper Swans a few metres out. They may have been taking a rest on their way north to their summer homes (most likely Iceland).

Black-headed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Greater Black-backed Gull
Whooper Swan




As the light worsened I also spotted a Redshank and Greenshank feeding in the shallows before getting too close and putting them up. Elsewhere on the sands there were quite a few Carrion Crows scavenging where and whatever they could. I had a look for birds at the pond by the car park but it was deserted. I did though find some nice patches of the early-flowering Coltsfoot.

Redshank
Greenshank
Carrion Crow
Coltsfoot




A short drive the took me to Greenan Shore car park. On the way I noticed a lively flock of House Sparrows on tall clumps of Broom on the edges of the large grass verge. I walked by the hedges that line the dunes approaching Greenan Castle. A Rabbit nipped under the hedge as I approached but I managed a sneaky shot as its head was lit by the sun during an all too brief sunny spell. A Stonechat darted from the same hedge onto a high stem of vegetation in the adjacent field. It too was well lit by the sun. All this time I was hearing the beautiful sound of an unseen Song Thrush just ahead of me. I slowly and quietly tip-toed along the path until it came into view some four metres from my camera, a Nikon D1500 with Sigma 600mm zoom lens. It was so wrapped up in its serenade that I was able to bag several shots before it noticed me.

House Sparrow
Rabbit
Stonechat
Song Thrush




As I picked my way through the hedges and dunes onto the shore I came upon a large patch of blooming Snowdrops, another Spring flower. Below the Castle,  Rock Pipits were courting, the males ascending 10 metres into the air and the gliding to the ground as they sang steady tones. As I photographed one of the Pipits, a Robin appeared, inviting me to photograph it - I duly obliged. Next I scrambled up the hill to the Castle with  its inspiring view.

Common Snowdrop
Rock Pipit
Robin
Greenan Castle




Directly inland from the castle there’s a rough path running along the edge of an overgrown field. I thought I might get some sightings along the trees and hedges beside the path. First up was a Rabbit sitting below a Goldfinch-laden tree. As I sat on my stool snapping these, a bonny wee Blue Tit paid me a brief visit, but long enough for a few shots. I made my way down to the beach again to walk back to the car, treated to a fine sunlit panorama of Ayr, with a paddling horse and rider in the foreground.

Rabbit
Goldfinch
Blue Tit
Ayr




After a quick cuppa beside the car, I realised it was now wall-to-wall sunshine and I was about to go home. I resolved to go down to the seashore for an additional half hour to see what was about. Straight away I came across a Curlew picking its way across the rocky shore. As I edged closer, a pair of waders came into view - a Redshank and Greenshank -maybe those I’d seen earlier, but now in brilliant sunlight. I took lots of shots of the perfectly lit pair. Eventually they flew off and I turned to go back to the car and was face with a backlit view of Greenan Castle - very atmospheric.

Curlew
Dunnock
Greenshank / Redshank
Greenan Castle




The trip had got off to a slow dull start but finished with a sunny flurry of shots. Highlights of the trip are shown below, the Glaucous Gull being my favourite, closely followed by the Greenshank. With a bit of good fortune perhaps John will manage next week and I’ll get back to pastries with my tea!  ( Yes. Back next week for sure. Finished nursing ill wife . Strange how you can tell when they are getting better!!!! Ed)

Pictures Of The Week

Glaucous Gull
Ringed Plover


Song Thrush
Greenshank



4th March
 

Strathclyde Park

When I dragged myself from bed on Sunday and peered out of the window I was disappointed with the grey, grey scene before me. The weather forecast for the whole of Central Scotland predicted a gloomy day ahead. No rain, but light levels were to be poor. So with this in mind I decided to go to Strathclyde Park, which is very close to my home. As I got into the car a cheery wee House Sparrow greeted me, as it often does, from the top of its favourite hedge. John was unable to join me but I still managed a customary breakfast, this time in Morrisons at The Fort (8/10) before driving to the Sports Pavilion at Strathclyde Park, Motherwell. I set off on a trek around part of the Park, more in hope than expectation of getting decent pictures, or even of seeing birds. A pair of Black-headed Gulls drew were first to draw my attention. The adult’s plumage was starting to show how they got their name. The plumage of the younger bird, in its first winter, showed patches of brown juvenile feathers, an orange black-tipped bill and orange legs. Next I came upon a few very active and noisy Jackdaws squabbling over scraps of something.

House Sparrow
Black-headed Gull
1st Winter Black-headed Gull Jackdaw




Watching the Jackdaws, a rough-looking, part leucistic Carrion Crow was waiting on its moment to pinch their nibble. All this was interrupted by a pair of incoming Greylag Geese which landed (see “Pictures of the Week” below), noisily honking, and continued honking aggressively at the already assembled flock of geese. These included a Greylag/Swan Goose hybrid and a Greylag/Canada Goose hybrid. As I snapped some pictures of these, a wee bedraggled male Pied Wagtail tweeted in close to where I was standing.

Carrion Crow
Greylag Goose
Greylag/Canada Hybrid
Pied Wagtail




On the Loch, a pair of Tufted Duck were diving for food, preferring molluscs, aquatic insects and some plants. A Grey Wagtail flitted past and I followed it into one of the Car Parks where I managed a few decent shots. It was starting to show its breeding plumage as Spring approaches. I then decided to take the footbridge over the River Clyde into the Hamilton part of Strathclyde Park. I knew of areas there where I might get some passerines (perching birds). As I crossed the bridge I spotted Little Grebes diving for small fish at the water’s edge, before spotting me and backing off with some haste.

Tufted Duck Male
Tufted Duck Female
Grey Wagtail
Little Grebe




As I walked around the paths that criss-cross the playing fields I saw a Fieldfare moving cautiously amongst leaf litter. I then came across a short flurry of birds around the same spot - Blackbird, Long-tailed Tit and Blue Tit all appeared at the same time. Luckily they hung about long enough for me to get a few photographs.

Fieldfare
Female Blackbird
Long-tailed Tit
Blue Tit




As I continued my walk, I was impressed by the grandeur of the Hamilton Palace Mausoleum  that dominated the scene. It is sad that the Palace had to be demolished in 1927, due to subsidence caused by mine workings. 
As I snapped a Robin, I began getting harassed by a wee cheeky, well-wrapped dog, followed by his very apologetic owner. As the dog left the scene, a familiar chatter of a Goldfinch led me to a nearby tree where I was able get a clear line of sight to the bird and I managed a couple of shots.

Mausoleum
Robin

Goldfinch




Making my way back to the underpass that leads to the footbridge over the Clyde, I heard the high-pitched trill of a Treecreeper. I located it after a few minutes and was able to get a couple of shots. Back in at the Pavilion I took a picture of a smart-looking Lesser Black-backed Gull, which has a slightly darker grey back than the Herring Gull - and it has yellow legs (rather than pink). Next I drove to the North Beach Car Park, as the path from there to the dipping pond can yield some nice sightings. Very quickly I discovered a flock of Redwings raking through leaf litter below the trees just east of sandy beach. I spent a bit of time there as the normally flighty Redwings were so hungry, some of them completely ignored me. A bold Robin started trailing me as I was trailing the Redwings.

Treecreeper
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Redwing
Robin




I reach the mouth of the South Calder Water where a pair of Mute Swans were feeding. The male bird was displaying its fine plumage to the seemingly disinterested female. As I approached the footbridge across the river I spied a Mistle Thrush sitting high in a tree. Its greyish-brown back and neatly round-spotted underparts help distinguish it from the Song Thrush, which has rich brown upper parts, pale buff underparts with dark speckles which look like arrows pointing towards the head. I had a fruitless look for birds around the so-called Roman Bridge (It seems it is probably a 17th century structure). Close to the bridge there is a nicely excavated Roman Bathhouse - which definitely is Roman and was designed to serve the Roman soldiers that occupied the Roman Fort on the adjacent hill (unfortunately the Fort is not as well excavated).

Mistle Thrush
Mute Swan






Along the last stretch approaching the pond I photographed a Blackbird, a pair of Dunnocks and a couple of Mallards. I nearly missed a pair of Bullfinches that were spooked by a passing walker just as I pressed the shutter release (see “Pictures of the Week” below). By that time, the light had got really poor and rain was threatening, so I decided to call it a day…..

Blackbird
Dunnock
Goldeneye
Mallard




….but not before I had a wee cuppa and a chocolate biscuit. So, as you’ll see from the above, I exceeded my initial expectations and managed to observe a fair number of birds - which goes to show that you should ignore your negative thoughts just get on with it. It is a pity the sun didn’t show up as Strathclyde Park is a wonderful place for observing nature. I will return (when it’s sunny).

Pictures of the Week

Greylag Goose
Treecreeper


Bullfinch
Redwing



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