Archive - March 2023

Week ending: 26th March: RSPB Lochwinnoch (Map)

Rain was predicted for both east and west coasts but, strangely, inland from the Ayrshire coast was to be dry with sunny intervals. All this pointed to the RSPB Lochwinnoch (Website) reserve, which was due a visit from us, as our last visit there was about 6 months ago. Handily, there is a Morrisons cafe en route at Johnstone where we had a very fine breakfast (let down yet again by tiny plates, hence 9/10).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  

On arrival at the reserve’s car park we were initially concerned that there were now parking charges. However, we quickly found that parking is free for RSPB members (which I am) and John (who is not), as my companion, qualified for free admission. So we were off to a fine start. Another change I noticed was that the garden area in front of the Visitor Centre had a bird feeding station at its edge. We sat there for about half an hour during which time I fired of shots of a Robin, Collared Dove, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Chaffinches, all in bright sunlight.

Robin Collared Dove
Blue Tit Coal Tit
Male Chaffinch Female Chaffinch

The birds were obviously used to people as there were quite a few people coming and going. We were pleased to see a beautiful Goldfinch venturing down from the trees onto the feeders. A wee Dunnock, a ground feeder, was content with the spillages on the table of the feeder. But suddenly all birds, like the Coal Tit shown, flew off into the trees. We wondered what was going on until a Sparrowhawk swooped past the feeding station and up through the trees. John suggested that it was probably after the Collared Dove . There was a hiatus lasting a few minutes before the birds returned. First back was a wee cock House Sparrow, who, for a moment had the feeders to himself.

Goldfinch Dunnock
Coal Tit Female Sparrowhawk
Collared Dove House Sparrow

Next we moved to the Channel Hide which offers a fine view of the fairly recently created Scrapes.

The predominant bird species on view was the Canada Goose. There were many of them spread across the scene, honking, squabbling, splashing or simply paddling.

Canada Goose

There was one particular Canada Goose that was aggressive to any other geese that got too to close its mate. When they did, the big gander spread his wing and propelled itself towards the offender, chasing it across the scrape away from its mate. He repeated this behaviour several times until the pair had the entire pool to themselves.

From the Channel Hide we set off along the Aird Meadow Trail to the hide halfway along. The picture below shows the view across Aird Meadow Loch towards the village of Lochwinnoch.

This was a time for John’s binocular skills. The light had deteriorated due to increasing cloud cover and most of the birds on the Loch were around 200m away. John spotted a very distant pair of Great Crested Grebes starting their mating “dance” only to be interrupted by some Swans. The male Grebe, hopes of coitus dashed, stormed away in disgust (probably).

There were several birds spottable with the naked eye such as a large male Cormorant preening on a floating platform and a hybrid duck (probably a Mallard x Muscovy ). There was also a Mute Swan poking about in reeds close to the hide and a few Greylag Geese passed overhead. A pair of Tufted Ducks drifted in fairly close from the right, allowing some reasonable record shots.

Cormorant Mallard X Muscovy
Mute Swan Greylag Goose
Drake Tufted Duck Female Tufted Duck

John’s bins then picked out a distant Wigeon flock, however they were too far away for a decent photograph.

We proceeded along the trail towards its end at “Tod’s seat”. On the way we encountered a male Chaffinch and a Great Tit lurking on tree branches. John had declared earlier that he was keen to find a Treecreeper, so it was fitting that he did just that. The wee bird was working its way along a moss-covered log very close to the path, so I managed a pair of pleasing shots. Not far from the Treecreeper we heard the unmistakable call of a Wren and John located it at the base of a tree some 20m from the path. At Tod’s seat there is a very impressive metal sculpture (part of “The Semple Trail”) incorporated onto the seat. It depicts silhouettes of birds found at the reserve.

Chaffinch Great Tit

From Tod’s seat we saw fly-pasts of a Grey Heron and a Mallard. But other birds we could see on the water were too far off for reliable identification, even with John’s binoculars skills. I did however notice the unmistakable form of a drake Goosander when processing an attempted photo of some far off Tufted Ducks.

Grey Heron Mallard
Juvenile Mute Swan Goosander

On our way back to the visitor centre we met a very accommodating Dunnock which sat on a branch at the side of the path and allowed me to photograph it from close range. Perhaps it was ill. Near the hide we both stopped in our tracks when we heard a Buzzard call. Before long it was circling overhead and although we were surrounded by tall trees I did manage a few acceptable shots. Further along the trail near the car park I snapped another accommodating bird, a lovely Robin before having last check at the Channel hide. We saw a Twitter report that an Osprey had passed over Aird Meadow Loch. We had missed but it, and it didn’t return now that we were looking for it. I did though photograph a pretty Moorhen that was feeding at the edge of a pool.

Dunnock Buzzard
Robin Moorhen

 Our walk along the trail also produced a couple of fungi, Turkeytail and Brittle Cinder. I was also attracted by Garden Hyacynth and Pulmonaria flowers freshly blooming in the garden by the picnic benches at the Visitor centre.

Turkeytail Brittle Cinder

Brightest and most abundant of all the flowers were without doubt the many Daffodils that were seen throughout the reserve.

Back at the car we had tea and chocolate cream eclairs. We agreed that the trip had been very very pleasant and rewarding, having recorded over 30 species in a relatively short period of time. My favourites experience occurred when sitting by the feeding station watching the various small birds come and go. The viscous interruption by the hungry Sparrowhawk was very exciting. Who needs Springwatch when you can get out and see nature for yourself?

Week ending: 19th March 2023: Musselburgh

With mild, dry but cloudy weather predicted throughout Central Scotland, and with a weather front looming in the west, I thought Musselburgh would be an appropriate destination this week, so after a decent breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons ( 8/10: good, but -2 for slightly overcooked links and undercooked egg) we found ourselves parked at Levenhall Links setting off on our first visit there in nearly 2 months.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The short walk to the seawall produced some nice shots of Carrion Crows that were catching worms on the short grass. When we peered over the sea wall we were pleased to see a large number of birds around the yellow beacon that marks location of a waste pipe. There were mainly Goldeneye and Wigeon and a large black Cormorant preening on top of the beacon. 

Carrion Crow Goldeneye
Wigeon Cormorant

Sounds of singing Skylarks high above us caused us to look back at the grassland we had just crossed. Eventually we spotted Skylarks moving across the grass and I managed to snap a few in flight. As a wee bonus, John spotted a female Stonechat  perched on vegetation and soon after I photographed the male as it took flight.

Female Stonechat Male Stonechat

We walked along the path to the north of the Scrapes watching and listening for birds in the sea to our right, and at the edge of the Scrapes to our left. A pair of Mallards flew past, the drake in pursuit of the female, and not much later, a big male Shelduck (a sheldrake) exited the Scrapes and flew across our sea view. A little later I recognised the call of a Reed Bunting and located it sitting in a bush that overlooked the reserve. It was joined moments later by a twittering, Goldfinch.

Mallard Shelduck
Reed Bunting Goldfinch

In the area of wild grass to the west of the Scrapes, we found about a dozen Stock Doves  grazing. John drew my attention to a Kestrel that was hovering at the far end of the grassy area and I managed a few shots before it flew off west. Looking once more with his trusty bins, across a very calm Firth of Forth, John caught sight of a pair of Great Crested Grebes diving some 200m out.

Stock Dove...
Kestrel Female Great Crested Grebe

A fellow birder pointed out a Velvet Scoter  near the Grebes and as we walked a bit further west by the seawall, we found a trio of Long-tailed Ducks  that were dividing their time between courting and diving for food. We next decided to head for the Scrapes, and on our way there I snapped a shot of a foraging Magpie and also managed some more shots of Skylarks which we had just noticed.

Velvet Scoter Drake Eider
Drake Long-tailed Duck Female Long-tailed Duck
Magpie Skylark

Just in front of the entrance to the Scrapes, we stopped to view a pair of beautiful Mute Swans that were gliding across the Boating Bond.

From the middle hide in the Scrapes we were very pleased to see that it was quite well populated with birds. There was a Curlew and an Oystercatcher feeding within 10m of the hide so we were off to a good start. Things improved even further when John declared, “Roe Deer alert!”, pointing towards the east-most scrape. We scanned the nearest scrape and quickly noted a Shelduck pair mid-scrape and a couple of Teal dabbling at the near edge.

Curlew Oystercatcher
Roe Deer Shelduck
Drake Teal Female Teal

We moved to the left hide (the scrape by the right hide was rather devoid of birds) where I snapped a crowd of snoozing Redshanks that were lined up along the near edge of the scrape.

Next I photographed a solitary Redshank that was resting on a grassy bank. There were at least 10 Dunlins wading around the scrape to our right, although the very poor light made it difficult to get a satisfactory shot. The Roe buck had also moved leftwards as we could see him posing at the far side of the reserve. John with his bins noticed a Grey Heron and also a Pheasant among reeds at the left hand perimeter of the reserve. Soon the light improved a bit as may be seen in the picture below of a Wigeon that passed in front of the hide.

Redshank Dunlin
Roe Deer Grey Heron
Pheasant Wigeon

The brightness continued, illuminating the arrival of some Bar-tailed Godwits on one of the distant scrapes.

As we left the reserve I managed to photograph three small passerines we had been hearing throughout our time there: a Robin, Chaffinch and Long-tailed Tit. On our way back to the car we had a very close encounter with a Stock Dove that was drinking from a puddle on the footpath. Further along the same path I snapped a male Blackbird as it nipped in and out of the undergrowth. Our final sighting was of an adult Black-headed Gull that was standing defiantly in the same area I had shot the first sighting (Carrion Crow).

Robin Chaffinch
Long-tailed Tit Stock Dove
Blackbird Black-headed Gull

Back at the car we had tea and chocolate eclairs, an appropriate reward for our efforts since we had photographs of over 30 species in and around the relatively small locality of the Scrapes. Once again Musselburgh hadn’t let us down. My favourites were the Roe Deer, Skylark and Shelducks. The rain had stayed away but we could have done with a bit more sunlight. Maybe next week

Week ending: 12th March 2023: Hogganfield Loch LNR

This week’s blog describes a mid-week visit to one of my favourite sites, Hogganfield Loch LNR (Website) in the east side of Glasgow. John unfortunately couldn’t make it so I was on my own during the 2hr visit. The weather was cold but sunny during all but the last half hour when the sky clouded over. I started my circuit of the reserve at the car park. There were many commercial vehicles parked there due to a large redevelopment taking place at the adjacent Lethamhill golf course. I started the ball rolling with some snaps of the a couple of Swans. There is a large number of Mute Swans which are present the whole year and in late autumn they are joined by 10 or 20 Whooper Swans that fly in from Iceland. Also frequently seen all around the loch are Coots and Moorhens.

Mute Swan Whooper Swan
Coot Moorhen

Of course, one can’t help noticing the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons around the car park, the cock birds often seen strutting around the hens, trying to win their affection.

A few pairs of Goldeneyes were diving only a few metres from the car park. The drakes were multitasking by pursuing the females while diving for food. The females were doing their best to avoid the drakes as they were feeding.


Another species of diving duck I saw were the Tufted Ducks. They too were in courting mode, moving across the Loch in large mixed sex groups. The other ducks commonly seen are Mallards, The one below had found a handy perch on a girder which was part of the viewing platform (now closed off and under repair). There was a large adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, standing proudly above the Mallard, surveying the area for chances of food.

Drake Tufted Duck Female Tufted Duck
Drake Mallard Lesser Black-backed Gull

There were spring flowers blooming in the garden to the left of the car park. Miniature Daffodils, Crocuses and Snowdrops were a cheerful sight after the bleakness of winter. In the same area a Magpie was poking about the grass searching for food, but was ever-watchful of the movements of people, especially one pointing a big camera at it.

Daffodil Crocus
Common Snowdrop Magpie

I next walked along the north side of the Loch. A wee Robin’s warbling caught my attention and then a small flock of Long-tailed Tits passed along the lochside bushes, tweeting as they went. I continued my circuit by leaving the lochside road, instead taking the path that leads out of the park onto Avenue End Road. However I turned south in order to re-enter the park. Half way along that section I looked over the boundary wall and noticed a couple of Roe Deer and near-by a Great Tit was moving about the lower branches of some tall trees.

Robin Long-tailed Tit
Roe Deer Great Tit

After re-entering the Park I got a lovely view of the Pond (I know not whether it has a name).

Usually ducks, Grey Herons, Swans and even Kingfishers can be seen there, but it was iced over and a Common Gull was standing on the ice nibbling at some bread it had acquired. I rejoined the lochside road and walked the south side of the loch. I discovered that someone had placed a bird feeder on a bush by the road at the east end of the loch. I got a shot of a Great Tit pecking at fatballs. There were a few Greylag and Canada Geese paddling eastwards in the narrow channel between the island and the lochside. Lurking under overhanging tree branches were a few drake Teal , but I managed some shots since they occasionally broke cover for a few seconds. I got a tip-off from a couple of walkers that there was a Grey Heron treading the marsh at the southwest corner of the park. I was pleased to see it was still there and photographed it fairly easily.

Common Gull Great Tit
Greylag Goose Canada Goose
Teal Grey Heron

The southwest corner of the loch has a sandy “beach” which is a favourite place for Black-headed Gulls to perch along a submerged wall.

There are several “Biohaven” islands  positioned around the Loch. Birds are fond of these, as indicated by the picture below of a dozing Mallard. Nearer the car park I snapped a nice shot of a female Mallard with a drake in attendance. I returned to the car for tea and a biscuit, during which time the southern sky temporarily clouded over. When I resumed my walk the familiar call of a Buzzard drew my attention to the neighbouring golf course where I could see it was gliding my way, although the bird was a bit silhouetted. Further along the road I caught sight of a Magpie gathering twigs, most probably for nesting material. I also photographed a flypast of a large Mute Swan.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard
Buzzard Carrion Crow
Magpie Mute Swan

One of the reasons I resumed my search was that I had expected to see some Great Crested Grebes and by the time I had returned to the east end of the loch I actually had seen at least 5 individuals. As a bonus I was surprised but pleased to see an Oystercatcher, much more commonly seen at the coast, on one of the artificial islands. Back at the feeder I had passed earlier, a Blue Tit was sitting on a bush waiting on an opportunity to get food. I had heard the calls of Little Grebes throughout my visit but had only managed distant views of them until I was returning to the car park. Near the children’s playground a Little Grebe surfaced just as I was passing. My final capture was of a drake Goosander just ten metres from the car.

Great Crested Grebe...
Oystercatcher Blue Tit
Little Grebe Drake Goosander

Hogganfield is a special place which can be as busy as a main street, but where walkers can view flora and fauna at close quarters. In a relatively short time I managed to photograph over 30 species. I was most pleased to see the Great Crested Grebes and the Roe Deer. I would like to have seen the reported Red-headed Smew but it seems to favour the distant north side of the island. Hopefully John and I will resume our Sunday visits next weekend. Fingers crossed the weather will be warm and sunny.

Week ending: 5th March 2023: Linlithgow Loch

I was on my own this week as John was unavailable. I was keen to visit Linlithgow Loch following a report of a Cetti’s Warbler. Although I have seen that species before, it had managed to escape the gaze of my camera lens, so I was keen to fix that. The weather predicted was to be mainly cold, overcast and dry. It had been 3 years since my last visit to Linlithgow, so I was keen to check it out once more.

Courtesy of Weather Pro

I popped into Bathgate Morrisons for a solo small breakfast (7/10: OK, but let down with a long wait at the table, cool items and tiny plate) and after a relatively short drive from Bathgate to Linlithgow I was soon at the St. Nina’s Way Car Park. Pleasingly, it was not full so I immediately got going on a circuit around the beautiful site and was soon snapping away merrily, capturing images of Rooks, Jackdaws and lovely Tufted Ducks. I also got shots of a Mallard and a female Goosander as I passed along the west end of the Loch.

Rook Jackdaw
Drake Tufted Duck Female Tufted Duck
Drake Mallard Female Goosander

I found a gap in leafless bushes big enough to photograph a preening Coot, after which I noticed that there were flowers in bloom: Dwarf Daffodils, Crocus and Snowdrops, each brightening up the pathways, which encouraged me to believe that Spring had indeed arrived, albeit Meteorological rather than Astronomical). 

Coot ( Ring Information) Dwarf Daffodil
Crocus Common Snowdrop

At the end of the long line of bare bushes I came upon two Cormorants, an adult and a juvenile, perched on a fallen tree by the side of the Loch. An aggressive Mute Swan passed by them as it chased a juvenile Swan. Then came a group of very noisy Canada Geese flying across the Loch, honking all the way before splashing down near the north bank, where they gradually calmed down. One of them joined a white domestic goose (an Embden Goose ) as it fed on submerged weed. The Embden Goose then had a good flap, perhaps in annoyance at having been interrupted by the Canadas.

Cormorant and Juvenile Mute Swan
Canada Goose...
Embden Goose...

Below is the view of Linlithgow Palace ruin as seen from the northwest corner of the Loch.

I continued along the path at the north side of the Loch, where I managed to photograph a Moorhen and one of the many Robins I encountered. The Robins were very tame and some sat at shoulder height right next to the path, waiting I suppose for food from passers-by. Blue Tits were less brave but were allowing photography at a distance. I managed a pleasing shot of a Wren posing on a tall stick, occasionally letting rip with its piercing song.

Moorhen Robin
Blue Tit Wren

At last I met a couple of birdwatchers patiently watching a lochside thicket where, they told me, a Cetti’s Warbler was showing, though infrequently. I, of course, joined them and it did make brief appearances, alway too deep in the bushes for a decent photo. Between sightings, other birds appeared such as another Robin, actually begging to be be fed, and a Blackbird digging in the leaf litter. Much to my delight the Cetti’s Warbler hopped into view over to a section of bush which was a bit more clear of surrounding twigs and I managed a couple of passable shots.

Robin Blackbird
Cetti's Warbler...

More clouds were rolling in and the light was fading. The Palace looked gloomy (note the scaffolding, associated with the current renovation project), so I moved a little further east where an Otter had been sighted. I got a couple of nice shots of a Moorhen and a Wren as they moved in the reedbed. A Buzzard circled high overhead - but no Otter showed. However, I was pleased when a couple of Great Crested Grebes, one of my favourite species of bird, swam close to where I was sitting and started diving for fish.

Wren Buzzard
Great Crested Grebe...

I walked to the east end of the Loch and managed a better shot of another Blue Tit, but again, no Otter. I decided to backtrack rather than complete a full circuit. When I got back to my starting point I heard a Goldfinch singing high in the branches of a tall tree. I also photographed a small gathering of Mute Swans preening at the water’s edge. Watching me from its vantage point high in a tree was a cackling Magpie.

Blue Tit Goldfinch
Mute Swan Magpie

Children were throwing bread into the water, much to the delight of the hungry Herring Gulls, who needed to watch their manners when sharing food.

I finished my visit with a short walk along the southwest section of the Loch moving towards Linlithgow Palace. I noted various ages of Herring Gulls: plumage brown in the 1st year, white and grey in adults and a mixture of these for 3rd year (see above). At the Angling Club I snapped a couple of Woodpigeons on its roof. Back at the the car park, a couple of Collared Doves landed in front of my car as I was taking tea and biscuits.

Herring Gull...
Wood Pigeon Collared Dove

For once, I managed to get a picture of the bird I was seeking, the Cetti’s Warbler, so I finished the day rather chuffed. I also enjoyed seeing the Great Crested Grebes and I was satisfied with the many of the pictures including the Wren, Robin and Blue Tits. The walk was rather relaxing and the people I met were very friendly and helpful. I hope my next trip is equally satisfying

Highlights - March 2023

We present this month’s gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during March 2023. 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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