Archive - May 2018

27th May

Ardmore Point

With the east coast plagued by haar (fog) I decided to return to a favourite western location, Ardmore Point in Dumbartonshire. So after our customary brekkies in Dumbarton Morrisons (10/10 wow!) we drove out of Dumbarton on the Helensburgh road, through Cardross and soon we could see the Ardmore peninsula jutting out into the Firth of Clyde. We parked at the very end of the Ardmore Road, with a fine view of the bay to the south, although when we arrived the tide was high and apart from a man on a horse there was not much to see on the water. I managed the first shot of the day as I took the camera out of the boot - a fine Peacock butterfly.The horseman followed us round the path for a bit before I caught a wee Blue Tit feeding on a shoreside tree. Below the tree I spotted a patch of Green Alkanet,Pentaglottis sempervirens, with it's small piercing blue flowers. Also piercing were the bristles of it's stems and leaves!


Peacock Butterfly
Ardmore Point
Blue Tit
Green Alkanet

Further round the path we started getting views west down the Firth and south to Port Glasgow and Greenock. We came upon lonely Whimbrel looking a bit forlorn as it stood on the water’s edge. We had earlier seen a distant large flock taking off and flying south. At the time we had thought they were Curlews, but they may have been Whimbrel and they may have left one of their number behind. Whimbrel and Curlews both have down-curved beaks, but Whimbrel’s beaks are shorter and more curved. They also have prominent brown head stripes. A small group of Eider sat on the rocks seemingly unconcerned by my presence. Further on we were disappointed with the lack of bird sightings but eventually things warmed up after a couple of Gulls started things off again. A 2nd cycle Herring Gull floated past us just as a mature, mean looking Herring Gull flew past carrying in its beak what looked like a Crab.

2nd Cycle Herring Gull
Herring Gull

We were also passed by a Common Tern. We watched it rounding the Point to join several other Terns. Excited at the prospect of Tern flight shots we upped the pace to get nearer them. On the way we collected nice shots of Thrift, Gorse and a dog cooling off in the water. I also got an interesting capture of 18 tiny (~5mm) moths gorging themselves on Buttercup pollen. These were Micropteric Calthella, Marsh Marigold moths.

Marsh Marigold Moths

We next passed onto the rocky shore, the air rich with the scent of the Wild Roses that lined the rough path. I noticed an area of rock with a few points of interest. Clinging to the rock, a small clump of English Stonecrop was ready to bloom. John pointed out a purple and ochre, almond-shaped beetle, later identified as Ctenicera cuprea, a click beetle. It showed us its wings (see Pictures of the Week, below) and eventually it flew off. Plodding out of the area, still eager to get in some Tern action, I paused to capture an image of Sea Plantain. In some parts of the world its seeds and leaves are eaten, raw or cooked.

Wild Rose
English Stonecrop
Click Beetle-Ctenicera Cuprea Sea Plantain

Pausing further I found Common Lousewort in the grasses above the shore. I also snapped Cottongrass which are like mini-candflosses. Delaying matters even further I came across the small, quite delicate looking blue flower, Common Milkwort. This flower was thought by the ancient Greeks to stimulate milk in lactating mothers.At last we arrived at the North bay where the Common Terns were active. Over a half-hour period I took quite a few shots, some from as close as 10m as the birds circulated the bay many times over in their search for fish.

Common Lousewort
Common Milkwort
Common Tern

Occasionally one would emerge from a dive with a fish in its beak, sometimes harassed by lazy, Black-headed gulls that were trying to rob them. We also heard the rasping calls of Sandwich Terns but they didn’t come within camera range. Further out in the Bay a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers sat rather inactive. Eventually the Terns dispersed and we moved on fairly satisfied with our collection of photos. We moved along the more shaded north side of the Ardmore peninsula. I did though managed some well-lit shots of two of my favourites flowers, Red Campion and Silverweed. The latter is used in some herbal treatments, particularly for sore throats and, as a lotion for bleeding piles!

Common Tern
Red-breasted Merganser
Red Campion

We noticed the tide was going out again and that there were at least a dozen Grey Herons standing throughout its very shallow waters (see Pictures of the Week, below). During the time we watched them they didn’t catch much but they may have been waiting on the tide receding further. On the last leg to the car I took shots of some more common but beautiful wildflowers, Forget-me-not and Greater Stitchwort. My final capture was of a back lit Green-veined White butterfly as it fed on a Campion flower. It is probably a female as its veins are heavily marked.

Greater Stitchwort

Back at the car we relaxed in the ever warming sunshine with tea and mini chocolate eclairs. Another mission completed satisfactorily.

Pictures of the Week:

Common Tern

Click Beetle-Ctenicera_Cuprea Green Veined White Butterfly

20th April 2018


After a week of wonderful, sunny weather, wasn’t it just our luck, as we set off for our usual Sunday adventure, to find the skies overcast and threatening rain. The weatherman lead us to believe the best of the weather was to have been in the east of the country, so we decided on Aberlady LNR.
As we tucked into our Dalkeith Morrisons’ breakfasts (9/10, point dropped due to leaky teapots), the sky was all grey and getting greyer. However we pressed on regardless.
After securing the last space in the wee car park at the Aberlady reserve, we crossed the wooden bridge and were immediately met with a flurry of Meadow Pipits enjoying the full excitement of the breeding season. A big Wood Pigeon ruffled a few of its feathers but otherwise it reacted as if it had seen it all before. We reached a part of the site we call “butterfly alley” as it has provided us with many species in previous visits. However I think the cool, dim, grey conditions were keeping the butterflies away. We satisfied ourselves with some nice shots of a couple of wildflowers. The first was Cowslips, whose name, rather unflatteringly, derives from the old English for “cow dung”, around which they are often found. Rather more romantically, the other flower we saw, Cuckoo Flowers are so-named because they appear around the time as Cuckoos start to sing.

Meadow Pipit
Wood Pigeon
Cuckoo Flower

Eventually we passed along a long dark passage through a huge Buckthorn copse. At it's start I was taking pictures of patches of the fascinatingly beautiful Springbeauty when a very small (~1cm) caterpillar seemed to hover before my eyes. In fact it was suspended by an almost invisible gossamer thread. We have yet to identify the caterpillar. Further along the passage some Welsh Poppy flowers were in bloom. I also snapped a St Mark’s Fly at rest on blades of grass.

Welsh Poppy
St Mark's Fly

We emerged from the end of the Buckthorn passage to the mellifluous tones of a Willow Warbler perched high on the bushes. Not far on we came to the Marl Loch - just in time to catch the rain! Along the front of the Loch I spotted a large, beautiful, but unfamiliar aquatic plant with starry, white flowers. It’s common name is Bogbean, which hardly does it justice. it is so-named as it’s leaves resemble those of the Broad bean. We moved on away from the Loch and on the path in front of us we came upon a crouching Skylark. I thought it might be a female waiting for the services of the male that had been serenading her as it hovered overhead. The male descended to a few feet from the female and the pair swiftly relocated to the fields spooked by walkers. As we reached the water works I spied Purple Milk Vetch blooming in the short grass.

Willow Warbler
Purple Milk Vetch

We reached the golf course and as I stopped to photograph another Meadow Pipit I noticed a few Roe Deer grazing in the distance. It was still raining so visibility was poor, but I could make out that two of the group had antlers, so were Roe bucks. We then met a pair of walkers who joyfully advised us that they had recently seen a pair of Cuckoos on the path to Gullane Point. We immediately changed our course and set about scanning for Cuckoos. As we climbed the gradual slope towards the Point a female Shelduck passed overhead making for the mouth of the Peffer Burn. My attention was next drawn to a solitary, scarlet-breasted male Linnet sitting on top of asmall bush. I managed s quick shot before it sped off.

Meadow Pipit
Roe Deer Bucks
Male Linnet

The path then descended through Buckthorn thickets towards the sea. A very inquisitive Chaffinch posed obligingly before us. We thought that that was the point in the path where the walkers had seen the Cuckoos, so we paused there for 5 minutes, but we didn’t catch sight nor sound of them. As I waited, I captured some pictures of the flora - Birds-foot Trefoil (its leaf of 3-leaflets resemble a bird’s foot!), Barren Strawberry (its flowers don’t bear fruit) and Common Vetch (a very pretty member of the Pea family).

Common Birdsfoot-trefoil
Barren Strawberry
Common Vetch

At the Point we were greeted by an impressive, if somewhat dull panorama of the Forth Estuary. Pink-coloured Thrift dotted the cliff edges. Sometimes called “Sea Pink”, it was, rather ironically, depicted on the face on the old threepenny bit. We carefully climbed down the rocky path onto the sands of Aberlady Bay and plodded our, by then, weary way back to the car. Along that mile long stretch all we saw was a distant pair of Oystercatchers. Eventually we reached the point where we had to clamber over the dunes. I always think of football manager Jock Wallace, imagining him cajoling me militaristically over the steep, sandy slopes, as he had done when he trained his football teams there some decades before. Back on level ground I was attracted by a male Stonechat calling from its fence post. We neared Marl Loch once more and found a pair of Greylags, curiously, nibbling at the red gravel path.

Greylag Goose

Tipped off by a fellow birder, I had been looking out for Hairy Violets, but all we could see were the more common Dog Violet. At the Loch I spotted another gorgeous aquatic plant, the Marsh Marigold. Also called Kingcup as it resembles the cups of ancient kings, it has apparently been around since at least the end of the last Ice Age. We neared the wooden footbridge with the teasing call of a male Reed Bunting in our ears. From the Bridge I took my final shots, of a Black-headed Gull picking out long worms from the silt.

Dog Violet
Marsh Marigold
Male Reed Bunting
Black-headed Gull

The weather was occasionally very much against us but we managed to capture a fair variety of specimens, flora and fauna. We overrun our schedule by nearly an hour but, of course, we’d still time for a rewarding tea and Apple and Custard Danish Lattice.

Update: At JMCP last week we had a fruitless search for the Yellow Figwort. Undeterred, midweek, I ventured forth into the edges of trees to the south of the lighthouse at Barns Ness, East of Dunbar, and at last located the elusive plants (See below).

Pictures of the Week


Greylag Geese
Yellow Figwort

13th May 2018

Stevenston Point, Saltcoats and Troon Harbour

It was gorgeous weather at last in Ayrshire. As we tucked into a rather good Stevenston Morrison’s breakfasts (had to be 10/10), we anticipated seeing Gannets and maybe, for the first time this year, Sandwich Terns.

When we arrived at the Point, several Gannets were already at work impressively piercing the waves with their exciting dives, though on most occasions they seemed not to catch any fish. We witnessed a fly-past of four Black-tailed Godwits just as a Shag surfaced, and then a pair of Sandwich Terns swept past. Our expectations were fulfilled in the first 5 minutes.

Black-tailed Godwit
Sandwich Tern

A somehow annoying motorised hang glider appeared above us and hung about a bit too long. Even a 1st Cycle Common Gull seemed irritated. The low buzz of flapping swan wings alerted us to a passing juvenile Mute Swan. Maybe it too had been startled by the hang glider. John spotted a small Razorbill quite a bit offshore, too far though for a decent shot.

Air Jockey
1st Cycle Common Gull
Juvenile Mute Swan

A small, swerving flock of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin arrived at the rocky tip of the Point, that, until then, had been devoid of birds. The usual Cormorants were not to be seen until one arrived and landed in the sea and then proceeded to try to dry its wings while sitting on the surface. I then spotted a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on a nearby Dandelion. John then directed me to the bobbing head of a Common Seal. It seemed to be checking us out. Also keeping an eye on us was a very handsome Herring Gull (see Pictures of the Week, below), although it wasn’t tracking our movements through wariness, but probably to see if we had any chips!

Ringed Plover
Small Tortoiseshell
Common Seal

After a while the Point began to fill up with cars. No doubt their drivers were encouraged out by the lovely weather - and why not! We like it quiet though, so we relocated to Saltcoats Harbour. There we caught the tail end of a squabble between two Rock Pipits, and I caught one in attack mode - tail up wings pointed down. At the end of the Harbour I managed flight shots of Gannets, Shag and Eider. The light was on the wrong side of the birds but the pictures look ok I think.

Rock Pipit

After the slightly disappointing spell at the Harbour we decided to move on, not to our usual Irvine Harbour, but to Troon Harbour. The main reason for this was that the Council Roads Department were getting in some Sunday shifts, leading to the effective blockading of the routes around the town. However Troon was a bit of a disappointment too - with just more Eider and Gannets. But as we were about to stop for tea, a Whimbrel flew in from the direction of the Ferry terminal. It was slightly smaller than a Curlew, with a shorter, more curved beak and dark brown head stripes. Our last capture was my favourite, a Green-veined White butterfly. John is now calling me the “Butterfly Whisperer” as for the second week running I managed to encourage the butterfly onto my finger (see Pictures of the Week, below).

Juvenile Eider
Green-veined White

It had been a quiet visit but an enjoyable one. It was just a privilege to be on the Ayrshire coast that was set in azure blue skies and sea, with Arran to the west and Ailsa Craig to the south.A wonderful setting to have tea and, no, not Danish, but French Palmiers - Palm Tree pastries! Délicieux!!

Pictures of the Week:

Herring Gull
Rock Pipit

Green-veined White

6th May 2018

John Muir Country Park (JMCP)

There’s a distinct floral theme to this week’s blog with only a few birds making an appearance. The reason for this is that we drove to the JMCP seeking a first sighting of a plant, the Yellow Figwort, guided by a social media friend who advised us of its presence there. However, let me say straight away, we didn’t see it - which was a disappointment. But let me also say, we did manage a fair number of sightings of other freshly blooming wildflowers, not to mention a South American flightless bird!

The weather was fine as we tucked into breakfast at Dalkeith Morrisons (9.5/10, the half mark off hard to justify). At the Park, the heat from the sun encouraged us to take off our jackets - a very rare occurrence! As we set off on a circuit of the wooded plantation at the heart of the Estate I came across Goldfinches and Chaffinches that were very active at an area by a burn. Near there at the edges of the well-trodden sandy path we nearly missed some little white Field Mouse-ear flowers as they looked like Common Daisies from a distance. Also present there were a few Dog Violets.

Field Mouse-ear
Dog Violet

We walked on and found a point where we could view the salt marsh that leads to the Tyne Estuary. From our raised vantage point we could see two pairs of birds, female Wheatears and Skylarks, moving on the mainly dry salt marsh. I decided to descend the slope onto the plane, knowing full well that the birds would see me coming and would fly off. I hoped I’d get some descent shots before they went up. Being kind to myself, I’ll just call them “record” shots. As we continued on our circuit I noticed some pretty specimens of Ground Ivy. This plant has been used in traditional medicine in Europe for thousands of years to treat inflammation of the eyes, tinnitus, bronchitis as well as being a diuretic, astringent, tonic and gentle stimulant. It has even been used in brewing beer. As I pondered these facts, a female Orange Tip butterfly winged its way past and onto some grass stalks. I was able to encourage the beautiful specimen onto my warm finger for closer inspection (see Pictures of the Week).

Female Wheatear
Ground Ivy
Female Orange Tip

About half way round we rested momentarily overlooking exposed sands of the Estuary at low tide. A couple of hundred metres out we saw a pair of Shelduck. Again I ventured forth across the damp sands to grab a couple of reasonable shots while John sat by the trees, observing. ( Actually, I was avoiding a long walk episode.) On my return John was bemoaning the fact he had had an encounter with a damp dog. We pressed on regardless and came upon a clearing in the woods peppered with seeding Coltsfoot, so named as its leaf is similar in shape to the foot of a young horse. Unusually the leaves, though, don’t grow until the flowers disappear. A small black Marchfly, Bibio Lanigerus, conveniently took up position on a seed head.

  Estuary at low tide
Bibio Lanigerus

We walked south to the picturesque point where we walked back eastwards along the sunlit south side of the woods (see Pictures of the Week). As I was photographing some Red Campion I heard the unmistakable tones of a singing Yellowhammer and soon located it atop a nearby conifer. Its song is known by some as “a little bit of bread with no cheese” thus: “chi chi chi chi chi cheese”. Next we spotted large patches of a North American immigrant plant, Spring Beauty (also known as Miner’s Lettuce) with small white flowers sprouting from the centre of a much larger leaf, that is actually a fused pair of leaves.As we pressed on, a male Orange Tip butterfly caught my attention and I snapped it sitting on a Dandelion seed head.

Red Campion
Spring Beauty
Male Orange Tip

Eventually we reached the boundary fence of the Fun Park, where we encountered another butterfly that crossed our path on more than one occasion, namely the Peacock. The one shown below looked rather tattered. It landed on a Dandelion in the middle of an freshly built bank rich in a variety of wildflowers, including two species of Deadnettle, White and Red, whose young leaves are edible in salads or as cooked vegetables. At this point we were visited at the other side of the fence by a Rhea, a flightless bird native to South America. Their numbers there are diminishing due to loss of habitat, although it is not listed as endangered.

Peacock Butterfly
White Deadnettle
Red Deadnettle

As the Rhea looked on, I recorded more wildflowers I found at the bank. Some pretty, small blue-coloured Germander Speedwell contrasted with the taller, drab, weedy Common Groundsel and the tiny, insignificant white flowers of Chickweed. Foraging through blades of grass a 7-spot Ladybird hunted small invertebrates, such as Aphids.

Germander Speedwell
Common Groundsel
7 Spot Ladybird

Below the fence I found a small but very handsome, yellow Field Pansy and beside it an even smaller, but no less good-looking, dark pink Dove’s Foot Cranesbill. After that bonanza of wildflowers we completed our journey back to the car and, on the way, got pictures of newly emerging Garlic Mustard and in their final throes, Bluebells.

Field Pansy
Doves-foot Cranesbill
Garlic Mustard

We decided to have our tea and tit-bits at Belhaven Bay. Before that though we had a 10 minute stroll along the sea wall path to see what we could see. As the tide was still very low, we didn’t see a lot, only a Great Tit with its “teecha teecha” call and a very close Grey Heron fishing in a burn at the other side of the sea wall. My final captures of the day were of Ribwort Plantain and some young Hoary Cress.

Great Tit
Grey Heron
Ribwort Plantain
Hoary Cress

We may not have seen the Yellow Figwort (maybe next week) but we had seen and photographed quite a few other interesting subjects. So we enjoyed our tea and  cream and jam doughnuts - very naughty!  Never mind, the wives needn’t know.
My wife did. I still had some sugar on my top lip. Yep, she's that good.  John P.

Pictures of the Week

Female Orange Tip
Spring Beauty

Tyninghame Bay Estuary

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