Archive - May 2019

26th May 

Pow Burn and Irvine Harbour

After a week of bright sunny weather in Central Scotland, Sunday’s weather was to be dominated be a splodge of dull, wet and windy weather passing eastward. Luckily that meant that the west coast would be dry by the afternoon, so we headed for Pow Burn  near Prestwick to chance our luck there. We called in at Stewartfield Morrisons in East Kilbride for a breakfast (7/10: very poor service and cold beans and bacon) before motoring down the M77 to Prestwick. On parking near the Prestwick Holiday Park, which is near the end of the runway of the airport, we were greeted by a pair of Rabbits  in an adjacent field. Nice start! We followed the path that took us along the west side of the Pow Burn. Below a footbridge there were a few Mallards but little else. We could hear the sweet tones of singing Blackbirds and a Song Thrush as we made our way past very damp Hawthorns (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Rabbit Mallard Blackbird Song Thrush

At the side of the practice area of the historic Prestwick Golf Club I came across a patch of Barren Strawberries. A Black Slug  lay in the middle of the path and was in great danger of being trampled. On Bramble leaves I noticed a few 7-spot Ladybirds hunting for Aphids. There were a few bushes of Comfrey  with rather lovely pendulous purple blooms.

Barren Strawberry Black Slug 7-Spot Ladybird Comfrey
While I was photographing the above with the macro mode of my wee Lumix LX5, John took my Nikon D500 for a spell and managed to capture a shot of a Kestrel hovering some 50m away. I briefly took possession of the big camera and managed a few snaps of a cocky Reed Bunting perching on thorny branches (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). Once again John was showing his photographic skills by catching some shots of a singing Sedge Warbler , as I gathered shots of the vegetation (next set). John spotted a fledgling Starling on a branches by the path. There was a large flock of very active, flighty Starlings on bushes lining the high banks of the Burn. It was probably the fledgling’s maiden flight and it had the bravery to return to its flock as we approached.

Kestrel Reed Bunting Sedge Warbler Fledging Starling

As John was with the Sedge Warbler I was busy seeking out wildflowers scattered amongst the tall grass and bushes. I saw Lady’s Mantle, its large leaves carrying drops of the rain that had, thankfully, passed. Pretty, toothed white Greater Stitchwort flowers were peeking through the dense tall grasses. In other areas White Campion  plants stood proud of the surrounding grasses. I also found pink flowered Campions that were actually hybrids of Red crossed with White Campion.

Lady's Mantle Greater Stitchwort White Campion Red x White Campion Cross

At the end of the golf practice range I managed a long shot of one of the many Skylarks we had been hearing throughout the walk. We then turned our attention to the Burn area but as we looked down onto what might be described as a small gorge, we were disappointed as all we saw, nice though they were, were a pair of Mute Swans. I snapped a striking bunch of Red Campion  flowers on the banking. They stood in contrast to the surrounding green foliage and completed a trio of Campions. At the mouth of the Pow Burn we watched a Meadow Pipit attempting to fly north into the very stiff wind. It failed and had to rest in the grassy dunes.

Skylark Mute Swan Red Campion Meadow Pipit

The view of the rather grey conditions at Prestwick sands seen from the dunes at the mouth of the Pow Burn:

I was attracted to an area covered by the large leaves of Butterbur. I spotted a Spring Vetch  plant poking out of the blanket of green. As we neared completion of our circuit of the site I came across a nice example of Common Storksbill. On the grass ahead of me a Jackdaw poked at the soil, digging out invertebrates. Our final capture at Pow Burn was worth waiting for. A male Whitethroat  gave us the runaround as it skipped behind leaves and twigs in the bushes. Eventually I got passable shots (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below) and it was off to Irvine Harbour for our tea.

Spring Vetch Common Storksbill Jackdaw Common Whitethroat

We reached Irvine in 10 mins and, before sipping tea, we strolled along the riverside to the Irvine Bar. As we stood there a very kind fellow started feeding the gulls with large nan breads, presumably leftover from his restaurant. They certainly loved the spicy food as you can see from the first photo below (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). Out in the mouth of the estuary a third cycle Great Black-backed Gull stood on a post resisting the ever-strengthening wind. Below it a pair of Eider bobbed violently in choppy waters. Our last photo was of a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers flying out of the Estuary at great speed against the wind.

Feeder 3rd Cycle Great Black-backed Gull Eider Red-breasted Merganser

We celebrated an enjoyable trip in the usual way - strong cups of tea and pastries. The chocolate cream eclairs were delicious, a suitable reward for getting such a varied set of sightings. The weather was satisfactory but maybe we’ll get some sunshine next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Song Thrush Reed Bunting
Common Whitethroat Herring Gull

19th May 2019:

 Stevenson, Saltcoats and Troon Harbour

Murky weather was predicted for most of Scotland on Sunday, but the exception was the southwest coast. It was a no-brainier then, Stevenson, Saltcoats and Troon seemed a good choice of destinations. After a delicious breakfast in Stevenston Morrisons (9.5/10) we headed for Stevenston Point. On arrival we were greeted by a flypast of summer plumage Sanderlings . They settled on the rocky Point (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). Also there we noticed that there were a few Dunlin and Turnstones, also in summer plumage. Just off the Point a pair of Cormorants were drying there feathers. John drew my attention to an incoming Gannet that passed without diving, sadly.

Sanderling Turnstone Cormorants Gannet

I spotted a nice example of Thrift, often called Sea Pink, a common sight on cliffs around the coasts of Britain. John commented on how pristine it looked given its exposed position to on the rocks. As I photographed it I noticed a couple of Plantain species, the Buckshorn and Ribwort Plantains. Watching me carefully was a third cycle Herring Gull.

Thrift Buckshorn Plantain Ribwort Plantain 3rd Cycle Herring Gull

The Point was becoming very active with human activities such as kite fliers, jet skiers, fisherman setting off in a boat, and (ahem!) birdwatchers. It was all too much for the Sanderling flock. They flew off in a panic towards Irvine.

On our drive off of the Point we stopped next to some Sea Radish , a foragers favourite. Beside these were nice seeding Groundsel. I also came across a 7-spot Ladybird nestling in the foliage. These were followed by some snaps of a busy and very nippy Carder Bumblebee as it worked it’s way around the flowers of Sea Radish.

Sea Radish Common Groundsel 7 Spot Ladybird Common Carder Bumblebee

We drove onto the pier of Saltcoats Harbour. From the end of that pier we viewed a single drake Eider as it made repeated dives, probably for Mussels. A Shag sped past and made a pretty sight with the Sun behind. On the pier’s edge a first year Herring Gull surprisingly turned its beak up at some breakfast leftovers, black pudding. We walked round to the other sides of the Harbour where we saw a female Eider, probably the mate of the male we’d just viewed, and some Ringed Plovers on the rocks 40m out. John spotted a female House Sparrow which I dutifully photographed before it flew away.

1st Cycle Herring Gull Shag Eider House Sparrow

A bit disappointed with our haul at Saltcoats we moved on to our final stop of the day, Troon Harbour. The car park overlooks the rocky shore. As I stepped out of the car I saw a ringed Herring Gull with strange black cladding on its left leg. We went a walk along the sandy beach to the right of the car park. John spotted a Large White butterfly sitting on leaves of White Deadnettle. I also photographed some nice Silverweed  (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below) and some Sea Sandwort  that was now starting to bloom.

Herring Gull Large White Butterfly Silverweed Sea Sandwort

We stepped onto the beach and immediately put up a fairly big flock of small waders that included Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and Sanderling. Luckily they didn’t go far and soon migrated back to their original feeding area. We walked the beach as intended and I took photos of the plentiful Hoary Cress.

Dunlin Ringed Plover Sanderling Hoary Cress

There were a few patches of Birdsfoot Trefoil .  On the edge of the beach I came across a lovely large plant of  Pencilled Cranesbill. Meanwhile the Ringed Plovers and Dunlin were creeping ever closer I continued to snapped away merrily until an aggressive Jackdaw swooped into the middle of the flock and spooked them. They upped and left speedily towards Ardrossan.

Common Birdsfoot Trefoil Pencilled Cranesbill Ringed Plover / Dunlin Jackdaw

We left the beach and explored the area to the right of the car park. A trio of drake Eiders Lee south past us.  They seemed to be pursuing a female (not in shot).

The ubiquitous Rock Pipits were there as well as the equally familiar Pied Wagtails. The latter were wandering between parked cars hoping for the crumbs left by the car occupants who were dining on fish suppers evident from the scent of vinegar that hung in the air. I discovered another large yellow flowers plant that turned out to be Rape . At this time of year many of the field in the area contain vast areas of this plant which is grown for its Rapeseed oil. We were also being tracked by another common bird, a female House Sparrow (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below), while a member of yet another “usual suspect”, a Starling was scouring the seaweed for food (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). On the way back to the car I was attracted to what must be one of the tiniest bush of flowering Hawthorn that I think I’ve seen.

Rock Pipit Pied Wagtail Rapeseed Common Hawthorn

The weather had been a bit disappointing with only a few minutes of sunshine in each of the locations we visited. However it was a nice set of pictures we talked about as we had our tea and, wait for it ..... large creamed fruit scones with jam. Any negativity ebbed away until I found out that a Bluethroat was posing for birders over at Barns Ness (last weeks destination). Oh well, that’s the way it goes

Pictures of the Week:

Sanderling Silverweed
Female House Sparrow Starling

12th May 2019:

Skateraw, Whitesands and Barns Ness

Sunday was one of those days when we had the perfect weather prediction for the whole of Central Scotland - bright, sunny and mild. I plumped for the Lothian coast east of Dunbar since that area had featured in recent Twitter reports of some nifty birds such as the Spotted Sandpiper  and Yellow and Channel Wagtails at Skateraw. So after a nice breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (9/10: -1 for order mix up) we found ourselves scouring the rocks around the Lime Kilns at Skateraw. However the search was in vain. The tide was very low so the birds had a vast area of exposed bay in which to feed. On the rocks that were normally teaming with Pipits I did manage to see a single Rock Pipit, but little else other than a pair of distant Shelduck. On the bushes by the car park we found Tree Sparrows and, pleasingly, some Whitethroats (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). On our way out of Skateraw we stopped by a small field of manure piles (as you do) where we photographed a Skylark and a Yellow Wagtail from the car. We did see a pair of feuding Channel Wagtails that were, frustratingly, behind the car and so out of view of the camera.

Rock Pipit Tree Sparrow Skylark Yellow Wagtail

On the single track approach road into Barns Ness, John spotted a Buzzard circling overhead. He also noticed a BarnSwallow  that appeared to have a nest on the White Sands toilet block. It posed for me on the roadside fence wire. John snapped a Carrion Crow that was looking down imperiously from the high ridge. After parking in the Barns Ness car park I found a Jackdaw foraging in the nearby “wire dump”.  

Buzzard Barn Swallow Carrion Crow Jackdaw

Starting in the site of a former caravan park, we set off on a circular route that would take us past some woods, through grassy areas overlooking fields and along the sandy shore past the lighthouse then back to the car. However, we spent quite a long time at the derelict caravan park as we found so much there of interest. White Deadnettle was in full bloom with several butterflies flitting from flower to flower. We saw and photographed Wall, Green-veined  and Orange Tip  butterflies.

White Deadnettle Wall Brown Green-veined White Orange Tip

A Carder Bumblebee  was on the Greater Periwinkle  flowers, and also a Common Wasp . I managed a decent shot of a Whitethroat through the branches of a bush. Eventually it heard the camera and flew off. I came across a Dance Fly, Empis Opaca, prowling on some Spanish Bluebells.

Carder Bumblebee Common Wasp Whitethroat Dance Fly

A Red-tailed Bumblebee  showed up and started probing the Periwinkle nectaries. A bright red 7-spotted Ladybird was sunning itself on a Holly leaf while on the stony path I noticed some Ground Ivy was in bloom, it’s violet flowers catching the eye, complementing the much larger flowers of the Greater Periwinkle.

Red-tailed Bumblebee 7 Spot Ladybird Ground Ivy Greater Periwinkle

After a 30 minute stop we pressed on along a stand of conifers to a stone wall boundary wall that overlooked the quarry that supplies the Concrete plant that lies just south of Barns Ness. During the week the ground often shakes as rock is blasted from the now huge hole in the ground.

A pair of Goldfinches flew onto the conifers and appeared to be gathering nesting material (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). As we continued around our circuit we could see four Roe Deer some 200m away by the edge of the quarry. We climbed over a style and crossed a long, wide field and through a gap in the grassy sand dunes, onto a long sandy beach. We passed very close to a solitary, very handsome drake Shelduck. He was very reluctant to leave his rocky stance as we passed. Usually they are quite flighty so maybe he had found some rich pickings. John told me to “freeze!”, as he spotted a Skylark on the pile of Seaweed, only a couple of metres away. I got a few shots in some lovely light (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below for more pictures of the Shelduck and Skylark).

Goldfinch Roe Deer Shelduck Skylark

Looking east from the beach I could see the Moon with an aeroplane contrail passing above it. We left the beach, watched by one of the many Carrion Crows, and rounded the Lighthouse. The attached building is now a holiday home . We sat below the lighthouse, looking north for Gannets, but they were too far out for acceptable shots. On the grass around us though I photographed Greater Stitchwort and Spring Vetch.

Carrion Crow Greater Stitchwort Spring Vetch

I also found two wildflowers whose leaves group in threes. These were Bird’s Foot Trefoil with relatively big yellow pea-like flowers, and Hop Trefoil whose flowers are also yellow but are spherical. Also prominent on the grassy foreshore were Creeping Buttercups. Resting on some of the Buttercups were the jet black-coloured St Mark’s Fly .

Hop Trefoil Bird's Foot Trefoil Creeping Buttercup St Mark's Fly

We moved across the seashore towards the car park. I snapped a Ribwort Plantain flowerhead and a Silverweed , a wildflower often confused with a buttercup. We disturbed a Dunlin which re-settled only 30m further on, so I managed a record shot. On reaching the car, we decided to move on to Belhaven Bay to finish the day, but as we passed White Sands John spotted and photographed a roadside Rabbit from the passenger seat.

Ribwort Plantain Silverweed Dunlin Rabbit

We sipped tea and demolished a pair of chocolate eclairs ( each! JP.) as we gazed across the gorgeous panorama before us. It had been a trip rich in sightings, all, for once, observed in dry, bright sunny weather. Same again next week please.

Pictures of the Week:

Whitethroat Goldfinch
Skylark Shelduck

5th May 2019:

Garnock Estuary and Irvine Harbour

With the brighter weather predicted in the west, we headed for the Irvine area. I decided to explore the area of land at the confluence of the Rivers Irvine and Garnock, guided by the excellent new SOC app . We had never been in that area before so we were keen to find out what it could offer us. We began the journey with an excellent breakfast in Stewartfield Morrisons, East Kilbride (9/10: -1 for slowish service). At Irvine we parked near the very well-used Recycle Centre near Bogside and began a trek that took us under a railway line and towards the Garnock Estuary.  As we got out the car John pointed out a busy Pied Wagtail bobbing its way along the pavement. Around the Centre we came across patches of small pink flowers. These turned out to be Hedgerow Cranesbill , Cut-leaved Cranesbill  and Common Storksbill 

Pied Wagtail Hedgerow Cranesbill Cut-leaved Cranesbill Common Storksbill

Our floral discoveries continued with some White Deadnettle  and blue and white Bluebells (. They continued with a huge patch of what at first looked like very large Rhubarb but what we found out were actually the toxic Giant Hogweed . As we continued to make our way towards the Estuary we passed what looked like the remains of a small orchard of blossoming Apple trees (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

White Deadnettle Bluebell Giant Hogweed Apple

Our journey to that point had not been devoid of birds. We heard Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and Blackcaps but as the woods were fairly dense and dull we only managed fleeting views of the birds. When we emerged from the woods into a more open area between some ponds we were able to actually see the birds. I photographed an obliging and nosey Robin which sat boldly in front of us (see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). As I waited for a chance to snap an elusive Willow Warbler I noticed a colourfully marked Brown-lipped Snail on a tree trunk. Eventually I managed a fairly decent couple of shots of the Willow Warbler as it flitted between the branches (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below). We next passed into a tall conifer plantation that ran along the north edge of the Garnock Estuary. I surveyed the waters with a great deal of disappointment as it was dull, grey and birdless. We decided that we would be better sticking to were we’d just been, so we made our way back via a tarred path that took us past between the pond we had skirted earlier. On the way we heard, saw and photographed a Chiffchaff and a Goldfinch.

Brown-lipped Snail Willow Walbler Chiffchaff Goldfinch

Close to the Goldfinch I spotted a Chaffinch calling atop a bare branch. When we arrived at the ponds there were a couple of Mute Swans with their cygnets. We also saw a pair of distant and dimly-lit Tufted Ducks. In the reeds close to where we were sitting a Sedge Warbler had been calling before I managed to spook it. I’d have waited until it returned but for the rain that was starting to fall. Just before moving on, I noticed a wee Thyme-leaved Speedwell  flower next to my stool.

Chaffinch Mute Swan Tufted Duck Thyme-leaved Speedwell

Just as we re-entered the wooded area we had passed earlier I snapped a wee Reed Bunting. In the fields near my car there were many Cuckoo Flowers  still in bloom. We had intended moving on to Stevenson Point, however, the slip road from the A78, that we’d used on the way in, was one-way so we had to go through Irvine. We decided then to go instead to Irvine Harbour. As we drove there we passed a field where there were three grazing Clydesdale Horses .

Reed Bunting Cuckoo Flower Clydesdale Horses

The Estuary at the Harbour was initially very quiet. We walked beyond the Coastwatch building to the viewpoint where we spent an entertaining half hour watching some Gannets  diving as near as 50m offshore. I managed a nice series of pictures of one such dive (also see, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Having sated our appetite for Gannets, we made our way back to the car. We came across several types of gull on the way. A juvenile Great Black-backed Gull had acquired the remains of someone’s corn on the cob and seemed happy it had (probably) managed to shake off a mob of other gulls. Across the river, on a post, an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull surveyed the scene, while on our side a 2nd cycle Herring Gull flew over our heads. At the car we positioned our stools ready to take tea. An adult Herring Gull also took up position seemingly aware that food was about to be on show.

1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull Lesser Black-backed Gull 2nd Cycle Herring Gull Herring Gull

However, the Herring Gull had competition. An untidy Rook wandered in, as did a bonny Feral Pigeon. Sad for them, since, as a rule, we don’t feed  the birds in car parks. As we sipped tea and munched into some lovely custard and almond Danish pastries I heard the familiar, creaking tones of a Sandwich Tern. Although it didn’t come close I noticed it eventually settled a couple of hundred metres away on a large object in the River Garnock. The record shot below shows at least 5 adult Terns and 1 juvenile. As I captured the Tern picture a Cormorant appeared below the Bridge along with 4 Mute Swans flying past. I snapped the Swans (potentially more exciting pictures) but the Cormorant flew off before I could train my camera on it.

Feral Pigeon Rook Sandwich Terns Mute Swan

After a slow start we eventually ended up with a pleasing set of pictures. The weather didn’t help us though and I later found out we’d missed a couple of Little Egrets on the Garnock. We’ll probably return there on a better day for a more thorough exploration.

Pictures of the Week:
Robin Willow Warbler
Apple Gannet

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