Archive - May 2021

Week ending: 30th May: Doonfoot

On Sunday it was wall-to-wall sunshine throughout the west of Scotland and the East was prone to mist, so we headed for Doonfoot on the south of Ayr. We stopped off at Stewartfield Morrisons in East Kilbride for a quick breakfast (10/10: excellent), before driving with great haste down the M77 until we reached Burns country, Alloway, and on to the car park at the mouth of the River Doon.

As we had expected, because it was a Bank Holiday weekend, the car parks were very busy when we arrived, in fact the Castle Walk car park was full so we started at the Greenan car park about a half mile to the south. This actually suited us as the tide was very low on arrival so we resolved to return to the river mouth in the afternoon. Greenan Castle made a welcoming sight after the 9 months since our last visit. A lone Grey Heron flew high overhead raising my expectations that it was going to be a fruitful visit. The bushes around the car park were alive with the chatter of many House Sparrows with their fledglings demanding food. As we set off, a brave male Blackbird was high on a Hawthorn bush vigorously announcing his presence.

Greenan Castle Grey Heron
Juvenile House Sparrow Male Blackbird

A bit further from the busy car park, Starlings, like the Sparrows, were babysitting their young, always though keeping a watchful eye on any potential threat, upon which they would dash unceremoniously from the scene. A single twittering Goldfinch flew down from the Castle area onto the Hawthorns.

Juvenile Starling Goldfinch

As we moved around the dunes area I spotted a Brown Silver-line Moth  soaking up the sun atop a Nettle. And without too much effort I managed photographs of three species of butterfly, the Green-veined White, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. The Peacock looked the worse for wear.

Brown Silver-line Moth Green -veined White Butterfly
Peacock Butterfly Small Tortoiseshell

The same dunes area was teeming with wildflowers. The most prominent were Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort and Bluebells. I also noticed the small pink flowers of Doves-foot Cranesbill dotted about patches of short grass.

Red Campion Greater Stitchwort
Bluebell Doves-foot Cranesbill

John pointed out a Chocolate Mining Bee, Andrena scotica, feeding on a Dandelion flower. I then spotted a Red Campion plant that was hosting several Hairy Shieldbugs , and John then discovered a pair of 6-spotted Ladybirds on close to the path. Then at my feet I noticed a freshly dead Earthworm was being visited by a Flesh Fly , possibly Brachicoma devia, the Bee-nest Fleshfly, because its larvae predate developing Bumblebee larvae.

Mining Bee - Chocolate Hairy Shieldbug
7 Spot Ladybird Fly- Brachicoma devia

Just as we rounded the base of the cliff at Greenan Castle, I snapped a White-tailed Bumblebee that was resting on Nettle. A large Herring Gull kept a careful eye on us as we passed. On the other side of the cliff we heard the unmistakable irregular tones of a Sedge Warbler on the dunes. It was against the light but I managed a nice shot nevertheless. We walked along the edge of the field just south of the castle, watching for anything of interest on or near the hedges.

White-tailed Bumblebee Herring Gull
Sedge Warbler Greenan Castle

Our first sighting was of a Dunnock . It wasn’t long until we reached the part of the hedge I’d seen the Sedge Warbler. We sat for a bit and we were soon rewarded as the Sedge Warbler warbled its way up a thorny branch giving us some excellent, well-lit views. We retraced our steps around the cliff base but this time we watched a Rock Pipit feeding on seaweed and I also photographed some Sea Campion that was blooming low on the cliff. As we moved through a gap in the shoreside scrub we came across a Willow Warbler, high on a bush, with a beak-full of green caterpillars.

Sedge Warbler
Dunnock Rock Pipit
Sea Campion Willow Warbler

As per our plan for the day we returned to the Castle Walk car park with the aim of walking to the mouth of the Doon to hopefully observe the birds as they move closer as the tide comes in. We planked ourselves on our wee stools and as we waited we took in the view of the Bank Holiday crowds on Ayr Beach and Low Green.

There were Swallows and House Martins catching flies low over the river and I managed a few reasonable shots after quite a few attempts. Rooks and Jackdaws were very active in the area, coming and going all the time. A few landed on the pebbley riverside near to where we were sitting. On the water beyond the river mouth there were tens of Mute Swans and also a couple of Whooper Swans (who should have had flown to Iceland with the rest of their flock).

Barn Swallow House Martin
Rook Jackdaw
Mute Swans Whooper Swans

An angry cob thundered from under the footbridge out towards the approaching flock of swans who took the hint and retreated a bit. But why was it so angry?

There was a further problem for those Swans as they were also attacked by a large dog that was let off the lead by its irresponsible owner. I informed that person that he was breaking the law only to be, surprise surprise, met with angry denials. After snapping a Black-headed Gull flypast we decided to return to the car. At the bridge we realised why the big Swan was so aggressive. His pen was on the calm waters under the bridge with half a dozen light grey cygnets. The cob just didn’t want the other Swans anywhere near his cygnets. A bit further upstream there was a female Mallard with her ducklings.

Out of control dog Black-headed Gull
Mute Swan and babies Mallard and babies

No complaints about the weather this week. It was fabulous. No complaints either about our sightings. They were many and varied. We celebrated, as usual, with tea and cake (chocolate cream eclairs). I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect another warm and sunny Sunday next week - but it could happen

Week ending: 23rd May 2021: Barns Ness

The weather forecast for Central Scotland was a bit depressing - wild, wet and windy. The glimmer of hope was that East Lothian might see the rain later in the day. With that possibility in mind we headed for Barns Ness for the first time since November. Our breakfasts in Dalkeith Morrisons were very nice (9/10: -1 for runny eggs).

Before we left, I noticed on Twitter a report that a Bluethroat had been seen at Barns Ness on Saturday evening. So that gave us a skip in our steps once we arrived. It had been seen near the “wreck” that is just south of the lighthouse. On the short walk there I snapped a Jackdaw that was hanging about the car park. It looked a bit like a mad scientist. Near the wreck we could see a few birders were already searching for the Bluethroat. Despite a careful watch it seems it had moved on during the night. We did come across a distant Stonechat on a fence. Later, a Skylark and Meadow Pipit landed in posts of the same fence.

Jackdaw Stonechat
Skylark Meadow Pipit

We walked along the seaweed-strewn beach scanning for birds in gloomy conditions.

We had flypasts of Carrion Crow, Herring Gull and a Shelduck  pair. The latter settled for a short time near the wreck, before taking off as the Randy drake courted his female.

Carrion Crow Herring Gull 1st Cycle

There were several pairs active near the wreck, some passing very close.

The sea was choppy as shown by a lone drake Eider that was bobbing with the waves, often disappearing from view as is dipped in a trough. A tall Grey Heron dropped in from the east onto the sea-lashed rocks. But that was it around the wreck. We paused for a while at what I think was once a garden plot, now overgrown. The few bushes there are always worth a  look. We saw a pair of Reed Buntings and …

Eider Grey Heron
Male Reed Bunting Female Reed Bunting

…. A Stonechat pair and a juvenile moving through the branches of the bushes. My attention then turned to flora as I had noticed already that there were many wildflowers in bloom. My first capture was a clump of pink-coloured Bluebells, and nearby some Common Vetch was just coming into bloom.

Bluebell Common Vetch

There were lots of patches of yellow Bird’s-foot Trefoil flowers all along the shore edges. Likewise, dark blue-flowered Germander Speedwell peeked through much of the low grasses along the paths. Near the Lighthouse John noticed a few clumps of dark and light amber Wallflowers. Next I saw Greater Stitchwort growing between rocky mounds of grass, the star-shaped white flowers looking rather ghostly in the dim light of the overcast sky.

Bird's  Foot Trefoil Germander Speedwell
Wallflower Greater Stitchwort

Tiny yellow globular flowers of Hop Trefoil were just coming into bloom on the foreshore and, through the area, Common Scurvygrass was starting to seed. I spotted a small hoverfly (as yet unidentified) on a Bulbous Buttercup while, on permanently exposed rocks on the shore, the beautiful pink flowers of Thrift were bobbing merrily in the breeze.
Hop Trefoil Common Scurveygrass
Bulbous Buttercup Thrift

John commented on the number of Gannets  that were moving south near the shore. That shore was about 150m out from the lighthouse so I carefully picked my way across the rocks to get a much closer view of the passage of the Gannets. Within minutes I had taken a pile of shots, some shown below

Sadly there were no dives but I noticed that among the adult birds there were third-year birds recognisable by the irregular brown-patterned upper wings.

Near the lighthouse, John spotted a Small Heath butterfly  clinging to a grass stem. Despite the gusty breeze I managed a nice macro shot using my LUMIX LX5 camera. Soon afterwards, as I tried (unsuccessfully) to snap one of the Swallows that were circulating above the grounds of the lighthouse, a Skylark landed some 5m from where I was standing. It obliged me with a fine pose that showed off its raised crest. We decided to check out the “wire dump” area in the vain hope of spotting the Bluethroat. What we got though was a dazzling display of mating Wall butterflies  as they danced around and on the bright yellow blooms of Oxford Ragwort - in bright sunshine!

Small Heath Butterfly Skylark
Wall Butterfly

We then moved over to the derelict caravan site, and area usually rich in wildflowers, and Sunday was no exception. I photographed White Deadnettle hosting Carder and White-tailed Bumblebees. Purple, trumpet-shaped flowers of Ground Ivy had pushed through the grass and there were large violet flowers of Greater Periwinkle scattered around the site. I followed a Greenveined White butterfly until it settled on on White Deadnettle.

White-tailed Bumblebee Ground Ivy
Greater Periwinkle Green-veined White Butterfly

I also noticed flowering Garden Strawberry plants near Pink Sorrel (which is new to us). In the same area there was a fine Perennial Cornflower plant that carried several very attractive blue flowers. Further into the old caravan site I was pleased to see a large Yellow Figwort  plant. This plant is specially adapted to get pollinated by wasps rather than bees.

Garden Strawberry Pink Sorrel
Perennial Cornflower Yellow Figwort

We found a well-worn path through the wood that borders the west of the site. There were several bird feeders hanging at various points along the path and I managed a picture of a female Chaffinch that visited one of these. When we emerged from the wood we came across a Millipede, Glomeris marginata, scrambling along part of a fallen wall. We also came across another couple of insects, a Sawfly, Dolerus gonager, and St Mark’s Fly.

Female Chaffinch Pill Woodlouse 

Sawfly - Dolerus gonager St Mark's Fly

When we returned to the car we were greeted by a male Pied Wagtail feeding on the grass. That completed a pleasing and varied set of photographs. We celebrated with mugs of strong tea and Danish Pastries. The weather had been kind to us with only one light and brief shower followed by a lovely spell of sunshine. Hopefully next week’s weather will be better though.

Week ending: 16th May 2021:
 Troon, Irvine Harbour

The weather was to start off bright and become cloudy later with a chance of showers. There was a chance North Ayrshire would escape the rain so I headed for sunny Troon - the last visit was 6 months ago.

After a hearty breakfast in Troon Morrison’s (7/10: overcooked egg and greasy mushrooms) we started at the edge of the North beach with some shots of a few bunny Rabbits nibbling grass. A Wood Pigeon looked on and a Green-veined White butterfly  landed not far from the Rabbits before disappearing with the breeze. I noticed a couple of Collared Doves canoodling in the branches of a tree.

Rabbit Wood Pigeon
Green Veined White Butterfly Collard Dove

I spied a Large White butterfly feeding on a Bluebell and in a large patch of White Deadnettle several brown Carder Bumblebees were busy. We walked around a long line of trees where I managed some shots of a Wren in the branches and on the grass an inquisitive female House Sparrow seemed to be uncertain of its next move.

Large White Butterfly Carder Bumblebee
Wren Female House Sparrow

We next drove to the Titchfield Road Car Park for a stroll along the prom to scan the rocks for anything of interest. My first picture was of a bathing Starling sending circular ripples across a large puddle.

We were pleased to see a pair of Linnets feeding on Dandelion seeds on the grassy verges of the prom. They were unusually tolerant of passing walkers which probably explained why I was able to get such close pictures.


Looking out over the Firth of Clyde, towards Ailsa Craig, we had a nicely-lit view of Lady Isle  which is about 4km from Troon.

There was a variety of wildflowers sprouting from the cracks in the perimeter wall along the pathside. The yellow-flowered Sea Radish were the tallest of these. The prettiest were probably the pink Thrift flowers or maybe the strikingly yellow flowers of Silverweed. A Jackdaw appeared on the grass while I was snapping the flowers. There were many Thrushes hunting worms and other invertebrates to feed their nestlings. John spotted a Barn Swallow  gathering nesting materials from a mud hole.

Sea Radish Thrift
Silverweed Jackdaw
Starling Barn Swallow

The only birds we saw on the rocks were a pair of White Wagtails . On the grass near the car I managed a short range picture of a male Pied Wagtail.

White Wagtail Pied Wagtail

We had a look across the rocks below the car park. The view of the Troon seafront was pleasantly sunlit.

We returned to the car, circled by one of the many Herring Gulls checking us out for chips. Having soaked up an hour of sunshine at the coast beside Titchfield road, we relocated slightly north to the car park at the end of Harbour Road. The incoming tide had brought birds nearer the shore. Ringed Plovers and Turnstones were nipping about on large rough sandstone rocks. A large Cormorant landed on a large exposed rock that was occupied by a dozen or so Oystercatchers and a few Gulls.

Herring Gull Ringed Plover
Turnstone Cormorant / Oystercatcher

A trio of Red-breasted Mergansers flew past just as John spotted “Sammy” the Grey Seal. It was looking a bit glum, probably because his lounging rocks were swarming with day-trippers. John drew my attention to a Rock Pipit close by on the rocks. I was excited to see a close and low flypast of a large Gannet skimming the sea only about 50m out.

Red-breasted Merganser Grey Seal
Rock Pipit Gannet

A large mass of cloud was spreading from the south. We could see Ayr was already overcast. We decided then to head for Irvine Harbour for a quick look there before our customary teas. The walking to the mouth of the estuary produced only a photo of perching Herring Gull, however, the rocks nearest the end of the walkway came up trumps. There we got close views of breeding plumage Turnstones as they coped with the incoming tide.

Herring Gull Turnstone

We were both delighted to see perfect views of a half-dozen very beautiful Sanderlings  as they too coped with the tricky problem of where to stand when the water level rises to cover your stance. Some were in their brown-toned breeding plumage, while others were in the non-breeding plumage which is grey/white.

We arrived back at the car fairly satisfied with our day’s haul of sightings. I don’t know what John thinks but our Sunday outings seem to pass more quickly. I feel we’re just getting going only to realise it is time to go home. Of course it was good to get to the bit when we got stuck into chocolate eclairs and John’s home-baked lemon drizzle. My favourite shots of the day were the Sanderlings followed by the Linnets

Week ending: 9th May 2021:   Dunbar Harbour, Belhaven Bay

The weather across the Scottish Central Belt was predicted to be mild and showery with sunny intervals. The prospects were slightly better in the east so we headed for Dunbar for our second Sunday jaunt since the relaxation of travel restrictions.

We started at Dunbar Harbour, where it was mainly sunny. The view below I think captures the charm of the location with the Castle ruin and fishermen’s baskets frame the calm harbour waters.

As we walked around the harbour I spotted a wee Pied Wagtail on the wall of the Battery, and further round a White Wagtail was hopping along the cobblestones. We took up position at the north wall that overlooks tall rugged rocks called the Gripes  with a panoramic view beyond of the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife. Just below the wall a small flock of drake Eiders were vying for the attention of a pair of females. There were plenty of Kittiwakes  calling from the rocks and flying in and out with with nesting material and fish.

Pied Wagtail White Wagtail
Eider Kittiwake

There was a large colony of very active Shags nesting on the rocks. They too were coming and going with small branches of seaweed.


The third species of bird nesting on the Gripes were Herring Gulls. They offered many photo opportunities and I managed some shots of them flying, swimming, mating and sitting on the nest.

Herring Gull

The annual sight and sound of the Kittiwakes nesting on the walls of the ruins of Dunbar Castle is something I look forward to with great relish. Virtually every nook and cranny of the walls are occupied by the delightfully noisy birds, each regularly screeching its name, “Kitty-i-WAKE, Kittyi-WAKE”. I find a scan of the small bay west of the castle is often rewarding. On Sunday I discovered a Fulmar, the “master of the wind currents”, circulating the bay. After waiting a short time it eventually passed fairly close and low, allowing me to snap a few pleasing shots.


We sheltered a while from a short shower of rain and then moved on to the Shore Road car park overlooking Belhaven Bay. We walked the short distance to Seafield Pond and managed to find and photograph a few wildflowers: Prickly Sow Thistle, Hoary Cress, Red Campion and White Deadnettle (complete with Carder Bee).

Prickly Sow Thistle Hoary Cress
Red Campion Carder Bee / White Deadnettle

John directed my attention to some Mallards paddling in ditchwater by the path. He also noticed a black insect (yet to be identified), had landed on his phone. Also, he spotted a pair of Swallows swooping over the waters of the incoming tide. I took a couple panning shots of one of them as it passed in pretty poor light.

Drake Mallard Female Mallard
T.B.C. Barn Swallow

At Seafield Pond I heard the unmistakable song of a Sedge Warbler coming from a reed bed. We sat quietly beside those reeds waiting on the bird to show. John pointed out a Grey Heron further along bank. Eventually it was spooked by passing walkers.

Grey Heron
The Sedge Warbler  made a lengthy appearance moving warbling its way up a stalk of reed. A female Reed Bunting appeared briefly, not far from the Sedge Warbler, before disappearing into the greenery. Near it a Moorhen with three chicks were picking their way through the reeds. However, there were only a few birds on the pond. A Tufted Duck was one of them.

Sedge Warbler Female Reed Bunting
Moorhen Tufted Duck

At the south end of the pond a Mute Swan posed in front of a line of reeds. A Coot made a brief appearance, but that was about it. We finished our observations by the car park end of Shore Road where I snapped an inquisitive Carrion Crow and some St Mark’s Flies  that were in the air and on a patch of Hoary Cress.

Mute Swan Coot
Carrion Crow St Mark's Fly

My final shot was of the day was of Belhaven Bridge, also known as the “Bridge to Nowhere”. At most times of the day and night it spans the Beil Burn, but at high tide the whole bay is submerged, isolating the bridge from dry land. The picture below also shows the Bass Rock on the right and the hill on the left is North Berwick Law

Our tea was accompanied by cream and jam filled scones, an appropriate reward for quite a impressive collection of observations. My favourites were the Sedge Warbler and Fulmar and it was a pleasure to visit one of my favourite locations. Hopefully we’ll make many more visits

Week ending: 2nd May 2021:  Stevenson, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

This week I was accompanied by John - the first he’s been on the road since March 20. The North Ayrshire coast was our destination and, of course, our first stop was a visit to Morrisons Cafe for a long-awaited breakfast fry-up (10/10). The weather at Stevenson Point started sunny with a cold breeze, but it soon clouded over for the rest of the day. We were greeted by a flock of Starljngs feeding frantically on the grassy edges of the “car park”, some were gathering nesting material. A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were loitering on the rocky slab and a pair of Eider were paddling near them. The main bird activity on the Point was due to the Corvids - Jackdaws and Carrion Crows.

Great Black-backed Gull Eider
Jackdaw Carrion Crow
We were very pleased to see a few Gannets passing and even diving. We were also pleased to see a few wildflowers. A hybrid Bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartian, was growing near the edge alongside a solitary Poet’s Daffodil . Some Dandelions were wedged between the large rocks on the west side of the point.

Gannet Bluebell_Hyacinthoides_X_massartiana
Poet's Daffodil Dandelion

On our way to Saltcoats we looked in on the pond at Auchenharvie Golf Course. There were tens of swooping Sand Martins  moving over the water. At the pond edge House Sparrows were feeding on reeds. A pair of Mute Swans were sitting in the middle of a small island at the centre of the pond, perhaps nesting. The island was littered with rubbish such as old car wheels, slabs, crates. A Cormorant sat perched on a large tyre.

Sand Martin House Sparrow
Mute Swan Cormorant

From Saltcoats Harbour the view across to Arran was dim but impressive nonetheless. As usual there were plenty of Herring Gulls watching carefully for discarded chips.

Arran Herring Gulls

We walked to the end of the harbour passing a Black Guillemot resting on the quayside.

More Black Guillimots were paddling in the harbour waters, some flying in from, and out to, the Firth of Clyde. 

Black Guillimot

We sat on the rocks beyond the sea wall, watching for passing birds. A few Gannets passed fairly close without diving. We could see a gathering of Shags  on a small rocky island a few hundred metres offshore.

Gannet Shag

It wasn’t long before we had a much closer view of Shags as they made several close passes, albeit in poor light. There were also a few fly-passes of young Eider.

Shag Juvenile Male Eider

We walked around to the other side of the harbour where we found a Rock Pipit  foraging in seaweed for invertebrates. The photograph below shows it with what looks like a large Sand Hopper in its beak. A White Wagtail  was searching in the same area, watched intently by a cat waiting for the birds to come within pouncing range. However we were generally disappointed by the absence of birds. They were probably in their breeding areas. I did come across a couple of blooming wildflowers - a Hairy Bittercress and Common Scurvygrass.

Rock Pipit White Wagtail
Hairy Bittercress
Common Scurvygrass

Our final stop of the day was at Irvine Harbour. We caught a few brief sightings of a Common Seal at the confluence of the River Irvine and River Garnock. The main attraction though were the Gannets repeatedly diving in the mouth of the estuary. We saw many thrilling dives but they were all unsuccessful as far as we could see.

Common Seal Gannets

A Border Force vessel powered down the channel on some unknown mission. Our final picture was of one of a pair of Sandwich Terns  searching for fish along side the Gannets. They too seemed to be unsuccessful.

Border Force Sandwich Tern

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that our final activity was to sit in the car park supping tea while nibbling on Danish pastries. We reflected on how it was good to get on the road again and compared our favourite sightings. Mines were the Gannets, Shag and Black Guillimots. Let’s hope we are able to keep our visits going uninterrupted by restrictions.

Highlights - May 2021

We present last month’s gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during May 2021. 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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