Archive - November 2017
 

26th November

Musselburgh

With another weather front looming to the west, we headed east to Musselburgh. It was a very fine November morning, blue sky, crisp sunshine and barely a breath of wind, but cold. It was still all those things as we emerged from Dalkeith Morrisons, stomach packed with fine breakfasts (9.5/10). We parked at the mouth of the River Esk and walked east along the sea wall where we were surprised by the extent of the low tide. Our first captures were of the masses of Greylag Geese standing in the shallows where the river met the Firth of Forth. Among them were a few Mute Swans looking rather nervous as they competed for space with their noisy rivals. I snapped a passing Herring Gull and soon after, an amorous, and dare I suggest, overambitious male Goldeneye chancing his luck with 3 females who were not in the least bit interested.

Greylag Geese
Mute Swan
Herring Gull
Goldeneye




Further east a Curlew was feeding below the wall, along with several other familiar species. Carrion Crows were picking up shellfish and dropping them from 30ft onto the bare rocks. Arthur’s Seat provided an impressive backdrop for the mouthwatering panorama before us where literally thousands of birds were making the most of the feeding opportunities made possible by the attraction, thousands of miles above their heads, between the Moon and sea.

Curlew
Carrion Crow
Arthur's Seat
Leith




Close to the Curlew, a Bar-tailed Godwit used its sword-like beak to probe the sand for tasty morsels. A Common Gull patrolled the air space above these birds, obviously hoping for a quick snatch should any fumbling take place. Oystercatchers were also jabbing at the sand, albeit at a much shallower depth. A rather amber-looking Cormorant glided across the scene and settled amidst the armies of birds to the west of the river.

Curlew
Common Gull
Oystercatcher
Cormorant



From the end of the exposed rocky beach of the Esk estuary to the path to the Scrapes we saw precious few birds. But just as we were about to move south off the sea wall path, a quartet of Black-headed Gulls approached us from the east, skimming over the sea with seemingly little effort. Then a handsome drake Wigeon shot overhead making for the Scrapes. John drew my attention to a Reed Bunting on a stalk of vegetation. It was between us and the sun and, as I tried to sneak around it for a better angle, I spooked it by accidentally cracking open a few frozen puddles! The Scrapes were 5 big icy puddles with only a few distant Wigeon brave enough to have a go at feeding there.

Black - headed Gull
Wigeon
Reed Bunting
Wigeon




Pretty though the Wigeon were, we headed back west on our return journey. A couple of beautifully white Mute Swans were on the Boating Pond, but little else. Another Mute Swan was just off the sea wall, and further out a group of Velvet Scoter and now appeared. There seemed to have been a bit of courtship behaviour going on in between dives.

Wigeon
Mute
Swan
Velvet Scoter




Back at the Esk mouth a few little Turnstones were impressively working the shoreline. Our final capture at the Esk was of a pair of Magpies having a bit of a set-to, fighting over God knows what. We decided to move down the coast for a short spell at Port Seton where we expected the now incoming tide to have drawn birds closer to the sea wall. This proved to be a forlorn hope. All we saw were a pair of nice wee House Sparrows – but the sea view was nice.

Turnstone
Magpie
House
Sparrow




It had been a kind of run-of-the-mill Sunday for us, with no unusual sightings, but with more than a few decent pictures of the “usual suspects”. We celebrated nevertheless by devouring our usual Danish Pastries washed down by strong tea.

Pictures of the week:

Curlew
1st Winter Black-headed Gull


Goldeneye
Reed Bunting




19th November
 

Barns Ness

This week we travelled east in an attempt to get ahead of an advancing cloud and rain-laden weather front. Our plan nearly worked, but was effectively foiled by an unfortunate delay in service in Morrisons Cafe. The breakfast, when it eventually arrived, was lovely, but we’d to wait an age for it to appear (8/10). The front piled in as we tarried, and by the time we reached Barns Ness, the sun had become obscured by ever-thickening cloud. We managed a couple of captures on the road into the site. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese that had been lodged around the Whitesands Quarry suddenly took to the air and flew further east. As they passed over, a restless, nervous flock of Linnets were darting about. I managed to take a few shots from the car as they rested briefly on the roadside fence. As we set off on a walk around the Lighthouse, a few Golden Plovers drew us over to the rocks to the north. The tide was coming in so we sat for a time to see what we could see, starting with a pair of Mallards loitering in a pool.

Pink Footed Geese
Linnet
Golden Plover
Mallard




As the tide advanced, many birds were repositioning themselves as they were beginning to get their feet wet. Golden Plovers, Oystercatchers and Curlew were on the move. And soon we too were on the move. We decided to make our way around the coast to the beach where we might find birds feeding around seaweed. On our way there, we spotted a wee Robin sitting on a tree in the lighthouse garden, posing threateningly, probably marking territory. A Redshank looked on from the shore, not giving a damn.

Oystercatcher
Curlew
Robin
Redshank




Eventually we came across a large patch of seaweed strewn about the beach. Loads of little Dunlin were scurrying around feeding as they dodged the waves ebbing and flowing around them. We noticed a larger grey bird feeding with them, a Grey Plover. It looked like the black and white version of the Golden Plover. Darting amongst the weed were a couple of birds we see nearly every week – a Rock Pipit and a Pied Wagtail. I never tire of photographing them as they are ever-giving subjects.

Dunlin
Grey Plover
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail




As he scanned the scene with binoculars, John spotted an “untidy-looking Cormorant” heading towards us. As it sped past, I managed a shot. My eyes were drawn to a small wader, much more pale than a Dunlin, feeding in a similar manner – a Sanderling. When I had visited a few days earlier, there had been whole flocks of these, but we saw only one today. When we retraced our steps west back around the coast past the lighthouse we came upon some Turnstones on nearby rocks. Beyond them, again fairly close, a flock of a couple of hundred Golden Plover sat on the rocks. As the tide was still advancing, the Plovers were gradually getting closer as they moved closer to the shore to keep dry. The amber light from the low sun illuminated the birds beautifully emphasising their golden plumage. I took many pictures hoping to get at least one or two that would do them justice.

Cormorant
Sanderling
Turnstone
Golden Plover




Back at the car we were pleased with our sightings. Our initial disappointment proved to be to be unwarranted as we got birds, decent light – and tea and toffee-apple Danish pastries! Sorted!

Pictures of the week:

Dunlin
Grey Plover


Golden
Plover



12 November

Stevenston, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

With sunny weather across the whole of the Central Belt, we had a large choice of destinations and, since we had gone east over recent weeks, we headed west to Stevenston Point. From the Point, the the Isle of Arran set in a deep blue sea made a picturesque backdrop. Straight away we noticed Black-headed Gulls and Sanderling off the the north side of the Point. We edged a bit closer, careful not to put the birds up, and found a closer enclave of a dozen or so Sanderlings. Also, a Common Gull was among the many birds feasting at the water’s edge.

Arran
Black-headed Gulls/Sanderlings
Sanderlings
Common Gull




As we photographed the birds, to the east of Stevenston, High Kirk wind farm dominated the view. The blades were turning steadily in the bitter north wind, helping to meet Scotland’s domestic electricity needs, but of course the Sanderling and Redshank I was snapping were unconcerned with windmills. Later we found Ringed Plovers off the south side of the Point. They were scurrying about frantically then pausing like little statues, probably believing that being still made them invisible.

High Kirk Wind Farm
Redshank
Sanderlings
Ringed Plover




Just as we left the Point a single drake Goldeneye landed and started diving just to the north. It only stayed a few minutes though before pressing on north. We drove up to Salcoats Harbour – always worth checking. As we left the car, an impressive big Great Black-backed Gull juvenile drifted low above our heads. The tide was out and people were on the rocks within the harbour so there weren’t many birds there. We ambled around the promenade hoping for better luck at the tower. We were in luck as a pair of Curlew were feeding below us, lit wonderfully by the low autumn sun. Other birds there included the ubiquitous Herring Gull,…

Goldeneye
Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull
Curlew
Herring Gull




… some Turnstones, Ringed Plover, and a Redshank that was aggressively poking at something deep within the seaweed. We observed the rocks for a while before heading back to the car. A busy Starling caught my eye, its plumage lit up in a full spectrum of colours by the bright sunlight.

Turnstone
Ringed Plover
Redshank
Starling




At the harbour’s grassy edge, just below the car park, we came upon a group of Greenfinches. We see far fewer of these handsome birds since their numbers were badly affected by disease. The birds we saw seemed healthy enough. We briefly checked the other side of the harbour but we only came away with a picture of a nice little Rock Pipit. We then moved on to Irvine Harbour for our tea and pastry. We found some juvenile Shags diving below the footbridge. They made great subjects as they were dramatically lit in the now amber light of the near-setting sun. Across the River Garnock large flocks of Wigeon and Lapwings were very active, but quite distant.

Greenfinch
Rock Pipit
Juvenile Shag
Wigeon/Lapwings




It had been another very enjoyable day that had yielded more than a few great photographic opportunities. We celebrated, as usual, with a warm cup of tea and, for a wee change, John had purchased a couple of rhubarb tarts – what’s not to like?

Pictures of the week:

Starling
Greenfinch


Juvenile Shag
Curlew



5th November

Musselburgh

We started this week’s adventure with a tour around Airth that turned into a classic wild goose chase, that is, a wild Snow Goose chase, that ended, appropriately enough, without a sniff of a Snow Goose. It was lovely weather for it, but we cut our losses and headed for Musselburgh.

It was noon before we got our first picture (well, we couldn’t miss our Morrisons breakfast!). It was of a pretty little Goldfinch by the banks of the Esk (see Pictures of the Week, below). In the mouth of the estuary a big flock of Greylags were bobbing up and down in the choppy waters. Closer to the seawall a few female Goldeneye were diving away unconcerned by the sea conditions. A single Greylag Goose flew past followed by a female Wigeon, the first of many such passes we’d see.

Greylag Geese
Female Goldeneye
Greylag Goose
Wigeon




It was a bit cold and breezy with low, bright autumn sunshine that got brighter as the early cloud cleared away. More Wigeon flew past probably heading for the safety of the Scrapes. We then had a sudden arrival of around 50 twittering Twite. They landed on the seawall and, when they were satisfied it was safe to continue, they one-by-one descended to the feed at the grassy fringes of the path. Meanwhile a solitary Pied Wagtail foraged amid the puddles without giving any attention to the noisy invaders. As I moved cautiously towards the Twite, trying to get some better shots, they were put up by a passing jogger who smiled in amusement as he observed my obvious frustration. John drew my attention to a male Eider diving for shellfish just below the seawall. We were lucky to find it struggling to down his latest catch – a small crab.

Wigeon
Twite
Wagtail
Eider




As we plodded on, we disturbed what I thought at first was another Twite but later realised it was a female Reed Bunting. The male couldn’t have been far away but we couldn’t see it. At the Scrapes we were disappointed to find the birds were well back from the hides. Large numbers of Redshanks, Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers were in evidence, but not much else. We were informed by birders we met in the hides that a Greenshank and Spotted Redshank were about, but we didn’t see them. Since the light was dimming as the sun got lower in the sky, we started back to the car. There wasn’t much happening in the sea, probably due to the choppy surface, however our main attentions were drawn to the frequent fly-pasts. I managed a decent shot of a young passing Cormorant.

Female Reed Bunting
Redshank
Bar-tailed Godwit
Cormorant




More Wigeon continued to fly past us, their colourful plumage beautiful highlighted by the low sun. A bold Carrion Crow flew overhead. A bonny pair of well-lit Black-headed Gulls were the last of our aerial observations. I think it’s a shame we underrate these birds, like we underrate Mallards, Starlings and other common birds, as they are very pleasing to the eye. As we reached the end of the seawall John pointed out the Greylags we had seen at the start of our walk, now they were so far out binoculars were required to make them out.

Wigeon
Carrion Crow
Black-headed Gull
Greylag Geese




The final drama of the day unfolded as we prepared for our tea and Danish pastry. Some daft person had forgot to pack the flask of hot water – OK it was me! So it was off to the famous Luca’s cafe for carry-out tea – the day was saved!

Pictures of the week:

Goldfinch
Twite


Wigeon
Reed Bunting



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