Archive - November 2018
 
25th November:

Doonfoot and Troon Harbour

With miserable weather rolling continuously from the east, it was another case of “west is best”. I fancied a late autumn look at Doonfoot to the south of Ayr so we hightailed it down the M77, encouraged by blue sunny skies. We nipped into the cafe at Kilmarnock Asda. Our previous visit there was quite disappointing but I’m glad to report that they were back on form (9.5/10, 1/2 off for a dripping teapot). When we emerged from the cafe we were disappointed to find that the sky had clouded over, and, sadly, that’s how it stayed for the rest of the day.

Doonfoot 

At the car park by the bridge across the mouth of the River Doon we were very pleased that, despite the low light levels, we could hear and see birds in the bushes and on the lagoon that is over the grassy bank immediately north of the car park. A Black-headed Gull was paddling up and down the lagoon trying to agitate the mud to dislodge invertebrates. John pointed out a flock of roosting Redshanks to the right on the far side of the lagoon. Standing amongst them were three Greenshanks . As I snapped a quick record shot before edging a bit closer, a Robin started singing from a bush a few feet from my ear. We scrambled down from the grassy bank and sneaked along a rough path to manage quite close pictures of the Greenshanks, as well as a few of Teal dabbling happily by the water’s edge.

Black-headed Gull Greenshank Robin Teal

A few Redshank were active on the sands at the mouth of the Doon beside about a dozen Carrion Crows noisily competing for any available food. As I captured a few images of these, about 10 Mallards puddled up to us. They obviously mistook us for feeders (rather than merely observers). I also took pictures of Yarrow , the only flowering plant I could see in the area.

Redshank Carrion Crow Mallard Yarrow

John directed my attention to a wee Pied Wagtail chirping its way along the shallow stream that connects the lagoon to the river. He also noticed a Little Grebe  with a bit of foliage in its beak paddling along the opposite side of the river. It soon dived and re-emerging a fair distance downstream. The light had deteriorated badly by this time and we decided to return to the car. On the way we passed a couple of nice birds, a Yellowhammer nestling in a bare Hawthorn bush and a Goldfinch picking seeds off of Knapweed seed heads (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Wagtail Little Grebe Yellowhammer Goldfinch

We drove the short distance south to the Greenan Shore carpark. A few House Sparrows (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below) were on the bushes there as we set off along the shore towards the Castle, but the tide was in and the path was relatively busy with dog walkers, so it wasn’t too long before I decided we should cut our losses and head elsewhere. Just before we reached the car we came across a female Blackbird on a bush. It was so dull to the naked eye we could hardly make it out from about 8m away. I was able to get the right exposure settings though, so the photo shows more than we saw. We decided to go to Troon to have a go at finding the reported Water Pipit. As we left the car park I stopped and snapped a few shots of a Magpie on a bush by the roadside. By luck, a couple of Greenfinches joined it on the bush. The winter plumage  of males and females is almost identical but I’m identifying the one below as female as its plumage looks fairly dull.

House Sparrow Female Blackbird Magpie Greenfinch

Troon 

On arrival at the Harbour car park at the north end of the Ballast Bank, we could see the heads of at least 4 Grey Seals bobbing up and down 50m offshore. Our plan to seek out the Water Pipit was to follow the path below the Ballast Bank, towards the South Beach, as that was the stretch mentioned in reports. Our first sightings were of the ubiquitous Oystercatchers roosting, each with beak tucked under wing and one beady eye watching for danger. Close by, we were pleased to discover two other species of roosting birds. The first of these was the Purple Sandpiper , which inexperienced observers often mistake for the Redshank . To tell them apart, what I always look for is the leg colour: Redshanks have very orange legs, while Purple Sandpipers legs are a dull yellow. The other roosting species was the Golden Plover. Even in the very poor light their golden plumage was easily noticed.

Grey Seal Oystercatcher Purple Sandpiper Golden Plover

As we stood on the edge of the shore observing the birds on the rocky shore, our excitement levels were raised as we heard the cheeps of a Pipit coming from the boulders just ahead of us. When I eventually located it I was disappointed that it wasn’t a Water Pipit, but a Meadow Pipit . We were looking for a wee bird with almost plain white underparts, but this one had a streaked white underbelly. Then, suddenly, all the roosting birds we’d been watching went up, flying off to the south. Soon after we could see what had put them up. A lone canoeist paddle past, just beyond the rocks. At this we set off along the side of the Ballast Bank. All we saw along that stretch were a pair of squabbling Starlings.


Beyond the Ballast Bank we paused to take in the lovely view to the south. The light was dimming by the minute, although it was obviously brighter beyond Ailsa Craig.


A Shag flew past us travelling in the opposite direction, then a flock of Dunlin flew in to the rocks just before us. I then noticed that there were Golden Plover there too, perhaps they were some of the birds we saw earlier.
Shag Dunlin Dunlin Golden Plover

As I edged a bit closer, I saw that there were also Ringed Plovers  on the rocks, juveniles as well as adults. The juveniles have lighter plumage, duller legs and a weaker, or no, band across the chest. We had a good look for the Water Pipit in failing light, but to no avail. We headed back to the car. I photographed a Feral pigeon cavorting on the shore, and a Pied Wagtail as it darted across the damp sands. At the car park I got fairly close to a Herring Gull and also a Redshank (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Those were of final sightings of the visit.

Ringed Plover Juvenile Ringed Plover Feral Pigeon Pied Wagtail


Midway through the trip I had said to John that I felt as if we were trying to take photographs in the dark. That is how it felt. Still, we managed a fair haul of observations and, thanks to a decent camera and a little help from Photoshop, the pictures are passable. Of course, the indispensable part of every trip is our tea break, and this one was no different. The Danish pastries were delicious. As for the Water Pipit, I may catch up with it in the near future.

Pictures of the Week:
Goldfinch House Sparrow
Herring Gull Redshank


18th November : Skateraw and Belhaven Bay

We were delighted to hear from the Saturday evening weather report that Sunday was to be bright and mild right across the whole of the country. We hadn’t been East for 5 weeks, so I decided to head to the Dunbar area, although we were worried that the east coast may have been shrouded in mist. Of course, on the way we called in at Dalkeith Morrisons for some breakfast which we both enjoyed despite the kitchen getting my order slightly wrong (9/10).

Skateraw:

As the car rolled down the brae that leads to Skateraw Harbour, we were relieved to see the coast was clear of haar , although we could see a huge band of cloud low to the north and east (this would move in after we left). As we got out of the car John noticed that there was a freshly built memorial plaque just beyond the toilet block. It marks the site of a First World War airfield  where British war planes could make emergency landings. Our first bird sighting was, predictably, a handsome wee Redshank patrolling the rocky shore of Skateraw Harbour. Rock Pipits were also busy seeking out invertebrates hidden within masses of seaweed rotting on on the shingle shore. To the west we could see the Barns Ness lighthouse. Through the binoculars we could just make out crowds of cross-country runners tearing along the beach - hardly what you’d expect in a treasured natural environment.

Memorial Redshank Rock Pipit Barns Ness Lighthouse

We walked the short journey out to Chapel Point, passing briefly through a low patch of Wild Roses, now dying back as Autumn nears its end. We paused at another memorial, this time dedicated to the memory of six young men of the Canongate Boys’ Club who died in World War Two, and to their much respected leader, the Very Rev. RWVS Wright. Beyond the cross, on the rocks stretching out from the Point, a large variety of birds were gathered. We sat quietly and watched Mallards, and Turnstones fly past.

Wild Rose Canongate Memorial Mallard Turnstone

John was briefly confused by an unusual-shaped rock that managed to convince his brain that it was a Seal. I could see how it deceived him as it had a very rounded tip, which, on closer inspection was crusted in shellfish. Amongst the flocks of birds on the rocks I spotted Curlew, a few Ringed Plovers and lots of Oystercatchers.

Curlew Ringed Plover Oystercatcher

A hundred metres offshore we could see quite an unusual sight, a pair of guys in Kayaks, each with a pair of fishing rods. It was time to head back to the car. At the harbour slipway I snapped a nice little Pied Wagtail and also a male Linnet. As we drove out of the village I captured an image of a Carrion Crow at the west edge of the field that was used formerly as the WWI aircraft runway.

Pied Wagtail Linnet Carrion Crow

Belhaven Bay:

We parked in the Shore Road car park at Belhaven and climbed the large style over the dyke onto the footpath along the south end of Belhaven Bay. We were delighted that the sun was still shining brightly. It had a slightly golden hue, as shown by the view of the Bay, below. The tide had long since ebbed away leaving only a few birds on the sands. Among these was a Hooded Crow  that was foraging for whatever it could get. It was spooked by large party of dog walkers, which gave me a nice photo-opportunity. Another bird offered a chance of interesting shots. I noticed a Redshank was trying to consume a little silver fish it had caught (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). I wasn’t aware that Redshanks  ate fish - but apparently they do. Next we moved across to an area adjacent to the Belhaven Bay Caravan Park, where the Seafield Pond lies. Although it looks like an ornamental feature, it used to be a clay pit for local brickworks. A large juvenile Grey Heron was sitting on the near bank of the pond until a dog walker put it up (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Belhaven Bay Hooded Crow Redshank Grey Heron

On the grass just beyond the Heron a large flock of over 100 Wigeon were feeding. John excitedly drew my attention to a drake Mandarin duck he’d spotted on the water amongst Mallards and Tufties. It was some distance away from us, in the shade and against the light. We tried to sneak across the open area of short grass between the caravans and pond, but we couldn’t avoid spooking the Wigeon into the south end of the pond (see “Pictures of the Week”, below), and encouraging the Mandarin into the narrow section behind tall reeds. Sadly, it never re-emerged. Unlike the other birds, a family of Mute Swans crowded around us looking for food. They too were scared off by, yes you’ve guessed it, a dog whose careless owner had let it off the lead. The picture below shows the poor hissing Swan running back into the water. The Mallards watched on with interest.

Wigeon Mandarin Duck Mute Swan Mallard Drake

In a quiet wooded section by a caravan I noticed a lot of small birds moving on and off a couple of feeders. I managed a few shots of these passerines , including Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches and a Tree Sparrow 

Blue Tit Chaffinch Coal Tit Tree Sparrow

Back at the pond, a solitary female Goosander flew in from beyond the sea wall and, soon after, a large Herring Gull flew low overhead. An attractive Coot paddled very close, nodding as it went (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Having bagged over 40 potential subjects for this blog (not all made the “final cut” though), we decided to call it a day and made our way back around the pond. Unfortunately we had to unsettle a few more Wigeon on the way, gaining a few more nice shots though. Our final shot was of one of my favourite birds, that is so ugly it is beautiful, a Rook .

Female Goosander Herring Gull Wigeon Rook

What a fine day we had had with lots of interesting sights and pictures, especially at Belhaven. The weather had held up until just after we drove back west at late afternoon, when the cloud, that had been lurking low in the east, finally rolled in. But just before we left we enjoyed our customary Danish pastry and strong tea, rounding off a very successful outing.

Pictures of the Week:
Redshank Wigeon
Grey Heron Coot



11th November :

Troon and Irvine Harbour

The weather predictions for Central Scotland were not encouraging. A period of rain was to have cleared slowly from the west. I decided to go to the Ballast Bank at Troon and hoped conditions would improve as the afternoon progressed. We visited Stewartfield Morrisons cafe for breakfast (8/10, slow service) before travelling through some quite nasty weather, via the M77, to Troon.

Troon:

The rain had eased as we arrived in Troon. We noticed bird flocks busy on the shore near the North Shore Road car park. The light was very poor for photography, nevertheless, I was able to take some record shots of some small waders that were shuffling across the damp sand. Redshanks and Dunlin made up much of the flock but I also spotted a few Ringed Plover and the odd Oystercatcher. I also captured an image of rain-soaked Bittersweet berries (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Redshank Dunlin Ringed Plover Oystercatcher

We didn’t spend long at the North Shore Road as the rain was intensifying. Instead we drove along Harbour Road to the car park at the north end of Ballast Bank. We sat there in the car until the rain went off. The tide was coming in as we moved slowly along the north shore. A few Turnstones were picking their way along the shingle beach, foraging for invertebrates. We then came across a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull (2nd calendar year) fending off other smaller gulls that were after the large fish it had claimed. Anxious to consume it as quickly as possible before it could lose it to a more dominant gull, it tried to down it in one but try as it might, the fish was just too big. The Turnstones we had been watching earlier suddenly fled off around the harbour wall.

Turnstone 2nd Cycle GreaterBlack- backed Gull with Lunch Turnstone

A pair of very pretty drake Eider passed overhead heading south. John spotted the bobbing snout of a Grey Seal only about 20m out. We then decided to walk along the shore along the length of the Ballast Bank. A pair of Oystercatchers and a Redshank were standing in the rain. I wondered if they were as annoyed as us that it hadn’t cleared up by then.

Common Eider Grey Seal Oystercatcher Redshank

A Shag flew south. We discussed the quickest way of telling Shags from Cormorants. I always look at forehead, eyes and beak. In the Shag, the beak and forehead meet at a point rather than being on a continuous line. The Shag’s eye set in feathered plumage rather than edging onto an unfeathered area. Lastly, the Shag’s beak is slimmer and doesn’t have as prominent a hooked tip as that of a Cormorant. A wee Rock Pipit made a brief appearance. We had had an eye open for a reported Water Pipit  but it didn’t show, sadly. However, a small flock of Purple Sandpipers did make an appearance. They weren’t very skittish so I was able to get some close shots, albeit in poor light. Near the car I got a picture of a Starling, but the light was so low, and the rain was so unrelenting that we decided to move north to Irvine Harbour. We could see that it was much brighter there.

Shag Rock Pipit Purple Sandpiper Starling

Irvine Harbour :

We got a very sunny welcome at the Irvine Harbour car park as is shown by the panorama below. The sunlight broke through the rain clouds and created a double rainbow as it fell on the last of the raindrops 

.
Heartened by the presence of light, we set off along the path toward the mouth of the River Irvine. As we passed the “Bridge of Scottish Inventions” we saw a Shag sitting drying its wings, midstream on top of a metal post. Close to there, a Grey Seal, very like the one we saw at Troon, appeared for a short time before submerging and disappearing out of sight. A majestic adult Great Black-backed Gull  coasted past overhead to survey the sand dunes to the south of the river. Higher in the sky, and travelling in the opposite direction, a Coastguard rescue helicopter passed by, probably travelling from Prestwick to Glasgow airports.

Shag Grey Seal Great Black-backed Gull Coastguard
 
Next we got our first view of a Cormorant, a handsome specimen dashing down the Irvine, bathed in orange sunlight. Note the heavy hooked beak and shallow-sloping forehead. John was amused by a pavement Lottery sign that was pathetically bobbing at the edge of the water. Perhaps a customer was so disillusioned he chucked into the river, or maybe it was a mindless vandal. Next to the Coastwatch/toilet block, a fine-looking Herring Gull sat waiting for that tasty chip casually tossed from one of the many parked cars. At the viewpoint at the end of the walkway we got a dramatic and very picturesque, and amber, view of Ailsa Craig  some 50 miles to the south.

Cormorant Herring Gull Ailsa Craig

As we walked back to the car, a Red-breasted Merganser flew up stream, emptying its store of guano as it passed. Yet another Shag eyed us as I snapped it, while a few metres away, a Common Seal surfaced for a few moments until it noticed it was getting its picture taken. Note the “W” shaped nostrils and “dog-like” head, which are characteristics of the Common Seal. Our final shots were of a pair of birds that were hanging around the car as we prepared for tea, a Carrion Crow and a Jackdaw (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). They were lucky as I had kept a few bits of food from the morning’s breakfast. There was no way they were getting any of our pastries, but they were very enthusiastic when I chucked them bits of toast and fried bread - in competition with sharp-eyed gulls who wasted no time zooming in on the goodies.

Red-breasted Merganser Cormorant Common Seal Carrion Crow

We had endured another spell of miserable weather, but another fairly satisfactory day in terms of sightings. We had cream filled chocolate eclairs with our teas. We do hope for better weather next week.

Pictures of the Week:
Bittersweet Purple Sandpiper
Irvine Harbour Jackdaw


4th November

Stevenston and Saltcoats

Brighter weather was forecast for the west coast of Central Scotland so we made for “old faithful”, Stevenston. Our usual breakfast choices at the normally brilliant Stevenston Morrisons Cafe were disrupted by some annoying menu changes (7/10). On Stevenston Point we were surprised by the strength of the wind and roughness of the sea. The tide was high but ebbing and birds seemed unsettled by the conditions. As we got out of the car, a sizeable flock of small waders  flew north over the Point. These were mainly Ringed Plovers, Sanderlings and Dunlin. On the water south of the Point, many Black-headed Gulls were bobbing up and down and only very occasionally would they take to the wing (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).
Stevenston Headland Ringed Plover Sanderling Black-headed Gull

A 3rd cycle Herring Gull seemed perfectly at ease as it hovered in the wind. John pointed out that the waves had created sea foam, or spume, on the rocky shore. Next our attention was drawn to the concrete outflow that had emerged into view as the tide fell. A Redshank and 5 Purple Sandpipers  were wading in the shallow water over the concrete structure.
3rd Cycle Herring Gull  Spume Redshank Purple Sandpiper

A 1st cycle Herring Gull coasted over the choppy waters followed by a few Black-headed Gulls. A lone juvenile Oystercatcher with a dirty bill completed our observations on the Point as we’d decided to check out the Ardeer Quarry LNR , as we had not been there for a while. On arrival I got a couple of nice shots of a Mallard nicely lit by the low Autumn sun (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).
1st Cycle Herring Gull Black-headed Gull Oystercatcher Mallard

A family of Mute Swans looked right at home at the north end of the pond, but that was about it. The rest of the pond was very quiet, but then I spotted a flock of Curlew in what used to be a pitch and putt course. As we moved to a better position to photograph the Curlews I snapped a wee chattering Wren (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) and, in the same bush, a Robin and a Dunnock. Before we could get to the Curlews, a dog walker put them up. All was not lost though as they settled some 100m away, at a point we’d pass on our way around the reserve.
Mute Swan Wren Robin Dunnock

A few years ago the managers of the nearby Ardeer Peninsula  ordered a cull of “a three figure number” of Roe Deer. Since then, fewer Roe Deer have been seen in the Ardeer Quarry LNR. We didn’t see any on this visit. Many of the footpaths were lined with berry-laden Hawthorn bushes. We were disappointed not to find any Blackbirds, Thrushes or Starlings feeding on those red berries. As our mild Autumn continued I noticed a few flies were still about, some resting on oak leaves, lapping up the sunshine. The Curlews has moved on again from where we had seen them settle, however I did see some Great Tits were flitting about feeding in the high branches, but there were far fewer birds than we had expected. On our way back to the car though we passed the Curlew flock in the place we had first noticed it. They were fairly close and very well lit.
Hawthorn Berries Graphomya-Maculata Great Tit Curlew

Our final destination was Saltcoats Harbour. There was still a stiff breeze but the tide had receded a fair bit. Oystercatchers and Curlews were picking their way across the damp rocky shore. As we moved around the sea wall we passed an adult Herring Gull that was sitting rather regally on top of tall rock. John spotted a Seal bobbing up and down in the choppy waters some 50m offshore. I, sadly, didn’t catch it before it dived, never to be seen again.
Saltcoats Harbour Oystercatcher Curlew Herring Gull

The view to the north across South Bay to Ardrossan is dominated by the Ardrossan Wind Farm high above the town. As I photographed the windmills from the promenade,  a pair of Herring Gull were sounding off below me. What they were getting quite so animated about, I’m not sure, but it probably involved food. I snapped a few Turnstones  foraging amongst the seaweed. Back at the car, just as we settled for tea, our final picture of the day was of a young Starling that was moving in amber light about the car park picking up little morsels left by those messy humans.
Ardrossan Wind Farm Herring Gull Turnstone Starling

The tea was accompanied by a delicious vanilla and almond Danish pastry. We were fairly satisfied with our haul. Ardeer Quarry LNR was a bit of a let-down though. In the past we’ve seen a lot more there, such as Roe Deer, Buzzard and Kestrel. The local newspaper reported recently of regular anti-social behaviour in the Reserve . What a shame it might be having a bad effect on the consolidation of the site as a nature reserve.

Pictures of the Week:

Purple Sandpiper / Redshank Black-headed Gull
Mallard Wren

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