Archive - November 2023

Week ending: 26th November: Musselburgh and Morrison’s Haven

One word could be used to describe Sunday’s weather - dreich: miserable, cold and gloomy. The west was to be damp and dreich, so I opted for the east and John and I headed for Musselburgh. We stopped in at Dalkeith Morrisons for breakfast (8/10: tasty , but service was slow and the black puddings were over-cooked).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The tide was high and rising when we arrived at the mouth of the River Esk. There was a large number of Wigeons  on the river and on the grassy riverside.

On the river there were a few pretty lively Goldeneyes that were diving for food between bouts of chasing each other.

Female Goldeneye Drake Goldeneye

On the opposite side of the river there was a line of snoozing Redshanks and Turnstones on a concrete wall which was soon to be submerged by the rising tide.
Redshank / Turnstone

After I parked the car we planned to walk by the sea wall on our way to the first hide in the “new scrapes”. The Esk mouth was very quiet apart from a few Turnstones and a few Rock Pipits. As you might expect, with winter on the way, there were very few flowers to be seen around the pathways, only Tall Melilot, Yarrow  and Red and White Clover were still in bloom.

Turnstone Rock Pipit
Tall Melilot Yarrow
Red Clover White Clover

On entering the first hide we were treated to a flypast of 100+ Bar-tailed Godwits.

The Godwits circled the far end of the scrapes before settling there. We were so taken with that spectacle that we missed a Grey Heron that was standing on a bank of the moat just in front of us. Luckily I got a snap as it flew away when we inadvertently spooked it. There were lots of Oystercatchers standing on the shingle and a rather distant Shelduck on the water. A lot nearer was a juvenile Mute Swan that paddled past us on the moat.

Bar-tailed Godwit Grey Heron
Shelduck Juvenile Mute Swan

We moved to the next hide where we noticed Black-headed Gulls lined up on the far side of the reserve.

A Greylag Goose and an adult Mute Swan were on the moat and a Redshank was treading along the moat’s edges. John noticed a bedraggled female Mallard struggling to leave the moat. In our short walk back to the car I snapped a Robin that was hiding in a hedge. We also passed a Herring Gull that was “dancing for worms”. 

Greylag Goose Mute Swan
Redshank Female Mallard
Robin Herring Gull

I drove around to the Levenhall Links car park, and from there we walked to the part of the Levenhall Links Nature Reserve, known widely as “the Old Scrapes” (as opposed to the scrapes we visited earlier, “the New Scrapes”). On the way, I manage a shot of a Blue Tit in trees by the path. Inside the reserve, we started at the middle hide, but we were disappointed to find that most of it had iced over. However our disappointment soon turned to joy when we realised that some some of the birds that should have been on and around the water, were actually foraging on the grassy areas in front of the hide. We were then pleased to see Redshanks, a Curlew and Oystercatchers at close range. Slightly further away, between scrapes, a group of Wigeon were feeding, and there was a pair of Roe Deer in the grass beyond the back scrape.

Blue Tit Redshank
Curlew Oystercatcher
Wigeon Roe Deer

John scanned the right-most hide and scrapes with his binoculars. He was of the opinion that there were Dunlin quite near the front of the right-most hide, and when we moved to there we found that he was right.

There weren’t many other birds at the right-most hide apart from Redshanks skating on the ice, so we relocated to the left-most hide. There we found that there was a multitude of birds that were enjoying ice-free water. As I photographed Lapwings, a group of Wigeons flew in and joined the Wigeons that were already on the scrape. The commotion seemed to have startled some Common Snipe  from their hiding places near the hide causing them to run towards the scrape.

Redshank Lapwing
Wigeon Common Snipe

Meanwhile a fight broke out among the Wigeons, probably involving the recent arrivals.

Some Teal were caught in the middle of the fight but when it was over they resumed their dabbling. Arriving late to the action was a mean-looking Curlew that descended onto the grass near a Lapwing which stood exuding a couldn’t-care-less attitude. John then reported that he had spotted an unfamiliar duck near the far bank of the scrape. I managed a record shot that showed it was a winter plumage Long-tailed Duck . A Shelduck then left the water to stretch its legs on the grass. Satisfied with our sightings at the scrapes, we returned to the car. Before I started the engine John pointed out that the bushes next to the car were hosting 7 or 8 feeding Bullfinches. I grabbed my camera and managed a few decent shots of them despite the poor light.

Teal Curlew / Lapwing
Long-tailed Duck Shelduck
Male Bullfinch Female Bullfinch

We moved to our final location, a few hundred meters east of the scrapes: Morrison’s Haven. The light was worsening by the minute. However after a quick survey of the immediate coastline I accumulated shots of Cormorants on the rocks, a White Wagtail nipping along the seawall and a juvenile Red-breasted Merganser that was diving close to the wall, much closer than others in its group. I followed that with a record of the Turnstones on rocks and seaweed piles. John then completed his hat-trick of great spots with a sighting of a distant Slavonian Grebe.

Cormorant White Wagtail
Juvenile Red Breasted Merganser Turnstone...
Slavonian Grebe

The trip was very enjoyable despite the dreich conditions. Of course we’d have liked glorious sunshine, but we were thankful it didn’t rain. We saw plenty of birds and my favourites were the Goldeneyes, Godwits, Snipe and Shelduck and it was nice to see the Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe. We enjoyed our teas and strawberry tarts in a gloomy Morrisons Haven car park. Creatures of habit we are

Week ending: 19th November 2023: Barns Ness

With my WeatherPro app predicting that Sunday’s weather for Central Scotland would be cloudy in the west and sunny in the east, it was a simple decision to head for Barns Ness, which we last visited 10 weeks ago. The only slight downside to this was that the tide would be very low during our visit, and hence the sea birds would generally be quite far from the footpath. Of course, our first activity of the day was to visit Dalkeith Morrisons for our usual small breakfasts (9/10: very good, but -1 for overcooked bacon).

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

On arrival at the Barns Ness car park, the Sun was out and so was the tide. We began our circuit of the site on the damp, rocky bay in front of the car park, which seemed birdless at first, but after a few minutes, we realised that there were quite a few birds foraging in the rock pools and soft mud. Before too long I had photographs of Oystercatchers, Carrion Crows and a distant Grey Heron, spotted by John.

Oystercatcher Redshank
Carrion Crow Grey Heron

I noticed a Common Gull that was sitting on a rock overlooking a feeding Curlew. Probably the gull was eyeing-up whatever the Curlew was feeding on. John then pointed out a few Rock Pipits that were fluttering about the shore. A Little Egret  came into view about 100 m from us and soon after that, a second Little Egret was spotted about 50 m to the west. As we passed the lighthouse, a Curlew flew past carrying a crab in its beak. Unfortunately it landed behind a rock, out of view. We next cast our gaze into the blue sky when, high over our heads, a large flock of Golden Plovers circled for a short time before vanishing to the east. At the other side of the lighthouse we were pleased to see a Stonechat that was surveying the grassland from the top of a leafless bush.

Common Gull Rock Pipit
Little Egret Curlew
Golden Plover Stonechat

 Below is the view of the lighthouse. The Stonechat was in the field to the left of the path.

We walked along the path by the field and eventually were able to access the extensive beach. Unfortunately the sky had clouded over but while we sat on the beach we heard, and then saw a flock of over 100 Greylag Geese flying over the open-cast excavation that is south of the Ness. Sadly they were silhouetted against the grey sky, but I managed to process a shot to show the familiar markings of the Greylags. After a few minutes sitting on our wee 3-legged stools, by the sand dunes, Redshanks and Starlings reappeared to feed on the piles of seaweed that was washed up on several areas of the beach. Then, much to our surprise, a Little Egret descended on the rocky shore only about 40 m from where we were sitting. It foraged about for a bit (note the yellow feet) and then flew off to the east.

Greylag Goose...
Redshank Starling
Little Egret...

Looking along the horizon one cannot miss the huge wind turbines now generating electricity from The Neart na Gaoithe Offshore Wind Farm.

As we continued our observations from our stools I photographed several flypasts of Curlew, Starlings, Oystercatchers and Herring Gulls chasing Carrion Crows.

Curlew Starling
Oystercatcher Herring Gull / Carrion Crow

A flock of around 50 Sanderlings flew in from the east and settled at the water’s edge which was about 100m from where we were sitting.

Because they were so far away and so small, the Sanderlings were difficult to see when they were standing on the shore but were fairly easy to see when they flew in a group. Close to them there was a bird that puzzled us at first, but turned out to be a female Eider. No problems though when observing the distant but familiar pose of the Cormorant with outstretched wings or the large and ubiquitous Grey Heron. Nor did we have troubled identifying the tiny Pied Wagtails and Linnets that were right in front of us on the seaweed piles.

Sanderling Female Eider
Cormorant Grey Heron
Pied Wagtail Linnet

As the sky darkened we headed back to the car via the southern boundary, through the old caravan park. On the way I was on the lookout for any wildflowers but all I managed was a few Common Daisies and some yellow Gorse. A Yellowhammer  kept an eye on us near the boundary wall and, very obligingly, posed calmly as I snapped away. We stopped briefly where the wall meets the conifer wood and I came across some Grey Knight  fungi growing through the short grass.

Common Daisy Gorse
Yellowhammer Grey Knight

John spotted a hybrid Carrion X Hooded Crow  sitting on conifers by the boundary wall. Shortly after that, John noticed a pretty and solitary Harebell that was partially hidden by grass. He suggested it would make a nice shot. We finished at the old caravan park with a very pleasing shot of a Kestrel that flew in from the shore onto trees beside the derelict caravan park. Our final sighting was of a noisy and nervous flock of Goldfinches that were assembled on the top branches of a tall and leaf-less tree.

Carrion x Hooded Crow Hybrid Harebell
Kestrel Goldfinch

As we approached them they fled from the tree onto telephone cables above the car park approach road. From there they flew into the trees on which we saw the Kestrel.

This was a visit that started quietly but, despite the clouds rolling in, kept giving us nice surprises such as Little Egrets, Golden Plovers, Greylags, Sanderlings, Yellowhammer, Kestrel and Goldfinches. Before driving home we took our tea and strawberry tarts with a sense of satisfaction. The weather has been mild for the time of year but much colder weather is predicted for next week, so it looks like we may be needing our thermal underwear next Sunday

Week ending: 12th November 2023: Belhaven Bay, Dunbar Harbour and Port Seton

My nature-watching exploits started a day early this week, when, on Saturday, over 100 beautiful and hungry Waxwings descended on rowanberry-rich Silver Birch trees in Mossend, North Lanarkshire. I therefore joined a large group of like-minded people with with big lensed cameras to fill my camera with images of these very photogenic fliers, the best of which are shown below. A few passers-by enquired as to what all the fuss was about, and I explained that these were infrequent visitors from Scandinavia, rather confusingly called “Bohemian Waxwings ”, since Bohemia is an historical region of the Czech Republic. However the term “bohemian” implies “wanderer”, which does seem a relevant term for these birds.

On Sunday, the weather was to stay sunny longest in the east, and since a visit to Dunbar was overdue, I chose there. Unfortunately John was not able to join me, but nevertheless I headed for Dalkeith Morrisons and enjoyed a very nice breakfast before driving down the A1 to the Shore Road car park in Belhaven.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

The tide was steadily rising in Belhaven Inner Bay but it was shallow enough for waders such as Curlew, Oystercatchers and Redshanks. Also, about 20 Wigeons were dabbling in the deepening waters and some birds were flying nearer the sea wall, including a Rook that passed above me cawing loudly. Making a good deal more noise than the Rook was an aeroplane doing aerobatics above the Bay. Thankfully it left fairly quickly.

Curlew Redshank
Oystercatcher Wigeon

Below is the view over Belhaven Inner Bay looking towards the Bass Rock. Note the surfers, of which there were many across the whole site.

A family of Mute Swans were on the grass at the start of the pond area. A few Mallards were there also, but a large number of Wigeon were dominating the scene as they nibbled the grass. I walked past them carefully and, from a safe distance, I turned and fired off a few shots. I continued until the inevitable unleashed dog stormed in causing the birds to take to the water. In the mix on the water I spotted two juvenile Wigeons.

Mure Swan Mallard
Wigeon Juvenile Wigeon

I walked around the pond perimeter towards the southern end. A few Tufted Ducks , as well as Coots, were on the middle of the pond. At the southern-most end of the pond I noticed a couple of feeders upon which some Blue Tits were pecking at the peanuts. A few Teal  were resting at the water’s edge, soaking up the sunlight.

Tufted Duck Coot
Blue Tit Teal

 I found a parking space at Dunbar Harbour and walked around the perimeter. The view from the Battery showed the stiff breeze and choppy sea pounding the little islands to the north. I suppose the Gulls, Cormorants and Shags were probably lapping it up.

There wasn’t much bird action to be seen from the harbour walls, but there were Herring Gulls in the harbour basin and I snapped a wee Wren that was nipping around the stacked lobster creels. A pair of young Herring Gulls were in a dispute over what looked like a small fish.

Herring Gull Wren
3rd Cycle Herring Gull 1st Cycle Herring Gull

A couple of small fishing boats chugged into the harbour - which left me wondering , nay, hoping if a Seal would follow them in.

I was delighted then, when a big Grey Seal surfaced right in the centre of the harbour basin. It was too bad for “Sammy” that the boats had passed into the deeper recesses of the harbour, probably inaccessible to it. However the Seal hung about posing for a time before vanishing beneath the surface. A lovely wee Tabby cat appeared beside me probably looking for a tit-bit, but I decided to head for Port Seton. However soon after leaving the harbour car park, I stopped briefly to take a picture of the view over Belhaven Bay looking towards the Bass Rock.

Grey Seal...

On arrival at Port Seton I parked at the Wrecked Craigs and was disappointed to see no rocks, only water. However when I walked up to the sea wall barriers I saw that there were Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Turnstones feeding furiously on piles of seaweed, out of east view just below the seawall. As I photographed these, a Rock Pipit appeared on the seaweed. Also I heard, from behind me, the familiar cheeps of a Pied Wagtail. I was, at first, pleased to see a female Eider  sitting on the seaweed. It was only when I looked at the photo that I saw she was injured.

Oystercatcher Redshank
Turnstone Rock Pipit
Female Pied Wagtail Female Eider

A small group of Eider paddled passed, but the injured Eider didn’t join them. I walked toward the harbour and found more birds: Turnstones, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and another Rock Pipit feasting on and around another seaweed pile.

Drake Eider Female Eider
Turnstone Redshank
Rock Pipit Oystercatcher

After the excitement of photographing the Waxwings on Saturday, Sunday’s visit seems a bit “run of the mill”. However, on reflection, it is always satisfying seeing any seabirds, especially under blue skies. I enjoyed watching the Grey Seal in Dunbar Harbour and my close encounter with the Wigeons at Seafield. I had a wee chocolate biscuit and a cup of strong tea before returning home. Hopefully next week will bring further nature-watching excitement - and more blue skies

Week ending: 5th November 2023: Ardmore Point

Dull and rainy conditions were predicted for Sunday at both the Lothian coast and the Ayrshire coast. However, rather unusually, dry, sunny weather was predicted for Dumbarton, more specifically, Ardmore Point, Cardross. So after breakfast in Dumbarton Morrisons cafe (5/10: very poor. Food cold, uncleared tables, damp floor (I could go on)), that’s where we went.

Courtesy of Weather Pro  and BBC Tides

On arrival at the Ardmore parking area, the tide was high and the sky was overcast. Normally these would be signs that we were in for an unproductive visit so we were pleasantly surprised that we had accumulated nearly a dozen sightings within the first 100m of our usual circuit around the Ardmore peninsula. I started snapping at the bird feeder outside the cottage at the entrance to Ardmore House where we saw a Coal Tit and a Blue Tit tucking into peanuts. There was a Robin on the eaves of the cottage and we could see lots of Greenfinches in the nearby trees. A female Greenfinch conveniently descended onto the tall grass and there was a Goldfinch lurking in a low bush. A large Starling flock were feeding on the foreshore but as we reached them a dog spooked them into a tree. John spotted a Great Tit briefly checking if the coast was clear.

Coal Tit / Blue Tit Robin
Female Greenfinch Goldfinch
Starling Great Tit

Next we came across more Greenfinches, a male and a juvenile. Also I got a Blue Tit in my viewfinder and the resulting image caught it just as it took off from its tree branch. John then noticed activity in the neighbouring field where a small flock of feeding Oystercatchers were disturbed by a passing helicopter.

Greenfinch Juvenile Greenfinch
Blue Tit Oystercatcher

There were also some Curlew in the field and a large number of Canada Geese in the next field. While I was photographing them, John excitedly, declared that a beautiful Little Egret was flying towards us along the coast. It landed briefly about 50 m from where we were sitting. Although we had photographed Little Egrets before, we had never seen them at Ardmore. We continued along the path pausing to photograph a Pied Wagtail on the rocks, and an inquisitive Robin perched in a low bush.

Curlew Canada Goose
Little Egret...
Pied Wagtail Robin

John’s binoculars then picked up a flying line of around 20 Whooper Swans  quite a distance to the east.

We’d a much closer flypast when a big Grey Heron flew in and landed at the water’s edge. That was followed by a flypast of a trio of Mallards. These took my eyes towards a lone Eider diving about 200 m away. We then negotiated a bit of the path where bushes and high vegetation obscured our view of the sea from which we emerged to the pleasant scene of a Curlew and a pair of Oystercatchers standing on top of a rocky outcrop. A Shag and a winter-plumage Goldeneye were diving about 50m from the shore.

Grey Heron Mallard
Drake Eider Curlew / Oystercatcher
Shag Goldeneye

When we reached the north side of the Point, I photographed a Common Gull by the water’s edge and a Blackbird that was hiding in a pathside tree. A winter-plumage Red-throated Diver suddenly surfaced near the shore but soon dived only to resurface much further out. John spotted a wee Wren darting across the path and disappearing in the undergrowth. It made a brief reappearance, probably unaware that I was waiting for it.

Common Gull Blackbird
Red-throated Diver Wren

Below is the view to the north-east over the Firth of Clyde looking towards the Gare Loch.

We watched an injured Oystercatcher limping across the sands while a close-by Herring Gull was watching us as it foraged in a seaweed pile. Another Oystercatcher with an opened-up shellfish scurried away to eat it in peace, away from the competition.

Oystercatcher... Herring Gull

Looking across the bay we noticed that there were around 20 Wigeon dabbling in the middle of the bay.

We sat for a while to look across the bay where we could see a large number of birds were gathered including around 30 Shelducks lining the opposite side of the bay.

We resumed our trek and I noticed that some Red Campions were still in bloom. John paused and trained his bins on “two tiny dots” on the shrubbery. They were Stonechats. The male bird obligingly positioned himself on top of a Gorse bush. It’s mate was less bold. I then heard the unmistakable call of a Nuthatch and soon had it in my viewfinder, the first time we’d seen one at Ardmore. It was moving erratically on heavy, lichen-covered branches on the dark side of a tall tree, but I managed a few decent-enough shots. Soon after that encounter, from the corner of my eye I glimpsed yet another first at Ardmore, a Treecreeper, in fact two Treecreepers searching the moss-laden tree trunk and branches for invertebrates.

Red Campion Stonechat
Nuthatch Treecreeper

Just before we entered the last part of the circuit, which took us away from the North Bay, we looked back over the Bay to admire the wonderful Autumn panorama.

The final stretch of path was fenced with trees to the right and open fields to the left. I snapped a female Chaffinch that was hiding in a low bush, followed by a macro shot of Turkeytail fungus that had sprouted at the base of a tree. John noticed House Sparrow activity near the paths end, probably due to the feeder we’d photographed at the start of our walk. At first we thought the cock Sparrow was a Tree Sparrow but it’s head markings were wrong. It was in fact a House Sparrow. We ended the day with two Corvids - A Rook and a Carrion Crow.

Female Chaffinch Turkeytail
Female House Sparrow Male House Sparrow
Rook Carrion Crow
We were fortunate that the rain never materialised and the Sun made several lengthy appearances. We observed 35 species, three of which were new to us at Ardmore - the Little Egret, Nuthatch and Treecreeper, we celebrated in the usual fashion by consuming strawberry tarts with strong tea. With a changeable weather forecasted for the whole of next week let’s hope we are as fortunate next Sunday.

Highlights - November 2023

We present this month’s gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during November 2023. 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.










Back To Top