Archive - October 2018

28th October

Ardmore Point

With clear blue skies predicted in the West of Scotland, we headed for Ardmore Point, west of Dumbarton. We hadn’t visited there since May so we were looking forward to trekking around the small peninsula. The day started on a poor note though as at Dumbarton Morrisons John’s breakfast was very slow in making an appearance (7/10). Undeterred we pressed on to the Point where we found conditions were idyllic, all we needed were the delights of nature to turn up.
We set off and straight away we noted that the South Bay was very quiet. We had to walk a few hundred meters before I got our first captures. Most wild flowers had died back as autumn progressed into winter, but by the side of the path, almost hidden in the long grass, a lonely Yarrow wildflower was still in bloom. Lining the fence, stretches of Blackberries were ripening. None of the berries had actually turned black though, and whether or not they do would surely depend on escaping the ravages of winter frost. A bit further on I snapped a Prickly Sow Thistle, another late flower. The first bird we encountered was 50m beyond the flowers, a Herring Gull floating against the light near the shore. Then another 50m on, we startled a flock of Canada Geese  that had been grazing in a field. They rather obligingly flew over our heads, providing me with a great photo-opportunity (see “Pictures of the Week”, below)

Yarrow Prickly-sow Thistle Herring Gull Canada Geese

The low sun lit a wee Chaffinch sitting in a bush by the shore. It flew off fairly quickly but drew my eyes to a silhouetted Cormorant drying its wings. We were about halfway round and the sightings were disappointingly sparse. In the distance was the beautiful sight of Helensburgh nestling near the mouth of the Gareloch (which leads to Faslane ), with ochre-coloured hills in the background. The only birds we could now see were a large flock of Eider at least 400m offshore towards Greenock on the south side of the Estuary. We heard them before we saw them, their “hu-whooo, hu-whooo” calls being very distinctive.

Chaffinch Cormorant Helensburgh Eider

The path then passed through a large patch of Gorse, most of which was over 6 ft high. We immediately came upon a feisty Robin, that was almost silhouetted by the sunlight. There was some sort of stand-off going on between it and another Robin some 20m away, as it seemed to ignore us for a bit before flying off towards the interloper. The Gorse was now producing seeds, with only a few yellow flowers evident. We also saw a large shrub with red berries and dark green waxy leaves (yet to be identified). As we approached the North Bay we were hoping for better luck with the birds as we had walked a long way without seeing very much. Another Herring Gull, better lit, floated close in and looking at us rather impassively, before flying off after another Gull.

Robin Gorse Berries? Herring Gull

John spotted a Great Crested Grebe too far out for a decent picture and, closer in, a Shag that was arduously working the water. I’ve got to admit we find difficulty at times distinguishing Shags from Cormorants. I think everyone does though. As we walked along edge of the North Bay, the story was the same, very few birds. It wasn’t until we reached where the path cuts back across fields to the car park that things started to heat up. The remaining pictures below were all taken within the final 30 minutes of our journey. First of these was of the familiar Oystercatcher, nicely reflected in the waters of the advancing tide. Next a lippy lady walker scolded us (jokingly) for resting low on our stools and missing a Curlew lurking close by in the salt marsh.

Shag Oystercatcher Redshank Curlew

We were about to traverse the fields, past some grazing Clydesdales , when a pair of young scopers directed us to the east end of the bay where they had seen a Little Egret . “That’ll do me”, I thought and proceeded cautiously along the edge of the bay and found a suitable point to sit and observe the birds in that area. It was fairly busy (at last!). Curlews and Teal were coming and going. We found the Little Egret, but it was distant at the most easterly point and had edged out of view on the south shore.

Clydesdale Horse Curlew Female Teal Little Egret

We crept a bit closer to the area where the Egret was and managed to find a natural hide behind a slightly raised bank. From there we intended to wait for the reappearance of the Egret. As we waited though, I managed shots of a passing Carrion Crow, Shelduck, Dunlin and Teal, male and female (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). The icing on the cake, suppose, were pictures of close fly pasts of Lapwings bathed in the now orange-tinted light of the descending sun. These birds were probably migrants from the west of the European continent.

Carrion Crow Shelduck Dunlin Drake Teal

As we were approaching the end of our walk. We were genuinely considering how we could get enough for a blog this week. We should’ve known better. It is not uncommon to get the majority of one’s photos in one short spell, especially if circumstances concentrate all of the possible sightings in a small area, such as just happened when the high tide pushed the birds to the east of the Bay. So “all’s we’ll that ends well” - and, at risk of gilding the lily, we rounded it off with tea and Danish Pastry sitting under blue sky, warm sun and no wind - as usual, not to detract from the day’s successes, it was the best bit!

Pictures of the Week:

Blackberry Canada Goose
Teal Lapwing

21st October 2018:

Troon Harbour, Pow Burn

We had great weather for last week’s outing but I kinda knew it wouldn’t last. My weather app was telling me the whole of Central Scotland was to be wet, wet, wet - at least until mid-afternoon. We headed west as the poor weather seemed to be clearing there first. I fancied Troon as the car park overlooks the sea and shore so we’d be able to watch, and photograph from the shelter of the car. We called in at the Kilmarnock ASDA cafe for our customary breakfasts, which were ok, but not great 7/10 (cold beans and bacon and a drippy teapot).

Troon Harbour:

When we arrived at Troon it was “fair drookit”, as we say (very wet) in Scotland. As we sat in the car scanning the damp panorama, John spotted the “Roman nose” snout of a Grey Seal bobbing in the sea, about 30m out.  We saw a few more after that. Eventually the rain went off after about a half hour, dry enough for a stroll along the sparsely populated shore. Just the odd Herring Gull and Oystercatcher braved the conditions. A flock of Greenfinches was skirting the high harbour wall from which they tentatively risked dropping to the sand below to feed. Most of the dozen or so birds were juveniles. A pair of Eiders bolted past, north into the harbour. As we were just leaving the shore, I saw a wee Rock Pipit  hopping along the rocks by the wall (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Grey Seal Herring Gull Greenfinch Eider

A pair of lost-looking Black-headed Gulls stood motionless on the rocks, as we moved slowly toward the north end of the wall, where we could see Shags were perching, occasionally one would launch itself out over the waves, others were returning onto the wall to dry out and digest their food. We put up a small flock of Ringed Plover that had been camouflaged in the shingle. I think they surprised us as much as we surprised them. I managed a nice shot of a passing Oystercatcher just as the rain returned. We quickly headed back in to car, picking up a snap of a still-flowering Scentless Mayweed, which, in Scandinavia, is called Baldr’s Brow.

Black-headed Gull Shag Oystercatcher Scentless Mayweed

Pow Burn:

We decided to cut our losses and move a short drive south, where it looked brighter, to Pow Burn near Prestwick. When we arrived, it was dull but dry and just by the car there was a striking patch of Broom laden with black seed pods. On our short route towards the Burn we came across several flowers of interest, including Knapweed, Michaelmas Daisy and Creeping Thistle. In the UK, the latter is considered to be an “injurious weed”, but the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay lists Creeping Thistle as one of the sources of the ingredients of its gin.

Broom Common Knapweed Michaelmas Daisy Creeping Thistle

The surface of the bridge over the Pow Burn was covered with a 1cm deep puddle of water. We picked our way across and noticed several Mallards on the Burn, getting quite excited about something. A Redshanks was making its way along the water’s edge picking out invertebrates as it went. As we walked around the high ground that follows the route of the Burn, I spotted a wee Dunnock sitting in a bush. Across the burn, in the long grass, a couple of male Pheasants caught my eye. As you might have noticed its picture below, the sun was now shining (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). John saw a third Pheasant in the same area.

Mallard Redshank Dunnock Pheasant

On the short grass of a practice area for golfers of the Prestwick Golf Club, we came across three fungi: Clustered Brittlestem , Shaggy Inkcap  and Stunted Cavalier. Just as I’d finished gathering fungi pictures, a handsome drake Mallard passed overhead. I have always thought that Mallards are very underrated, perhaps because there are so many of them.

Clustered Brittlestem Shaggy Inkcap Stunted Cavalier Mallard

On the Pow Burn, a pair of juvenile Wigeon were lapping up the sunshine. The bird nearest to the camera had a dark green shading over and behind its eyes. At the time, this reminded me of the markings of the drake American Wigeon , but I’ve since come to believe it was a male juvenile Eurasian Wigeon. Just as we had been discussing how quiet Prestwick airport had been, a huge, roaring, Canadian military aircraft took off and put up most of the Wigeon and Oystercatchers that had been on the Burn. Interestingly, the Redshanks weren’t spooked. Neither was a Little Grebe as it continued with its dives for little fish.

Juvenile Wigeon Globemaster III Wigeon Little Grebe

After the plane had gone, the Burn looked rather more vacant, as it now only held only a few Teal and, standing on the muddy banks with the Redshanks, I saw a pair of Greenshanks . More grey-coloured, and with light green legs, they hardly moved the whole time we were there. At the mouth of the Burn we saw a family of Mute Swans. I think that was the first time over many years, we’d seen Swans there. On our trek back to the car, I was keeping an eye, and both ears, open for Stonechats. I wasn’t disappointed as one turned up on the tall grass of the beach dunes. The light was behind it, however, but Photoshop helped a bit with lightening the picture. My final shot of the day was of a rain-soaked Large Bindweed (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Teal Greenshank Mute Swan Stonechat

Our trip had started slowly in gloomy weather, but as the day progressed, and the weather improved, it fairly livened up and, at the car, a crescendo was reached, as John produced some of his home baking - sultana and apple strudel, which went down a treat with strong tea. By the end we had accumulated enough sightings for two blogs. We hope you’ve enjoyed the selection we’ve published here.

Pictures of the Week:

Rock Pipit Pow Burn
Wigeon Large Bindweed

14th October 2018:

Stevenston, Saltcoats, Irvine Harbour

For the first time in a few weeks, bright, dry weather was predicted for the West of Scotland, so we decided to visit our favourite trio of sites on the North Ayrshire coast - Stevenson, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour. But first we stopped off at Stevenston Morrisons cafe and enjoyed a pair of excellent breakfasts:10/10 - highly recommended if you’re ever in the area.
As we drove onto Stevenston Point, the sun hadn’t quite broken through but I did notice a Skylark scurrying in the grass. I managed to stop and snap it from my driver’s seat. The tide was low and several Cormorants were on the rocks drying their wings. One in particular drew our interest as its back was pure black, in contrast to the rest of its plumage which was a rather dark, metallic, copper-colour. Perhaps it was immature. Next, three large Mute Swans took to the air, no doubt encouraged by the usual Sunday dog walkers looming nearby. As they passed I could see the sunlight wasn’t too far away as across the Firth of Clyde lovely Arran was now illuminated.

Skylark Cormorant Mute Swan The Isle of Arran

The first sunbeams of sunlight uncovered a Grey Heron lurking in the rocks to the left of the Cormorants. It was the first time we had seen one there. The birds seemed to be livened by the brightness. A handsome Redshank picked its way through shallow pools below us, and a pair of Eider sped past south. I picked up a fairly large flock of Sanderlings flying in the opposite direction before coming to rest on the beach amongst some Gulls on a sandy spit. For once we were willing the dog walkers to disturb them so that they might fly back to the Point. It didn’t happen.

Grey Heron Redshank Eider Sanderling

On the south side of the Point I managed a couple of pictures of Pipits. The first was of a Meadow Pipit, with its light, creamier look. On the rocks, I captured a shot of the more drab Rock Pipit. Next, I was attracted by the familiar cheeps of a Grey Wagtail (surely a more apt name would be the Yellow-rumped Wagtail). I traced its calls to shoreline rocks. Our final capture on the Point was of a pair of Mute Swans (probably the ones we’d seen earlier) that were beautifully silhouetted by the now strong sunlight behind them.

Meadow Pipit Rock Pipit Grey Wagtail Mute Swan

Just up the coast from Stevenston we parked the car at Saltcoats Harbour and immediately came across a Curlew foraging close in on the rocks. It seemed to be used to people passing as it was unconcerned by our attention. A Feral Pigeon was a bit more wary, keeping its eyes on me until I was out of sight. No such worries for the “gallus” Herring Gull. I was at the close limit of my camera lens and it couldn’t have cared less. But most skittish were the Starlings. They were up and away at the mere flick of a wrist.

Curlew Feral Pigeon Herring Gull Starling

Walking along the north side of the harbour we could see (against the sunlight) many birds making the most of the low tide feeding opportunities before the tide came in. Oystercatchers were perhaps the most noticeable, and noisiest, as they searched the rock pools. A large group of Ringed Plovers were joined by a single Sanderling. A single Black-headed Gull stood motionless in the midst of the activity as if it had already had its fill. Most of the Redshanks present were roosting in a group but one was climbing over large rocks searching for titbits.

Oystercatcher Sanderling Black-headed Gull Redshank

I was a bit disappointed not to have seen Purple Sandpipers on the rocks of Saltcoats Harbour, and there were no Terns or Gannets. Although very pleasant, it all seemed a bit quiet. We drove to Irvine Harbour for a short visit and as we stepped out of the car we just missed out on a picture of a Seal close to the walkway. There seemed to very little else on the river. The closest birds we could see, some Lapwings, were about 200m away. It was with some delight then when a Cormorant flew past us up the river. Then I noticed, just across the Irvine, a Great Black-backed Gull. We decided to take a stroll up to the river mouth. A noisy Black-headed Gull passed us at just above head height. Most likely it was checking us out for bread.

Lapwing Cormorant Great Black-backed Gull Black-headed Gull

All we saw on our walk were a pair of Rooks on a tower of security cameras (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). As we returned to the car I caught an Oystercatcher bolting downstream over a magnificent preening Mute Swan. John pointed out that well beyond them (~200m), three Seals were sitting on a platform over away on the Garnock. My camera managed an image good enough to distinguish the Seals. I think the right and centre Seals have “doggy-like” heads and are Common Seals and the left, from its “Roman nose”, is a Grey Seal . Our last picture of the visit was of a flock of Feral Pigeons that circled the car park just as we were settling down on our stools, preparing tea.

Oystercatcher Mute Swan Common / Grey Seals Feral Pigeons

It had been an enjoyable trip with a few highlights such as the Sanderlings and Seals, and a few pleasing photographs had been taken (see below). Definite highlights were the cream-filled fruited scones from Morrisons which, with lovely strong tea, drew the expedition to a very satisfactory conclusion. And of course the blue skies had helped to make it one of those outings made us feel that it was a pity we had to go home.

Pictures of the Week:

Meadow Pipit Starling
Rooks. Ralph and Roger!! Feral Pigeon

7th October 2018:


With an approaching weather front moving in from the Atlantic set to drench Central Scotland, we travelled east to Dalkeith Morrisons for breakfast. As we dined (9/10), the weather seemed to be darkening and it had started to spitting with rain. We decided to cut our losses and opt for Musselburghrather than travelling further east where the weather may have been just as bad. In the recent weeks, I had visited Musselburgh searching for even a record shot of the White-winged Scoter  but I had always arrived after it had left. “Maybe this time”, I said to John.

We parked on the approach road into Levenhall Links and walked down to the sea wall just to the east of the Scrapes. The first bird we saw was a Cormorant perched on top a yellow sewage outlet. Not surprisingly, a good place to find birds.  “There’s Sammy!”, roared John, our code for “There’s a Seal”, in this case, a Common Seal. It was fairly close to the the wall, but the light was poor. Next, an adult Gannet swept past without diving. About 150m offshore we spotted a small flock of Velvet Scoter. I scanned the flock to determine if one of them was the White-winged Scoter - sadly not.

Cormorant Common Seal Gannet Velvet Scoter

The tide was reaching its high point and birds were pouring on to the Scrapes. They were mainly Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Bar-tailed Godwits. We decided to visit the Scrapes as there were blue skies to the West, so we guessed the light would improve. On our way there we were passed by a couple of Juvenile Gannets and far out on the sea I noticed a pair of winter plumage Slavonian Grebes .  In breeding plumage these are the most attractive of the UK’s grebes, and although their winter plumage is not as fetching, I think their red eyes certainly catch one’s attention.

Oystercatcher Bar-tailed Godwits Juvenile Gannet Slavonian Grebe

From the hides we could see many birds. A group of a dozen Redshanks were roosting in the centre of the Middle Scrape. John estimated that there were over 1000 Oystercatchers crowding the central area of the Reserve. I could also see significant numbers of Curlew and also a pair of Shelduck.

Redshank Oystercatcher Curlew Shelduck

Suddenly, something seemed to put up a lot of the birds and I noticed that there were Golden Plovers among them. In Scotland, they winter mainly on the coast, but in summer they move to upland moorlands.  About half a dozen Dunlin had been feeding near to the Redshanks, but they were also disturbed. Not so the Teal, who dabble contentedly throughout. Gradually all of the birds settled and order was restored. Bar-tailed Godwits had landed at the back of one of the Scrapes but took a while to feel safe enough to tuck their beaks beneath their wings.

Golden Plover Dunlin Teal Bar-tailed Godwit

On leaving the Scrapes we were greeted by about 100 noisy Greylags flying overhead. They approached from the direction of the Esk. Some of them settled in the Scrapes but most circled back from whence they came. We were returning to the car, intending to view the sea from Fisherrow to check that the White-winged Scoter hadn’t been hiding there. A Guillemot popped up just below the sea wall probably attracted in by Mackerel shoals. A juvenile Shag bobbed up and down on the waves as it watched us pass by. Just as I was snapping it, a handsome Cormorant flew past. I wondered if it was one of the continental “sinensis” race, but I’m uncertain.

Greylag Geese Common Guillimot Shag Cormorant

Just as we were about to move away from the sea wall, a Scoter flew across our view, but once again it was a Velvet, not the species we were after. By the path, on the way back to the car I noticed that there were still wild flowers in bloom. Scentless Mayweed, Yarrow  and Common Ragwort a plant with a bad reputation.

Velvet Scoter Scentless Mayweed Yarrow Common Ragwort

I drove along to Fisherrow but we didn’t see any Scoters there, only several boats that might have unsettled them. Undeterred, we travelled back to the mouth of the Esk. We could see poor weather moving in from the west, but were delighted to see a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers fly upstream. A young Herring Gull was continually lifting something from the sea and dropping it. At first I thought it was a Razorshell   but from the pictures I could see it was a shard of wood. Maybe it too thought it was a Razorshell. John spotted flocks of Wigeon  gathered 50m out in the ever more choppy sea. Occasionally some of them flew further into the mouth of the river. We decided we too should get into a more sheltered place - the car for a tea and pastry!

Red-breasterd Merganser Herring Gull Eider Wigeon

 We normally have our tea, by the car, sitting on our stools. However, the wind and rain forced us inside the car, but given the weather prediction, we were pleased the rain held off so long - we even had a period of brightness. From these pictures you can see that our species count was fairly high (25) given the relatively short time we were there. However I’ve finished business with the White-winged Scoter!

Teal Kestrel
Greylag Common Guilimot

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