Archive - October 2020

Week ending 25th October: Musselburgh

This week was more like a normal Sunday, albeit without my wee pal, John, and without the much missed Morrisons’ breakfast (replaced by a tuna salad). We have a saying that “Musselburgh always delivers” so I was hoping that would be true as I set off for the Scrapes. The signs were good. There was plenty of bird noise coming from the reserve and Greylags were circling overhead. From the middle hide I could see that the geese were still frisky and a quick scan gave me a sense of optimism since I could see many pockets of birds all over the reserve. The usual suspects were all there including Oystercatchers and Redshanks.

Greylag Geese
Oystercatcher Redshank

A large flock of Redshanks and a few feeding Dunlin were to the right of the hide.

There were also a couple of large flocks of very active Lapwing  behaving as Lapwings do, the whole flock taking to the air at least once every half hour at the least sign of danger. The back scrape had a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few were much closer foraging in the short grasses.

Bar-tailed Godwit

I spotted a pair of white Greylag hybrids amongst the Greylag  flock, probably Greylag X Canada Goose. I noticed a few Teal, our smallest native duck, on the scrapes making their familiar whistling calls as they mingled with the Lapwings. There were also flocks of feeding Starlings around the edges of the scrapes. Recent reports had described seeing murmurations of Starlings around sunset.

White Greylag Goose Teal
Lapwing / Female Teal Starling

Another dabbling duck well-represented on the scrapes were Wigeon, the drake very easily identified by his light orange crown. Near them, three Dunlins  had moved away from the sleeping Redshanks to, for me, a better-illuminated scrape. I think I also managed to snap a very similar-looking wader, a Curlew Sandpiper.

Teal Drake Teal Female
Dunlin Curlew Sandpiper

I next decided to walk along the sea front to the mouth of the Esk. There had been reports of sightings of a pair of Snow Buntings , so I had eyes peeled for those. My first sighting on surveying the choppy waters of the Forth was of a fishing Shag stretching/drying its wings. I also managed a flight shot of one of the very many Oystercatchers that were, because the tide had lowered, relocating from the Scrapes to the now exposed sands at the mouth of the Esk. As I watched them land there I snapped a Carrion Crow and a Turnstone that were on boulders by the shore

Shag Oystercatcher
Carrion Crow Turnstone

An incoming flock of ducks caught my eye. They were Gadwalls  flying in from the east. I don’t remember ever having seen these at Musselburgh. While watching the Gadwalls I glimpsed a pair of winter plumage Slavonian Grebes diving about 150m offshore. I waited to see if they would venture further in, to no avail. One bird that did turn up below the sea wall was a very obliging female Long-tailed Duck.

Gadwall Slavonian Grebe
Curlew Female Long-tailed Duck

At the Esk mouth I managed shots of a number of birds that were feeding on or near the shore close to the sea wall. These included a Goosander and Redshank. I was pleased to see that some of the passing Gadwall had stopped for breath, albeit in worsening light. A ubiquitous Oystercatcher was poking about in the seaweed without much success as far as I could see.

Goosander Redshank
Gadwall Oystercatcher

I was photographing a pair of Rock Pipits that were hiding in the ever-darkening shadow of the sea wall when a flurry of activity descended on the sea wall. Not Snow Buntings, sadly, but a small flock of Twite . I always look for their wee yellow beaks as a sure means of identification, although their size, shape, colour and behaviour as a group make them fairly distinctive. As I retraced my steps back towards the Scrapes I came across a solitary Velvet Scoter  diving for crabs about 30m from the sea wall. I managed some fairly nice shots despite the poor light.

Rock Pipit Twite
Velvet Scoter

As I took pictures of the Scoter, a line of Turnstones flew west towards the mouth of the Esk.

My final picture of the Velvet Scoter shows it with an unfortunate crab in its beak. As I neared the end of the Scrapes boundary fence, standing at the sea wall, I photographed a female Eider roosting on the water very close to the shore. Maybe it was unwell. I ended the visit with a pleasing picture of a Common Gull posing on a boulder. I had, though, dipped on the Snow Buntings. At one stage I did get a glimpse of the pair when they appeared from over the sea wall but they didn’t settle due to the foot-fall beside the wall. The photo below is one I took in the same area almost exactly four years ago.

Velvet Scoter Female Eider
Common Gull Snow Bunting

It had been a very pleasing visit, and I left with photos of 24 bird species, so I would say Musselburgh had indeed delivered.

Week ending 18th October 2020:  Strathclyde Park

Something a bit different this week. Strathclyde Country Park  is a place where I enjoy watching for birds while tramping the 3.5 mile circuit of the Loch. My aim in this blog therefore is to list some of my sightings in the various sections of the Park. I’ve restricted my descriptions to areas adjacent to the Loch and will leave the wooded zones for another day.

North end of Loch

The grassy patch and bushes at the rowing starting bays usually contain many birds such as Mute Swans, Mallards and Woodpigeons. Crows and Jackdaws can also be seen there (and in all areas of the park).

Mute Swan Mallard Drake
Female Mallard Woodpigeon

Moorhens and Coots, members of the Rail  family, are frequently seen there, especially in the “moat”. Grey Herons are also not uncommon, as they hunt the shallows for fish and amphibians. The bushes are good for small birds such as Robins, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. Lapwings are also seen throughout the year (but not in the times I collected these pictures).

Moorhen Coot
Grey Heron Blackbird

Watersports Centre and car parks.

The main species of gull  (seen in all areas) of the Loch are Black-headed Gull, Lesser Blackbacked Gull and Common Gulls. They tend to congregate around areas where visitors feed them bread, such as Car Park 4 where cars can park closest to the Lochside.

Black-headed Gull 1st Cycle Black-headed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull Common Gull

The Park has a thriving colony of Cormorants. The sight of as many as 50 fishing Cormorants sweeping down the Loch is truly impressive. One wonders how the fish population can sustain such a large number of predators.

When I first walked Strathclyde Park, some 30 years ago, the most common large bird was definitely the Mute Swan. However, in recent years Greylag Geese  have outnumbered the Swans (as many walkers will attest having trodden through the excrement-covered footpaths). Lately I’ve noticed a couple of Greylag hybrids - one crossed with a Swan Goose and also a white Domestic Greylag.
Greylag Goose
Swan Goose x Greylag Goose White Domesticated Greylag

I’ve also noticed a single, rather sick-looking Canada Goose with the other geese. The other day I came across a juvenile Grey Heron fishing in one of the four weirs that help control Loch water levels. Maybe it was hoping for a Salmon.

Canada Goose Grey Heron

Site of the Roman Fort

The site of the Roman Fort  is a rather less busy part of the Park. Although the ruin has been visited  several times since its discovery in 1925, the area is scrub with few of the fort’s features obvious to the untrained eye. However, nearby there is a very impressive excavation of a Roman Bathhouse that was opened to the public in the 1980s. Sitting at the edge of the scrub amongst the Hawthorns, sun behind, I was lucky enough to see the birds below all within about half an hour. A singing Robin and a Blue Tit foraging for caterpillars were first to show in the berry-rich bushes. Then some skittish Redwing flew in, fresh from their 500+ mile flights from Northern Europe. These small thrushes spend the winter in the UK and survive on berries and worms. To my delight, a brightly coloured, acorn-carrying Jay swooped onto a tall tree some 50m away and rested there for a few minutes.

Robin Blue Tit
Redwing Jay

Next, a Chaffinch appeared on a much closer tree. It was very accommodating, allowing me to rattle off a few shots before it moved on. In the same tree, a Wren then showed up for a few seconds, long enough for a quick snap. Perhaps the most impressive sight I’ve seen at the Fort was a clash between a pair of aerobatic Buzzards, probably in dispute over the nearby female (not in shot).

Chaffinch Wren
Common Buzzard

Roman Bathhouse to the dipping pond

The lochside adjacent to the low hill where the fort is located is a great place to view a number of water birds, such as Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes. Cormorants perch on partially submerged tree logs.

If the the sun is shining from the south-east Cormorants drying their wings make a magnificent sight. Juvenile Cormorants are identifiable by their white fronts. Of course it is always possible to see passerines (perching birds) such as Reed BuntingsFinches  and Tits.

Cormorant Reed Bunting
Juvenile Cormorants
Female Bullfinch Bullfinch

South Calder River mouth to Bothwellhaugh

Just north of the mouth of the South Calder River can be a good place to see Tufted ducks.

The juvenile Goldfinch in the picture below popped onto some seed-heads while I was scanning the loch for the Tufted Ducks. The northwest edges of the loch are close to trees that host a colony of Carrion Crows. I have seen a few Hooded Crow X Carrion Crow hybrids near the Foreshore car park. They have strong light grey patches on their plumages. Jackdaws, smaller members of the Corvid family, can also be found there. They are opportunists, ever-watchful for food waste left by the many park users.

Goldfinch Carrion Crow
Hooded Crow x Carion Crow Jackdaw

Access road to Caravan Park

The trees that line the road to the Caravan Park are also rich in birdlife. A quick pass yielded pictures of a Wren with small caterpillar, a Magpie and a big Woodpigeon.

Wren Magpie

I hope I conveyed my impressions of Strathclyde Park as a place to see some common birds. Please note that I have not mentioned the many less-common visiting birds that occasionally turn up, such as the Ring-billed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Golden Plovers, Siskins etc …. but I’m keeping those for a future blog.

Week ending 11th October 2020:  Aberlady

This week I managed a quick visit to Aberlady LNR , catching a sunny afternoon in what had been a rather rainy week. As I crossed the wooden bridge that takes visitors across the Peffer Burn and into the reserve, I observed Redshanks and Curlews making the most of the low tide conditions to fill their bellies with juicy invertebrates. A large flock of Wigeon  were also fairly close to the bridge, enabling me to catch some nice, well-lit shots.

Redshank Curlew

I could see that the exposed sands of Aberlady Bay held a scattering of feeding birds and, 30 miles to the west, were the famous Forth bridges  shimmering in the strong sunlight.

A busy Oystercatcher caught my eye as I stepped off the wooden bridge, and in hawthorn bushes some noisy Great Tits  were playing hide and seek. I saw quite a few Magpies on my visit although their ever-watchful nature and high intelligence made them difficult to approach. I snapped a late Buff-tailed Bumblebee  on one of the many violet and yellow Michaelmas Daisies that lined much of the footpath.

Oystercatcher Great Tit
Magpie Buff-tailed Bumblebee

As I reached the small, and sadly, birdless Marr Loch I heard the unmistakable sound of approaching geese. I looked up to see around 50 of an estimated 1200 Pink-footed Geese  that had arrived in Aberlady Bay that day.

The geese flew in from the east to west, veering north over Aberlady before landing on the east side of the Bay. To the west of Marr Loch I could see over the Bay to Kilspindie Golf course with Arthur’s Seat in the background. I moved along the path to a large area of Sea Buckthorn  (hidden in the midst of which appears to hold some sort of waste installation). In previous visits I have found thrushes such as Redwings and Fieldfares but they had not arrived there on Friday. I did though catch a flight shot of a Woodpigeon and being surrounded by the bushes loaded with bright orange Buckthorn berries was mesmerising.

Pink-footed Geese Arthur's Seat
Wood Pigeon Sea Buckthorn
I spotted a few wildflowers in the grasslands around the Buckthorns, namely Michaelmas Daisy , Common Ragwort and Common Storksbill . Unfortunately since time was pressing I had to return to the car. On my way I met a Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar crossing the path.

Michaelmas Daisy Common Ragwort
Common Storksbill Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar

I passed a Hawthorn bush when I heard the sound of Goldfinches behind me. I turned to find the bush and path were packed with at least 50 small Goldfinches  preening and feeding. I hid behind another bush and fired off a fair few shots of the busy wee birds. Eventually the flock were put up by some walkers.

Dominating my walk back to the bridge was a view of North Berwick Law. It is a well walked, conical hill topped with crossed whale bones that overlooks the East Lothian town.

As I crossed the wooden bridge a Curlew was calling, but it’s call was soon drowned out by lowflying Pink-footed Geese. I noticed a white bird a couple of hundred metres away on the banks of the burn. It was a Little Egret. To my delight it flew towards and over the bridge before landing on the salt marsh to the west of the car park.

Curlew Pink-footed Geese
Little Egret

Very satisfied with my haul of sightings I decided to have my lunch as I sat in my car. As I was eating my sandwich I was surprised by a Birch Shieldbug crawling over my sandwich box. Of course I paused my lunch to fetch my LUMIX LX5 for a quick shot of the bug (which I carefully placed in nearby shrubbery. I’m glad I “carefully” ridded myself of the Shieldbug since their alternative name is “stinkbugs” due to their tactic of emitted fowl-smelling fluid to deter predators. My fun for the day wasn’t quite over. At my next stop at a nearby park there were fungi growing in the short grass: Common Inkcap and Shaggy Inkcap. And to round things off, when I returned to my car I found a White-tailed Bumblebee crawling up my scarf. Once again the macro mode on my LUMIX LX5 got a workout. I was certainly attracting the creepy-crawlies.

Birch Shieldbug Common Inkcap
Shaggy Inkcap White-tailed Bumblebee

Week ending 4th October 2020: Musselburgh

It was an easy choice this week since only the Lothians were predicted to be rain-free on Sunday. Clouds with sunny intervals were to be expected at Musselburgh and that sounded good enough for me. I parked at the Levenhall Links car park and made my way to the Scrapes via the “promenade”. My first capture was of a passing Kestrel  leaving the east end of the Scrapes. I’d see him again though. From the sea wall I noted that the tide was rising to cover the wee sandy beach. I got shots of a Black-headed Gull and a 1st year Herring Gull, and, close in, a pair of Shags were diving for fish.

Kestrel Black-headed Gull
1st Cycle Herring Gull Shag

My first view of the Scrapes left me very optimistic as it was well populated with birds, with more pouring in. Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlew, Canada Geese and, of course, Oystercatchers filled the sky above the reserve.

Bar-tailed Godwits Curlew
Canada Geese Oystercatcher

Also filling the skies, somewhat higher than the birds of the Scrapes, were frequent passes of visitors from Greenland or Russia, literally thousands of noisy Barnacle Geese . I did though also spot four Barnacles on the Scrapes.

Barnacle Geese

The east-most scrape was occupied predominately by Lapwings . Every so often they would take off, triggered usually by an unseen threat. Their broad wings allow them to perform unpredictable aerobatics which makes them beautiful birds to watch in flight, both as a flock and individually. More direct fliers that made a whistle stop visit around and through the reserve were Knot. It was fascinating to see how these rapid birds managed to manoeuvre as one.


Next I scanned the area about 100m in front of the rightmost hide and thought I’d found a pair of Dunlins, however one of the birds turned out to be a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. Nearer the hide there were Redshanks and Crows foraging at the waters edge.

Dunlin Curlew Sandpiper
Redshank Carrion Crow

I got closer views of the Canada and Greylag Geese, but these were interrupted when the Kestrel I’d seen earlier flew in and started hovering close to the hide. I managed some nice shots until the crows chased it off before it could catch any prey. Just as I was leaving the reserve to head for the Esk mouth I noticed that there were some Wigeon in one of the distant scrapes.

Canada Goose Greylag Goose
Kestrel Wigeon
At the mouth of the River Esk I was delighted to see three Whooper Swans  not long in from Iceland. As I photographed them from the side of the river, a Cormorant surfaced about 10m from me. Then a Canada Goose paddled across the river towards me. The poor bird seemed to have damaged wings, probably a condition known as “Angel Wing”. There were birds along the near bank of the river, mainly Mallards an Goosanders.

Whooper Swan Cormorant
Canada Goose Mallard

I came across a sizeable gathering of Turnstones rummaging along the water’s edge. On the water a pair of eclipse plumage Eiders were diving for small crabs. My final shot of the visit was of a bonny Redshank that was in with the Turnstones.

Eclipse Plumage Eider
Redshank Turnstone

 Musselburgh is always an enjoyable place to visit, but sometimes the pickings can be on the slim side. Sunday was not one of those days. I was very pleased with the variety of birds I saw, especially the Kestrel, geese and waders, and the weather was also pleasing. So after a nice cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit I drove home with a big smile on my face.

Highlights - October 2020

Is that another month already? Must be since here are my latest choice of highlights. I hope you enjoy them. As usual they are not listed in the order they have been taken, but according to a series of themes.


Buzzard Curlew
Black-headed Gull Blue Tit
Grey Heron Cormorant
Lapwing Little Egret
Wood Pigeon Mallard


Honey Fungus Clouded Funnel


Whooper Swan Robin
Long-tailed Tit Grey Seal
Grey Heron Grey Squirrel


Bar-tailed Godwit Barnacle Geese
Oystercatcher Gadwall
Knot Lapwing
Barnacle Geese


Curlew Black-headed Gull
Eider in Eclipse Plumage Goosander in Eclipse Plumage
Shag Turnstone


Eristalis Arborustrum Birch Shieldbug


Blue Tit House Sparrow
Wren Chaffinch


Canada Goose Little Grebe
Greylag Goose Lapwing
Mallard Moorhen
Mute Swan Velvet Scoter

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