Archive - October - 2019

27th October.

White Sands and Barns Ness

A high pressure was firmly stationed over the UK meaning bright but cold weather was assured, for Sunday at least, so we returned to the area east of Dunbar that has always been a fertile source of sightings, Barns Ness and White Sands. Our usual breakfasts in Dalkeith was Morrisons Cafe was slightly disappointing as the bacon and tattie scones were overdone, hence 8/10. Also the Cafe has been extended leading to the removal of the four comfy armchairs we preferred. We started our quest on the approach road to White Sands where we saw a pair of Buzzards circling over the woods on the left (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). John took control of my Nikon D500 and fired a few shots from the car. After parking we made our way onto the sands where we found the wind was rather brisk and cutting. But at the west end of the shore we came across an area of seaweed-strewn beach where a variety of birds were vigorously feeding.  Scandinavian Rock pipits were closest, and, gathered on the sea close to the seaweed, were a large number of gulls, mainly Herring and Black-headed Gulls.

Common Buzzard Scandinavian Rock Pipit Herring Gull

The gulls were riding the breaking waves which every so often were violent enough to push the birds to flight before they once again settled in the water. We reckoned that they were picking out invertebrates that had been swept off the pile of seaweed. I noticed that more Black-headed Gulls and a few Common Gulls had flown in (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) to join the flock. A large flock of Turnstones then darted onto the scene and settled close to where we were sitting. Of course a pair of ever-present Pied Wagtails got in on the act, as did some equally ubiquitous Starlings.

Black-headed Gull Turnstone Pied Wagtail Juvenile Starling

The beach was starting to fill up with dog walkers and well-wrapped weans so we decided to move the short distance to Barns Ness. On arrival we could sea a large Oystercatcher flock gathered on the rocks beyond the wire dump. They were very soon spooked by some of the walkers coming from the direction of White Sands. We made our way along the shoreline but all that caught our eyes were a solitary Redshank and a pair of Carrion Crows that were foraging on the shore. A hundred metres offshore I could see several Cormorants stubbornly resisting the rising tide and lashing waves.

Oystercatchers Redshank Carrion Crow Cormorant

Just before we rounded the lighthouse we passed some very pretty, well-illuminated Mallards sheltering in a big rock pool.

The Barns Ness lighthouse must have been hosting some radio event since it was surrounded by tall shortwave radio aerials. Just a little further along from there I snapped a half-opened Goat’s Beard  whose very long bracts  gave the flower a crown-like appearance. Eventually we reached a gap in the dunes through which we moved stealthily towards the seashore lest we spooked any birds there. We needn’t have bothered as the birds were well east of there. We walked back onto the path and further east to the next dune gap and repeated the process. We found that the situation was very like what we had seen White Sands. There were Redshank flying past (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) as well as the same mix of gulls. There did however see a few Dunlins (a bird that didn’t show at White Sands). I managed some decent shots of a passing pair.

Goat's Beard Dunlin

A large Turnstone flock swept in (having been disturbed by walkers further to the east) (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). The large flock of gulls was riding the swell and waiting for each wave to flush invertebrates out of the seaweed.


We sat on the sandy beach fairly close to the mass of rotting seaweed. At our feet we noticed hordes of small invertebrates all frantically scrambling away from the seaweed. Using my trusty LumixLX5 I captured images of a few of them. The biggest was a Seaweed Fly, Coelopa Frigida. The majority of the insects we saw were Seaweed Rove Beetles, Cafius Xantholoma. Great writhing clumps of them became trapped in the “pits” formed by footprints in the sand. A few Sand Millipedes, Ommatoiulus Sabulosus , weaved their way relatively easily through the sandscape. The most active creatures on the scene were the Sand Hoppers, Talitrus Saltator . At any given time many tens of them were hopping tens of centimetres into the air as they fled from the wave-battered seaweed.

Fly - Coelopa Frigida Beetle - Cafius Xantholoma Sand Millipede Sand Hopper

We returned back to the car via the tree-lined southern path. As we passed the cement works excavations John spotted a Kestrel about 200m beyond the perimeter wall. With the light coming from behind the bird it was silhouetted against the shade of the distant hillside. As we moved along the shrubby path we disturbed a Common Darter dragonfly but I managed a shot when it settled on some low branches. On the final part of the path back to the car park as we crossed the derelict caravan site I spotted a pair of mushrooms nestling in the short grass. I identified them as Stubble Rosegills , a common, well-known mushroom of late summer and early autumn. Our final capture was of Common Storksbills  growing on the grass verges at the car park. Like many wildflowers their tiny blooms are easily overlooked but a closer examination, e.g. taking a macro photo, is usually rewarding.

Kestrel Common Darter Stubble Rosegill Common Storksbill

It had been a very pleasant and rewarding trip. The clear, bright light produced many photo-opportunities that we exploited pretty well. Stars of the day were probably the invertebrates we found on the east beach of Barns Ness. It was cream scones again with our teas, rounding off an enjoyable and interesting outing.

Pictures of the Week:

20th October 2019:

Ardmore Point

For the first time in months the weather prediction for Sunday in West Central Scotland was for dry sunny weather. Ever since our abortive attempt to visit there (when my car broke down on the way there) I’d been wanting to visit Ardmore Point on the Clyde Estuary, just west of Dumbarton. So after a breakfast in Dumbarton Morrisons (8/10: nice meal but slow service and overdone bacon) we found ourselves strolling out along the south side of the promontory towards its rocky point. The tide was low and the sun was in our eyes but the wind was gentle and the only sounds were of the birds and blathering walkers (of which there were many).

A pair of silhouetted horse riders were far out on the sands. I noticed that there were still quite a few Bindweed flowers in bloom, and also very many berries such as those on the Holly bushes, clustered within their waxy spiky leaves, and Blackberry, its berries red and needing yet more mild weather to ripen to black before the inevitable frosts of late Autumn.

 Bindweed T.B.C Holly Blackberry

I snapped a delicate, beautiful Marmalade hoverfly as it sat on a yellow flower of Wild Radish. And draped on the fences we also noticed large patches of flowering Ivy around which a variety of insects were feeding. The dronefly Eristalis Pertinax was well represented. A lively, pollen covered Common Wasp dashed between flowers. A Bluebottle, Calliphora Vicina, (or possibly Calliphora Vomitoria) rested on the foliage and soaked up the warm sunshine before carrying on its busy mission.

Marmalade Hoverfly Eristalis Pertinax Common Wasp Calliphora Vicina

I photographed a well-lit Red Campion, surely another sign of the milder conditions experience at Ardmore compared to sites further east. A pair of small birds fluttered past us into a bush. Eventually they appeared on its outer branches. One was a Dunnock and the other a bonny wee Robin, each lit nicely by the low Autumn sun. We were just about to move on when I heard a third bird. It was a Greenfinch which I could just get a clear view through the withering leaves (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Once again we were about to move on when a second Greenfinch, a female, popped out of the bush and into view.

Red Campion Dunnock Robin Female Greenfinch

A half dozen Canada Geese  flew north past us somewhat silhouetted by the sunlight. We had seen them earlier swimming pretty far out on the Clyde, too far for a decent shot.  Also backlit were 5 Redshanks feeding on the shore.

Canada Geese Redshank

A trio of Red-breasted Mergansers followed the same line as the Geese. I noticed the contrail of a high-flying aeroplane flying past the waning gibbous Moon. Also catching my eye were another couple of late-flowering plants caught my eye. The first was Yarrow , Achillea Millefolium, named after Achilles, the Greek hero who is reputed to have used the plant to heal battlefield wounds.

Red-breasted Merganser Yarrow

The other flower nestling in the long grass close to the shore was purple Devil’s Bit Scabious, pin-cushion-like with its protruding anthers. A Curlew flew past close in heading north round the Point. We were distracted by a commotion happening in the sky above the centre of the peninsula. About 100 Jackdaws  had taken to the air, exactly why I don’t know. We did notice though that there were four Buzzard flying in the same vicinity, but usually Corvids mob Buzzards but these were not flying towards them.

Devil's Bit Scabious Curlew Jackdaw Common Buzzard

As we trudged round the very wet footpath I came across a large dandelion-type flower. It think it was probably a stunted growth Marsh Thistle. As I photographed it I was serenaded by a beautiful Robin sitting on a Wild Rose bush (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). Fed up with plodding along the boggy path we decided it might be easier to try picking our way across the rocky shoreline. As we crossed onto the shore we passed some flowering Sea Asters . We carefully negotiated our path across difficult terrain which was strewn with hazards that we’d have skipped across when we were younger, but now in the autumn of our lives we had to make sure each foothold was sure and would not lead to a crippling slip. This was quite difficult when we were met by the sight of a Shag with a mouthful of fish, or a young, uncertain Cormorant that surfaced not far from shore.

Marsh Sow Thistle Sea Aster Shag Cormorant

We passed a large boulder upon which a pair of Herring Gulls were resting. Near them on the seafacing edge of the boulder a Mallard pair sat snoozing until the drake heard my approach. I left them in peace. Almost hidden by the long grass on the edge of the shore I noticed what I think was very late-flowering and delicate-looking Lesser Stitchwort (or it may have been Marsh Chickweed). We rounded the Point and reached the North Bay and parked ourselves on our stools to survey the panorama. First to show were a flock of Oystercatchers flying out of the Bay heading towards Helensburgh. Next, what seemed like a very light coloured Rock Pipit (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) paid us a visit. Its relatively light colouring and the prominent dash above its eyes (supercilium) and other features lead me to conclude it was a Scandinavian Rock Pipit  (Anthus petrosus littoralis).

Herring Gull Mallard Lesser Stitchwort Oystercatcher

We walked along the north side of the peninsula and surveyed the birds feeding on the exposed sands of the Bay. Just below us on the shore a very well-lit Curlew was foraging for invertebrates  (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). There were a few more Curlews a lot further out but they were vastly outnumbered by the ubiquitous Oystercatchers. Shelducks too were well represented.

As we reached the car we noted that we had been treated to unbroken sunshine throughout the walk, a splendid treat given the miserable light we’d experienced in recent weeks. Our teas and cake - delicious creamed chocolate muffins - rounded off a very successful and enjoyable trip.

Pictures of the Week:

Greenfinch Robin
Scandinavian Rock Pipit Curlew

13th October 2019:

Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine Harbour

Deja vu! Sunny Friday and Saturday (and Monday) but grey Sunday - very frustrating. There were slightly better conditions predicted for the west so I decided that Stevenston, Saltcoats and Irvine were worth a visit (even although we’d been there fairly recently). We love Stevenston Morrisons so after one of their excellent breakfasts we headed for Stevenston Point which was at least dry when we arrived. I snapped one of the many Common Gulls that were feeding on playing fields. They were doing their wee tap dances. Apparently the worms think the rain drops are landing so they move to the surface to avoid drowning.  On the rocky top of the Point we could see a large flock of winter plumage Knot. A few Herring Gulls circled overhead and some Shag were active in and out of the water.

Common Gull Knot Herring Gull Shag

A few Oystercatchers and Herring Gulls mingled with the Knot. As the tide came in the Knot found drier rocks to perch on. A large Cormorant made a close pass just south of the Point (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Oystercatcher 2nd Cycle Herring Gull Knot

About 800m offshore long line of 19 Geese, probably Pinkfoots, flew south. Why weren’t they flying an a V-formation?

After about an hour we decided to move to the Ardeer Quarry  reserve to see what we could find. Initially we were disappointed to find the main pond empty of birds, apart from some distant Mute Swans that were being fed by excited children. A Magpie checked us out before taking to the trees. John spotted a passing Sparrowhawk  that only showed for about 10 seconds, although I managed a fair record shot. As we passed along the Hawthorn-lined footpath we became surrounded by a flock of small birds - Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits and a couple of Goldcrests. Frustratingly, I only managed a record shot of a Blue Tit. The birds weren’t pausing much to get their picture taken, and when they did I found it very tricky to focus on them due to the poor light and the many small branches that interrupted my line of sight. We came upon a community orchard of Apple trees that were loaded with fruit. John had a nibble on one but found it was a bit tart.

Magpie Sparrowhawk Blue Tit Sour Aipples

We curtailed our visit to the Park due to the time we had spent chatting with the very friendly walkers of Stevenston (who are just as interested in nature as we are). We moved north to Saltcoats Harbour where there are always Herring Gulls on and around the sea walls on the look out for discarded chips, like the juvenile we passed. John spotted a light-coloured Guillimot at the Harbour mouth. We plodded round there and found it getting to grips with what looked like an Eel.
With a closer view I realised that it was a Black Guillemot  in winter plumage (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). A mile offshore we could see a cargo ship which, after some investigation we identified as the “Ayress”, a Timberlink  Service ship that transports timber from Argyll forests to processing plants in Ayrshire.

1st Cycle Herring Gull Black Guillemot Shag Ayress

We walked round to the north side of the harbour where I got some nice shots of a Robin and a Rock Pipit that were darting about on the rocks (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). Most of the wild flowers that decorated the shore had died back and only patches of Scentless Mayweed remained. As I photographed the Mayweed a Red-breasted Merganser  flew speedily into the harbour.

Robin Rock Pipit Scentless Mayweed Red-breasted Merganser

On the exposed rock a bit nearer the harbour mouth we came across a small flock of roosting Redshanks accompanied by some more active Turnstones.

Redshank Turnstones

A solitary young Ringed Plover appeared at the highest point on the rocks. The rest of its family were probably out of sight behind the rocks. John then drew my attention to a Grey Seal that had surfaced beyond the harbour mouth. I just managed a shot before it it disappeared below the waves. As the rain came on in earnest a pair of Cormorants stood on rocks just north of the harbour. The one shown below is a juvenile. We moved hastily back to the shelter of the car, passing the Merganser we’d seen earlier which was now paddling near the harbour wall.

Ringed Plover Grey Seal Juvenile Cormorant Red-breasted Merganser

Our final location was Irvine Harbour. An annoying, steady drizzle was falling there but we decided to move down to the mouth of the River Irvine to see what we could discover. Our first sighting was of a family of Mute Swans that were feeding near the Pilots House. Two adults and a pair of near-mature cygnets were grazing on seaweed. Watching their activities was a 2nd year Herring Gull, ready to swoop down should a feeding opportunity present itself. As we made our way out to the harbour mouth viewing point a female Pied Wagtail scurried along the path in front of us before fleeing along the beach.

Mute Swan Juvenile Mute Swan 1st Cycle Herring Gull Female Pied Wagtail

Just as we neared the viewing point a Razorbill surfaced about 30m to the south. It made a series of dives before moving out of sight. Very soon afterwards a large flock of Turnstones  crossed the river and landed at the very end of the walkway. I was able to get some fairly close shots of some of them as they flew in and foraged on the water’s edge (see also “Pictures of the Week”, below). Our last capture was of another Pied Wagtail, a juvenile male, picking its way along the sandy shore.

Razorbill Turnstone.... Juvenile Male Pied Wagtail

As can be gauged from the number of observations recorded above, we had rather a successful  outing, in spite of the dull, damp conditions. Our teas were worthy of special mention. John had bought a pair of cream scones that were absolutely delicious. I’ll ask John to buy more for next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Cormorant Black Guillemot
Rock Pipit Turnstone

6th October 2019:


The weather predicted for Sunday was not encouraging - persistent rain with little or no sunshine. I noticed, though, that the Ayrshire Coast would be dry by early afternoon. Having visited Stevenston, Troon and Irvine in the previous couple of weeks, we decided that Doonfoot on the south of Ayr was the destination we’d give a go. So after a quick breakfast in rainy Kilmarnock ASDA (9.5/10: excellent) we found ourself surveying the swollen waters at the mouth of the River Doon. We immediately found several gatherings of very flighty Teal, as well as a large flock of Mallards sheltering on the grassy banks. We crossed the metal footbridge and planked ourself at the edge of the rocky shore to view the birds there. A few Stonechats  were posing on top of the vegetation (also see “Pictures of the Week”, below). I also spotted some late-flowering Red Deadnettle  by the sea wall.

Teal Mallard Stonechat Red Dead Nettle

The Doon river mouth was lively with various birds. A male Pied Wagtail chirped briefly onto the sands in front of us before flying across the river after other wagtails. Starlings, Teal and Cormorant also made brief appearances.

Pied Wagtail Starlings Female Teal Cormorant

From the thick, damp dune vegetation we heard the tweets of several small birds. Stonechat, Greenfinch and Robin (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) braved high positions on a Wild Rose bush. At the waters edge some Turnstones were foraging, doing as their name suggests. A flock of Lapwings glided past and landed on a shallow area in the river mouth. An impressive flyby of Teal  brightened the otherwise dim panorama.

Turnstone Lapwing Teal

A bold Carrion Crow picked its way through seaweed scattered on the rocky shore while the Turnstones took flight as a dog moved past.

Carrion Crow Turnstones

A Black-headed Gull passed overhead before joining a large gull flock that also included Herring and Common Gulls. We decided to relocate a mile south to Greenan Shore. On our way back to the car park we noticed many Snails active on the sea wall. They were reacting to the very damp conditions. I photographed three species - Garden Snail(see “Pictures of the Week”, below) and White-lipped  and Dark-lipped snails. Unfortunately many Snails fell foul of pedestrians and cyclists.

Black-headed Gull Herring Gulls Dark-lipped Snail White-lipped Snail

After parking in the Greenan Shore car park we started our usual circuit around the castle ruin. As we carefully moved along the damp overgrown path along the edge of the dunes we noticed a Dunnock posing on a small bush. As we paused to snap it I caught a glimpse of a red-capped mushroom - a Dune Waxcap . Nearby we passed raindrop-covered Meadow Cranesbill  flowers, still lovely even in dim light. John drew my attention to a Black Slug  struggling over the wet sandy grass.

Dunnock Dune Waxcap Meadow Cranesbill Black Slug

We passed below the castle and John spotted a Rock Pipit on the steep, poorly-lit rock face. On the sands immediately to the south of the castle I got pictures of a female Pied Wagtail, one of a flock of five, mainly juveniles. A strangely-marked Jackdaw got very close as it examined the soggy seaweed for titbits. We then started our return journey by moving north along the field adjacent to the beach. I managed a quick shot of a shy Yellowhammer that had been calling high on top of Hawthorn bushes.

Rock Pipit Pied Wagtail Jackdaw Yellowhammer

We next ascended the slope to the Site of Greenan Castle. Below is the view to the south.

One of the many Carrion Crows that occupy the castle site was perched on top of a Hawthorn bush pecking at something it had caught, probably a large whelk shell. On the edge of the field to the east of the castle I came across some Field Woundwort, a first for us. We had seen and heard Goldfinches throughout our walk around the castle, however they managed to evade capture by my camera. No such difficulties were experienced in photographing the House Sparrows we saw. We watched them as they waited in the hedgerow for us to pass. Our final sighting of the trip was arguably our best. We could hear high pitched bird calls coming from the hawthorns. I recognised these as the calls of Goldcrests . After a short wait a pair of Goldcrests came into view. Although they were in continuous motion, and so were difficult to photograph, I did manage a couple of reasonable shots, albeit in very dim conditions.

Carrion Crow Field Woundwort House Sparrow Goldcrest

On a day that might have been a complete washout we managed to record a very satisfying collection of sightings. My personal favourite was the Goldcrest, although a newby is always welcome, so we were pleased with the Field Woundwort. Of course we celebrated in our normal fashion by each downing a pair of chocolate cream eclairs with strong tea. The best part of the day!

Stonechat Goldfinch
Robin Garden Snail

Highlights October 2019

We present a gallery of my favourite pictures taken during October 2019. 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.


Butterfly - Comma Hoverfly - Eristalis Arbustrum.
Fly - Lucilia Caesar. Hoverfly - Marmalade


Feral Pigeon Buzzard


Greylag Goose Whooper Swan
Lapwing Female Goosander


Blue Tit Robin


Female Mallard Whooper Swan
Drake Mallards


Michaelmas Daisy Ivy_leaved Toadflax


Grey Heron Moorhen
Tufted Duck Grey Wagtail


Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel Carrion Crow with lunch


Glistening Inkcap Shaggy Inkcap
Blushing Bracket Trooping Funnel

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