Archive - September 2019

22nd September

Stevenston, Troon Harbour and Irvine Harbour

When I studied my iPhone weather app, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Cloud, rain and high winds were moving through Central Scotland, and would continue for the whole day. I did though see a possible good weather window that would appear over the Ayrshire Coast early to mid afternoon. So that’s where we headed, starting at Stevenston Point. Well actually we started at Stevenston Morrisons where we had an excellent breakfast (9.5/10: John’s was missing half a tomato). The rain had stopped by the time we reached the Point, but it was very breezy and the light was poor. Using the car door as shelter from the strong breeze I snapped some passing birds - Cormorant, Gannet and Oystercatcher. A Razorbill  surfaced near us but disappeared just a quickly.

Cormorant Gannet Oystercatcher Razorbill

There were quite a few Eider on the move toward Saltcoats. A lone Sanderling  in winter plumage flew the other way over the rocky tip of the Point. Soon afterwards, a passing Great Black-backed Gull made a sudden dive to pick up an unfortunate Crab which it carried off to the Ardeer shore. Fairly satisfied with what we’d seen, we set off for Troon Harbour. On our way off of the Point I took a picture of one of the many Herring Gulls tap dancing for worms on the playing fields.

Eider Sanderling Great Black-backed Gull Herring gull

At a gloomy Troon Harbour we were met by a Rock Pipit flitting between rocks. Also on the rocks were Cormorants and Eider. I snapped an adult drake Eider with an immature drake. While I was photographing those birds, an inquisitive Grey Seal  surfaced just 30m from where we were sitting.

Rock Pipit Cormorant Eider Grey Seal

I spotted a few Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers tucked down between rocks on the shoreline. John drew my attention to a flock of about 60 Knot that flew onto rocks not that far from the Plovers. They were rather nervous as several times they failed to settle, quickly taking to the air before finally disappearing to an area north of the harbour (see “Pictures of the Week“, below).
Ringed Plover Oystercatcher Knot

Below show some of the nervous Knot flock on the rocks:

As we made our way off of the sandy shore I photographed any wildflowers I came across. My first find was some pink Sea Rocket. Next I took a photo of flowers of Pencilled Cranesbill that where showing signs of the rainy conditions we had just missed. Also showing evidence of heavy rain were some Scentless Mayweed flowers, their white petals drooping below their central discs. The final flower I found was a Prickly Sow Thistle.

Sea  Rocket Pencilled Cranesbill Scentless Mayweed Prickly Sow Thistle

I got a nice shot of a young Starling foraging on the rocks in front of the car park. Nearer the water a flock of Shag were very active (see also “Pictures of the Week“, below).  Beside them a Curlew stood still atop a large boulder. A rescue helicopter flew northwards, its red flashing light glowing clearly in the dim lighting.

Juvenile Starling Shag Curlew

Our last stop of the trip was a visit to Irvine Harbour. As we walked by the River Irvine, the sun finally made an appearance. A pair of Mute Swans were wading through seaweed making their way out of the water. Just beyond them on the shingle bank a female Pied Wagtail was standing watching its partner. The pair of them flew off, encouraged by the presence of a big dog. I spotted a wee flock of Sandwich Terns on some rocks at the head of the Estuary. To get some better shots I carefully descended the embankment onto the sands and, careful not to be caught by the incoming tide, I got some reasonable pictures, including a few of parent birds bringing freshly caught fishes to their young. I also captured the moment one of those birds added some guano to the environment (also see “Pictures of the Week“, below).

Mute Swan Female Pied Wagtail Sandwich Terns

As we returned to the car John pointed out four fairly distant Common Seals lounging on the River Garnock. He then directed my attention to a female Roe Deer  just across the Irvine at the confluence of the rivers. I took a shot of a Jackdaw on the grassy bank between us and the car. As we carefully ascended that bank, watching out we didn’t stand on dog dirt, eagle-eyed John discovered an interesting mushroom called Blackening Waxcap. It is is so-named as its cap turns black when it is damaged (the damage is apparent in the picture below).

Common Seal Roe Deer Jackdaw Blackening Waxcap

My fair-weather strategy worked since we didn’t experience rain after we stepped out of the car at Stevenston Point. The rest of Central Scotland wasn’t so lucky. The light was very poor though, but we accumulated a decent record of our usual number of sightings. My favourite moment was watching the Sandwich Terns as they plummeted into the sea, emerging with fish and taking them to their hungry chicks. We ended the day with tea and chocolate eclairs before driving home up the M77. We’re into Autumn now so I think we may need to look out the thermals for next week.

Pictures of the Week:

Sandwich Terns

15th September 2019:

Linlithgow Loch and Blackness

The weather forecast was gloomy - not much rain but poor light until late afternoon. There had been a report of a Ruddy Shelduck  at Blackness on the Upper Forth so I decided we’d have a go at locating it. En route we nipped into Bathgate Morrisons where we had a lovely breakfast (9/10: -1 for drippy teapot). We stopped off at Linlithgow Loch for an hour. The tide on the Forth was low at that time so the birds would have been too far out for decent pictures. Straight away we watched a Rook attempting to hide an acorn in a field (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below). Probably it was building a wee store for the winter. Around the Loch edges there were lots of birds. A few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were ever-watchful for a feeding opportunity. A pair of Cormorant were very close, sitting on large bare branches. The Loch has a sizeable population of Cormorants. A couple of Little Grebes were fishing a bit further out.

Rook Lesser Black-backed Gull Cormorant Little grebe

There were quite a few Coots. I was watching to see if I could get a shot of them quarrelling but they were unusually sociable. I snapped a juvenile Jackdaw that was on a dead branch. It’s brown-tinged “baby” plumage was still evident around the neck. A 1st year Black-headed Gull sat nearby.

Coot Wood Pigeon Juvenile Jackdaw 1st Cycle Black-headed Gull

The picture below shows the poor light, but you can still appreciate how Linlithgow Castle dominated the picturesque scene.

A juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull was carrying a stick in its beak as if it was leading a band with a baton, followed by an assembly of Mallards. Next I managed a shot of a young Moorhen as it clambered over a fallen tree. A couple of large cygnets approached the walkway where their parent Mute Swan (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) was posing for the camera hoping for food.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull Mallard
Juvenile Moorhen Juvenile Mute Swans

We drove the short distance east to Blackness  along the route the Scottish Royals must have taken as they journeyed the Forth coast. We parked by the harbour and walked along the Castle approach road. John spotted a Curlew foraging on the dimly lit shore. We passed through a metal gate and made our way onto a flat grassy area that overlooks the wide expanse of the Firth of Forth. The three bridges were shrouded in sunless grey when we arrived. We hoped the Sun would eventually make an appearance. A jaunty female Pied Wagtail hopped in front of us, managing to catch something tasty. We hunkered down on the rocky shore at the Black Burn and waited to see what would show. A group of familiar birds sidled relatively close. A few Dunlins flew in to join several adult and juvenile Ringed Plovers.

Curlew Female Pied Wagtail Dunlin Ringed Plover

A lot further out the advancing tide was covering the sands where small waders and Common Shelduck  were feeding. More birds were on the move as the sands were flooding. A small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits  flew towards the Black Ness rocks and many Sandwich Terns were noisily moving across the shore looking for new areas to feed. I took a record shot of what appears to be a winter plumage Black Tern.

Shelduck Bar-tailed Godwits Sandwich Terns Black Tern Winter Plumage

Then the Sun came out! A vast cloud of over 500 Greylags  honked their way onto the water to the east of Blackness. A couple of Pink-footed Geese were among them.

Greylag Goose Pink-footed Goose

We moved off of the beach and walked east to check out the geese, hoping the Ruddy Shelduck was with them. On the way I got nice shot of a juvenile Greenfinch (see “Pictures of the Week”, below) as it chewed on some Knapweed seeds. When we approached the geese I noticed a probable leucistic Greylag swimming with the other Greylags. Another goose stood out in the now brilliant sunshine. It was an Emden Goose, a white domestic goose that somehow had escaped captivity. We couldn’t see the Ruddy Shelduck until a nice passerby, who admitted she knew little about birds and who I’d been  explaining what we were looking for, said pointing, “Is it that one there?”. It was. Slightly red-faced I thanked her for finding the Ruddy Shelduck (see also, “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Pink-footed Goose Greylag Goose Emden Goose Ruddy Shelduck

We said farewell to a panorama that had been transformed by the much improved light. We could now see the famous Forth bridges.

On our return journey we came across our only butterfly sighting, a beautiful Painted Lady. On some hedges a gathering of twittering House Sparrows were animated by something or other. On the sea wall I snapped a handsome Jackdaw and also a very pretty Collared Dove.

Painted Lady House Sparrows Jackdaw Collared Dove

I ended up having taken over 600 shots (and that’s after deleting the “duffers”). About a third of them were taken in the early gloom, and some photos have been passed over for brighter pictures. So seen but not shown above include Grey Heron, Redshanks, Common Gull, various insects and flowers and views. The trip was a resounding success as we achieved our objectives of catching the incoming tide and finding (thanks to the nice lady) the Ruddy Shelduck and maybe a Black Tern. We demolished two delicious cream and strawberry tarts washed down with strong tea. An apt reward for some proficient birding.

Pictures of the Week:

Rook Mute Swan
Juvenile Goldfinch Ruddy Shelduck

8th September 2019:

Skateraw and Belhaven Bay

The BBC weatherman predicted that the best weather in Central Scotland was to have been in the East. Both John and I agreed that Skateraw would be a good choice since we had not visited there since the Spring (12th of May). As we had our breakfast in Dalkeith Morrisons (9.5/10: excellent but John’s fried tattie scone was hollow and over-cooked) the weather was more cloudy than I’d expected, but I figured it would be less so to the East. And so it proved, with most of the sky brilliant blue with warm sunshine more than compensating for a rather chilly breeze. I stopped the car just past the row of houses at the start of the harbour approach road. I had seen some beautiful butterflies on flowers of Buddleja, the Butterfly Bush . We got some nice pictures of Red Admiral and Peacock (taken by John) (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). We were watched by some captive species, namely Fantail Pigeons, a wee dog and, rather unexpectedly, a possible Long-eared Owl (caged). Rather more free were the many swooping Barn Swallows catching the last of the airborne insects before the seasons turn cold and they head south to warmer climes.

Fantail Pigeon Nice wee Dug Long-eared Owl Barn Swallow

Between flights the Swallows rested on the overhead telephone wires, offering welcome photo opportunities for me. I also snapped a Tree Sparrow alongside the Swallows, as well as a juvenile Starling. There were also flocks of flighty, noisy Goldfinches dashing about. Some of them were feeding on Thistle seeds in an adjacent field. At the side of the field a group of Rabbits were watching us carefully (see “Pictures of the Week”, below).

Barn Swallow Tree Sparrow Juvenile Starling Goldfinch

We parked and then walked along the shoreline towards Chapel Point at the west side of the Bay (shown below: view from Links Cottage). Note Torness Power Station dominating the scene.

I followed a juvenile Pied Wagtail as it trotted it’s way along the sandy beach, occasionally dashing to catch a fly. On the water’s edge a half dozen Ringed Plovers  were feeding. There were several juveniles in the group. A solitary Dunlin made its way along the damp sands. At first we thought it was a Knot, but on closer inspection we could see it was a wary Dunlin.

Pied Wagtail Ringed Plover Juvenile Ringed Plover Dunlin

We left the beach and came to the ruin of a small building. My eye caught sight of a leaping Common Field Grasshopper . I followed its movement until I was able to photograph it with my trusty wee Lumix LX5. Close by I thought I’d found a found a newby hoverfly on some Common Ragwort only to find it was a common dronefly, Eristalis Arbustrum , with less usual markings. We trekked through  high grass to reach the edge of the rocky shore. Looking west we could see a beautiful view of Barns Ness lighthouse with the Bass Rock in the background (see “Pictures of the Week”, below). As we sat taking in the view a female Linnet landed on the rocks in front of us. Those rocks are in fact very interesting to geologists since they are part of an extensive shore platform  that shows evidence of a variety of processes of weathering and erosion. We pressed on through towards the Point, flushing a Redshank as we did so.

Common Field Grasshopper Hoverfly - Eristalis Arbustrum Female Linnet Redshank
While at the Point we saw only a Rock Pipit and a passing Curlew. It was very quiet so we walked back along the grassy west edge of the bay. I photographed a pretty clump of Common Knapweed  hanging over the side of the low cliff. Another flock of Goldfinches swarmed over our heads and settled on a bush not far from the memorial at the edge of the Point.

Rock Pipit Curlew Common Knapweed Goldfinch

With the sunshine still bright we drove down to Belhaven Bay and walked to Seafield Pond  for a brief hour. The tide was low and the seashore was about half a mile from our path. A lone Curlew was pecking at this and that as it wandered along the exposed sands. A Herring Gull flew over our heads and joined the quite large mass of gulls that were roosting on the dry bay. As we turned off the path and down toward the pond, we paused at a flowery corner as I had spotted a Humming Syrphus (Syrphus Ribersii) as it explored the Great Bindweed that draped a bush. I heard the familiar song of a Robin and quickly located it as it hid behind the leaves of a tree .

Curlew Herring Gull Hoverfly - Syrphus Ribersii Robin

The Pond was populated mainly by jaded ducks but no swans. I took an arty shot of a young Moorhen feeding, silhouetted against the light. There was a large area of flowering Amphibious Bistort  at the water’s edge and a watchful male Little Grebe was diving for fish some 30m from us. But that was about it. On the way back to the car we did see a Speckled Wood butterfly sunning itself on the short grass.

Juvenile Moorhen Amphibious Bistort Little Grebe Speckled Wood

It had been one of those days where we had a very pleasant time observing familiar sightings and not really caring that we hadn’t spotted a rarity. We were just glad to be there. As usual our tea and cake, cream and jam muffins, rounding things off nicely. On the drive back I realised I was yearning for some west coast action, so let’s hope the weather picks up in the west for our next trip.

Pictures of the Week:

Red Admiral Peacock
Rabbit Barns Ness Lighthouse

1st September 2019:

Musselburgh and Port Seton

With last week’s car problems firmly in the past, we drove to Musselburgh to follow up some interesting sightings there. Dalkeith Morrisons served up a pair of lovely breakfasts (9/10: -1 for skimpy bacon) that set us up for a few hours of feathery excitement. The weather was sunny as we parked in the Levenhall car park with more of the same predicted for the rest of the trip. We walked from there down to the sea wall. I’d visited there on the previous Monday when I photographed some Common Seals  lounging at low tide. Unfortunately the tide was even lower on Sunday and the seals were nowhere to be seen. However the beach was packed with birds, mainly noisy Sandwich Terns. A group of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits  were foraging in the same area for invertebrates, and a bit further along John spied a couple of Turnstones still showing signs of their breeding plumage (See, “Pictures of the Week”,below).

Common Seal Sandwich Tern Oystercatcher Bar-tailed Godwit

There were a few flowering plants still in bloom. I was drawn to a big clump of Tufted Vetch that was showing seed pods, and vivid yellow Tall Melilot, widespread in the area. Several patches of Scentless Mayweed were also on show. A few hundred metres offshore there were several small groups of Velvet Scoters  bobbing in the sea swell. We had a good look for the Surf Scoter but this was difficult as the birds were distant and appeared to be roosting with their beaks tucked under their wings.

Tufted Vetch Tall  Melilot Scentless Mayweed Velvet Scoter

We moved into the Scrapes, starting with the north-most hide. On our way in we watched a lovely Speckled Wood butterfly  as it explored a Bramble bush (also see, “Pictures of the Week”,below). From the hide we were pleased to see lots of birds. Greylags were close in and a few Knot  were wading, probing the mud for invertebrates. A Curlew stood on the edge of the second scrape, watching for danger.

Speckled Wood Greylag Goose Knot Curlew

We were greeted with a flypast of Lapwings . We couldn’t see what put them up, but it was an impressive sight.

Looking to the far left we could see a line of various bird species, mainly Lapwings with a few Knot, Dunlins and a couple of Ruff. I think a Curlew Sandpiper  may be amongst them.

Also on the second scrape was a Black-tailed Godwit still in its ruddy-coloured summer plumage. A single Lapwing wandered on the edge, the Sun catching its plumage at the correct angle to display its iridescent colours. The view from the next hide was much quieter with only a few wading Redshanks to the right. The third hide was a bit better. A Curlew was fairly close to the hide, poking the damp ground at the edge of the scrape. In the South-East scrape a pair of moulting Shelduck were roosting.

Black-tailed Godwit Lapwing Curlew Shelduck

I spotted a Ruff  working its way across the back edge of the South scrape. It was disturbed by the arrival of a pair of squabbling Redshanks and ran (not flew) across to the SE scrape. We decided to retrace our steps back to the car. As we left there were large numbers of Oystercatchers, Curlew and Godwits pouring into the reserve. I snapped a Painted Lady butterfly on a Dandelion noting to John that we’d seen far fewer of them than in recent weeks. John thought it could be one of the next generation born in Scotland and about to fly south towards Africa.

Ruff Redshank Oystercatcher Painted Lady

On reaching the sea wall a pair of very scruffy moulting Linnets landed near us on the wall, a parent bird feeding its fledgling. The tide was close to its predicted 6m height. Sandwich Terns were fishing 50 mts offshore. Occasionally one passed with fish in beak presumably seeking its chick. We were on the look out for a pair of Black Terns that had been seen the day before. They didn’t show but a Common Tern  passed us flying west. A single female Eider paddled past and soon we were on our way to Port Seton to catch the last of the incoming tide.

Linnet Sandwich Tern Common Tern Female Eider

When we first arrived at Port Seton, at the site of the old outdoor pool, we were disappointed to find that most of the rocks were still exposed with a large number of birds, mainly Sandwich Terns, sitting on rocks 200 mts offshore. We waited for these birds sitting to be encouraged to move nearer the shore by the incoming tide. Our plan worked as an increasing number of passing birds, such as Cormorants and Bar-tailed Godwits, soon made us realise that the water was rising relatively quickly. I took some pictures of a Herring Gull just before the thrashing waves encouraged it off of its rocky perch.

Cormorant Bar-tailed Godwit Turnstone Herring Gull

Less than half an hour after our arrival our plan had worked since the Sandwich Terns had moved and settled much nearer to the sea wall. This allowed me the opportunity of taking some nice shots. The vast majority of birds were of adult Sandwich Terns and their juveniles. Occasionally an individual Common Tern had a wee rest on the near rocks. The one shown below is showing summer plumage. But unfortunately we didn’t see a Roseate Tern or a Black Tern.

Sandwich Tern Juvenile Sandwich Tern Common Tern

As had our tea and Danish pastries we had little to complain about as we had photographed many sightings, most of the birds, in sunny weather. Sure we had dipped on a few of the rarer birds but that’s the nature of the hobby. However it wasn’t quite over for me. That early evening as I was at home washing a few dishes, a female Sparrowhawk  dived onto my hedges, home to a flock of House Sparrows. Although it’s move was fruitless,  it waited on top of the hedgerow for 10mins, probably aiming to catch any bird that was stupid enough to make a dash for it. However it soon was up and away on its next mission (see, “Pictures of the Week”,below). A great end to an already enjoyable day.

Pictures of the Week:

Turnstone Speckled Wood
Sandwich Tern Sparrowhawk

Highlights - September 2019

Something a bit different this week. We present a gallery of my favourite pictures I’ve taken during September 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.


Black-headed Gull Sandwich Tern
Juvenile Goosander


Clustered Bonnet Conifer Tuft
Panther Cap Shaggy Parasol


Grey Heron
Cormorant Pink-footed Goose


Common Furrow Bee Fly Dexiosoma Caninum
Caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk Moth Hoverfly Leucozona Glaucia
Meadow Grasshopper Butterfly Small Copper
Caterpillar of the Poplar Hawk-Moth
Butterfly Painted Lady Bug: Tarnished Plant


Curlew Juvenile Eider Duck
Oystercatcher Redshank


Bar-tailed Godwit Common Coot
Juvenile Female Goosander Mute Swan


Great Crested Grebe
Goldfinch Hybrid Hooded Crow X Carrion Crow
Kestrel Robin


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

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