Our Expeditions:February 2024

Week ending: 4th February: Barns Ness, Dunbar Harbour and Belhaven Bay

Yet another wet and wind Sunday was predicted for Central Scotland and the best chance of dodging the rain was in the east - hence I chose to visit Barns Ness, which is just east of Dunbar. We stopped off at Dalkeith Morrisons before we reached the M1, and enjoyed a couple of small breakfasts (9.5/10: very good meals but the service was a bit on the slow side).

Courtesy of Open Street Map and BBC Tides

When we arrived at Barns Ness, the tide was low and falling and there was no rain, but it was fairly breezy. When I was paying my car park fees through RingGo, I heard a skein of geese, most probably Pink-footed Geese, flying past in the distance.

We made our way to the shore, which is adjacent to the car park, and John spotted that there were quite a few small waders foraging the damp sands and rocks.

A large Carrion Crow stood a few metres from us as it raked through a small seaweed pile that was on the grassy foreshore. A Common Gull was standing on the sands among the hard-working Dunlins. About 40m out a pair of Shelducks were paddling and dabbling in shallow water just beyond them, a tiny Little Grebe  was diving. A pair of Mallards also came paddling into view from behind some rocks.

Carrion Crow Common Gull
Dunlin Shelduck
Little Grebe Mallard

John noticed a sizeable flock of birds taking flight from the shore adjacent to the lighthouse. They circled the bay for a short time before disappearing to the east.

I managed a few shots when the GoldenPlovers came closest from which I could see that they were indeed Golden Plovers. The Dunlins too were flighty, as were the few Oystercatchers we could see. Also, John spotted a Curlew poking about the shallow pools.

Golden Plover Dunlin...

John, whose eye was most definitely in, also noticed a Skylark, crest raised, standing on the sandy beach a few metres away from us. The Shelducks we’d seen earlier paddled much closer allowing a better photo to be taken. We moved east from the very productive first shore and expected to see the Golden Plover flock on the rocky shore by the lighthouse, how we were disappointed. I did though manage a pleasing shot of a passing Shag, thanks to an early warning of its approach from John.

Skylark Shelduck
Carrion Crow Shag

Looking far out into the North Sea we could just make out the wind turbines of the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm. 

I snapped a Herring Gull in flight over the exposed rocks of the shore to the east of the lighthouse. Meanwhile John caught sight of a Male Stonechat that was hunting for invertebrates in the piles of rotting seaweed that littered the sandy beach. Next I got photographs of a Carrion Crow and a Great Black-backed Gull as they flew over the rocks.

Herring Gull Stonechat
Carrion Crow Great Black-backed Gull

It had not rained up until this point, but we noticed that Torness Power Station, about a mile and a half to the east was becoming less visible as it became enveloped in drizzle.

We persevered with our exploration of the shore and thank goodness we did because John and his binoculars found a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. Like the Dunlins we’d seen, they were busily working the shallows. The poor light and annoying drizzle worsened so we headed back to the car, photographing some Gorse flowers and Scots Pine  cones on the way.

Bar-tailed Godwit...

We drove to the relatively sheltered Dunbar Harbour to see if any other creatures had the same idea. We parked at the harbour’s edge and I managed a shot of a Herring Gull with a quizzical look and also an immature Herring Gull in the water below. We ventured over to the opposite side of the harbour to the Battery but we only saw a couple birds there: a distant drake Eider and a passing Cormorant. Back at the car we noticed Eiders paddling into the harbour, enabling some pleasing close shots. John’s day was made when “Sammy” the Grey Seal surfaced metres from where we were standing. It was showing an interest in the small fishing boats from which fishermen were throwing scraps of food.

Herring Gull 3rd Cycle Herring Gull
Male Eider... Cormorant
Female Eider
Grey Seal...

We ended the afternoon at Belhaven Bay. We parked at the Shore Road car park where we intended only to have our usual tea and Strawberry Tarts. However, while I was preparing the tea, John noticed that there was a Little Egret  standing in the grassy saltmarsh adjacent to where our car was parked. The Egret was commuting between the marsh and a drainage ditch/ burn where it was able to fish when undisturbed by passers-by and their dogs. While watching the Egret I snapped some record shots of other birds on the exposed sands of the inner bay: a pair of Oystercatchers, a Redshank and some dabbling Teal. A Grey Heron flew over the sands from the Seafield Pond (not visited due to poor light). I captured an image of a Redshank passing the Little Egret as it stood on the marsh, shortly before it took off and flew towards the nearby Winterfield golf course.

Little Egret... Oystercatcher
Teal Grey Heron

 When the Little Egret flew off, we proceeded with the teas and strawberry tarts. We reflected on the visit and agreed that we had seen a good variety of species (24 seen) despite the rain and poor light. For me, the Little Egret, Golden Plovers, Grey Seal and Godwits were the highlights. Surely we’re due a Sunday with sunny weather (not according to the weather apps, sadly - but wellbeing I hope.

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