Our Expeditions:July 2024

Week ending: 14th July: Gourock and Port Glasgow 

John and I headed west this week to investigate the Inverclyde coast at sites between Gourock and Port Glasgow. The weather app predicted mild, cloudy conditions with the chance of sunshine in the afternoon. We started the trip with a visit to Greenock Morrisons for our customary breakfasts (9/10: excellent food but a point off for the 20 min we had to wait to receive it).

Courtesy of Open Street Map and BBC Tides

 After breakfast we next drove a couple of miles west to Battery Park, Gourock where we found the expected dull and cloudy conditions.

Undeterred, we scanned the rocky shoreline for birds and, at first, there were few signs of any birds, only some Herring Gulls and Jackdaws that were foraging on the shore behind the sewage treatment works. It was approaching low tide and the waters of the Firth of Clyde were fairly distant from the promenade. John spotted a Black Guillemot over 100m away. It was just discernible in the gloomy light.

Herring Gull 3rd Cycle Herring Gull
Black Guillemot Jackdaw

The landscaping behind the sewage treatment works was dilapidated and some would say, in need of renovation, but to us it was a rich source of wildflower sightings. Several flowering Buddleja plants had become established in the cracks on a sloping wall. Also there were glorious, but often detested, Rosebay Willowherb, Perforate St John’s Wort and Tutsan were also growing wild in the verges of the path.

Buddleja Rosebay Willowherb
Perforate St John's Wort Tutsan

Also flowering below the unmaintained wall was Spiraea Japonica and I noticed a Buff-tailed Bumblebee working busily on it, gathering pollen. We next walked a hundred metres towards Cardwell Bay. We settled, for a short time, halfway along to observe the rocks there. There wasn’t much at first, but eventually I noticed that we were being watched by a Carrion Crow perched on railings. Sharp-eyed John drew my attention to a male Pied Wagtail that had landed on the grass behind us. He also pointed out a female Eider duck that was preening on a distant rock by the shore.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee / Spiraea Japonica Carrion Crow
Pied Wagtail Female Eider

We were delighted to see, cruising down the Clyde Estuary, the legendary Waverley paddle steamer. I found out later that it was on a cruise that would visit the Kyles of Bute, Inchmarnock and the Cumbraes.

I was aware that there were crows foraging on the rocks in front of where we were sitting, But I was slow to realise that amongst these was a Hooded Crow, which is seen less often than its cousin, the ubiquitous Carrion Crow. A loose dog marauding along the seashore disturbed a group of Oystercatchers which flew onto the rocks in front of us. We moved on as a Lesser Blackbacked Gull flew over us and across the playing fields.

Hooded Crow....
Oystercatcher Lesser Black-backed Gull

We briefly relocated to the west side of Gourock Bay, as I’ve had some nice sightings there in previous visits. When we got out of the car John noticed there were birds on the short grass beside social housing. I got shots of Woodpigeons and Jackdaws. There was a family of Mute Swans, a cygnet and two adults, on the water. And just as we were about to return to the car, a seaplane passed overhead, probably on its way to Loch Lomond (since the plane belongs to a company called Loch Lomond Seaplanes !).

Wood Pigeon Jackdaw
Mute Swan... .....Juvenile

Fairly satisfied with our time in Gourock, we drove eastwards, past Greenock and on to Port Glasgow where we parked at Newark Castle which overlooks the Clyde Estuary. Note the boat on the right of the shot. It is the “Glen Rosa”, a Cal-Mac dual-fuel car and passenger ferry which is currently nearing completion after being launched a few months ago.

We sat at the edge of the rocky shore and surveyed the scene. I captured possibly my best Jackdaw shot of the trip and followed it with possibly my worst shot of the trip in which the most interesting subject is out of focus - a line of Black Guillemots. The Herring Gull in the shot was hardly worth the effort. Following those shots John alerted me to the “Grey Heron incoming from the left!”, and it was, pursued by a very angry Black-headed Gull. We reasoned, or hoped it might be automatically chasing it, rather than responding to a predation. John spotted another Testie (Black Guillemot), the closest we’d seen, but still over 50m away. The sun had come out and gave me nice light to photograph some Black Nightshade close to where we were sitting. I followed that with a snap of a Spear Thistle.

Jackdaw Herring Gull
Grey Heron Black Guillemot
Black Nightshade Spear Thistle

We walked the path further from the castle towards a derelict pier. A Cormorant surfaced about 30m out before continuing its dives under and beyond the pier. A pair of Testies turned up by the pier, about 40m from the shore. They too disappeared to the far side of the pier. Before we returned to the car I photographed a mature Broad-leaved Willowherb and also a pair of Large Bindweed flowers.

Cormorant Black Guillemot
Broad-leaved Willowherb Large Bindweed

Looking across the estuary we could make out another of our favourite locations - Ardmore Point.

Our final stop of the trip was Parklea, Port Glasgow. By the time we arrived there, the sky was blue and the sun was shining, and for the first ten minutes we simply sat enjoying the weather and admiring the view. As we did that, we were approached by a rather excited gentleman who asked if we’d seen the diving Gannet. John commented that it was unlikely, but not impossible, that it was a Gannet. I suggested, without thinking it was very likely, it might have been an Osprey. Then the bird returned - it was an Osprey, hovering at least 300m from the shore. It suddenly descended swiftly onto the water and then ascended slowly, carrying away a fish, presumably to a chick in a distant nest. Perhaps it would return for more fish. As we waited, I trailed and eventually photographed a wandering Red Admiral butterfly when it landed on a Common Nettle.

Osprey...
Red Admiral Butterfly

A Jackdaw and its chick then appeared close in on the shore, the young bird persistently harassing its ever-patient parent for food. As I took these pictures, John’s eyes were trained on the sky watching for the return of Osprey. Eventually it did return and it was a good bit closer to the shore. It hovered a few times but didn’t dive before disappearing to the east. We saw it one more time as it passed to the west, again without diving.

Jackdaw Osprey...

At that, we decided it was time for tea and strawberry tarts. It had been a very enjoyable trip that had a dull start but had reached a crescendo with our Osprey sightings in the sunshine. My other favourite sightings were the Hooded Crow and Bumblebees - and of course the Waverley.


Week ending: 7th July : RSPB Lochwinnoch, Fairlie and Portencross

This week we headed for the North Ayrshire coast, specifically Fairlie and Portencross. En route we made a quick visit to RSPB Lochwinnoch. The weather was set fair with a very small chance of a sharp shower. Our first stop though was to Johnstone Morrisons cafe for breakfast (8/10: good, but let down by sub-standard link sausages and a long wait for our food). 

Courtesy of Open Street Map and BBC Tides

Our brief visit to RSPB Lochwinnoch had a disappointing start when we found the scrapes devoid of birds other than a few Black-headed Gulls. We quickly moved to the feeders by the kid’s play area where we were pleased to see a nice variety of small and very familiar birds such as Robin, Chaffinches….

Black-headed Gull Robin
Male Chaffinch Female Chaffinch

……. Collared Doves, Great Tits and Siskins. On our way out of the area John drew my attention to a male Blackbird foraging in the wood chips of the play area.

Collared Dove Juvenile Great Tit
Siskin Blackbird

 We were going to return to the car but I decided to photograph a few flowers that were blooming in the reserve’s wild garden. Meadowsweet was attracting bees. Large patches of Feverfew Daisies and Masterwort, Astrantia major, (a newbie for us) were nice to see. I also noticed Hedge Woundwort in flower and large areas of what is probably Pencilled Cranesbill. Next to the visitor centre I spotted a Potato Capsid on the middle of an Ox-eye Daisy another newbie.

Meadowsweet Feverfew
Great Masterwort Hedge Woundwort
Pencilled Cranesbill Potato Capsid

While John had a quick toilet break I noticed that there was another bird feeding station just beyond the garden. Greenfinches and Blue Tits were making repeated visits to the feeders, watched throughout by Jackdaws in the trees. A Great Willowherb was starting to flower and as I photographed it, I spotted a hard-working Honey Bee on some beautiful Meadowsweet. Not so pretty was a Yellow Dung Fly that I captured on a nearby Hogweed flower head.

Greenfinch Juvenile Blue Tit
Jackdaw Great Willowherb
Honey Bee Yellow Dung Fly

Very satisfied with our collection of sightings, we continue our journey along the winding A760 to the A78 coastal road that lead us to Fairlie, a beautiful, former fishing village that overlooks the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Arran. The car park is a few metres from the shore, on the coast at the south end of the village.

On a first scan of the shore we enjoyed seeing a Grey Heron hunting fish only 10m out. A couple of Jackdaws were walking along the rocky banks at the mouth of the Fairlie Burn. Starlings were their usual flighty selves, especially with so many juveniles in the flock. We crossed the bridge over the burn to investigate the foreshore there, where we had heard bird activity. Typically when we got to the shore the birds had fled. However, we saw Red Poppies,……

Grey Heron Jackdaw
Juvenile Starling Red Poppy

 …… and Buff-tailed Bumblebees were working on the white Bramble flowers. I also noticed a Greenbottle fly, Lucilia Caesar, on the flowers. A lone Campion plant was standing on short grass. Its pink flower and swollen striped calyx lead me to identify it as a hybrid of Red and White Campions, Silene latifolia X dioica. As we crossed back over the bridge John noticed some Wild Marjoram growing beside the bridge at the edge of the burn. Rather disappointed with how few birds we’d seen, we relocated few mile south on the A78 to Portencross.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Fly - Lucilia Caesar
Campion Hybrid,  Silene latifolia X dioica. Wild Marjoram

Portencross is on the coast. Just south of Hunterston Power Station. It is the site of an historic castle . The view below shows the Isle of Arran across the Firth of Clyde. Notice the rain shower being experienced by Lamlash and the Holy Island at the time the pictures were taken.

Again the car park is metres from the sea, and we picked our way across hazardous rocks to reach the recently renovated Portencross Castle. Since our last visit 3 years ago, it was now offering guided tours.

We sat by the small harbour just north of the castle, taking in the view and of course watching for passing birds, or, if we were lucky, even cephalopods.

 Every now and again John alerted me to an incoming Shags and/or Cormorants, but there were few other birds passing over the Firth. I did get a wee visit by a female House Sparrow that landed on low vegetation only a few metres from where I was sitting. In the meantime John was watching for butterflies and hit the jackpot when a Meadow Brown took a wee rest on some White Clover. A Buzzard then appeared circling over the crest of the small hill that overlooks Portencross.

Shag Female House Sparrow
Meadow Brown Butterfly Buzzard

 A juvenile Herring Gull was sitting, acting rather forlornly, waiting, as we found out, for the return of its parent. When the parent bird circled around the harbour a few times, the juvenile called out pleadingly, but its parent flew off, probably because there were people fishing off the harbour, near the juvenile. A Pied Wagtail dropped onto the seaweed-strewn sands of the harbour floor, allowing me the chance to photograph it. Eventually it was joined by a couple of Rock Pipits that were seeking out invertebrates.

1st Cycle Herring Gull Herring Gull
Rock Pipit Pied Wagtail

We started back to the car, fairly satisfied with what we’d seen and photographed. However, little did we know that the best part of the trip was yet to come. As we made our way down the road, we were passed by a van travelling in the opposite direction. It had “Wildlife Ambulance“ painted on its sides. Also, we met a stream of people walking the other way. One of them asked if we’d seen the seals. “No” John replied. But further conversation revealed that a wildlife rescue service were scheduled to release young seals back into the sea. It was then we realised that the ambulance probably was transporting the seals to the harbour we’d just left. Needless to say, we hightailed it back to the harbour which was packed with onlookers watching the three boxes lined up on the edge of the water ready for release.

Eventually the keepers opened the box doors to reveal Common Seal  juveniles. Each emerged, hesitantly at first, but then each dived and circled with some vigour and gradually they edged their way to the harbour mouth. They seemed to stall there though, probably not sure what lay beyond .

Common Seal

Minutes later they vanished beneath the water’s surface and they were free.

 It had been an outing that started well, with plenty of varied sightings, and ended well, with the release of the young Common Seals. The “middle” period perhaps fell a little below our expectations. My favourite shots were the Common Seals at Portencross, the Finches and Tits and our newbie flower, Masterwort at Lochwinnoch. We were lucky with the weather this week and we hope that that will continue next weekend; anything is possible in a temperate maritime climate.

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