Sunday, June 08, 2008


We left Bamburgh on Tuesday morning, another day of heavy rain, and headed up to our next base in Aberlady. We stopped short of Aberlady on the A198, to take in the views across the Firth of Forth. With the mist/fog the power station on the far shore added to the shrouded feel of the place. A few Sandwich Terns flew overhead calling to each other and a few gulls dotted the shoreline but it was very quiet and peaceful.

By contrast with Bamburgh we stayed at the Kilspindie hotel on the main road in Aberlady, the room was spacious, the bed comfortable, the breakfast cooked to order and all for notably less than our previous accommodation. I'd recommend it as a good stop-over, the bar meals are very good and there's posh nosh if you want it! Anyway having checked in, we noted it wasn't raining, in fact it was clearing so time for a quick three hour walk before dinner.

We walked the small peninsula around the two golf courses (far too many golf courses in Scotland and not enough 'real' green space). En route, and avoiding some suitably over-dressed golfers, we spotted a Grey Seal sat out of the water, it looks like it's 'moulting'?

There were few birds on the peninsula, maintaining the 'links' through heavy mowing and landscaping leaves very little space for them, except the odd Skylark and some pairs of Linnets, including this male:

We retired back to the hotel and hoped for better on Wednesday, a planned thirteen mile walk from the hotel through Aberlady LNR (the UK's first Local Nature Reserve dating from 1952) and following the coast to North Berwick. We weren't disappointed. Wednesday morning dawned clear, bright and warm. We set off promptly walking through the village of Aberlady, over the footbridge and onto the reserve. From the footbridge this Grey Heron was sunning itself in the morning sun:

On entering the reserve, we were immediately struck by the numbers of singing birds. It was an amazing experience, many different warblers, garden birds and other summer breeders all in full voice. We saw and heard Grasshopper, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow, Sedge and Reed Warblers as well as Blackcap, Stonechats, Reed Buntings, and many more familiar singers.

This Willow Warbler was prominent:

As well as the birds, the reserve supports a number of Roe Deer, I don;t know how many but we spotted at least four at various distances from two yards to fifty:

Another Willow Warbler, this time having a preen in between bursts of song:

The habitat at Aberlady is a mixture of sand dunes, salt marsh and low lying grassland, ideal for some of our scarcer flowering plants, such as this Marsh Orchid:

Having walked through the reserve we reached the shore at the head of the peninsula, the view is fantastic, big sandy sweeps, the deep blue of the firth and the distant far shore:

Along the coastline, this Skylark perched on a rock in between song flights, raised its crest as we approached:

We passed large numbers of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Eider ducks and were surprised by the quantity of Stonechats present:

Further along the shoreline another view across the Firth:

We stopped in one bay for a mid-morning refreshment break and were treated to a display of plunge diving by a small group of Gannets:

The bird is quite some distance away and the picture blurry but it was great to witness the birds diving for food, first-hand. At the end of the bay a group of Oystercatchers were roosting:

And a little further along a creche of Eider ducks and young, who all scuttled away as we get closer:

As you progress along the coastline Bass Rock, looms large on the horizon. This island hosts approximately 140,000 breeding Gannets. If you look closely at the picture (click on it) it has a 'halo' of birds in flight around it. I should imagine activity levels only increase once the chicks have started hatching:

Before we turned inland toward North Berwick Helen spotted the trees on the shoreline had grown with a certain wind bias, which suggests it isn't always so pleasant a shoreline walk:

Towards the end of the walk we were worried we'd have to do a couple of miles on the roads, but luckily East Lothian council have recently completed the John Muir way, an uninterrupted walk along a lot of their coastline, which links up the original public footpaths and takes you into North Berwick itself and beyond. We gathered from a ranger we met at Musselburgh (below) this was only completed in the face of stiff resistance by some local developers who wanted to build a secure gated community across the path of the walk and block all access. Nice. They took the council to court and lost thanks to the public access laws across Britain :)

Having completed the walk, which was a real highlight of our holiday, we headed to nearby Musselburgh and the ash pits, which have been created on 'land' reclaimed by the local power station (by dumping coal ash). It being June and with most of the birds away breeding we were disappointed that from the first hide all we could see were a couple of muddy rings. We moved to the second hide expecting the worst but were pleased to see a small flock of waders roosting at high tide, including Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and Oystercatchers:

It was here we met said Ranger who advised us they used this 'quiet time' to maintain the ponds, including keeping the grass low to assist the birds in avoiding the local foxes and to prepare the pits for autumn and winter. She also pointed us to an ash 'cliff' (really a small wall cut into another large ash deposit) which has been cut for Sand Martins. There were a number of holes being occupied, including by this bird collecting nesting material in the form of some dried cut grass:

East Lothian council is clearly doing a very good job in preserving some of its natural resources and access and in creating habitat where before was only waste.

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