Sunday, June 08, 2008

Muirshiels Country Park

Thursday was grey with the threat of showers on the East coast and absolutely bouncing on the west coast so we decided to head up to Loch Leven, north of Edinburgh, a substantial inland body of water. The reserve itself was very pleasant and I'm sure at other times of the year there's lots about but we found it very quiet, with a few warblers (Blackcap, Willow and Sedge) singing a pair of Bullfinch and a number of Song Thrushes. We checked out the hides having walked to the top of the hill - this being the view from the top:















But as I said it was very quiet, so we had tea and cake. We were at a bit of a loose end as we were considering going to the Isle of May where a Common Rosefinch had been seen a few days previously but the weather was closing and we didn't want to blow the whole afternoon. In the end we decided to head to Tentsmuir Forest on the coast, south of Dundee, and popped in to the Eden Estuary on the way - the tide was out but we could still see Wigeon and Merganser on the water, along with the more regular ducks we'd already encountered on the trip.

Tentsmuir was a great choice. It was very quiet, except for the military exercises occurring to the East of Dundee (lots of artillery explosions, bursts of heavy machine gun fire and low flying fighter-bombers), and with lots of wildlife. We heard Scottish Crossbill on three occasions but weren't fortunate enough to see one. We did spy a pair of Treecreepers:

















We walked through the forest to Tentsmuir Point NNR, which was even quieter, we saw only one other human. It is an idyllic spot though:














Halfway across the bay a large group of Grey Seals was lounging as the tide came in. Time was running out though as we had to head back to the hotel to meet up with some family for dinner, so we headed back to the car park and the trip back to Aberlady.

On Friday morning we checked of the Kilspindie and headed first to Lochwinnoch, en route to our evening destination of Largs. Lochwinnoch, like Loch Leven is a nice enough spot but again at this time of year, really very quiet. This Carrion Crow had managed to scavenge a fish, I don't believe it would have been capable of 'catching' it:

















Lochwinnoch was exhausted as a location within about an hour even though we tried to find Common Sandpiper by walking out along the River Calder, into the reserve, and up the river a way looking for Dipper, both without luck. We decided to try and follow the river higher into the hills and traced it to something called Muirshiels on the map.

It was a splendid decision. On the single-track road up to the park we encountered both Spotted Flycatcher:




















and our first Mistle Thrush of the holiday:




















When we got to the park there were no other visitors, it being one of the best kept secrets of this part of Scotland (why !?!). The staff were delighted to have visitors and gave us a very detailed description of the park and its birds, including Hen Harriers, Grouse, Dippers, Common Sandpipers, Cuckoos, various Warblers, Scottish Crossbill, Stonechat and Whinchat, etc, etc. They recommended we try out the short downhill walk to a waterfall where the local Dippers had nested but they warned us the young had already fledged, sure enough there was nothing about. We headed up the river, following a 4x4 track on to the moors for about a mile and a half. En route we heard at least four cuckoos and enjoyed distant views of two of them. Down on the river a wader was making a right racket, it was in fact a pair of Common Sandpipers:
















This is a view back down the path showing the river and the open moor land beyond:















From the track and above the woodland almost every bird encountered was a Meadow Pipit, this chap was watching us watching him:




















Another further along, singing and calling before taking off to do a singing/parachuting song flight:















On the way back to the visitor centre we spotted a male Cuckoo calling, he was joined by a female who then dropped to the floor, feeding or laying an egg, we don't know, but we'd not seen a female before.

We headed down to the waterfall again, having seen a distant Dipper on a branch of the river but too far away to photograph. Again no joy but sat on the fence was this Whinchat:


















Having seen this bird, this close, I am sure it was a first and that the bird I identified as a Whinchat last April on the Sussex Coast (Garden Birds and other sightings...: and then to Eastbourne... Day 1) was in fact a female Stonechat. We were able to get reasonably close and take a few more shots before the bird took flight:
















It's great to be able to look back and observe mistakes we have made in identification. Each time we go out we learn more about the birds around us, their appearance, behaviours, movements, songs and calls, and each day we still make mistakes but we really are learning and by knowing more, we are seeing and hearing more and are more aware of what is around us.
We enjoyed Muirshiels so much that we changed our plans for Saturday. Initially we had planned to visit Great Cumbrae Island, by catching a ferry from Largs - now we fancied visiting another of the visitor centres in the Country Park (it being a vast expanse) and going for another walk.

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