The birds that is. I’ll explain…

James had kindly offered to take me out to a coastal spot that I hadn’t been to on Saturday. That place was Barns Ness, and what a place it was.

Before even leaving the house I spotted 2 Sand Martins flying low over the field, a good garden tick. I was hopeful that the rest of the day would be more of the same.

First though we checked the crags in Holyrood Park for Fulmars as James knew I didn’t have it on my life list, but they decided not to show. I’ve seen them reported there a few times on BirdTrack but haven’t seen them yet, unfortunately.

So we continued on to Barns Ness, just past Dunbar. I’d checked the weather before leaving and it said light showers all day. When we arrived by Whitesands Quarry it was quite nice, bit cloudy but bright. Another birder said there were Wheatears, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs down on the beach so we moved on to the beach and boy was that a good idea.

We first checked the “wire dump”, an infamous spot for migrants and vagrants, quite often producing Wryneck and rare Warblers. For us it produced a Robin, a Song Thrush, and a Swallow which quickly disappeared round the corner. A very quick year tick. Again I was hoping the rest of the day would be just as good. Next up was the tree line behind the sand dunes, and the first bird there was a Chiffchaff, and so was the second, and the third, and the fourth. There were loads of them, the pine trees were crawling with Phylloscs. And sure enough, there were some Willow Warblers amongst them with their longer “pp” (primary projection). An easy year tick as there seemed to have been a fall of them. I’d estimate there was about 50 birds there in total, not including the 2 Goldcrests, 2 Coal Tits, and 4-5 Goldfinches.

We spent a while looking for something good, perhaps an Eastern Crowned Warbler or Arctic Warbler. You never know… But all our search produced was more Willowchaffs and Chiff Warblers.  


On we moved to the beach where James pointed out the wreck that usually has the Rock Pipits, Water Pipits and Snow Buntings around it. The first bird I thought I’d seen on the beach was a Snow Bunting, a lifer. But it turned out to be the first (of MANY) Wheatear, a stunning male in all his finery. He hopped about in the rocks as I faffed about setting up my camera on my scope. Of course he disappeared as I turned the camera on. But never fear, the Wheatears were here. There were loads, and we came across another handsome male further along the beach. 


Also on the beach were a few Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks over the dunes, and gulls and Gannets out at sea flying above the Eiders


A couple of the gulls were adult Great Black-backed Gulls, not the pale juveniles that I saw of Gullane Point a few weeks ago. We also decided to have a quick look at the gulls out on the rocks and the one on the right caught my eye as being pretty pale but couldn’t be sure of Glaucous or Iceland. 


After looking at more Wheatears on the beach and also another Reed Bunting and a lone Starling, I added another lifer. This time it was a rather less colourful bird, a Rock Pipit. Still a very nice bird to see, especially after reading all the sightings on the Birding Lothian website. So I digiscoped him/her for a bit and we moved back along the beach as the clouds were looking quite threatening. 



Passing the wreck a Lark of some sort flew past, I called it as Skylark but it didn’t look quite right. At that point it had started raining quite heavily and I was trying to hide my scope under my puffer jacket as I hadn’t brought my cover; typical. So we pegged it to the car, or at least hurriedly walked. About halfway to the car James said, “Is that snow we’re about to walk into?” And as I looked up my face was struck by hundreds of hailstones. I called back, “No, it isn’t,” but I don’t think James heard me over the wind and hail. 

Eventually back in the car the hail stopped pretty soon. I got my raincoat on as I should have done when mum told me to, and we pulled up by Whitesands Quarry again. The attraction here is a large body of water which is the result of rain filling in the quarry. As I joined James at the viewpoint the first notable thing I saw was some hirundines flying about low over the water. As they got closer my bins told me that they were Sand Martins, and James’ bins agreed. Or at least the two closest to us were, maybe the others could have been more Swallows, but not confirmable.

As James went back to the car to get his scope I had a wee scan and only noticed some ducks (later turned out to be Wigeon), some gulls (probably Herring and Lesser Black-backed), and more of these unidentifiable hirundines. Once he got back, pretty quickly a good bird appeared. A Sandpiper. Yas! No Sandpipers on my life list except Redshank and Dunlin. Turned out to be a Common Sandpiper. A nice little bird which I’m hoping I’ll see more of this year. So that’s 3 lifers that Barns Ness gave me. Awesome. 


Also by the water were loads of Wheatears, more than were on the beach; Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. A Buzzard made an appearance and a Carrion Crow made sure that appearance wasn’t a long one. Before we left we noticed some Shrews squeaking in the grass by the viewpoint.

Next up was Torness, or the fields around Torness Power Station, to check if any of the wintering geese were still about. No luck, nothing there other than 2 more Wheatears, and a pair of Oystercatchers.

So we checked in at Torness, the bushes around the car park there have produced Siberian Stonechat, Bluethroat, Greenish Warbler and Firecrest. It was efinitely worth a look, and also means I now know where it is, incase I want to go there again which I no doubt will.

We got out the car and checked the field right next to it, which I thought has Woodpigeons in it but tat was the suns glare putting me off. They were in fact Curlew, or at least mostly Curlew… One of the ones I was looking at had buff colouring in it’s breast, had a completely black bill, and just didn’t look like your average, everyday, normal Curlew. James also saw something that made him jump. But of course, Sod’s law, they flew off once I had my scope set up. 

We went round to the other side of the field where we’d see them better, encountering possibly over 50 Wheatear on the way, and lots of Pied Wags, a couple Skylarks too. Once in position we looked at each bird on the field but none jumped out at me. Oh well…

On the way back around the field we stopped so I could get some nice shos of the many Wheatears and a couple of Pied Wags


Whilst scanning through the birds finding nothing but Wheatear, a Dunnock, and 2 Blue Tit; I came across a bird that made me incapable of speaking. It was a  Redstart of some sort and at the time we thought Black Redstart. It was too early for a Common… Or was it? Upon review of my pictures it turns out it was a Common Redstart, possibly the first one recorded in Scotland this year! Not to mention being another lifer. 


Our original plan was to go back to the car and head home at this poin, but as James pointed out, you don’t have days this good that often, so we checked out the sea wall. After wading through the swathes of Wheatears we got to the sea wall, had a brief look out to see what we could see see see, which was nothing but the big, blue sea sea sea… And a few waders which we decided to leave unidentified just so I didn’t get too many lifers in one day. 

Another possible year tick was a possible Shag but it was a Cormorant, who posed nicely in the sun for me. 


What a brilliant day that was. I really hope I can get out over the next few weeks to places like Barns Ness and Torness and Tyningham to see all the common migrants and rarities that will definitely be showing up. I’m staying hopeful for Hoopoe! I’m sure I forgot something but there’s plenty there for you to read 🙂


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