Skinflats and Black Devon Wetlands
Sunday 26th May 2019
Not a promising weather forecast – grey overcast skies and light drizzle, but five hardy souls suitably dressed in waterproofs, met in the car park just south of Kincardine Bridge. Goldfinches and a Tree Sparrow were flitting about in a nearby tree and a Blackcap was heard.
After organising in fewer cars, our first stop was at the start of the public footpath which leads towards Skinflats lagoons. (There is room by the gate for two or three cars to park.) Again, a Blackcap was singing loudly, this time in the company of Willow Warblers. The path leads between marshy areas with scrub, mostly Willow and mature Hawthorn. Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting were noted by the marshy areas, while Skylark and Yellowhammer were heard near the fields and a single Swallow and Swift were seen overhead. The thickets and wooded areas held Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, Woodpigeon, Wren and Whitethroat. A distant Carrion Crow was heard.
Arriving at Skinflats lagoon, we watched a ‘cloud’ of Swifts, estimated at 60+, wheeling above the water, with the full deck of Swallows, House and Sand Martins circling below. Quite a hirundine spectacle! On the water, a Mute Swan was feeding with seven cygnets. We noted a good variety of waterbirds – Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Coot and Moorhen. A Grey Heron stalked the water’s edge, and, at some exposed mud on the far side, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin were feeding along with Shelduck. A Common Tern was seen, with Black-headed Gull, Herring Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull.
From the viewing point, we walked east, again between Hawthorn decked with May blossom, the light breeze blowing the white petals over us and across the path like confetti. Coal Tits chattered in the bushes, and a Roe Deer buck, unfazed, stared from the cover of tall reeds. At the smaller pool, a Common Gull was sitting on a fence post in the water, but our attention was diverted overhead to watch a Buzzard being harried by two Carrion Crows. Returning back along the Hawthorn path, Starlings flew over and Linnet and Great Tit were added to our list.
The trail continues west, passing a stand of pine trees where Goldcrest could be heard squeaking high in the branches, along with Blue Tit and Blackcap in the mixed shrubs. While cutting along the edge of a cereal field, a Pied Wagtail flew over and Skylarks could again be heard and seen in flight. On reaching the steep muddy bank, the advice was to attempt to scramble up – the two brave members who reached the top added distant Curlew and Cormorant to the day’s list.
Returning past the lagoon, the distinctive ‘whinnying’ of a Little Grebe was heard and the bird was later seen. Back in the Hawthorn, a Magpie was noted and then a Kestrel hunting over the rough grassland. Beside the path, male and female Orange Tip butterflies were admired. And so back to the cars.
Our next short stop was at RSPB Skinflats; the narrow approach road and lack of car parking ensure that this is a quiet low-key reserve, very much in development. The sea wall was breached in October 2018 to increase the area of inter-tidal mudflats and saltmarsh. Few birds were about – two Lapwings, Redshank, and Shelduck at the water’s edge, while an Oystercatcher sat resolutely on a freshly shingle-topped island. A burst of rich purple in the grass drew our attention to two flower spikes of Northern Marsh Orchids. Bursts of blue sky appeared above as the clouds started to break.
Our final stop of the day was to visit the RSPB reserve of Black Devon Wetlands, Alloa. This is also a relatively new reserve, the land leased in 2015, and is now being developed as part of the Inner Forth Futures. Walking from the car park (at the junction of Bowhouse Road and Riverside View), House Sparrow, Starlings and Feral Pigeon were seen, but once through the gate, we were reminded of our proximity to the wetlands by a fly-past of six male Gadwall. New paths and boardwalk lead to the hide overlooking a freshwater pool where we watched the regulars – Coot, Mute Swan, Mallard, Little Grebe – and in the distance, Pheasant and Buzzard. The path continues across open flower meadows and wet grassland to new ponds with invertebrate identification posters. Few small birds were about during this visit as the wind was now gusting quite strongly. There has been much tree planting around the perimeter of this reserve, and I look forward to visiting again in a few years time.
A most enjoyable day. Final observation was that we had not seen a Robin all day! Last words have to be ‘No Robins – and no rain’.