Trip reports

Low Valleyfield

Low Valleyfield
Short-eared owl - Brian Robertson

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

A wonderful clear crisp morning greeted us as we gathered in the carpark, just a mile from Culross. The sunshine had brought a good crowd. As we made our way along the path between the trees, Brian, co-ordinator for the outing, identified various bird songs and calls to newcomers to the group. Robin, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit, blackbird and wren called as we progressed through the mixed wood towards the mudflats. Looking upward, a perfect 'V' of a skein of pink footed geese was outlined against the blue sky. Redshank, shelduck, curlew, common and black headed gulls fed out on the mud shelf. A family of 4 mute swans took off from the far shore.

Progressing out of the wood and along the path which fringed the river estuary we stopped to watch a small group of long-tailed tit in the trees. Making our way down the side of the fence and onto the rocks, some strained, but not in vane, to see an elegant greenshank. Other good spots were teal, oystercatcher and a turnstone was reported within the flock in flight. The normally statuesque grey heron was found hunched down close to the embankment. Peering through the shrubbery a little grebe and goldeneye popped up and dived intermittently whilst far out at sea a great crested grebe was spotted.

We progressed down the incline towards Preston Island, which was reclaimed by Sir Robert Preston in the early 19th century, and who established a coal mine to facilitate the production of salt in saltpans. Marine salt pans existed in Scotland from the 12th century, and possibly earlier. But before the 13th century, production relied on wood and peat for fuel. The first joint reference to coal and salt is in 1209, when the monks of Newbattle Abbey were given permission to dig for coals to fuel salt production at what is now Prestonpans. Until then, most salt pans had been located on the carselands below Stirling.

Using a line of reflective roofs for landmarks and using a triangulation with a couple of magpie, a distant single fieldfare was spied. Initial identification of this bird was hampered due to a strong heat haze! Meanwhile, scanning the surrounding grass and scrub we picked up a stonechat and a meadow pipit perched on a tall fence.

Ahh! Lunch on the rocks overlooking the River Forth. Here, a rather boldly charming male Red-breasted Merganser preened to an audience of admirers. Further along the path and again, looking through the fence, a small flock of skylarks were found foraging in the grass whilst another could be heard singing lustily above. Towards the hamlet of Low Valleyfield, a flock of wigeon were seen swimming in the natural basin.

Up went the call 'Short eared owls'. Three shorties flew above the embankment for several minutes circling then gliding on outstretched wings hunting for field voles, their favourite food. This undoubtedly was the bird of the day. Behind us a kestrel perched on a conifer and a song thrush with its streaked chestnut and buff breast sat beautifully in the changing light. Heading along the path down through the trees a buzzard flew out from hiding. A brief sighting of a flock of lapwing were also reported. More long-tailed tits gave themselves up, then a coal tit before some blue tits got in on the action as well on the walk back to the car park.

Winnie Thomson