Seasons Turning in Musselburgh

We barely seem to have had a summer and already autumn’s in the air! But this time of year is a great time to go birdwatching along the coast near Musselburgh.

The route I always take is to walk from the centre of Musselburgh along the River Esk then following the coastal John Muir Walkway to the Musselburgh Lagoons bird reserve and boating pond. It’s a fascinating walk at any time of year, for anyone interested in nature.

At this time of the year, the John Muir Walkway is a mass of colour, with red clover, white clover, the pinks of willowherbs and the yellows of birds’ foot trefoil and tall melilot. Meadow Brown and Ringlet butterflies join the bees in enjoying the nectar, while you may be lucky enough to see a common blue damselfly or two.

But it’s the birds that steal the show. Musselburgh is justly famed for its birds, as many rarities have been known to turn up on the coast here (these unusual species are generally reported on the Birding Lothian website. So keep your eyes peeled! Some species, such as the velvet scoter, while not rarities as such, are not often seen in Lothian outside of this area. Even without the rarities, though, Musselburgh is a wonderful place for birdwatching at any time of year, there’s such a variety of species to see and many of them appear in large numbers.

Late summer is a particularly interesting time of year. The summer birds are still here, the common, arctic and sandwich terns all hovering gracefully above the water, then diving down to catch fish. You may even see a gannet, flying in from the huge colony on the Bass Rock to do a bit of peaceful fishing here. The Lagoons are at the moment full of lapwings, those wonderful farmland birds, that are so sadly declining (as are many of our birds). Meanwhile the winter visitors are already starting to arrive, and they’re still in their beautiful summer plumages! Bar tailed godwits, which in winter are quite grey looking, are wading elegantly at the mouth of the Esk just now in their gorgeous brick red plumage. Dunlin, again a dull bird in winter, still have their distinctive black underparts and warm brown upper parts and have joined the lapwings in the lagoons!

Admittedly some birds can be confusing at this time of year. Many ducks are in eclipse, which means they’re moulting and the males look more like females. There are a lot of eider ducks at Musselburgh just now for instance, but only a few of the males are in their well known white and black plumage.

If you can drag your eyes away from the water, you may be rewarded with seeing skylarks, meadow pipits or reed buntings, all of which nest in the grassland along the John Muir Walkway. Swallows and house martins regularly swoop overhead and from now through to early September may be seen gathering in large numbers over the Esk.

So if you’ve never gone birdwatching on this area of coast, then now is the time to do it! Once you have done, you’ll want to keep coming back!

To find out about the birds mentioned in this article, visit the RSPB website.

To find out about the butterflies mentioned in this article, visit the Butterfly Conservation website.

To find out about the damselfly species mentioned in this article, visit the UK Dragonflies website.

To find out about the flowers mentioned in this article, visit the British Wildflowers website.


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