Washington And East Lothian - 17th - 19th February 2018

Rain was in the air as our group of 27 waited for the coach to arrive on Altrincham Road. It duly pulled in, driven by our driver for the weekend, Steve, who quickly got our bags packed and we were soon on our way to Lothian. The weather cleared as we crossed the Pennines, and, by the time we reached our first stop at Washington Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, the sun was shining.


Fortunately, the timing of our arrival coincided with a guided walk around the reserve by the warden, so many of the group took the opportunity to get a first-hand account of the work done on the site and an introduction to its wildlife from the local expert. There are a number of hides to visit, covering a variety of habitats, and the Hawthorn Wood hide is probably one of the best woodland hides on any reserve. There was constant activity as Great Spotted Woodpecker (far left), Nuthatch and Treecreeper(left) all came down to feed, joined by Blue, Great, Coal, Long-tailed Tits (below) and Willow Tits as well as Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch; the Bullfinches put on a particularly good display. Add to that a supporting cast including Goldcrest, Jay, Robin, Wren and Dunnock, all at close quarters, and you can see just how good this site is.


Moving on, the hide overlooking the river and saline lagoon was a good place to see Goldeneye, Goosander, and Redshank, while the hides by the wader lake proved to be an excellent spot for lunch while being entertained by nesting Grey Herons, Oystercatcher, Little Grebe, Shelduck, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler.

It was soon time to leave and we had two further stops that afternoon. The harbour at Seahouses provided really good views of Eider, while the surrounding rocks held an assortment of waders which included Turnstone and our only views of Purple Sandpiper. When we arrived at Budle Bay, the tide was well in, but we soon found a Spotted Redshank on the shore and Red-breasted Merganser in the bay, while some large flocks of geese which rose into the air on the opposite shore tested our identification skills before we were able to confirm that they contained both Light-bellied Brent Geese (from the Svalbard population) and Pink-footed Geese. A drive up the coast past Berwick-upon-Tweed then took us to our comfortable hotel in Haddington, the county town of East Lothian, where we enjoyed a very welcome dinner.


An optional walk before breakfast the following morning attracted 18 group members, no doubt enticed by descriptions given the previous evening of what had been seen on previous trips here; to get two-thirds of the group out at 07:00 in the morning must be something of a record! Soon we had close views of Goosander (male, far left and female, left), some beautifully lit as they swam between the arches of the bridge, and this was soon followed by a pair of Dippers further downstream. However, the best was yet to come.


As we returned to the bridge, a Kingfisher gave excellent views as it perched both on the riverside vegetation and on the bridge itself, before an Otter was spotted fishing in the river immediately below the bridge. Instead of swimming off, as we might have expected, the Otter remained fishing very successfully in the same spot, where it was joined by another one, and we eventually had to leave them to get back in time for breakfast. Alison stayed behind, only to see a third Otter join them, and to watch them swim downstream and eventually go over the weir!

Our first stop after breakfast was at Ferny Ness near Longniddry. There were Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit on the beach, while further out in the bay, a number of Slavonian Grebe and Long-tailed Duck gave reasonable views. We had walked along the beach, looking for a reported Water Pipit, but only managed to see a Meadow Pipit; a few who walked back down the beach did manage to see the Water Pipit as it fed amongst the seaweed collected above the tideline.


We then went east along the coast to Aberlady Bay from where we were planning to walk to Gullane Point and on to Gullane village. Looking from the bridge that crosses the burn, a Little Egret could be seen fishing, while Wigeon grazed the banks. The walk to the point passes a small loch where Reed Buntings perched in the reeds, while further on there were Skylarks singing, Snipe flying round and Stonechats sitting on the tops of low bushes. The flocks of Fieldfare made an impressive sight as they fed on the berries of Sea Buckthorn, occasionally taking to the air en masse. There must have been a few thousand birds present, with a small number of Redwings accompanying them. Gullane Point provided a good spot for lunch (for those who hadn’t already eaten it along the way) and was also good for birds with numerous Red-throated Divers, Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Razorbill and passing Sanderling, while Rock Pipits fed on the rocks below. The onward route to Gullane proved longer than planned, and most people were very happy to see the coach which was waiting for us there.

The final stop of the day was at Musselburgh where we took a short walk along the sea wall. The tide was well in by now but, unusually, birds seemed to be staying quite well offshore. One of the birds we hoped to see here was Surf Scoter, and it wasn’t long before Hugo found the bird, in with a flock of Common Scoter. It was fairly distant, but most people managed to get a look at it. There were Velvet Scoter too and some small flocks of Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneye. As the light started to go, we headed back to our hotel and dinner.


The weather had been excellent for the first two days, but our final morning turned out to be wet. Some of those who had had a lie in on the first day came out for the pre-breakfast walk, but inevitably we couldn’t repeat all the sightings of the previous day and had to be content with very good numbers of Goosander and the Dippers.
Dunbar was our first stop today, and the rain was still falling as we searched for Snow Buntings on the beach. The first flock we found was of Linnets, but eventually the Snow Buntings were spotted. We managed to get a few scopes on them, but they were particularly uncooperative, soon flying off and eventually being lost. There were a few waders on the beach, the most noteworthy being a Grey Plover, and an assortment of ducks on the sea, but these soon moved away as the tide went down.

The weather had eased as we visited North Berwick, but visibility was poor so there was no opportunity to see the large numbers of Gannets circling around Bass Rock. There were a few Shags offshore and at least one Guillemot but the only other bird of interest was a Pied Wagtail, the first we had seen on the weekend.


As most group members hadn’t seen the Water Pipit on our first visit, we went back to Ferny Ness to see if we could relocate it. We went straight to the spot where it had been seen the day before and there it was, showing well amongst the seaweed. Plastic waste can be a real problem, but occasionally it has its uses, as the bird seemed to favour a spot near some blue plastic which proved ideal for getting people on to the bird. Not only were the views better and longer than the day before, but there was also a second bird in slightly different plumage which allowed us to compare the two.

A final stop at Musselburgh at a different state of the tide allowed us to see the waders massing on the beach as the tide came in. There were lots of Redshank, Oystercatchers (right), Turnstone, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin as well as a variety of Gulls, while out at sea, there were similar species to those we saw yesterday including the Surf Scoter again, and one or two Black Guillemots.

It was soon time to head for home, and a smooth journey got us back to Wilmslow. We had seen no fewer than 98 species over the three days. Thanks are again due to Barbara Punchard for all the hard work she puts in to organise the weekend, to our driver, Steve, who was very accommodating in getting us to the places we wanted to visit and joined in with the group at meal times, and to all members of the group who contributed to making it a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

Photos by Robert D


For more photos from the trip please visit Sandpiper’s page on the Group website at

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