Friday 19 February 2016

Scotland by Rail - Musselburgh - lagoons and sea wall, no owls

watercolour & ink & a lot of rain.  (spot Berwick Law?)

Scotland by Rail - Musselburgh
(with artist Kittie Jones -

A great visit if you're interested in birds and a great visit if you're not. (but why are you not??)

Towards the start of the morning and the middle-end of the afternoon the train to Musselburgh is a packed one, packed with students on their way to and from Queen Margaret University. When you all get off the QMUers will turn right and you should turn left.

Taking that left turn follow the main road (Whitehill farm Road, becomes Stoneybank Terrace), houses on either side, for five minutes until the River Esk is below you on the right. Find your way down to the river and follow it. Musselburgh is one of those quite-far-from-the-town-centre stations but don't worry, it means you get to accompany the Esk on its final kilometre of land life and watch as it emerges into -merges into- the wide waters of the Forth.

As soon as you reach the river there are chances of dippers, goosander, maybe a kingfisher, but a bit further on there are small islands by the river bridges and birdlife was abundant. It's the sort of spot where people feed the birds (Hovis White? hopefully not.) and there are all the expected - mallards, mute swans, coots, moorhens. But others too - Canada geese bugling softly, goosander, tufted ducks, assorted gulls, little grebe. Also five or six really tame goldeneye, which if you've never had a good view of, you should. Try coming here. They stunning males already seemed in courtship mode, flipping darkly shimmering green heads upside-down to neck-achingly rest on shining white-black backs. (See my Pitlochry blog post by clicking here.)

the River Esk


Sea wall

We were walking on the right-hand side of the Esk and when we reached the sea we turned right. Left and left is an option for another day. You're at the start of a long long stretch of shoreline and really can make your own journey in either direction. We only travelled another kilometre or so, along sea wall then sitting sketching from the bird hides overlooking Musselburgh lagoons, then exploring the scrub and grasslands. Short-eared owls had been showing here for days and days - five birds or more! - but we saw none.

From the sea wall we saw Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Scoter (7), Cormorant, Dunlin, Eider, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, Lapwing, Redshank, Tufted Duck, Curlew, Great Black-backed Gull, Greylag Goose, Long-tailed Duck (1), Mallard, Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Merganser, Rock Pipit, Shag.

Esk joins Forth. Spot Arthur's Seat


Musselburgh lagoons

On the lagoons there were fewer species but in huge numbers  - Bar-tailed Godwit 300+, Redshank 120+, Curlew 120+, Oystercatcher 2,000+. And others in smaller numbers, including Greenshank 1.

The lagoon hides are open to all (but also open to the skies - not good in rain!), just approach quietly and settle, get out your flask and watch. Binoculars will really add to your experience. In total through the whole day we saw 52 different bird species.

pencil in sketchbook from one of the three lagoon hides

Musselburgh lagoons, before the rain came
teal & a shelduck

oystercatchers, Musselburgh lagoons, sea beyond.

lapwing flight & teal

gulls & oystercatchers

teal & a shelduck
godwits, redshank, black-headed gulls, curlew, oystercatcher

oystercatchers & Berwick Law

The whole area is great to explore and although it's pretty heavily visited (joggers, walkers, dog walkers, birders, photographers, sketchers [2] ) you can find secluded spots to stop and sit alone. The amount of discarded bags of dog dirt was shocking though, all around the grassy areas and thrown into so many patches of pathside tree and shrub.

To get home we walked to Wallyford station, about two kilometres from the lagoons so a much shorter walk than back to Musselburgh. For the last kilometre you choose between housing estate and busy road. We chose busy road but liked it - roe deer gracefully picking their way through scrubland over on our left.


How to get there

Musselburgh station is only eight minutes by train from Edinburgh Waverley.

Find the ScotRail timetable here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their invaluable support of my Scotland by Rail work.


No comments:

Post a Comment