Thursday, 24 January 2019

Ayr. The Beach Walk. Birdlife By The Coast.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A weekend day trip down to Ayr saw me boarding the X 77 express bus down to this well known west coast seaside town. This runs from Buchanan Street Bus Station in Glasgow via Kilmarnock and Prestwick  and takes about an hour as it mainly uses the fast dual carriageway down to Ayr. Another bus leaving from the same bus station is the number 4 but it takes around 2 hours to Ayr as it goes via Mearns Cross, Fenwick, the back roads, and various small rural communities but gives you a real sense of the Ayrshire heartland of farms, cow dotted fields, and small villages. Ayrshire is famous for dairy farming... or it used to be back when cows were popular and milk made a reasonable profit to justify keeping them in the fields. My own childhood was filled with dairy cows everywhere in the landscape five minutes walk away from the house. Black and white icons of the surrounding rolling countryside. Not as many different herds left now though, whittled down to only the most productive, technologically advanced farms in any given area.
Above is the Arklow Valiant cargo ship out of Rotterdam unloading at the Port of Ayr. I wandered down here straight from the bus station as you are always likely to see something happening in a port and around the docks, even in a small port like this.
The sandy beach at Ayr came next and as it was a still, windless morning with a low winter sun and  light sea mist this double act combination cast a diffuse golden light over everything facing south, into the sun, perfect for silhouette photography. This next photo below is north facing though from Alloway looking back towards Ayr with the sun behind me. Very different look. High tide in these shots with not much beach visable.

Ayr beach is a cracker but I've not been on it for many years, at least 25 years. Long enough to forget it.  As a family growing up we rarely visited Ayr although it is the largest seaside town on the Clyde Coast. It also has the greatest number of shops per head of population than any other town centre in Scotland I believe so maybe that was why we turned against it early on as it was hard to get a free parking spot here on a sunny summer day unless you knew the place really well and all the half hidden small car parks in the back streets. I remember driving around these for ages trying to find a free space that tourists could park in rather than outside someone's front door. I also remember a well documented case years ago of touring caravans/ mobile homes getting locked in along the seafront promenade as they closed the road gates surprisingly early in the evening, trapping late arriving visitors in who had stopped to explore or get a meal in town. The sentiment by those folk then was 'do they really want visitors coming here?' which I thought was a valid point at that time from my own experience.
They also seemed, years ago, to be more interested in attracting 2 hour shoppers, rather than day trippers, as the parking areas we visited all had a weird set up where you had to visit a shop in Ayr to buy a parking ticket which only lasted 2 or 3 hours then you had to go back and buy another one. Inconvenient for day visitors on a five hour walk away from the car so we tended to avoid it after that as we didn't get that hassle anywhere else along the west coast resorts. The last time I visited here I parked in a housing estate beside the River Ayr and walked into the town centre over a bridge to solve the parking problem. It still seems to be a busy place to get parked near the main beach or town centre on a weekend, if sunny. On this visit anyway the seafront was stuffed with parked cars, especially along the free section with few spaces available. (it has been foggy for weeks this winter so this was a rare good day on a weekend.) Usual story though- park a mile away up this same beach, but near Alloway and you can park there in several car parks that only see dog-walkers or coastal explorers.Not very handy for the shops though. My own walk headed south along the beach towards the Carrick Hills, seen here in the distance
The up side was it was like visiting a completely new area as I'd actually forgotten how attractive it could be down here... or how much history it had to offer. Just up from the beach is this wide expanse of short grass. Now a pleasant open walking environment with a central path through it this used to be the town's common grazing area where people could bring their livestock (sheep, cattle etc) to eat summer grass for free. I've seen other areas where the farms have closed down and within a few seasons beautiful grassy fields and meadows like this turned into impenetrable jungles of long grass, jaggy shrubs, brambles and infant tree growth. So there was a good reason to encourage livestock on it years ago. It's probably cut by lawnmower squads now.
The northern edge of the open meadow area. Classical municipal buildings and a seaside fun palace for children and families. While I was down here, visiting a seaside town, I was also reading Cathi Unsworth's dark novel 'Weirdo' on the bus, loosely based on Great Yarmouth in England during the punk era, full of visiting biker gangs, the seedy underbelly of amusement arcades, prostitution, drug use, and seaside town terminal decline under the gay surface glamour of  sand, sea and entertainments. Although roughly similar sized populations in both towns ( Ayr at 47,000 is slightly larger, but including outlying adjoining urban districts is over 60,000 residents) I,m willing to guess Ayr is not like that at all, luckily, and is not a mini Blackpool in the off season. A vivid and very interesting book though, if fairly dark in tone from the start and jet black by the end. My mind was filled with various images from that book when wandering around here. A strange double vision effect. England is a very different country to Scotland though with Great Yarmouth a weekend jaunt away by car or bike from London, Manchester or Birmingham, the UK's largest urban centres. Around 15 to 20 million people within a weekend catchment area of potential summer visitors. Scotland has just over 5 million citizens in total, most of them living in the Central Belt. An empty country by comparison- except for the currently in fashion again Scottish Highlands each summer, beloved by tourists worldwide. Wonder what the car parks are like these days in Great Yarmouth? Only thing I knew about Great Yarmouth before reading that book was that English rock guitar band Catherine Wheel came from there who released some very fine songs in the 1990s I still enjoy like 'I Want To Touch You' 'Happy Days' ' and 'Fripp'. All lesser known alternative classics of You Tube.

The fun palace and fountain. Couldn't find any public toilets in Ayr bus station but male and female toilets are found here beside this building and also just off Ayr High Street. 30p needed to get in which is the norm these days. Getting older I always suss out where the toilets are on any urban walk, just in case.Can't hold it in for hours now without discomfort like my bladder used to do.
Ayr public buildings and War Memorial.
A close up view.
A colourful mural near the sea front in a concrete period wind shelter. ( I may elaborate on this mural in another Ayr post later.)
Cormorant drying wings. Like many primitive snake birds worldwide cormorants and shags have to dry their wings after diving underwater, unlike dippers and kingfishers which have evolved waterproofing and trapped air in the feathers so they do not need to stand like this.
And now a selection of birds by the coast. I think this is a meadow pipit... or perhaps a skylark...  all the little brown birds this size look fairly similar to the untrained eye on the ground.
Turnstones in the kelp edges looking for sea bugs to eat.
From a distance in the sunlight this pair looked like twin gold bars attached to a tree. Yellowhammers. Along with linnets, ring ousels, and goldcrests a common bird from my childhood rambles near my house- rarely seen today, although I do look out for them on walks.
And this is a first. A Teal. A beautiful little duck and I don't remember ever seeing one before, let alone getting this close for a photograph. Chuffed with this shot.
Apart from a few soft waves from passing ships far out to sea, moving and diminishing gradually as if travelling through honey in languid slow motion, barely touching the shoreline to end silent and subdued, it was a millpond of stillness. The water like glass- which is maybe why it had so much active bird life on it seeking a meal. Thousands of birds here between Ayr beach and the distant island of Arran. Clusters of white dots sitting on the water as far as the eye could see. A very rare weather event for windy and storm prone Scotland. It has been very calm and mild this year so far.
A raft of swans gliding slowly past on one of those rare winter days that always seem to be accidentally dropped from a bag marked ' the weather in heaven.'
Further on, looking across the other river that flows through the outskirts of Ayr, the River Doon, which passes Robert Burns home turf of Alloway, also had its collection of wildlife on the banks.A lone mallard duck passing sleeping redshanks here waiting for low tide. Waders like these often work to strict timetables and this is their rest period waiting for the beaches to become exposed again. In Britain the bird numbers here might paint a false picture of everything's rosy and ok but worldwide the pollution and growing population problem is still with us with half the planets animals disappearing in the last 40 years alone. Another recent staggering statistic is that China has poured more concrete in the last 3 years than the United States managed during the entire 20th century. That's mind-boggling. In Jeremy Wade's recent series about the world's great rivers, The Amazon, The Ganges, The Danube etc, he is finding out that most of the fish have either vanished or are getting really scarce.It's hard to ignore these facts.
But young folk growing up today should make the most of it- This is the golden age as every age will be and should be for teenagers living through their own times, when they look back nostalgically later on and assess it. Every age faces its own unique problems. And today's world is full of great new inventions, exciting discoveries and opportunities around every corner that previous generations didn't have-including the internet..... just not good for wildlife in certain parts of the planet at the moment. All our heavy industry from 50 years ago shifted elsewhere so now we enjoy cleaner rivers, healthier wildlife, and stricter environmental safeguards but the problems associated with heavy industrialization has simply been moved elsewhere and up-scaled in size.
The Heads of Ayr. To be continued...
Same teal duck, half asleep.


Anabel Marsh said...

I loved your golden images and the teal shot is beautiful. I also learned something about wings!

Rosemary said...

Some of your sepia looking photos have a feeling of yesteryear about them. Didn't loos then cost just a penny - at 30p a time the ones in Ayr must be luxurious.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Anabel.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
had a problem getting into Ayr's automatic swing gate toilets until I sussed out you had to stand really close when putting money in otherwise sensor would not read you to swing open. New technology can be baffling at times. I don't stay in many hotels and I remember in OZ getting discombobulated by the system there as it was a card reader instead of a key that worked/ unlocked lifts, doors, lights etc -everything- provided you knew exactly where to place it over the sensors which was not always obvious at first. I felt like someone from the stone age until I got used to it. First modern hotel visit in 10 years, post key era.

Carol said...

Ah, so that's what a teal looks like - I've only ever seen one and that was the Windermere boat!

The cows in the Ayrshire countryside should have been brown and whites, not black and whites! Brown and whites are Ayrshires - black and whites are Fresian - nowadays Holstein Fresians who are true foreigners from Canada! We did used to have our own smaller Fresians once...

As for common land being used for free grazing, my friend Angus in the Outer Hebrides used to have a huge area of free grazing every Sunday. He let his cows onto Benbecula airfield! He used to leave them there until Monday morning when the CAA insisted he remove them. That was every week!

Short stay carparks are a nuisance in the Lakes and Dales too - they seem to encourage the car-based gawpers but not the outdoors folk and walkers. Completely the wrong way around! No wonder there's so much air pollution.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
My bird book says 'widespread and common' but that's the first teal I've seen and it was on its own. They breed in marshes usually then winter on the coast when ice comes inland- maybe that's why I've never seen one.
Ah, but my front door in childhood opened onto Renfrewshire not Ayrshire so the cows were mostly black and white. Even in Ayrshire, then as now, the cows were mostly black and white with only a few brown and white herds, presumably due to better milk yields.
Gourock is another seaside town up here where they have altered the seafront parking and I'm not keen on it at all but overall Lake District style paying to park anywhere in the countryside and mountains is slowly being introduced here as a money maker.

Carol said...

At least some of the Lake District car parking charges goes towards fix the fell paths which I don't mind (as do parts of accommodation charges at some places).

They're nearly all black and white Canadian Holstein Fresian herds nowadays and, like you presume, it's all to do with the higher milk yields.

Andy said...

"accidentally dropped from a bag marked the weather in heaven"
I like that! :)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
That type of day always feels like that. Still, no wind. golden sunshine. Since childhood my favourite kind of outdoor day hence the blog title as I live by it. Heaven here on earth for me and always has been.