coquet nature lover

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Stunning, spectacular, sublime St Abbs

Coquet nature lover's search for seabirds in Spring


In my search for a great day out, with a good walk, views of breeding seabirds and a lunch of scrumptious sea food, a trip to St Abb's Head is always pencilled into the diary for this time of year. You may be lucky with the weather and enjoy a clear sunny day, but then again, you could end up with a sudden drop in temperature and a sea fret. Strangely enough, last Sunday, I ended up with all three!

Here, you can see the thick sea fog rolling in

St Abb's Head, managed by the National Trust for Scotland, is on the Berwickshire coast just under an hour's drive from Alnwick in Northumberland. This rocky promontory is a national nature reserve and designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its seabirds in addition to its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

After a busy week, St Abbs is the perfect place to relax and recharge whilst having a good blast of fresh air and terrific views on the Berwickshire Coastal Trail. My favourite route into the nature reserve starts on the footpath at the Visitors Centre. Next door is the Old Smiddy coffee shop where you can have home made soup and a fresh crab sandwich or home made cakes if you prefer.  Adjacent, there's  a contemporary art and craft gallery selling paintings, prints, glass, ceramics and jewellery. The staff are very friendly and interest free credit is available on many items - well worth popping in if you have time! It's called 'Number 4' and positioned on the footpath just along from the cafe.

From here, a trail takes you past Northfield Farm and and along the clifftops. If you continue to walk along the path, you will reach a lighthouse (opened 1862) which marks the southern entrance to the Firth of Forth. This area of the east coast is also a popular place with divers who like to venture below the surface in their search for marine and plant species. I hear one local company also runs wreck diving sites - Mmmm not my thing!

rocky coastline shrouded in fog

sea campion, sea thrift and birdsfoot trefoil

shags with chick in foreground
the mist has lifted and the sun is back out

nesting guillemots jostle for space high on the cliffs

the mist returns - oystercatcher perched on rocks 

The wild flowers in the coastal grassland attract numerous butterflies including the rare Northern Brown Argus. Although I didn't spot an Argus, there were numerous painted ladies, common blues and a red admiral flitting about! Before you ask, 'sorry but no, I didn't manage to get a photo...'.

beautiful carpets of wild flowers spread right to the cliff face
haunting views of magnificent coastal features

canoodling kittiwakes
nesting fulmar (related to the albatross family)
kittiwake nesting on a precarious ledge
kittiwake with chick - not quite ready to take the plunge!

more kittiwakes

gannets heading south

Here is a photo of one of the dive boats, taken just before the sea-fret swirled round the headland once again. You can also see the mass of guillemots nesting high up on the cliffs above the North Sea. Amazingly, the chicks make death-defying leaps into the water before they can fly. Their parents then then spend several weeks with them on the sea teaching them how to feed and protect themselves.

Razorbills can be seen nesting on small ledges or in hollows on the cliffs from March to July. When the nesting season is over, they return out to sea.

On a few occasions, I've seen peregrine falcons hunting over the rocky sea cliffs. They can travel at speeds up to 250 mph. These beautiful blue-grey birds are resident all year round. The next photo was however taken further west but I thought you might like to see the photo.
peregrine falcon

If you prefer to walk a linear route as I do, instead of returning along the same route, you can continue around the promontory towards Pettico Wick. This path heads downhill and although fairly steep, it is tarmacked and you will have superb views of the loch. As you drop down, take a turn left through a gate and along the link road towards Mire Loch.

"Still round the corner there may wait,
A new road or a secret gate."
 J.R.R. Tolkien

Here the terrain is much more even and quite a contrast to the rugged cliffs. The habitat is a real haven for nature lovers and the loch provides a tranquil place for swans and a variety of waterbirds.

Mire Loch obscured by mist
I took the above photo of the loch on a clear day back in July 2014
coot on the loch carrying nesting material
tufted ducks on the loch
female eider with duckling on the sea
purple marsh thistle
new shoots emerging on pine tree
the linear route brings you back to the coastal path
fields of wheat with farm and coffee shop in the distance

The walk is probably about four miles in total but you need to allow yourself plenty of time if you want to make the most of your visit. 

I hope you enjoyed the photos and that you will feel inspired to plan a trip to this wonderful national nature reserve! Good walking boots are recommended as the path is quite narrow in places - best not to get too close to the cliff edge as it's not fenced either. I'm not keen on hill walking but this isn't too hard on your knees and there are plenty of places to rest a while.

See you next time and sorry it's taken a while to update my blog.

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