The Story behind the Photo 1

Wilson’s Phalarope at New Cumnock 1978

On the 5th September I walked round the subsidence lagoons at Knockshinnoch with Mark Rollie, looking for waders in what looked like some promising areas.  Mark, being a local lad from New Cumnock, knew the area well, and seemed keen to show me some parts of this wetland which were unknown to me. 

Some passage waders had shown up at the nearby Junction Loch in previous years and, with the water levels at the time being low, it seemed entirely possible that the area could easily provide some surprises.  So it was, at the end of an interesting walk, that I commented to Mark that “it would be worthwhile keeping an eye out for passage waders in the near future – you know, something like a Wilson’s Phalarope.”  The reference to the phalarope was made purely in jest, the way that many birders do when secretly harbouring the notion that, somehow, it might just come true.

A day passed, and nothing too exciting happened.  Then, during the early evening, came a phone call.  It was Mark, who had just been round the lagoons and had looked at the big pool just before Greenburn Junction, on the west side of the line running from Knockshinnoch – the one we’d finished up at on the 5th.  “There’s a wader on the pool, and I’m sure it’s a Wilson’s Phalarope,” said Mark.  “Bob Wemyss and I have been watching it for quite some time now, and we’re sure that’s what it is.”

There are times when a full-time job can seem to be a right nuisance, but I had to be at Ayr Academy, in front of classes, by 09.00 hrs.  Fortunately, the 7th of September dawned dry, and I set off just before daybreak for New Cumnock.  Parking the car at Woodend, and meeting up with Alan Brown, a friend from Edinburgh, we set off along what was at that time a disused railway line.  As we entered the field where the small loch was, the sought-after bird swam across it, and proceeded to feed not too far in front of us.  The early morning light was really poor, so I struggled to get a high enough shutter speed to stop the bird’s movement.  What you see below, is a digital, and slightly enhanced, version of one of several shots I took that morning, before having to leave for work.  Wilson’s Phalaropes have a poor reputation for staying long in one spot, and it had gone by 09.00 hrs that morning, when more local birders showed up.  This was the second of only 2 Ayrshire records of this American wader.

Juvenile Wilson’s Phalarope at Knockshinnoch Lagoons, 7 September 1978  (© Angus Hogg)

Angus Hogg
12 October 2022