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             Tree Sparrow sketch  Fraser Simpson (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)

 


 View from the bridge on the unclassified road: Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Grey Partridge, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson

View east from bridge on unclassified road between West Plann and Busbie Mains (2017)

LOCATION & ACCESS
The Knockentiber to Springside section comprises part of the former railway line running between Kilmarnock and Irvine which closed in 1964. I began birding here in 1990 when it had a very much left to nature feel and the rail track still existed between Knockentiber and Kilmarnock. It was finally dismantled and tarmacked and opened as a cycle path in 2003. Introduced drainage, tarmacking and scrub clearance damaged the habitat and the Ayrshire branch/Local Recorder of the SOC was not consulted before this development.

Access the line from the north side of  Knockentiber village on the B751 at OS grid reference NS 400396 or the unclassified road to Kilmarnock at NS 404395. Access at the north end of  Springside on Overton Road (to Warwickdale) at NS 369391 or via the farm track (which crosses a stubble field in winter) at NS 369393 which will direct you onto the line approximately 0.5 km east of the village. While it is a 4 km walk from end to end, the areas of greatest interest are actually around the villages. Park in either village and walk the path in either direction. It is an ideal site to cover by bicycle. Alternatively, an unclassified road from Knockentiber to the Cunninghamhead area crosses the line approximately half way where there is space for roadside parking on the left after the bridge.

 

HABITAT
The disused railwayline is a rich, semi-natural, linear habitat of overgrown hedgerow, scrub and rough grassland verges traversing some fairly interesting farmland. The land is drained by the Garrier Burn and Carmel Water. Smaller areas include a  juncus rush marsh, bramble-strewn wasteland, nettle beds, bricks and mortar and a marshy cutting on the line (before recently introduced drainage). However, recent tarmac 'improvements' by Enterprise Ayrshire/Sustrans in the form of a cycle path have damaged much of the habitat (including the loss of a small typha stand, the only area for orchids and Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) breeding grassland), although hopefully within time the area will recover. Fly-tipping, burnt-out cars, illegal shooting and unsympathetic improvements are all a problem here from time to time.

The quality of this heterogenous landscape continues to be devalued through farmers grubbing hedgerow and scrub and developers building on the only field of unimproved grassland which held the last breeding Skylarks (and pond with breeding Sympetrum).

 Point 1. View from bridge over Carmel Water: Warblers, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Buzzard, Song Thrush, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson

View north from bridge over Carmel Water towards Bailiehill Mount (2017)

 

Point 1. View from bridge over Carmel Water: Warblers, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Buzzard, Song Thrush, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson

View south from bridge over Carmel Water towards Crosshouse Hospital (2017)

 

 

 Point 5. Mature Beeches: Tree Sparrow, Stock Dove, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Yellowhammer, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson

View north-west of the Beeches (breeding Tree Sparrow & Stock Dove) towards Warwickhill/Warwick Mains (2013)

BIRDWATCHING, TIMING & POINTS OF INTEREST
Free from busy traffic, the line offers a good vantage point to observe typical farmland birds of Ayrshire and to connect with the locally rare Tree Sparrow. The density of breeding warblers and buntings is particularly high for the area. Average figures for the 1990's: Willow Warbler (26 territories and upwards of 35 singing males during spring passage), Whitethroat (12 territories), Sedge Warbler (12), Grasshopper Warbler (3-4), Blackcap (2), Reed Bunting (4-5), Yellowhammer (14). Early mornings in May and June are the most productive months in terms of diversity and birdsong. September to December for passage, winter and more unusual species. Late winter is rather quiet. Around 90 species has been recorded since 1991.

The following points along the line are of particular interest:
1. Heading west from the Knockentiber end, the bridge over Carmel Water at NS 403395 provides a good watchpoint for breeding warblers and occasional Kingfisher, Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tit, and Great Spotted Woodpecker, water birds on the burn below and perhaps Sparrowhawk and Buzzard over Bailiehill Mount to the north.
2. The area around the juncus rush marsh at NS 397398 is excellent for warblers with reeling
Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Buntings, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and occasionally a single pair of Tree Sparrows breeding here. Grey Herons are regular here. Breeding Skylarks and wintering Snipe occur in the field of unimproved grassland (Skylark Field) on the other side of the line. * Has now been destroyed for housing.
3. The cutting at NS 392397 is a good area for all the warbler species as well as
Goldfinch, Song Thrush, and the common woodland birds. Snipe are usually flushed here soon after dawn during hard weather.
4. The bridge crossing the Garrier Burn at NS 390398 provides
Sand Martin, Grey Heron and Mallard during the breeding season, large gatherings of Scandinavian thrushes in autumn and large winter parties of Magpies. Moving on, the fields on the right may have a few Wheatears during the passage periods.
5. The line then crosses the Garrier Burn twice at NS 381397 and NS 378395 and this area holds good numbers of breeding
Yellowhammers and Grey Partridges and usually a pair of Curlews. The large, mature
beeches on the right are an important area for hole-nesting species including Tree Sparrow, Stock Dove, Jackdaw and tits. * Scrub has been grubbed at the metal bridge (Dec 2005).
6. The gas works at NS 376393 usually has single pairs of breeding
Oystercatcher and Pied Wagtail and the surrounding scrub can hold a winter roost of Tree Sparrows.
7. The beeches around the farm track at NS 374394 have breeding
Tree Sparrows and if stubble is present over the winter months the area should be checked for mixed feeding flocks of sparrows, buntings and finches. Large numbers of Collared Doves may build up here, e.g. 110 in October 1996.

Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line  Fraser Simpson

Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line/National Cycle Route (2017)

 

SPECIES CALENDAR
All year: Many of the breeding residents. Grey Heron, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, gulls, Rook.
Spring: Warbler/hirundine passage, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Chiffchaff.
Breeding: Mallard, Kestrel, Grey Partridge, Quail (suspected 1997), Pheasant, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Lapwing, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Skylark, Sand Martin, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Willow Warbler, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer.
Summer: Breeding species. Swift, Swallow and House Martin overhead.
Autumn: Skylark and Meadow Pipit passage, thrush passage, Goldfinch flocks, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Larid flocks, dispersing juvenile Kingfisher.
Winter:  Snipe, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Redwing, Fieldfare, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit (flocks), Siskin, Redpoll (occasional), mixed flocks of Tree Sparrow (inc. roost), finches and buntings, Corvid flocks and Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Unusual or scarce species recorded: Cormorant (o/h), Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Goosander, Teal, Peregrine, Merlin, Jack Snipe, Quail, Water Rail, Golden Plover, Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Waxwing, Dipper, Whinchat, Mistle Thrush, Garden Warbler, Treecreeper, Jay, Hooded Crow, Brambling.

 

OTHER WILDLIFE
Sixteen species of butterfly have been recorded including Grayling, Orange Tip, Small Heath and Clouded Yellow. Common Darter dragonflies are abundant (August to October) at the Knockentiber end, with occasional Migrant Hawker in late summer/early autumn. It is also interesting for flowering plants and Roe Deer at the Knockentiber end. Surely this green corridor for wildlife should have some sort of conservation status as it deserves to be protected from further degredation.

 

Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus), Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line  Fraser Simpson  Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line  Fraser Simpson

   Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)                                   Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

 

Point 1. View from bridge over Carmel Water: Warblers, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson  Point 6. View along the line from Springside: warblers, Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Oystercather. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson

Point 1. View from bridge over Carmel Water (2002)   -  Point 6. View along the line from Springside (2002

 

Point 3. Old cutting: Warblers, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Snipe, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson  View from the bridge on the unclassified road: Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Grey Partridge, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson  Point 5. Mature Beeches: Tree Sparrow, Stock Dove, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Yellowhammer, etc. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson    

Point 3. Old cutting (2002)  -  View from the bridge on the unclassified road (2002)  -  Point 5. Mature Beeches (2002)

 

Point 2. Juncus rush marsh: Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Yellowhammer & Snipe. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson  Point 2. Unimproved grassland at Knockentiber: Skylark, Grey Partridge & Snipe. (Knockentiber-Springside disused railway line)  Fraser Simpson

NB Recent changes to Point 2 > The Skylark field (R) has been trashed for housing & hedgerow grubbing

& drainage has damaged the juncus rush field (L.) (2007)

 


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All photographs F. S. Simpson

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