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Ive lived in Lanarkshire all of my 40 years, and in that time I have seen my local area change beyond all recognition, and definitely not for the better. From the appearance of massive identikit housing estates where rolling fields once rang to the song of yellowhammers, the inexorable process of urbanisation goes on as the local authorities undertake a concerted effort to eradicate every sign of nature- or so it seems. The nature- filled halcyon days of my childhood are a swiftly receding memory, replaced by the creeping horror of what is replacing them. Its important, I think, to highlight what we, as nature lovers in general and bird lovers in particular, still have, for the moment at least.
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What Kind Of Birder.....

Posted Sunday 29th June 2014 at 23:18 by Green Sandpiper
Different names and labels are something which has vexed birders since we first startign talkign about that sort of thing. I don't the categories suggested by Bill Oddie but something more ethereal. I've written a lot about how I struggle to balance a quest for ticks with the joy of sometimes just immersing myself in bird life.

A recent Big Day Out raised a new issue- am I a 'Nature Reserve Birder' or am I a 'Wild Birder'?

After last months trip to St Abb's Head, I opted this time to stay inland, and headed to the Sma' Glen, aka Glen ALmond in Perthshire. After my previous solitary efforts I took along Bill, my birding buddy.

I'd heard a lot of good things about the Sma' Glen, and the sense of excitement grew as we approached our target. We got the obligatory car- crash causing Red Kite on the way, and some very acrobatic lapwings. the scenery in the area is stunning, it has a wonderful wildness that occasionally took your breath away. Enough of the travelogue...

Once there, we got an audible cuckoo- worryingly, it couldn't be seen, and I was concerned that this would set the tone for the day. A mistle thrush showed well on a rock as well. Further on, we got house martins, swallows, a song thrush that took ages to bloody shut up, wren on the river, and a stunning grey wagtail. Oystercatchers called from the fields and the river, and a kestrel hunted higher up.

It took less than 10 minutes to get a ring ouzel, a lifer for me, and a target bird for the trip. Lovely bird, showed well, and thus far, this was turning into a good day. We decided to set camp in a derelict cottage and use this as a base to scan around us. This turned out to be an exceptionally good idea, as on the way there a wonderful female whinchat sat atop a large rock and posed for us. Second lifer......

The area had large numbers of wheatear buzzing about at ground level, and higher up above the ridgeline, red kites soared, up to 4 at a time. they were joined periodically by buzzards, and best of all, a ring- tailed hen harrier. Needless to say, a lifer for me- by now, I was beyond the dancing stage and was reduced to making high- pitched sounds.

Audible willow warbler and pheasant featured in the background wilderness.

Slightly distracted by the shoogly boulders in the derelict cottage, we didn't notice a female ring ouzel sitting on the wall of the neighbouring building, no more than 20 feet behind us. So much for fieldcraft....

All told we counted 19 ring ouzel, some males squabbling and clearly planning to breed. Focusing on these, we heard a faint squeal from behind us, looking up the valley we got....a Golden Eagle. Actually, we got a pair, but I didn't like to show off. Got a few awful record shots, and sadly my dance of lifer shame was a series of twitches and shakes. The high- pitched sounds were now so high that only dogs could hear them.....

The weather was threatening rain, so the camera went back in the bag...just in time for a pair of cuckoo to land on the power lines. Cue comedy moments and we both tripped and stumbled over the boulders to get a better look. A meadow pipit nearby kept a very beady eye on them, understandably.

By now, the red kites had gone, but luckily a sprawk had arrived. The kestrel and one of the buzzards were interacting closely with each other, not mobbing, but almost practising with each other.

Did I menton the golden eagles?

Lots of skylark and meadow pipit action, and an oystercatcher on a fence post. Pied wag made an appearance, and a couple of woodpigeons flew by.

As we headed back to the car park, we got common sandpiper on the river, chaffinches aplenty, and another pied wag on the shingle.

All told, 32 species, 4 lifers for me (good 'uns at that) but better still, was the quality of the birding life. All this in a truly wild place.

Flushed with success after 4 hours of wild birding (in both senses) we decided to head to Loch of the Lowes SWT reserve- ideally, for mandarin, redstart, spotfly, and of course, Lady. I've seen other ospreys, but kind of felt obliged to see the iconic one.

journey was relatively uneventful, added curlew and jackdaw to the day's total en route. Got to the reserve quite quickly as well. Lovely setting for those who haven't been there before.

Anyway, the visitor centre was as expected. Well stocked feeders in front, with a selection of birds offering excellent photo ops. Got great views of GSW and red squirrell, plus the ubiquitous mallard scrounging under the feeders. A pair of siskins and yellowhammer were highlights, but best of all was the lesser redpoll on the feeder- year tick, and to be honest, a bird i was despairing of this year.

No sign of the mandarin, though it was still posted on the noticeboard.

Stopped at the hide to see Lady, the scopes supplied by the reserve provided top- notch views, needless to say, my best views of an osprey. a pair of GC Grebes and a reed bunting were the only other birds of note at the Loch.

By now, we were eager to go lookign for the redstart, and this is where bill's prior knowledge came in handy. Following the path round, we came to a bench, where coincidentally, the redstart had been seen patrolling aong the trees. After a morning of going feral, we sat ourselves down on the bench (cushioned mats provided by Bill) and waited for the bird to arrive. Sedate, and comfortable!

Lots of willow warbler action, one in particular very active, plus a blackcap singing loudly. Chaffinches and wren calling. The rain whcih had been threatening now became heavy, and we decided that we needed ponchos to keep dry. Of course, its was only now that people started walking by, as the two badly dressed birders sat there lookign vaguely embarrassed.

A Yammer called from the golf course, and the willow warbler continued going about its business. Eventually, though, patience paid off and a lovely male redstart popped up and showed well for an all- too brief period.

No sign of the spotfly, and by now time was against us. We headed off back down the motorway, tired, a little bit damp, and very satisfied after a damned fine day's birding.


A day that combined two types of birding. 'wild' birding in the morning, where we relied on knowledge and fieldcraft (ahemm) to get our ticks. The location was stunning, as i may have noted, and we were rewarded not only with year/ life ticks, but also fine examples of bird life.

Later, birding at the reserve was completely different, but did offer a lifer and a year tick, plus excellent views of other birds. BUT, somehow, less fulfilling, more sterile, more commercial than actually being out in the wild.

There's an irony here. 'Wild' birding may not often produce a day like this big day out. It will likely be hard work, and you run the risk of having a blow out. 'Reserve Birding' gives you certain expectations, with a realistic chance of achieving them- especially if there is a visitor centre with feeders.

The question is- do all birders hear the same call of the wild, is there something primeval in us that enjoys our birding more if we go feral?

For me the question is- would I be willing to sacrifice my search for lifers and to increase my meagre life list if it meant spending more time in the wild?
Total Comments 3


stuartvine's Avatar
I'm sort of inclined towards the wild side, we usually combine birding with hiking, particularly abroad. We do see fewer birds, suffer more injuries and get lost far more often, but it is very rewarding :-)

On the other hand, a good day out at a reserve has its own rewards - even if its just great cake :)
Posted Tuesday 22nd July 2014 at 13:29 by stuartvine stuartvine is offline
hi Stuart, sorry for the delay, I've been on holiday and haven't checked my e- mail notifications. If anything, I'll qualify what I said- there is wild birding, nature reserve birding, and then there's Visitor Centre birding. A lot of reserves can be pretty wild and exposed, its the ones with visitor centres that are the tamest. The exception to this would be Caerlaverock WWT, mind you.
Posted Thursday 7th August 2014 at 20:09 by Green Sandpiper Green Sandpiper is offline
oh, and i never underestimate the benefits of a slice of cake and a hot chocolate!!
Posted Thursday 7th August 2014 at 20:10 by Green Sandpiper Green Sandpiper is offline
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