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Iíve 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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New Year Outing- Good Omens?

Posted Friday 4th January 2019 at 01:49 by Green Sandpiper
Christmas and New Year are family time for GreenSand, so while a lot of folk go mad on New Yearís Day, I always wait until the 2nd of January, making the most of the holiday.

Iíve mentioned before about being a twitcher for birding sites, I get uncomfortable unless I get to visit places that Iíve had good experiences in before. In addition to my usual haunts, there are a few set points in the year where I will definitely go on one- off trips- RSPB Inversnaid on Loch Lomond, RSPB Fowlsheugh in Aberdeenshire, and a trip to Dumfries and Galloway at New Year. Normally, I manage to oversleep and end up with a curtailed visit, but this year, I was determined to make the most out of my time.

I set off at 7am, knowing that I would arrive at RSPB Ken- Dee Marshes roughly at sunrise. A temperamental sat- nav meant that when I got there I was running about a quarter hour behind schedule, which to be honest, is pretty good going for me. Ken- Dee is famed for its Greenland white- fronted geese, and is on the Galloway Red Kite trail. But it offers so much more than that. The early start and sub- zero temperatures seemed to have kept other people away and I had the car park to myself. The solitude, crisp air and clean, blue sky were heavenly- if heaven is absolutely bollock freezing.

Anyway, upon arrival a pair of pheasant sprinted across the road in front of the car. At the same time, a pair of red kite lifted majestically off from a nearby tree. 2 year ticks and the car hadnít come to a stop yet. I stood and watched he kites circle as they drifted effortlessly over toward the shooting estate. (According to a sign the RSPB leases the reserve from a shooting estate which it has good relations with. You can make your own minds up about that)

Although it was bright sunlight, initial signs of life in the trees and bushes was slow. A dunnock appeared from the right, with a robin flying over the path toward the drainage ditch. Distant geese flew onto Loch Ken, but far too distant for me to even guess at species. Blackbirds ventured to the top of gorse bushes, and black- headed gulls swarmed around a flock of sheep, although given the earth was frozen Iím not sure how many insects would have been churned up by them. The goose viewing platform was disappointing, although it did get me a buzzard about 12 feet away. The sunís position made it impossible to make anything out in the distance, but as geese werenít my priority for the visit, I was happy enough with the buzzard. A pair of chaffinches had appeared on a tree by the path, giving me year tick 4. An incredibly noisy wren shattered the relative calm by erupting from the undergrowth before disappearing again.

I paused at the bench, and listened to nuthatches whistling, albeit I couldnít get eyes on them at all. Pheasants crackled all around, and after a sluggish start, there seemed more vibrancy. Not that it had gotten any warmer, but the morning was taking on a zen- like quality where I felt no pressure to come up with a massive list. Iím all one for saying its important to be out there, to immerse yourself in bird life, in wild life, and for whatever reason, this morning visit was utterly relaxed.

A visit to the hide, though, gave me my reward. A pair of nuthatch squabbled over the peanut feeders, while various tits darted about trying to seize their chance. A beautiful great spotted woodpecker appeared at the side of the hide, no more than 10 feet away. Its initial gentle probing of the tree gave way to slightly more forceful hammering, before it flew off languidly. The water, sadly, was largely frozen over, with 3 herons being the only signs of life.

A wander back along the path got what was possibly a raven calling faintly, but too faint to be sure. A pair of mistle thrush and three blackbirds ignored each other in a field, while a pair of Belted Galloway bulls weighed up whether they could get over the wall and kill me.

Moving swiftly onÖ movement in a gorse bush caught my eye, and my first instincts were fieldfare, but something about the brief glimpse I had jay flew out from the bush, circled overhead, and flew off into the woods. Needless to say, by now the trip had exceeded all expectations. I was almost sad to see the end of the path near the car park. Movement overhead made me glance upwards, expecting more unidentifiable geese or a gull of some type. Instead, I got a peregrine reasonably low down, flying over toward the shooting estate (what is it with raptors on this reserve flying toward the shooty, bang- bang area?) Feeling quite flushed with my stroke of luck, quick movement in the bushes in front of me got me a pretty fantastic bonus bird- a willow tit probing a moss- covered branch. Only my third ever, and totally unexpected at that point.

14 year ticks in total, from standard ones like goldfinch through to the peregrine and willow tit, and the day had barely started. From there, I was heading to the WWT reserve at Caerlaverock. The day couldnít get better, surely?
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