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I’ve 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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Wise Men Head East- A Tale Of 3 Birders.

Posted Wednesday 30th November 2016 at 01:47 by Green Sandpiper
Its been a strange year, ticklist struggling to be called ‘adequate’ too many weekends lost to birding, and even then, terrible luck leaving me counting down the days until going through it all again the next weekend.

It was with a jolt that I realised that the 3 Wise Men of South Lanarshire had only had one big day out together this year- 2 Wise Men With One Wallpapering The Living Room doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Fortunately- or unfortunately- my poor year had been matched by my mate Bongofury’s equally struggling list. We were able to console each other in a mutual loathing of our other mate Bluebill’s Annus Mirabilis where everything has fallen into place for him, with birds almost throwing themselves at him. (I know what that feels like, but in a different context)

The planets aligned and allowed the three of us to head East on a tick- search on Saturday. Nasty chest infection (mine) notwithstanding, we set off no more than 25 minutes later than planned (me again) I can’t take the blame for the roadworks, but to be fair, I missed them by sleeping. Apparently, I also missed an Andean Condor which had swooped low over the car whilst I was snoring…

The plan was to head for Tyninghame Bay, East Lothian, home of last year’s perfect day (curlew sand, little stint) where a flock of shore lark had been spotted during the week. I may have mentioned that Tyninghame is a birder’s paradise- full of great birds, but also a place that you have to work hard at- the mudflats extend over the horizon, the saltmarsh holds wonders, the beach is almost primeval, and the wind would freeze your nadgers off. All told, a proper birder’s site.

Once on site, the birds (and ticks) came thick and fast. Usual waders such as redshank, curlew and oystercatcher were matched by grey plover, knot, greenshank, little egret (shining like a lighthouse in the pale, early morning light) Largish flocks of twite flew about overhead as sanderling flew in from the beach. Wigeon and barwit on the mud, with RB Merganser floating serenely. Bluebill’s knowledge of the site led us to check out the places the shore lark would be likely to be seen. AS we moved toward the saltmarsh, we were buzzed a flock of bout 20 birds which Bongo, instinctively, ID’s as our target birds. Unfortunately, they dived down into the long grass, and only patience and a useful dog walker got us a view of them poking their heads over the top of the grass.

Having finally moved toward the beach we settled for a raised vantage point where we could study the water. Least appealing sight was an INEOS shale gas tanker. Frackers!! Anyway, a bit of sea watching got us eider, shag, red-throated diver, razorbill (almost immediately after Bluebill telling us it’d be really unlikely for us to get a razorbill) Slavonian grebe, long- tailed duck, red-necked grebe and common scoter. All hard to see on the open water, lifers and year ticks tucked in among them.

A walk along the beach toward Belhaven was a search for snow bunting. None to see, or rather, one confirmed, but we did get rock pipit, turnstone, wren, linnet, skylark, stonechat, teal, one or two common gull, ringed plover, lapwing, and dunlin, among others. The sheer scale of the site (combining Tyninghame and Belhaven Bays) has to be seen to really comprehend and by this time we were feeling the pace. No snow bunting, but decent birds, despite the local dog walkers. (for reasons too boring to go into, I have real animosity toward folk who use Belhaven Bay for things other than birding)

Time was flying, even though the snow buntings weren’t, and we still planned to visit Aberlady Bay for Lapland Bunting and of course, Snow Bunting. Other targets were pintail and brent goose, potential year ticks. A lammergeyer attacked the car whilst I was sleeping en route to Aberlady, but luckily we survived.

Once there, light was clearly at a premium, and we were unlucky with the tide being out. Huge numbers of shelduck, plus mallard, redshank, curlew, etc stood out on the mud. Larger numbers of redwing and fieldfare formed mass flocks. A glance out onto the mud, in poor light, finally got the brent goose showing its arse to us. Job done for that, we set off with renewed vigour (or rigor, given how sore our legs were) toward the beach. Only a mile or so….

Some seawatching got gannet (!) and almost the entire UK population of common and velvet scoters- the sea was black with them. Still no snow bunting, though.

For a long time, it looked like we were going to dip spectacularly, until a friendly birder sent us back the way we had just come (and the way Bluebill was going to keep going…) A slow trudge on aching calves finally, eventually, got us our snow buntings. A pied wag seemed to lead us straight to them- I seem to remember comparing Jim Morrison’s Indian spirit guide favourably against a pied wag- and they appeared out of the debris, seaweed, kelp, etc on the shore. Wonderfully confiding birds, we stood and filled our boots with them. Eventually, and with light really failing, we turned for home, giving a thumbs up to the birders who had given us the gen. We got no more than 20 yards over the dune before the snow buntings appeared, literally 10 feet away from us. Utterly unperturbed by three badly dressed men, they put on a show before disappearing magically into the grass. I got the feeling that if the snow bunting doesn’t want to be seen, then it won’t be seen.

A quick search for pintail by the bridge in twilight came up a bust, and we didn’t get the Lapland bunting. For me, though, the snow bunting made up for any disappointment, and it was three very happy, tired and sore birders who headed West, where a Steppe Eagle sat on the bonnet whist I slept.


Summary

Not to get all philosophical, but I’ve always said that birding is a solitary hobby (obsession, way of life?) that’s best shared with others. Another top class day, full of lifers (3 for me) other year ticks (I think 13 or so between us) full of craic, laughter, unfeasibly exotic birds attacking the car, and the wonderful aching legs that you only get when you’ve had a quality day out in the field. Tired legs and a crap day is the worst feeling ever. Tired legs and a day like Saturday? Birding perfection.
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bongofury's Avatar
Good report, GS. Another cracking day out and my yearlist had a very welcome boost to avoid it being my worst yearlist ever.
Posted Thursday 1st December 2016 at 06:56 by bongofury bongofury is offline
 
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