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A Birding Commando Raid (1 Viewer)

Its been a long winter so far, mostly spent in front of my laptop working. Eyes on the prize, working overtime will be worth it when I get my first ever spotting scope. By that time, obviously, I'll have forgotten how to watch birds, but I can worry about that sometime down the line. Anyway, I had booked time off work firstly to taxi my father in law to hospital for an operation (it was cancelled at the last minute) but also to try and get out midweek. It had worked for my Ayrshire trip, so lets try again.

Plans went slightly awry when Mrs Green Sand decided to catch Covid, meaning that my time was split between performing tasks in exchange for a salary (work) and waiting hand and foot on the sick person (really hard work) By the Friday- my first planned day off- Mrs GS was on the mend, and she suggested I go out for a couple of hours. I seized the opportunity before she had a chance to come to her senses.

I originally toyed with the idea of going to Lochwinnoch to try for the Smew pair, plus whatever was on the feeder. I realised that Lanarkshire to Renfrewshire was maybe a bit far with a poorly wife in the house. I opted then for a tour of the Seven Lochs in the East of Glasgow/ North Lanarkshire, with an aim for Fine Me Oot. Bill, my birding mate and all- round birding genius, has had a successful period, and cheerfully informed me that Fin Me Oot had had plenty of 'dipper action.' Plan made, negative lateral flow test registered, bag packed, Green Sand was off!!

Now, when I said Seven Lochs, I made it to 3. Which is ok. First up, naturally, was Hogganfield. It has a car park, and is wild enough- just- to stay on the right side of public park birding. Of course, being deskbound for months has left my field skills slightly rusty, and it was to my surprise that the loch was part frozen. I mean, I had had to defrost the car and was wearing winter gear, so it should have been obvious that a large standing body of water would freeze. Rusty....

Fortuitously, this meant that the bird life was huddled together on the limited unfrozen water. Usual suspects of goosander, mute swan, whoopers, mallard, moorhen, etc. I had been hoping for great crested grebe, hope, not expectation, and a remote hope of pochard. Pochard are a bogey bird for me (one of several, avid readers will have worked out) Its a bird I should see every year, but that I end up panicking that I won't. Anyway, as luck would have it, I managed to get 3 pochard tp the East of the car park. Not only that, but awake pochard (I usually get them asleep) Year tick, bogey sorted, the bright sunlight showed their plumage beautifully, and I stood and drank in the sight. 3 distinct pairs of Gadwall nearby were also stunning- giving much better views than the brief glimpse I had had at Baron's Haugh last month. Not a year tick, but definitely worth watching as they swam together.

A wander back the short distance to the car (there really wasn't much free water) and I stood watching the goldeneye and goosander. Still no grebes, unfortunately, but in the background, behind a gull, a redhead smew swam slowly, going about its business without much fuss. Compared to the celebrity Smews at Lochwinnoch, this was much more to my liking. Self- found as well. Year tick 2. Not a bad return for a half- frozen loch and a very frozen Green Sandpiper.

I drove toward Bishop Loch, by now suspecting that most lochs would be a mixture of ice and free water. (This sounds like an activist's slogan "FREE WATER!!") I stopped at the pond on Gartloch Road, quite near Bishop's Loch, and my fears were confirmed. Water frozen. A scan of the birdlife though did get me a couple of dozen lapwing. Year tick 3- unbelievably, Musselburgh had been lapwing- free when I was there last month.

Now, I'm not a twitcher..... but social media had been awash with reports of lesser Scaup at Woodend Loch at Drumpellier. Loch 3 of the 7 lochs tour. More important than the L/Scaup, since I'm not a twitcher, was that there was a report of GC grebe there. Its also a site where I've had grebes before, so it was definitely worth a shot. If I got the lesser scaup, then it'd be a bonus. A 200- lifer bonus. Anyway, arrived and parked the car. Negotiated the massive puddles on the main road, and wandered along the path to the viewing point. Stopped and chatted to a photographer- type guy on their way back, who confirmed the L/ Scaup were still there, but as far distant as they could get. I asked about the grebes and he said he hadn't seen any, albeit he wasn't looking. Hmm.....

From arriving at the viewpoint it was obvious that I would never see the L/Scaup with just my binos. EVerything Tufty- looking was incredibly distant, and it was just too far for me to make them out. What I did see, though, was a pair of GC Grebes in a courtship dance. I mean, I didn't have to look hard for them, they were just there. Year tick 4, and a lovely sight to see. The other bird of note was a Goldeneye male displaying to a female who couldn't have made it more clear that she wasn't interested. It brought back uncomfortable memories of the days where Green Sand thought a curly mullet (I have naturally curly hair) and Paco Rabanne aftershave would make the ladies swoon. I felt the Goldie's pain.

I head back to Uddingston, and to Fin Me Oot. I won't go into why I love the place, I've mentioned it once or twice before. Very quiet walk, the light was fading a bit but still bright enough. I stopped on the path down to the bridge over the Rotten Calder- the bridge where dipper activity at this time of year starts building up. A female roe deer was in the field next to the bridge, slowly chomping on grass. Occasionally pricking up her ears, always on the alert, but also somehow still managing to be relaxed. I stood and watched, time became unimportant. The dipper became unimportant. This wasn't a brief glimpse of a deer bolting due to disturbance, or seen distantly. This was a deer going about its day to day business. I studied every inch of her, noting the thick, shiny fur of her hide, a small blemish on her flank, and how clean her white rump was. Maybe its because I haven't been out much, but I wanted to drink in everything about this encounter. There's no such thing as mundane in nature, I realised again. Eventually, she wandered off, following the path of the river downstream through gaps in the farmer's fence.

After all that, no dipper appeared at the bridge. The water was quite high and fast running, and the majority of rocks submerged. Those which weren't submerged did have scat on them, so I suspected that the dippers were there, but not showing for me. I'm patient, I have all spring and summer.

I took a very slow wander back to the car, enjoying being in my special place. One part of my mind started making plans for what I could do with the rest of my time off, plans to head East (naturally) to Ayrshire (I've been birding vicariously through Bill, so following his footsteps sounds like a plan)

By Saturday night, though, I started coughing. And I didn't stop for 4 days. After avoiding it for 2 years, I finally fell victim to Covid. I'm fully vaccinated (double plus booster) so had maximum protection. Even then, I've never felt as bad in my life. I had my gallbladder out a few years ago, and developed sepsis. Ended up on a drip, a chest drain, and an oxygen mask. Covid felt worse than that.

I've been signing off my blog posts with a request that we all stay safe and stay healthy. Now that I've experienced it, then I know exactly how important it is that we continue to do so.


Dave Derrick

Well-known member
Yet another great read, many thanks. As you say, keep safe. Even triple jabbed does not make one totally safe. All the best for a full recovery; the dippers will be waiting. Dave.


Well-known member
United Kingdom
A lovely read, thanks. Hope you are feeling better now? I feel your pain.

If you want to see a few GCGs, they're rather the norm around here, but Smew, Goosander...I have to go to Scotland for them ;)

Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
A lovely read, thanks. Hope you are feeling better now? I feel your pain.

If you want to see a few GCGs, they're rather the norm around here, but Smew, Goosander...I have to go to Scotland for them ;)
I'm much better, thanks. Had a day out in Musselburgh yesterday that I'll post a blog about over the next day or so, once I gather my thoughts properly. I got goosander, incidentally....:)
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