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A Sine Wave O' The Times (1 Viewer)

Remember the whole 'life intervenes' philosophical point I've occasionally made? Life hasn't so much staged an intervention as opposed to launched a coup d'etat!!

My strange 2021 was going too easily. I had fallen into an easy routine of borrowing my father in law's car occasionally, and squeezing birding in when family stuff allowed. There was space, I latterly realised, for everything. My son's tennis won't last forever- though he's pretty good and I can't rely on him to get beat in the first round any more. Elder daughter accepts that she needs to get herself to work sometimes, with the payoff being that I'll pick her up in the wee hours if she's working late or (more often) been on a night out and utterly bladdered. To add to the mix, younger daughter has also discovered a social life. But despite this seemingly endless list of demands on my precious waking hours, its been do- able. We adjust, we create routines where often it appears that none can be created, and the best thing is, we do it without really being conscious of it. The year, as I've mentioned, has been a heady mix of highs and lows. Not so much a roller- coaster, but more a sine wave where the lows can be predicted. Something going well? Don't get used to it. Highs and lows.

This easy routine saw me borrow the old boy's car on September 15th for a jaunt to RSPB Loch Leven in Fife, my last realistic chance of getting Osprey. Loch Leven/ Vane Farm has never been one of my favourite places for birding. Good for Osprey, sure, but as the aforementioned kids suck up all my cash, I don't have a 'scope, and its hard work birding there with binos. Ironically, its much better in the summer when the butterfly meadow comes alive. Needlessly to say, September is past butterfly meadow season. Started off in the car park, and rather than head straight to the hides, opted for a wander around the trails. It struck me that I'd never done that in any of my visits. Anyway, lots of life at the feeders, nothing spectacular, but if you can't enjoy seeing bird- LIFE then you maybe have the wrong hobby. Walk completed, I stopped for a chat at the outdoor stall (the reserve visitor centre is undergoing extensive building work) and headed down to the hides. Pretty quickly, got an osprey sitting on a distant fencepost. A further scan once I got my eye in, got three more. Only one of them active, though, the other three having a kip. Did get good views of the active one hunting, which made it more than just a tick- hunt.

No sign of the marsh harrier my mate Bill had seen a few days earlier, so had to settle for Osprey.

As I was in the area, I drove the short distance to the village of Scotlandwell to try for green woodpecker in Portmoak Moss woods. Bill had tipped me off that there was felling work going on, but I figured it was worth a visit, even for a walk. The felling was mostly background noise, but of the Green Woodies, sadly, no sight or sound. Enjoyable walk, though. On the way back to the car, though, the sine wave of the year took a massive downturn. My father in law called me to explain that my mother in law had had a fall, and had been taken into hospital. The old boy is in his mid 70s, and has COPD, so doesn't really do well in a crisis. Cue a (very fast) drive back along the motorway.

Obviously, family crisis qualifies as top priority. My m-i-l had broken her hip, with the expectation of a prolonged stay in hospital. She has an odd personality, and while my wife and I suspect she's had a stroke in the past, she has never admitted it. Anyway, needless to say she's more frail than she should be at 71. So, the free use of the car was gone, given my f-i-l was visiting daily. My own car (technically, my wife's) was always in use for family things. There was no sign of an early release from hospital, and I could either accept the premature end of my birding year, or get innovative.

I decided to get innovative.

A bit of research on yon internet thing got me bus times and ticket prices to Edinburgh, then onward to Musselburgh and other Lothian places. This would be a proper big day out, without the car to fall back on, and with a tight budget (Mrs GreenSand is still pissed off that my brief wander on the West Highland Way cost a fortune) My advance booking ticket to Edinburgh was for 7.30, meaning I had to get a 6.30 train from Uddingston into Glasgow. I foolishly opted for a 6.30 return from Edinburgh, meaning it was going to be a long, long day. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

For once, a Green Sand plan came together. I got up on time (a rarity) the train was on time (rarer still) and the coach left Glasgow promptly, allowing me a precious hour's sleep. I managed to find my way from the bus station to the train station (yeah, surprised the hell out of me as well) and got the connection to Musselburgh. I was there for 10am, giving me 7 hours on site. 7 full hours.

I decided to be methodical, and started off at the Esk mouth, looking for the red- throated diver which had (and still has) gained celebrity status. Much of the coverage on Facebook had suggested this bird was nearing death's door, with prophets of doom waxing lyrical daily. I'm not a vet, but it looked perfectly healthy to me. Year tick 1, and even better, my first ever RTD in summer plumage. A walk along the seawall got me everything I expected. Eider, great black backed gulls, oystercatchers in flight, herring gull, curlew in flight. There was a breeze, making the water choppy, and the cloudy sky didn't help visibility. Eventually though, and after an awful lot of hard work, I did get a velvet scoter. Year tick 2. The rest of the walk to the Levenhall Links scrapes was uneventful, I kept an eye on the water for long- tailed duck and red- necked grebe, but neither to be seen. LT duck is becoming a bit of a worry, given that further trips aren't now guaranteed. Anyway, the scrapes were bustling with activity, bar-and-black tailed godwits and a ruff being the highlight.

I left the hides with no real plan in place for what to do next. I glanced over to the pond and saw what I initially thought was a Canada goose, but quickly realised the head markings were wrong. It looked awfully like a Barnacle Goose, but to my eye (and remembering I hadn't see one since January 2020) it looked a bit off. It barked like a Jack Russell terrier, so at least it sounded realistic. I chalked it down as a hybrid, and therefore untickable. I got to the sea wall and continued my LT Duck search. Within 5 minutes, a proper Barnie flew in from the water, it too barking like a wee yappy dug. Year tick 3.

At this point I remembered that brent goose and golden plover had been seen along the coast at Port Seton. Now, those who are familiar with the area will know that Port Seton isn't all that near Musselburgh on foot. My budget wouldn't stretch to bus fare (not if I wanted to eat at some point) so I bravely decided to walk there. This bold decision coincided with a heavy rain shower, with the strong breeze flinging needle- sharp raindrops into my face. Naturally. I struggled on, then realised I was a) running out of time, b) still nowhere near, c) getting absolutely soaked for what was, essentially, a twitch. And I have strict rules about those. I promptly did an about turn, just in time for the wind direction to change 180 degrees, so my return also involved needle- sharp raindrops getting flung into my eyes. The plus side is that my £10 waterproof jacket from Go Outdoors genuinely is waterproof. My trousers, less so. As a footnote, I managed to book use of the car last week and got golden plover at Port Seton. A tick, but pretty perfunctory.

Another brief stop at the scrapes was basically to chill out in a 'happy place.' All too soon, I had to start the long walk back to the train station to catch my train and begin the long journey home.

Speaking to Bill about my trip, he suggested that its a different kind of tiredness when you've had a day birding like this. The conditions being what they were, the birding was hard work, but enjoyable rather than frustrating. 2 of the ticks were easy, the Scoter being really difficult, and all the better for it. Being self- reliant was a different challenge (which is strange, since I go camping without any problems) which I realised I would probably have to get used to now. The ticks took me past last year's total, which I thought was wildly ambitious at various points this year. The day out gave me a sense of achievement, it was a success, it was a day out birding in one of Scotland's great places. It was a 'high' which had been a direct result of a low. If we can see the highs wherever they are, then we are capable of anything and everything.

Stay safe, stay healthy folks. The bug is still out there and wrecking lives.

John
 

MalR

Well-known member
Another excellent post, John. I do enjoy reading your blog. I like writing that puts the birding element into a wider context. You have my admiration for putting together that trip to Musselburgh via public transport, but you got your reward.(y)

Malcolm
 

Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
Scotland
Another excellent post, John. I do enjoy reading your blog. I like writing that puts the birding element into a wider context. You have my admiration for putting together that trip to Musselburgh via public transport, but you got your reward.(y)

Malcolm
Thanks Malcolm, I appreciate it!! Bill, my aforementioned birding mate, has all the Lothian bus routes memorised, so puts me totally to shame!!
 

Dave Derrick

Well-known member
Supporter
England
John, as per usual a great read, and entertaining as always. Even a few years ago (i.e. in my more active on-the-walking-front life-phase) I never would have had the confidence (if that is the right word) to go by public transport such distances. Well done. All the best and stay safe .... and yes, it is still out there and shattering lives.
Dave.
 

Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
Scotland
John, as per usual a great read, and entertaining as always. Even a few years ago (i.e. in my more active on-the-walking-front life-phase) I never would have had the confidence (if that is the right word) to go by public transport such distances. Well done. All the best and stay safe .... and yes, it is still out there and shattering lives.
Dave.
Cheers Dave!
 

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