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An Idling Engine And The Ransom Chase (1 Viewer)

I hate machinery, I hate technology. Part of it is Green Sand's desire to be primal, to be at one with nature, to roll back the clock 10k years. Part of it is that I don't understand it; I mean, I'm a reasonably clever bloke, but that sort of stuff is beyond my comprehension, and in the best manner of humans, what I don't understand I tend to despise.

Whats this got to do with birds, you ask? Well, after my splurge of birding in April I found the start of May to be much less frenetic. The age old 'family stuff' resurrected itself and the start of the month was spent without getting out, with my first 2 birding trips spent locally. Added to this, and admittedly this may not have helped my hatred of technology- my car died and could not be resurrected without throwing silly amounts of money at it. Being car- less until such time as the new one was ready (a whole fortnight) crimped my birding style somewhat.

Luckily, Bill- he of the miraculous biridng year- has kept me going with his tales of derring- do, and more importantly, kept me up to date with what to see locally. May in my local patch is when warbler season really starts to kick in. Blackcap and chiffchaff have long arrived and staked their claim, Willow Warbler are by now locked in a singing competition with them, and the less flashy warblers will have begun arriving en masse. Added to this are the more enigmatic travellers. Our house-and-sand martins, our swallows, and the much- awaited swifts. Shades once more of wishing the year away by getting impatient for the travellers to come home.

So, my enforced hiatus hadn't been completely wasted. I knew what was- theoretically- about locally. Now all I had to do was find it. The car- free era was typified by lots of household duties which Mrs Green Sand discovered for me. Midwekk was also spent escorting the mini-est of the mini- Sandpipers to his tennis tournaments. Amazing the things that can be found to keep one busy.

The enforced hiatus did mean that I was eager to seize any chance to get out that I could. Thus I found myself having an evening stroll on the Clyde Walkway. Being early- ish spring it lacked the dusty, hazy sunlight of a summer evening. It also had a wee bit of an edge in temperature. Green Sand, being the (fool)hardy, outdoors bloke didn't bother with a jacket.

My hardships, though, were rewarded by the 'wall of noise' typical of warbler season. Something to enjoy, to absorb. There's a lot to be said for bird listening. It allows you to experience the full range of birds, to enjoy them, in a way that sight- ticking makes more difficult.

Anyway, a walk across the bridge and up to Townfoot Farm gave me pause. Fleeting glimpses of hirundines hawking for invisible insects in the fields had me scanning in amateur attempts to get sight of them in the binoculars. Very, very out of practise. Once I 'got my eye in' I was able to pick out that they were all sand martins, when a single swallow flew into vision, as if to announce itself. Year tick, and one close to him rather than travelling for it. The rest of the walk was uneventful, but still pleasant. A walk up through the playing fields got roe deer again, which is never to be sneezed at.

A few days later I managed to get out again, locally. Bill had tipped me off that whitethroat had arrived and were active. I didn't doubt that he had ticked them- or them, him- my only doubts were whether I would successfully get them. Such is the joy of ticking things. Fin Me Oot was the place to be, apparently, and I was in no rush to get there. For all that I'm not a hugely patient man, when walking I can be accused of sauntering. I'll stop and look at flowers and bushes, wondering/ worrying whether we'll get insects this year, then the feeling of relief when I see a queen bee or orange- tip butterfly moving about, just doing their own thing.

I've mentioned before that as I've aged I now don't really care what non-birders think of me. I was happy to have a wander about the overgrown playing field next to the Grammar school, even with dog walkers, joggers, etc bustling by. The over- grown field is excellent for bees in the summer, and has a fringe of trees, shrubs and plants, with plenty of nooks and crannies for feathered things to hide in. A very pleasant search got me willow warbler got me willow warbler and blackcap. The fact I was able to find them in the midst of the foliage was very pleasing.

The walk to Fin Me Oot itself was uneventful, bar the presence of good numbers of sand martins and a handful of swallows, all acting as if they'd never been away and didn't understand the fuss. Anthropomorphising, maybe? Regular readers- or those who have read the posts about Fine Me Oot- will know how much I love the place and that when there I will try to absorb every sensation. Sounds, smells, the feel of the breeze, sunlight, then chill if the sun goes behind a cloud. The faint beginnings of tiredness in the calves after the walk up. All parts of the experience. This visit was no different. I sat on the bench, closed my eyes, and let the sense of 'being there' wash over me. Sheer bliss, and utterly relaxing.

EVeryone should be fortunate enough to have a place where they can feel like this, and there isn't a day goes by when I don't smile and realise just how fortunate I am.

Fine Me Oot has other rewards, not just the Mindfulness of the place. A gap in the willow warbler song was suddenly filled with the scratchy call of a whitethroat. Much like every year I wondered how on Earth I could have mistaken this for anything else, and putting this slight bemusement to one side, I searched for the owner of one of the less- melodic warbles. When I say searched.... it flew up into a tree 20 feet away from me, and began singing from the topmost branch. I found it amusing that I've had willow warbler singing from that branch before, and I wondered if there was some Whitethroat- Willow Warbler conflict in the area to get first dibs on the branch.

I took a few really bad photos to record it, and a blurry video of the bird with a willow warbler singing in the background. Playing it back, its basically a whitethroat singing like a WW. If birders did out- takes..... The whitethroat suddenly dived down and landed in a bush 10 foot closer to me. It sang again, then flew back up onto the tree, before disappearing over toward the hedgerow on the other side of the field. I saw a pair of birds sitting on a telephone wire, and instinctively knew that they were swallows. Both by the jizz of the birds, but also the jizz of the site- this time of year, birds on that telephone wire will be swallows. In Autumn and winter, it will be thrushes. Such is the way of Fin Me Oot, and the fact I was able to recognise it tapped into my inner primitive man.

The scrubland beyond the bench got me my not- unexpected sedge warbler. It was utterly pointless trying to see it. the undergrowth is too thick, and the Sedgie itself would end up mocking me by singing closer and closer, but still not showing. The river was devoid of dipper and grey wag, but did have a family of humans upstream with a disposable barbecue. This provoked mixed feelings- we need the next generation to care enough about wild places to take action to protect them. To do that, these places can't be abstract concepts for them. Still, a disposable barbecue in an area with nesting birds is never, ever good.

Newton Brae, beyond the river, was a joy, though. A hive of warbler activity, with the majority of the warblers being whitethroats. Beautiful, male whitethroats on top of bushes and on branches, singing, advertising their virility and their ability to sire healthy babies. The whitethroat version of a mullet and Paco Rabane....

A wander, a saunter, with no real destination. Multiple paths followed, criss- crossing, doubling back on myself, following the noise. A few folk walking past eyeing me curiously, more folk acknowledging me with a smile, a nod. Everyone enjoying the positive endorphins of a bright spring day.

These two local trips- only one of them really a day out- had effectively kept this year's birding engine 'ticking over'. It was idling, not stalled. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate it more. April, in comparison, seemed a bit like one of those hostage movies where the kidnapper sends the ransom bagman on a chase between phone boxes. All very frantic, all very frenetic. All very tense. Must go here, must go there, must get chiffchaff, must get willow warbler. Must, must, must.....Its easy to fall into this as a birder, and I'll never criticise anyone who this applies to.

Maybe I'm getting older and more mellow, maybe I've accepted that I'm never going to have a 200- bird year. I have too many demands on my time, and being realistic, I have too little birding skill. The idling birding engine allows for greater contemplation, though. Acceptance of reality? Sounds a bit negative. The enjoyment of reality, now? Thats something we can all relate to.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks. Thanks for reading.

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