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Birding- The Damned Fine Version (1 Viewer)

April started with the strange experience of not working at the weekend. I had also set the date for Scope- day. The day when, after months of dreaming, fantasising, and frantically researching on yon internet thing, I would finally be able to buy my first spotting scope. The day couldn't come soon enough, and I'm not too shy to say that I had trouble sleeping with excitement.

Before that, though, the month began with a continuation of Green Sand opportunistic birding. Get out when I can, where I can, as often as I can. First up was a flying visit to Hogganfield Loch. Again, the benefits of Elder- Daughter working a dayshift and being genetically incapable of getting public transport. Nothing spectacular, a red- necked grebe had been reported, and while I thought I might have it, there were also little grebes present. The limitations of (a quite elderly) pair of binos was laid out starkly for me. A very pleasant walk though, not least because the Great Crested Grebes were looking splendid; I'm trying to think of a scenario where GC Grebes in breeding plumage wouldn't be splendid, actually. Definite highlight!

My next day out had to wait until the next Sunday. An early morning wander around Uddingston in bright sunshine got me my first blackcap of the year, with it being completely drowned out by a mass of chiffchaff calls. Spring had definitely sprung, and it was obvious that before long the sprouting foliage would make seeing little brown(ish) jobbies difficult to pick out. In my local area there's a very slim window of opportunity between warblers arriving, and thickening foliage becoming a problem. The horror of trying to work hard to pick a warbler out on a branch.....

Monday the 11th of April was Scope day. An unexpected bonus (literally) was my employer giving me some gift vouchers for carrying out some project months ago that I can barely remember. The vouchers covered the cost of new binos (my first ever pair of brand- new, out of the box binos.!) and I treated myself to a pair of Nikon Prostaff 3s. 10x42, my first pair of 10s as well. My scope was from Viking Optical in Edinburgh (I strongly recommend them for your birding needs) and my initial plans of buying the scope then heading the short distance to Musselburgh were overtaken by common sense. The train journey home, though, was wracked with terror that I'd a) leave the scope and tripod on the train, b) be murdered for them. My traditional train nap was utterly ruined, I barely slept at all.

With uncommon foresight, I had booked most of the week off work in expectation that having bought the thing I'd probably want to use it. The next day saw me head back East, this time successfully reaching Musselburgh. Such was my excitement, I forgot to check the tides. Or the weather. I arrived at my usual starting point at Goose Green Place just as the rain started. And continued. The sea was choppy in the surprisingly- stiff breeze, and was devoid of birds other than eider. The walk round to the scrapes was of the unpleasant variety, only to find that there was a relative avian shortage there too. The rain had stopped, and I finally had a chance to practise with the scope. Lovely views of male teal and shelduck.

I trained the scope on the ash embankment to look for sand martin action. Nothing, nil, zilch. A glance onto the scrapes with my new, fantastic binos did get me a single sand martin. It genuinely looked likely to collapse into the water with exhaustion. A tick is a tick, I suppose, even if its is a half- dead hirundine breathing its last. Regular readers will have realised by now that I try to find the positives in most things. Pouring with rain and forgot a jacket? It will be character- building. Travel for an hour to a Highland glen and forgot your binos? Time to fine hone your bird- call skills. Sometimes, though, the positivity has to step aside for harsh realism: "that was pretty crap...."

The trudge back to the train station had me weighing up the highlights and lowlights of the trip. My internal narrator sometimes drafts blog posts for me when I'm doing this. Some posts are written by the subconscious, others appear to be whilst unconscious.....

For every ying, there's a whole load of yangs. For every bad day, there's going to be far better, even brilliant days. The next day established this a a universal truth. It saw me meet up with my mate Bill, expert birder, font of knowledge, and all- round good guy. He's having an exceptional year to the extent I've worked out that birds are going Bill- watching. The global plague has meant we've been able to meet up far too rarely, and it was great to have a wander round our local patch together. It was also pretty productive. Within minutes of meeting, we got a common sandpiper on the sandy bank of the River Clyde. Not bad going, I was getting the benefit Bill's big year. A meandering walk to Fin Me Oot was great for catching up and gossip.

I'm all for solitary birding, but sometimes its good for the soul just to have the company of a mate.

At Fin Me Oot, the first highlight was a group of Jays squabbling. Not a tick, but great to see. Birds and bird- life..... Even better, though, was the 20 minutes spent standing where the Rotten Calder meets the Clyde. We started with a couple of sand martins appearing, clearly enjoying the flies near the sewage works. Then the couple became a dozen, then 2 dozen, then 3. Then they moved inland towards us, until we had a swirl of hirundines all around us. Luckily, we kept our wits about us and were able to check for house martin and swallow. Perhaps not surprisingly given how early in the month it was, we got neither, but that didn't matter in the slightest.

A good day out birding always leaves me with a positive glow. A good day out birding with a mate makes it just that bit better.

I had one day left of my 'big week' of annual leave. With the unexpected use of the car, I decided to head to the Sma Glen. Social media was fully of tales of wheatear arriving, with the odd report of Ring Ouzel. The Sma' Glen is my go- to place for each of them. I took the scope for practise, and because I don't like letting it out of my sight.

Parked the car as usual, opened the door, and got red grouse calling from across the road. Spent a good while scanning, but couldn't pick it out. Tick number 1. The Sma Glen is one of my feel good places. I like the history of it (albeit the Highland Clearances mean its a tragic history) and definitely like the geography of it. Visually, its stunning. I have a usual spot to base myself and scan both sides of the Glen. Naturally, things didn't go smoothly, and the top of the hillsides were shrouded in low cloud. Clearly, any further ticks were going to be a bit harder work than my red grouse.

Lots of meadow pipits moving were a distraction, but eventually I got used to it. Just one of those things, the subconscious instinctive thing I mentioned in my last post, in the Sma Glen you subconsciously tune- out the meadow pipits. EVentually, though, all my hard work was rewarded by a female wheatear popping up onto the derelict wall of the neighbouring farmhouse. Tick 2, she stood there offering excellent and prolonged views. Ironically, having seen one, many more now became obvious, male and female. My other target for the day was red kite, and I scanned upward near the cloud margins. A kestrel hunting caught my eye, and I spent a good 10 minutes watching it. A bit like GC Grebes and Skylark, show me the birder who can't appreciate a hunting kestrel.

The kestrel appeared to successfully hunt- it dived down and stayed down. I continued scanning, a soaring buzzard caught my eye, then the unmistakeable shape of a red kit. Tick 3, it floated around, apparently aimlessly. Lovely!!

No ring ouzel, unfortunately, and nothing else up high. My new scope worked perfectly, my journey home was spent with a massive smile on my face.

So, first half of a hectic month completed. One fairly crap day out, more than compensated for by multiple excellent days out. Ticks, yes, definitely, but by now you'll know that the quality of my day out birding isn't governed by the ticks I get. A variety of days, a variety of places. I've said it again and again that the joy for me is being outside, to be among birds, to be birding. Sometimes, its easy to just lazily assume that every day will be like that, so maybe a bad day is needed occasionally to make you appreciate the good. To reinforce the warm glow, to reinforce the wide, beaming smile. If we use these as the benchmark, then this was damned fine birding.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks.

John
 

Stonefaction

Stuck in Dundee.....
Scotland
A scope will make a big difference, and I say that as someone who is rarely able to carry one with me when I'm out and about, due to the additional weight on top of my camera gear and bins, food etc.
 

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