• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Broken Biscuits Birdwatching (1 Viewer)

Sometimes as a birder, you just have to grin and bear it....

I've realised I need to stop listening to my mate Bill. Sure, he's a repository of a lifetime's worth of birding knowledge, and is damned good company to boot, but his other- worldly luck with birding sets an exceptionally high bar, and an unrealistic expectation of "well, my mate Bill can do it, so can I...." This is a chap, remember, who birds go to see.

My trip to Fairlie, as challenging as it had been, was still good enough to reignite the warm, happy birding glow, after my January stutters. I resisted the urge to do a comparison with January 2023, and instead focused on my next adventure. Bill had happily let me know he had had an excellent day in Dumbartonshire, specifically Cardross and Ardmore Point. On foot. So much so that I was determined to follow in his bootsteps, and made plans to head there the next week. I opted to ignore the quiet voice in my head that warned me that previous trips there had been, er, problematic.

The week at work was its usual mixture of days in the office chatting with friends, and days in the house filming birds on the feeder. Plus, occasionally performing the tasks for which I'm paid a salary. Roll on the weekend, bus and train timetables had been consulted, a shoestring budget set, ingredients for sandwiches bought.....and the weather turned apocalyptic. Weather warnings of different colours meant that only the suicidally- minded would head to Dumbarton and its surrounds. My plans were thus thwarted. It turns out that 50 year old Green Sand is nowhere near as brave/ reckless as 30 year old Green Sand. Cowardice, or common sense, you decide, but regardless the sulky part of my conscience was mumbling 'Bill would still have gone.'

This doesn't mean that I intended to spend the day at home performing mantasks for the wife. It only meant I was restricted to a quick trip to Drumpellier Country Park. Not to overstate it, but this is a site often only worth visiting if the alternative is staying in the house. Some choices.....

My plan for tufted duck and winter- GC grebe at the quieter, Woodend Loch was scuppered by a worsening downpour, and a flooded road just at the path through the woods. I sat in the car, slightly miserable, weighing up whether it was worth trying to brave the flood. It genuinely wasn't. My reluctance to head home to the list of mantasks meant that I drove the short distance to Gartloch Pool in the East End of Glasgow. Wind and rain were still there, but I took some brave pills and left the car this time. Very little of note, but I did manage to get a single Tufted Duck among the waves. Year tick, and a relief to get it, and maybe it was the weather, but I'd have expected/ hoped for more. Days earlier Bill had pointed out something I had been vaguely aware of- its been a quiet year for Tufties. I figure, if Bill was struggling with them, then it must be bad.

My luck picked up significantly the following day with 3 siskin on my feeder, helpfully squabbling as I finally remembered to turn on the camera and film them. A very infrequent garden visitor, and much appreciated after what seemed to be an almighty struggle to get them last year. This gave me 75 for the year, which I was actually pleased with, given the lurgy and the meteorological apocalypse that had thwarted my every dream. The siskin made me almost believe in birding karma.

So, the plans to emulate Bill's day out were slightly delayed, but this past weekend, I was definitely doing it. Nothing was going to get in my way. I was determined. Having booked Monday off to recover from the Superbowl, I was hopeful of getting 2 days out in a long weekend. Cautious optimism gave way to wild dreams of skipping around in the mud singing Born Free. Cardross on the Saturday, and Lothian on the Monday. What on Earth could possibly go wrong?

Saturday rolls around, and life intervenes. When I say 'life' I mean my second role as an unpaid taxi driver for the mini- Sands and general skivvy for Mrs GS. Saturday a write- off, sure, but Sunday will be different.

It was definitely different. Eldest mini- Sand was working, and public transport on Sundays meant that Dadtaxi was called upon. Mid- afternoon shift, severely limited what I could do. While the temptation to sit and sulk was great, I took the opportunity of heading to Hogganfield Loch, which had the benefit of being close to mini- Sand's work. It also has a decent population of lesser black- backed gulls, and is famed for its summer great- crested grebes. That, and just a strangely decent place to be sometimes.

The car park had its usual collection of idiots taking selfies with swans, and parent/ kid combinations feeding stale bread to wildfowl. A quick count (I didn't linger, as by my own arbitrary standards birding at the car park isn't real birding.) and set off on my favourite clockwise walk. Hogganfield is essentially a public park in the East End of Glasgow, full of joggers, cyclists, walkers, and kids. But, something about the walk around it- especially the wilder far end- just appeals to me. Being February, and 2024, the sky was grey and overcast, so light was poor. Very much in keeping with my birdwatching year so far. Scanning the central island got me tufties, goldeneye, and an unexpected pair of great- crested grebes in winter plumage. Year tick sure, and one of those ones that I was certain to get at some point, but still good to get at any time.

The further away from the car park, the better I felt, and I was able to start truly enjoying myself. Scanning the water got more tufties, a single male teal, and a handful of Gadwall. Going off the main path and into the trees, I paused and soaked up the woodland birdsong. Greenfinch, goldfinch and bullfinch all called.

Resuming my walk I got another pair of grebes- this time in their full, breeding finery. A public park in the East End of Glasgow contains one of Scotland's most stunning species. The wonder of birds, and the wonder of birding. The more I scanned the water, the more Lesser black backed gulls I got. Singles or in pairs, nothing near the feeding station, birds which my internal arbitrariness classed as proper ticks, being untainted by toddlers and pan bread.

While my time at Hogganfield had come to an end I was reluctant to go home. Sure, daylight- if you can call it that- was fading, and it was gettign steadily colder, but I was truly enjoying being outdoors. The scientific part of my brain would explain it away as being the result of endorphins and the adrenaline of exercise; the romantic part of me would point out that I felt I was where I belonged, I was outdoor, not caged in a house. Either way, I was determined to stay out, and it was up to me to find somewhere to go.

This led to one of those times where the adult Green Sand was able to capture the essence of adventure that had filled GS's childhood playing in the fields surrounding my home village. The discovery of a new path, a derelict building, the relics of a long- ago coal mine, all were things that sparked my sense of adventure, albeit some adventures worried my mother sick. So, when my car seemed to find its way to Daldowie side of the Greenoakhill Community Woodland, it seemed almost fate. This is an area beside the main M74 motorway running past Uddingston and the East End of Glasgow. Formerly a landfill site, its an ongoing regeneration project, and somewhere I'd never managed to visit. Until now.

If light was failing at Hogganfield, it was virtually on life support by the time I parked and set off on the path. Immediately, the noise of song thrushes competing with each other filled the air. I've yet to have a bad day where a song thrush is involved. Something uplifting about them, like skylark, without the neck pain from trying to find them floating in the sky. A scan of the mature trees adjacent to the path got me a male singing proudly, silhouetted against the sky. Year tick 3 of the day, and while its another one I was confident of getting at some point (my resident 3am song thrush is due to appear soon) it was another piece of what was becoming a damned good day.

Following the well- maintained path took me toward the gull frenzy at the water treatment plant, situated outside the woodland boundary. The clever chaps who designed the woodland had included a water area, with a thicket of reeds which promises much excitement when our warblers return in the summer. A glance upwards got me, finally, a buzzard. Not sure how, but I had somehow managed to get a Green Sandpiper weeks before a buzzard. Go figure. The slow walk back to the car was far from being a trudge, there was a spring in my step, not only for the 4 year ticks, but for the discovery of somewhere new, somewhere which could be very special.

So, part one of the weekend sorted. Nowhere near according to plan, but surely Monday would run smoother? Yeah, right......

Despite being awake to 4am, I only slept in by an hour. I decided to forego Cardross, and head Eastward. Aberlady Bay, specifically, for sanderling and whatever other goodies turn up. What is it they say about a sign of insanity? Oh yeah, repeating an action expecting a different result. Avid readers will recall that my relationship with Aberlady is complicated, at best.

The wheels came slightly off the Day Out upon reaching Edinburgh. The bus for Aberlady, I only latterly discovered, now left from a different place. Google maps either gave me wrong directions; or, as my friend suggested, I just read them wrong. It took me 40 minutes to find the bus stop, which happened to be 200 yards from the train station. My good friend Bear, a native of Edinburgh, found that part exceptionally funny.

Already, I had a niggling feeling that this was going to be a classic Aberlady visit. The BBC weather website suggested sunshine and a moderate breeze. They should work on their definition of 'moderate' as the wind threatened to blow over my tripod, even from the relative shelter of the car park. The walk to Gullane Beach was into the full force of the wind, and cut me to the bone- even accounting for a winter coat and layers. Near the beach I flushed a pair of meadow pipit, a year tick. What was noticeable were the number of flooded areas in the machair, a sign of the weather we'd been having. The beach itself was virtually unworkable. I set my scope up, pushing the tripod into the sand as far as I could, and scanned the rapidly approaching tide. Eventually, I found what I'd been looking for, and was able to tick off sanderling.

Walking into the headwind had taken its toll on my legs, and the walk back was, ironically, just as slow. It offered plenty of time to reflect on how Aberlady is still an accursed place. On how, after the brief redemption of the sunset pinkies last time, I had easily resumed my bitter hatred of the place, safe in the knowledge that it too hated me. A quick glance in the flooded 'pools' got me mallard and teal- a pleasant surprise in what was, superficially at least, a frustrating day.


Like I mentioned before, its all the fault of my mate Bill. Oh I know that when he regales me with tales of easy, laconic, laid back birding, he's glossing over the grittier bits, the stuff where you stand in mud for 20 minutes only to discover that you're staring at a deformed branch, not an owl after all. The bits where staring into a howling wind for hours makes you reconsider your life choices. All the self- deprecating stuff that makes every birder's birding tales so much fun. Bill's tales of 2024 may have been the equivalent of a well baked cake, elegantly presented, and delicious to sample. My own days out, by contrast, were the equivalent of the broken bits left at the bottom of a biscuit tin- not pretty for sure, but equally delicious.

My traditionally challenging trip to Aberlady got me thinking. Sure, it was hard work, and tiring, and only got 2 ticks, and made me regret ever setting foot in the place, and how I was never, ever going back there. All things to be expected, and which I could probably get printed and laminated.

But the flooded pools symbolised something. These pools are transient, they'll eventually fade away. But the birds which found them decided to make the most of them. And surely thats what any birder should be doing any time they set foot outdoors. Make the most of what we have, when we have it, and rejoice in it.

Anyway, stay healthy, stay safe.

I had a friend who said he was a "lucky birder", but the biggest bit of luck he had was spending huge amounts of time in the field. He reminded me of Gary Player, who I am told said "they call me a lucky golfer, but the more I practice the luckier I get!"
I'm sort of finding that too, more and more. I do all my birding within the boundaries of the city (Dundee) where there isn't a huge amount of particularly 'birdy' habitat (especially the undisturbed sort) but the more time I'm out the more unexpected birds I see. Recent (past few weeks) 'lucky' encounters include Crossbills (on Dundee Law), Ravens (over Riverside Nature Park), Red Kite (over the Law, and over urban locations near the edges of the city), Osprey (Broughty Ferry), Whooper Swans (up the river) and Waxwings (on their way back north). I've also stumbled upon Red Backed Shrike, Hen Harrier (twice), Ring Necked Duck, Long Eared Owl, Pomarine Skua, Storm Petrel, Little Auk, Twite etc and seen Blyth's Reed Warbler, Cuckoo, Bearded Tit and Slavonian Grebe (to name a few) initially found by others - all while birding within the city over the past 3 or 4 years. I do still wonder what I'm missing though.....as I can't be everywhere at once (and have to go to work, sleep, do stuff at home etc).
If you drive and get tired of city birding, you quite close to Montrose basin. A great place for winter wildfowl and an outside chance of seeing beavers.
I don't drive and the bus service to Montrose is a bit of a nightmare these days (I heard of a fellow Dundee birder having a recent trip there which entailed him being on 9 different buses - due to breakdowns etc). It is also an hour each way, at best (2 hours of birding time largely wasted) and really needs a 'proper' scope & tripod to do the site justice - which limits the amount of walking possible too. I miss seeing some of the rarities that Montrose Basin gets, but I don't miss most of the other stuff that a trip there entails. Incidentally, we've got Beavers here in Dundee these days too, though I've yet to see one - but I have seen their tell-tale 'handiwork'.

Users who are viewing this thread