• 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.

Citadels And Symphonies (1 Viewer)

I can often be a bit grumpy. I’m happy to admit it, I often revel in it, as a joke my kids bought me one of those mood bracelets, and have since expressed concern about what I’d be like without it. Sometimes, though, my grumpiness is well warranted.

I love being outdoors, and I struggle with the fact that I have to work, and have other family- related duties to fulfil, and can’t actually go birding 7 days a week. I suppose I could but would remain neither married nor employed for long. I need days out to maintain my equilibrium. I’m not a twitcher of birds, but I twitch if I don’t get to go birding.

After my highly enjoyable, soul- restoring Musselburgh trip my birding became very stilted in March. One of the perks of being employed is flexi- time and the possibility of building up enough time for random days off. Thus I found myself with a long weekend. On the Friday I opted to stay local. Its early enough in the year that a wander round the local patch is still exciting, still fulfilling. The day was dull, and I vaguely wondered whether this would be a full year without sunlight. It was also quite chilly, and very un- springlike. Possibly a year without warmth as well. A feeling of damp in the air was the kind that seeps gradually and inexorably into your bones.

The woods were relatively quiet, the river Clyde even quieter. The area that I call the Deadwoods was, ironically, slightly more lively. The highlights being a mixed flock of redwing and fieldfare. The downside is that the ‘secret’ path up from the river had been blocked off to create a parking space for someone’s urban range rover.

Fin Me Oot was quiet, the one place for me where that is ok. A wren showed and sang equally well. Goldfinch made a racket, somewhere. The walk to the Rotten Calder though cast a cloud. Network Rail had erected a brand new, steel fence along the path. Ripped up the greenery that last summer had played host to dozens of species of pollinators. An act of vandalism, the claim that rail travel is environmentally friendly raised a hollow laugh.

The river, though, gave me an upturn in my sine wave of emotions. My happy place. My sanctuary. A place where good things happen. The resident dipper showed well, going about its business dipping way. Better, a stunning grey wagtail appeared. A gap in the cloud allowed weak sunlight to appear, catching the wagtail’s plumage in a moment of perfection. Time passed without notice as I watched it, until it eventually flew downstream.

Galvanised, I decided that the vandalism of the new fence would not go unanswered. Guerilla gardening, random sowing of (appropriate) seeds, anything else I could think of. I may not be able to stop the outside world encroach on my happy place, or happy places, but I wouldn’t just lie back and accept it. The day, though, made me impatient for Spring, although unlike most years there’s no sense of build up, that Spring is waiting to explode into life. A strange start to the year, I feel.

The next day had me break my golden rule about twitching. I had a spare couple of hours in the morning before Dad taxi duties took over, and I opted to visit Hogganfield Loch. A red- necked Grebe was there, and while I’m not a twitcher, I always aim to offset any ‘twitchiness’ by doing some proper birding when I’m there. The year without sunshine meant that the rain was steady, and heavy enough to be unpleasant. From the car park I managed to get 3 different grebe species- great crested, little, and red- necked. The RN- grebe is never taken for granted, and a good tick to get. But something perfunctory about it, it lacked something. It reinforced that while I appreciate ticks, I’ll never be a proper twitcher.

Part of my belief that we should ‘make the most of every moment’ has been to pay more attention to garden and local birds. My feeders in early March saw greenfinch (never, ever taken for granted) coal, blue and great tits, and somehow, long- tailed tits clinging to the window frame. Each of them had their own motivation, their own reasons, and the fact that I had no clue what these were epitomises why I love birds so much. They do their own thing, we’re alien to them, to be mostly ignored unless it suits them. They’re fey, like me.

Seizing the moment also took me to the James Hamilton Heritage Park in East Kilbride. Mrs GS had a yoga workshop nearby, and had asked me to drive her- on the basis that said workshop would leave her spaced out and pretty unfit to drive. Having only an hour or so I was restricted to what I could do. The area near the studio is excellent in late spring and summer, but less so at other times. So, I headed to somewhere I had only ever been when the mini- sandpipers were well, very mini.

The majority of it is essentially a public park/ dog walking/ pram pushing area. There is a slightly wilder part though, which allowed me 15 minutes to gaze upon a pair of little grebes in all their breeding finery. Things of beauty showing well in the binoculars. Other than that the trip was pretty uninspiring- for example, I was unaware that the greylag I ticked was a year tick until I cross checked birdtrack, Bubo and my yearlist on Birdforum. A trip that went through the motions of birding, to a place I never associate with birding, but saved from mediocrity by the little grebes. And to think, before the scope had restored the gift of sight I had never truly appreciated little grebes. And thanks to them I left with a smile on my face.

My next birding day was 17th March where again Dad duties were timed too awkwardly to allow a big day out, or even my much- vaunted guerilla birding. I weighed up whether to stay local or not, but having the use of the car I opted for a visit to Lochwinnoch. It had recently earned the right not to be considered a duty visit, but I seem to always fear the worst. Sadly, it had reverted back to when it was a façade of a nature reserve, full of families uninterested in what was around them, full of older people shopping, rather than birding. I’m undoubtedly being unfair, and my timing was all wrong- being stuck as it were between late winter and spring migration, but the trip itself was heading toward fulfilling and frustrating when, once again, it was saved by the unexpected.

A feeding station has been placed in the main car park, which while making it easy for kids to run amok, also makes viewing birds easier. This allowed excellent views of nuthatch, greenfinch, reed bunting, and best of all, rook. On a seed feeder. Close up views through the scope showed the subtlety of the plumage, the gentle shading, the greyness of the beak and mouth. Not a year tick, but far better views than usual. Finding quality and beauty in the simple things meant that I left the reserve with another smile on my face. The itch for a big day out, temporarily at least, eased by the warm glow of seeing nature.

The next few days were dominated by being close to death due to a head cold. Summed up by getting my first chiffchaff of the year when I was about to go into the shower. Bathroon ticks are still ticks, though. On the plus side, the area around my house had come alive with spring birdsong- including my 3am garden song thrush.

All of this meant that I was determined to have a big day out, to manufacture one if needs be. The pent- up birding energy meant that I was on the lookout for something out of the ordinary, something challenging but equally rewarding. I opted for a trip to Dunbar for kittiwake and fulmar, and then a walk to Tyninghame Bay via Belhaven Bay. Dunbar is my reliable go- to place for both kittiwake and fulmar, but always a place I stop off briefly in the car. This would be my first time having a full day out there on my own.

Thanks to public transport issues I arrived over 4 hours after leaving the house. Having been awake since 6am, this quite literally, would have been time better spent on a bear hunt in Edinburgh. Thanks Scotrail.

Upon arrival I was filled with a sense of nostalgia for the times the GreenSands spent there on family days (a branch of my in- laws live there) The mass crowds of tourists, though, reminded me of why I could never quite take to the place. Something intangible, something instinctive I could never quite put my finger on. The eldest mini-Sand, who had spent a lot of time there with her cousin, has even commented on the strange, Pleasantville atmosphere.

The harbour was crowded with locals and tourists, but I was able to tick kittiwake immediately. A brief search found the pair of fulmar on exactly the same ledge as last year. I tuned out the noise of the tourists and soaked up the ‘seabird’ atmosphere. It had taken me 4 hours to get there, I was going to make the most of it.

Belhaven Bay was better, bird-wise, and much worse people- wise. The tide was still out, but the vast expanse of sand was mostly devoid of birds- bar a far corner with curlew, redshank and pystercatcher crammed in. Seafield Pond held RB Merganser, which are never a bad thing. Chiffchaffs sang en masse all around, and as I went along the footpath their noise was gradually replaced by skylark. I’ll say it again, anyone who’s mood isn’t lifted by skylark singing is missing something inside.

The walk to Tyninghame along the coastal path was pleasant, albeit quite long. Any hope for solitude was quickly dashed by the selection of walkers and cyclists. The bay itself seemed to have more dog walkers than birds, though the scope picked out that most of the birds had fled to the furthest away corner. Little egret shone like a beacon, and the near- obligatory shelduck sat sleeping. Redshank and curlew patrolled the water’s edge. Lovely to see, but nothing unusual or even particularly noteworthy. That is, of course, until a flock of pink- footed geese arrived. Year tick 3 for the day, and it saved me a trip to Aberlady in the autumn. More than that, though, was the chance to just stand and watch a birding spectacle.

Sometimes the spectacular beats the mundane.



The Dunbar trip reminded my why my birding visits there are brief, flying visits on the way to or back from better places. A trip for year ticks. Which is sad, as to me it has real potential. My trudge back to the train station had me pondering why it was that Dunbar is so disappointing.

I concluded that the Dunbar area I covered should be absolute citadels of birding, offering a celebration of wildlife watching, a symphony of the natural world. Instead, they’re crowded and seemingly populated by the least environmentally- conscience people on Earth. Dogs chasing flocks of gulls on the beach, for example, summed up the mindset. I don’t mind working hard for ticks, I do mind having to fight the ignorance of others.

And this got me thinking. It isn’t just Tyninghame or Belhaven Bay, or James Hamilton Park, or Hogganfield, or Lochwinnoch, or Fin Me Oot that should be havens for birds and birdwatching. Instead, absolutely EVERYWHERE should be a citadel, a palace, a basilica for wildlife. And if I can do something, anything to try and bring that about, even a wee bit, then I’ll be happy to have left my mark.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks.

John, And I thought I was a bit grumpy !! Your epic totally sums up the way I am feeling, particularly the past couple of years post the worst of the pandemic. Thank you for saving me the effort of putting in words my feelings. Still, a great read. Thank you. Dave.
John, And I thought I was a bit grumpy !! Your epic totally sums up the way I am feeling, particularly the past couple of years post the worst of the pandemic. Thank you for saving me the effort of putting in words my feelings. Still, a great read. Thank you. Dave.
Thanks for your kind words Dave! I'm hoping to get a couple of quality days out in the next few days that will bring back some positivity!!

Users who are viewing this thread