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Evolution of a birder (1 Viewer)

I really don't post blogs as often as I should. Maybe its because I'm a themes kind of blogger rather than a detailed trip report kind of guy. Don't get me wrong, I wish I could do the trip reports that Stonefaction does, but never find the time. Maybe the 'themes' approach suits my introspective nature a bit, I'm quite quiet and contemplative ("moody" is the word Mrs GreenSand uses...) Trip reports would probably be more useful in terms of building a database of knowledge. As old birders eventually die, their knowledge can be lost. How much would be benefit from birders' diaries being saved somewhere like old maps?

Anyway, after my Fidra trip and 'better go to Cathkin Marsh' trip, I think I gave myself a bit of a shake. The birding I've been doing is definitely not of the dutiful or perfunctory type. No massive multi- tick days out, I'm not that kind of birder, but the ticking along has been excellent in both quality and quantity. The stern talking to I gave myself also helps me appreciated the immediacy of nature around me. Long days working from home gazing at the garden feeders in sheer boredom will do that for you.

I enjoyed lots of garden action, the sparrow colony is still going strong, so that was definitely ok. Wildflowers ("bloody weeds" according to Mrs GS) were starting to bloom, but not getting huge numbers of insects. From what I could see from my walks locally, it wasn't just a Green Sand's garden issue.

I made the pilgrimage to Musselburgh a couple of times after the Fidra trip. Public transport was a bit shambolic, as usual. Such things used to stress me out, but I now accept them as a feature of a day out birding. Nothing much on the sea, other than apparently every moulting eider in Lothian. I dunno whether I hate Eider for being ubiquitous, or hate the King Eider for being difficult to pick out among them. If I was a genuine twitcher, I imagine I'd be really, really frustrated by now. I did get a single gannet. One gannet in Musselburgh, in July. That is seriously frightening.

The scrapes were where it got strange. The right- hand hide had three photographers in it, 2 of them being local Decent enough chat, but even with that I didn't feel 100% at home with photographers and much of their chat went over my head. My own biases maybe, and one was very much a photographer who was learning birds (I gave him his first scope- look at a Greenshank). Anyway, no ticks but great views of the peregrine hunting over a couple of hours. Blackwits, greenshank and a juvenile sandwich tern were the other highlights. A day watching peregrine hunting isn't a failure, but overall it was just a wee bit unfulfilling. Maybe I mistimed it, but was hoping for a few more migrants to have dropped in. I was definitely hoping for scoter of some form, given they'd been seen en masse just around the coast.

The next Saturday Mrs GS was visiting her pal in Ayrshire for drinkies, so I had a chance of unfulfilling birding on a different coast. Did manage to see more gannets off Ailsa Craig, which made me think that bird- flu may be relatively localised. The next day, whilst Mrs GS was sleeping off her hangover, I headed down to Baron's Haugh early on. Green Sandpipers had been spotted during that week, and I was definitely in my "its (insert month) and I haven't had a Green Sand yet" phase of the year. I set up in the Marsh Hide with the scope ("gift of sight restored") and right away got a couple of snipe in the distance. Would never have got them with binos, but great views through the scope. As I was watching them, a single GS scooted into the long reeds. Fairly much in keeping with 2022 that 7 became 1 as soon as I arrived. Still a tick, but always a source of shame that GS doesn't get more GS each year. The bonus bird was a calling water rail from the right of the hide. Water rail are audible ticks for me, given my shocking bad luck and sheer lack of patience for waiting on them to appear.

Later that same day.... made my way through to Musselburgh. The scrapes were busy- ish with lots and lots of not a huge range of species. Low in diversity, big in quantity. I did get my traditional flukey whimbrel among the million curlew- this was shortly after discussing with one of the other birders present that I hardly ever get whimbrel. Tick 4 for the day. I took a wander down to the sea wall after a while. Scanned the water not expecting much, and got a handful of velvet scoters. Totally unexpected, but gladly ticked. Chances are I saw the King Eider as well, but one sleeping eider is much the same.

A local bug hunt the next weekend was definitely more hunt than bug. Its fairly typical that I start getting actively interested in insects just as we hit a mass extinction. The quiet weekend was, though, a precursor of a week off work. I know better than to make hard-and-fast plans, but I was "hopeful" of birding opportunities.

Seized the chance and nipped through to Musselburgh again on the Tuesday. The scrapes were busy, good numbers of bar- tailed godwits, redshank, curlew, etc. Quite a few local birders were there, including local legend and all- round helpful good guy Dave Allan. He cemented his legend status by finding a little gull. Managed to get on it through the scope ("gift of sight....") and I watched it pooter about a bit. Also got onto the ruff at the furthest left scrape. 2 ticks, and a pleasant amount of work going on at the new reserve bit. The chat with the locals told me that 5 hides were being put in place, plus a moat to keep out marauding dogs. It definitely has potential, and even this unreconstructed Lanarkshire farmboy is getting excited......

By the Wednesday morning I was annoying Mrs GS, so she sent me out. Honestly, it wasn't deliberate, I am just a generally annoying person. My discovery of birding social media has worked well, and I headed to Lochwinnoch as I wanted to see if I could get Spotted Flycatcher on the trail. My less-than-successful Loch Lomond adventures had fallen short, and Spot Fly had been a sore miss. Since we're in Scotland, I was stuck in a traffic jam for about 45 minutes thanks to roadworks. In the meantime, 2 osprey had hunted and scarpered. A classic "you should have been here an hour ago...." moment. Anyway, I went for a walk round the Aird Meadow trail, and for first time in ages went past the feeding station. Very impressed with the new shelter thing, albeit it was devoid of birds, but it had a good vibe about it. Can't really put my finger on it, one of these ethereal things that I think a lot of birders and nature- lovers have. I kept going to the 'leaning rails' and within 5 mins got 2 spot fly. Very welcome tick for the year, after I had given up. Proof, perhaps, that we're wrong to set time limits and targets for ourselves. The volunteer I was talking to in the visitor centre was getting excited about what might drop in on the new scrapes- given that at the time there were 2 pink- footed geese there!! This is definitely the year where I finally accept that Lochwinnoch had potential.

All this time at Lochwinnoch made me feel as though I was cheating on the Haugh, so I made a guilt- trip (geddit??) on my way back from Renfrewshire. Nothing new, got snipe again, loads of lapwing showing in the sun (they are right beautiful birds) Snipe through a scope are a completely different bird than through binos, wee beauties. When I think of the amount of money I wasted on take- away food I could have gotten a scope years ago.

The next weekend saw me make another brief visit to the Haugh, fitted in around Dad duties. Blackwit, green sandpiper, ringed plover, ruff and snipe. All looking wonderful through the scope, all would have been barely identifiable blobs without. A really good couple of hours just sitting (or standing, technically) enjoying the visuals.

Almost as if to compensate for my philosophical 'spending time with the visuals' my next time out was a complete tick- hunt. I managed to acquire the father-in-law's car, and headed to RSPB Loch Leven for Osprey (of which a few had been seen) Roadworks on M8 delayed me, but once on the M90 to the Bridge and beyond it was plain sailing. The reserve car park was packed, with loads of families which was good to see. A few folk were clearly just there for a walk, so told myself off for gatekeeping. I was assured by a volunteer that there were Osprey sitting on fenceposts, and armed with this info I made my way down to the first hide. Lo and behold, immediately got an osprey on a fencepost. Job done. Scanned the water in the scope (gift of sight restored.....) and got pochard in among dozens of tufties. One of the juv tufties was sleeping with quite a bit of white sticking out of the beak, but definitely not a Scaup.

I enjoyed watching the tree sparrows on the feeder with the goldfinches. Moved onto the middle hide. Pretty busy with birders (an RSPB reserve with birders....) and 4 osprey on the fence posts this time. One of aforementioned birders found the ruddy shelduck that had been seen the day before. Lots of 'its behind the greylag on the right. No, not that right, the other right' type conversations. Utterly untickable, but still looks great through the scope (gift of sight, etc, etc) Stunning looking without being actually all that attractive. All beauty is subjective, I suppose.

The hide was getting a bit crowded, and I'd kind of had my fill of Loch Leven for a while. In view of the interesting waders dropping into the SCrapes, including a curew sandpiper, I decided to enact Plan B, and head to Musselbirgh. I justified this by convincing myself I was roughly in the area.....Usual traffic on the M8, ring road and A1, but was at the right- hand scrape by 2pm. A mass of dunlin, in lovely summer- ish plumage. Not boring and grey at all. Good numbers also of shelduck in various stages of plumage, plus one proper adult one to remind us how stunning they look. Loads of pied wags everywhere, but the biggest surprise was a juvenile wheatear on the water's edge, drinking. It stood next to a pied wag for comparison sake as well. Very kind of it.

After a while, I moved onto the middle hide, which is where it got very interesting. Curlew Sand was seen here, albeit the water and mud were absolutely chock full of birds. Curlew, barwit, a few blackwit, more dunlin, redshanks everywhere, a greenshank flying about, and a few serious birders scanning. Through the scope I was lucky enough to nab the knot among the mass movement of legs, feathers and beaks. Year tick 2 for the day, had to work a bit harder for this one. Couldn't see the curlew sand for the life of me, but my hopes were raised when Dave Allan appeared- I've worked out that I tend to get ticks when he's there. Good craic among all present, then lo and behold one of the 'serious' guys got the curlew sand in his scope. For the life of me I couldn't get it, so had a quick look through his. Year tick 3, then once I had seen it, I could get it in mine easy enough. I'd been saying for a while that I had hopes for decent migrants at the scrapes to help the year list. Curlew Sand isn't a bad start.

Eventually I moved onto the last hide. One of the earlier 'serious' guys was there and got the wood sand tucked right into the grassy edge. I have a possible for it, as the grass was thicker from my angle than his, but I'm not ticking it. Too stringy for my liking. Greenshank was showing ridiculously well, as were blackwits and dunlin. Never, ever underestimate how good greenshank look through a scope.

Eventually I had to leave. The journey back West being the familiar mix of satisfaction, tinged with regret at the day being over, with a smidge of concern that the next time out may not be this good. Leaving the ticks aside, I'm pretty happy with the range of bird 'life' seen. So many waders.....
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The more time I spend doing quality birding- whether by getting ticks or by just sitting enjoying simple things- the more I learn to appreciate what we have. I've looked back at some of my earliest birdtrack entries, and some of my earliest blogs on here, and I can see just how much has changed. I mentioned earlier that this summer was noticeable for its insect shortage, but 10- 15 years ago I wouldn't have noticed it at all. This year so far has seen me doing things automatically that used to fill me with trepidation. Musselburgh on public transport- easy peasy, allowing for just how bad transport is. Going birding in places I'd previously given up on? Not now, I have the confidence to see whats there. Happy to simply tick something? Yeah, still, but happier to sit and appreciate a snipe's plumage, the scalloping on a ruff, the iridescence of a lapwing in sunlight, or a little grebe chick looking bedraggled in the rain.

I've mentioned before the adjustment period I have once I get home from a day out. I'm at home in a field, with the wind cutting through me, or being sweat- soaked. I'm in heaven in Spring searching trees for arriving migrants, tapping into my primordial self. I love the smell of the January air, and the excitement that a new year brings. I've been known to take my boots and socks off just to feel the ground with my bare feet.

Its also something that you can't teach, and in my case, can't really explain. And I think that everyone's experience of it is different. It gets them in different ways. I'm a massive fan of Simon Barnes' writing, and in particular his books that deal with 'rewilding.' Ideally, though, we should never lose 'it' in order to need to rewild ourselves. The 'adjustment' means that I live in 2 different, and often competing, worlds. I prefer the 'primordial part, rather than the office- worker, sedentary part. If by being outdoors birding I get to energise the primordial, then I'm happy.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks. Anyone who has read my year list will realise that September continued to be a good month, so more on that later!

John
 

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