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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Familiarity Breeds Contemplation: Musselburgh and the Sma' Glen (1 Viewer)

You may have picked up from some of my previous posts that I'm not a massive fan of change. I have my routines, and I have my set places, my tried and tested sites to go birding. New things (such as global pandemics and being locked down, for example) make me feel uncomfortable, and it takes a while before either I try somethign new, or feel comfortable enough doing it that it stops being 'new.' All this is mostly subconscious, incidentally, in case I've painted a picture of a badly- dressed birding bloke paralysed by his own neuroses.

Anyway, the post- lockdown mad rush to cram in as many days out as possible made me realise that I'd neglected my old reliable Musseburgh. My daughter's shifts for once helped me, with an 8am start and 4 pm finish, so I was able to get there far earlier than if I'd been relying on getting up normally. And as it turned out it was fortunate I did get such an early start.

The journey was uneventful, given the relatively early hour, and I made good time along the motorway. Approaching my usual parking place at Goose Green Avenue, I saw a mass of hirundines swirling round a rooftop. Too far to make out what hey were, I made a mental note to keep an eye open. The tide was in the process of coming in (as per usual, I hadn't checked the tide times...) which made me hopeful for some tern and gannet action. The sunny weather had plenty of people out on the sand and mud, unfortunately. A brief scan of the mud soon got me stock dove, which were then disturbed by a couple who appeared to be picking shells. A year tick, and one of the 'there's no guarantee you'll get them' variety, but the human disturbance annoyed me.

Plenty of Eider- in fact, it looked like ALL the eider, plus mute swans, GBB gull pair, and usual mix of BH gull and herring gull. The rocks were covered by the tide, so no sign of turnstone. Oycs flew over toward the scrapes at Levenhall Links. No terns (not even a distant screech) and no gannets. Skylark sang from the ash pit, and I wandered away from the sea wall to soak in the sound of Spring. Mood suitably lifted by this, I opted to head for the Links across the meadow and through the small wooded areas. Usual warblers singing merrily, and managed to pick out a male reed bunting showing itself proudly. The sun was strong even this early in the morning, and the walk was very pleasant. Other than the slight lack of expected birds, the day couldn't be faulted at that point.

The boating pond near the links had a very low water level, with reeds protruding above the surface. A drake mallard sat still and low, offering a very atmospheric photo op. Good numbers of sand martins feasted on the insects coating the surface, and I took a seat just watching them. My patience was rewarded first with the scream of a swift, then almost immediately by the sight of a pair dancing over the surface. Year tick 2. I became aware of increasing numbers of dog walkers, and moved myself toward the scrapes.

This was where the ay began going slightly downhill.

The scrape at the furthest right was bond dry and dusty. Curlew were congregated in the grass toward the rear, but this was the extent of bird life present. Warblers called from the woods behind me, with a blackcap being particularly close. The middle scrape was similarly devoid of water and devoid of birds, bar a pair of oycs pootling around on the grass. More positively, looking toward the next scrape (whch had water in it) got me sand martin and a pair of house martins. Year tick 3, and one which I was beginning to despair of (I mean, I had visited my 'banker' sites for them and had gotten nothing) A pair of shelduck plus other oycs were the other highlights of that scrape. Having exhausted evrything that was on offer, I decided to head back along the sea wall. by now, though, the path was positively heaving with cyclists, joggers and dog walkers. Far too busy for comfort, I began resenting the fact that people were using their local resource for exercise, and I smiled wryly at how ridiculous I was being.

The journey back to the car was uneventful until I got to the Eskmouth. A group of female eider with ducklings struggled against the current to reach the wall are. Even the joggers/ dog walkers/ cyclists had stopped to watch. Better, were the handful of house martins whirling overhead and down onto the water to feed. Much better views than I had gotten at the scrape.

Overall, a strange day. A bit like a Pot Noodle. It served a function, without actually provided quality- and you know me by now that I try to find the beauty in everything. 3 year ticks will never be sniffed at, but very much a perfunctory visit. My own fault, of course, for setting expectations too high, by putting Musselburgh on a pedestal, so that anything short of an amazing day out leaves a quiet frustration. Then it dawned on me. Every year around this time my birding hits a low spot, the doldrums. Few new ticks, more people out and about (I'm not a people person....) and the impatience for autumn migration after the excitement of the spring. Thats in normal years. this year, the loss of the first 4 moth due to lockdown means that my birding calendar is still far behind. I've hit the doldrums while subconsciously still thinking I should be running about with the freshness of spring.

A strange, strange year. Which was summarised by me ticking a collared dove in a supermarket car park. Normally, collared dove is ticked in January at Caerlaverock WWT, and I had realised a couple of weeks earlier that I still didn't have one. Supermarket tick or not, I was ticking it.

Roll on the weekend just past. Had told Bill my tales of woe, which were put into perspective by his health problems and injuries which have prevented him getting out. As he said, he was gratified that the year was spreading sh*t around evenly. I decided that after my moody turn I needed to get out in the sun nd in the fresh air, and to do it somewhere I could relax. I opted for the Sma' Glen, which offered the chance (it used to be likelihood) of Red Kite and the guarantee of a nice, long walk. Normally, I base myself in the derelict cottages and watch for birds up the side of the glen and onto the ridge. I decided, though, to make the most of the mood- improving sunlight and go for a hike.

Cuckoo called again from the car park, heard but not seen. Warblers called from all around, plus a few strange calls I couldn't identify. The 'farm' house near the gate had swallow, house martin and swifts circling above, which was great to see. The crazy spring seems only to have delayed migration rather than outright prevented it. Lots of corvid activity, which made me suspicious of a raptor being on the prowl, but nothing to be seen. Strange behaviour though. A walk along the path got wheatear near the edge, which showed itself proudly for a few minutes. Common sand on the River Almond were to soon become a feature of the walk. Constant scanning of the ridgeline eventually got me my target red kites. About a mile and a half beyond where I normally base myself, its just as well I opted for a hike. Pair of kites hunting, with a pair of kestrel also hunting, within about 100 yards of each other. There's a proper wildness about the SMa' Glen, despite the shooty- bang bang estate adjacent to it. Seeing kites in action in that location just seems more special than seeing them in Dumfries and Galloway.

The walk itself was lovely, with more warblers and woodland birds calling from the small copses of protected trees. A further cuckoo called, but obviously not showing itself. At least 4 separate common sand were flighty on the river- showing well on rocks exposed by the low water level. All too soon it was time to turn back and make my way to the car. this also allowed for the other side of my face to get sunblasted, as I'd otherwise have looked two- tone. The best advised for being in the Sma Glen is to constantly scan the ridgelines. Doing so got me a buzzard, plus more kestrel and a further single red kite diving down, presumably grabbing prey. Naturally, it disappeared, camouflaged among the rocks and grass, but a ring ouzel obliged by flying into sight. Proper mountain- top ring ouzel, not a dry-stane dyke anywhere near it. Back to the car with the glow of positive endorphins, and a smooth journey home.

A strange comparison can be made. I felt let down by what I classed as a permanently reliable site, and had a great day in a place which (this year) had let me down twice. I think it shows the limitations of one's own knowledge, but more importantly, never, ever make assumptions.

Stay healthy, stay safe.

John
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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