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Goldilocks Birding- When Things Are Just Right (1 Viewer)

Birding can be emotional, depending on what you put into it, and what you want from it. If you allow it to, it can take you to the heights of elation, to the depths of despair, and all points in between. The ideal, though, the holy grail for me, is to escape from the sine wave of ups and downs, to achieve contentment, where birding, and all that it involves, just makes you happy.

Daughter the younger was working at Hampden Park a couple of Sundays ago (either pouring drinks, or badly cooking pizzas) and after dropping her off at an ungodly hour I made good on my perennial promise to make the most of my time out. The road home from Hampden would involve a short detour to Cathkin Marsh SWT reserve. One of my places, a place as fey and unpredictable as I am. Oh, and a great place for Sedge Warbler. Given the ridiculously early start, I got parked without any problem. In my haste I had forgotten about the Marsh’s microclimate and had left anything resembling a coat or jumper in the house. This wasn’t going to be a long visit, clearly. Almost immediately, I got grasshopper warbler reeling at the bottom of the path. Not showing, obviously, but still making their presence known. A quick look through the screen at the pond got a very loud, very welcome sedge warbler screeching from deep down in the reeds. Year tick, obviously, but having 2 migrants being my first 2 birds on site seemed somehow special. Anyway, I carried on my walk with a broad smile on my face. The rest of the visit didn’t produce anything else new, other than sedgies in much better numbers than my corresponding visit last year. Its only one tick, sure, but the value it gave my day just seemed greater, disproportionate to a single species.

The stiff breeze, and poor choice of clothing forced me back to the car before too long. A brief chat with a local photographer/ generalist wildlife/ bug guy was also pleasant (remember I’m not a people person) and the relative warmth of the car was a welcome relief.

This was still early morning, and I still had plenty of time before Mrs Green Sand would expect me back. It gave me the perfect opportunity to experiment, to try a new place, to finally get my finger out and make good with my “must try here” vague promises. A few weeks ago, I had stopped at a woodland at the Daldowie side of the M74 motorway, had a very pleasant hour or so, and identified it and the adjacent area across the motorway as places of real potential. Given time on my hands I opted for the Baillieston side and embarked on a voyage of discovery.

I might have been a birder for decades now, but I hope I never, ever lose the sense of fun, of excitement, of exploration that I get in a new place. I’m the kind of guy who will ignore a man- made path and seek out a faint trail left by foxes, dogs on leads or other furry creatures. Usually involving a sticky end in brambles, but still fun. More chance to get mud on your boots that way as well. My initial exploration of Greenoakhill got me an absolute wall of willow warbler noise. Its still a pretty young ‘woodland’ so can only get even better as it matures, but this was summer warbler heaven.

The site has extensive pathways, and following one of these took me to the side of the motorway. This showed the dichotomy of the site- the traffic noise drowning out anything else, and birdlife reduced to a handful of corvids. The path did, though, lead to an underpass beneath the motorway, connecting to the woodland at the opposite side. The discoveries continued, with the wall of warbler noise re- appearing as the traffic noise faded. A series of what looked like suds ponds gave me moorhen, with hirundines swooping in at high speed. This is a place to lie back in the sun and let the birds come to you, but this wasn’t the day for it. Its not often that I have to ‘bookmark’ a place as somewhere I must return to, but this was one of those times. The path would eventually lead to the water treatment plant at Daldowie, and before reaching there I got 3 blackcap in a tree. Unusually, 2 females and a single singing male. One of the other paths leads to Cambuslang, and as tempting as it was to nip into my Mum’s for lunch, the car was still in Baillieston, and I reluctantly retraced my steps.

One year tick for the year list, but so much more for my year of birding experiences.

The next week at work was spent counting down the days to the long weekend and my extra day off. My local area continued in its 2024 pomp as a place of active birding ‘life’ which was good for the soul. I’ll never, ever take it for granted, never, ever stop appreciating it.

On Sunday the 5th I unexpectedly had the use of the car (technically, MY car) for a few hours. My plans for the Monday and Tuesday were in place, so it was time for some unplanned, spur of the moment birding. Headed to Lochwinnoch RSPB for little ringed plover, more in hope than expectation after my last failed visit. I had seen there was a garganey on site, but I’m not a twitcher, and getting the smart- looking duck wasn’t going to make or break the day. Remember, this was NOT a twitch, I could take or leave the garganey.

So, I successfully got garganey.

Thanks to an incredibly enthusiastic, incredibly knowledgeable, and incredibly optimistic RSPB volunteer. The future is in good hands if this volunteer is anything to go by. I also self- found the little ringed plover, so already the visit was a success tick- wise. Just as good was the walk through the woodlands, the chat with a Dutch birder (in English, in case you were wondering) and eventually to the new(ish) boardwalk.

As much as I spend an awful lot of time on the Coast, I’m really at home in the mud, in the woods, in a field, or in a swamp. Mud on my boots used to be a key indicator of a good day out, when my choice of locations was far more limited than it is now. I feel at home in the woods, somehow, its either a primordial instinct, or a throwback to my childhood in Lanarkshire. or both. I’m not a huge fan of man- made things, but the boardwalk was somehow unobtrusive, and allowed an immersive experience among the horde of sedge warblers. I’m also not a huge fan of organised nature reserves, but somehow this trip to Lochwinnoch, the birds and the people, ticked all my boxes.

Monday was scheduled for a return trip to the Sma’ Glen. The BBC weather forecast, though, said thundery showers, and the thought of being caught out in the glen in a thunderstorm didn’t fill me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Thinking on my feet I opted to keep my Ayrshire-by-public- transport trip for Tuesday, and use my Monday to drive to RSPB Loch Lomond. A place I criminally under- visit (My Mate Bill frequently waxes lyrical about it) This itself is a sign of how grown- up I am this year. Previously, I’d sulk or head to Musselburgh by default if Plan A failed.

The reserve itself is a strange mix of excellence, and could-be-better. RSPB Inversnaid isn’t far up the east shore of the Loch, and has more impressive birds. Its almost as if the birds suit themselves rather than us. The feeders at the car park had good numbers of finches, including male and female siskin. The walk through the woods (have I mentioned how much I like woodland?) was very pleasant, the feeding station at the pond had chaffinches in good numbers, more siskin, a calling sedgie, and best of all, calling cuckoo. The walk to the loch shore across the board walk was an orchestra of sedge warbler calls, including a few obligingly showing. A joyful sight among joyful noise. As if in defiance, though, a few grasshopper warblers called from the fringes- the Sedgies weren’t going to have it all their own way.

Walking back to the woods, I heard blackcap and willow warbler singing from the thinned- out trees. In among them was another blackcap which didn’t quite sound right. I risked the Merlin app, (albeit wary of whatever it told me the call was) and it suggested Garden Warbler. Still not trusting it, I stood patiently and waited, until it suddenly erupted from gorse 20 foot in front of me, and flew off into the woods. Year tick 2 of the day, and not one I can ever claim to get regularly.

Loch Lomond is an area I really don’t visit as often as I should. Part of this is previous disappointments, a mix of bad luck, bad timing, and birding in the ‘wrong’ (ie not wild enough) areas. But this trip, somehow, met everything I could have hoped for. I trudged back to the car thinking that this was a damned good visit to a damned good reserve.

I toyed with taking a homeward detour to Ardmore Point and realised that I was only 5 miles or so from the village of Drymen, where the woodlands offered the chance of wood warbler. Decision made, I arrived in Drymen a short while later. Immediately in the Garadhban Forest I was struck again by a wall of warbler noise. Chiffchaff to the left of me, willow warbler to the right. Blackcap calling from further along the path, and from somewhere, a cuckoo. There’s probably no single ‘sound of summer’ but this came close to it.

The main path through the forest is part of the West Highland Way, and therefore had ‘ordinary’ walkers quite frequently. An odd call just off trail got me my third tick of the day, and second unexpected on. A lesser redpoll, in the wild rather than at Lochwinnoch. A wild redpoll. Cue the massive smile on my face.

I opted to go off the main track and headed up the relatively steep slop of the Millburn trail. Absolutely people- free, it allowed me the chance to imagine I was in a by- gone time, a time where you could be alone with nature, where you can imagine or even hope that a bear could appear round the corner, all that would be needed to make the transition into the wild complete. This wasn’t a primordial rainforest like Wood of Cree, or even Inversnaid. It was, though, something that met my needs for the day.

Cuckoo called from deeper in the woods, with warbler song echoing among the trees. Still no wood warbler, I wasn’t even disappointed. The path eventually led back to near the car park, and my day was complete. A very happy GS headed home.

The last day of my Big Weekend involved a trip to South Ayrshire, by various means of public transport. Essentially, it needed multiple elements to go like clockwork, starting with me getting up at silly o’ clock for the early train into Glasgow. Sadly, not quite silly enough, and I ended up running late, with a knock- on effect once I reached Ayrshire.

My plan was to retrace the steps taken by myself and My Mate Bill last year, in our big day at Turnberry. I arrived at noon, having lost over an hour due to waiting for connecting buses. Almost immediately on the beach I got ringed plover on the shore, with a tern of some description calling from somewhere unseen. I began the trek along the ‘farm path’ behind the dunes toward where Bill and I had had our successful day. Sedgies called from the patch of brambles, with a grasshopper warbler also calling. Suddenly, a distinct scratching call pierced the background noise. A whitethroat I the brambles. I paused, let it call, but unfortunately it didn’t show itself. The walk back to the beach over the dunes got more grasshopper warbler, and a pair of meadow pipit. Once on the beach the shore line was alive with waders. 50 maybe 60 ringed plover were feeding frantically, with a half dozen golden plover mixed in- golden plover in summer plumage, in the sunlight. Joy for the eyes.

A sandwich tern called from the sea, and I got the binoculars on it in time to see it dive into the sea. Another year tick, but better still, bird- life. Gannets were also feeding on the water. My eyes were drawn back to the plovers on the shore, and through the scope (“gift of sight restored”) I got a pair of summer plumage knot. All thoughts of plovers forgotten whilst I watched this pair root around in the seaweed.

I tried setting the digiscoping bracket up to take images of the mass flock of oystercatcher, when what looked awfully like a whimbrel crossed my field of view. Being a bit uncertain of whimbrel, and having had my fingers burnt more or less every year with false hopes, I didn't take anything for granted, while going through the "this is a whimbrel" checklist in my mind. Which basically stopped at 'stripey head' but it turns out, yeah, that was enough. Amazing when you see one just how different to curlew they are. Possibly my best views ever, it has to be said.

It turns out I was probably just in the wrong place for divers, but I genuinely wasn’t disappointed. The walk back along the beach got me razorbill on the water, plus sanderling and a common sandpiper among the plovers. The earlier whitethroat now had a friend or competitor, and the second one popped out into a tree to put on a show. A flock of linnet appeared form the dunes, with one posing on a fencepost. Much better views than on the Musselburgh mud, on a dull day, with the scope at its limits.

7 year ticks for the day, 12 for the weekend, and much more bird ‘life’ than I could have expected.


None of these days were actually perfect, none went completely according to plan, and none of them would be called ‘textbook’ examples of how to go birding. They were all successful though, in bird species, and bird ‘life’. Fate seemed to ensure that all the elements of a damned good day managed to come together, somehow, to make these days just right. Days that a birding Goldilocks would approve of.

I have my ‘happy place’, the place I go to recharge, to regain my equilibrium. A place that’s vital for my own wellbeing. What the past few days out have taught me, though, is that as well as this you can have places of happiness, places of joy, places where we belong. I feel blessed to have this, and hope that you too can be as lucky.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks. Lets keep being brilliant to each other


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