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GreenSand's 2023 (1 Viewer)

Well, its that time of year again, when Green Sand realises he's a fortnight behind schedule for posting his 'That Was The Year That Was' retrospection. The levels of disorganisation......

A good friend of mine, who has suffered listening to me going on about my birding year, suggested that when doing my summary I try to include the best bird I've seen. I've thought about this, and decided not only to do that but also include best days, worst days, etc. The peaks and troughs of yet another sine wave of a birding year.

Looking back, I remember realising in January that this was looking like being a year of hard work. My carefully laid plans, hopes and amibitions for the start of the new birding year fell somewhat by the wayside due to a combination of sheer bad luck, Dad duties (apparently, not everyone in the family signed up to Green Sand's birding plans) and- as I thought- the universe conspiring against me. My delayed trip to Caerlaverock was, for once, disappointing. A cold/ man- flu (delete depending on your point of view) meant that a trip to Hogganfield for Smew was a triumph of stubborn-ness over common sense. Low numbers of whooper swans was sobering, if not downright depressing. To hell with birdflu, and to hell with its human enablers. My first trip of the year to Musselburgh was unspectacular, bar the anticipation of the new scrapes finally approaching completion.


My first trip to the West coast was one of those days where everything falls into place. The benefit of record keeping and checking the previous year's activities found me heading to Fairlie in Ayrshire exactly a year after my first visit. The birding gods shone bright, when I bumped into my mate Bill at the train- he too heading to Fairlie. The birding year properly, and finally, took off. Great birds, great company- and a candidate for the birding moment of the year. A long- tailed tit swooped down from the trees, landed in a puddle. Open- mouthed, it drank its fill, and ruffled its feather, bathing itself. I stopped, stunned by the simplicity of this moment, and glanced over at Bill, to see he too was frozen in time. If two relatively grizzled birders like us can be aw- struck, then it was truly a perfect moment of beauty.

The year progressed as a saga of hard, hard work. Fragmented days out, stolen hours in among conflicting demands. A strike at work meant that I had an extra, unexpected day at Musselburgh. Not overly productive, a sparrowhawk was the highlight, but there was an almost tangible sense of anticipation, that something much better was brewing. I like to think that this is some latent sixth sense that we have, and can occasionally tap into is we allow ourselves to.

I enjoyed days spent locally- days big and small. The changes to the local landscape, mostly in the name of 'progress' or 'business', destruction of the environment was both sobering and infuriating. Though for as long as there's even one person angered by environmental vandalism, there's hope.

A big trip East took me to Torness Power Station in Lothian- a strange mixture of plutonium and birding. Purple Sandpiper being a highlight, and a trip there is somehow never a waste. A drive back via Musselburgh, and a fellow birder put me onto long- tailed ducks- a prime example of birders helping each other, and something that never fails to warm my withered old heart. The highlight of the day was when, on my way back to the car, my attention was brought to a flock of lapwing screaming and whirling frantically. Within seconds, I got the peregrine which was hunting them, and spent glorious minutes watching nature red in tooth and claw. Interestingly, while my perception at the time was that the start of the year had been a slog, Birdtrack told me it had been my best start in quite some time.

A trip to the Haugh was a blow to morale, as I nicknamed it Barren's Haugh. The life appeared to have been sucked out of it, it was cold both in temperature and in atmosphere. It made me melancholic for birding days past, for the birders I had spent time with. I understood the irony that Cathkin MArsh can also be as devoid of wildlife, but doesn't trigger the same feelings in me. This melancholia was offset spectacularly during a quick trip to Drumpellier Country Park, where stunning views of Great Crested Grebe should never, ever be under- estimated.

A dose of man flu laid me low, and upon feeling slightly better I decided that a trip to Aberlady was in order. Aberlady which on a good, healthy day makes you work hard for any birds you get. Even months later, I have no idea what I was thinking. Sanderling on the beach were good to see, and a quick stop off at Musselburgh got a winter- plumage knot (finally I.D'd by Bill from a terrible photo. I vowed to read more 'bird books'....) and my first chiffchaff of the year. A harbinger of spring, and spirits duly raised. I wondered abstractly whether ancient humans also had similar feelings upon hearing the first spring migrant birds?

Mid- to -late spring was defined by my second big day out with Bill. A trip to Turnberry in Ayrshire- a pilgrimage he makes yearly and had told me of the riches to be found. This was one of those days where everything fell into place. Birds, including a lifer black- throated diver, in their masses. I'm a poor seawatcher, but it struck me at the time that the nearest equivalent to the sea and shore that day was a wall of noise in a woodland.

Commando- birding trips continued, a quick visit to Hogganfield after dropping my daughter off at work, got me little gull and red- necked grebe. It also got me a run- in with a photographer who sneered at the little gull, stating that he wouldn't cross the road to see one. I pitied the fool then, and I pity him more now for being unable to see the latent beauty in everything wild.

Local visits to the CLyde and surrounding area accumulated spring ticks. I always worry about not spending enough time locally, but can prove that even half an hour is time well spent.

I also found myself breaking my own, arbitrary, rules and twitched ring- necked duck and scaup in Renfrewshire. A new place for birding, the two twitchy ticks were also off- set by the joy of being somewhere new, discovering what it has to offer, and of course, the other ticks gained from just spending some time there. The flip- side of this was a foggy trip to the Sma' Glen (Smog Glen??) which was relatively unproductive. It highlights the balancing act between the two, often competing, parts of my birding year. The year ticks, of course, but also the time spent outdoors, being outdoors. The conclusion being that you should, everyone should, just be outdoors. Everything else you may want will then fall into place.

Each year I vow to avoid RSPB Inversnaid, despite its potential wealth of summer migrants. Most years I ignore this vow, but this year I found myself at RSPB Wood of Cree. Even wilder, albeit with less capacity for death on the road. A primordial forest of massive trees, waterfalls, and birdsong. The temptation was there to call out "HEY BEAR" just in case the trip down the motorway had taken me 500 years in the past. A wonderful, wonderful place, with incredibly difficult birding. A place you could camp out for a few days to truly do it justice. (Mrs Green Sand has vetoed that, incidentally) The joy of being in the woods, in fresh air, smelling petrichor as the rain finally stops. Again, tapping into our primeval sub-conscious.

A less- wild local day with Bill got breeding ring- necked parakeets, kingfisher, and otter. A day spent, combining patience, local knowledge, and time. The holy trinity of birding.

A trip to Musselburgh was of the quiet variety, but contained a single moment of perfection. Windless, and near silent, the quietude was smashed by the noise of a common tern diving. The splash as it hit the water, the noise of it flapping its wings. Perfection, and proof that you should never, ever take any day out for granted.

A quality trip to Fidra in Lothian saw me regret, once again, that I was so new to the wonders of insects and invertebrates. All that time wasted when I was younger.....time, as my family found out in the summer, is precious. Pochard in the East End of Glasgow were over- shadowed by watching a family of GC Grebe working mightily. Proof that Dad- duties are not necessarily human centric. A feeling of contentment, rather than overwhelming excitement.

My big day out in Fife was a disaster, both in terms of birding, and in terms of being outdoors. Unsatisfying, but then, triggering guilt for feeling unsatisfied. The absolute low point of the birding year.

After this trip, I found myself going back to basics. Trips locally, walks near the Clyde and in my local fields. Appreciating the small stuff, like you should. A last trip to Musselburgh got grey plover and twite at the new scrapes, and a feeling that the year was drawing to a close, that the year was being stretched thin. Mrs GS helped me find waxwing reasonably locally, and a trip to Aberlady finally got me pink-footed goose and made me fall head over heels in love with dusk-birding.

Lets get onto the numbers. I managed 151 ticks, one of my best years ever, and all the more impressive given I lost the autumn migration season to family issues and other events. This averaged at 11.26 miles per tick, so I failed in my goal to keep my mileage under an average of 10. Something to aim for... again.

And now onto the things that can't be quantified. I spent wonderful days birding, being outdoors, in the outdoors. I worked for my birds, and at other times the birding was easy, and no less worthy for that. I managed 2 big days out, and 1 local day with my mate Bill, and you develop as a birder just by being in his company. The osmosis of birding skill.....

Days spent in the fresh air, in the sunlight, in the drizzle, in the wind are never wasted, and that such days are days which I need in order to function. What I realised more and more was that the time when you CAN be doing that, but AREN'T, is the time which is wasted. Seize the moments, clearly.

I promised my friend I'd select a best bird, and best moment. The best bird was the peregrine hunting lapwing at Musselburgh. The hen harrier was possibly a 'better' bird, but this was my best tick. The best moment was the long tailed tit drinking from the puddle at Hunterston. A special moment in time, a moment which even after 40 years as a birder, stands out like a beacon.

So, onto 2024. I won't give targets of numbers, bar my 10 mile average. I will though make a vow, to go birding, to stay birding, to BE birding.

May all of you have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Slainte.

When it comes to birding, our 'years' are what WE make of them. Although I really limited my horizons this year, I had what was pretty much an amazing year with some very special birds (self-found ones, and also found by others - and seen by me), despite sticking to the city. My round-up of the year should go 'live' on Sunday night....once I've used up the last couple of days trying to add something else.....

Good luck for 2024, John.
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