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Keeping It Simple- A Long- Awaited Day In Musselburgh (1 Viewer)

One of my favourite sayings is that birding is a solitary activity which is best shared with friends. A self- contradiction, clearly, but still true. It can also, I've realised by a wonderfully simple activity involving massive complications. It all depends on how, exactly, you're birding. Watching the sparrows at my feeders through the living room window? Simple birding. Watching migrant wildfowl (tamefowl) being fed Warburtons blue in a public park? Simple. (other adjectives apply...)

A long day out in one of my favourite birding sites after an enforced absence? Well.....

My initial plan to go out for a local walk was abandoned this weekend. I was feeling much better and less tired, so thought that it would be worthwhile having a trip East. Now, talking about contradictions.... I've realised that an awful lot of my days out birding involve Musselburgh, Torness, Aberlady. The East, in other words. I'm a proud Lanarkshire farmboy, and yet I find myself gravitating to Lothian whenever I'm planning a decent day out birding. Generations of Lanarkshire Green Sands are spinning in their graves at the thought of it. And thats without going into how useless I am at coastal birding.

Anyway, leaving aside the short- eared owl, since I'm not a twitcher, I was hopeful of getting normal, non- twitchy birds at Musselburgh and Torness. I was hopeful of getting any birds, to be honest, but more than that, I was hopeful of a decent day out in fresh air, of having sunlight on my face to replace the unhealthy pallor gained from 10 weeks in front of a laptop, the smells of being outdoors, the sounds, the feel of gravel under my boots, the squelch of mud.

The first stumbling block was when Mrs GS needed the car, and worse still, her Dad coincidentally needed his. So, it'd be public transport, on a Sunday. Torness ruled out, therefore. A trip to Musselburgh is never to be sniffed at, though. Saturday night was spent trying to co- ordinate trains from Uddingston to Glasgow, then to Edinburgh, then to Musselburgh. Train services on a Sunday in Scotland are, well, limited. A miracle of logistics (and a wonderfully helpful Scotrail ticket clerk) got me to Musselburgh by 11 am. Physically, the earliest I could have hoped to get there, and I was determined to make sure I spent more time birding than travelling.

A walk along the River Esk in the town centre got no surprises, but didn't disappoint. Close up interaction with herring gull and canada geese who are clearly used to being hand- fed. A few oystercatcher, a pair of goosander, mallard, and a scattering of Goldeneye, all in the town centre. Great views, I was in no rush, being happy just to stand and watch. Bird- watch, in fact.

I had checked the weather, and the tide times, and knew that I'd be arriving at high tide, and that I could expect sunshine, mild- ish temperatures, and light wind until late afternoon. The rest of the walk to the Eskmouth was uneventful, until I reached the Cadet huts at Goose Green Place. A couple of birders were staring intently over the fence onto the shore. I discreetly leaned over from some distance away, and saw a dozen turnstone sifting through the seaweed on the narrow strip of shore which wasn't underwater. Great views, much better than the disappointing glimpse I had had on my only previous visit this year.

Beyond the seawall itself, I could see distant eider, assorted gulls and a single cormorant. A pair of goosander flew back towards the river, and small groups of oycs flew back and forth, presumably to the scrapes and back. Behind me in the scrub I could, I thought, hear a skylark singing,. I couldn't be sure, and I certainly wasn't ticking it based on that. Scanning the water patiently and my perseverance was rewarded with a drake Long- tailed Duck. Year tick, and a bit of a bogey (in a Green Sand 'bogey bird' sense that I panic all year about missing out.) A kestrel hunting over the scrub made everyone stop and stare. Not just the birders- of which we were a- plenty, but also the local joggers, cyclists, etc. Of which there were more than plenty. How dare these local people spend time in their local area.....

The walk to the scrapes was pretty quiet, bar a pair of stock doves who flew over my head, giving me decent (albeit fleeting) views. The Scrapes themselves were reasonably quiet in terms of number of species. Loads of oycs and curlew, redshank in good numbers as well. Shelduck showed well. At the left- hand scrape, I was lucky enough to be put onto Dunlin and Grey Plover by a local birder. Both year ticks, the grey plover were a bit distant, sadly, but overall not too shabby.

I opted for another wander down to the seafront, hoping for twite. By now the jogger/walker/cyclist crowd had thinned somewhat, but the area was still a bit busy. Too busy for twite to bother their wee feathered backsides appearing. I got talking to a birder from NE England at length- remember how its a solitary activity thats best shared. He had been there since about 7, and was determined to see the SE Owl. He hadn't, yet, but wasn't for giving up. He told me that stonechat had been seen in this area, and wandered off, presumably to keep warm. I walked East along the path until the construction area fence blocks it off. I can't wait for the work on the new wetland area to finish. As luck would have it a skylark started singing. I spent ages trying to find it, but obviously wasn't looking quite high enough. I eventually got it as it floated down and into the long grass. Closing off that area might be a good thing for ground- nesters this year, maybe? I'm sure the local guys are keeping an eye out. A large flock of wigeon floated close in, near the wall, and had a shoveler in amongst them- I've never seen a shoveler on the water there, but I wasn't complaining.

I sauntered back toward the scrapes, and started scanning the trees and fences for stonechat. After a super- human effort of about 90 seconds, I saw a male pop up onto a fencepost. Tick 5 for the day, and it gave me a nagging suspicion that my luck would run out with the SEO.

The scrapes were much quieter now, with fewer birders, and I was able to relax. Its something I find myself doing if I'm there late in the afternoon. Mindfulness moments, without even realising it. The dunlin showed remarkably well this time, much closer. A male pheasant looked very impressive in his finery. Just watching them added to the experience.

I took a last wander down to the sea front in the hope of the SE Owl. Apparently, it had been hunting daily from 4pm onwards, but obviously you need to be in the right place. I was getting the 4.45 train, so literally only had about 10 minutes for it to appear. Naturally, it didn't, but I didn't mind. I do hope the lad from NE England got it, as he put in some real hours. I had a good chat with him as well, about evil gamekeepers, and about photographers with no field skills. He had a decent sized camera rig, but also a pair of Leica binos. A birder who liked taking photos, and he was upfront by saying that he loved nature first and foremost. A brisk walk back to the station, including a brief stop to chat to 2 locals who put me onto the LT- Duck again, and who were genuinely excited to see it. Solitary pastime, being shared.

The journey home was a bit long, but relaxing.

Thoughts.

5 year ticks, so by default a successful day. I get the feeling that my year will be full of days with 3-4-5 ticks, I can't see myself having a massive 10 tick day. No particular reason, its just a vibe I'm getting. First proper big day out in ages (Commando birding not included) and I was determined to enjoy it. Even the sore feet and legs after being on site for 5 hours. There was a comfort in seeing the old favourites again, though. Redshank, Turnstone, even Eider all gave me the sense that I was back in Musselburgh. The kestrel was wonderful- if it can stop cyclists, then it must be good. The chat with the English birder- if you're reading this, then I'm really sorry I didn't get your name- was also excellent. Best, maybe, was the skylark. I've mentioned before that skylark are a dream bird, their song guaranteed to brighten the darkest day.

So, we have a multitude of contradictions. A place which should feel alien to me, instead making me feel at home. A solitary day out, spent chatting to other birders. 'Common' birds making the day seem special. Over- complicating things? Maybe. But birding isn't a fleeting, momentary experience. On the long days and dark evenings when I'm not out birding, its sometimes enjoyable just to sit back, relax, to think. And smile.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks.

John
 

delia todd

If I said the wrong thing it was a Senior Moment
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
Scotland
That's a really lovely report of your day out John. It seems such a long time since I was last there, so it was nice to follow your steps.

Thanks.
 

KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
United States
John, I can't tell you how calming this post was for me as I was reading it. You are so right about that the smell of Nature being such a good thing. It actually calms me as much as your post did.

Of course I know nothing about Scotland or the other side of the pond but you made such a stunning description of all that you saw around you. All in all, a great Blog guy!

Thank you.
KC
 

Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
Scotland
John, I can't tell you how calming this post was for me as I was reading it. You are so right about that the smell of Nature being such a good thing. It actually calms me as much as your post did.

Of course I know nothing about Scotland or the other side of the pond but you made such a stunning description of all that you saw around you. All in all, a great Blog guy!

Thank you.
KC
Thank you so much! I'm glad I was able to put my thoughts into words- sometimes its difficult to communicate a massive sigh and a smile!!
 

Dave Derrick

Well-known member
Supporter
England
John, yet another great read, thank you. And, yes, a skylark brightened a dark day of mine only yesterday too. Simple pleasures ....

Stay safe, Dave.
 

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