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Perfection Of The Simple Things (1 Viewer)

I mentioned a while ago that what I love about the late Autumn and the (relative) wind down of the birding season is the chance to make plans, set goals, and generally get excited about the oncoming new year and the chance to begin it all again. I'm probably not alone in enjoying the darker nights, the worsening weather, and the chance to dream. This time I even went to the effort of planning each day (mixture of public holidays and annual leave that I had saved up) with a primary target and an alternative if the primary target wasn't feasible. I mean, in my non- birding life I am literally a walking jumble sale on any given day, but for the start of Birding 2023 I was organised......

So, when January finally comes round I'd be forgiven for being a bit excited. I'd also be forgiven for being a bit flummoxed for just how spectacularly the plans/ hopes/ dreams part of the New Year holiday disintegrated.

Ne'er Day is always a family day, and restricted to garden birding (with the exception of the 'waxwing' year when I brazenly abandoned my cooking duties to bag a waxwing a couple of miles from home) so had very little expectations. Weather was pretty poor as well, so my year started with 4 ticks, which even considering the limited expectations is still a bit grim....

Jan 2nd was scheduled to be a big day out to Caerlaverock, but my plans were snookered by my in- laws going away for the new year and needing picked up in Hamilton. I did get to Baron's Haugh while waiting for their coach to get in. A few species ticked, nothing out of the ordinary, but a pretty enjoyable walk in fresh air. An irritating dry cough started round about the Marsh Hide.

Jan 3rd was due to be Musselburgh, but due to starting to feel a bit poorly, instead I was restricted to Cathkin Marsh SWT via a recycling centre- man- tasks clearly don't have a holiday. Goldfinch was the only thing that showed up- nothing else, including water rail, corvids, raptors, or even a reed bunting. The dry cough was now becoming 'hacking' and I definitely made the correct choice. Dropping eldest mini- GS at work got me to Hogganfield Loch for a brief meander- I lacked the energy to even take the scope. As a punishment, there was barely anything of note, bar a pair of Gadwall and a great- crested grebe that looked as bemused at being there in January as I was. By now, the vibe I was getting was that this year was going to involve hard work.

The next few days were spent in my sick bed, alternating between being worried I was going to die, and then worried I wasn't going to. The only saving grace was a negative lateral flow test, so it wasn't Covid. Some of my self- pitying comments on my year list may offer a clue to how bad the man- flu was. Possibly, I should have stayed off social media rather than read about everyone else's fantastic start to the year.

Eventually, the lurgy lifted enough that I could get out a bit. Caerlaverock here I go!!!

I got there, with barely contained excitement, exacerbated by an adrenaline- sapping journey down the motorway- I was the only sane person on the road. I got there safely, though.

And the reserve was frozen.

And half of it was closed due to tree felling.

Clearly, the 'Hard Work' theme for the year was being reinforced, only this time with a £10 entry fee. Positives from the visit were the big numbers of yellowhammers, a (single) greenfinch, and my obligatory easy tree sparrow and collared dove. Negatives were the lack of variety of wildfowl, and lack of raptors. Though when I say lack of raptors.... I did get a hen harrier from the Saltcot merse tower, which had very little else on offer. The HH is a pretty big positive, given my lack of one in 2022. The other major positive were the 30- 40 golden plover. Probably my best views of this species ever- until recent years I used to get them each autumn at Strathclyde Park in Motherwell, but these were wild GPs doing wild things, not sitting bored in the middle of motherwell as idiots tried to swamp them in speedboats.

13 ticks at Caerlaverock is howlingly bad, though. Hard Work, remember.....

The next Thursday saw me make the most of Mrs GS going for a boozy lunch with her pal, and I headed to Musselburgh. A bit of a mixed day, much in keeping with the year so far. The tide was in at the start, the water quite choppy, and the temperature seemingly a threat to life. (my life anyway) I had 4 layers on, and was still cold. Very little of interest on the sea, bar eider and a single cormorant. The scrapes had lapwing, Oystercatcher and a single pied wagtail. I did get stock dove and mistle thrush on the path to the scrapes, and I will never take either of those for granted. Back at the car I got a pair of bar- tailed godwits sitting on the wall at the mouth of the River Esk. There is something not right about that, Barwits belong on the mud somewhere. It took me about half an hour to thaw out in the car before I risked having a sleep. A risk worth taking, though.

Leaving the birds aside, the new wildlife watching area must be close to opening, and I can feel excitement growing for it. My only concern is that once they take the fence away from the sea wall, it will be more difficult to get twite. Hard work.....

On the following Saturday I sneaked out to Hoggy on the hope I could get pochard, and the slight hope I could get the smew that had been reported. The loch was mostly frozen, but the ice was thin rather than white- out conditions. Got a little grebe quite quickly, and a scan of the massed black- head gulls and coots got the smew, sitting on the ice sleeping. A sleepy smew.....A walk round the loch got me a grey heron flying into the flower meadow bit at the north end. No sign of pochard, although the group of 5 or so other birders talking among themselves had 2 earlier on. Not to worry, this year will be a marathon, not a sprint.

What was noticeable, though, is the incredibly low numbers of whooper swans. Avian flu has decimated them. And as much as I pretend to be a gruff old grumpy guy, its heartbreaking. Massive respect to the reserve volunteers who have had to deal with this first hand regularly.

The next week at work was spent like most weeks at work. Going through the motions, waiting for the weekend. I risked some planning, wary of the last time I tried this 'planning' thing. My mate Bill had updated me on his year so far, and that he had been birding in Ayrshire quite successfully. I checked my records, and saw it was almost exactly a year since I had first travelled to Fairlie and Hunterston Power Station in North Ayrshire. Tentative plans in place, lunch prepared, bag packed, I set off to the train station, only an hour later than planned. Ticket bought (half- price promotion, thank you Scotrail.) and this is where the 'hard work' became 'well- oiled machine.'

Further down the platform stood my mate Bill. Usual manly greetings, I asked him where he was off to. "Fairlie" he responded, and I knew then this was going to be a good day.

Given last year, I had hopes of what I could get, hopes that I didn't dare let become 'expectations.' Started off with greenshank as expected in the channel next to the path. Two scopes are clearly better than one, and between us we then got RB merganser, back- tailed godwit, guillemot, razorbill and shag. Loads of redshank and curlew, plus expected gulls- good numbers of common gulls. Bill got a little egret, which I missed. Things weren't helped somewhat by the number of dog walkers disrupting things on the sands, infuriating, but there's not much we can do. Once I'm emperor of the world, though....

A check of the adjacent lagoon didn't produce anything new, and we set off for our ultimate destination, Hunterston Power Station. Run by the same company as Torness in East Lothian, the area around it is a pretty damned good place for birding. The 2 mile walk was filled with the expected level of top quality chat, and we finally got off the main road onto the path toward the power station. Here, the trees and bushes were alive with birds. Chaffinch, redwing, blue tits, long- tailed tits (more about this at the end) plus blackbird, and carrion crow. Bill got a jay flying through the trees, but by the time I had looked up I couldn't be sure I had it rather than something it had spooked. Once we reached the 'Gull Walk' part of the area we set up to scan the sand/mud/ water. Almost immediately, got a little egret each and plenty of shelduck- dozens of them. A pair of great- black backed gulls stood out like sore thumbs, and we had the ubiquitous oystercatchers, redshank and curlew. A GS Woodpecker called from behind us, though too far away for me to feel comfortable ticking it. One of those 'its in the same area as me' things that doesn't quite meet the threshold for my (mostly arbitrary) listing rules.

A local birder stopped for a chat, and tipped us off about red- throated diver and black- throated diver further along the coast, if we were interested.....

A brief stop to chat with the local power station cops, and we made our way down to the shoreline. The 2 scopes thing worked well again, and I found a pair of red- throated divers. (Bill later found 4 more when I was distracted by hunger) We then got a winter- plumage black guillemot, which over and above being a tick, meant I didn't have to travel to Greenock to get my yearly tick in the harbour. A song thrush dived into a bush beside the old fish factory, and a kestrel hovered in the wind (windhovered, even) beside one of the reactor buildings. A buzzard caused chaos among the mass of black- head gulls in the fields, and we watched a good number of meadow pipits doing pipity things in a separate field. Pied wagtails were also there in great numbers.

By now, feet were sore, and light was fading. As we walked back along the path we stopped to watch the mass of birdlife in the trees and bushes. Bullfinch, plus lots of LT tits. And this is where the highlight of the day seemingly materialised out of nothing.

As we stood, a single LT tit flew down to the ground, barely 10 feet away. It dipped into a puddle, mouth open to drink, and ruffled its feathers to have a bath. Time stood still, it seemed like forever, but was maybe barely a minute. It flew onward, and Bill and I turned to each other to acknowledge a simple moment of absolute perfection.

The walk back to Fairlie and the train station was slower this time, but the tired legs were rejuvenated as a sparrowhawk flew in front of us into someone's garden. Bad news for their Big Garden Bird Count, but great news for us. The same sparrowhawk appeared again a while later from the field next to the train station platform. Pretty good ending to a damned good day. 17 year ticks, best day of the year in more ways than one.


It probably isn't often that 17 year ticks, including 3 raptors and a diver, isn't the highlight of the day. Instead, the single LT tit, having a drink, having a wash, was a moment, a reminder of the beauty of nature. It made up for the slightly frustrating start to the year, and proved that no matter how old we get, no matter how many years birding, no matter how many species, no matter how many miles walked, we can and will still find a moment of utter perfection in nature.

I think I've mentioned before I love the film Blade Runner, and Roy Batty's soliloquy as he dies. For as long as there are birders, people, to appreciate moments of perfection in nature that I was bless with then those moments will never be lost.

Anyway, stay healthy, stay safe, lets keep being good to one another.

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