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Rules? Who Needs Rules? (1 Viewer)

Don't worry, I haven't gone mad- its my OWN rules I'm talking about. Desperate man taking desperate measures.

I mentioned last time that in order to buy my first scope I'd be sacrificing weekend birding to work overtime. Tough, tough going, but I motivate myself by taking frequent breaks from the drudgery and gazing at lovely photos of spotting scopes. As logn as my boss doesn't check my browser history, all is good. It only gets bad when I make the mistake of looking up recent sightings on Lothianbirds, Clydebirds, and Ayrshirebirds. Maybe its just a coincidence that Lothian has flocks of over 100 Brambling while I'm stuck in the house. My own fault for looking at what I've been missing.

Fortunately, while my own social life has died a death, my wife and daughter's are thriving. As a birthday treat for eldest mini- Sand, wife took her to Glasgow's posh Ivy restaurant last Sunday. Both being old enough to drink, it was agreed I would work a short day and drive them into the big City. I would then have a couple of hours to waste until their eating/ drinking festival had ended. All went according to plan, arrived in Glasgow about 2.45, meaning I realistically had about 90 minutes of daylight. I had two options for birding- Hogganfield Loch, where there happened to be a Smew, or the (much closer) Victoria Park, where there happened to be a ring- necked duck. I opted for the latter, despite it being much more of a public- park birding site. My visits there have been few, and generally disappointing- I once got ring- necked parakeets, but most other trips have been joyless trudges, dodging bikes, runners, and kids feeding bread to wildfowl- or, rather, tamefowl. However, it was closer, and logistically easier to get back to the City Centre.

Understandably, with it being a Sunday, the park was full of joggers, cyclists, and kids feeding bread to tamefowl. I started crying softly inside, but since I had made my choice, I was stuck with it.

Twitter had told me that the duck had been seen an hour previously, though I had absolutely no doubt it would have flown off shortly before I arrived. the pond it was seen on is thankfully of a manageable size- compared to Hogganfield certainly. Arriving there I realised I would have to check every bird which looked like a Tufted Duck and work it out from there. The problem with this plan, however, was that there were about a hundred Tufties. And it was getting dark.

Now, you might recalle, I'm not a twitcher. I've never seen the appeal to be honest, and since honesty is a thing, I'm really, really bad at it. I mean, laughably bad. Until that day. I managed to find the RN duck within about 10 minutes of looking, it had decided to be shy and stayed away from the feeding frenzy, loitering in the quieter eastern part of the pond. Spent a good time watching it, it truly is a lovely looking thing. I drank in all the features of it that I could, and regretted that I had left my camera at home. (birding in twilight and photography in twilight are 2 different things)

As I watched, a single little grebe swam into view, a fish dangling from its beak. Much better than my 'tick' dabchick at Baron's Haugh, I was pretty pleased to get an 'action' tick. Eventually, though, I was running out of time faster than running out of light and I began a wander back to the car. En route, I stopped and watched a charm of goldfinches flitting about high in the treetops, with a flock of redwing sitting motionless. A burst of activity from behind me saw two thrushes land in a tree. Awkwardly, various branches and a trunk got in my way, until a dog running loose spooked them. Mistle thrush, second year tick of the day.

Back in the car, I realised I had actually enjoyed the visit. Getting the mistle thrush was an added bonus, but I realise that travelling there, worrying that the duck had flown off, had been an adrenaline rush. Seeing the duck had been great, and a relief. It was my second ever RN duck, and my best views. The dabchick with its dinner managed to meet my criteria for 'bird action' . I'm still not a twitcher, for the reasons I've explained and because I want massive days out immersing myself in bird life. However, for the first time I can probably understand why people do it.

While I've been locked up in the workhouse, my mate Bill has managed to get out successfully, and I've been birding vicariously through him. One of his successful trips had been to Ayrshire, where he managed to bag a bundle of year ticks, while watching dolphins. This was tempting.... Apparently, its illegal and impractical to work 30 days straight without a day off, and I treated myself to a day out last Wednesday. Bill's Ayrshire adventure had been in the Fairlies/ Hunterston area, places I had driven through but never birded. So, I found myself making plans to head West, to a new place. What could possibly go wrong?

Now, I'm not much of a coastal birder- I prefer hills and moors, not least because there are no tides on hills and moors. I'm even less of a west- coast birder- the proud Lanarkshire boy has to admit to preferring Lothian. (Generations of of Lanarkshire Sandpipers are spinning in their graves at the thought. ) The only explanation I can think of is that I've had more success in the East. Rather, I've had fewer empty, disastrous days out in the East- I'm still scarred by trying to see manx shearwater in an Atlantic storm. ( I didn't, btw)

Anyway, Bill inspired me, and I decided I didn't want to miss out on this magical place. A quick look at the Scotrail website got me the train prices and timetable. A look at the map managed to put Bill's words into pictures. New batteries were in the camera- which was packed this time. Binos packed securely, packed lunch made, snacks packed. I was READY.......

Alas, I hadn't checked either the tides or the weather. I would love to say that this was due to manly stubborness- to hell with the conditions, I'm going anyway!! I'd love to, but that'd be a lie. I was too busy with batteries and packed lunches and I forgot.

Between the school run and train times I arrived in Fairlie at 10.45. Journey was an hour, but I barely napped- which is almost unheard of. Excitement was too much. The waterfront was easy to find, and I soon saw the collected scopes of a bird group. I wandered toward them, keeping a safe distance, and giving them their space. One of them had a clipboard and was taking names, and it all became too organised for my liking. A new arrival was pointed in the direction of a barwit that had them all excited (Musselburgh has spoiled me, clearly as I was fairly nonchalant about it) but more importantly, the greenshank. Greenshank is one of the (many) species that I feel I should see each year, but panic that I won't. I always have the impression I get them late on, giving many months of worry beforehand. Whether true or not, I'd need to check back, and to be honest, I like to keep the sense of urgency. I walked away from the group toward where the greenshank were reportedly seen. A footpath went up the side of the bay, and within 30 yards of the road I managed to get 2 separate greenshanks feeding. Tick one, and much closer views than usual. I spent some time watching them.

CArrying on along the path got redshank in good numbers, and RB merganser showing well- much, much better than the glimpse of an arse I had at Musselburgh. Rather than re- trace my steps, I got all adventurous and returned along the unofficial path beside the railway line. Views through the trees got me good numbers of wigeon and ridiculous numbers of heron- 22 of them- in the Peel Ports lagoon. Shame you can't get access to it, more of a shame I don't have a scope as I think its probably a treasure trove along the distant edges.

The walk along the main Irvine Road toward Hunterston Power station (Nuclear Power Station birding!!) was uneventful. I took the Power Station road down toward the plant, this was limited vehicle access so I was able to gently stroll where I liked without fear of death. A great spotted woodpecker called behind me, and I was able to track it as it flew between tress practising its headbanging in preparation for breeding. 2nd year tick, pretty happy with it too. The rest of the walk down was quiet, the tide meant that I only had a few gulls kicking about.

At the boundary between Power station B and A, I finally got 4 greenfinch in the shrubbery- I'm no botanist but Google says its was sea buckthorn. Year tick 3 Hungry by this point, I wandered down to the rocky shore (past the sign saying 'no admittance- rocky shore' and watched the tide gradually come in. Very relaxing, until I looked over my shoulder at the rolling blackness of rainclouds. The walk back was going to be wet. Got the customary drive- by by the Civilian Nuclear Police- I'm used to it at Torness, and I'm still reassured that the big building with Plutonium is guarded by men with guns.

Literally retraced my steps. The incoming tide had brought in loads of shelduck on the sand, which are always good to see. More ducks were in the Peel Port lagoon, more herons (30 plus by now) and a large white heron-y egret type. It seemed much bigger than a little egret and was sitting differently than I'd expect. The light was terrible as well (touching 3pm, and increasingly stormy) A scope would have been handy, the irony being I was only there on that Wednesday because I was working overtime at the weekends to buy a scope. (7 more weekends to go.....) There has been nothing on social media from Ayrshire birds about an egret of any type, so I'll assume its a leucistic heron. Bit of a mystery anyway, but thats all part of the joy of being out.

The train journey home was uneventful, other than taking my boots off to ease my aching feet, then struggling to get them back on- they had swollen so much. 11 or so miles covered, mostly into a wind, and me being totally out of practice. Deeply, deeply shamed.

Thoughts.....

I've wanted a scope for years, but it wasn't possible with the kids being younger and being the first priority, and spending a few hundred pounds couldn't be justified. Now, my eyes are on the prize and I'm motivated to sacrifice a few weekends for the longer- term good. So, any birding will do. Even a public park twitch, in the west of Glasgow (not my favourite part of the city) got me 2 ticks and an action tick. Following in Bill's footsteps to Ayrshire to visit a new place gave me the same adrenaline rush as the RN Duck. It also seemed to work, with my 3 year ticks despite the piss- poor conditions.

Definitely a mixed bag, then. Both enjoyable days in their own ways, and I realise that the common denominator for both was that I was out there, birding. And that, when we think about it, is all that matters.

Stay healthy folks, stay safe.

John
 

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