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Scratching An Itch And The Voyage Home (1 Viewer)

I've mentioned before that Scotland's council areas bear little relation to logic. Or geography, for that matter. The current guidance is to stray no more than 5 miles from the boundary of your local authority to begin your outdoors exercise. This opens vast swathes of land miles away from home, while closing off places that are much, much closer.

20- odd years ago, I studied at Lancaster University for a year doing an MA. Sadly, I missed the chance to go birding, as my time was spent studying and the young- person pursuit of drinking and women. GS was an idiot in his 20s. Anyway, I used to walk from the Campus back to my bedsit in the city centre, rather than get the bus with the (frighteningly young looking) undergrads. It was on one such walk that I realised firstly that I was subconsciously referring to my flat as 'home'. I couldn't pinpoint when I reached that milestone, as opposed to thinking of it as 'the flat,' but it gave me a jolt nonetheless.

I had a similar 'jolt' a week ago.

My re- discovered sense of accepting the status quo and making do with what we have led me to think 'outside the box.' Long distant memories told me that I had ticked skylark at Whitelees windfarm, a massive, sprawling moorland eyesore/ example of green energy vision (delete as applicable) which straddles South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire council areas. Its also a mecca for dog walkers, pram joggers, and saunterers, but hey, its big enough that there'd be quiet. I've also had curlew on the 'marshy' places, including one who decided to buzz me, which was disconcerting. There's an area of forest I was interested in reaching, it would even involve climbing over a fence!! Nirvana.... I hadn't been in years, and while it wasn't a place which held great birding memories (more family memories when the kids were young) something nagged me that I was maybe missing out on a special day. I had always lacked the guts to sacrifice a day out in one of my reliable places to take a punt, a risk, a gamble. The itch didn't go away, though, and the current global excitement opened up the opportunity.

Leaving aside Dad tasks, my own faulty sense of geography and my car sat nav's inability to operate as a sat nav meant that I got there over an hour later than planned. The car park was busy, but not full, and I was cautiously optimistic of being able to get some freedom. Among all the dog walkers, prammers, etc I can't recall ever seeing another birder there. Which is a shame, as the Rangers based there are excellent.

The path out of the car park was an obvious bottleneck, and I wasn't overly concerned at the start. The paths branching off were also busy, and a scan further afield suggested that while the site is massive, the majority of visitors showed limited scope in their circular wanderings. The 'walking-eight-abreast' habit seems to have radiated from Strathclyde Park, which added to the discomfort. I made it to Lochgoil Reservoir, birdless, and was faced with a choice. Continue an uncomfortable walk, or cut my losses and try somewhere else?

Needless to say I returned from whence I came, and high- tailed it back to Uddingston, and opted for a proper walk to Fin Me Oot. Its dawned on me since that I've used up my average number of annual visits there in about 10 weeks. The long familiar walk through the 'dead woods' is one I can normally do in my sleep, but this day I noticed how badly the area had been affected by the creation of mountain bike tracks- tracks which hadn't actually reduced the number of bikes churning up the main paths through the woods. I don't want to be too controversial, but I've gradually come to think that mountain bike trails are created by and for people who hate the environment but who haven't taken up golf yet.

Reached Fin Me Oot, and got nothing spectacular. Crows, obviously, a robin, a wren, the ubiquitous song thrush. I aimed for the bridge, where I was hopeful of grey wagtail (the bogey-ist of 2021 bogeybirds) and dipper. The water level was low, the exposed rocks covered in a very pleasing amount of scat. Clearly, they had been there, would they be there now? Standing on the bridge, elbows on the rusty metalwork, staring downstream. All my annoyance from earlier the day faded away. I glanced at my feet, my boots were covered in mud. My trouser legs similarly caked, and I could smell the scent of Green Sand after a few hours outdoors. The river was bird- free, despite me waiting and looking until dusk approached. And you know, I didn't care. After my trip that morning, I realised that I had returned home. Somewhere I could relax, somewhere that I knew, someplace where I felt I belonged.

Just like to my long- ago trudge through Lancaster hit me with a sudden realisation, so last week I realised that this was a special place for me. This was a re- charging point where I could centre myself. And it felt good.


Another long week at work garden watching had me eager again to get out. Yesterday was Mother's Day in the UK, and Saturday had seen a full Dad- tasks itinary. Mrs GS, I probably haven't mentioned enough, is an amazing woman. She offered me the chance to go out for a couple of hours, despite it being Mother's Day. My mate Bill had tipped me off where a female sparrowhawk had been hunting locally increasingly frequently. The Sprawk could wait as I still had Grey Wag fever, though, and I walked along to Fin Me Oot. Please see my previous comments re: mountain bike trails.....

Arrival at FMO got me a flock of fieldfare and a single redwing. I took part in the BTO's winter thrush survey years ago, and I guess its ingrained into me to keep an eye open. That and the relative absence this year makes it more obvious when I do see them locally. The chirping of small things from beside the larger of the manure heaps (we have 2) got me goldfinch, blue tit, great tit and robin. Song Thrush singing from somewhere as well. I looked down and realised I was standing in mud, mud created by water leeching through the massive dungheap. At that point I realised that there are limits to the mud I'll have on my boots, and I made for dry land. As I found it, a call from over my shoulder got my immediate attention, and I followed a grey wag as it flew close, then landed, initially in the mud, and latterly on top of a mass of plastic tubing left behind by the railway workers who had used the area as a base last summer. Year tick, and one bogey- bird sorted. I also clocked the direction it was flying- upstream from Fin Me Oot, and made a mental note to keep looking at Redlees Quarry, a quarter mile away, later in the spring.

A walk down to the bridge saw the water levels much higher than before, with only a few rocks exposed, unlike last week's perfect conditions. Who needs perfection, though, as I was immediately rewarded with a dipper, with a variety of foliage in his beak, occasionally dipping it into the water. He was soon joined by Mrs Dipper, and I stood enthralled as they courted each other. Their behaviour also hinted that they would nest close by, raising the hope that this could be a special dipper summer. I watched them for as long as I could, then squelched my way back to the car, and to my 'other' home.

The easing of lockdown is still, just, on track. We're definitely getting there folks.

Stay healthy, stay safe.

John
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
I agree with you about mountain bikes. In Hampshire, the best reason for introducing Wild Boar to the New Forest (where they definitely should be) would be the effect on uncontrolled dogs, children and mountain bikers.

John
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Love reading these down to earth (literally!) patch birding diaries GS 🙂 I must admit I have been overtaken with frustration in the past few years with my local patch offering up nothing in the way of ‘unusual/scarce birds’ - more fool me because that kind of ‘result’ orientated approach to birding I realise, does very quickly make one loose interest in patch birding and forget that the real peace most of us gets from birding, comes not in finding rare/scarce birds but rather by allowing ourselves to become absorbed and ‘still’ in the ‘natural world’ around us without any expectations or competitive agendas.
 

Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
Scotland
Love reading these down to earth (literally!) patch birding diaries GS 🙂 I must admit I have been overtaken with frustration in the past few years with my local patch offering up nothing in the way of ‘unusual/scarce birds’ - more fool me because that kind of ‘result’ orientated approach to birding I realise, does very quickly make one loose interest in patch birding and forget that the real peace most of us gets from birding, comes not in finding rare/scarce birds but rather by allowing ourselves to become absorbed and ‘still’ in the ‘natural world’ around us without any expectations or competitive agendas.
Its an easy trap to fall into, Deb. I think there's always a time for a massive blow- out, what me and my mate Bill refer to as 'A Big Day Out' somewhere exotic. The past year has taught me that its possible to find a balance, to appreciate your patch, whether its a nearby reserve, a nearby farm, or your garden even, while still making time for something more adventurous.
 

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