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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Seasonally- Affected Birding (1 Viewer)

One of the things I've mentioned before is how we have the capacity to adjust to changes, to accept the 'new normal.' The times when this is good and bad are worthy of a full blog in itself.

The new reality of limited birding opportunities (eldest child working awkward shifts, youngest child refusing to deliberately lose tennis matches, middle child insisting on a social life, for example) took less adjustment than I would ever have guessed possible. Maybe I'm more mellow, and I no longer act like a grumpy bear when I can't get out. Or maybe its the time of year when my birding naturally slows down- autumn migration has tailed off, ticks are hard to come by, shorter daylight hours means that me sleeping in can have a disastrous effect on your birding day. Its the tail end of the year as well, Christmas is looming, and November is the start of birthday season in my family. Birding doesn't become perfunctory as such, but it comes close to birding out of habit, with the danger of completely missing the point of going out. Anyway, I had resigned myself to limited birding until the bright dawn of the new year. A New Year means a new list, new energy, new motivations. I do love autumn, strangely, and by no means suffer a dip in mood due to less daylight. There seemed, though, a dip in birding.

As is often the way, life surprised me. My missus was a bit poorly ("the worst head cold ever" which is the equivalent of a man being close to death) and was unable to visit her mum in hospital, for fear of wiping out the ward. She negotiated me visiting, but with the benefit of being able to borrow her Dad's car that weekend. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

I had been painfully aware that my year list still lacked a few birds which I had initially classed as 'hoped for' or 'near expected.' I was also painfully aware that I was long overdue a big birding day out. An experience, a reconnecting of sorts. Thus, I made plans to head to Dumfries and Galloway, predominantly Caerlaverock WWT but with a possible side trip (more accurately, an initial stop- off) at Ken- Dee Marshes RSPB for better views of a Red Kite than I had at the Sma' Glen. Needless to say the plan changed due to a late start, and I headed straight to Caerlaverock.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I can be a bit of a snob about birding sites, preferring purely wild places and hating the soul- destruction of public park birding. A lot of staffed nature reserves aren't my cup of tea, with Caerlaverock being the exception to the rule. To me, this is a place for birds AND birders. A reserve, sure, but not your typical one. Ordinarily, I'd visit here at the start of January, combining the spectacle of wintering wildfowl with the freshness of a new ticklist. Lockdown and steady, plodding birding in the summer meant that most of the ticks had been ticked already. I mentioned previously that I had ticked Barnacle geese at Musselburgh, technically, this made a trip to Caerlaverock unnecessary this year. I realised that this was just silly talk and that I need a day out in a bird place, not necessarily a tick hunt, but somewhere for birds. so my purpose in heading South was for a birding event. Immerse myself, as I've also mentioned before, to revel in the joy of birds.

The journey went smoothly, helped by the fact it was taking place in daylight rather than at 6am. The staff were, as always, unfaultingly lovely. Not to wax too lyrical about this place, but there's a warmth about it. Anyway, quizzed the friendly volunteer about recent sightings and where best to get them. Realised though that I was more interested in seeing everything I could. Started off at the Folly Pond as there had been talk of a Bewick's Swan and a pintail. Neither there for me, naturally, but plenty of teal, wigeon, shovellers, and lapwing. A cacophony of noise, whistles, etc. Joyful.

Moving round to the nature walk area I was hoping fruitlessly for a confiding water rail popping out. I did get greenfinch, chaffinch, and a sparrowhawk taking a great tit on one of the feeders. I've decided that a sprawk hunting is much better than ticking a sprawk when stuck in traffic on a motorway. The light was awful, which gave me the excuse for similarly awful photography. I then wandered over to the Sir Peter Scott hide, scanned the pond, nothing unusual (I once had Scaup there) but good numbers of the usual suspects. Back out and over to the nature bit across the path. ( I realise I'm describing this badly....) Loads of tree sparrows on the feeders, song thrush showed well, as did a single redwing. First redwing of the new 'season.' I do like our winter visitors.

I then made my way toward the Saltcot Merse tower, nothing new along the path, loads of Barnacle Geese flew overhead, so always worth a pause to look skyward. The merse itself was pretty dead, so I didn't linger, and made my way back then along the avenue to the other tower. Nipped into the Campbell Hide briefly. There were a couple of other birders there, and I sat sufficiently distant from them to avoid being uncomfortable. Socially- distanced hides, also the new normal. A look through the windows at a very oblique angle got me a pintail among the teal and wigeon. Year tick, and a bit of a bogey bird most years. Not great views, but enough to go beyond just a tick. Sheer relief that I had got one for the year surprised me as this wasn't a tick- hunt. Its funny, though, the buzz of a tick and the buzz of the 'immerse yourself in a birding experience' are different, but equally strong.

Nothing special from the tower itself, and time was slightly running away from me. I wandered back, and remembering that I once had a wonderful 'hen harrier at dusk' experience, I made my way back to the Saltcot tower. A kestrel flew over as I was walking up the path. It looked awfully big, but definitely a kestrel. In the tower, a few birders were scattered about. One of them was a volunteer, who was intently peering through her scope. Turns out she was looking at 90% of a peregrine- the 90% being how sure she was. I masked myself up- the new normal when interacting with strangers- and had a look when she offered. It was a skinny- looking peregrine sitting on a dead tree. Another birder had a look through his own scope, and was 100% sure. Year tick 2, and another bogey dealt with during a non- tick visit.

An English couple at the side windows were chattering away as they watched a kestrel. The rest of us had a look, and as we were watching, a short- eared owl popped up, quartered a bit, then dropped down among the gorse. Spent a good 25 minutes tracking this thing, absolute bugger though as the gorse cover was really good. Year tick 3, one of the English birders had it as a lifer. Great chat afterwards with everyone, proper birding, proper community stuff. Very early in my blogs I mentioned that birding is a solitary hobby which is best shared. All round, a good experience, and again Caerlaverock didn't let me down.


Onto Tuesday, and an enforced 'use up your flexi or we'll take it off you' day. Couldn't get either the in-laws' or my own car, so public transport again for Musselburgh. Toyed with the idea of going by bus again, but worked out that the train direct from Uddingston station would only be five pounds more, and that Green Sand's convenience was well worth a fiver.

Anyway, my target for Musselburgh was twite, my hoped- for-but-without-real-expectations bird was LT Duck. The walk along the river was unremarkable, bar goldeneye looking very smart on the Esk with loads of wigeon as well. The tide was in, and it was a tad breezy, making the water hard to check. Grey skies, grey water, white waves, looking for a white and black Long- Tailed Duck. Hmmmm......

I'm not a twitcher (I should turn me saying this into a drinking game) but even I was aware that exotic scoters had been seen recently. No sign of the celebrities when I arrived, though to be fair I would struggle to identify them if they stood next to me with Collins guide open at the appropriate page. Quite a few birders twitching them, though. I got chatting to a Irish guy who was up from the English Midlands, he had seen the twite every day for the past week, so I was feeling positive. The LT ducks, though, had been seen further West in Fisherrow, so I wasn't hopeful.

Anyway, seawatching isn't exactly a strength of mine, but I'm pretty sure the water was a mostly bird- free zone. Cormorant, a single male eider, and more worryingly a single guillemot and a single razorbill. I'd much rather they were both a hundred or more miles out to see. As usually happens, the walk along the sea wall ended with me catching up with the Irish guy from the midlands, who himself had been told that there was a slavonian grebe not too far out on the water. So, small white- ish bird on a grey sea, under grey skies, with choppy waves. Naturally, I got it almost immediately. Year tick 1. Absolute bugger to keep track of, but did get about 15 minutes worth. As I was about to carry on wandering 2 male LT Ducks flew in from the East (so much for Fisherrow...) They also proved buggers to keep track of, and one actually seemed to bugger off. I did get good views of the other. Year tick 2, and given it was my third visit hoping to see it, I deserved it!!

The Levenhall scrapes were uneventful bar very confiding dunlin and good numbers of everything else. On way back the light was even worse, and number of non- birding path users had reached annoying levels. A Kestrel hovered over the lagoon-under-development. Did my usual slow walk to gaze out to see, LT Duck still there. Made it to the boundary of the fence at the sea wall and a flock of 20 wee brown jobbies flew in. Their behaviour made them a stick on twite, but the light made views pretty poor. Trying hard to focus on one (lots of moving about from them) and the flock was disturbed by a cyclist. I glared at the lycra- clad plonker, then smiled as the flock circled and landed 20 feet or so away from me. Great views this time. Only my third ever twite actually. Year tick 3, 6 in the space of 3 days, and 140 for the year has exceeded all expectations given the circumstances. Long journey home, woke myself up snoring on the train, much to the amusement of the student sitting across from me. I longed to explain to her just how good the tiredness felt.

Both trips were the strangest mix of hard, hard work and unbelievable good fortune. Caerlaverock was an immersion experience, Musselburgh was to scratch an itch. Both extremes of my birding habits. More than happy though, I figured a bit of luck should never be sniffed at.

Both days left me with a warm glow, and an inner smile that even now a week later hasn't faded. The birds were great, the successful ticks were great, and the connecting with other birders was great. Complete strangers, people who only having birding in common, but sharing the experience together. Like I said, its a solitary hobby, its also a minority hobby, and there's always the suspicion that we're looked at as being faintly ridiculous by the ignorant in the population. When you get to meet and chat with other birders, something magical happens, though. We become a community.

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay strong folks. Covid is still out there, but we WILL beat it.

John
 

Dave Derrick

Well-known member
Supporter
England
One of the things I've mentioned before is how we have the capacity to adjust to changes, to accept the 'new normal.' The times when this is good and bad are worthy of a full blog in itself.

The new reality of limited birding opportunities (eldest child working awkward shifts, youngest child refusing to deliberately lose tennis matches, middle child insisting on a social life, for example) took less adjustment than I would ever have guessed possible. Maybe I'm more mellow, and I no longer act like a grumpy bear when I can't get out. Or maybe its the time of year when my birding naturally slows down- autumn migration has tailed off, ticks are hard to come by, shorter daylight hours means that me sleeping in can have a disastrous effect on your birding day. Its the tail end of the year as well, Christmas is looming, and November is the start of birthday season in my family. Birding doesn't become perfunctory as such, but it comes close to birding out of habit, with the danger of completely missing the point of going out. Anyway, I had resigned myself to limited birding until the bright dawn of the new year. A New Year means a new list, new energy, new motivations. I do love autumn, strangely, and by no means suffer a dip in mood due to less daylight. There seemed, though, a dip in birding.

As is often the way, life surprised me. My missus was a bit poorly ("the worst head cold ever" which is the equivalent of a man being close to death) and was unable to visit her mum in hospital, for fear of wiping out the ward. She negotiated me visiting, but with the benefit of being able to borrow her Dad's car that weekend. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

I had been painfully aware that my year list still lacked a few birds which I had initially classed as 'hoped for' or 'near expected.' I was also painfully aware that I was long overdue a big birding day out. An experience, a reconnecting of sorts. Thus, I made plans to head to Dumfries and Galloway, predominantly Caerlaverock WWT but with a possible side trip (more accurately, an initial stop- off) at Ken- Dee Marshes RSPB for better views of a Red Kite than I had at the Sma' Glen. Needless to say the plan changed due to a late start, and I headed straight to Caerlaverock.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I can be a bit of a snob about birding sites, preferring purely wild places and hating the soul- destruction of public park birding. A lot of staffed nature reserves aren't my cup of tea, with Caerlaverock being the exception to the rule. To me, this is a place for birds AND birders. A reserve, sure, but not your typical one. Ordinarily, I'd visit here at the start of January, combining the spectacle of wintering wildfowl with the freshness of a new ticklist. Lockdown and steady, plodding birding in the summer meant that most of the ticks had been ticked already. I mentioned previously that I had ticked Barnacle geese at Musselburgh, technically, this made a trip to Caerlaverock unnecessary this year. I realised that this was just silly talk and that I need a day out in a bird place, not necessarily a tick hunt, but somewhere for birds. so my purpose in heading South was for a birding event. Immerse myself, as I've also mentioned before, to revel in the joy of birds.

The journey went smoothly, helped by the fact it was taking place in daylight rather than at 6am. The staff were, as always, unfaultingly lovely. Not to wax too lyrical about this place, but there's a warmth about it. Anyway, quizzed the friendly volunteer about recent sightings and where best to get them. Realised though that I was more interested in seeing everything I could. Started off at the Folly Pond as there had been talk of a Bewick's Swan and a pintail. Neither there for me, naturally, but plenty of teal, wigeon, shovellers, and lapwing. A cacophony of noise, whistles, etc. Joyful.

Moving round to the nature walk area I was hoping fruitlessly for a confiding water rail popping out. I did get greenfinch, chaffinch, and a sparrowhawk taking a great tit on one of the feeders. I've decided that a sprawk hunting is much better than ticking a sprawk when stuck in traffic on a motorway. The light was awful, which gave me the excuse for similarly awful photography. I then wandered over to the Sir Peter Scott hide, scanned the pond, nothing unusual (I once had Scaup there) but good numbers of the usual suspects. Back out and over to the nature bit across the path. ( I realise I'm describing this badly....) Loads of tree sparrows on the feeders, song thrush showed well, as did a single redwing. First redwing of the new 'season.' I do like our winter visitors.

I then made my way toward the Saltcot Merse tower, nothing new along the path, loads of Barnacle Geese flew overhead, so always worth a pause to look skyward. The merse itself was pretty dead, so I didn't linger, and made my way back then along the avenue to the other tower. Nipped into the Campbell Hide briefly. There were a couple of other birders there, and I sat sufficiently distant from them to avoid being uncomfortable. Socially- distanced hides, also the new normal. A look through the windows at a very oblique angle got me a pintail among the teal and wigeon. Year tick, and a bit of a bogey bird most years. Not great views, but enough to go beyond just a tick. Sheer relief that I had got one for the year surprised me as this wasn't a tick- hunt. Its funny, though, the buzz of a tick and the buzz of the 'immerse yourself in a birding experience' are different, but equally strong.

Nothing special from the tower itself, and time was slightly running away from me. I wandered back, and remembering that I once had a wonderful 'hen harrier at dusk' experience, I made my way back to the Saltcot tower. A kestrel flew over as I was walking up the path. It looked awfully big, but definitely a kestrel. In the tower, a few birders were scattered about. One of them was a volunteer, who was intently peering through her scope. Turns out she was looking at 90% of a peregrine- the 90% being how sure she was. I masked myself up- the new normal when interacting with strangers- and had a look when she offered. It was a skinny- looking peregrine sitting on a dead tree. Another birder had a look through his own scope, and was 100% sure. Year tick 2, and another bogey dealt with during a non- tick visit.

An English couple at the side windows were chattering away as they watched a kestrel. The rest of us had a look, and as we were watching, a short- eared owl popped up, quartered a bit, then dropped down among the gorse. Spent a good 25 minutes tracking this thing, absolute bugger though as the gorse cover was really good. Year tick 3, one of the English birders had it as a lifer. Great chat afterwards with everyone, proper birding, proper community stuff. Very early in my blogs I mentioned that birding is a solitary hobby which is best shared. All round, a good experience, and again Caerlaverock didn't let me down.


Onto Tuesday, and an enforced 'use up your flexi or we'll take it off you' day. Couldn't get either the in-laws' or my own car, so public transport again for Musselburgh. Toyed with the idea of going by bus again, but worked out that the train direct from Uddingston station would only be five pounds more, and that Green Sand's convenience was well worth a fiver.

Anyway, my target for Musselburgh was twite, my hoped- for-but-without-real-expectations bird was LT Duck. The walk along the river was unremarkable, bar goldeneye looking very smart on the Esk with loads of wigeon as well. The tide was in, and it was a tad breezy, making the water hard to check. Grey skies, grey water, white waves, looking for a white and black Long- Tailed Duck. Hmmmm......

I'm not a twitcher (I should turn me saying this into a drinking game) but even I was aware that exotic scoters had been seen recently. No sign of the celebrities when I arrived, though to be fair I would struggle to identify them if they stood next to me with Collins guide open at the appropriate page. Quite a few birders twitching them, though. I got chatting to a Irish guy who was up from the English Midlands, he had seen the twite every day for the past week, so I was feeling positive. The LT ducks, though, had been seen further West in Fisherrow, so I wasn't hopeful.

Anyway, seawatching isn't exactly a strength of mine, but I'm pretty sure the water was a mostly bird- free zone. Cormorant, a single male eider, and more worryingly a single guillemot and a single razorbill. I'd much rather they were both a hundred or more miles out to see. As usually happens, the walk along the sea wall ended with me catching up with the Irish guy from the midlands, who himself had been told that there was a slavonian grebe not too far out on the water. So, small white- ish bird on a grey sea, under grey skies, with choppy waves. Naturally, I got it almost immediately. Year tick 1. Absolute bugger to keep track of, but did get about 15 minutes worth. As I was about to carry on wandering 2 male LT Ducks flew in from the East (so much for Fisherrow...) They also proved buggers to keep track of, and one actually seemed to bugger off. I did get good views of the other. Year tick 2, and given it was my third visit hoping to see it, I deserved it!!

The Levenhall scrapes were uneventful bar very confiding dunlin and good numbers of everything else. On way back the light was even worse, and number of non- birding path users had reached annoying levels. A Kestrel hovered over the lagoon-under-development. Did my usual slow walk to gaze out to see, LT Duck still there. Made it to the boundary of the fence at the sea wall and a flock of 20 wee brown jobbies flew in. Their behaviour made them a stick on twite, but the light made views pretty poor. Trying hard to focus on one (lots of moving about from them) and the flock was disturbed by a cyclist. I glared at the lycra- clad plonker, then smiled as the flock circled and landed 20 feet or so away from me. Great views this time. Only my third ever twite actually. Year tick 3, 6 in the space of 3 days, and 140 for the year has exceeded all expectations given the circumstances. Long journey home, woke myself up snoring on the train, much to the amusement of the student sitting across from me. I longed to explain to her just how good the tiredness felt.

Both trips were the strangest mix of hard, hard work and unbelievable good fortune. Caerlaverock was an immersion experience, Musselburgh was to scratch an itch. Both extremes of my birding habits. More than happy though, I figured a bit of luck should never be sniffed at.

Both days left me with a warm glow, and an inner smile that even now a week later hasn't faded. The birds were great, the successful ticks were great, and the connecting with other birders was great. Complete strangers, people who only having birding in common, but sharing the experience together. Like I said, its a solitary hobby, its also a minority hobby, and there's always the suspicion that we're looked at as being faintly ridiculous by the ignorant in the population. When you get to meet and chat with other birders, something magical happens, though. We become a community.

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay strong folks. Covid is still out there, but we WILL beat it.

John
John,

Another fascinating read. Can totally relate to your warm glow .... such events are very uplifting. Thank you and stay safe, (even more relevant now we have another as yet not fully understood variant in our midst) Dave.
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia

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