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Special Times In Special Places (1 Viewer)

After last week's sulky blow out, I approached the weekend with a sense of optimism and a determination to to actually enjoy being out. The week at work (in my living room) was much better and the garden feeders were far busier than they had been previously. Even the magpies scaring everything away allowed me to appreciate both the plumage and their grace and agility of these chronically under- appreciated birds. Saturday was family duty day, and Sunday dawned with one last Dad- task. Known in Lanarkshire colloquialism as a 'clenny run', I had some bags to take to the local dump/ recycling centre. This allowed me a small detour to Cathkin Marsh SWT reserve, which is where the specialness of the day begins.

CAthkin Marsh, I've found, is often either a famine or a feast for birds. Mostly, though, there's something about the place that appeals to me, even this year, where far more people appear to have discovered it. The light covering of snow on the approach roads made the journey a wee bit more nerve- wracking than expected, but I arrived at the reserve unscathed. A glance through the gate and already I saw more species than I had during my previous visit. Male and female chaffinches scuttled about on the gravel path, with great tits in the bushes. Woodpigeon and blackbirds also made use of the bushes as they dropped down repeatedly to the gravel. Whatever they were eating, it must have been worth it- certainly I was happy watching and I hadn't set foot on the reserve yet.

Eventually, I crossed over onto the reserve on the assumption that the reserve's reed buntings clearly didn't know I was waiting for them to come to me. I needn't have worried, within about 20 feet of the entrance gate a female reed bunting popped up and sat sunning herself near the top of a bush. Year tick, the confiding nature of reed buntings meant I was able to watch her and drink in every detail. The sunlight was winter- weak, but the air was crystal clear and sharp in the cold. Despite this, I made no attempt to take a photo, and instead just stood and stared. Already, in the space of 20 minutes my mojo had recovered from the blip of the previous week.

The cold weather had meant that the pond was frozen, with no sign of waterbirds. The resident kestrel wasn't hunting, and I hoped that it had hunted successfully earlier that day and had gorged itself. A water rail squealed from the large area of reeds midway along the path. I stopped briefly for a socially- distanced chat to a married couple and I was able to explain what the piggy squeal had been. They seemed as happy as I was to be there. A further walk around the path (much shortened due to the loss of the boardwalk) and a chat with a birder, who told me she had seen multiple pairs of bullfinch at the gate. Something for me to look for on the way back. A wren called from the marsh itself, no chance of seeing it of course among the mud, grass and foliage. A walk out the back of the reserve was good exercise for the legs but did not produce any more birds. The residential houses near the farm all had active feeders- I didn't dwell, of course, but its hugely satisfying to see people making an effort. Being next to a nature reserve probably helps with your garden list.

A wander back saw me re- trace my steps, and true to form, a couple of bullfinches skulked among the bushes. A raven honked briefly as it disappeared over the NE horizon; technically a year tick but not the way I was hoping given the summer raven- fest of last year.

There's a plaque, I think I've mentoned before, dedicated to someone who clearly frequented the reserve before passing away. It mentions that this person knew Cathkin Marsh as a "special place." On days like that, it would be impossible to disagree.

A drive back to Uddingston and I parked at the train station, giving me easy-ish access to the riverside. Lots of people walking, I opted to head into the 'Horse field' as its wide open spaces would be a welcome break from the jostling on the river path. The Horse Field also give you birds incidentally. And horses.

The birding gods were shining clearly, as a flock of 6 bullfinches immediately caught my eye, feeding on the ground. As I watched this flock, a further 6 few by. Interestingly, each flock had 3 males and 3 females. Goldfinch flitted between the treetops, and a chunky- looking greenfinch sat immobile. A wander toward the mini- pond saw a further 7 bullfinch, and a couple of carrion crows circling. Much better, though, was the appearance of my birding mate, Bill. Font of birding knowledge, and all- round good guy. Bill excitedly told me that he had a short- cut to the mouth of the River Calder, near Fin Me Oot. Admittedly, this involved climbing over a barbed wire fence, which the fence- builder had fiendishly designed to be just at scrotum- height for Green Sand. Much hilarity ensued as 2 middle- aged chaps negotiated the birder's classic challenge.

By my reckoning, the short- cut wasn't much shorter than going via our normal route. The scenery was different, though, and it gave easier access to a part of the Calder that I wouldn't always reach. Mallard on the river, deer tracks on the mud, and possible otter tracks- no spraint, though. Less good was the detritus from humans deciding to party in the area, cans, bottles, etc, plus a settee that a bunch of folks had somehow carried there. You carried there, carry it back with you.

The Calder was quite high and fast flowing, Lanarkshire in January is pretty wet, so this wasn't unexpected. No sign of grey wagtail (for me) or kestrel (for bill) A scan upstream from our usual position on the bridge, and for once it was me that found the good bird. A dipper in the distance, with its back to us, Bill got onto it just as it flew upstream. Not a tick, but nice to see anyway. A walk back began with a raven getting mobbed by carrion crows. Year tick for Bill, a snobbery year tick for me. All good. Conversation flowed, plans exchanged for what we would do once we reach the end of the Covid tunnel. Big days out agreed upon, Bill is clearly missing the coast and we agreed that Lothian would feature prominently.

All too soon we had made it back to Uddingston, and it was time to part ways. A special day that included birds, special places, and damned good company. This is what weekends are for.

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