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The A- Team And The Last Laugh Of The Write- Offs (1 Viewer)

The end of lockdown has had me acting like a kid in a sweety shop. So many birds to see, so many birding trips, so many places to visit. Of course, the reality is somewhat different, and part of me is still slightly baffled that work, Dad duties, and ‘life’ hasn’t paused to allow me to embark on this sweety- shop fiesta. Thus I find myself weeks after my last blog post with quite a lot to cram in. In true Green Sand fashion, naturally, my plan didn’t quite come together.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m planning on doing the West Highland Way in the summer with my son. As preparation (he can play tennis for 5 hours straight, but struggles with long walks for some reason) I had arranged my father in law’s car for the weekend after my Lothian trip. The Sma’ Glen was the target, a good walk, with the chance of Common Sand on the river Almond, the near- certainty of Red Kite, plus possibility of wheatear and ring ouzel. House Martin are also pretty much a banker tick. The journey Northward was one I can do on autopilot, and the craic with my son made it go well. For once, I’d managed to be prepared with snacks, drinks, etc. Just as we were approaching the car park though the tyre pressure warning light came on. End of trip, technically before it had even started.

The only birdlife experienced was a red grouse which called once as I bent over the affected tyre (which looked fine to me) Green Sand has standards, and I refused to tick a bird that had basically called at my a*se from half way up a mountain.

Humbled by my automotive near- disaster, I opted to stay local the next day and go back to Fin Me Oot on a warbler search. This area (technically past the river and toward Newton) had served me well with sedge warbler and grasshopper warbler last year. The time of year was right (albeit the dodgy spring weather has everything a couple of weeks late) and I set off hopeful of at least a sedgie. The well trodden path was as familiar as a pair of comfortable boots or a warm cardigan on a stormy autumn night. Muscle memory kicks in as I sauntered along, noting chiffchaffs and willow warblers as I travelled. Happy greetings to my fellow walkers, as the sunshine and mild weather triggered them old positive endorphins again. I had brought snacks and drinks, and intended to sit (and snooze) on a ridge just across from a bramble patch. It worked last year….

Like most things Green Sand- related, the unexpected happened pretty quickly. Across the river and up the increasingly steep path, a single bird sat atop a tree. First instinct was warbler, second instinct was sedgie (it literally was where sedgies breed each year) but once I had a view in my binos, I found it was a whitethroat. It stayed put long enough for a photo, then dived down into the brambles. Unexpected year tick, and absolutely delighted with it. I sometimes can’t make up my mind whether the planned ticks or unplanned ticks are best…..

Spent some time in my favoured sleeping/ snoozing spot, enjoying the sun and the warbler noise. I may have dozed off, but that was ok in my book. No sedgies, though, and no grasshopper warbler. But you know, that was also ok.

Later that afternoon, I nipped over to Cathkin Marsh SWT reserve, which is normally very good for sedgies, and half- decent for Groppers. The time of day, and loss of boardwalk which had traversed the marsh proper, made me think that the birding wouldn’t be easy. The hide/ shelter area allowed me to see that the Canada geese are breeding again, as the moorhen also appear to be. Good sign, and I was pleased to see it. Lots of skylark calling, interspersed with meadow pipits trying to compete (give it up lads) Friendly greetings to the handful of other birders, and I heard the unmistaekable reeling of a Gropper from the long grass. Year tick 2 for the day, and very pleasant it was too.

A day earlier a friend had posted a video capture of a sedgie calling, and asked me for help with the I.D. I recognised where on the reserve she had recorded it, and knew that this was my best place to see one. Its also the place of my ‘wish I had my camera’ moment with my daughter from years ago. Lo and behold, my local knowledge didn’t let me down, and a sedgie called insistently from the long reeds. I backed off further away, and waited patiently. Eventually it obliged, and climbed its way up a reed, singing in clear view as the reed swayed in the gentle breeze. Year tick 3 for the day, and one of those special birding moments.

So ended the weekend, and I wallowed luxuriantly in the glow of yet more special time outdoors. I later allowed my thoughts to drift to the next two days, where I had booked leave from work in the hope of a Big Day Out.

The Monday was my scheduled trip to Inversnaid RSPB on Loch Lomondside. A stunningly beautiful reserve, with a stunningly terrible approach road to get to it. I survived the journey entirely as a result of prayers to St Christopher (Patron Saint of travellers) and subsequently St Jude (Patron saint of hopeless causes) Subconsciously I noted no sign of house martin on the road in, and none at Inversnaid Hotel parking area. Truly, this spring has been odd.

The rain which had been intermittent now became steady, albeit still a drizzle. The sky was glowering in a way that only Scotland seems to experience and visibility was pretty poor. I resigned myself to the fact this would be hard work. Got my bag out the back of the car. No rainjacket. Closed the bag and opened it again. Still no rainjacket. Now it was going to be hard, cold, and wet work. The plan was not so much not coming together, it as disintegrating.

The path along to the woods was very quiet bar chaffinch and willow warbler. The path up the hill was similarly notable only for its Willow warbler, and some half- arsed pathetic reels from a wood warbler. It was a tick anyway, but the light was terrible and it wasn't for showing itself. Nuthatch calling strongly, though. No sign of pied flycatcher, with no sign of spotted fly either. Nor cuckoo. No redstart. Obviously, no Tree Pipit. A pair of ravens at top of hill circled, and by this point I was expecting them to crap on me. Walk down the back of the hill got nothing, naturally. Return trip and trudge back to the car similarly got nothing. The entire walk saw me fighting off a massively powerful feeling of sheer anti- climax. Adding insult to injury, upon checking my phone I saw that garganey were at Baron’s Haugh, 3 of them in fact.

I'm not a twitcher, so I didn't set out to go there. Instead I aimed for Greenock, to get the black guillemot I’d failed with previously. A rescue tick, a sign of desperation. The Sat Nav began well enough, then eventually started taking me Northwards further into Argyll. I gave up on Greenock, and headed to the Haugh to try and rescue some sort of birding for the day. Stuck in a traffic jam at Bearsden Cross, one of the affluent areas of Greater Glasgow, and I decided to let them all know how common I am by having Status Quo blaring out the car window. Set the sat nav for the haugh to give me a time reference for the journey. Sat Nav now decided it wanted to take me to Greenock after all and tried to get me onto the M8 westbound, then the Clyde Tunnel. I remained strong.

I eventually got to the Haugh, and the weather hadn’t improved. Absolutely freezing, so walked briskly to the Marsh Hide. Got the three garganey, and a bonus pair of gadwall. Great views of the garganey, and a decent feeling since I’m never guaranteed one. I always love seeing gadwall, an incredibly stunning but under- rated bird, IMHO.

On paper, 2 ticks for the day is a success, but with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment that my big day out, my big day to one of my special places, had failed. My days are more than just tick- hunts- and I believe true birding should always be thus- so the failure of Inversnaid hit hard. It was a humbling reminder that birds aren’t there for our benefit. I also knew that there was no way on God’s good earth I was doing that journey again this year. The highs of the warbler- fest over the weekend and the lows of a disappointing ‘big’ day out. Such is the life of a birder.

The next day dawned, and I opted to use this for my one Ayrshire trip for the summer. I’m not a seawatcher, and don’t feel at home at the coast, albeit the East coast is ironically better. (Lanarkshire farmboy in ‘I prefer Lothian’ shocker…)

My mate Bill had recently visited Ayrshire, and told me of the birding riches he had gained. I decided on a mini- tour of Saltcoats, Irvine and Troon, the three places I know best, albeit which have always been very hit-or-miss. Made it to Saltcoats by mid- morning, despite the best efforts of the sat- nav that took me through small villages I’d never heard of. The hangover of disappointment from the previous day, added to my patchy record with Ayrshire, left me with very low expectations.

Which were exceeded immediately upon getting out of the car. A pair of RB merganser floated serenely about 20 feet off the sea wall. Year tick, target bird, and first for 2 years. With this one bird, the day became an immediate success. Or maybe the sunshine had given me an endorphin boost. Either way, I walked along the road with a spring in my step. A mixed flock of oystercatcher and turnstone clung desperately to the last promontory of exposed rocks out in the harbour, and I stood watching for some time, just enjoying the small things of bird life. On a good day, standing (or sitting) staring at a bird or birds can evoke a near- serenity in me. Something I’ve increasingly found, is vital.

To the left of me, my peripheral vision caught a bird flying in toward the sea wall. It landed on a seaweed covered patch of rock beneath the wall. It bobbed up and down, and as it turned briefly, it showed me its bright white shoulder. Common Sandpiper, year tick 2, and as surprising a tick as you can get. Bill later told me that he’s had common sand in coastal areas before. You can say what you want about local knowledge, but the best knowledge is shared between friends.

The sandpiper flew off, and I continued my journey. Before I had gone far, I noted a flock of ducks floating close in to the wall. My first instinct was eider, given that I’ve had eider families in Saltcoats before. almost before the thought had formulated itself, I knew they weren’t eider. Without needing binos, I saw that they were a flock of about 15 black guillemot. Year tick 3, and my usual tick- joy was matched by the knowledge I no longer needed to go to Greenock! Yay!! Spent a good while watching them. This was a damned good day.

Back at the car park, a pair of sandwich tern screeched past, great to see, pity they didn’t hang around longer. A gannet flew in from the sea, and I tracked it over the roof of a nearby house. Not a bad garden tick for someone.

My time at Saltcoats was up, and I drove the short distance to Irvine. This is y usual RB Merganser hotspot, and also good for terns. I walked out toward the compass on the promontory, and sat in wonder watching gannets and sandwich terns feeding. Oblivious to the cold ( I was wearing a fleece jumper whilst other people were in their big winter jackets) the wheeling acrobatics of the gannets and terns were a scene of sheer, unadulterated joy.

By this point, I was tempted to quit whilst I was well ahead. Instead, I gabled on a quick visit to Troon, a place of limited success, but this day something called me. Parking to the rear of the timber yard near the harbour, I set off for a wander. Oycs were obvious on the rocks, and a pair of gannets fed close in. My eye was drawn to a large bird sitting on the rocks, reasonably far out. My first thought was curlew, until it turned its head and I caught its full profile. The beak was different, the body was slender. I quickly got my camera out, and tried to snap as many record shots as possible. My heart said Whimbrel, my head urged more caution, given past history with curlew and their vast range of sizes. My excitement, tinged with nerves, bubbled under the surface at what might be the best tick of the day. A rock pipit topped it off, and for about half an hour it was just wonderful to sit and watch what was going on.

A quick check with Bill later (apparently the perfect profile picture I sent him was useless, and he preferred the blurred photo showing the white crown stripe) and I was able to tick my first whimbrel in quite a while. Its also one of my few whimbrel, very much a bogey bird.



There’s a throwaway line in one of the early A- Team episodes where the victim of the week asks Amy whether Hannibal’s plans ever work. She says no, the plans hardly ever work, but always work out in the end. These few days out, long in the dreaming and planning stages, can’t really be said to have ‘come together’ in the true sense.

They worked out, though, in the end. I can now laugh at my Inversnaid trip, I realise how lucky my ‘warbler Sunday’ was, and am proud that I refused to tick the red grouse which called at my arse.


Mostly though, I can’t get over how Ayrshire, which I have written off repeatedly, gave me one of the best days of the year so far.



Stay healthy, stay safe.



John
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
Crikey. Where to start....

OK. I have no problem with repeating trips that fail (especially in spring, for pristine plumaged crackers of freshly-arrived migrants.) Real birding is about the birds, not the trips/mileage.

Well done gritting your teeth and going for the Garganey. Terrific little ducks anyway, but full marks for the "press on regardless" attitude.

Finally, well done on nailing down the Whimbrel. Persistence pays in ID as in every other area of birding endeavour: confidence arises from experience so perhaps some visits to the outer reaches of Dalriada might be a good idea. This year is a good opportunity, because where else are you going to go?

Good birding

John
 

Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
Scotland
Crikey. Where to start....

OK. I have no problem with repeating trips that fail (especially in spring, for pristine plumaged crackers of freshly-arrived migrants.) Real birding is about the birds, not the trips/mileage.

Well done gritting your teeth and going for the Garganey. Terrific little ducks anyway, but full marks for the "press on regardless" attitude.

Finally, well done on nailing down the Whimbrel. Persistence pays in ID as in every other area of birding endeavour: confidence arises from experience so perhaps some visits to the outer reaches of Dalriada might be a good idea. This year is a good opportunity, because where else are you going to go?

Good birding

John
Thanks John!!
 

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