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The Engine Splutters.... (1 Viewer)

Strangest thing, I hadn't realised its approaching 2 months since I last posted a blog. The idling engine of my birding year has gradually become a 1987 Fiat Panda- still functioning, but purely as a technicality. A mixture of family stuff interfering with proper bird life, plus sheer bad luck making my trips out less than noteworthy. Sure, any day out in the fresh air is 'good' but there's 'good' and then there's 'interesting.' Ironically, though my year did seem to accumulate birds, just in a very Green Sand, unspectacular fashion. The grinding slowdown of the birding year, the onset of the summer doldrums, and the gathering clouds of the general state of the world/ country/ environment cast a deathly, dark pall over Green Sand's normally sunny outlook on life. (ahem....)

Commando birding made a re- appearance in mid- May. After dropping daughter-the-elder off at work at 6am, I decided to forego the temptation of going back to bed and headed to Ardmore Point. Yon social media thing had promised veritable riches such as RT Diver and Whimbrel there for a couple of days, albeit I was under no illusions that I'd get to see any of them. To shake things up a bit I took the anti- clockwise route, almost immediately got house martin in good numbers and a single swallow. Out on the north bay I got a group of 20- odd GC grebes, all in breeding plumage. No hidden surprises among them- the new scope thing worked a treat, and in the bright morning sunlight the grebes were a thing of absolute beauty. Got the usual good numbers of merganser as well. Loads of willow warblers and blackcap. Further round the 'peninsula' I got equal loads of whitethroat showing well. One in particular was worth spending 20 minutes staring at it. No whimbrel on the rocks, but my relationship with whimbrel is complicated and literally any time I've got one has been a fluke. Best of all, after scanning the water in my shiny new scope I managed to get a single red- throated diver. Would never have seen it in binos, though. The gift of sight restored (copyright My Mate Bill) 2 year ticks, in the space of a couple of hours, but more importantly bird life. Not too shabby.....

Mrs Green Sand isn't a birder, and (until very recently) hasn't been much of an outdoorsy- type. She liked the idea of being outdoors more than the reality. This seems to have changed recently, and she has decided that long walks in the country together are now 'our thing.' My first instinct was 'no, its MY thing, I'm allowing to to tag along' but wisely kept this to myself. Anyway, since I know more about long walks in the country than she does, she (grudgingly) allowed me to choose where to go for our first day out. Naturally, I picked somewhere birdy, and we found ourselves at the Sma' Glen. I didn't have my binos with me (for that would have given the game away) but cuckoo well and truly ticked- the place was absolutely full of them. A pair of red kites sky danced at naked- eye height and were good to watch, and the river was replete with common sandpiper. Add in the usual warblers, and as non- birding days go, this was pretty good. Even better, the wife in a moment of reflection, said she now understood why I loved being outdoors so much. Result!

Thanks to having loads of annual leave we were able to venture out together the next day. She has decided that we'll walk the West Highland Way next year, and as she's trusting me to choose the routes for our 'training' days out, I took her to the part of the WHW between Drymen and Balmaha. Basically, I took her for a walk in a forest. Wall to wall warblers, whitethroats showing very well, and amongst the thickest trees, the unmistakeable sound of wood warbler. No binos again, but year tick nonetheless. Another fantastic day out, leaving aside the non-birding birding.

Having spent 2 days with me, by now Mrs GS was a bit fed up and gently suggested I should go birding the next day. I opted not to insult her intelligence by arguing. Then the issue arises- where? I was a bit out of practice, the East Coast was a wee bit played out, and I had a big day out to Inversnaid planned for that weekend. Then I checked social media. A black- winged stilt was at Lochwinnoch, literally half an hour drive away from home- shorter if you're a bit excited and twitchy. One the scrape, directly in front of the very large windows. Now I'm not a twitcher, but being at a loose end I decided it was worthwhile. I also saw that a garganey was hanging about, with the added possibility of getting something more mundane but decent. So not a full blooded twitch, but twitchy enough.

Not being a twitcher, the building sense of excitement was a bit alien to me. Even a stubborn old git like me could appreciate it, though, and not for the first time I understand why others do it. Arrived at the reserve, where a helpful volunteer asked me if I was there for the Stilt, and pointed it out to me. Naked eye, better through binos though. Hadn't brought my scope, the last time I was there they had scopes for public use, and I just assumed that was still the case. Anyway, a year tick, and more importantly my 200th life tick. Chuffed beyond chuffed. 20 more minutes of watching also got me the garganey, and a walk round to the feeding station got me a lesser redpoll- complete bonus bird. I've never been a full- blooded fan of Lochwinnoch in the past (happy memories of taking the kids there, though) but this relatively brief trip had me grinning like a fool. A short detour to Greenock on the return allowed me to tick Black Guillemot- and thus save me a trip to Ayrshire. 4 ticks for the day, the Black Guillemot was pretty perfunctory, the three at Lochwinnoch fit the description of 'proper' birding.

I've spoken before about sine waves of birding, the ups and downs that most of us experience (I'm excluding my mate Bill from this). My big day out at Inversnaid (I've nicknamed it Inversnide....) literally completed a bell curve of that week's birding. Ardmore Point, Sma Glen and the Garadbhan Forest at Drymen had all built up to the peak of the trip to Lochwinnoch. The detour for black guillemot started the downturn of the bell graph, with the 'big' day out at Inversnaid ending up being a fairly dramatic drop- off.

First the good bits. The reserve is amazing. A thing of beauty, primordial even, and it doesn't often give you birds easily. However..... you know I speak of bogey birds? Birds I have really bad luck with? Inversnaid is becoming my bogey reserve.

I got to the car park in time for a highland storm to wash in. I used the opportunity to have a kip while the skies went black, somethign about the sound of rain gushing down the windscreen was quite soothing. Once it eased off to a drizzle, I went off to the woods. No sign of pied fly near the boathouse, so that tip- off didn't come to anything. Lots of noise uphill, though, which was promising. Got a couple of obliging wood warblers showing well, and a GSW looking stunning in the half- light. The woods alternated between utterly silent and a wall of noise- if a reserve has a character, then this makes it clear that we are present only on its terms, not ours. The burn was in full spate, so the roar from that didn't help birdsong I.D. No sign of redstart at the top of the trail, but I did get a tree pipit. I've had them there before, so was pleased to see it without being surprised. No spotted flycatcher, and I gave up on the redstart. On the way back down I heard a pied fly (I'd had the good sense to memorise their call on the drive up) I calmed myself, and showed a bit of patience, the reward being when a male appeared in a tree close to a nestbox. Got good views for a bit before I moved off- I was wary about disturbing it so close to a nestbox. Year tick, target bird, but still, somehow unfulfilling. Journey back to the car uneventful, absolutely zero house martins at the hotel. To rainy for them, wimps. The drive back home was the usual highly stressful event. I know I've said this before, but I think I'm done with Inversnaid. There are other places for the same birds, I've realised. Time to spread my wings.

Most years, June and July see me in a rut, a birding lull. Its always expected, and this year is no different. The disappointment of the Inversnaid trip set the tone for the next few weeks. But that, is a tale which can wait for a different day.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks.
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