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

The First Minister and the Green Sand Porsche (1 Viewer)

Some of you may have picked up b now that while I always have the best intentions to be organised,
the reality is often very different. I’ve mentioned how, with the promise of lockdown easing, I had
been making tentative plans for what to do when the great day came upon us. Over the past few weeks,
these went from dreams through various stages to actual plans, with a schedule and a timeframe.
Birdtrack data has been scoured, even, to give you and idea of the depth of planning.

Thus it came as a bit of a shock when the First Minister announced that Lockdown was going to end
10 days early. This just wasn’t part of the plan- if anything, I was expecting the opposite.

Thank you First Minister.

The previous weekend had been another quiet one, making the most of what time outdoors I had.
An early- morning Saturday wander near the River Clyde in Uddingston got me a very showy
Blackcap, exactly where my mate Bill had said a few days previously. Year tick, and a sign that spring
might finally be gathering pace.

Thanks to McDonalds and my daughter’s work ethic I found myself at Hogganfield Loch later the
same Saturday. The usual crowds had subsided, and there was still enough sunlight to keep the chill
out the air. I contemplated wandering out in shirt- sleeves, but my finely- honed Scottish weather
instinct persuaded me otherwise.

Usual selection of gulls- LBBG, Herring and BHG, with waterfowl in abundance. There’s something
about moorhen which makes me smile. I really can’t put my finger on it, but I definitely prefer them
to coots. A steady- paced wander round found me at the water area I had identified a few weeks
previously. A blackcap sang incessantly, and some expert fieldcraft (Eyes, ears, and luck) allowed
me to pinpoint him. By this point, the warm sun had been replaced by dark clouds, which were then
quickly replaced by hailstones. Sadly for the joggers, dog walkers etc who had been fooled by the
sun, the hail shower stayed on and I was glad of the winter jacket after all.

Mid storm, and three quarters of the way round the loch, I stopped to watch the GC grebes in
action. Maybe it’s the positive endorphins of being outside, but they also make me smile a lot.
Despite the hail, some hardy sand martins buzzed low over the water. Amongst them, and glaringly
obvious as looking ‘different’ flew a solitary swallow. Its funny how you recognise birds by their jizz,
and how your eye instinctively picks out something which doesn’t quite fit. A swallow in a hailstorm
is also very 2021. A brief but eventful visit, I was happy to see the swallow, a year tick.

Shift- work being what it was, I found myself back in the same area for the same reason the next
morning. The sun was bright, and the air was very spring- like, with only the merest chill. Sadly, a
huge number of people also found themselves in the vicinity of Hogganfield, and the overflowing car
park made a productive visit impossible. I’m thinking that a few weeks ago such a setback would
have ruined my day and produced sulkiness all day.

Now, though, I seized the chance to drive home via some of Glasgow’s 7 Lochs area, all on the route
back to Uddingston. Sort of. I pulled over at the loch where last year I had ticked house martin.
Sadly, none to see, but did get a pair of goldeneye, a reed bunting, and 3 buzzards. A nice chat with
a fellow birder and we bemoaned the stunted pace of spring migration and the awful weather that
seems to have caused it.

Eventually, I moved on and made my way back to Uddingston. Inevitably, I found aiming towards to Fin Me Oot.
Warblers in Uddingston were quiet, but still present. Far from the wall of noise we might expect in a few weeks.
Fin Me Oot was similarly quiet, albeit with willow warbler and chiffchaff taking it in turns to sing. Highlight
was a mistle thrush on a telephone wire, only my second of the year. The other highlight was sitting on the FMO
bench, eyes shut, relaxing, and soaking up the atmosphere. For once, I remembered to take some photos of the
area to give you some context.

A good weekend, fresh air, the humour of African migrants feeding in a hailstorm, and time spent at
my new spiritual home. A content feeling that the new normal was pretty damned good after all.

And then came the lockdown bombshell. Thanks First Minster.

An early Tom Cruise film was ‘Risky Business’ where, for plot reasons, he tries to drive his father’s
Porsche. The scene is set as the car starts to the pumping guitar of some generic 1980s power
music. Which stops as the car stalls, then restarts. I thought of this with amusement as my great
escape from lockdown began with a stall.

Lockdown restrictions ended at lunchtime on Friday 16th . Having to work to 6pm meant that I had
limited opportunity to get out. The expectation among friends was that I’d be skipping about singing
Born Free. They clearly know little of Green Sand’s luck.

By 6.30 I was on the road to Greenock, with a view to ticking Black Guillemot at Victoria Harbour. A
sure fire tick every year, its harder to dip on it than to tick it. I'd forgotten how boring the journey
was, and took a couple of wrong turns seemingly to alleviate the boredom. Its a straight road, in
case anyone’s unfamiliar with the M8 motorway.

Last time I was there, there were plenty of the damned things. I even narrowly avoided peeing on a
pair that were nesting on the sea wall. Such was the sense of expectation, of entitlement even, as I
arrived in Greenock. To find a harbour devoid of birds, never mind Black Guillemot. A moment’s
reflection about the difference in visits, and I remembered that I ticked black guillemot last July,
when we were between lockdowns. Thanks lockdown for messing up my internal calendar.

After Green Sand stalled his birding Porsche, the pressure was on for the Sunday, my next birding
day. And this was when I headed east, nerves, excitement, and hope all combined.

And what a day it was.

Roll on Sunday, and despite my best efforts to cram all my Dad duties into the Saturday, I
still had stuff to take to the recycling centre. I had decided to make this my first Lothian trip,
and to make it a decent one. I got to Torness nuclear power station, with nervous
expectation. Its been a while, and I'd forgotten how awful the drive is, which had given me
plenty of time to worry about failure. On the plus side, the accelerated easing of lockdown
had given me a week less to worry about failure, so thanks again, First Minister.

I immediately got skylark right away, and the highlight of the trip was trying to see them,
then just closing my eyes and listening to them. Something about them singing makes me
feel automatically happy. Their song is a thing of beauty. I also got eider, plus two GBBGs
mating. On the way back to the car park, I managed to get a silent yellowhammer in the
gorse, exactly where I was expecting it. 3 year ticks, a massive dose of skylark happiness as
well, overall a good start to the day.

Off to Dunbar Harbour, and somehow managed to get kittiwake...there are hundreds of
them. Over the harbour wall I also got a decent number of shags. In true Green Sand style,
I walked along the wall trying to get views of distant ones on one of the rocky outcrops. Job
done, I walked backwards to discover the dozen or so of them right at the start of the wall.
2nd tick, only other bird of note was a GBBG on the water and a herring gull crapping on a
Mercedes. I like the symbolism, though the car owner probably didn’t.

Last stop was Musselburgh, and by now time was racing away from me. We were at low
tide, so most things quite distant. Right away got redshank (tick) and oycs. As I was
watching them, a ringed plover flew in onto the mud, then disappeared into camouflaged
ploverness. 2nd tick. Curlew called far away, so tick 3. Got better views further along the
sea wall as a handful flew past toward the scrapes at Levenhall Links. Good numbers of
Eider on the water, as were wigeon.

A pair of turnstone on the rocks were sleeping, but consciousness- either their's or mine- is
never a barrier to ticking something. Nothing exciting further out on the water, bar gannets
feeding. (which admittedly is fairly exciting)

Up to the scrapes, lots of dog walkers at the pond, reminding me that I'm not really a people
person. The scrapes were quite empty, but did get shelduck. Moving to another scrape, I
bumped into a couple of visitors speaking to local birding legend Dave Allan. I bump into
him quite a lot and he’s always generous with his time and knowledge. Great for a blether
as well. Great chat with Dave and the visitor established I’m more of a people person than I
thought.

Anyway, I found 2 female wheatear on the muddy embankment between 2 pools, which
surprised me greatly. Dave put me onto grey plover which had just flown in, and snipe that I
had managed to miss. The grey plover was a bonus tick as its not something I'd take for
granted. Apparently, if I'd gone on Saturday I'd have gotten knot as well, but beggars can’t
really be choosers.

Time was definitely running away from me by now, and I headed off back to the car.
Stopped to watch the gannets, and just as I turned away, got the unmistakeable call of a
tern. Easy to find, as a pair of common tern wheeled about, dived for a feed, then flew
north- east. Awfully early I was thinking, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Journey home was uneventful, though I was regretting not being organised enough to bring a
notebook (thank you First Minister!) and spent 40 miles panicking that I had forgotten something.
Year list is up to 91, and I am hopeful of another decent week to come.

I’m planning to take my son walking in the Sma Glen on Saturday, so will have limited birding
probably. I have though time booked off next week for Inversnaid RSPB then assuming I don't
die on the terrifying road to Inversnaid, a trip to Fowlsheugh RSPB for my annual‘seabird city’ trip.

Hopefully, these will keep Green Sand’s 2021 birding Porsche ticking over. My first weekend
without restrictions was a great weekend, lots of ticks, and emotions running high at finally
visiting the places I’ve missed so much.

The funniest thing, though, was that at no point did
I think that the previous week’s quiet afternoon at FMO had been any less worthy an experience.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks.

John
 

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

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