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The Hundred Day Cough & The Never- Ending Month (1 Viewer)

Jeez, how long did January last??

My last post was labelled January: The Beginning. This one should probably be called: January: The Second Beginning, but that’d be too direct and nowhere near cryptic enough for my liking.

My good start to the year had filled me with confidence, and wee bit of smug achievement. Yeah, sure, birding in gloomy winter twilight wasn't ideal, but at least I was getting out. The tentative plans that I'd made from the autumn onward hadn't completely gone belly up. I was enjoying things- even if, at times, I was being grumpy about it.

So it came at the start of the second week of the month I had my first trip Eastward. I mentioned in the summary of 2023 that I'd be cheaper buying property in Musselburgh, and I set off for the first of what I'm sure will be multiple trips. As expected, I got nowhere near the early start that I should have up and out before dawn. So much for my new year's resolution.

When I eventually go moving I opted to ignore my lingering headache, undulating/ chaotic blood sugar and vaguely annoying tickly cough. Stories of a Black- Necked Grebe were tantalising, but as you all know by now I’m not a twitcher. Lots of photographers were at Levenhall, but despite the slightly negative vibe I did manage to get Dunlin, pheasant, Shelduck and snipe despite the lack of 'real' birders. Maybe its an inherent bias, but I find there's a different atmosphere with photographers than with (most) birders.

Outside, got coot on the pond and kestrel sat still in a tree, despite the ridiculously close attention from a photographer. As I was watching (from a distance) a dozen of so stock dove landed on the grass. A walk onward, and 2 minutes at the sea wall got me LT Duck- again far easier than usual. It was fairly disconcerting that one of my 'panic' birds had been ticked so easily.

One of the photographers got a photo and asked me what bird it was….. he seemed genuinely pleased at getting a lifer, so maybe I'm being hasty in my judgement.

At the new scrapes I added twite, another LT Duck in the moat, plus Barwit, curlew, turnstone, GBBG and a cormorant. Back on to the sea wall, and with the departing tide I got better views of barwit and turnstone doing exciting things on the mud. One of those moments where you just stand and watch, soaking up the view. Common and herring gulls, and a distant male goldeneye rounded off the day's ticks. A distant grebe wasn't tickable, I couldn't be sure of the species. The journey home was spent in a strange mixture of sleeping, snoring, and coughing. In retrospect, as good as the birding was, 5 hours in sub- zero temperatures was possibly a mistake.

Cue 5 days on sick leave, and 3 weeks near housebound with a lingering and randomly re- appearing cough meant that I was without birding for the majority of the month. January ground to a halt, as days dragged by- I'm a bloke, so always think that I'm going to die with every head cold, but this was an awful near- death even by my standards.

As I regained the will to live I decided to experiment with digiscoping my garden feeders. Eldest daughter had bought me a phone adaptor for the scope, and after a bit of practise I now have a new obsession. I’m sure with a bit of practise I’ll become adequate at it. Eldest daughter also, cheerfully, explained that the virus I had was being talked about as a hundred day cough. I am still in the early twenties. Clearly, I just have to grin and Bear it.

So, 3 weeks without proper birding, meant 3 weeks of GS pawing the floor in frustration. Mrs GS, by now sick of the sight of me, suggested that I should take a day off work, and head out. January 29th saw me head to Fairlie in North Ayrshire. My mate Bill had been there a wee while previously, and had told me the treasures that a lot of hard work would find. By this point, though, I was happy just being out, and to hell with finding treasure.

Naturally, life intervened and prevented me getting the planned early train. Arrived in Fairlie at noon, realised I had 4 hours to cover there and Hunterston Power Station, and back again. This wasn't a time for wandering aimlessly- I was on a mission!!

Predictably, the tide was almost full, and the beach at Fairlie was devoid of much. Did get redshank, oystercatcher, barwit, and best of all, a single little egret. A year tick, so something to cling to. A walk round the path failed to get greenshank (this was meant to be a near- guarantee site for them) and very little of note on the water. A scan into the lagoon got me teal and wigeon, dabchick, and nothing else. The light was awful, the wind was picking up, and having not used my 'birding eyes' for a few weeks I was genuinely struggling. Gave myself a kick up the backside, and decided that bad light, bad weather and bad eyesight would not defeat me.

A speed- walk along the main road and I reached my second destination, Hunterston. Previous visits had proven to be productive, and I was hopeful for woodland species, plus interesting stuff on the water. The woods were quiet, bar a couple of redwing. The tide- being full as I noted- meant that all I got were shelduck- about 20 of them- and common gull. For whatever reason I will never take common gull for granted.

The scrub on the approach road to the power station got a very bold male stonechat, which was worth pausing and watching for a while. As I was watching, an unmistakeable ‘cronk’ came from behind me. A couple of minutes scanning the treetops got a pair of raven. Tick 2 for the day.

The fields near the reactor buildings had good numbers of curlew and Canada geese- the curlew were spooked by something I couldn’t see, and rose in 2 groups of about 50 each. The strand line had oystercatcher, pied wagtail, and a pair of rock pipit doing rock pipit-y things. I eventually reached my usual spot, across the water from the derelict oil rig. There I got shag on the upper reaches of it, and cormorant lower down. Seeing them close together really makes the differences obvious- and I don’t just mean the crest.

Some seawatching got me eider, and lastly a single black guillemot in breeding plumage. Time was running out, ironically just as the clouds were clearing, and I packed up for a very fast walk back to Fairlie for the train. A deep train- sleep was pleasant (for me at least) and I eventually dragged my weary legs back home. Updating my year lists on Bubo, on here, and on Birdtrack, was the perfect ending



Its almost a cliché by now, but I find that its fundamentally joyful to be out birding. The fact that I’d missed 3 weeks made Fairlie all the sweeter, but it was equally good being out in Musselburgh at the start of the never- ending month. Both visits were hard work (I’ve yet to achieve Bill’s zen- like state where the birds come looking for him) and all the better for that.

I realised once again that there are different types of birding days. There are those where its wall to wall birding action, a veritable assault on the senses. There’s also those where its quieter, allows more time just to be out and appreciate your surroundings. What birding there is comes in fits and starts, or can be in the background that you do subconsciously while your mind wanders. You soak it up almost by osmosis, and only later- whether on a train, or at home on your couch, does your mind process the day, storing memories, and feelings. Your mind wandering to how best to express it in a Blog post.

Its not always easy being a birder, but by God, its always worthwhile.

Lets keep taking care of each other folks.


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