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The Wealth Of Our Knowledge (1 Viewer)

My rich vein of 'getting out' actually continued a couple of days after my visit to the clouds in the Sma' Glen. Avid readers will know that I have some fairly set habits and beliefs, with this extending into what I described as twitching birding sites. Some insinct tells me that I need to visit Ayrshire at certain times of the year, visit Musselburgh quite often, and get my RSPB woodland fix in late Spring. The same avid readers will also recall that every year I got to Inversnaid RSPB at Loch Lomond, and every year I vow to never even approach the damned place ever again.

This year....well, I was good as my word. The Monday after the Sma' Glen mystery tour I had booked the car and rather than head North, I headed South to the RSPB's Wood of Cree reserve in Dumfries & Galloway. Much longer journey, but ironically easier to get to. Go figure. My targets were still the same, summer migrants, flycatchers, wood warbler, redstart, tree pipit. Everything I would try (and mostly fail) to get at Inversnaid. My mate Bill had almost tempted me to go to the newer Loch Lomond reserve, but the temptation of a bigger day out and more birds at Wood of Cree won the day.

Everything was planned perfectly. Weather forecast the previous week had said showers. You know the saying if it wasn't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all? The rain started as I was loading up the car. The drive down was uneventful, other than being like a scene out of the 1960s show Stingray. Got to the reserve, started off at Barclye area, with a walk up through the woods. Immediately, got chiffchaff, with the obligatory wren trying to drown it out. (I dunno if I've only just noticed this whole wren v warbler war thats ongoing)

Also got blackcap, and up through the woods a bit, willow warbler. Nothing new, but I'll never complain. I crossed the fence into the new woods, and got quickly whitethroat. Next, moving over the wall (both the fence and wall had gates which I used, in case you think 49 year old me was clambering about) and got pheasant, sedge warbler and grasshopper warbler in the swampy areas adjacent to the path. An unexpected bonus (since the weather was unrelentingly awful) was the tree pipit landing in a tree above my head. Tick...... Spent a few minutes watching it, before heading back. Boots were saturated, trousers so wet the extra weight was starting to pull them down a bit.

Onto Wood of Cree itself. The river was in full spate, offering a deafening backdrop to my wander up the path. The roar of the waterfalls made bird listening a bit of an issue, but I did hear wood warbler quite quickly. A patient search got sight of one not far up the Woodland Trail path. Tick 2 for the day. I decided that since I was wet and muddy already, there was no point trying to be careful, so went fully immersive up the muddy trails. An absolute joy, to be honest. I love being in the woods, on some subconscious or primordial level, and love being muddy. I've never grown out of it. The rain had lessened to a drizzle, but tstill there, you know, and the birdsong pierced the still air. Proper birding. Although I could hardly see bugger all, given the height of the trees, the lack of sunlight, raindrops causing leaves to move, and just the scale of the place being a bit overwhelming (I'm really not used to that type of woodland) but I did get more Tree Pipit, and then on the way back down to the car park, pied flycatcher (something Loch Lomond doesn't seem to have yet)

3 ticks, and a great day. A long, long drive home, and I had a mad urge to go to Baron's Haugh. Garganey had been seen, and it wouldn't really be a twitch fi its the Haugh, would it? Got there at half 6, and with the whole Green Sand's luck thing, it was a lovely evening by this point. I was a bit worried about drink- crazed teens causing me problems, but the reserve was thankfully completely teen- free. No Garganey either admittedly, but I honestly didn't mind. Spent a lovely hour with warblers and gadwall, with water rail squealing its wee heart out.

There's something rugged and manly about being on a nature reserve in the evening, then walking slowly and tiredly back to the car. It'd be a lot less rugged and manly getting chased by a drunk teen, but still...

The usual quiet week followed, with me sitting at a desk in front of the window, trying to work, but distracted by better things like greenfinches. Life/ Dad duties and all that stuff interfered with the weekend until after lunch on the Sunday. My so- called knowledge gave me the idea of heading to Lochwinnoch, the site at this time last year of garganey, lesser redpoll and black- winged stilt. Nothing like that mentioned this time, but it'd been quite a while since I'd last been, the mud scrapes seem to be quite productive, and there's always a chance of something unusual on the feeders. So, Lochwinnoch it was.....

Avid readers of my much older posts will recall that my relationship with Lochwinnoch has been strained in the past. The best thing they've done, though, is the redevelopment work in front of the visitor centre. A cheery greeting from the volunteers on duty, and confirmation that both ringed plover and little ringed plover were on the scrapes. A trip up to the tower gave a better vantage point, but looking for small buff- coloured birds on dried mud was always going to be a challenge. Quite proud that a systematic search got both species, with 2 LRPs showing marked differences in their eye- rings. A wander along the path was pleasant, and got swift screaming overhead. Year tick 2- and my only swifts thus far this year. Curiosity of the day, though, was a collared dove eating seed from a caged feeder. Where there's a will, etc.

By good fortune I was off work the following Friday, and headed to Musselburgh- it had been a while, genuinely, since my last trip. I knew it was the right time of year for terns, and Musselburgh is as good a place as any for common tern. I was also hopeful of getting somethign interesting on the scrapes. Birdtrack tells me that I got 39 species that day, in what was possibly the hardest birding of the year. Not a breath of wind to be had, and the sea was perfectly calm. Very little birdlife on the water, bar eider and the usual gulls. The scrapes were also very quiet, in terms of numbers of species and numbers of birds of each species. Lots of sand martin action over the water, and my guess on my previous trip that I had been a smidge too early for them seemed to have been on the money.

A slow plod back toward the town centre was interrupted by an enormous splash behind me. I pivoted, and saw a common tern rising from the water with something struggling in its beak. This should give you an idea of just how quiet the day was- its the first time that I've ever heard a bird- even something as huge as a gannet- entering the water. A moment of bird life, not just a tick.

The next Monday was one of those birding days where every piece falls into place perfectly. Bill had suggested we meet up locally to aid my search for Uddingston's parakeets. Oh, and otter. And kingfisher. Cheerfully, he told me that these were 3 species he gets every day as he's walking his dogs. So no pressure on Green Sand.

Warm and sunny morning, enough of a gentle breeze to keep the air from being stifling. A slow wander along the Clyde was a walk into a wall of noise. Warblers in their masses, a cacophany of corvids, goosander and mallard on the water. Patience, decent hearing and an eye for movement eventually got us the parakeets. Bright green birds, in green trees, but we got them. First Lanarkshire parakeets, and first time seeing them in the proper 'wild' as I'm a snob about ticking them in a Glasgow public park. Further patience, coupled with Bill's knowledge, got us kingfisher shortly after. Until then I'd started having the gnawing fear that I'd struggle to get it this year, so a sense of relief at getting the tick, replaced with sheer fun watching it going up and down the river hunting. Bird life, etc..... The same amount of patience, skill and sheer good luck got the otter. Massive, but skulking and mysterious. Enough to put a smile on anyone's face.

No further ticks, but still one of those trips (it was a 15 minute walk from my front door, so 'trip' probably is a bit misleading) where all the pieces needed for damned fine birding fell into place.

Another quick trip to Cathkin Marsh the next weekend got nothing new, but was another perfect hour in the sunshine. The successful completion of Dad tasks for the rest of the day gained enough Brownie points to get the car the next day. I decided that the Sma' Glen, in sunlight, would make up for the Sma' Glen in no light. Go there relatively early, and set myself up in the usual abandoned farmhouse/ shieling. Blue skies, a warm breeze, conditions perfect for sunbathing. Birding, though, slightly harder work. Got wheatear relatively easily, and 3 buzzards at a time (including one channelling its inner kestrel by hovering) Patience, and a sore neck staring at the ridgetop through the scope eventually got me a single red kite. It seemed that the raptors had decided to mostly spend their day over the ridge, on the shooty- shooty bang bang estate. The fools.....

I've mentioned the dark days, where I spent my time pursuing women and alcohol, rather than wandering through mud staring into trees. I'm a relative latecomer to the idea of 'day- out' birding or birding trips, and I'll never ever take for granted those times when 'knowledge' and 'fieldcraft' come up trumps to create a perfect day.

Which gets me onto how fickle it can be. Just because something worked one year, or one month, doesn't mean that it will automatically work the next. There are no guarantees, sand its this which makes every day an adventure.

Stay healthy, stay safe.

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