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This Used To Be My Playground (1 Viewer)

The village where I grew up is no longer, by any reasonable measure, a village. The transformation of derelict industrial and former agricultural land into massive, identikit housing estates. My house, and the streets I played in, are still there, but the village of Halfway in South Lanarkshire is no longer recognisable. Leaving aside the ecological and human geography aspect of urbanisation, there's something poignant about going back. Sure, the back roads (as we call them) are the same, many of the fields are also the same as they were 30 odd years ago (it helps if the field is on a steep incline as developers can't be bothered compensating for it) but you don't have to travel far to stray onto the unfamiliar. To stray onto the saddening reality of change.

Ironically, despite the changes I still say that I come from there. I've lived in Uddingston for 24 years, mind. I think I've mentioned that Green Sand sometimes makes no sense.

As you'll know by now, Lockdown 2021 style has meant that I've been restricted in where I've been doing my birding. I've not even taken advantage of South Lanarkshire's strange geography by pushing its southern boundaries, and have predominantly stayed pretty close to Uddingston. This has meant visiting some old haunts much more often than usual, including my birding spiritual home, Baron's Haugh RSPB. Its no exaggeration to say my relationship with The Haugh had become fractured or strained over the years. The quality of birds had, I felt, declined and I was tempted and teased by the promise of birding riches elsewhere in Scotland. But the Haugh had always been 'home'.

I mentioned recently how startling it was for me to suddenly realise that birding in Fine Me Oot had become home to me. I realised this week the flip side- when a place you call home suddenly becomes alien to you, when that bond is broken, when you suddenly feel that you're done with a place. You no longer have a sense of belonging

As normal, the past couple of weeks have involved working from home and garden watching. Plenty of activity in the garden, albeit not a huge variety of species. The bright points have been chiffchaffs singing close by, and on one memorable morning, involved in a sing- off with a song thrush. The usual drudgery of work, albeit with a view out into the garden, is made bearable by the hope and expectation of getting out at the weekend. And so we came to the long Easter weekend.....

Plans were set for at least 2 days out over the weekend, which fell apart due to a tyre blow- out and Mrs Green Sand being a bit poorly after her second Covid jag. Lots of TLC needed for Mrs GS, birding could wait. Sunday arrives, and proved just how much of birding is sheer luck. My mate Bill had tipped me off about Blackcap arriving back, and not only being in Uddingston, but being on the same stretch of trees that they nest in every year. Cue the over- confidence..... Got out early, unlike most weekends, to find that the rest of Uddingston had also had the same idea. Pathways jammed with walkers, joggers, cyclists, prams, etc. Plenty of chiffchaff and GSW, no sign of the blackcap bar some half- heard call from a mile upstream. I wasn't ticking that. Though ask me again in September if I still haven't had one.

A wander upstream to Bothwell Castle, where sand martins nest every year (crumbling sandstone walls are clearly as useful as crumbling sandbank) was similarly fruitless. Bill had messaged me a couple of days earlier giving me a running total on the sand martins he was seeing. I stopped reading the texts at 20....
All in all a pleasant enough walk, too many people for my liking, and definitely not enough birds, but you should never turn your nose up at a walk in the countryside.

Roll on bank holiday Monday, and I decided to visit Baron's Haugh, my birding spiritual home. The early start on the Sunday couldn't be replicated, naturally, and I hit the car park at lunchtime. The very full car park.

Dalzell Woods was the place I saw my first ever Blackcap, and there's an emotional tie to it. I've tried to get my year tick there as many times as I could. Sadly, while I boast about the Haugh's wall of noise during the summer, the noise on Monday was kids, not warblers. Birdlife was almost non- existant, barring the usual tits and corvids. The walk to the River down the Chestnut Walk saw my sense of frustration grow. A chiffchaff called forlornly from Easter Braes. The skies were empty of hirundines, whether the cold had kept them away or whether the sightings from days earlier had been passage birds. The river was quiet, bar a pair of goosander sleeping. My pace accelerated, I truly wasn't enjoying weaving in and out of the various non- birders, this was a trip I wanted to end, and my heart sank a little at the thought.

Reaching the main pathway, close to the Causeway Hide, I glanced onto the Haugh proper. There, darting low over the water, came a pair of sand martins. A year tick. The Causeway and Marsh hides produced a gadwall and moorhen, respectively, with a dozen more sand martins appearing. The trudge back to the car produced nothing in the woods, even the chiffchaff had fallen silent. As you know, I try to be as positive about being outside as I can, but this trip made even the brightest outlook a struggle.

I had booked time off midweek, and went walking with my son. We're due to do the west Highland Way this summer, as I've mentioned, and he's utterly unused to any long- distance walks. Also, spending time with a 14 year old is something to treasure while it lasts. Within 2 minutes of reachign the Clyde, I heard the sweetest, most melodious sound of the year. The unmistakable song of a willow warbler, not some weak, exhausted 'seep' of a bird just arrived, but a full- throated announcement to the WW ladies. It was a sunny day anyway, but this blew even the lightest clouds away. To cap it all, a glance up got me a half dozen sand martins circling overhead.

And thats when it hit me.

Not only was I glad to have heard the willow warbler, a WW in its prime no less, I was more than glad to have seen it in Uddingston, to see it close to home. More than that, when I saw the sand martins I wished then that I hadn't seen them at Baron's Haugh. I wished that my first sighting of the year had been in Uddingston. The Haugh has stopped being my spiritual birding home, the emotional ties that bound it to me as the first real reserve I had visited, are severed. Just like Halfway and its massive housing estates isn't the Halfway of my childhood, so too the Baron's Haugh of 2021 isn't the Baron's Haugh of 10- 12 years ago.

A week with 2 year ticks, while still in lockdown. A week with plenty of time spent in fresh air. Overall, still a good week.

We're 2 weeks away from travel restrictions in Scotland being eased, and despite my paranoia about wee bams drinking in the park wrecking it, I allowed myself to dream a little. Father-in-law's car is booked for 26th- 28th April, Birdtrack data has been downloaded for April in Inversnaid, Musselburgh, and Fowlsheugh.... A small dream, admittedly, but I think the dark days of January and February mean I've earned it. We've ALL earned it.

Stay heathy, stay safe folks. We're definitely getting there.

John
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
I know exactly what you mean. Fleet Pond used to be unmistakably my local patch but no longer. Too many people walking round yelling into mobile phones, or just looking into them while walking silently, earphone deaf to all wildlife: a distinct air of keep to the paths in woods where I have climbed every substantial tree as a boy and threaded every gap hunting down birds as a newbie birder. Reedbeds decimated by Canada Geese to the point where Bitterns no longer winter - my record was five on the ice at once, in a winter where the ice was not strong enough to ride my bike across the pond as in my youth. I think I've been there once this year and it seemed birdless, unfriendly. Not my patch any more.

John
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
I know exactly what you mean. Fleet Pond used to be unmistakably my local patch but no longer. Too many people walking round yelling into mobile phones, or just looking into them while walking silently, earphone deaf to all wildlife: a distinct air of keep to the paths in woods where I have climbed every substantial tree as a boy and threaded every gap hunting down birds as a newbie birder. Reedbeds decimated by Canada Geese to the point where Bitterns no longer winter - my record was five on the ice at once, in a winter where the ice was not strong enough to ride my bike across the pond as in my youth. I think I've been there once this year and it seemed birdless, unfriendly. Not my patch any more.

John
The expanse of undulating, clay pits, excavated by a long since defunct, plant pot factory that were once my 'playground', have long since been buried under urban sprawl. A rough area I used to inhabit, right near my house, now has a four lane bypass running over it, most of my childhood, no longer exists.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Oddly enough, right in front of my old house, near the clay pits that were, was also a pretty large field c200 x 100m which in the 70's was surrounded by tennis court type fencing but not developed as anything. The ground inside was not prepared like a football pitch but just short enought to play football on. It was however rough and undisturbed enough in places, to attract Skylarks and I would try endlessly, to find a nest here. I'd watch a bird land, wait a while and then try and find the nest which I thought back then, would be easy.

I never did find a Skylark nest but oddly, that large field is still there, still, completely unused, undeveloped, seemingly out of place. A rough, unused but semi enclosed plot, fences all long since broken down with just the 3m high supports and remnants of the link fencing remaining but still totally undeveloped which makes you wonder what's under there that they can't build on it?
 
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Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
Scotland
Oddly enough, right in front of my old house, near the clay pits that were, was also a pretty large field c200 x 100m which in the 70's was surrounded by tennis court type fencing but not developed as anything. The ground inside was not prepared like a football pitch but just short enought to play football on. It was however rough and undisturbed enough in places, to attract Skylarks and I would try endlessly, to find a nest here. I'd watch a bird land, wait a while and then try and find the nest which I thought back then, would be easy.

I never did find a Skylark nest but oddly, that large field is still there, still, completely unused, undeveloped, seemingly out of place. A rough, unused but semi enclosed plot, fences all long since broken down with just the 3m high supports and remnants of the link fencing remaining but still totally undeveloped which makes you wonder what's under there that they can't build on it?
funny you should say that, i've seen developments in places where there should never be. A massive estate has been built on the site of a computer compnents factory, with very little done to clean up the the land from the heavy metals contamination. My old school playing fields were laid over a toxic chromium dump. The houses surrounding it were a thyroid cancer cluster, and I've always wondered whether my own lackadaisical thyroid is a consequence of spending hours doing PE there each week.
 

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