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Treading Water And The Impending Rush (1 Viewer)

I've realised that my blog titles have started to resemble the episode names from the MacGyver reboot....

Quiet couple of weeks, both in the garden and in my wanderings. 'Making do' is now such an automatic thing that I don't give it a second thought, really, unless I'm in a reflective mood. Last Saturday was a 'dropping daughter off at work day' and for once she had a shift that suited me. Having dropped sleepy teen off, I nipped into Hogganfield Loch for a wander- on basis of "well, I'm here now." Car park was pretty busy, and took me about 20 minutes to get a space. There was a lone mum trying to get her young child into the car and dismantle the NASA- designed pushchair. I got as far as opening the car door to go and help her, when I stopped myself. Its hard to dismantle a pram from 2 metres away. We're now at a stage where simple acts of helping each other pose a risk. I really, really want this to be over so we can go back to being normal again.

Anyway, the path was busy but not oppressively so. Usual selection of waterfowl eating bread, barely registered. I had seen on social media that there was a female scaup, which I thought was possibly find- able. I'd vaguely recalled also that there was a redhead smew and Iceland gull, but hadn't given either much thought. This was due to a) smews being a real bogey bird, and b) I'm useless at gulls. I may have mentioned this before, in passing... A Singing chiffchaff had been mentioned, seemingly in the direction of the 'potential' place I had scouted a few weeks ago.

Once safely parked, I got my stuff ready. I looked up, and there was a birder staring out at one of the rafts. I sauntered up, keeping distant, but didn't say anything, as I'm actually pretty shy. Being a sociable birder, he asked if I'd seen the Iceland gull, which had just flown in front of him. It landed on the raft, and for someone who hasn't a clue about gulls, even I managed to find it. Year tick 1. Had no expectations of getting one this year. Not often you get a bonus bird as your first of the day. As much as I'm clueless about gulls, it is amazing how your subconscious identifies something 'different.'

Got chatting to the bloke, who is a regular visitor to Baron's Haugh, and we discussed our fantasy plans for lockdown's end. Parted ways to walk round the loch separately (clockwise vs anti- clockwise) Within abut 20 seconds I looked out onto the loch..... and got the smew. Ridiculously close in. The other birder shouted over and made sure I had got on it. Unexpected year tick 2, bonus bird 2. It was a lovely touch for him to make sure I had seen it; birders at their best and for such a simple act, it kind of made my day.

A wander round the path got GC grebe and pochard, among the usual suspects. No sign of the scaup- that I could see anyway, though every tufty, male and female, was sleeping.

No calling chiffchaff either, but here's the mad thing. I was glad. I wanted my first chiffchaff of the year to be a 'home' tick, either Uddingston or at a push, Baron's Haugh. If anyone can make any sense out of me, more power to you. 2 ticks, both bonus birds for the year. All those years I'd turned my nose up about Hoggy being a public park and unfit for birding..... Green Sand can be a bit of an eejit sometimes.

By this point it was only about 11.30. Quick stop for a sandwich, then headed for Windlaw marsh/ Coulter's Wood on and near the Cathkin Braes. I parked at the Braes car park, thinking of a wee walk down to stretch the legs. The 2014 Commonwealth Games turning the braes into a mountain bike course is an environmental crime. Needless to say, not much birdlife bar 2 pairs of great tits and loads of corvids. Made it down to the Windlaw Marsh, with more corvids and a water rail squealing. By this point there were very few people, so I wandered along the course of a burn I had never seen before (!) Glad that I did, as I quickly got a male stonechat, which was equally quickly followed by its missus. I watched them for a bit, then left them to get on with business. Before seeing them I had a feeling the area was suitable territory, but had no expectations of seeing them at all. Chuffed to bits. 3rd tick, 3rd jammy bird. Always relieved when I get stonechat as I don't have a place where I feel guaranteed to get one. Year tick 3. 70 for the year.

Made it over to Coulter's Wood, and got a bit frustrated that there was now a housing development encroaching and backing right onto the boundary now. The woods were also bird- free, apart from a pair of great tits and at least 1 goldcrest. I was also quite pleased that despite years of listening to rawk music, I could still hear the goldies. Other wildlife notably present was a queen white- tailed bumblebee. Nice sign of spring.

There are massive areas of gorse, which are begging for yellowhammer, but not even the slightest wheeziest wisp of a wheeze. No chiffchaff. Pleasant enough walk off- trail in a really nice wood, but it seems to offer so much more than it provides. Will be worthwhile trying again in a few weeks.

The walk back to the car park across a field got a couple of roe deer, but no birds of note.

Still feeling quite chilled, and with the warm glow that fresh air and time spent outdoors seems to generate, I headed for Uddingston and home. En route, I stopped off for a wander to Fin Me Oot. The Dead Woods were slightly less dead for once, with Gt Tits and blackbirds. The dungheaps had fieldfare calling, but little else. In saying this, the presence of fieldfare at this time of year is surely worth recording. Three roe deer grazed nonchalantly across the river toward the Manse at Brackenbrae. My mind tuned out the sound of traffic from the nearby road, and the ambient noise of 2 decent sixed villages close by. The only noise I was aware of was my own breathing, and bird call. This was connecting with the outdoors, and I felt the benefit of the rush of positive endorphins.

At the green bridge over the Rotten Calder, I got a pair of grey wag, looks like they may be nesting in a crevice in the tunnel wall (there's a lamp on the right wall, the crevice is behind it. No dipper seen, but overall I can't complain. Across the river and a walk up to the Legoland housing estate at Newton, got me nothing, while the walk back to the car got a buzzard.

3 year ticks, all of them on the lucky side, albeit the stonechat was due to being in the right habitat so some semblance of fieldcraft involved. A nice walk in the woods and a forgettable walk on Cathkin Braes to satisfy that week's version of "I wonder...." after my bright idea of visiting the windfarm. A pair of grey wag to top it off, though, wasn't to be sneezed at.

I love the old film The Day After, the 1980s comedy about nuclear holocaust. There's a bit where the nukes go off, and it goes downhill from there, but in the build up to it there's silence, as if the whole world is holding its breath waiting for the inevitable. I was thinking of this in my wanderings that spring is so close I can feel it just ready to erupt.

This weekend just passed, though, I was restricted to garden watching and a walk to Fin Me Oot yesterday. Chiffchaff had been seen in places all around Uddingston, but I had no word of any being found actually IN Uddingston. Memory served me well that I've had chiffchaff at Fin Me Oot in March before. Normally, being able to hear them from a couple of miles away in Uddingston proper. The storms of the previous night seemed to have left everything shell- shocked, there was a sense that the land had been battered in the gales. The ground was sodden underfoot (I love mud, but there's limits you know) and the air was thick with dampness. Intermittent showers didn't help.

Welcome to Lanarkshire in Spring.

Reaching Fin Me Oot, I got my favourite pair of grey wagtails, plus the usual selection of corvids. Moving along the path toward the green bridge, I intended to head up to Newton- the Legoland estate of identikit houses which have wrecked what was once a wonderful expanse of wild land. In the field adjacent to the path I heard the distinct call of fieldfare, and I looked over. 8 individuals took off and headed for the trees. After barely seeing a fieldfare all winter, I'm seeing them regularly in the Spring. Just as I predicted, but I'll try to control my smugness;)

Halfway down the path I heard, just, a chiffchaff calling from across the river. Literally, a second's worth, but still enough to be sure. An audible chiffchaff doesn't meet Green Sand's standard, so I set out to find it. Unfortunately, this coincided with another squally shower, and the chiffchaff went quiet again. I scouted out some of the places (literally, specific bushes and trees) where I've had them before (local knowledge...) but no joy. The shower ended, and within seconds the calling started again. I was able to track it down, and very conveniently, it popped up to the top of a tree. Proper tick. A 'home' tick, and much more rewarding than seeing it at Hogganfield, or at CAthkin Braes. As a bonus, a second male started singing about 30 yards away, and I left them to their singing duel. Good luck little guys.

A wander back got little of note, albeit it pushed the limits of my 'waterproof' jacket.

A couple of years ago, a fortnight's birding being restricted to a trip to Hoggy and a wander to Fin Me Oot would have left me feeling, quite ridiculously, frustrated. Now, though, its absolutely fine. 'Making do' doesn't do it justice as it sounds quite bland, and at worst makes birding locally seem like something thats being tolerated. Its not that, genuinely. Its being embraced.

I still have the tension building up for the 'big release' of Scotland's travel restrictions lifting, expectation, excitement and hope tempered with a genuine fear that we'll manage to screw it up for ourselves. As a gift to myself, I've allowed my mind to wander, to think about visiting the places that have been cut off for so long. To dream, but not for long. Because when it comes down to it, being out birding, feeling mud seeping into your boots, the rain down the back of your neck, and the sun shining in your eyes?

THAT is the dream.

Stay healthy, stay safe folks. We're getting there.


Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
I would love you to wear a gopro when you go birding onto you local patches so the visuals and sounds complete the wonderful narratives! 🙂 Such as it is, what you skilfully convey in your descriptive writing has no bounds other than that of my own limited imaginative capacity to become wholly absorbed in your birding blogs - not as an observer but as a fellow birder enjoying going birding with you on your local patch! Thanks for another great blog entry John.

Green Sandpiper

Well-known member
I would love you to wear a gopro when you go birding onto you local patches so the visuals and sounds complete the wonderful narratives! 🙂 Such as it is, what you skilfully convey in your descriptive writing has no bounds other than that of my own limited imaginative capacity to become wholly absorbed in your birding blogs - not as an observer but as a fellow birder enjoying going birding with you on your local patch! Thanks for another great blog entry John.
Thank you so much Deb!! I think a GoPro audiotrack would ruin the mystique somewhat!! At least let me back to the gym for a while so I can stop sounding like a fish on a bike! Once the rainy season stops (sorry, IF the rainy season stops) I'll make an effort to do more photography, I promise!!
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