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Twitching (1 Viewer)

I'm not a twitcher, I may have mentioned this occasionally, and I'd rather immerse myself in bird- life than spend my scarce free time travelling miles to tick off a bird. Plus, I'm crap at it and have a very low success rat.

So, I'm not a twitcher of birds. But is it possible to be a twitcher of birdwatching sites or places? I don't mean having a dream list of places to go and dealing with the crushing realisation, say, that with three kids I ain't ever going to the skyforests in Central America. I mean, the places we know and have been, places we enjoy, places we can (mostly) rely on to meet our needs and be productive.

This last weekend is an example. Having had an unproductive couple of weeks, including soul- destroying trips to Lochwinnoch and Baron's Haugh RSPB reserves, excitement had been building up for being allowed out, even for a brief few hours.

I had narrowed my choice down to 3- all of them good sites, all of them offering something, abd all of them shockingly neglected by me. Between Musselburgh, the Sma' Glen, and RSPB Inversnaid, I opted for the hidden gem of the RSPB reserve on Loch Lomondside. My visit last year had seen me tick redstart, spotted flycatcher, pied fly, tree pipit, and wood warbler. All ticks I'd have to travel for, and with the added bonus of it being a beautiful location.

The journey there from Lanarkshire combines mundane motorway driving, with bowel- loosening single track roads- and i use the word road optimistically here. After the first couple of blind corner/ blind drop bends in the road, I remembered having vowed to take the Loch ferry if I ever ventured back. Ah well, twice bitten, etc.

Made it to the reserve, and with a tight deadline, I knew I had to maximise my time there. Having driven past a couple of walkers wearing midge nets over their heads I began wishing I had come slightly better prepared for what awaited. On the plus side, the car was dive bombed by my first house martin of the year. Already, the trip was a success.

The information board at the start of the reserve path offered some idea of sightings, but without dates it was hard to judge accuracy. Thankfully, the spinning coin call of wood warbler immediately put my mind at ease. 2 year ticks, my optimism cautiously grew.

The path uphill through the woodland is a beautiful, noisy, midge- filled piece of heaven. Movement immediately caught my eye- for once my 'eye was in' right away- and a pair of nuthatch went wandering down a tree. Year tick 3, and the irony of being unable to find any of the dozen pairs of nuthatch at Baron's Haugh, my local reserve, or in Bothwell Castle woods- 10 minutes walk from home- wasn't lost on me.

A brief pause in warbler song got a plaintive, distant but distinct cuckoo calling. Immediately, another answered from closer by. Year tick 4. A look uphill toward the crags saw the first one being chased by something small and indistinguishable. I reached the place where I'd seen redstart last year, and waited. The midges, though, saw me as a buffet, and eventually I had to move on. A walk to the hilltop viewpoint got me wonderful views south on Loch Lomond and more bites.

Walking back, I stopped again for redstart, by now also concerned over the lack of flycatchers. A nestbox is situated very near the path (great planning RSPB chaps) and I didn't linger. Fieldcraft and all that.

Further down he path a flash of dull gold to my right got me wood warbler showing wonderfully. Movement above it saw a pied flycatcher launch itself over my head. This in turn disturbed a spot fly, and by now I was impervious to midge bites and stood open- mouthed at the aerobatics around me. Finally, as I prepared to move I sawwhat I assumed was a thrush land in a tree close by. Something about its jizz didn't fit, though, and once I wiped dead insects from my binos, my hopes were confirmed- Tree Pipit. It even went for a flight around the woods for me.

Flushed with a sense of achievement, and relief, a wander back to the car park got 3 male mergansers fighting over a lone female, before all 4 headed north up the loch. Back to the car to write up my notes, scratch my bites, and just sit, with a huge smile on my face. 7 year ticks, although the bird life meant I was enjoying myself too much to keep score.

Having achieved this, I'm now getting desperate for the Sma' Glen. And Musselburgh. And Torness. And Ayrshire. And the Clyde Estuary. Looks like I'm a twitcher after all.

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