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You don't have to be mad..... (1 Viewer)

....but it helps.

The old cliche, usually seen on the wide of coffee mugs or desk name plates, gently mocking where we work. The eccentricities of office working, and the different personalities contained within, got me thinking of how others perceive us birders. Don't get me wrong, I'm fey enough that I don't lie awake worrying, though it'd be nice if there were more of us caring about the environment, I suppose.

One of my favourite 'bird books' is Mark Cocker's 'Tales Of A Tribe.' Reading it as a birder, I wondered just how a non- birder, an outside from the 'tribe' would perceive it, and by extension us?

I'm the first person to admit I'm a smidge eccentric- I actually like that about me- which added to my feyness is a ripe breeding ground for doing, well, slightly bonkers things.

Thus I found myself in early October musing about the things I hadn't done in a while.

"I haven't been to Aberlday in ages, its worth a visit" was the thought of a madman. Unfortunately, the madman was me.

The original plan was to visit Aberlady, then catch the bus back to Musselburgh, as it had been a fortnight or so since I last visited, and I was pining for it. The rail strike meant that train services were extremely limited, and my plan involved getting the bus at 6.15am, then the coach to Edinburgh, then the bus outward. Fully costed, fully timed, budget allocated, sandwiches sorted. Surprised myself by only sleeping in a bit, and was able to get the 07:45 bus to Glasgow. In Green Sand land a delay of 90 minutes is "a bit."

Could have got the half 7 train via Shotts, but I'd then have crossed a picket line at Waverley, it felt a bit too scabby for my liking. (I grew up in a mining village in the 1980s, for reference) The coach journey was uneventful, maybe a bit busier than I've seen it (more on this later...) and I got into Edinburgh without incident. Made it to the bus stop for the connecting bus, just in time. Bus driver sorted me out with cheapest ticket option. I was on a roll here.

Got off at Aberlady village, for reasons as yet unknown, and had to walk to the reserve- the reserve has a bus stop outside it. Anyway, the fun began pretty quickly. The tide was out, and had loads of pink-footed geese near the car par, with more arriving all the time. Groups of 50- 100, so not massive, but still a spectacle. Loads of shelduck, in various stages of plumage, and a pair of little egret up the creek. Redshank, oycs, and a few curlew as well. Very windy, so not many wee brown jobbies kicking about. The walk along the path was relatively uneventful, though I may have missed a lot by staring skyward at the pinkies. Speaking of which, a good few barnies in amongst them as well.

I've mentioned before that Aberlady isn't always the easiest or most successful place for me to bird. It makes you work for it, which makes it all the more worthwhile. Anyway, carrying the scope meant that my usual gazelle- like leaping up the sand dunes wasn't an option, so I walked the long way round. Nothing much about, a single meadow pipit called, even the rabbits were absent. A group of kids asked me what was about, which was very sweet of them. They'd seen a Reed Bunting or Stonechat (they weren't too sure) and lots of sanderling. Once I was on the beach i realised that yes, there were lots of sanderling. Great seeing them through the scope. Gift of sight restored......

The tide was on its way in, when a beardy bloke asked me the same question as the kids had. We agreed the sea was very quiet. He bemoaned the fact that all he had seen were Red- throated divers, velvets and common scoters. I'd love to live somewhere where you could get blase about RT Divers, though I'd hate it if I ever DID get blase about RT Divers. He helpfully told me they were visible off Gullane Point, and looked dubiously at the incoming tide. Amazing how fast you can go through unstable sand when there's a gale blowing the tide in from the North Sea.

I just made it to the rocks before my feet got wet. Group of teens on some outward bounds event were sheltering from the wind. Bunch of wimps. I set up the scope in an exposed spot to give me as good a look to the left and right as I could. The wind blew the squall over the marsh and by- passed the Point, though the wind was pretty strong. Needless to say, plenty of eider on the water. A scan to the right got a rocky promontory full of cormorant. A single GBB Gull was floating in the water, then as the sun broke through the murk, a RT diver was swimming pretty close in. Not a year tick, but much better view than across the River Clyde with a cruise liner in the background.

I kept scanning for scoter- and my patience was rewarded with reasonable views of a half dozen commons. Year tick 1. A further scan got some velvet as well, but not many. Scanning onto the rocks to the right and I got a load of turnstone, a load of lapwing, and best of all a half dozen golden plover. The tide flushed them within a couple of minutes, but still, year tick 2, and was happy with that. 2 ticks in awful weather, like I said, you earn your ticks sometimes. Decided to forego a detour to Musselburgh. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.

Back at the car park, the tide was in so the pinkies and shelduck were jammed together on the shallowest areas. The same kids from earlier then came up to me and asked me to I.D a photo they had taken. Female sparrowhawk on a kill. Good for them, not only great to see kids being interested in birds, but also getting a marque photo. It reminded me of the time at Fin Me Oot where I chatted to the non- birders out for a walk. Gave me a glow. Which I needed as the return journey was horrific, due to it coinciding with football fans, shoppers, and travellers all trying to cram ourselves onto a Glasgow- bound coach. Not entirely sure why I didn't just wait for the next one. Mad, I tell you.....

Couple of weeks later, had the use of my father-in-law's car. Opted to travel to those places untouched by public transport, in addition to Musselburgh. After sleeping in a bit, I was going to limit myself to Musselburgh, but as I was starving and really fancied a McDonald's, I headed to Dunbar instead. Suitably fed on junk food, I tried Torness Power Station, but the place was devoid of birds, and I didn't even make it into the car park. On a whim, I headed off into the Innerwick area in the hope for red- legged Partridge. This wasn't so much local knowledge, or even seasoned experience, but definitely 'ach it worked before....'

And it worked again. Got a pair of them at the gateway of the farm near Thurston House. They kindly let me watch them for ten minutes before scooting off. I swiftly made my exit from the area, whilst getting lost of course. That whole area is too Straw Dogs- like for me, that and its far too hunty-shooty-fishy. In the past I've come across a row of dead moles strung up on a fence. Its that kind of place.

I made it back to civilisation- as much as Dunbar is civilisation- and from there to Musselburgh. My father-in-law had a curfew for his car, for once, and I hadn't left myself enough time to both go to the scrapes and the sea wall (technically, the sea fence....) I decided to stick to the sea wall, and I had an inkling I might get twite on the fence. Not really local knowledge, a bit of seasoned experience, a large dollop of "it was on twitter" and a definite splash of 'ach it worked before.' I was optimistic I hadn't exhausted my supply of 'ach it worked before' magic dust.

I scanned the water, got a seal, a guillemot, a LT- duck and a GC grebe in its winter outfit. Loud chirping drew my attention to the fence, where a couple of dozen twite sat being all twitey. Year tick 2 for the day, and 149 for the year. Twite are never gurantees for me, nor are RL partridge, so I was incredibly happy to get both on the same day. 149 also made me happy, given that I missed near enough12 weekends earlier in the year. On the other hand, I would have got nowhere near it without the scope, so the 12 weekends working overtime paid for themselves.

149 was awfully close to a nice, round- ish number, and on the drive home I found myself trying to work out whether I could get to Arrochar for hooded crow before December 31st. That would be awfully twitchy- and I'm not a twitcher. Driving that distance to sit in the car (cos I refuse to pay £8 to park) and look for a crow is also pretty far along the 'eccentric' scale.

Now, I know I say I'm not a twitcher..... I heard that cattle egret were in the area of Hunterston Power station in Ayrshire. I've been there before this year, but the lure of '150' had me on a train to Ayrshire at silly o'clock on my birthday. Had the massive stroke of luck to bump into much better birders than me, and managed to tick a sleeping pintail on the mud/ sands, and then get the cattle egret in the fields. 34 total species, including a lifer, and 151 species for the year. Many miles walked, as I turned down the chance of a lift, and sore feet on the train back to Glasgow. Well worth it.

The next week, though, I was brought back down to earth spectacularly. I had the use of my own car for once. I figured I was on a roll, so I would head to Dumfries and Galloway to try for willow tit at Ken- Dee Marshes RSPB, plus the white- fronted geese. The aim being to finish off with a visit to Caerlaverock WWT in the hope of hen harrier. I was on a roll, see...

Weather forecast on BBC said light showers. Not great, but survivable. Bit breezy said forecast, which was even less great, but there are hides you know. Amazing the lengths you go to to rationalise behaviour when every instinct is telling you that you're mad.

The RSPB website said hides are under repair at Ken- Dee, so I decided on a quick, in-and-out flying visit. The 'light showers' were actually a constant downpour from Hamilton onward. The car was aquaplaning for large parts on the motorway through South Lanarkshire. Still, I was determined... and a little stupid.

I got to Ken Dee area, and the road was already flooded. Water pouring across it from the hills, the fields were flooded, and nary a sign of a goose. Or many other birds actually. Got to the car park, and got out for a pee, with the wind nearly blowing the car door away. Being increasingly stupid, I decided to carry on with my quick walk in and out. Got my stuff together, and set off. A single red kite was the only bird to be seen. Was absolutely saturated within 10 minutes, and eventually turned back after 20. Got back to the car, and as I was putting my stuff away, my binocs case got blown away in the wind. I didn't notice til I got home. A quick internet search in the car park told me that Caerlaverock was advising folk to stay away due to flooding. I took this as a sign to go home.....

180 miles for a single red kite during a weather warning blurred the lines between eccentricity and lunacy. But do you know something? It added as much to Green Sand's birding tapestry as a massive day out.

I love reading and hearing birding tales. I love learning the stories of folk who have birded in exotic places, or who have birded long enough to have almost seen and done it all. I especially love the ones that are self- deprecating, or in other ways amusing. I love being able to add to this with my own tales.

I don't mind whether 'outsiders' laugh at me, or us. I do like it when we, ourselves acknowledge our oddities, our (minor or major) eccentricities, and the sheer fun that we have. Maybe outsiders will pick up on that, and see that birding can bring a bit of joy on even the darkest days.

Anyway, take care folks. Stay healthy, stay safe, and lets look after each other during the hard times.

Hi John another well written piece and a very enjoyable read. Had me chuckling a few times and yes we have all made rational decisions which those from outwith the community would definitely not agree with. Like the time I did a 453 mile round trip in one day to see spoonbils but it was worth it.
If I Had known you wanted to tick a red legged partridge you could have come up to Lanark as i have had one visiting the garden recently for the last 3 to 4 weeks. No idea why or where it came from.


Hi John another well written piece and a very enjoyable read. Had me chuckling a few times and yes we have all made rational decisions which those from outwith the community would definitely not agree with. Like the time I did a 453 mile round trip in one day to see spoonbils but it was worth it.
If I Had known you wanted to tick a red legged partridge you could have come up to Lanark as i have had one visiting the garden recently for the last 3 to 4 weeks. No idea why or where it came from.


Lucky man with the RLP Stephen!! Thanks for the feedback as well, its appreciated!

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