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Natural Connections

Modern life in Scotland is increasingly busy. The connections our ancestors had with nature and the land are being lost. As leisure time shrinks, or is filled with hi-tech experiences, opportunities to experience nature become fewer. And yet it is possible to connect with nature on a day to day basis. All around us, the great web of life continues to hold its shape, and nature continues its eternal cycles. Keep looking, listening, smelling, touching - and keep experiencing natural connections.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some last-minute list-building around Musselburgh Lagoons produced excellent views of Velvet Scoter and Snow Bunting...

2011 summary below. Happy New Year when it comes!

2011 was another year thankfully full of memorable bird sightings. Early in the year, Slavonian Grebes displaying on a flat calm Clyde were hard to beat. However prolonged views of a Greenshank at Kinneil and 12 Hawfinches at Scone were also noteworthy. An early spring visit to a Stirlingshire moor gave fantastic views of lekking Black Grouse and a flypast Hen Harrier. An early April camping trip to Strathspey was not so memorable for the bird sightings (Grey Partridge on the way home through the Sma’ Glen was probably the highlight) as for the perfect, starlit skies. Another Strathspey trip, a month later produced lots of good birds including roding Woodcock, drumming Snipe, fishing Osprey and Sand Martins, Goldeneye, Common Sandpiper and Red breasted Merganser on the Spey, as well as stunning views from the Duke of Gordon Monument (with Redstart and Cuckoo in the woods).
Other trips this year included:
Islay for Chough, Twite, several Corncrakes ( finding five during a walk around Portnahaven was particularly notable) and Stonechats
Slovenia for thunderstorms and lots of Spotted Flycatcher
Yorkshire for breeding Mandarin, Yellow Wagtail, Peregrine and Little Owl
Mallorca for Stone Curlew, Hoopoe, Wryneck, Kingfisher and impossibly blue seas.
It is always good to see something unusual, and some of the best rarities this year have been a pair of Garganey at Barr Loch and a Grey Phalarope at Stevenston Point. However it is equally pleasant just to see good birds in the places where they belong. Some of the best examples have been Black Guillemots at Greenock, Green Woodpecker at Lang Craigs, squabbling Fulmars on Salisbury Crags, singing Yellowhammers around Arkleston Farm, Smew at Linlithgow and Lochwinnoch, an Arctic Skua at Gosford Bay, a Tawny Owl beside Loch Eck, Purple Sandpipers at Saltcoats Harbour, Greenland white-fronted Geese at Gartocharn, Stonechat at Luce Bay, Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers at Barons Haugh, Jays and Nuthatches at Rozelle, Red Kite and Red-legged Partridge between Braco and Comrie, Black Grouse, Nightjar and Barn Owl in Galloway, Cuckoo, Whinchat and Raven in Glen Finlas and a group of Ravens at the top of Ben Lomond. One of the best local trips this year was ironically not one of the best for birds; a beautiful winter’s day spent walking in the hills above Comrie.
Birds that “got away” this year included possible Merlin at Hillington, possible Wood Sandpiper at Balgray Reservoir, possible Goshawk at Bishopton and possible Honey Buzzard in the Trossachs. My final bird list for the year was 176 – five less than 2010. I’m disgusted to have to admit that omissions included Golden Plover, Corn Bunting and Red Grouse (!).
Thankfully some commoner birds proved particularly noticeable in 2011. Raven was perhaps my bird of the year with frequent sightings in Greenock, Paisley and south west Glasgow. In the second half of the year, a single bird seemed to be roosting on the tower at Leverndale Hospital and regularly commuted over south Cardonald. The early part of the year saw Waxwings appearing at various sites in south west Glasgow including Cardonald and Ralston. Other birds which appeared in the area around the time of January’s cold snap included Redshank and Goldeneye. Kingfishers seemed rare in the area for much of the year, but there was a rash of sightings in the last quarter. Bullfinches became regular visitors to the back garden, while Hoodie hybrids popped up at various sites. 2011 was also a good year for Grasshopper Warbler, Cuckoo, Spotted Flycatcher, Jay (Ardmore, Mugdock, Sallochy, Rozelle) and Stock Dove (or am I just getting better at spotting them?). A national influx of unusual geese late in the year allowed me to connect with Tundra Bean Geese near Bishopton and Barnacle Geese outside Irvine.
Some additions to my lists for regularly-watched sites included Teal and Redpoll in Murdieston Park, Greenock, Stock Dove and Great spotted Wood pecker at Ardmore Point, a Pied Wagtail Roost at Silverburn Shopping Centre and Water Rail, Mute Swan and Coot all new along the White Cart Water between Cardonald and Paisley. Other sightings along the cycle-path this year have included a police car (on the path), someone collecting windblown wood and two Chickens in a yard. In previous years, other unusual sights have included a canoeist (stuck on rocks), a serious (as opposed to opportunistic) fisherman (complete with waders), plenty of horseriders (but also a single white horse being loaded into a horsebox), a camper (brave soul), somebody harvesting Wild Garlic and plenty of motorcyclists (Bah!).
New breeders at new sites (for me) this year have included House Martin and Sand Martins nesting in Govan, Sand Martin nesting in Paisley, Tufted Duck successful at Murdieston and Blue Tits fledging from my back garden (actually not that new). Atlas tetrad work in South Lanarkshire was also productive, with Spotted Flycatcher particularly evident.
Non-birds this year have included frogspawn at Ardmore in March, froglets successfully emerging from the garden pond, clouds of Red Admirals and other insects above Dunblane, a Brown Hare in woods at Castle Loch and an excellent radio programme from Raasay on the poetry of Sorley McLean.
Wishes for 2012 would be a lowland White-tailed Eagle, a garden Nuthatch, local breeding evidence for Raven, some good upland species (Golden Plover, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Golden Eagle and Merlin), those Scottish Bearded Tits (if there are any left) and maybe a couple of Scottish reptiles in the form of Common Lizard and Adder (after I narrowly missed one of the latter in 2011). Oh, and good health and happiness for self, friends and family.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Today's drive home was notable for the highest tide I think I have ever witnessed on the Clyde.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A day of heavy showers, but a trip over to Dunoon took place in reasonable weather. Few birds were on the wing, but Eiders and Goldeneye were scattered along the front.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Garden visitors this morning included a pair of Collared Doves and (unusually) five Chaffinches.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A midday walk around Ardmore Point took place in mild, still conditions. The tide was well in so most of the wading birds were huddled together at the back of North Bay. However there were plenty of waterbirds on show including over 20 Great crested Grebes, a single Slavonian Grebe, numerous small groups of Wigeon, Shelduck, Eider and Mallard, a single flock of 30+ Teal, four Red throated Divers and similar numbers of Red breasted Merganser and Goldeneye. Particularly interesting was a lone Canada Goose bobbing about well offshore (with 20 more overhead). Land birds were scarce in comparison but included a flock of ten Meadow Pipits and a singing Dunnock.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Took the new coat for a test drive along the Cart in the direction of Paisley this lunchtime. Plenty of birds were on stubble west of Cairnhill including 20+ each of Redwing and Fieldfare, a couple of Chaffinches and a single Stock Dove. The river itself was quiet with no sign of any birdlife.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas stocking contained a copy of the new BTO Field Guide to Recording nests and a new waterproof jacket, both of which should improve my birdwatching experience in 2012. Also received a copy of the excellent NE Scotland Bird Atlas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Had a windy walk around Arkleston Farm this morning. Plenty of birds were about including a flock of 60+ Feral Pigeons and another of 100+ Woodpigeons. Up to 70 Fieldfares flew over, as did around ten Stock Doves. Smaller birds included mixed groups of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Yellowhammer and Skylark.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The visit to Arkleston Farm (on 24th) added three new species to bring the square total up to 37 (Stock Dove, Common Gull and Rook).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A drizzly day in west central Scotland. Fittingly for the shortest day of the year, everything was dark grey, including the only birds encountered all day - two Carrion Crows at Greenock Bus Station.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unseasonably mild here in west central Scotland.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A return to more familiar Glasgow weather today, with rain washing away the last remnants of the snow. River remain high and birds, cnsequently scarce, wih no sign of anything on either the Kelvin at Yorkhill or the Cart in Paisley.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Plenty of Short eared Owls still being reported - including two on the Brownside Braes, but Smew noticeably scarce.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quite a lot of excitement in birding circles over the discovery of an unseasonal Pectoral Sandpiper at Barassie this weekend.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Had a good walk along the Cart from Hawkhead. Lots of birds about including two new species for the Bull Wood / Leverndale square (Raven and Teal). Also notable was a Kingfisher giving good views at Rosshall School and two Red Foxes on Cairnhill.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A brief lunchtime walk around Murdieston Park produced two Cormorants resting together on a waterside branch.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Took some time off today and had a Big Day out. Started the day at a well-known Black Grouse lek in West Stirlingshire. At least twelve blackcock were involved, mostly standing around, but occasionally lunging and sparring. These flurries were accompanied by a lovely bubbling sound wafting across the moor.
From there, I headed to Gartocharn and walked a little way down the Aber Path. Within a few minutes, around 100 Greenland White fronted Geese arrived, with another 40 appearing a little later. Even from two fields away, the orange legs, barred belly, orange beak and white blaze were all visible. Other birds in the area included Collared Dove and House Sparrow.

Next stop was Saltcoats harbour where six Purple Sandpipers and a single Turnstone were on rocks at the end of the harbour wall. Nearby birds included Redshank, Oystercatcher and Rock Pipit. Over at the pond on Auchenharvie Golf Course, there were fourteen Scaup, two Pochard and a Red breasted Merganser.
Arrived at Stevenston Point about 11:30 and got straight onto the Grey Phalarope which had been there for a few days. Other birds around the point included 20 Sanderlings, three Red throated Divers, a couple of Red breasted Merganser and 30 Common Scoters. Looked in at Barassie Beach on the way past, but failed to spot any Mediterranean Gulls. Then drove to Luce Bay, failing to connect with Little Egrets, although a Hooded Crow and a Stonechat were ample compensation.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Common Buzzard next to the M80 was the only natural connection of a busy work day which included a trip to the very impressive Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert.
Tomorrow should be better - a day of hoovering up some wintering species in Clyde, Ayrshire and D&G. Hope the weather holds!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Walked along to Hawkhead just as it was getting light. Not many birds about, but a Goosander alighted on the river near the gate to Hawkhead Estate Park, surprising a few sleeping Mallards.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The usual two Hoodie hybrids were hanging around the back courts in Greenock this morning.
News from the web is of a Grey Phalarope at Stevenston Point and a Pomarine Skua at Strathclyde Country Park (ayrshirebirding and clydebirds).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Magpie was carrying a stick (again) at Hyndland - possibly display rather than nest-building. A Grey Heron and a pair of Goosanders were fishing the Kelvin at Benalder Street. Later, a pair of Collared Doves swooped over Glasgow Road outside Barshaw Park.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Detoured to Luckenburn Farm on the way over to Linlithgow this morning, but there was no sign of any Bean Geese in the snow. At a misty Linlithgow Loch, the highlights were displaying Goldeneyes, good-sized rafts of Pochard, a huge group of gulls on the ice and over 100 Woodpigeons feeding on farmland.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Scotland getting back to normal after the phenomenon that will forever be referred to as "Hurricane Ba'bag" ("Trampoline! Trampoline!").

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What was quickly to become an infamous hurricane swept through central Scotland today. Twenty Teal on flooded fields next to the railway line near Falkirk didn't seem to mind.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Every year, about this time, a Wood Mouse starts coming into the house. We don't see much of him, but he scratches about the loft in the middle of the night. Every evening, the humane trap (baited with peanut butter) gets put out for him, and every morning he gets liberated back into the garden. It has become a bit of a ritual. I think we both quite enjoy it (he certainly seems to enjoy the peanut butter). One year I caught the offending mouse and let him go about a mile from the house. However I don't have the heart to do that to this one. The truth is that I like quite like seeing him scampering around the back garden and dodging under the back step.

Nevertheless, I guess something will have to be done, as this morning ...

... he brought along a friend.

Headed for Dumfries first thing. A quick stop at Castle Loch produced Great spotted Woodpecker (2), Nuthatch (2), Great, Blue, Coal and Long tailed Tits, dozens of Redwings, a few Fieldfares, a Buzzard, a Kestrel, a pair of Reed Buntings, a small flock of Siskins and around 20 Chaffinches with a single Brambling.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Working in Hawkhead today so decided to leave the car and walk along the Cart instead. It was just getting light, but three Goosanders were on the river at Moulin. Looking over the parapet of Howford Bridge I disurbed a Dipper which sped away downstream. Three Fieldfares flew up from flooded grassland at Leverndale Hospital. Further along the path, a Cormorant was high above the river heading west. Arriving at Hawkhead Estate Park, ten Redwings and twenty Redpolls were shifting in the treetops.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Twenty Goldfinches and a Magpie carrying a stick (!) were notable at Hyndland this morning. The Campsies had a dusting of snow and some sleet fell on south Cardonald. Brrrr!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A Pied Wagtail dodging the puddles at Anniesland Cross traffic lights was the only natural connection of a very busy day. Ho hum.
News from the web suggests a small scale influx of Grey Phalaropes to western coasts is underway.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Two Hooded Crow x Carrion Crow hybrids were in a tree outside the Greenock office window today. Together with a pure Carrion Crow and two Magpies, they kept up quite a din for a good part of the morning. Tried to see what it was that was agitating them but to no avail.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Huge numbers of Oystercatchers, Lapwings and (possibly) Golden Plovers (hard to make out at 70mph in poor light) were on the flooded fields on the landward side of the M8 at Longhaugh Point.