Thursday, 18 September 2014

Celebrating Scotland

This is not a political post, simply a birding one. Any suggestions to political opinion are held by the writers and not by NGB as a whole.

With the #indyref dominating all news outlets (in Britain at least), I was a little surprised to see and hear it featuring in a lot of online/real-world birding chat. For a community where RBS is more likely to mean Red-backed Shrike than Royal Bank of Scotland, this particular political race has captured a lot of birders' minds. Perhaps it's the thought of re-jigging lists, the (unfounded) worry you'd have forgotten your passport as you approach the border or maybe the simple fact that the 'United Kingdom' would no longer be able to claim the Cairngorms, Abernethy, the Western Isles and other natural wonders as our own. 

Should a 'Yes' vote come through, the UK would have 'lost' its breeding Crested Tits, Slavonian Grebes, Red and Black-throated Divers, Snow Buntings, Dotterel, Capercaillies and all its breeding eagle and skua species overnight come March 2016. The UK's Osprey population would be down to under 10 pairs, its Hen Harrier to less than 70, with fewer than 5 of those pairs in England.

Osprey - Jack Morris

But birds don't see borders, and whichever way Thursday's outcome leans, Scotland's birdlife will be no less impressive. 
We asked NGB members what their best Scottish birding memories were. Their answers appear throughout this post in blue:

"Driving towards Iona and having a White-tailed Sea Eagle flying at bonnet level just ahead of us, filling the road with its wings (definitely lives up to "flying barn door" nickname!)"

"Yesterday just outside my halls of residence in Aberdeen, watching a Kingfisher chasing a Sparrowhawk with a seal fishing in the background."

"Going to see Capercaillie at Loch Garten, seeing them but being so tired that I went to sit in the car while my dad chatted to someone. My decision to sit in the car meant that I had Crested Tit feeding about 3 feet above me, even if it was through a car windscreen it was pretty amazing and is a bird that I didn't see again until 2013, about 15 years later!"

The group was also polled to find out some of their favourite birding sites in Scotland. Results had one thing in common - birding sights and experiences that would be hard to find in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. From hardy mountain species and seething seabird colonies to islands dripping in vagrants and moors of Hen Harriers.

"Laughing heartily as an American Coot waddled around like a chicken on a frosty winter's morning."

"Finding a female Dotterel at the summit of Cairn Gorm while watching Ptarmigan."

"Stood in Campbletown this year thinking to my self "I'll never have to think about American Herring Gull EVER again"."

"Trout fishing in Boat of Garten and seeing my first ever Osprey dive into the water about 30m in front of me, catch a fish and then get mobbed by a second Osprey!"

Inevitably, the questions about listing without Scotland as part of the UK began to arise. Another discussion on NGB saw the majority of those who commented stating that they would not exclude Scotland from their British List after March 2016, though one member raised a good point that he only kept two lists: his World life list and his Country life list. In the light of a 'Yes' vote, his country would no longer include Scotland so wouldn't count birds seen in Scotland on that list. 
Should Scottish independence come about, will the British List still contain birds that have only turned up in Scotland? Will Olive-tree Warbler stay? And does this mean when Grey's Grasshopper Warbler turns up in Shetland next autumn it won't appear on the British list? 

I have no idea of the answers, I've only been on 5 twitches this year, and 2 of them were by accident...

Best Scottish birding moment?: "This." -Joseph Nichols

"Finally seeing Crested Tits in Anagach woods - my grandparents live just down the road, and whereas I'd seen them before at Loch Garten and other places, this had a special 'local patch' feel (I'd looked for them in Anagach every year since I was about 7 or 8)."

"This summer at Lochindorb watching a pair of Black-throated Divers with an osprey flying over head with a Cuckoo calling in the background."

"Seeing the American Herring Gull and American Coot. Mourning Dove was good along with the Calandra Lark on Isle of May. Worst birding moment in Scotland? Dipping Belted Kingfisher.....(still hurts)."

Capercaillie - Jack Morris

"Marsh Sandpiper at Pool of Virkie! Possibly the best rare bird I've ever seen..."

"Regular visits to Aberlady Bay (we have family nearby), where I was able to get my annual fix of Slav and Red-necked Grebes, Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and other stuff that's pretty difficult in Sussex in winter."

"Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Kilminning Castle, Fife. Started by getting lost and all that, but things only got better. Arrived on site, which was surprisingly quiet and soon caught up with the bird, giving mega views. Then we were told that a Raddes' Warbler was showing about 150m away so we wandered over for a quick look, and the bird, which was mainly skulky, gave some great views at one point. All this with the back drop of masses of migrating finches, woodpeckers and thrushes, 4 Whooper Swans and a Red-breasted Flycatcher."

Golden Eagle - Jack Morris

"Seeing Snow Buntings and Ptarmigan at Glen Shee the first time I visited (also Crested Tits and Crossbills at Aviemore)"

"Hearing a flock of Waxwings from inside Abernethy forest and then seeing them flying across open moor and start feeding in the heather."

"Wandering around Bridge of Allan housing estates with a friend, with scopes, cameras and bins looking for Waxwings and ending up in a kids play park... the joys."

"Probably Short-eared Owl perched about 15 metres away on a post on Mull. We watched it for about half an hour and it just glared at us. Having Curlew everywhere is always nice too, their calls all the way along the coast."

White-tailed Eagle - Jack Morris

"Seeing and being attacked by a rogue Capercaillie."

"Juv. Masked Shrike Fife 2004. It was my first twitch - I remember my Dad putting me on his shoulders so that I could see the bird over the wall!"

"Ringing Storm Petrels at night on Fair Isle. A special experience whatever country it was/will be in."

"The Black Duck twitch at Strontian was by far the best though. Ended a week of brilliant wildlife out in the middle of nowhere, with a hybrid duck, eagles and the strangest thing to ever fly across the Atlantic."

Crested Tit - Jack Morris

"Seeing my first Golden Eagle on Islay! That and my first real encounter with Osprey and Hen Harrier too.. And Chough!"

"Seeing my first Skuas, Black Guillemots and thousands of seabirds off the North Coast."

"Seeing the Black-winged Pratincole at Loch Stiapabhat on the Isle of Lewis in the summer of 2014. Only the 4th for Scotland, and yet me and Ronan were two of only a dozen people to see it."

"Encountering a fresh-in flock of Waxwings in October 2010 at Musselburgh, picked up on their calls, they gave me a flyby, I briefly relocated them perched up and then they disappeared inland."

LBBG, Inchcolm Island - Jonnie Fisk

"Mine has to be seeing a Caper drop out of a pine and land at my feet. It then decided to fly into my dad, knocking him to the floor then started jumping on his back, will never forget that moment."

"Twitching Collared Flycather at St Abb's Head - fun for being a cross border twitch, and the challenge of doing it by public transport (the thrills in the chase right?)."

"One of my first Scottish birding memories was life ticking Corncrake at first light on a foggy morning on Iona. I was running a university society trip and the rest of the group were still asleep in their tents after seeing the weather. I was determined to get out anyway an wandered up towards the chapel with about 10m visibility. I heard my first corncrake calling, wandered towards the noise and found it perched on top of a stone wall no more than 12ft in front of me. It stayed there calling and preening for the best part of 20 minutes. I was the only person around and you could have heard a pin drop! Incredible!!"

So, Scotland, whichever way you vote, whether we're better together or proud to be apart, just know that birders have enjoyed endless years of Scottish birding, and no doubt will in the future.

-Jonnie Fisk
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig, the music of Hall & Oates and being distracted by bugs.

-Joseph Nichols
Joseph is a 20 year old Scottish birder and avid patcher currently studying History at the University of Edinburgh. He lives in the capital city and often works his nearby patch at Cramond, where he hopes a Semipalmated Sandpiper will await him at the estuary mouth one autumn day. When not at uni he can usually be found trying to eke out local scarce at his other patch in Costessey, Norfolk. Joseph voted 'Aye' in the referendum.

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