Happy New Year everyone, after a blogging free December on my part. It seems that wherever I end up living, there’s always some reasonably decent birds to entertain. It hadn’t really occurred to me when I first moved down to Glasgow that I would see anything noteworthy in and around my flat. Well, think again, Joe.
Outside of uni terms, I can nowadays be found either hammering the marsh down at the beloved Costessey Private Estate, or more commonly in my flat here in Kelvinside, inner city Glasgow. As it happens, the flat is situated just across the road from the River Kelvin and Botanic Gardens (see below). As I am on the third floor, and happen to live in the flat that is literally beside the western entrance into the Botanic Gardens, I have a living room which gives a tree-height, panoramic view of the west end from our windows, and looks right onto the canopies of the Botanics.
A few passerines sift through the trees closest to the window: as I write this at 3:40pm a party of Long-tailed Tits are feeding, completely oblivious of me, within 15ft of the window. In the past few months I’ve also had these views of Bullfinch, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, roving groups of Fieldfare, Redwing and Mistle Thrushes from the table I am sitting at. It’s a stroke of luck that the views from the living room allows for this intimacy, this exploration into the clandestine, arboreal lives of urban passerines, especially when the trees are bare at this time of year. Just across the hall in the kitchen, I’ve had a flyover Cormorant, two Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and calling Tawny Owl since we’ve moved down. It’s a consoling feeling to have seen these species just sitting around in the flat. Whilst my old house back in Aberdeen was a magnet for Waxwings in winter and heralded the odd commoner Phyllosc, the Glasgow flat beats it on birding quality, ironic considering that the former area utterly trounces Clyde for birds. Having the River Kelvin and the Botanics at hand more or less as soon as you reach ground level helps, of course.
Talking of ground level, I had more than a bit of a surprise as I went downstairs to take the rubbish out before breakfast this morning. Literally as the the debris dropped from my hands with a resounding thud into the depths of the stinking bin, a single unmistakably loud, demented squawk emanated from close by. It takes some volume and attitude to be louder than a load of rubbish hitting a metal surface. What?! It couldn’t be? Surely I was kidding myself that I’d just heard this outside my Glasgow flat? But no. The shrieking call continued to get louder and louder, as I scanned the skies, waiting for the pesky Psittacula to give itself up. My second record of Buzzard for the flat flew over. In pursuit was an adult Ring-necked Parakeet, raucous and stupendous as you like, shrieking its bonse off. Dad and I followed this surreal duo down the street, the Parakeet relentlessly harrying the beleaguered Buteo. The squawking softened and the birds became dots as they headed quickly west over Kelvinside Academy and were lost to view.
Now, that was seriously strange. What this bird was doing in Scotland, let alone flying over my Glasgow flat, bewilders me. I am aware that a couple of rogue individuals have frequented the Crail and Bulmullo area in the east coast of Fife over the years, but in a Scottish context Ring-necked Parakeets occurrences are really pretty unprecedented. Whether a genuinely dispersing feral bird from the London population or an escape, this is a species that I’d never expect to see in Scotland. A little research on Birdguides does show that lone Ring-necked Parakeets have been seen sporadically in and around Glasgow over the last five years, including last year. Still, pretty ridiculous though: definitely the most interesting species to have graced the area since I’ve moved down: things may well not get much better for us here. Not often that a personal Scottish first flies over your house.
Inspired, I headed for a walk around the Botanics and the River Kelvin. The quickest way to walk to my flat is through the Botanics, normally through a route which cuts through the actual gardens themselves, so whenever I want to get to and from home I have to go via it. Sometimes I take a diversion and walk up from the Kibble Palace towards Maryhill along the Kelvin, which holds typical river species but in the spring looks promising for a few warblers in the surrounding cover. In the summer I had a family of Grey Wagtails along the Kelvin, but the river has really come to life this winter. Just before my uni exams in December, I watched a singing Dipper down to 10ft as I sat on a bench reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Presumably the same bird was present again today, although not so forthcoming. A short walk from the flat to one of a few footbridges over the Kelvin continually produces views down to 15ft of wintering Goosander amongst the local Mallards at this time of year. 6 (3 pairs) were present today: I intend get down there with the DSLR at some point in the next couple of days. To cap things off today, a piping Kingfisher flew downstream at Maryhill, landing and fishing about 10ft away from me: azure and orange glinting in the crisp light. As I attempted to get a picture on my phone, without bins or camera at hand, the bird scuttled southwards. Urban patch gold.
Nae tae shabby fae glasgae, ye ken? The beauty of it is that without any optics at hand and without any actual proper birding, I’ve had all the aforementioned species here, part of a modest total of 41 species seen since we moved down in July 2013. The perks of urban birding.
Thanks for reading,