Winter collection from D&G 2014

Hello birdwatchers

I hope that you’ve managed to stay dry if you’ve been out to watch wildlife over the last month. The terrible coastal storms have hit many people hard this winter and, although the news coverage has dwindled, I’m sure people are still suffering the damaging effects.

As you can imagine, those dramatic waves and currents have pushed our seabirds to their limit. Birds such as great northern divers have been turning up on our inland pools and I even found a young one on Eccup Reservoir. News is just starting to filter through that many of our breeding puffins have been caught in storms off the Bay of Biscay and 35 ringed puffins have been found dead on the French and Spanish coasts. After the breeding season, many of our puffins move to the Atlantic then gradually make their way to the Bay of Biscay to shelter for the winter. Read the British Trust for Ornithology article to find out more.

Puffin, a spring visitor to our coasts

It has been a busy few weeks for Start Birding with 2 weekend trips to Dumfries and Galloway. If you read my blog last year you’ll know that I always visit RSPB Mersehead and WWT Caerlaverock reserves, well, this year it was touch and go for days that we’d be able to go there due to storm surges in the Solway. The dunes at Mersehead have disappeared and valuable freshwater habitat has been flooded with sea water. You can see from the photo below why I asked everyone to bring wellies with them this time. This is one of the main paths at Caerlaverock.

Flooded paths at WWT Caerlaverock (photo: WWT)

All along the Solway were signs of flooding; flattened reedbeds; a line of shells stretching through gardens; plastic containers in bushes; and local clean up campaigns in action. The water had caused chaos along the estuaries running into the Solway and sandbags could be seen outside many houses.

Luckily for us, we managed to find the drier weather windows of the last 4 weeks and, despite some heavy showers and muddy ground, our feet stayed snug and warm inside our boots for both the 3 day weekends.

Whooper swan at WWT Caerlaverock

My first group were visiting the area for the first time. We included the bridge at Annan; Powfoot; WWT Caerlaverock; Rockcliffe; Carlingwark Loch; Loch Ryan and Stranraer Harbour; Wigtown; RSPB Mersehead; Bellymack Farm and Loch Ken in our schedule. The weather forecast wasn’t good for starling murmurations on the last day but we managed to get a small murmuration at Wigtown Local Nature Reserve from the hide.

Dramatic skies and double rainbows over Loch Ryan, Stranraer

As always seems to be the case, RSPB Mersehead showed its beauty with sun, dramatic cloudscapes and rainbows and we took shelter from the rain in the elaborate hides painted by local artist John Threlfall. The total number of bird species seen on this trip was 84.

Rainbows over RSPB Mersehead
Beautiful hide frieze by John Threlfall, an artist based in Rockcliffe, at RSPB Mersehead

The dunes have disappeared at RSPB Mersehead

The second group had all been to Dumfries and Galloway with me before so I decided take them to some sites they’d not seen, to vary the tour. We visited Browhouses; Newbie; Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve (adjacent to the WWT reserve); Rockcliffe; Mersehead; Bellymack Farm; RSPB Mersehead; Southerness Point; Carsethorne; Loch Ken and the East Riggs area to look for a starling murmuration. The total number of species seen on this trip was 79 (not including the Kookaburra), down on last year’s group total which was 90.

Pintails sheltering at RSPB Mersehead

Teal riding out a storm at RSPB Mersehead

Barnacle geese, all the way from Svalbard, grazing at RSPB Mersehead

The lighthouse at Southerness Point
Whimbrel at Carsethorne

An unexpected visitor to Carlingwark Loch in Castle Douglas (an escaped Kookaburra)
Red kites flying over Bellymack Farm
Not a cloud or a burning building – a fantastic starling murmuration over East Riggs

As always, it was a pleasure spending time with such lovely people and I thank everyone for booking their weekend with Start Birding. There will be another trip to Dumfries and Galloway next year so, if any of my customers are interested, give me a call.

I only run weekend trips for people who have attended my full or part day classes to ensure that I understand the needs of each individual. If you’d like some birdwatching tuition then get in touch and I’ll send you a list of my classes.

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