Wild goose chasing in Scotland has always been one of my favourite winter activities and last weekend I took 6 birdwatchers on a 3 day tour of Dumfries and Galloway.
As usual we stayed with Linda and David Birdsall at the fabulous Millbrae House B&B and Self Catering Accommodation. Thanks to both of them for their warm welcome and their wonderful hospitality.
The Solway is home to thousands of geese, whooper swans, ducks and waders over the winter months and the western light, and the beautiful rolling countryside of Dumfries and Galloway, makes the perfect backdrop to see them.
Our first day took us to WWT Caerlaverock which gave us our first view of barnacle geese, around 6,000 all the way from Svalbard.
|Barnacle geese all the way from Svalbard|
We prepared ourselves for a search through flocks of Eurasian teal to find the one green-winged teal from North America, then it swam out from behind an island and was completely on its own in the water.
|A green-winged teal spending the winter at Caerlaverock|
|Compare our Eurasian male teal with its American cousin. Note the horizontal versus vertical white stripe|
Shoveler, wigeon and pintail fed on the lagoon and curlew, redshank and golden plover could be seen in the surrounding fields. The high tide had also flushed a few grey plover from the shoreline and we were able to compare them with golden plover. Despite the drizzly weather, the western light brought out the oranges of the willow on the reserve. A buzzard perched nearby looking for an easy meal and roe deer fed around the field margins.
|Mute and whooper swan with mallard and tufted duck|
When the weather took a turn for the worst, we sheltered in a hide overlooking the saltmarsh. A low movement caught my eye and I was so excited to see a female hen harrier flying towards us. Everyone managed to see her as she looked us in the eye and flew past the hide hunting low over the fields. Her white rump and owl-like face clearly visible. This was a rare and wonderful sight for us and I’m sure that we will recall that experience on all of our future trips to the area. We ate a hearty meal at Barend in Sandyhills and listed our birds of the day.
On day 2 we stuck close to our B&B visiting Rockcliffe first thing, Carlingwark Loch in Castle Douglas; Threave Castle; the red kite feeding station at Bellymack Farm, Laurieston and Loch Ken to look for Greenland white-fronted geese. By the end of the day we’d also seen pink-footed geese, more pintail, teal and wigeon, goldeneye, red kite, redwing, mistle thrush and ticked birds such as little grebe and coot at Carlingwark Loch (which are difficult to find on the Solway reserves).
|Redwing at Carlingwark Loch|
|Roe deer at Threave Castle|
|Red kites at Laurieston|
|Greenland white-fronted geese|
On a recommendation, we travelled to the Willow Tree in Palnackie for our evening meal. The food, ambiance and staff were fantastic and we will certainly return next year.
On day 3 we headed to one of my favourite reserves in the UK, RSPB Mersehead to get another goose fix.
I love the mixture of habitats and the feeling of space giving uninterrupted views of rolling hills, rough grassland, farmland, lagoon and shoreline. A thin strip of wet woodland provides an enchanting walk to look for treecreeper and great spotted woodpecker. The enchantment comes from the many species of bryophytes and lichens that have colonised the standing trees and fallen branches and it seems that, if a person stood too long, they would quickly become a mossy mound.
|Bryophytes and lichens at Mersehead|
Mersehead hides also showcase the work of local artist John Threlfall. The colourful murals certainly reflect the diversity and the charm of the reserve.
|Hide art at Mersehead by John Threlfall|
I’m always emphasising the importance of scanning fence posts, twigs and distant trees when birdwatching and there is no easier place to do this than Mersehead. We were able to add a distant stonechat to our list then, another rush of excitement, as the horizontal stance of a large raptor alerted us to a female hen harrier sitting on a nearby fence (probably the same bird as seen at Caerlaverock). By this time the drizzle was quickly covering our lenses so taking photos wasn’t possible but we had fabulous views of her perching and hunting over the fields. Flocks of pintail, teal and lapwing lifted as she made her way over the landscape.
Time was moving on and, as the rain had stopped, we decided to aim for a starling murmuration towards Gretna. On the way back, a couple of little egrets spotted in a field made us stop on the side of the road. This proved profitable as, from there, we could see the solway and managed to scope red-breasted merganser and a female scaup as well as more redshank, curlew and a heron in the fields.
We got to our starling site just in time and watched a swirling mass, twisting and turning in unison, before the light finally disappeared. After a quick coffee stop at Gretna we headed back home to Leeds. With a group total of 83 species we had so many wonderful memories to reflect on on they way back.
|Starling murmuration on the Solway coast|
If you’re interested in joining me at D&G next year then give me a call on 07778 768719 or email email@example.com