L.O.S. Winter Trip to Dumfries and Galloway - February 2020

A RETURN TO SCOTLAND

The L.O.S. annual winter trip for 2020 took us for another visit to Dumfries and Galloway and the Solway Firth. Most of the 17 strong party would meet at Tebay Services for 9.00am, the rest on arrival at Caerlaverock WWT at midday.

View from Tebay Service Station on the M6 (c) Paul Richardson
The journey was a little testing at times with snow over Shap, but we all arrived safely at Caerlaverock by noon to more welcoming skies, albeit a little on the cold side.

Whooper Swan (c) Paul Richardson
Day 1 at Caerlaverock wetlands would provide some great birding. Firstly, the Peter Scott Observatory greeting us with good numbers of Whooper Swans with a smattering of Teal and the odd Wigeon, amongst some of our more common species. Outside the hide along the hedgerow-lined avenues, Yellowhammers showed well along with the odd Greenfinch and Chaffinch. Next, out towards the Saltcot Merse Hide overlooking the Solway salt marshes.

Curlew (c) Paul Pennington
This two storey hide provided great views out over the vast salt marsh and the coastline. Here we would observe Little Egrets, many a Barnacle Goose and the distant smoke like wisps of huge flocks of waders hugging the shoreline. Most were too distant to identify but some a little closer were identified as Golden Plover. On the way back a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits were seen on the edge of Folly Pond.

Black-tailed Godwits (c) Martyn Jones
After returning to the crossroads in front of the Peter Scott Observatory, some of the party decided on a coffee break at the visitor centre cafe, while some of our more hardened souls continued on. After all it had been an early start.  A quick stop to check what had been seen distantly from the previous hide revealed that they were indeed a flock of Golden Plover in amongst the Lapwings and occasional Teal and Redshank.

Golden Plover et al (c) Martyn Jones
Back along the tree-lined avenues towards the next hide called The Avenue Tower we found a pair of Treecreepers, A Goldcrest and three Common Snipe. From the smaller hides en-route were Shovelers, Lapwings mixed with Golden Plovers, Curlews Reed Buntings and the usual Teal.

Treecreeper (c) Keith Williams
The Avenue Tower is a three-storey hide which looked somewhat like a small prison block rather than a bird hide. From here a single Hen Harrier and a pair of Stonechat were seen as well as a lonely pair of Barnacle Geese. Lastly we visited the Back Hide and the Newfield Hide. From Back Hide we saw many more close Whooper Swans, Teal and Wigeon.

Drake Wigeon (c) Paul Richardson
Newfield Hide overlooked partially flooded pasture-like fields and produced some 200 plus Barnacle Geese and a large flock of around 300 hundred Curlews - quite a count. Eventually we made our way to the hotel in Castle Douglas for some warm food and a pint, resting up ready for Day 2.

Ringed Plover (c) Martyn Jones
After a very hearty breakfast, Day 2 would see us visiting Loch Ryan and Cairnryan would be our first port of call. En-route we would see our first Red Kite of the trip. The group assembled on a small car park between the two Ferry Terminals and began the sea watch.

Shag (c) Martyn Jones
Here Red-breasted Merganser, Black Guillemot and the odd Shag were observed, along with Great Crested Grebe and along the pebbled shore line, a dozen Ringed Plovers. Behind us, over the small mountain were a Kestrel and three Buzzards whilst in the field on the lower slopes 30 or more Oystercatchers.

Drake Scaup (c) Martyn Jones
Eventually we moved on to Stranraer Harbour. Along the way stopping off at various points. A shag gave photo opportunities at close quarters, not forgetting some magnificent Scaup. From Stranraer Harbour itself a single Little Grebe, a female Scaup, more Black Guillemot and some of our more common Gull species. 

Female Scaup (c) Martyn Jones
We then made our way towards an area called The Wig at the opposite side of Loch Ryan. We would stop a couple of times along the way. From one viewing point a small group of Common Scoter and for many the best bird of the break, a single Slavonian Grebe, giving great views.

Meadow Pipit (c) Paul Pennington
When we arrived at The Wig, a small spit of beach, the weather was kind, dry and not too blowy. Making our way out, some by car, some on foot. We would encounter Meadow Pipits and Turnstones. To our left, just inland, a pair of Knot amongst the greater numbers of Oystercatcher, Curlew and good numbers of Brent Geese, which were our first of the trip.

Turnstone (c) Keith Williams
Along the beach some of us found a flock of Twite, always a good place to see them. In Loch Ryan itself more Red-breasted Mergansers and a wonderful Red-throated Diver gave good views with the aid of binoculars and spotting scopes.

Flock of Twite (c) Paul Richardson
Lastly we decided to visit Portpatrick. The harbour area is now owned by the people of Portpatrick and what a wonderful job they have done. This picturesque harbour has been returned to its former glory and is a credit to the folk of Portpatrick. Here we only saw one Black Guillemot within the harbour walls and a couple of Rock Pipit. Pigeons seemed to be currently occupying all the nesting holes in the harbour walls, but that will change during the breeding season. Nevertheless, well worth a visit for anyone in the area. After a coffee and some complimentary shortbread in a local cafe pub, we headed back to the hotel at the end of Day 2, happy with our efforts for a hot three-course meal, a welcome pint and wee dram.

Black Guillemot (c) Keith Williams
Day 3 would see us firstly visit Carlingwark Loch in Castle Douglas itself. Carlingwark is a smallish loch but very delightful in its own way, even though it is right on the very edge of the town. Here we saw Tree Creeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, many Tufted Duck, a superb count of some 18 Little Grebes but the stars of the show were the Goldeneye, estimated at some 20-30 in number. Also noted were Bullfinch, and a few Mute Swans, bathed in the bright morning light with a good number of Rooks gathering nesting material.

Drake Goldeneye (c) Paul Pennington
After Carlingwark we headed off in search of Golden Eagles in the Laurieston Forest area. Unfortunately this, as last time was a big no show. The only points of note were two Red Kite. However the L.A.S. (Leigh Astro Society) astronuts felt it would be a good site to which they could return after dark one evening, and on Thursday evening two of them did.

Orion with the Pleiades, Hyades and Sirius (c) Martyn Jones
After an hour or so, we made our way to the New Galloway Forest and Murray’s Monument. Along the way we stopped off at the Red Deer Range. Here we had some up close and personal interaction with the Red Deer and a very magnificent Stag which all but got into the hide with us. Then onward towards Murray’s Monument. At the small car park we took lunch, and took in the surrounding scenery.

Red Deer Stag (c) Paul Pennington
Here amongst the wild goats the only birds of note were two Raven. After a spot of lunch some of us made the short climb up to Murray’s Monument, some decided to head off to Bellymack Hill Farm Red Kite Feeding Station.

Male Chaffinch (c) Keith Williams
At the Kite feeding station five of us were treated to 120 or so Red Kite, soaring overhead before swooping down for the meat scraps put out by the locals. The birds where so close you could hear the wind whooshing through their feathers. Magnificent birds and a magnificent spectacle.

Red Kite (c) Paul Pennington
Meanwhile the rest of the group had moved onto RSPB Ken Dee Marshes. Birds noted from this splinter visit were, Redwing, Fieldfare, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tit, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Red-legged Partridge and some distant White-Fronted Geese - all great additions to the trip list. As Martyn and Keith were staying at Crossmichael, a couple of miles from the main hotel in Castle Douglas, they decided to try for closer views of the White-front Geese. With eagle-eyed Keith riding shotgun, they soon spotted them over the wall close to the road. A quick turnaround and park enabled some decent photographs to be taken. Back at the hotel, fed and watered, the 9pm bird roll call had risen to three figures and everyone retired happy and ready for the last day.

Greenland White-fronted Goose (c) Martyn Jones
Our last day (Day 4) in Scotland took us to RSPB Mersehead. At Mersehead the group gathered on the car park, a Barn Owl had been spotted on the way, close to the visitor centre. From the centre itself, which has one of the best feeding stations I have ever seen, small and compact, which also gave great views across vast areas of the site.

Yellowhammer (c) Martyn Jones
Coming in to feed from the tables were House Sparrows, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and Blackbirds all amicably sharing one bird table! On the pools beyond the feeding tables were Little Egrets, Pintails and many Teal.

Barnacle Geese in flight (c) Martyn Jones
Unfortunately one of the hides was under repair and so out of action, leaving us only one to visit. Making our way down to the single available hide on the 70 hectare site, a Kingfisher was seen at distance. From the hide itself, many Barnacle Geese, a handful of Roe Deer, and good numbers of Curlew and Lapwing were seen with the occasional close Rook.

Tree Sparrow (c) Martyn Jones
Our next destination would be Southerness Point and the lighthouse there with a looming high tide. From Southerness Beach we would see our first Grey Plovers of the trip, along with Dunlin and Ringed Plover and many a Curlew forced along the beach by the high tide.

Grey Plover (c) Martyn Jones

The final destination of the trip would be Carsethorn, overlooking the body of water known as Carse Gut. The tide was at full height and this didn’t make for good birding really. Along the shoreline were a flock very tame Turnstone and a single Dunlin with an identity crisis. It must have thought it was a Turnstone!

Dunlin (c) Keith Williams
Out on the Gut itself was a Great Black-backed Gull, a few Oystercatchers but not a lot else. So after around 45 minutes we finally dropped the curtain on our trip to Dumfries and Galloway.

The 2020 Winter Trip minus Anne who took the photo
As we made our long journey home, we had time to reflect on a fantastic birding trip, in great company with many a laugh along the way. A big thanks to Eddie King for his excellent organising as always, providing superb weather, (lucky), and last but not least his witty evening bird roll calls, which amassed 106 species in total.
Paul Pennington
Official Trip Report Writer
Editing and Formatting by Martyn Jones

Photographs by Keith Williams, Paul Richardson, 
Paul Pennington, Martyn Jones and Anne Johnson


There are far too many good photos to show in this report 
so they'll be in a slideshow which will follow shortly ....

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the assistance with the report Martyn. Once again a credit to the site and yourself.

PaulR said...

A really excellent few days with a brilliant itinerary - you can see that from the pictures. It was great to see the Greenland White Fronted Geese so well, even if they took a bit of finding. Again the King's Arms Hotel was first rate and the "craic" and company second to none. When's the next extended trip then? ;-) Paul Richardson

Brian Fawcett said...

Another wonderful Winter Trip, meticulously planned by Eddie. An absolute treat from start to finish. Great birding, superb accommodation and the very best of company. Thanks everyone.

David Shallcross said...

This is probably at least the 30th Winter trip I have been on, I have never been disappointed in all those years. As ever there are fabulous places to visit with some engaging subjects to see, it's really great to see birds not normally found in our own recording area. The hotel and staff are just right for our needs, no doubt we'll be back for our 5th visit. Thank you Eddie the Eagle for sorting it, Paul and Martyn for putting together this fabulous report and thank you everyone for your friendship. David

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