Sunday, November 06, 2016

Winter Break!

Every year Dee and I head off to spend a week away in a cottage to celebrate her birthday and this year we're based near the Solway Firth and the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust reserve, Caerlaverock in south-west Scotland.

Whooper Swans ~ Awaiting the 11am feed!
This is a huge reserve and covers a 587 hectare site at Eastpark Farm, on the north shore of the Solway Firth to the south of Dumfries. This particular reserve is not like WWT Slimbridge, in the sense that there are no separate compounds holding captive birds and mammals, so everything you discover is wild. Almost the entire Svalbard population of Barnacle Goose overwinters in this area, with many of the birds often at Caerlaverock for part or all of this period; their protection by the reserve has enabled the population to recover from just 500 birds in the 1940s, to over 25,000 now.

Whooper Swan
Waking on our first morning to clear blue skies we were left in no doubt as to our location with the surrounding fields resonating to the sound of Whooper Swans and Barnacle Geese. After breakfast we headed off down to the reserve, a stiff northerly breeze keeping the temperature in single figures. After familiarising ourselves with the layout our first stop was the Folly Pond Hide, where a Green-winged Teal had been reported recently. Here large numbers of Wigeon and around twenty or so Eurasian Teal, plus single Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit but at this point no sign of our target bird.

Scaup ~ Taking advantage!
At this particular time of year two feeds a day take place and so Dee and I headed off to the Peter Scott Observatory, which overlooks Whooper Pond and where the feed takes place. It's an excellent opportunity to see the wildfowl at close range, including a Scaup among the Tufted Ducks during our visit. A great touch is a computer within the observatory, which allows you to enter the details of any colour ringed Whoopers you can pick up on, offering a fascinating and detailed insight into the birds movements, age etc.

Green-winged Teal ~ Folly Pond Hide
Prior to a late lunch in the nature centre we decided on visits to the Avenue Tower and Saltcot Merse Observatories, stopping off at various lookouts: Pintail, Curlew and Shoveler noted. The observatories offer stunning views out towards the Solway Firth and the Lake District beyond and produced some spectacular views of 1000's of Barnacle Geese. A stonking male Hen Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine and Common Buzzard provided an amazing raptor fest and after lunch we eventually caught up with the Green-winged Teal back at the Folly Pond Hide.