Another hide with a view!
18th Feb. I was off to Caerlaverock today on the first RSPB group coach trip I have joined in perhaps eighteen months now. I was accompanied by Sam, and on this occasion his dad Malcolm, and Mark too. In that respect it was to be a ‘boy’s day out’. The rather long forty-five minute coffee stop at Gretna, at least allowed us to escape from the cramped coach seats. We just wanted to get on with the birding though. Sam was soon catching sight of Common Buzzards, Kestrel and waders. I seemed to be on the wrong side of the coach (that’s my excuse anyway) and only spotted one Common Buzzard during the journey. It was to be the only one I saw all day which I thought quite unusual in this area. We had journeyed through heavy downpours of rain before eventually hitting sunshine. Ominously as we approached Caerlaverock the cloud darkened and the rain began again. This was to be the order of the day, bright sunlight then the occasional heavy shower, with temperatures appearing to plummet. This did add to the atmosphere of this Solway area, which on any day has an atmosphere of its own. Before we entered the reserve we were watching large flocks of Barnacle Geese in the fields and Sam and I got our eye on a Merlin in flight.
On entering the reserve we found the hedges full of flocks of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, a few Tree Sparrows and a large flock of very nice Yellowhammer. A couple of Reed Bunting also put in an appearance from time to time. By now a second coach pulled into the reserve and it was busier than I have ever seen the place.
The Whooper Swans in particular provided some good photographic opportunities. From the tower hide we saw waterfowl which included Wigeon, Teal, Shoveller in some numbers and waders were represented by Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits.
After this it was Barnacle Geese, Barnacle Geese and more Barnacle Geese. We saw several thousand I would think. The first large flock we saw on the reserve contained within it a Ross’s Goose, so that caused some interest. To be honest this one is more likely to have been a truly wild bird than any other I have seen in the UK. There wasn’t too much else about on the wider reserve and that is my previous experience of Caerlaverock. Part of the pleasure is however taking in the vast habitat and enjoying the mood of the place whilst watching and listening to the geese and waders, especially the whistling Wigeon. It was good to take time to watch the Grey Herons too as they hunted and caught prey, of which there seemed to be plenty.
At one point the lack of birds had us all studying ‘pellets’ picked up from the ledges on the hide. Sam has taken one home for further investigation. I’m hoping his mam has a space in the fridge so as Sam can keep it nice and fresh! If you’re reading my blog Chris Packham, you never know you may receive this in the post! If Sam’s mam is reading my blog, I’m only joking about the fridge………….I think!
All was going smoothly until we reached the last large hide over looking the Solway. Someone had left a bird guide book behind and I was about to suggest we put it in my bag before I suddenly realised I didn’t have my bag! This necessitated a walk back in the rain to where I think I had left it, whilst Malcolm returned to the centre to see if it had been handed in. Fortunately my bag remained in the corner of the hide and Malcolm was able to return the book to its owner, so all ended happily, if a little wet. We noted that I only seem to loose things like this when accompanied by Sam. Not sure why, maybe the enthusiasm takes my mind off things. In the meantime one of the group member's who has a bit of experience behind her, reported having seen a Ring Ouzel. I tried not to turn green with envy, and I understand it was reported to the centre staff. Be interesting to see if it goes on their website of latest sightings.
We ended the time on the reserve watching the flocks of birds in the hedges and on the pools near the centre, giving opportunities for more photography. There was a bit more flight from the Whooper Swans now too. The Barnacle Geese had earlier taken to flight on occasions, but never really close enough for good photographic opportunities.
Sadly we had to leave at a time when I think the area would be at its most atmospheric, as the sun was lowering in the west. Unfortunately the anticipated trip to see the Starling roost at Gretna never took place either. I’ve seen this before and it’s a great spectacle. I was disappointed on Sam’s behalf as I know he had been looking forward to this part of the day. I’m sure you’ll get there another time Sam. At least you got another sighting of a Merlin as we left the reserve.
It had been good to see that another youngster was on the trip with his dad. They seem to have enjoyed their day. Two young people under sixteen on a group coach trip is maybe a record! Hopefully it is a direction that will continue. The ‘boys day out’ had been a good one and we squeezed into our seats to enjoy our pop and chocolate on the journey home. Cramp prevented any serious sleeping! :-) Sam I noted was still recording bird sightings. I was on the wrong side of the coach again!