16th Feb. It seems that Sam and I are developing a pattern of heading west and finding ourselves leaving decent weather behind and entering drizzle and mist. That was the scenario today as we headed for RSPB Mersehead with the RSPB Local Group. Mersehead is one of my favourite reserves. Wild, open, near the sea and no cafes! We also had a stop at Gretna on the return to look forward to, as this was in the programme of the day, or so we and other members believed. The journey north westwards seemed slow today, not helped by road-works. A rather long café/rest stop brought some strong comment from some members who simply wanted to get on with the bird-watching. Bird wise there was little to see on the journey as the mist and rain was coming down. We did manage to pick up a Kestrel and a small skein of Pink-footed Geese after crossing the border. We also passed a flock of forty/fifty swans which we couldn’t identify in the mist. They were still there just south of Dumfries on our return and we saw that they were Whooper Swans.
You can rely on the Barnacle Geese appearing!
On our arrival the drizzling rain ceased, but the mist was with us most of the day. Sam and I avoided the main group and looked at the birds in the hedges leading to the hide and at the feeding station at the centre. In the main these birds were large flocks of Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Greenfinch, along with tits, Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows. The large numbers of Yellowhammer, were showing well, but the light was poor and there was little point in even attempting photographs. When we reached the first pool I was disappointed to find little in the way of waterfowl apart from Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal in quite small numbers and not showing well. Someone sighted a Pintail in the far corner, but it must have disappeared into the reeds as we never caught sight of it. We decided to head off on the walk that would eventually take us along by the Solway coastline.
Sam in the wide expanse of the Solway
Always something to photograph
Again, there were few birds about, although this area can be enjoyed without birds and in the main we had the whole area to ourselves as the rest of the group had set off and dispersed around the reserve earlier. We did have distant views of large flocks of Barnacle Geese and a few smaller flocks closer by. The calls of Lapwing and Curlew could be heard and flocks occasionally seen. Once down to the beach we found that the tide was far out in the distance. Along the very flat sandy landscape the sea could not be seen. The Cumbrian fells showed in the distance, sunlit in part but with there tops covered in cloud and some snow. I could make out Black Coombe quite clearly but was uncertain as to the others. There were no waders about what so ever and apart from the odd gull fly past we saw only three Shelduck. Sam and I enjoyed the walk and took advantage of the opportunity to take some landscape images. I was surprised to see a long line of snow so near the saltwater area, along the beach. The mist was still low over the hills to the east of us although eventually the area did lighten somewhat. I was pleased to have Sam to chat to as I think I may have felt very isolated in this wilderness had I been alone.
As we left the beach and walked into the wood we found a number of Barnacle Geese not that far from the footpath, but they were soon in the air when approached by a Common Buzzard which perched on the fence before flying of in the general direction of the geese. There was little in the way of birdlife in the woodland, but we did find Treecreeper and Long Tailed Tits. The second pool provided us with our first sightings of Pintail which where a year tick for both Sam and I. Nothing like the number I have seen here in past years though and not such good sightings as in the past. We neither saw or heard Ravens, but understand that one or two others in the group had done so earlier.
Mist covered mountains
Sam and I later searched for the Twite that had been seen earlier in the day, but they seemed to have moved on. We also missed the Peregrine Falcons. Seemed to be a day of missing things! The group list actually came to a respectable tally, but on the whole everyone thought it had been a very quiet day and unusually quite for Mersehead.
We passed a one or two Common Buzzards on the way to Gretna on our return journey, where I assume everyone thought we were going to try and watch the Starling murmeration…..or where we? After a quick comfort stop we headed past the gathering flocks of Starlings, one of them quite large. In fact heading past was exactly what we did do, as we joined the motorway! There were disappointed and bewildered faces on the coach and I still don’t know why the planned stop was missed as no one told us. Perhaps there was a good reason and not as someone suggested that the driver wanted to get home for his tea. It seems we’ll never know! I’m sure if it had been explained that would have at least satisfied people in part.
These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you'll return to me
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms
Lyrics by Mark Knopfler