Sunday, 23 November 2014

Threave and Mersehead...Dumfries

22nd Nov.  As we crossed the border and entered Dumfries we struggled to see through the downpours of rain.  Having listened to the weather forecast the previous evening I kept faith that it was correct and that we would have sunshine later in the day.  Sam and I were leading an RSPB group trip to National Trust of Scotland Threave and RSPB Mersehead.  In truth Sam who volunteers as a ranger at Threave had done all the preparation and led the day, so I was able to relax and enjoy my first ever visit to the reserve.  Our first stop was at Gretna where we had a Sparrowhawk fly overhead.  Numbers of Common Buzzard were seen on the journey and I understand that one or two members claim a sighting of Rough Legged Buzzard about twenty miles away from Threave.  Some Pink –footed Geese were also seen.
It was dry, but still rather dull as he arrived at Threave (having seen our first Red Kite of the day) where we were given a very interesting introductory talk by Karl Munday, Senior Ranger.  This area of farmland and marshes beside the River Dee is well-known for its wildfowl. In autumn and winter large flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, with some White-fronted Geese and Whooper Swans, feed on the fields.  We were especially keen to try and find the White-fronted Geese having missed these when leading a trip to Loch Ken last year.  Sam took the lead and guided the group to the appropriate areas.  I guess my role on the day was to ensure members were back onto the coach in time, as I’m pretty good at that.  As Sam said, I was there to lend some muscle!  We did have a lot to get in on the extended day.  I’m pleased to say everyone respected our timings and I’m also pleased to say that the clouds soon dissipated, allowing sunshine to appear on what was a very mild day.  The atmosphere in this area of Scotland is usually wonderful and quite dramatic, especially in winter, and today was no exception.

A hide with a view...Threave.
We were soon counting Roe Deer which were about the reserve, and although initially the area seemed very quiet, we were also ticking off bird species.  The wooded area provided us with the likes of tit species, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and finches including Lesser Redpoll.  There were numbers of Fieldfare around and a few Redwing too.  In the distant fields flocks of Pink-footed Geese could be seen and the odd Raven made an appearance.  I do fear that one or two members were attempting to make every black coloured bird into a Raven!  Red Kites were seen in the distance.

Roe Deer
There were large flocks of Teal on the pond and a particular drake Pintail stood out.  We were beginning to think we were going to miss the White-fronted Geese again, and then a  skein of what we initially thought were one hundred plus Pink-footed Geese flew over.  In fact they were the White-fronted Geese.  I think everyone had the opportunity to have a good sighting.  A small skein of Greylag Geese made an appearance too.  At least three or four small flocks of Whooper Swan put in an appearance with an atmospheric sky as background.  So I’m pleased to say our visit to Threave proved to be very successful.  As we made back towards the coach a Kestrel hovered nearby and everyone was taking an interest in the Osprey nest.  Sam and I have offered to lead a trip to the area again in early summer so that we can take in the Ospreys.

White-fronted Geese.  Image courtesy of Samuel Hood

Whooper Swans

We stopped at the more commercial part of Threave to allow for use of the facilities and for members to visit briefly visit the café.  I tactfully spoke on the coach as Sam went off so as to be first in the queue for our pot of tea.  Indeed he need not have bothered hurrying, as very few made for the food and drink.  Now that has to be a first.  I feel quite ashamed that Sam and I really enjoyed our visit to the café.  At least one member told me that he had seen Jay, Nuthatch and Red Squirrel during the short stop.

It was soon time to leave Threave and see more red Kites along the way.  I’m hoping to be back soon. ;-)  We then headed for RSPB Mersehead.  It was an extremely pleasant drive part of which is along the Solway coastline.  We’d planned things so that we would be here at sunset and hopefully see the Barnacle Geese flocks fly out to roost for the night.

On our approach to the reserve I noted that the usual flocks of Barnacle Geese weren’t near to the drive up.  I need not have been concerned as we soon found the flocks of geese further along into the reserve.  It was 2.00pm now and the light and atmosphere as excellent.  I was pleased to be staying a little later than we would normally do, if for no other reason than the late afternoon atmosphere on what is one of my favourite reserves.

We visited the hides first and found large numbers of Pintail (perhaps one hundred plus) and Shoveller.  Other birds on the pools included Mallard, Shelduck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe.  More Common Buzzards were seen and also one of our birds of the day, a male Hen Harrier.  It flew in harrier fashion across the reed-beds before flying along the tree-line.  We learnt later that some other members had also seen a ringtail and Peregrine Falcon in the same area.

As the afternoon went on there was plenty of time to enjoy the atmospheric sights and sounds of the area.  The light was forever changing and small skeins of Barnacle Geese were flying in from feeding areas to join the larger concentrations of thousands on the reserve.


 We walked down to the shoreline in the hope that we would be well positioned for when the Barnacle Geese lifted.  By now the grey watery clouds were beginning to return and what I thought was just sea spray in the air began to turn to rainfall as we looked out across the Solway.  The rain never did get particularly heavy and it was still amazingly mild for the time of year.  The rainfall was never the less enough to send some members making for the coach.  We waited a while longer with the some of the more rain tolerant, but the geese seemed settled and never did lift while we were there.  The sun set was barely seen on the horizon over the sea as just a touch of redness disappeared completely.  We eventually retraced our steps to the coach as we listed to the calls of the Barnacle Geese, Curlews and Rooks.

Sam in action chatting about the Barnacle Geese that never did lift.  I think everyone was just pleased to see thousands of geese and this couple had their first ever sighting of Hen Harrier.
Thankfully there was no panic when we found the reserve centre was closed so access to toilets was impossible.  I had taken the right decision and visited a tree beforehand.  Others would have to wait until we got to Gretna.  Low and behold they were closed to.  Brampton seemed a long way for some!  Never mind we found some that were open.

It had been an excellent day.  May I thank Karl Munday who had met us at Threave and Sam who had put so much work into the day to ensure that it was a success.  Certainly one of the best group trips I have been on over the years.  The group bird list was in the high seventies.  Sam and I were unable to decide upon bird of the day so have Whooper Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose and Hen Harrier in equal first position.


  1. Nice photos and great getting a bird-list into the high 70's!

    1. Yes a great day Mark with a number of new members making the trip and hopefully these fresh faces will stay around. They certainly seemed to be enthusiastic. Perhaps you should have come along after all!

  2. Yes it sounded very good. It's a shame I couldn't be there, at present I can't get to anything. Hope it keeps up anyhow and I'll hopefully get to stuff at some later date.