Sunday, 8 May 2016

Border Raid for Ospreys, Peregrines, Kites and Warblers

"I think he'll be to Rome as is the osprey to the fish, who takes it by sovereignty of nature."
William Shakespeare.  Coriolanus Act 1V Scene VII.

7th May.  It was a question of ‘heat wave, what heat wave?’ as the RSPB Border Raiders (AKA Local Group) left Newcastle and headed for Threave, Dumfries with Samuel Hood and myself taking the lead roles, myself armed only with my pocket camera, water-proofs and bait(not yet up to carrying heavy equipment).  The idea for this spring trip had been put forward by Sam at the time of a successful winter trip to the same area a while ago.  It was pleasing to see thirty-one participants involved.  Shame about the thirty-second who appears to have got the dates mixed up and thought we were going next week.  There wasn’t going to be a hint of tea, coffee or cakes today (unless you had taken your own) so all attending were geared up for full participation in the birding and that is always good to see, although as a concessionary gesture Sam and I do allow short comfort stops. 

The big draw at Threave of course is the pair of Ospreys and as Sam is a regular volunteer on this  National Trust of Scotland Reserve we were well aware that the pair had nested again this year.  We were equally aware that there could well be Peregrine Falcons on show in the area (I hasten to add that this is something that the trust has made known to the public and they are in a well protected situation, so I’m not giving any information here that isn’t now commonly known).

Threave Castle built by Archibald Douglas the Grim.  Well I'd be grim if I was called Archibald.  Legend has it that the cannon Mons Meg was built by a local and used to fire a canon ball through the castle taking of a lady's hand as she was drinking.  In truth it is thought that the Cannon was built in Mons, now on the border of Belgium and France and given to the Scots as a gift.  The legend stems from a tale of Sir Walter Scott.

The outward journey to Threave provided sightings of birds as diverse as Common Buzzard, Kestrel. Sand Martin, Linnet, and just before arrival, a Dipper.  On arrival participants soon dispersed to various areas of the reserve.  It was of course the nature reserve we were visiting.  The National Trust for Scotland managed Threave Estate provides a safe haven for many species of birds, mammals and insects. The estate covers some 1500 acres and contains a wide range of habitats, including farmland, woodland, marshes and a two mile stretch of the River Dee.  Initially it was the song of warblers that caught my attention, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, and a distant Grasshopper Warbler call picked up by Sam.  Willow Warblers and Sedge Warblers were numerous and there was certainly a number of Garden Warblers.  I was also impressed by the number of Song Thrushes heard.

The walk around the reserve is basically a circular walk in part and Sam and I took the opposite direction than most other participants.  We were soon watching pairs of Goosander and Kingfisher on and over the River Dee.  A large flock of House Martins were in the foreground.  I managed to find Tree Pipit and had a fairly fleeting sighting.  A skein of late staying Pink-footed Geese were seen.  Sam has seen them here in late April but never as late as today.   The Oystercatchers were getting agitated and Sam thought that there was possibly an Otter disturbing them.  Although we didn’t sight it others in our party did later in the day.  Just a little further along our route we were soon watching the pair of Osprey.  The female bird on the nest with the male perched not far from the nest and offering a great sighting as it ate a fish which Sam seems to think was a Mullet.  From this same area we watched the pair of Peregrine Falcons as they lifted and called, the pair of Kingfishers, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Raven and the likes of Grey Heron and Cormorant, whilst we listened to birdsong.   We later checked out the marshes and River Dee from one of the hides from which Lapwing, Teal and Oystercatchers could be seen.

River Dee passing through Threave.
We checked out the woodland areas once again although we failed to find a Pied Flycatcher which had been reported.  Treecreeper was seen but once again it was the warblers that attracted the eyes and ears.  Skylarks were also numerous.

All too early it was time for us to move on to Loch Ken but not before watching House and Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings.  We’d also taken heed of the trees and other plant life along our walk.  I voiced the opinion that I would have been happy to stay at Threave all day.  I have to say if you have never visited this reserve in spring it is time you did and I guarantee you wouldn’t regret doing so.

We reached our destination at Loch Ken in about thirty minutes, the coach having to take care along the narrow roads.  I took the chance to have a bite to eat on the way.

I always enjoy the walk along the pathway through the woodland at Loch Ken and also the view from the platform overlooking the Loch.  A single Wheatear had been picked up by Sam on our journey.  The Loch appeared to hold few birds although a small flock of Greylag Geese were in the fields nearby.  There was no need on this occasion to trouble ourselves trying to pick out White-fronted Geese!  Once again we had Skylark song overhead.  Initially the amount of song from warblers seemed far less that at Threave, but as we walked further on it did increase and once again the song of Garden Warblers was soon recognised and numerous other species were watched.  Later as we were on the return walk another Grasshopper Warbler was heard and on this occasion my ears picked it up.

Bluebells at Loch Ken

 Sam and I paid particular attention to some of the trees which included a very old Silver Birch tree.  Mosses and lichen were very prominent.  We also diverted from the main path at times and picked out areas that we feel would be well worth exploration given more time.  One particularly pleasant area of woodland held carpets of Bluebells.  It was in this area that some participants had picked up Pied Flycatcher and Redstart but we weren’t so lucky.  It was in this area that I noticed one of the photographers in our party might benefit from some fieldcraft advice.  I’ll say no more, but what are such groups for but to ensure member learn good fieldcraft and thought for the wildlife and fellow watchers.  Perhaps a need for some basic field etiquette reminders and I wasn't alone in thinking this.

Not having been out and about much of late I really enjoyed the walking in the clear and now warm atmosphere and I picked up my first Swifts of the year.  Initially only the odd Red Kite was seen and we assumed that it was feeding time at the local feeding station which may have drawn the birds away.  Later as we left the area they were returning in numbers and this give everyone the chance to see these birds in larger numbers.  Common Buzzards also appeared and several occasions.

So Sam’s idea had proven to be a good one and it was a very special day and I could tell that everyone had enjoyed the trip, not least myself.  The group bird list came to seventy-six species seen plus the likes of Roe Deer, Otter and Brown Hare.  For me the number of species seen was irrelevant as my enjoyment came from the over all experience of context and having been in such a wonderful and well managed environment.  I reminded participants that such areas depend so much on volunteers and we ought not to forget that!  I hope I’m back there soon.

No sooner had I finished the last sentence above when my mobile rang.  It was Sam.  He had found a Wood Warbler down in the woods by the lake.  I left everything as it was and walked as fast as I could (not that fast at the moment) down to where he stood.  I didn’t see the bird in question but did hear it despite a noisy child, car alarms and other assorted noise that is the norm on a sunny Sunday on patch.  A new patch tick for both of us and the eighth warbler species of the weekend.  No, not quite up to the standards of Threave but the patch can and does deliver at times.


  1. Sounds like a very good day and nice you also had 31 (32 on the list), as this is more than the group usually gets these days.

  2. Some of us did have rewarding views of Pied Flycatcher at Loch Ken.