Saturday, 29 July 2017

Dumfries and Galloway Adventures. Part One.

16th-20th July.  Unavoidable incidents made for a delay to my trip over the border, but all good things are worth waiting for and my few days of birding and culture were eventually done under clear skies and sunshine.  By, did it get hot at times.

16th July.  The train from Newcastle to Carlisle went at a snail’s pace because of rail works, but I needn’t have worried about catching the onward train to Dumfries as it wasn’t operating at all.  I was assured of good sightings of Common Buzzard as I sat back on the replacement bus service which included a tour around Annan, a rather nice town I thought as I breathed in diesel fumes.  I met up with Sam on arrival and we made for Kippford situated on the Urr Estuary where I was to stay for the next few days.   A hearty meal at one of the local pubs overlooking the bay was enjoyed before we set off for the evening.  It was my first visit to this village, but hopefully not my last.  Red Squirrel had already been added to the list as we saw one leaving a local garden.

Lighthouse at Mull Of Galloway

Despite the clock ticking it was a warm evening with good light so we had plenty of time left for exploration and began at Orchardton Tower, a well preserved 15th century circular tower house.  Having climbed to the top and taken a good look around we headed off towards Balcary Bay and Cliffs.  This proved to be an excellent walk in another area new to me.  I spotted numbers of houses that I coveted. There were great views from the cliffs across the Solway and Irish Sea to the fells of Lakeland, St Bee’s Head and the Isle of Man.  I even found my cousin’s old cottage on the cliff edge near St Bees Head.  Had it not been for heat haze I’m sure we could have picked out individual folk over a distance of about 20 miles away.  On the climb up the cliff path we found some interesting plant life including Common Rock Rose, Wild Thyme and Devil’s Bit Scabious.  Bird species of the day was a pair of nesting Black Guillemot in a recess on the cliff side.  Other birds seen included Rock Pipit, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Cormorant, Guillemot, Sandwich Tern and Kestrel.  Whilst the Black Guillemots were the bird of the day, the sighting of the day had to be the large flock of Common Scoter in the Solway.  There seemed to be no end to the extent of the flock and we were looking at a number in four figures rather than three.  I’ve no doubt this is the highest number of this species I’ve ever personally recorded and it was quite a sight.  As the light began to fade a little it was time to make our way back down the narrow cliff footpath and head back to Kippford.  It had been a great beginning to the trip.

Harebells at Mull of Galloway

17th July.  We were up and ready to leave quite early and we were under clear blue skies and already warm as we made off towards The Mull of Galloway.  A Red Kite was seen early on our journey.     Our first cultural stop along the way was made at Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns, which are very interesting Neolithic burial cairns.  We spent some time here examining the site and taking in the view over Wigtown Bay.  There was a gent there taking measurements and notes and when he gave me a riddle to solve concerning the solstice etc and I began to think I’d dropped into a remake of the ’Hobbit’.  Being no Billbo Baggins I left the talking to Sam.  We then made off towards Wigtown in search of books.  Wigtown was designated Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998.  In one of the bookshops (there didn’t seem to be that many) Sam got his eye on a book about the ‘Longest Day’ on the top shelf of the World War 11 books.  We asked if we could have a look at it.  The young lady brought the steps and said she wasn’t happy using them, which Sam and I saw the funny side of.  Yours truly climbed them.  The book wasn’t that good so Sam climbed up to put it back.  Just goes to show ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’.  There appeared to be no New Naturalist books so we were soon off to the Rhins and Mull of Galloway.

It's a few years now since I had the pleasure to stand and overlook the Solway from the Mull of Galloway so I was eager to get back and on this occasion we were also able to view the area from the top of the lighthouse, after a chat with the assistant who had welcomed us.  She wa originally from the Northeast of England and I made the fatal error of calling her a Geordie when in fact she was a Mackem.  We had expected lots of butterflies but saw very few, once again underlying the fact that it has been a poor year for them.  We saw White species, Common Blue, Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Red Admiral.  There was certainly lots of Birds-foot Trefoil, and Sea Campion and Harebell were among other plants seen.   Birds seen included Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Kestrel, Kittiwake, Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill and Raven.  A Wheatear was seen with a juvenile bird in the exact same spot as I had seen this species on my last visit.  Bird of the visit was without doubt Hooded Crow, not a common bird for this area.  It was made even better by the fact that we saw Hooded Crow with Carrion Crow and an intermediate bird.  We spent a good bit of time in this area, stood close to the most southerly point of Scotland, checked out the foghorn and enjoyed the sights of Luce Bay.  The weather remained perfect throughout the day.  The tar near the RSPB site was melting and although a hot day I do think it was probably a fault in the tar rather than the heat which had been the main cause of this.  A Brown Hare was recorded at some point during our journey today.

We stopped off at a busy Portpatrick where we found only one pair of Black Guillemot in the harbour wall and took the chance to catch a bite of dinner.  It was getting hotter.  Sam took a drive through Gate House of Fleet where we photographed a Grey Heron in a tree over the pond and where  the early evening reflections were wonderful (I think that was today!). We then drove over the higher road to Lauriston whilst taking in the scenery.

Evening at Threave

We weren’t finished yet and we drove down to Threave and walked to the castle, the area where Sam is presently employed.  Threave Castle is on an island in the River Dee and the castle was the idea of Archibald the Grim.  I think I’ve met one or two of his ancestors whilst birding!   We were hoping for Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons.  We found one of the juvenile Ospreys on the nest and soon after its sibling on a tree nearby.  The second bird was soon in flight.  There was much calling of Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons and also Redpolls which were in the trees close by us and showing well on occasions.  Greylag Geese and Oystercatcher provided background sounds.  Are there many places where you can stand and listen to both the calls of Ospreys and Peregrines at the same time?  I think not.  Both species have had successful breeding years in the area.  (I’m giving nothing away here as it is all public knowledge and encouragement is given to folk to go and view them).  Whilst the Peregines could be heard I thought we weren’t going to see them, but just as we were getting ready to pack in for the night as the sun sunk down towards the horizon, the female Peregrine Falcon was found on the castle wall and we had excellent telescope views of it.
The evening at Threave will stay with me for a long time, as will the entire day which had been a long and rewarding one of 14 hours on the go with just an odd break to eat and drink.  There were many more bird species seen of course.  Part two to come. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Good Re-Tern

Yes, I’ve returned.  I never meant to be away but Lazarus AKA as my PC had used up his/its nine lives and refused to rise as I was about to prepare my report of 2016, hence I’ve been without internet access since last December and managed to survive.  I’ve not been inactive however and quite recently returned from a tour of Sweden.  More of that in the future once I have come to grips with my new system and its use of images.  My break from the keyboard has allowed much catch up on reading, which is no bad thing, and one of my latest reads was a birthday present, The Return of the Osprey by Philip Brown and George Waterston (a man largely responsible for the success of the Osprey project at the time) with some of the photographs provided by Eric Hosking.  Issued in 1962, good grief some of you weren’t born then and the Beatles Love Me Do was scrapping into the charts, it gives an interesting account of the return of the Osprey to Loch Garten.  Also addressed is the return of the Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit.  An interesting comment at the end of the book is made as to the very unlikely return to the UK of the White -tailed Sea Eagle.  If they only knew!  Now, onto some highlights of a trip down the coastline made by Sam and I last week.

5th July.  For various reasons, we knocked on the head the idea of a trip to the Farne Islands and decided to work down the coast from Budle Bay.  It turned out to be a rewarding 10-hour stint of birding.  The tide was on the turn, the previous days of rain had ceased and the light was good as we arrived at Budle Bay.  The star bird here was a Spotted Redshank.  A stunning bird when in summer plumage and it showed well, often among numerous Redshanks.  It took us a while to be certain that we were also watching a Whimbrel as it was feeding at some distance, but eventually we confirmed the species as it approached closer to us.  The now customary Little Egret was also nice to see.  Kestrel and Common Buzzard were seen and I mustn't forget the drake Scaup showing well..  We spent a good bit of time in the bay before making off towards Seahouses for lunch.  We stopped at Monkhouse pool and found both Arctic and Common Terns and a nicely plumaged Black-tailed Godwit.  I decided that I must get hold of a copy of the book about Monkhouse Bird Observatory.

We watched the crowded boats and the queues of people at Seahouses and expressed pleasure that we weren’t among them as we tucked into our fish and chips.  Bird of the day was to come at Low Newton scrape in the form of White-winged Black Tern.  We watched this bird for about twenty minutes before it flew off in the direction of the sea, sadly for a few folk who arrived to see it.  This is truly a top bird and I shall continue to call it White-winged Black Tern as I believe that describes the bird well.  Although later in the day I caused some amusement when tiredness was creeping in as I called it Black-winged White Tern.  I must have been so busy concentrating on the tern that I missed the Peregrine Falcon briefly seen by Sam.  Next stop was to be Long Nanny for Little Tern.
We walked from the carpark to the bridge and then doubled back.  Just as well because this give us our best sighting of Little Tern hovering in an angel like flight over the burn.  It also allowed me to pick out the White-winged Black Tern on the sands amongst Arctic Terns and gulls.  It hadn’t been visible from the watch point so was missed by the rangers there.  I believe the bird is known to roost here.  We met up with a friend of Sam’s who is working here.  Sandwich Tern was heard and seen making it five terns for the day list.  As we left a young Wheatear was found in the dunes as were numbers of Common Blue Butterflies. Other butterflies seen today were Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Red Admiral.  I’ve found it a very poor year for butterflies. Little Terns were seen on the nest and one of many pairs of Stonechat seen today.

We followed the coastal route down to Hauxley where we were keen to see the new centre.  In fact, we didn’t see it as we arrived on the dot of 5pm to find the gates being locked.  We were allowed to turn around in the carpark and we headed for Druridge Pools. 
No one was able to locate the Pectoral Sandpiper whilst we were around Druridge Pools but apparently it had been seen at 4:30pm.  We made do with 3 Wood Sandpipers (I note 4 had been seen together at one point), Ruff and some stunningly plumaged Black-tailed Godwits.  Little Owl was seen at distance.  We looked at the larger pool where I see little these days and found a Great Crested Grebe.  What has happened to the muddy scrape that used to attract birds here?  I know the heavy rain doesn’t help, but I can’t remember this area been very good for ages.  We took another look for the Pectoral Sandpiper with no more luck.

Barn Owl was seen over the dunes north of Bell’s Pond as we travelled to Cresswell Pond.  The water was very high here and I suspect the Avocet chicks reported would not have survived.  Avocets were seen along with Little Egret and we watched Reed Warbler feeding young in front of the hide.  A second Barn Owl was seen perched on the fence as we left hoping for a closer look at Little Owl.  In the event the Little Owl showed perfectly and provided great images.  Sadly, no images with this report until I get my head around my new system.

We ended the marathon at Linton Pond as the sun shone down on us.  We failed to locate the Slavonian Grebe but I’m not complaining.  We’d had a great day with some very special sightings.  The White -winged Black Tern must be the star bird, but that Little Owl sighting was a close second.  Seventy-five bird species in total.  Who was it said that July and August is a poor time for birding?