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.