I am dedicating this post to my friend Ruth, whose help with information on places to see the birds/wildlife in Dumfries and Galloway was invaluable.Thank you very much, Ruth!
My first holiday in Scotland and what a treat it was! The journey 'Up North' seemed a doddle owing to the wonderful scenery on the journey! First stop was Gretna Green for a refreshment break and a wander around. Very commercialised with the shops but a sign of the times with it's popularity I suppose. Three weddings took place in the hour we were there which show's how popular Gretna Green is. Highlight birds were House Martin and Swallow, the Swallows almost dive bombing shoppers as they emerged from the shops.
After a good look around the splendid 'Tartan' shop it was back on the road enroute to Kippford where we were to be staying for the week. Accomodation was a bungalow on a caravan park recommended by a friend. They have caravans, bungalows and lodges. The caravan park has a childrens adventure play area and a small shop catering for most items needed daily. The park has it's own woodland and a Red Squirrel breeding population. Badgers and Tawny Owls are regular visitors to the park, I heard a Tawny Owl but no sign of a Badger whilst we were there unfortunately.
Daily visitors after the bird seed that I put out on the balcony fence were Coal, Blue & Great Tit, Robin, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Blackbird, Greenfinch and Chaffinch and a Woodpigeon! Other species seen in and over the park were Swallow, H Martin, Goldfinch, Wren, Collared Dove, Mistle Thrush, Willow Warbler, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow and Gulls. I had to wait until the 6th (Wednesday) before a Red Squirrel appeared for the monkey nuts that I had put down for them. I had been told that once the park went quieter of people (after the Bank Holiday) the squirrels would soon be out and about and this was the case. I was delighted to see my first Red Squirrels, I just wish they had tidied the nut shells up after them.lol!!
Today was to be a day to unwind and get to know a little of the Kippford area. A walk in the caravan park woodland in the morning was just the job after the drive the day before. The Bluebells were growing well but only the odd few were bursting into flower, the Common Gorse on the outer edges of the wood was looking splendid in the warm sunshine and it's 'coconut' aroma filled the air. Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone and Ramsons prettied up the woodland floor. Great and Blue Tit, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird and a Sparrowhawk being notable birds seen on the walk. There are viewpoints were you can see over the sea to the Lake District (South) and into the Galloway Hills (North), stunning views!
After lunch and a short drive we were in Kippford, this narrow village runs along the Urr Estuary. Shelduck, Heron, Whimbrel and Oystercatcher were seen feeding in the mudflats, also seen were Herring and L B B Gulls. Walking along the footpath that leads to Rockcliffe we had good views of off-shore Rough Island , a bird sanctuary that is off limits in May and June when Oystercatchers and Terns are breeding! Scoping the island I counted c350 Oystercatchers and c50 Black-Headed Gulls all resting on the island.
Wood of Cree was today's destination and what a treat it turned out to be! How lovely it was to see the waterfalls and tumbling burns, a sight and sound I had really been looking forward to! Wild Garlic and Bluebells were almost in flower, Primroses, Common Cow-wheat and Bilberry were carpeting the woodland floor. I spotted a Large red damselfly, my first damselfly of the year, Peacock butterfly and Dor beetle were seen several times on the walk. The highlight birds today were the Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler singing loudly as they flitted from tree to tree! The Wood Warbler was especially pleasing as it perched low in the trees several times giving great views of it without the need for bins as it sang and vibrated it's tail! Magic!!!
After lunch we took the short walk to the Otter platform, here we saw Grey Wagtail, Wren, Sedge Warbler heard only, a Mallard family, Buzzard and Orange tip butterfly. No Otters were seen but I think we would have been very lucky to have seen one in the relatively short time we spent at the platform as we had plannned to visit Wigtown Bay Nature Reserve in the afternoon.
Along the journey to Wigtown Bay Pied Wagtail and Stock Dove were notable sightings. On arrival at the Visitor Centre (Wigtown County Buildings) we were told that some exciting plans were planned for the Nature Reserve.....that was it, no more information was forthcoming. On my return home I read all about it as the RSPB had sent a letter and an appeal, detailing their intentions to purchase the site and create a new reserve at Crook of Baldoon. I wish them every success! CCTV of Ospreys breeding in Galloway is shown at the Visitor Centre.
It was a relatively short walk down to the hide at Wigtown harbour and all was fairly quiet round about with the highlight being 2 Drake Garganey! Other species seen being Pied Wagtail, Rock Pipit, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, a Mallard family, Cormorant and B H Gull. I said it was quiet..well it was until a coach party of RSPB members entered the hide!! They really were a friendly group of people having chatted to some of them, after they had viewed the Garganey they all left leaving the hide quiet once more.lol!! The Garganey also left soon afterwards.
WWT Caerlaverock Wetlands Centre was the destination today. The sun was, as it had been the last few days, shining brightly making it feel pleasantly warm in sheltered areas. On arrival we headed for the Whooper Pond as it was almost time for the Swans to be fed. The Swans were all Mute Swans as the Whooper Swans had already left for their journey North, that is except for a lone Whooper Swan which breezed into the pool just as the warden had wheeled his seed laden barrow to the edge of the pool to begin the feeding. I was told that this Swan would more than likely stay for the Summer! Saves it having a couple of long journeys I suppose.lol! Lovely to see the Whooper Swan but sad to think it had not flown with the rest of the Whoopers Swans. We walked the long path down to the Salcot Observatory, a top notch observatory it is too, swatting the swarming flies along the way, well waving them away! I must be honest and say that there was nothing much to see once we scanned the area with bins and scope but the panoramic views over the Solway were well worth seeing. An Autumn/ Winter visit will have to be on the agenda to see the overwintering Wildfowl here. A male Wheatear was great to see as it perched on a fence post in an adjoing field to the pathway. We later walked down a longer path to the Avenue Tower, once again it was very quiet but stunning scenic views were had. Back at the Whooper Pond we had great views of Tree Sparrow as they fed on and under the feeder, a real treat to see. Other highlights species seen today were Swallow, Martins, Pied Wagtail, Starling, Yellowhammer, Blue & Great Tit, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Skylark, Shelduck, Wigeon, Heron, Moorhen and Buzzard. Also 6 Roe Deer, several Orange tip butterfly, Small and Large White butterfly and Primroses and Violets decorating the embankments. All in all a great day was enjoyed, a return visit is a must in the future.
Hooray!! My first sighting of a Red Squirrel early this morning at the bungalow! It scurried about so quickly that I had a job getting a decent photo of it, so I gave up with the camera and just enjoyed watching it hurriedly breaking open the monkey nuts and scurrying off to bury it's treasure...the nuts!! A delightful little creature!
Portpatrick, New England Bay and Mull of Galloway were on the agenda today. Black Guillemot nest in the harbour walls at Portpatrick and today we watched 6 pairs as they rested on the water, flew to their nests and belly flopped into the water from their nests! A delightful little Auk! A lifer for me and a much enjoyed one! A pair of Eider were spotted close to shore also Oystercatcher, Manx Shearwater and Gannet were scoped offshore, Herring, L B B and G B B Gulls were to be seen around the harbour and cliffs. I can recommend the Fish & Chips that we bought at the harbour, delicious! The proprietors deep fried some battered haggis for us to sample, I must say I was pleasantly surprised how tasty it was, though the batter would have to be walked off later.lol!!
On to New England Bay and what a delightful bay it is too! Goldfinch, Stonechat, Pied Wagtail, Martins, Swallows, Gannets, Cormorant, Oystercatcher and Gannets being highlights! The Stonechats were a delight to watch as they picked off flies and caterpillars on the vegetation. After a short (ish) stay and a delicious ice cream we headed for Mull of Galloway.
It was 4.00pm by the time we arrived at RSPB Mull of Galloway. A Wheatear and Rock Pipit put in a brief appearance as we drove to the carpark. The visitor centre was still open and the very friendly volounteer told us of the c 5,000 Gannets that breed on the rocky islands that you can see jutting out of the sea, these are the Scar(e)s. We viewed through the scope in the Centre, with literally hundreds fishing...what a sight!
We began to walk around the whitewashed perimeter wall of the lighthouse, I reckon it was the whitewash that was attracting the flies...swarms of them, in my hair and hitting my face as we walked...I can stand so much but these flies were getting rather irritating! So it was decided that the less of two evils would be to walk down the cliff steps to 'Foghorn', a viewing point! It was ok walking down as long as you fixed your eyes to the steps and did not raise your eyes to see the view!!!! Once down on to 'Foghorn' and solid walls surrounding you it was a treat! Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot, Shag and Cormorant on the cliffs and over the sea! The sight and sounds were well worth the 'butterfly in the tummy' churning of the walk down the cliff. A Rock Pipit posed nicely for a pic and I spotted the head of a Grey Seal bobbing about in the sea but once I took my bins of it I lost it! Doh!! The walk back to terra firma was not as bad as the descent as long as you glued your eyes to the steps once again until almost at the top, oh and it was also a bit of a huff and a puff too, so a few intakes of breath were needed.lol!! Please don't anybody be put off by my ramblings, I was just being a wimp.lol!!
A flock of Twite in the fields bid us farewell to Mull of Galloway! It had been another wonderful day today.
Today was going to be a rest day after the long walks and drives of the last 3 days. A look around the shops in the market town of Castle Douglas was the plan and perhaps a drive to RSPB Ken Dee Marshes later in the day. Castle Douglas is a super town with many independent businesses selling locally produced food, drink, confectionary, gifts etc! The craft shops were a delight, I could have browsed in them all day! We headed for Threave Gardens for elevenses and then drove a full circle around Loch Ken before taking a short diversion to Claterringshaws Loch. A Red Kite was spotted on the journey, the only one seen during the entire week. Lunch was eaten overlooking the Loch. A Siskin was great to see on the feeders at the Visitor Centre. As we were about to take a short walk the heavens opened so a quick dash back to the car instead. This was the first rain that we had had whilst out in the day, it had rained only 2 nights during the whole of the week and had dried up by morning so we had been very lucky. Once on the road to RSPB Ken Dee Marshes the rain had passed over. Don't the clouds move fast in Scotland!!! The walk to the hide at Ken Dee was rather longer than we anticipated, especially as today was to be a rest day! Even so it was a delightful walk with the sounds of Woodpeckers drumming, birds singing and the delightful Wildflowers. As we entered the hide a Nuthatch perched atop of a tree trunk that held nut feeders and a Red Squirrel was feeding on another nut feeder, a super sight! Highlights at Ken Dee were Skylark, Swallow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Twite, Teal, Redshank, Lapwing, Greylag Geese, Oystercatcher and Brown Hare on the return walk.
RSPB Mersehead today after a restful day the previous day.lol!! Intending to do the shorter Nature trail we set off and ended up on the Coastal trail!!! How I do not know, it had been a long, long week.lol!! Nevertheless it was a great walk, the Skylarks were singing, the views were super and a Brown Hare was spotted in a field! The tide was well out so it was very quiet on the return walk back to the reserve with just the sound of the Skylarks singing as we made our way back. Common Whitethroat were a delight to see as they sang and flitted around in the Brambles along the strip of broadleaf woodland, Rooks were vocal also Chiffchaff. Highlight species seen from the hides were Lapwing, Little Egret, Heron, Oystercatcher, Moorhen, a lone Barnacle Goose and Wigeon. A surprise bird was a male Marsh Harrier hunting over the reeds beds and being continually mobbed by a Carrion Crow, great views were had of it from the Bruaich Hide! I was well pleased with this sighting, so too was the volounteer warden at the Visitor Centre! Speaking to two couples who later came into the hide, they told me that they had seen an Osprey on the nest at Threave Castle the previous day!!! We had been to the Gardens but..oh well, win some, lose some! I was still chuffed with the splendid Marsh Harrier views! Yellowhammer plus the usual species were on the feeders viewed from inside the Visitor Centre and Little Grebes were also seen on the small pool beyond the feeders. RSPB Mersehead is a super reserve, well worth another visit in the future.
Scotland to me was breathtaking, with wonderful views of the rolling pasture lands, hills and mountains! The pasture lands particularly caught my eye. A pleasure to see cattle and sheep grazing in the undulating fields, with shrub after shrub of Gorse, a dazzling feast of colour given by the pea-like fragrant and vibrant yellow flowers and looking spectacular, also the rocky outcrops, all making the scene look so natural, as it truly is!
I am hoping to visit Dumfries and Galloway again in late Autumn/Winter 2010/2011 on a long weekend to see the wintering Wildfowl at Mersehead and Caerlaverock. I also have in mind possibly a two week holiday in the Spring of 2011 and seeing more of Scotland, all being well.
I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Ruth and a few other people who offered advice on sites to visit and links, their help was invaluable and helped us to make the most of the week's holiday. Thank you all very much.
To sum up the holiday in Scotland in one word........Magic!!!!