Trip reports

Weekend Field Trip - Scottish Borders

Estuary at sunset, Mersehead RSPB reserve

Friday, 20 October 2017

Our weekend trip took us to three sites on both sides of the Scottish border. The journey up the A1 was rainy with mist on the higher ground as we travelled further north. Turning westward however, the weather picked up and we made good time to our first birding opportunity at Talkin Tarn in Cumbria.

This glacial lake - which formed many thousands of years ago - is surrounded by mature woodland and gentle meadows with a stunning backdrop of the Pennine hills. The sun welcomed us as we arrived, showing up the autumnal colours of the woods.

Small parties of us made our way along the circular path around the Tarn. There was plenty of small bird activity at the start of the walk in the form of small parties of Blue Tit, Great Tit, Willow Tit, Coal Tit and Robin. Along a pathway through a wooded area, several species of fungi were discovered including Sulphur Tuft, Rolled Rim, Amethyst Deceiver and Birch Bracket.

On the lake at Sandy Bay were Little Grebe, Mute Swan and Goosander. Making our way towards Wildlife Bay, a group of Long-tailed Tit showed well and a few Goldcrests and Treecreeper were found in the conifer canopy. Nuthatch called constantly and gave good views in the surrounding mature woodland. Further on, the path opened up into Farlam field which produced Redwing, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush.

Good numbers of various species of wildfowl congregated in the area of the lake towards the bird hide including Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Cormorant, three female Goldeneye, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and four Ruddy Duck. Small flocks of Goldfinch were also present in the scrub here, feeding on teasel seed heads. Other finches seen were Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Redpoll, Linnet and Siskin with numerous sightings of these around the lake. Birds of prey sightings were few, but a Buzzard and a Kestrel showed up. Corvids seen during the day included Raven, Rook and Jackdaw.

Our time at Talkin Tarn ended in the car park where we were bid farewell by a massed feeding frenzy of Brambling on the beech mast. Our first day had produced 51 bird species. Leaving Talkin Tarn, we travelled onward to our base for the weekend, the Station Hotel in Dumfries, where we were given a very warm Scottish welcome.

Our next day's birding was really dependent upon the weather. Could the heavy rain which was forecast hold off long enough for us to get some good birds?

Situated on the scenic north shore of the Solway coast, Mersehead is an extensive wetland and saltmarsh area - a haven for wintering waterfowl.
 On arrival at the Visitor Centre, we were greeted by a friendly and knowledgeable warden.

The Visitor Centre's feeding station was our first port of call where Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Siskin and Yellowhammer fed happily with Reed Bunting and we had good views of three Grey Partridge.

Fantastic views of spectacular flocks of Barnacle Geese were seen from the main track leading from the centre. Throughout the day, we were treated to skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying raucously overhead. Some of us ventured down to the coast to catch the high spring tide which forced birds off their feeding grounds with some speed. Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Dunlin and there were also Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls as well as Gannet, Cormorant and a pair of Raven over the dunes.

Other group members were treated to a large flock of Pintail at the Meida hide, along with numerous other wildfowl species including Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Little Grebe and Whooper Swan. Also meandering through the reed beds were a pair of Roe Deer. There was great excitement in the hide when two Kingfishers were seen flying to and from the cover next to this; their bright blue flash making an outstanding contrast to the dullness of the day.

In the fields were Lapwing, Curlew and Mistle Thrush plus a Kestrel keeping watch high in a nearby tree. The hedgerows were busy too, with Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammer, Goldfinch and a fall of Goldcrest. The wooded areas turned up Treecreeper, Bullfinch, Redwing, Song Thrush and the odd Pheasant. Birds of prey seen were Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Peregrine.

By the end of the day, the weather changed for the worse and heavy rain forced us back for cover but not before the first sighting of Twite for the reserve that autumn, perched on a telephone wire for us before our journey back to the hotel. This second venue of our weekend produced a total of 71 bird species.

Leaving our hotel for the last time, we travelled to the WWT Caerlaverock Wetland Centre where many of us took in a commentated feeding of the wildfowl from the Peter Scott Observatory - in particular of 60 of the reserve's 150 Whooper Swans which had recently arrived from Iceland. Also from here, we got good views of Mute Swan, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Little Egret.

Large numbers of Barnacle Geese were visible from most of the hides visited, but it was difficult to visit all of these due to the restricted time available. The Silver and Gold Hide turned up an impressive flock of feeding Redwing which suddenly took flight as a Sparrowhawk came in and took one for lunch - right in front of a few startled onlookers!

The hide at Folly Pond had numerous Teal, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Ruff and Shoveler and some of the group had a sighting of a Kingfisher at Back Pond Hide along with Little Grebe and Moorhen.

Many of the Group ventured to the Saltcot Merse Observatory which overlooks the Solway Firth, and good panoramic views were had by all, although sightings here were sometimes very distant. Herring, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed Gulls were visible and a very obliging Peregrine perched for some time on an old fence pole enabling us to get our telescopes onto it. Other birds of prey seen from here were Kestrel, Buzzard and Merlin. All of these were probably seeking out a meal from the numerous waders including Curlew, Dunlin, Lapwing and Oystercatcher which were spread out across the coastal mudflats. There was also a large number of Golden Plover which flew spectacularly in tight swirling formation - their plumage catching in the autumn sunlight. Nearby, Stonechat played hide and seek with us in a patch of gorse beside the hide. Other species of note were Shelduck, with Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter at sea.

Species found in the reserve's numerous hedgerows and shrubs included Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits accompanied by flocks of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, House Sparrow and Tree Sparrow. This final venue of our weekend produced 68 bird species.

In summary, the weekend was a great success, being well supported, with great birding venues and a clean and comfortable hotel with plenty of excellent food and lovely helpful staff.