Sunday, 22 May 2016


Bowness-on-Solway has become a well-known place to watch the Skua passage from the Irish Sea to the North Sea each year. It's a good 2.5 hour drive from where I live to the Solway Firth and so the timing needs to be absolutely right for it not to be a wasted journey.

After following sightings on the Cumbria Facebook birding group I decided to go for it. Skuas are a bird species which has so far eluded me and I have failed to positively identify any of the four main types that can be seen around the UK coastline.

I often forget how lovely the scenery is on the M6 motorway from Lancaster to Carlisle. Today I took a short break for a coffee at the Tebay Service station - this has to be one of the nicest motorway service stations in the country. The landscape vista from the cafe windows is wonderful and there is even a resident Rook colony to watch whilst you have a snack.

The town of Carlisle with its old castle looks worth investigating at a future date, but today's mission was to find the remains of an old railway viaduct which used to cross the Solway Firth from Bowness to Scotland. These ruins stick out into the Solway and so provide a good viewpoint from which to observe the passing Skuas and other birds.

A flock of Dunlin
After reaching the small hamlet of Bowness-on-Solway I soon found a few birders with scopes parked up and looking across the Firth. A quick chat here revealed that no Skuas had been seen so far this morning and so I carried on making my way to what's left of the railway viaduct. Parking here was difficult but I managed to squeeze in two car space just off the road.

If parking was difficult, that was nothing compared to finding a route through the overgrown vegetation to the end of the viaduct remains. I started on an muddy path sandwiched between high 'hedges' of vegetation and got to the start of the viaduct where there seemed to be no way through. So I dropped down to beach level and ended up waking along clumps of springy salt marsh until I reached the steep stone slope of the viaduct.

My idea was then to walk along the base of the stonework until I got to the end where I could climb the slope to the top. This didn't work because the slope was so steep and difficult underfoot that I kept overbalancing with the weight of my photographic gear.

I decided to climb up the slope and on to the top of the viaduct where I did find a very overgrown path which I decided to attempt. I got stung and scratched as I battled my through, but did eventually come out to a clearing where the rest of the path was a little easier to follow. And lo and behold, who should be there at the end but one Gareth Hughes and his partner as well as another local birder.

I first met Gareth with his dad whilst we were up Pendle Hill looking for Dotteral in May 2014. The Dotterel came so close on one occasion that I couldn't take any photos, so I just lay down and watched as they walked past my lens. Gareth took a photo of me in that particular pose and it's now the one I use on my Facebook page. Thanks Gareth - it's a cracker!

Anyway, that's most of the interesting stuff over and done with, as none of us saw any Skuas at all that day, although we did have a really good chat over the four or so hours we were there together.  The shots that are included in this post are just some I took whilst waiting for the main event which never happened - fortunately some of them are some of the best Dunlin and Ringed Plover shots I have taken, but they don't really make up for the disappointment in not seeing any Skuas.

I took a different route back by staying on the top of the viaduct stonework for as long as possible before dropping down to the base of it when the vegetation got too dense. I also went along the coast road back to the motorway where I saw Oystercatchers and Skylarks as well as taking in the great views around Port Carlisle and Drumburgh.

And when I got home I did my usual thing of looking at the house prices in this area and dreaming that I had a little cottage by the sea. Ah - one day perhaps.

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