Thursday, 12 April 2018

Dumfries and Galloway Trip - Day 3a

Day 3 on my mini-birding trip to Dumfries and Galloway saw me venturing to the west-coast of the Rhins of Galloway to the pretty little harbour town of Portpatrick.  Ever since my first visit to this wonderful part of southern Scotland I have been wanting to see the famous Black Guillemots or Tysties which are well-known for nesting in the harbour walls here, and today didn't disappoint although the light could have been better.

I took a cross country route through some marvellous scenery for my journey and I briefly stopped at an ancient stone circle known as Torhouse before arriving at Portpatrick.

I spotted a distant bird in the harbour mouth almost as soon as I got out of the van and so I hurried up to the lighthouse end of the harbour to discover it was a Cormorant.  But after only a few minutes two or three Black Guillemots flew low over the water from the open sea before landing in the harbour proper and I immediately realised I was at the wrong end!

So I turned my binoculars on the open sea to look for Divers and was amazed to find a distant but definite Red-Throated Diver almost immediately. I went up to the top car park to get a photo and here I met another motorhome owner and his wife. They were a very nice couple and I chatted with them for some time about where they'd come from (Motherwell) and whether it was possible to overnight here and other such motorhome talk.

After this I went back to the van, picked up my tripod and headed off to the north end of the harbour where most of the Black Guillemots had congregated.  The harbour echoed with their calls and many were sitting inside holes in the harbour wall where they will eventually nest.

I spent a good two or three hours here trying to get flight shots of the birds coming from the sea and up to their nest holes, but the light really wasn't good enough to get the detailed shots I wanted.  However it is a place to which I will return on a sunny day because the potential is enormous.

As well as the Tysties there were also Pigeons and Jackdaws nesting in the harbour walls and I managed some slightly better shots of these birds when the sun put in a very brief appearance.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Dumfries and Galloway Trip - Day 2

My destination today was Threave Castle to see the Ospreys which nest close by each year and with a bonus of seeing the Peregrine Falcons which nest in the castle itself.  I made the mistake of going to Threave Gardens first but whilst I was waiting for the visitor centre there to open, I had the feeling that it wasn't the right place as the castle ruins are some way from the gardens. So off I set in search of the castle and the birds.

On arriving at the castle location I had a nice chat with Louis in the visitor centre and he gave me a good overview of the site and where things were. Luckily I'm a National Trust for Scotland member and so I can get in to the castle (which requires a short boat trip over the River Dee) to see the Peregrines free of charge.

But my primary target was the Osprey nest and so that's where I went first. I stayed here around an hour and a half and for a long time all that could be seen was the top of an Osprey's head rising slightly above the top of the nest.  I went for a walk along the path to the first hide and on my way back a second bird came back to the nest and perched on the edge.  The sitting bird than left and returned after about 10 minutes with a fish.

Although nearer than some nest sites, the Ospreys are quite distant here and so great photos are not really possible.  The gloomy weather also didn't help, so after taking a few record shots I decided to head for the Peregrines at the castle.  When I arrived at the boat, the warden piloting it asked me if I was the National Trust Photographer, probably because of all the gear I was carrying on my trolley.  I had to tell him 'no', but that I wished I was!

After I got off the boat, a second warden called Malcolm took me straight to a place where we could see one of the Peregrine's sitting on an inside window ledge on the thick north-facing wall. These shots were all taken through a south-facing window looking across the castle to the bird on the opposite side.  I'm so glad I took these as after about five minutes the bird went out of view as it walked deeper into the castle walls.  And for a few of these five minutes I turned into a warden myself, showing people where they could see the bird as well as the shots on the back of my camera.

Later in the afernoon I considered going to the Red Kite Feeding Station at Bellymack Hill Farm in Laurieston, but as the weather was still gloomy and I'd seen Red Kites being fed earlier this year, I decided just to go to the Ken-Dee Marshes RSPB site to see the Greenland White-fronted Geese.

I found about twenty of the geese associating with some Icelandic Greylag Geese in a field close to the road.  I had a good look at them though my binoculars, but unfortunately they spook very easily and whilst I was getting my camera from the back of my motorhome they flew off, even though I didn't even get out of the van.

After parking the van I walked up to the Goose Viewing Platform which overlooks the fields where they are most commonly seen feeding but apart from a few Greylags, Mallards, Canada Geese and the odd Red Kite here and there, there really wasn't much about, so no photos at all I'm afraid. Well at least I saw them earlier.

From the Ken-Dee Marshes I decided just to head for my next campsite near Wigtown as it was about an hour's drive from here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Dumfries and Galloway Trip - Day 1

After a lovely and thankfully uneventful drive up the M6 in my old motorhome to Dumfries, I arrived at Caerlaverock WWT at about 3pm.  Yes, it was a bit late, but I managed to get to see my first target birds, the Barnacle Geese.

Almost the entire Svalbard population of around 35,000 Barnacle Geese overwinter here on the Solway Firth every year, and they are quite a spectacle to watch both flying and feeding.  Unfortunately, by this time of year many of them have returned to Svalbard, but there were at least 500-600 of them present at Caerlaverock today.

The weather was rather grim and so my photographs aren't great and I only noticed this odd looking goose once I had got the shots onto my computer.  At first I thought it was a blue morph Snow Goose but on closer inspection it seems to be a Barnacle/Snow Goose hybrid or something similar.  Further investigation has revealed that it is quite well-known at Caerlaverock and returns every year with the Barnacles.

I also saw lots of Shoveler. Teal, Wigeon a few Black-tailed Godwits and Mute Swans, but no Whooper Swans which had probably all left for Iceland now.  On the woodland trail I saw Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Collared Dove and Woodpigeon but suprisingly I didn't see any Yellowhammers although I did think I heard one calling near the car park.

My first campsite was at Rockcliffe on the other side of the Nith Estuary and so to get there from Caerlaverock I had to go through Dumfries to cross the River Nith.  A programme about rivers on TV had recently reminded me of the lovely old sandstone bridge there and the weir where Goosanders are regularly seen fishing, and so I decided to make a quick stop there in spite of the light dropping quickly.  The first bird that I noticed at the weir however was this one:

In the fading light I thought it might have been a Yellow-legged Gull when I took the photograph, but on looking at it on the computer I realised it was a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

More to come ....

Monday, 9 April 2018

Motorhome Woes

I've not had a lot of luck with an old 1997 Peugeot Autosleeper Symphony motorhome which I bought primarily for going birding in about three years ago.  A succession of faults and work needed due to MOT failures has meant that I've only overnighted in it four times since buying it and then only for a maximum of two nights. My best trip has been to the Farne Islands last July where I used it at a campsite at Seahouses, but in truth it's been a very poor purchase due to it's condition and I stand to lose quite a lot of money if I try to sell it.  I really should have had it looked at by someone before buying it and it's quite clear now that the guy who sold it to me was a crook, especially as he was later prosecuted and convicted for faking vehicle documents.  But it's easy to be wise after the event.

It failed it's MOT again in April this year and so the question was, do I take the (very big) hit and sell it, or do I pour some more money into it and get it back on the road?  Well, my reckoning was that I wasn't going to be able to sell it for anything worthwhile without an MOT so I had to get that sorted first.

And then I've decided that I'm going to use it at least until midsummer in trying to do five target trips - Dumfries and Galloway, Norfolk and Suffolk, Spurn, the North East Coast, and Anglesey.  Depending on how these go I may also venture further into Scotland to go up to the Cairngorms and the Black Isle.  I really should try to sell it then with at least six months left on its MOT.

That's the plan for now, let's see how it goes starting with a trip to the beautiful Dumfries and Galloway, target birds of Barnacle Geese, Ospreys, Peregrines, Black Guillemots, Brent Geese, Scaup and Divers.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Worst Kept Secret Location in Yorkshire

Black-necked Grebes in West Yorkshire this week.  More text to follow ....

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Three Sisters Nature Reserve in Ashton

Just about the worst place to try to photograph Tawny Owls. First of all a very steep, wet, muddy and slippy slope covered in brambles, rotten stumps and ash whips and then a high up bird that is obscured by branches, leaves and which sleeps most of the time! That's Three Sisters Nature Reserve for you!

But at least I got it!

Monday, 2 April 2018

Publish And Be Damned!

Yay, I got a short and hopefully humorous item with a photo of this January's Desert Wheatear at Whitby printed in this month’s BirdWatch magazine. They added the title and the first paragraph, but that's OK.

Here's the original photo:

And here's the pie and mash!