Dumfries: the destination. These are the voyages of the BOC Tardis. Its five-day mission: to explore strange new reserves, to seek out birds and new experiences. Ably piloted by Ken and Alistair the BOC team headed north to the WWT reserve at Martin Mere. Here the team got their first views of this winter’s wildfowl – Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans, some waders including Ruff, and a Tree Sparrow. From Martin Mere it was then north to Dumfries, the home of Robert Burns.
On the second day the first port of call was Castle Loch, Lochmaben, where Great Crested Grebes, Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks swam and dived while the sky was busy with large skeins of Pink-footed, Greylag and Canada Geese flying between the loch and surrounding fields. Leaving the loch side the team set off in search of feeding geese in the fields en route to Eskrigg, a small but select nature reserve on the outskirts of Lockerbie which seemed to be infested with large numbers of Coal Tits in the company of numerous Nuthatches, Blue and Great Tits, Mallards, a Little Grebe and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. We were also entertained by some highly mobile Red Squirrels. Returning to the Tardis the team had flybys of Fieldfares, Redwings and Chaffinches. We then visited the WWT’s reserve at Caerlaverock; as at Slimbridge it has a swan feed, but here it is for the larger Whooper Swans rather than the small Bewick’s found at Slimbridge. Also on the reserve was a Green-winged Teal that gave excellent views and much pleasure to those team members for whom it was a lifer. Walking out to the Saltcoats Merse Observatory, we found the avenue alive with feeding Blackbirds and tits, with large flocks of Barnacle Geese feeding in the fields. Once at the observatory the team were treated to the sight of a hunting male Hen Harrier – a very special moment.
A light dusting of snow had replaced the overnight rain on day three and the first task of the day was to explore Dumfries, including the banks of the River Nith where a small group of Goosanders flew upstream overlooked by four species of gull: Herring, Black-headed, Lesser and Great Black-backed. Meanwhile, Grey Wagtails flitted around the edges of the river as we searched unsuccessfully for a reported party of Waxwings. Leaving Dumfries, we headed for the RSPB reserve at the Loch Ken-Dee Marshes, which was surrounded by snow-covered hills. Here the team experienced flybys by Raven, Red Kite, Buzzards and Canada Geese. During this aerial display, a plucky trio of members went to the rescue of two sheep in distress. Shortly before leaving, a flock of 40 odd Greenland White-fronted Geese arrived at the site and distant views of a Golden Eagle on a pylon were had by some members. Another RSPB reserve was next – Mereshead, on the Solway coast. Numerous tits, finches, ducks, Yellowhammers, Goldcrest and Barnacle Geese gave splendid views. A short stop at Carsethorn on the estuary provided us with views of thousands of waders especially Oystercatchers.It’s the penultimate day and looking bright, but the forecast is gloomy! The team set forth towards Stranraer to explore the shores of Loch Ryan. The first shoreline stop was near one of the ferry terminals; first impressions were not encouraging until three Scaup and an Eider were sighted, accompanied by a wonderful rainbow. Moving on, we were hoping for the pot of gold and, despite a biting easterly wind, were treated to a flyby Peregrine, four species of gull, Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Eiders, Redshanks, Turnstones, Mute Swans and Bar-tailed Godwits.
The last stop on Loch Ryan, the former RAF Wig Bay seaplane base, was equally fruitful with a host of Golden Plover, Knot, Meadow and Rock Pipits, Oystercatchers, a large flock of Common Gulls, Starlings, Twite and a Brambling. Time was getting on and we had one more site to visit before the light faded: this was West Freugh a former RNAS in WW1 for Naval Airships. Even before the team managed to exit the Tardis, Greenland White-fronted Geese were observed feeding on the ground. Then a sharp-eyed member sighted a male Hen Harrier – one of four seen (two males and two ringtails). All four were observed for some time and then a Marsh Harrier joined them. A small flock of Skylarks flew overhead and two Merlins were spotted. This was obviously the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The list of species seen by the team in Scotland totalled 110.
It’s the last day of the mission and team is heading home, with a stop at RSPB Leighton Moss. On arrival, our leader Ken took us to a predetermined spot on the reserve. As the team gathered together, about half a dozen Bearded Tits appeared on the gravel trays – impeccable timing on Ken’s part (not for the first time). The team then split up, with some heading off to see the American Wigeon while others explored some of the hides and the new tower platform. From Lillian’s Hide, Judy saw a glimpse of a Bittern diving into the reed bed. From the tower and the hides, many Common Snipe, Wigeon and Teal were seen, along with three Great White Egrets and a couple of Little Egrets. In the wooded areas between the hides not only were the usual tits observed but also two Marsh Tits, a good number of Treecreepers and some delightful Goldcrests.
All good things must come to an end so it was back on the road south in the Tardis homeward bound (many thanks for the smooth driving guys). Over the five days the Team recorded and sometimes photographed a total of 118 Species. Many thanks to Judy for organising the holiday and keeping the team in order, and to Ken for leading us and organising the birds and to Ken and Alistair for driving. Rich Scantlebury