WAMBC Solway Trip – February 2024

It all started really well! We hit the road on time and sped up the M5/M6, whilst being briefed on the species sweepstake, the sites we were likely to visit and the birds we were likely to see. 

First stop was RSPB Leighton Moss, immediately securing a very co-operative ring-necked duck (f) in the Lillian Hide.

Rumour had it that bearded tits were on the grit stations, but they eluded us, despite much loafing around hoping that they might turn up. But the bitterns boomed across the landscape and two duly flew across the reed bed (also seen from Lillian Hide), the sun shone, and the marsh harriers and marsh tits were much in evidence.

All the species that you might expect on wetland were there in force – including several of our own RSPB members who were heading south from a trip to Tiree! Finally, before setting off for the last leg of our journey north to our base at the Premier Inn, Dumfries, we went searching for a green-winged teal on a small wetland site next to a local caravan park (Fell End), but alas, luck was not with us that time. 

It was at the Premier Inn that things went a little bit wrong – for Mike anyway. Having driven all that way, Mike was the last to check in, and whilst all appeared well, Daddy Bear soon found out that Goldilocks (m) was sleeping in his bed. To be precise, Mike opened his bedroom door to the sight of a naked man!! Who was more surprised we will never know. In fairness to the Premier Inn staff, they had had a dreaded new computer system installed that week, and all was not entirely straightforward or predictable in their world. The system even managed to charge meals somewhat randomly (and as I write, that problem still hasn’t been solved). But Mike did eventually get a room of his own…

This little hiccup did not interfere with four more days of excellent birding. Firstly we headed west to Loch Ryan, claiming an American Widgeon (lovely bird) en route at RSPB Crook of Baldoon. Then – an array of ducks (including a huge raft of scaup, and many, many widgeon, teal and golden-eye), divers (Gt Northern, red-throated), grebes (Slavonian, little and great crested), waders (oyster-catchers, knot, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit, turnstone) – this list mentions but a few, and we felt well satisfied with the additions to our tally. The following day was spent mainly at Loch Ken, a site which was known to have willow tits; although heard, we were not rewarded with a sighting.

A much needed cup of tea and cake was followed by a road trip across higher ground with some very tame red deer. We were hoping for eagles, but instead, we finished the day with a red-kite feeding frenzy (eight /ten birds circling a carcass which we couldn’t see).

Whilst the weather had been iffy at Loch Ken, the following day it rained for Africa, and the decision was taken to spend the whole day at WWT Caerlaverock. Undeterred, we got yellowhammers, tree and house sparrows, and a male hen harrier; later in the afternoon as the sun came out, we found a female merlin sitting tight on a tussock on the salt marsh, whilst a more predatory and muscular female peregrine made her presence felt at a distance.

All this says nothing about the geese –thousands of (mainly) barnacles, with greylag, Canada, white-fronted, pink-footed and a few Brent thrown in – and swans, about 160 Whooper at Caerlaverock and several more groups seen amidst the fields. Our final morning was spent making our way to RSPB Mersehead. We found a lonely scaup, a whimbrel and a purple sandpiper on the way, plus many more barnacle geese (including three leucistic), tree-sparrows and one more merlin when we got there. Altogether, we had 112 species (the sweepstake winner has asked for privacy owing to the vast sums of money involved).

Our trip started and finished really well, but Mike just had a little shock in the middle. That says nothing for the state of mind of our anonymous, nearly-house-guest – perhaps we should have asked him to join in! 

Thanks as ever go to Nick, Mike and Jeanne for their excellent guidance and organisation, and to everyone else on the trip for their expertise, their company and their unfailing good humour!

Written by Shelagh Norton
Photos in order of appearance
Female Ring-Necked Duck – Nick Skilbeck
Marsh Tit – Simon Evans
American Wigeon – Nick Skilbeck
Whooper Swan – Simon Evans
Some of the happy crew – Mike Hails