I went on a similar trip about 10 years ago with the Manchester RSPB Members Group so this time I thought I would try doing it myself over a slightly longer period of time. I also hoped to 'twitch' a King Eider that has been reported on and off at Loch Ryan this winter.
Drive up from Manchester via Leighton Moss where I actually see a Bittern from the Public Hide. Try for the Lesser Scaup at Lochmaben but no sign of it today, although there are 150 Goosander, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Ruddy Duck and Tufted Duck. Stay for the first of three nights at the Market Inn Hotel, Castle Douglas which is reasonably priced, clean and an easy walk to the town centre. Also the best pint of 60/- in town.
Fortified by a hearty breakfast I head out to the 'new' RSPB reserve at the Loch Ken-Dee marshes, at the Mains of Duchrae, on the west bank of Loch Ken. There is a little car park with a view down to Loch where a small group of Greenland Whitefronted Geese are feeding. Also Greylag, Pink-footed and Canada Geese nearby. A flock of Chaffinches and Reed Buntings move through the hedgerow. Part way down the track is a viewing platform where a pair of Red Kite fly over and Raven gronk away in the distance. (The Red Kite were introduced in 2001 and are fed at 2pm just to the east of Laurieston ). Walking further down the track through a wood, Red Squirrel scamper through the trees and the usual woodland birds such as Jay, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit etc. flit about, but I miss out on Willow Tit. As I enter the second hide, I disturb a Barn Owl which ghosts away into the trees. On the walk back Bullfinch call from the treetops. Several Rabbits sit about as Buzzards circle overhead, and a noisy flock of Fieldfare and Redwing feed on the ground. A Roe Deer charges off into the reeds and a Hare walks away with its ungainly hind legs. .
It's about an hours drive to Southerness where the tide is just receding. Purple Sandpiper is the speciality here and two are just beyond the lighthouse with the Turnstone and Oystercatchers. A couple of idiots race up and down the foreshore on motorbikes so most of the waders have scattered. A flock of Barnacle Geese fly over.
Ten minutes back down the road is RSPB Mersehead, another 'new' reserve for me. In the carpark is a small flock of finches including Yellowhammer. I spend a fruitless hour looking for a Firecrest seen that morning, although there are several Goldcrest, Chaffinch and Brambling moving through the plantation. No sign either of the Twite. Thousands of Barnacle Geese feed in the surrounding fields and a small flock of Skylark wheel round. You could easily spend a whole day here, as there are two long trails to walk round.
The forecast today is rain at first, clearing from the west so I head out to Wigtown - the so called town of books trying to compete with Hay-on-Wye. Unfortunately most of the secondhand bookshops are closed in the winter. I head down to the harbour where a Peregrine is circling overhead which puts up a flock of Knot. A group of Whooper Swans feed in a field, unconcerned. The weather is still grey and damp so I make a detour to Bladnoch Distillery which of course is closed (tours Apr - Oct). I then press on to Stranraer and Loch Ryan for a chance of the King Eider. No sign of him and no reports this week so perhaps the mild damp weather doesn't suit him. There are good numbers of sea duck including Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser. The weather looks brighter to the west, so I try the western shore. At the end of a narrow road just past Kirkcolm, is a little bay where you can view the cliffs to the south. Here, there are Fulmar picking out nesting sites and Black Guillemot on the water, together with three Black-throated Diver. Several Rock Doves fly around the cliffs and they seem untainted with 'feral pigeon' genes. At The Wig on the way back, large numbers of Wigeon float on the water and a pair of Snipe fly up from the shoreline.
The sun makes an effort to come out so I travel back along the Queens Way. At Grey Mares Tail waterfall a sign proclaims Golden Eagle and Dipper can be seen but its still misty here. A few Feral Goats look down from the hillside. Further along there are a few Red Deer in an enclosure testing their antlers in sparring matches.
On the road back to Castle Douglas, down the east shore of Loch Ken there are several Kestrels pearched on the wires but bizarrely I don't see a Sparrowhawk on the whole trip. A thick fog descends making the town eerily quiet, apart from the chirruping of thousands of Starlings roosting in a Monkey Puzzle tree.
Another grey day is forecast so I take the coast road home hoping to see any waders I have missed so far. Passing the Barnacle Geese again at Mersehead, I stop off at Carsethorn. Here, there are large numbers of Knot, Oystercatcher and Dunlin with a few Grey Plover and Curlew scuttling along. On the sea are the usual Goldeneye, Wigeon and a few Scaup. On the other side of the Nith Estuary there are numbers of Golden Plover and Lapwing. Final stop is Caelaverock for more Barnacle Geese and two Richardsons Canada Geese which are the same size as the Barnacles and dwarfed by their resident cousins. A Peregrine puts everything up, then out on the mudflats, an Otter scampers along looking for scraps. I scrutinise all the Teal looking for the Green-winged Teal but alas no sign. A Stonechat sways on top of the reeds and a small group of Black-tailed Godwit huddle out of the wind.
Overall I saw 7 species of Mammals and 94 species of birds - I missed some obvious ones like Red-throated Diver, Ringed Plover, Rock Pipit, Stock Dove and Linnet. Wintering Greenshank were reported in the area and Crossbill breed in the Galloway Forest Park, so with better weather, 100 species should be possible in three days.
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