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The Solway Winter Wildlife Expedition 2023 - Mon 4th - Fri 8th Dec 2023

Tour Report

Day 1

We all met outside the hotel at 1pm and headed straight out to take advantage of the afternoon light. We would be focusing on some nearby areas on the English side of the Solway and whilst having our light lunch we watched Tree Sparrows at the feeders and heard a Brambling. Afterwards we visited a wildlife hide in the hope of seeing some birds of prey go to roost.

With some patience and perseverance we got rewarded with a truly stunning male Hen Harrier quartering back and forward right outside the hide! A second male was also seen 20 minutes later in the fading light.

Other sightings included Brown Hare, Little Egrets, Kestrel, Mallards and Common Snipe (flushed by the harriers).

Day 2

It was our first full day and after breakfast at the hotel, we all ventured north, over the border to explore some areas around Loch Ken. After a bit of time in the van, we stretched the legs and walked out over the reserve. We saw another Brown Hare grazing in a nearby field but no sign of the Greenland White-fronted Geese wintering in the area. A Peregrine hunting Teal was a fine sight as we got back to the van and also what seemed like a ‘sky full of kites’, with over 15 Red Kites counted in a concentred area.

We had lunch at Threave and then had a short walk on the revere where we saw Roe Deer and an adult Peregrine perched up on the castle.

We headed south down to the Scots side of the Solway and local flooding meant we could not access Mearshead so we went to Southerness for some birding and the sunset as an alternate ‘plan B’. A Red-throated Diver was seen just off the point along with c15 Harbour Porpoise. We also had a lone Grey Plover and a small flock of Golden Plovers flyby and some larger groups of Dunlin flocking in tight groups due to a nearby Peregrine. The sunset was beautiful and on the drive back we had a group of Barnacle Geese in the nearby fields.

Day 3

A second sunny morning on the trot as we headed south down the M6 to cover some sites in south Cumbria. We called at a country park to check for Hawfinch but no joy, unfortunately. We did have Greenfinch, Treecreeper and Nuthatch.

The main event was exploring some magical wetland areas on the south Cumbria border and we headed straight to a Bearded Tit site to watch and wait for any activity. We gave it 40 minutes before 2 BTs arrived at the grit tray and stayed for a few minutes. The timing was unfortunate for some of the guests, who had gone to the centre for a coffee / toilet break! We moved onto a nearby wildlife hide and within minutes got onto mother and cub Otters fishing in a small break in the ice. Nearby wildfowl included Pintail, Shoveler, Gadwell, Mute Swan, Teal and Wigeon.

On the way back to the car park we watched a Marsh Tit in the trees by the centre along with Fieldfares, Treecreeper, Dunnock, Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Chaffinch.

After lunch we headed to Morecambe bay to check the salt marsh and wetland habitats there and one species of note was a Great Egret, very close to the hide. A small flock of Dunlin were also seen along with Redshank, Little Egrets and Curlew.

We headed back to the main part of the reserve for the late afternoon period, and from a high vantage point we saw a Bittern fly from one section of reed bed to another. We originally got into it from the disturbed Teal and managed a view of about 10 seconds before it dropped into cover. We waited until the last light and got rewarded with a Marsh Harrier roost of around 7 birds and even had a male ‘sky dancing’ for about 15 seconds! A Cormorant roost was also visible. A Starling roost started to build towards the far side of the reed bed, but it was tricky to see them as they were very low down and also blended in with the large deciduous trees in the backdrop. They did not do much ‘shaping’ and went to roost quite quickly. The local warden informed us that the count had risen to 40,000 birds.

Day 4

On our third full day of the experience, it was back over the border to explore some sites in Dumfries and Galloway again. We headed to a local nature reserve near Lockerbie and had a focus on Red Squirrels. We persevered for nearly 50 minutes at a feeding station, but no animals showing, unfortunately. We did enjoy watching the Nuthatches and other song birds while waiting.

From there we headed to Caerlaverock WWT reserve and started by visiting a couple of nearby hides to watch the local wildfowl. Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon were showing at a good range, and we attended the Whooper Swan feeding demonstration at 1pm where we learnt about some of the wintering species and the work done by the WWT at the reserve.

After lunch at the centre, we headed further out onto the reserve. The rain had got heavier by this point so we focused on the hides and managed to see a male Hen Harrier out on the marsh along with a Great Egret, Roe Deer and Goosander in the nearby channel.

Day 5

After reports of Waxwings in the local area, we headed straight to south Carlisle to try and connect with these birds. There had been 12 reported feeding at dusk the day before and then again this morning at 8:30. We gave it a good hour by the apple trees, but sadly we again were in the right place at the wrong time!

We moved onto Longtown ponds to check the local wildfowl there. A really good mix of duck including Gadwell, Goosander, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Mallard and a Little Grebe. There was a lone Pink-footed Goose at the back of the pond, along with some Mute Swans and a Great-black Backed Gull. Behind us on the fields there were c400 Pink-footed Geese along with Greylag and Canada Geese. Both Mute and Whooper Swans were also feeding nearby. We checked another site for Waxwing, but just Blackbirds feeding from the apples.

We finished with lunch at Talkin Tarn, and then it was back to the hotel for 2pm to say our goodbyes.

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