CRACKING PINTAILS @ RSPB MERSHEAD
On Thursday, the third day of my trip to Scotland, I headed for RSPB Mersehead which is located 18 miles from Dumfries just off the A710 coastal road between Dumfries and Dalbeattie near the village of Caulkerbush. The site is till a working farm and boasts a wide variety of habitats such as freshwater wetland, intertidal sand and mudflats, woodland, farmland and a stunning beach. There are large numbers of Barnacle Geese in the autumn with lapwings and Natterjack toads in the spring and summer as well as many other species.
Like Caerlaverock large numbers of Barnacle Geese make their way from Svalbard to the Solway Firth and spend their winters at RSPB Mersehead. It was a glorious sunny day when I arrived at RSPB Mersehead and in the fields to the left of the lane leading to the reserve were hundreds of Barnacle Geese. Once I had reached the car park I walked across the road to the visitor centre where visiting the feeders were Chaffinches, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins and a lone Dunnock and after a few minutes of watching a Yellowhammer made an appearance.
There was a large expanse of water beyond the feeders and at the far side I could see another large group of Barnacle Geese. Before I headed out onto the reserve I had a quick look at the latest sightings and I could see that there were several Pintails on the reserve a duck which I had had a distant view of at Caerlaverock. I was hopeful that I would get a closer sighting today and headed out on to the Wetland trail which after a short distance branches off north east towards the first of two hides at the reserve.
There were a few Blackbirds in the berry filled bushes either side of the path and overhead more Barnacle Geese were arriving. I eventually arrived at the hide which is called the Bruaich Hide and on the water in the distance I could see Teals, Shovelers, Wigeons, Mallards and few Pintails. There was also a pair of Mute Swans but over to my right I could see four Roe Deer at the edge of some tall grass. With the Pintails being so far away I left the hide and headed back down the path and then continued south east along the Wetland trail.
Moving through the bushes either side of the track were several Redwings whilst in the fields to my right were Crows. However the birds in the field to my left had caught my attention as just fifty yards into the field were a few hundred Barnacle Geese. At the far side of the field, half hidden amongst tall grass were three more Roe Deer and in the distance a Buzzard soared in and landed at the top of a tall tree. After a few hundred yards the path splits in two with the right hand one becoming the Coastal Trail.
I took the left hand path through woodland towards the Meida Hide where there were several Robins and Wrens moving through the trees and as I reached the hide I thought I saw a Fieldfare near the top of a tree. There was a pleasant surprise when I sat down in the hide as around thirty yards in front of me were half a dozen male Pintails! There were also a couple of Teals, Wigeons and Mallards with more than twenty Canada Geese and a lone Little Grebe diving under the water looking for food.
I spent the next thirty minutes watching the Pintails whilst I was having my lunch and shortly after a Buzzard flew over the hide chased by three Crows. As I left the hide I spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker high up a tree and several Fieldfares moving through the tree tops as well as a Goldcrest near the ground. I returned to the point where the path split and headed onto the Coastal Trail where as it approached the beach, I could see another large group of Barnacle Geese a few hundred yards away to my right.
I walked over the small sand dunes and down onto the long pristinely clean beach with the sea more than a mile out and the sand around me covered in shells. I walked along the beach for around half a mile before I spotted a gap in the dunes another large group of Barnacle Geese. After another half mile or so I saw the sign post for the path heading back towards the visitor centre. I took this path where I could hear Wrens calling from the bushes.
Around a hundred and fifty yards along the path I heard and then spotted a pair of Wrens calling from the top of a Gorse bush. One of the Wrens quickly disappeared but the other one started to sing away from the top of the bush for a couple of minutes before flying off. Over to the left I could see a couple of Crows sat on fence posts and a little further along I arrived at a metal gate to my right. I was at the bottom corner of a field and on wooden fence posts around two hundred yards away I could see two Stonechats.
They moved between the wooden posts and nearby bushes for several minutes before flying off along the fence and landing a lot further away. I walked further along and the path was soon bordered on both sides by berry filled bushes with Redwings, Chaffinches and a pair of Yellowhammers. I now reached the road and turned right along it passing two holiday cottages and in the hedges I could see Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows moving along towards the visitor centre feeders.
I popped into the visitor centre again and had a drink whilst I watched the birds visiting the feeders. The feeders were still very busy with Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Chaffinches and a pair of Yellowhammers making regular visits. Whilst I was watching the feeders a few Teals and Shovelers flew over the visitor centre and landed out on the water a few hundred yards away. After about fifteen minutes I left and walked across to the car park as a group of more than twenty Snipes flew overhead.
As I drove down the approach road to head over to Eskrigg a Buzzard flew overhead and landed high up in a tree to my right. As I approached the village of Caulkerbush there were several hundred Barnacle Geese in the fields at the side of the road and I saw several Buzzards either perched on stone walls or telegraph wires as I headed for Eskrigg Nature Reserve for a second attempt to see a Red Squirrel.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my first visit to the excellent RSPB Mersehead.