Barnacle Geese. In case you ever wonder whether conservation is worth it, there were once only 400 of these beautiful Barnacle Geese left in the wild, and at Caerlaverock and again at Mereshead RSPB site, in Dumfries, we saw more than this in a single fly-over, all thanks to the vision of people like Sir Peter Scott Once more interested in showing wild fowl, he became worried about declining numbers of Barnacle Geese, one of the stimulations to setting up the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, which has since pioneered many similar conservation successes, and is still doing so. These amazing birds fly into some of our north-west coasts from Svalbard, Greenland and Russia, to feed on our grasslands. Numbers worldwide are now estimated at 880,000 birds. Conditions: A little break from Storm Dennis, though the winds are still high- dry for a few hours. Temperature: Max 6 Min
Wigeon: these beautiful and remarkable ducks were at Caerlaverock, SW Scotland having joined native Wigeon for winter, flying in from as far away as Siberia and Scandinavia. You can see them on many estuaries, lakes or wetlands round the UK in winter The males are easy to distinguish by the pale ‘punk’ stripe on their foreheads. They have a lovely whistling call, and dabble, feeding on weed in the water and grazing on grass on land, much like Geese. Conditions: Sleet and snow with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 4 Min 1C.
Whooper Swans– one of the many joys of being able to send a couple of days at Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetland Reserve recently is to watch and listen to the families of Whooper Swans being fed grain, all part of the research project carried out over decades on these winter migrants from Iceland. Every bill marking in individual swans is unique and feeding them allows birds to be identified and ringed, and studied over their lifetimes. Less birds arrived this year, probably due to the mildness of the winter. Even the young (iidentifiable by their pale bills) all the way with the adults. I was lucky to hear Whoopers’
haunting calls across a loch in Iceland many summers ago, and it was stunning to hear them en masse again, sounding a bit like old car horns. Conditions: Like most of the country, in while storms rage around us. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5C.
Having taken a couple of days off from our chicken-sitting, we have had a wonderful time at Caerlaverock, the Wildfowl and Wetland Site on the north bank of the Solway Firth. It was a delight to watch our smallest Duck, the Teal, whose beautiful green wing-patches give rise to the colour-name teal. The males also have fascinating markings on their heads (see photos) and beautiful patterning on their bodies. A small
number nest in the uplands of the UK but the big flocks to be seen on wetlands, estuaries, gravel-pits etc in many parts of the UK in the winter are largely winter migrants, many flying in great distances from Siberia and the Baltic. Dabbling ducks, their collective name is ‘a spring’, from their ability to fly off suddenly and almost vertically if disturbed. Conditions: Cloudy but dry spell after much rain and hail. Temperature: Max 7 Min 1C.
Goldeneye Duck– Though the light was poor and so the beautiful amber eyes of this pair of Goldeneye didn’t shine through, and they were rather far away, it was a delight to watch them at Old Moor yesterday. Apart from a very small number nesting in the Highlands, Goldeneye come here to overwinter on our lakes and reservoirs in winter, from Northern Europe. Goldeneye are tree-nesting birds, medium-sized, with large heads. The female is smaller than the male and has a chocolate-coloured head but the similaritly bright amber-gold eyes. The male is a gorgeous black and white with a greenish-black head. They feed in a very characteristic way, fanning their tails and raising the front of their bodies from the water-surface, before diving in shallow water for small fish and invertebrates. (Old Moor is going through a lot of changes at present, adding more scrapes and wetlands, and more features for children to explore nature). Conditions: Mild, cloud and wind gathering for rain. Temperature: Max 11 Min 8C.
Grey Heron- On a still, grey New Year’s Day at Rye Nature Reserve we watched this statuesque mature Heron stalking the shallow waters, among diminutive Redshank. Last autumn I featured an immature Heron and the colouring, size and length of crest and chest feathers are all more striking in adults like this. They have an ancient appearance and sure enough, 7 million year-old fossils bearing a close resemblance to today’s Heron’s have been excavated. They also have an aloof bearing which may account for the ancient Romans believing Heron’s to be birds of divination. They
Mallard numbers are increasing and you can see them on almost any stretch of water, in fact they may be becoming a bit too dominant but nevertheless, they are worth watching. I have covered a few birds washing habits this year and non is more enthusiastic in its dunking style than the Mallard. Also, watch out for them ‘asleep’. They can sleep with one eye open, meaning one brain hemisphere is alert while the other sleeps. Not a bad adaptive behaviour! Conditions: More grey, damp days. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.