Today was one of those really good days, as it worked out. We followed Plan A all the way through?
We got going early and packed the motorhome full of optical gear, reference books, notepads and food – the whole cahuna! The sun was out and the tide was coming in quickly – it was going to be a fairly high one with a good westerly behind it. So now down to ‘Biglands’ layby, a popular venue – the Big Names were there before us but the layby was big enough to cope with all of us. We had no sooner got the side window open than the birds started to arrive, forced on to the saltings by the rapidly rising waters. First were a good collection of Oystercatchers of which the Reserve has great numbers here on the Solway. Then, Oh Glory Be! At least 90, if not more, Black-tailed Godwits, the majority in full summer plumage, settling amongst the Oystercatchers - preening and having a good natter and then getting their heads tucked in for a well deserved rest as they had been feeding the incoming tide – a few Knot, still in winter plumage, amongst them.
Black-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers resting at high tide
Judith now in full cry with her new Canon camera and Sigma lens – the range would probably be 200 metres, so we knew this would be on it’s outer limits. Suddenly the birds were off – they had been spooked! A few aerial manoeuvres, after which the Oystercatchers settled back but skittish as usual the Godwits were off. Old marsh hands that we are, we took a guess that they had gone to the Marsh pool, a mile west.
Godwits taking off
Heading for Marsh Pool
This was part of Plan A anyway, we took off in pursuit to the Marsh Pool layby (there by courtesy of our own RSPB) Incidently, an excellent place for rare visitors and casual vagrants – we are talking about birds, of course.
Marsh Pool from layby
Sure enough some of the Black-tailed Godwits had parked up there, a number of which were already feeding in the pool, the rest out on the very edge of the marsh grass with the incoming tide lapping at their feet. But hang on! – they seem to have collected a dozen very pale specimens. Two other birders came along in some doubt as to what they might be – out came the books. It wasn’t that easy – their heads were tucked in, very little movement, legs obscured by grass. They were pale, relatively smooth i.e. no speckles or stripes – ‘Collins’ seem to indicate Black-tails in winter plumage. Then got a view of a few beaks, pretty straight as far as could be seen and Godwit length. My money was on Black-tails still in winter plumage – but then, to our joy, a big maroon car rolls into the layby. It was our saviours in the form of Derek West and Marjorie and I knew our doubts would be resolved. Indicating this group of pale ghosts to the Grand Master saying where my money was going – but I crashed and burned, on being assured that in fact they were Bar-tailed Godwits in winter plumage still. I quickly changed horses! He then pointed out a lone White Wagtail that had previously gone unnoticed and resolved my query regarding the Wheatear nearby as probably being a female of the Greenland race. Later on a male Wheatear showed up but Derek had then gone so I could not, with any certainty, ascertain race. The tide was now receding quickly and the birds were following it out on to the freshly uncovered silts – feeding had commenced. So had ours in the form of chicken and salad sandwiches.
Oystercatchers and 'ghost' Godwits in the background
The part of Plan A that we had not followed through, owing to the excitement inshore, was that we had taken our eyes away from the main estuary and our intention of trying to spot any movement of Skua’s on their easterly migration. This has now started and of which there have been some good reports in the last few days – hence the presence up and down the Marsh of the Big Names who are massive authorities on this subject and rightly so, after many years of watching and recording of this annual cross country movement, in the many vagaries of weather that the Solway can throw at them.
So ends the Day! No just a minute – that’s a Lesser Whitethroat singing from the gorse next to the van!
Whimbrel photographed later on marsh
‘A Spring in my Step’ – The raised bog walk to Rogersceugh, 11th April 2010
Another great day. Decided today was the day we would do the big walk from the hide on the lonning to Rogersceugh - photographing and noting all the salient features along the way; structures, walkways, engineering features such as dams, pools and sluices … all very easy to talk about but very hard work to create!
I have been along previously over the years but this was Judith’s first venture on to the trail and she was going to be involved in a great deal of photography. The following items are a very brief selection of the main points of interest: -
Starting at the very far end of the lonning from North Plain, with the hide of which we are all very proud. It sits comfortably overlooking presently flooded fields sporting a good variety of duck and wader – a specially commissioned structure and now frequented by rapidly increasing numbers of people. We unofficially call it the ‘club house’ - everybody from the enthusiastic first time family to the hardy expert birder draped with digiscopes and high-end binoculars – conversation by all means when it seems suitable, silence where indicated.
View of hide from wet meadows
We are then invited to follow the well marked path to the first bower – a seat within a splendidly woven willow structure …all very sustainable and eco-friendly, which overlooks one of the corner ponds.
Then on to the birch woodland passing a very important feature: the main sluice which controls the wetland water level – bearing in mind that the adjacent farmland must not be allowed to flood.
Sluice controlling water levels in wet meadows
Sluice outfall showing lowered level of water for adjacent farmland
Walking along the woodland track we arrive at the second bower with sylvan glade and pool where one might rest and contemplate the meaning of life while watching woodland fauna.
Onward, onward, out of the wood towards the raised bog with wonderful structures protecting the pathway from flooding, and dammed pools where one can only speculate what lies within their brown and peaty depths.
Now for the Big One, the newly constructed boardwalk across the raised bog, once dreaded by man and beast – unwalkable for at least half the year. Now can be safely traversed by all, admiring on the way pools, large ponds and wonderfully illustrated information boards, explaining succinctly all the features that one may chance upon. A triumph of sustainable bogland engineering, at huge effort and considerable expense – future generations please note!
This area was once ravaged by runnels and small peat workings but now safely dammed, waters contained within raised levels, vistas opened up – believe me, this was heavy engineering of ultra-difficult terrain. One can all the while take in the scenery - distant views of the faraway hills and estuaries through the warm haze that always seems to surround such lovely heath-type land. Lulled by the exotic aroma from nearby bog myrtle patches. Crush a few leaves in your hand and you could fall instantly asleep. The ‘old folk’ who used to know a thing or two, would make up myrtle pillows to aid deep sleep and good breathing. I digress!
Dammed pool Runnels and pool runoff
Old Peat workings Bogland vistas
Bogland carpet information board Bog Myrtle catkins
'Lily' Pool overlooked by seat Replica Seed Drill seat
Heading ever onwards to the drumlin in the middle of the common, on which is situated the old farm of Rogersceugh – it would be fair to assume that there would have been human habitation on this hill since before recorded history! It’s likely that the Emperor Hadrian would have had a trip or two up there himself, to get the lie of the land.
Reed Buntings seen flitting around the trees here
Fenced pathway all the way up the hill End of the path
On arrival at the farm there is an open barn information and all-weather picnic spot, where one can gaze across the whole of the Solway Plain. There is indeed a feel of Mount Olympus about the place – ‘Lord of all you survey’ type quotes come to mind, as you consume the contents of your lunch pack. It is in fact only 24 metres above sea level. With the thought that the return journey will be all downhill for tired tiny feet, back to the carpark at North Plain, only 3 Km away,
Road to Rogersceugh Farm Information board in barn
View from drumlin View from Rogersceugh towards the old shepherd's cottage
On return we guarantee you will feel you’ve had a good day in this unique landscape!
For an area like this it goes without saying that stout outdoor wear is a common-sense idea – no high heels please. There are no facilities for broken ankles here!
Today is the first decent day of Spring that we've had on the Solway - everything looks fine!
Saw two or three small flocks of Barnacles http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4376298271/ flying along the tideline this morning. What a glorious sight! These beautiful black and white geese won't be leaving us for Svalbard just yet. - they'll be hanging around for a little time more. The majority of the Pinkfeet http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4319794193/seem to have departed - this has been taking place over the last few weeks and we now have a decent southwesterly wind to help them on their way. However, we are reliably informed by our grocer, Bruce, that there are still good numbers around the Newton Marsh, Moricambe Bay area. http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4390378923/
Walked down the lonning to the hide this afternoon. Other birders informed us that there are a few Wigeon and Pintail hanging on. Shoveller and Shelduck were also in evidence, showing up in the sunshine. Big numbers of Teal were now showing up all over the Reserve. Highlight of the afternoon was a magnificent confrontation between 2 male Roe Deer, resulting in a wild chase around the rushy meadow with the dominent male seeing the lesser one off the premises.
Joe, our neighbour, reported later a careful count of Blacktailed Godwits on the flooded wetland in front of the hide. He had observed a fine aerial display by 8 of these brilliant flyers coming into their summer plumage.
Good count of 14 Bumble bees on Gorse and Willow shows, at least, that some have survived the Winter.
Bird of The Day: Slightly unusual for us, a fall of small birds on the hawthorn bushes on front of the marsh. Assumed to be pipits but on closer inspection turned out to be 5 Twite. Watch out for them!
Willow warblers showing nicely on the loaning; Tree Sparrows http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4556272892/ and Goldfinches http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4556231856/ in the first arable field; wild plum in blossom; female orange tips – saw male yesterday.
Goldfinch 18 04 10
Sad to say ‘mighty’ Grebe has achieved his aims. He seems to be on the pool in solitary and triumphant splendour – no sign of pair of Tufted Duck. Who would have thought it?
Met two visitors from Loweswater who had come specifically to view Tree Sparrows on the Reserve. We were able to assure them that there was now a plenitude of them here owing to the success of the policy of installing nest boxes and the provision of winter seed crops. We ourselves were fortunate, in arriving at the hide pond, to be able to photograph a Tree Sparrow entering one of the nest boxes there.
From the hide we noted about 30 Black-tailed Godwit, plenty of Lapwing and Skylark, a good number of duck in the water by the wood.
Only have rubbish binoculars and also rubbish eyesight, so could not burn the duck with any accuracy - but wait for it folks - having had a look through Derek West’s brilliant Leica Ultravid 10 X 40 binoculars, have decided to invest….no gain without pain! And that’s not all! Owing to the fact that we are now assisting with this Blog, we have also decided to up our game and have taken delivery of a Canon 7D DSLR camera and 150-500mm Sigma lens. Our hopes are high, so watch this space!
For your delectation we include a photograph of the gorse in flower along the whole length of the marsh front – a splendid sight!
The morning dawned perfect... wall to wall sunshine - no wind! We don't often get this sort of weather on the Solway. We decided to walk down the lonning to the the flooded meadows at the end, taking the digiscope, tripod and all with us - but got no further than the first pool on the right. We were immediately put to work by feeding Teal and Lapwings - all very tranquil and relatively near. Pairs of Teal were dabbling about in the flooded areas and the Lapwing were making use of the recently dredged up small islands. After having spent a most enjoyable hour watching and photographing, decided we had enough material and returned home for lunch.
The lonning itself produced two butterflies: a peacock and a small tortoiseshell - rather tattered specimens having just emerged from hibernation. Here's a note on bushcraft for those interested. If a butterfly, sitting in the sunshine, refuses to open it's wings - cast a shadow with your hand just slowly and gently to simulate a passing cloud. Wings should obligingly open!