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!
Calm Spring-like day with very little wind. Plenty of feeding activity here in the garden; Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Tree and House Sparrows, Green Finches and Great, Blue and Coal Tits. The Meadow Pippit seems to have taken up residence on the marsh in front of the house.
Blackbird heard singing well. These birds are great mimicks - 'our Blackbird' does a particularly good cat yowling and is not bad at a curlew either.
Have not yet heard Blackcap, Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler in the orchard but expect to do so shortly. Spring is late, definately.
We seem to have attracted a Moorhen http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4461495164/ from the Reserve to feed in the garden amongst the rest of the birds - quite a dominant animal and likes its own space.