Autumnwatch was, as usual, a fantastic showcase for RSPB reserves and the work that we do but did you watch it?
I didn’t, at least not live and the reason for that was that my wife and I decided to have a holiday that week and to take in the wildlife sights where I usually work. Not so much a busman’s holiday as a fantastic encounter with nature that just happens to be all around us on our fantastic reserves but that we might not have the time to look at. So instead of watching wildlife on the TV we spent our time just watching the wildlife.
Whooper Swan - Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
We visited the Crook of Baldoon several times and for a little out of the way site it was just superb, with a count of 50 Whooper swans visiting the site whilst we were there. If that wasn’t enough we also saw a small but spectacular starling murmuration and there were good numbers of lapwing and curlew around too. There were good numbers of pink footed and greylag geese and a few brent and barnacle geese around too. It was simply fantastic but to top it all when we were sitting having lunch at high tide time we saw the sky start to move. We thought at first that it was more starlings coming in but no the sky was swirling and dancing from east to west all across the horizon. It was golden plover and I have no idea how many there were in total. The poor starling display became an amateur act against this swirling ever changing dance of the sky. It was literally all around us from the ground to the highest heights, hundreds and hundreds of birds coming together, swooping around us and mesmerising us with their ever changing patterns.
Golden Plover - Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
In the evening we wanted to see the stars so we went for a drive through the Galloway forest which is reputedly one of the best star watching spots on the planet. Sadly for us the clouds came in and that was the end of the star gazing so we took a nice dusk trip down through the Wood of Cree and we were so glad that the clouds had appeared as we encountered tawny owls, and red deer hinds with their young not once but several times. This was a great joy for us as the only other red deer we encountered that week were at the forestry park and that just wasn’t natural as the deer there are fenced into a field so although you can’t miss them they don’t give that thrill of the wild encounter.
sparrowhawk Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Throughout the week we saw hares everywhere and fallow deer were also in good supply in the fields. Of course we saw lots of red kite, one of my favourites but a trip to West Freugh to see the hen harriers was a let down in that regard but we did see a sparrowhawk hunting literally six feet in front of us, and yet another great starling murmuration with competition this time from a good flock of lapwing. One of the fields to the west of the airfield looked like it had been planted with curlew, there were just so many of them.
A trip over the grouse moors was a bit of an eye opener too, I was amazed at the number of corvid around including a good number of Ravens. Ravens are not that rare but to see so many of them made me wonder if they and their lesser siblings had taken the place of the raptor population as we saw very few raptors in the area, only one or two buzzards.
It was interesting returning home at the end of the week and to finally get to see the Autumnwatch programmes that we had missed. We sat there and one after the other as the wildlife was showcased we said, we saw that, and we saw that, and we saw that...
We did get to see the stars, not the TV stars but the grand display of the milky way and the constellations and not in the Galloway forest but somewhere that turned out to be even better at least on that second attempt, we went back to the Crook of Baldoon and the stars put on a fantastic show, it was nearly as good as the golden plover but not quite.