Knutsford Ornithological Society 50th anniversary trip 2nd - 6th June 2024

This very special holiday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our little group of birding friends found us, once again, heading north to Scotland. A group of 17 members spent four nights at the excellent Creebridge House Hotel situated in the town of Newton Stewart on the banks of the River Cree in the heart of Dumfries and Galloway.

Sunday 2nd. June 2024...... Mersehead RSPB reserve.

The trip began "officially" at the Mersehead reserve, with most of the party arriving at about 12:30pm. I'm not one for keeping lists but on these KOS trips I like to keep a tally of the different species recorded and set a target for the occasion, be it a one day affair or, as in this case, for the whole five days. It's a good team building exercise and I set an optimistic aim of 100 for the duration.
The first ticks were added as we sat in the visitor centre drinking cups of very acceptable RSPB filter coffee watching family parties of Chaffinches, Starlings and Tree Sparrows on the concrete bird bath.
We decided to do the 4Km coastal trail which took us from the visitor centre down to the coast via a short diversion through woodland to a hide overlooking a small pool and acres of reeds. The pool held just a Moorhen with a Grey Heron and two Little Egrets further out on the marsh. In the narrow belt of woodland Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were ticked off on the list as well as a Stock Dove. A local birder we met was pleased to hear the dove, it's quite a rarity on the reserve apparently.
Returning to the coastal trail we made our way along the shoreline picking up Oystercatcher, Redshank and Stonechat on the way. The tide was out so any waders present were too far away for reliable identification.
Back then to the visitor centre for another coffee before thanking the young lady warden and heading to Newton Stewart and the hotel. 51 species during our visit to Mersehead, a sound enough start but there was still a long way to go!

Monday 3rd. June 2024...... Wood of Cree, Bellymack Hill Farm, Carstramon Wood.

Our KOS chairman, Sheila Blamire, had been working hard for a long time, arranging the accommodation and producing the itinerary that we would be following during the holiday. She remained in overall control but other members were given the job of overseeing activities on each particular day. Monday was my day as team leader. It's a fair and straightforward enough concept but with such a range of physical attributes it can be a bit fraught at times - a bit like knitting fog!
Anyway, eventually everyone arrived at the Wood of Cree car park where some of the locals had arranged a unique Scottish welcome. Midges! Clouds of the little blighters!! On went gallons of repellant, but they persisted and it came as a welcome relief to start walking from the cars and into the woods.
I'd visited the Wood of Cree previously and knew what to expect. It may be described as an easy 3.4Km walk, but that's in walking magazines; in reality it's hard going for an octogenarian birder!
Half the party reached the high part of the walk whilst the other, more circumspect members of the party, chose the easier route, missing off the steepest sections.
I think we added about 15 new species at the Wood of Cree including Treecreeper, Pied Flycatcher, Siskin and Wood Warbler. Great to hear the latter for the first time this year, no sightings unfortunately but the shivering song echoing through the trees was unmistakable.
Bob Groom had taken a route along the riverside and was able to add a singing Garden Warbler to our list, it was the only one recorded during our stay in the area, as was a Cuckoo heard whilst walking back from the Otter viewing platform (no Otters on this occasion!)

The second port of call on Monday was to the Red Kite feeding station at Bellymack Hill Farm, Lauriston.. OK you could argue that it's not "proper" birding and akin to a zoo but, in my opinion, well worth the £7.50 entry fee for such stunning views of the c.80 Kites that descended at 2:00pm for their daily free meal.

It's a photographers paradise and even I managed some reasonable shots. I was very pleased with one particular image and could envisage it displayed here on the website.....then Simon sent me his shots...hmmm!

On then to our final site of the day, Carstramon Wood, 2 miles north of Gatehouse of Fleet, a Scottish Wildlife trust reserve.
From the road the path upwards looked steep, even more so then the Wood of Cree. The usual suspects relished the challenge and off they went leaving a small band of more cautious members to walk the road that twisted it's way around the edge of the wood. We did quite well from the road though, picking up the first Mistle Thrush, Redstart and Curlew of the trip. 18 "new" species during the day's birding - things were progressing nicely.

Tuesday 4th. June 2024...... The Mull of Galloway, Portpatrick and Loch Ryan.

So far we'd done well with the weather but things didn't look too promising on the morning of our journey across to the Mull of Galloway and we were all glad that we'd packed some wet weather gear..
The journey from Newton Stewart took about an hour and from time to time the road ran right next to the sea. As we passed through the village of Ardwell we noticed a viewpoint, just off the road, with views along a pebble beach. Stopping for a few minutes we were delighted to see small flocks of waders containing Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling. Simon and Lyn also noticed this spot and Simon captured this great image of two of the Sanderling.

We reached our destination at around 10:30am and were glad of the shelter provided by the RSPB's information centre as the drizzly rain returned. The RSPB warden was a mine of information and spoke to us at length about the Mull of Galloway and its flora and fauna. A very impressive young man, I did note his name on the dictaphone but erased it later without writing it down. Anyway he accepted a KOS business card and will perhaps read this report - so if you do thanks and good luck!

As the rain eased we walked down the path from the centre to Lagvag viewpoint, the most southerly point on the Scottish mainland. Below us a steady procession of sea birds passed along the coast. Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets as well as cliff nesting House Martins, their natural habitat before man came along and started building brick houses. Small rafts of Razorbills and Guillemots floated on the sea, amongst them one of our sharp-eyed companions picked out two Black Guillemots. Some of the more adventurous members of the party then descended down a very steep paved path down to the Foghorn viewpoint for a closer look at the auks before we all retired to the Gallie Craig Coffee House for mid-day refreshments. Here the majority of the group decided to visit the town of Portpatrick where Black Guillemots were reportedly nesting in the harbour wall. This was a good call the town is a little gem, it was founded on fishing, operating from the sandy, crescent-shaped harbour that remains the focal point of the village and the rumour concerning the Black Guillemots was true - they really were nesting in the harbour wall!
The birds gave spectacular views, floating on the sea and resting on floating buoys just a few yards from where we stood!
By now the rain had passed over, leaving a warm sunny day - blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Ice cream weather!
Around the other side of the harbour more good views of the Guillemots and also a Rock Pipit feeding on a lichen covered rock.

Team Dearden and Groom gave Portpatrick a miss and continued on to what was originally intended as the second location of the day; Loch Ryan where the dynamic duo added Peregrine and Common Tern to the trip list. Returning to our hotel I found that, during the day, we'd added 22 new ones, bringing us up to 91 different species.

Wednesday 5th June 2024 ...... Threave. The NTS Nature Reserve and the Gardens.

KOS Treasurer, Frank Dearden, was team leader for the day and during breakfast handed out two A4 sheets with precise instructions for us to follow.
The map was in the form of an illustrated trail guide and a bit misleading as it wasn't to scale and the first part of the day, around the Nature Reserve was longer than it appeared. Anyway, no problem, it was early morning and we'd all recovered from the previous three days exertions!
The route took us through some damp meadows and we were delighted to hear the chattering song of numerous Sedge warblers as we progressed along the path beside the River Dee as far as the Osprey viewing platform.
A young lady volunteer was on duty at the platform and had set up her 'scope on the Ospreys' nest across the other side of the river. No webcam here, old school birding with views of the head of one of the adult birds and occasional glimpses of one of the chicks!
Moving on to the two hides overlooking the reserve we met one of the rangers who had just finished some maintenance, he told us that, earlier in the day, he'd been watching a brood of newly fledged Willow Tits. They would have been a welcome addition but there was no sight or sound for us, despite careful looking and listening. The ever alert Bob Groom returned via the path we'd taken originally and was rightly pleased to report two new species - Lesser Redpoll and a calling Water Rail.

Returning to the information centre it was a short drive over to Threave House and Gardens. After refreshments in the cafe we set off in small groups in search of the estate walk trial. I don't think anyone found the correct one, Jude Halman pointed out that we'd taken a route aimed at those in search of increased fitness levels, hence the notices we passed with various exercises that should be done at that particular point to improve endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility etc. We made our excuses and headed back!!
Just four new ones for the list, taking us up to 95 different species. Over dinner we discussed whether the list should be confined to species seen in Scotland or include those seen the following day at Leighton Moss on the return journey. It was decided that, as it was a trip list, tomorrow's would be included.

Thursday 6th. June 2024 ...... Leighton Moss.

As expected the following morning we had no problem reaching the target of 100 at Leighton Moss with Cetti's Warbler, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Reed Warbler and Gadwall clocked from the sky tower within just a couple of minutes!
Just one brief sighting of a Marsh Harrier floating over the phragmites reedbed but prolonged views of a fishing Osprey as it made its way towards us, I managed a record shot. Walking back from the causeway hide a booming Bittern was the last new species recorded, bringing us to a commendable 108 different species seen during the trip.

Of course trips like this require an awful lot of work beforehand, they don't just "happen"! So our thanks are due to a number of people.
Derek Pike for the initial plan and liaising with representatives of the various organisations whose locations we visited: Sheila Blamire for building on Derek's plan and also for organising our accommodation and meticulously recording our evening meal orders so that there would be no confusion when we came to settle our bills on Thursday morning: to the drivers who had to spend so long at the wheel - motorways and narrow country roads: finally to the day trip leaders who counted them all out and counted them all back!
So there we are the Knutsford Ornithological Society now 50 not out. Do we continue towards the century or is it time for a declaration?

Species recorded during the 50th anniversary trip 2nd - 6th June 2024. The bulk of the records are from Mersehead on the Sunday, I have then added new species that were subsequently seen later on at other locations during the holiday.

Sunday 2nd June. .. Mersehead.

Lapwing, Goldfinch, Red Kite, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Dunnock, Starling, Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Greenfinch, Pheasant, Shelduck, Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Skylark, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Wren, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Little Egret, Moorhen, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Rook, Mute Swan, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Collared Dove, Pied Wagtail, Swift, Robin, Great Tit, Cormorant, Barnacle Goose, Canada Goose, Tawny Owl = 51.

Monday 3rd June. .. Wood of Cree, Bellymack Hill Farm, Carstramon Wood. New species.

Treecreeper, Pied Flycatcher, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Wood Warbler, Siskin, Grey Wagtail, Cuckoo, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush, Redstart, Curlew, Jay, Garden Warbler, Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, Sparrowhawk. = 18.

Tuesday 4th June. .. Mull of Galloway, Portpatrick, Loch Ryan. New Species.

Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Whitethroat, Sanderling, Gannet, Wheatear, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Shag, Fulmar, Razorbill, Turnstone, Rock Pipit, Magpie, Great Black-backed Gull, Raven, Robin, Peregrine, Common Tern. = 22.

Wednesday 5th June. .. Threave - Ospreys and Gardens. New species.

Sedge Warbler, Osprey, Lesser Redpoll, Water Rail. = 4

Thursday 6th June. .. Leighton Moss. New species

Cetti's Warbler, Bullfinch, Kestrel, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Reed Warbler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Marsh Harrier, Greylag Goose, Marsh Tit, Bittern, Green Woodpecker. = 13

The total number of species recorded [ ✓ 108]

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