Au­tumn moves in

Dumfries & Galloway Standard - - COUNTRYSIDE CAERLAVEROCK DIARY -

The first bar­na­cle geese have flown in, herald­ing the start of au­tumn.

On Sun­day, Septem­ber 17, the first 135 bar­na­cle geese took ad­van­tage of a brief northerly weather sys­tem and flew in to spend the win­ter on the Sol­way.

It is amaz­ing to think that these birds have just flown 1,800 miles from their breed­ing grounds on Spits­ber­gen, the largest of the is­lands in the Sval­bard ar­chi­pel­ago, some 78 de­grees north in the High Arc­tic.

Only days ago they would have been fly­ing over po­lar bears and wal­ruses.

Septem­ber is a month of big changes at Caerlave­rock. The cat­tle that have been graz­ing the fields and merses all sum­mer head back to the lo­cal farms for the win­ter. This sum­mer graz­ing regime is vi­tal to pro­duce a good thick grass sward for the win­ter­ing geese – it is a bit like reg­u­larly mow­ing your lawn to cre­ate lush growth.

Our con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment at Caerlave­rock is ac­tu­ally a bit like farm­ing for geese which we do with help from lo­cal farm­ers. We don’t keep our own live­stock so they bring the cat­tle to spend the sum­mer here.

I don’t think that the cows re­alise what an im­por­tant job they are do­ing for the con­ser­va­tion of these amaz­ing geese.

The bar­na­cle geese are spe­cial­ist graz­ing feed­ers and have a short bill, only 2cm long to nip off the tips of the grass shoots. Like all graz­ing an­i­mals, they need to spend a great deal of their time feed­ing and pretty much all of the day­light hours are spent do­ing just that.

At night they fly out to the safety of the Sol­way mud­flats where they can see any danger from preda­tors more eas­ily.

Over the next month we ex­pect to see thou­sands more bar­na­cle geese ar­riv­ing when the winds turn to come from the north. These small geese only weigh around 2kg and need the ad­van­tage of a tail wind to help them fly such big dis­tances, fu­elled only by the fat laid down in their ab­domen from just bel­ly­fuls of grass. The help­ful wind is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for the goslings, newly hatched and mak­ing the jour­ney for the first time with their par­ents at the age of only three months.

The bar­na­cle geese are not the only geese that have ar­rived on the Sol­way this month. Pink-footed geese have ar­rived from Ice­land. Hope­fully we will hear and see them fly­ing over Dum­fries just af­ter dawn to feed dur­ing the day then fly­ing back to the es­tu­ary in the evening.

Our dawn and dusk goose flight events are com­ing up soon which can pro­vide one of the most amaz­ing wildlife spec­ta­cles as thou­sands of birds leave and re­turn to their overnight roosts on the Sol­way.

Our first dawn flight is on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 8 and we head out to the merse at 6.45 am. Along with your binoc­u­lars, bring warm wa­ter­proof cloth­ing, boots and a torch. Hope­fully we will be re­warded for an early rise with the sight of thou­sands of geese fly­ing over.

Our cof­fee shop will open early to serve wel­come hot drinks and ba­con rolls on our re­turn from the merse. Phone 01387 770200 to book a place, nor­mal ad­mis­sion prices ap­ply and it is free for WWT mem­bers, ca­ter­ing is not in­cluded in the ad­mis­sion.

The first dusk flight is on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 22 start­ing from the visi­tor cen­tre at 4.30pm.

As the wild­fowl ar­rive from the north, we still have many birds that have spent the sum­mer and bred here ready to go south. As I write, we still have house martins feed­ing young chicks in nests on our farm­house tower and feed­ing with swal­lows over the Folly pond. Soon these birds will embark on a long flight to south­ern Africa for the win­ter. They feed on fly­ing in­sects and have to fol­low them south as they can­not sur­vive the cold in our win­ter.

The ospreys are all now head­ing south for the win­ter and thanks to FCS, our part­ners in the os­prey project, we can fol­low the mi­gra­tion of two of the three chicks that hatched out from the nest we had been ob­serv­ing on our nest cam­era.

The two young ospreys with leg rings PY5 and PY7 have also got GPS satel­lite tags at­tached to a har­ness on their backs and we can see what route they take.

At the mo­ment one is in North­ern Por­tu­gal and the other has made it all the way to North Africa. More de­tails and maps to fol­low in the next few weeks when we get more in­for­ma­tion from the satel­lites.

This sum­mer a young whooper swan spent the sum­mer here at Caerlave­rock.

It seemed to have picked up a wing in­jury, pos­si­bly col­lid­ing with over­head power lines, which meant that it couldn’t fly back to Ice­land in the spring.

It was a lonely sum­mer with only the res­i­dent mal­lards and the rather grumpy fam­ily of mute swans for com­pany. How­ever, things are now look­ing up for this young swan which is now just over a year old. It has un­der­gone the sum­mer wing moult and has grown in a new set of pri­mary wing feath­ers and has been fly­ing around the re­serve, build­ing up strength in those un­der­used wing mus­cles.

Hope­fully we will con­tinue to see im­prove­ments in its fly­ing abil­i­ties over the win­ter and it will be able to mi­grate home to Ice­land next spring.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if his fam­ily re­unite over the win­ter. We have had ob­ser­va­tions of ex­tended fam­i­lies as­so­ci­at­ing with each other at their win­ter­ing grounds here at Caelave­rock.

Our com­men­tated swan feeds start this Sun­day and con­tinue daily at 11am and 2pm un­til the end of March next year. It is a great ex­pe­ri­ence to see these amaz­ing swans at close quar­ters and also to learn about them from the ex­pert war­den on hand at the heated ob­ser­va­tory. Again we are look­ing at the weather sys­tems to see when the whoop­ers will ar­rive. It tends to be from mid-Oc­to­ber on­wards but we could see some early birds ar­riv­ing be­fore that.

Morn­ing flight Swans over the folly pond at dawn

Tak­ing off Whooper swan cap­tured by Steve Ni­cholls

Bar­na­cle geese Cap­tured by Alex Hil­lier

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