Plot a course to the Solway to witness the geese taking flight
There seems to be a trend nowadays where people make a “bucket list” of things to do before they die.
So, for anyone with the slightest interest in wildlife, I can thoroughly recommend a dawn flight over the Solway.
As it’s now almost winter, I can think of nowhere better to be on a cold, crisp morning than down on the estuary just before daybreak. A little cold, perhaps, but as long as you wrap up warm you’ll be fine. A flask of coffee won’t go amiss, either.
Do a recce mission during daylight so you know exactly where you’re going. Arrive when it’s still dark and get to your chosen spot. If you feel so inclined, take a lightweight chair.
Your eyes will soon become accustomed to the dark and it will appear lighter than it actually is.
As you look east over the mudflats, the first rays of light will begin to appear over the Lakeland Hills, hopefully the sky will soon turn orange and then the bright red fireball of the sun will make its first appearance of the day over the horizon.
Keep listening for that faint call of geese in the distance, they are still on the ground; that sound will abruptly change to their flight call we all know so well which will mean the birds are now in the air and before you can blink a flock of several thousand will be immediately overhead. A magnificent sight and sound, one that most people will seldom experience, other than on the television.
If you’re directly under their path an umbrella might be handy, but it won’t be rain that’s falling.
You may encounter a few different species, depending on weather and time of year. Barnacle and pink-footed geese will be the predominant species, though. Sometimes greylag and Canada geese can be heard mixed in.
This is one of the best times to have a go at counting the birds, not an easy task. Even separating the species by their call is not easy, though it’s not a competition, so you don’t need to know the individual species by name, merely how many species flew over.
If all else fails, just enjoy the spectacle. It’s not all about geese, many species of duck will be seen and heard. With a bit of experience, or with a good guide, you can actually identify the individual species of duck by the noise of the wings or silhouette as they fly overhead. Now there’s a challenge for you.
The barnacle geese will be part of the entire population that breed on the small island of Svalbard, between Norway and the high Arctic and spend the winter here.
As the winter sets in these birds fly south, sometimes stopping at various places along the way to feed, finally arriving on the Solway in early October. Here they will spend the winter before heading north again to their breeding grounds, the last normally leaving in April.
If you enjoy company and don’t want to head out on to the Solway on your own, WWT Caerlaverock and RSPB Mersehead organise a few dawn flights throughout the winter when their wardens take you to the best locations and share their knowledge and humour.
Just give them a call or check their social media pages to find when the next event is taking place.
It’s not only the Solway where you can see geese flighting at dawn and dusk. Many inland lochs and rivers throughout Dumfries and Galloway have greylag and pink-footed goose roosts.
Places such as Threave Estate at Castle Douglas owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland, have viewing hides along the River Dee near the castle.
You could also try Castle Loch, Lochmaben, or Loch Ken where you might find the Greenland white-fronted geese.
Focus on wildlife News columnist Keith Kirk
Magnificent sight Barnacle geese take to the air. Pic Keith Kirk