FLIGHT PATH

Plot a course to the Sol­way to wit­ness the geese tak­ing flight

The Galloway News - - NATURE NOTES - Keith Kirk

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

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