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Scotland NEW! Solway & Southern Uplands

A 6-day, small group, single-centre birdwatching tour to Scotland

We return to the wild coasts and hills of Dumfries and Galloway on this single-centre, small group tour to southwest Scotland and the Solway Firth. In winter, tens of thousands of wildfowl and waders flock to this five-star region for birds. Up to 40,000 Barnacle Geese throng the Solway's coastal marshes - and there are thousands of Pink-feet and Greenland White-fronted Geese, too. Headlands and sea lochs host bobbing seaduck and auks, and birds of prey to watch out for include Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier and Red Kite; there are Whooper Swans on the lochs, Dippers on fast-flowing streams and Willow Tits in the woods. March is an excellent time to visit Solway - and Kirkcudbright the perfect place to stay!

Tour Dates

2019

Full

Leaders
Colin Bushell

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 6 Days

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Cost: £1050

from Kirkcudbright (or Dumfries) *1

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £105

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Barnacle Geese close flock Solway CBDSCN2723 resized

A series of well-situated hides at RSPB Mersehead afford wonderful views of Barnacle Geese, representing a large chunk of the entire Svalbard population that winters on the inner Solway in SW Scotland and Cumbria © Colin Bushell, Limosa

Anyone visiting the Scottish Solway for the first time cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer spectacle of birds... The saltmarshes dotted black and white in winter with the marvellous flocks of Barnacle Geese; skeins of Pink-footed Geese calling evocatively overhead; Greylags and Greenland White-fronted Geese grazing the rolling fields; and closely packed rafts of Greater Scaup diving on sea lochs. The Galloway hills hold plenty of interest too, with Red Kites now common over the region, Peregrine and a chance of Golden Eagle in the more remote areas.

Stretching the full length of the eastern coast of Dumfries and Galloway, the inner Solway Firth is renowned for the many superb birdwatching opportunities it provides. And rightly so, for the Solway is one of the most important estuaries in Britain for birds, a 'five-star' coastal site holding huge numbers of wildfowl, waders and other shorebirds throughout the winter months.

Most notable are the 40,000 or so Barnacle Geese that journey here each winter from the Arctic island of Svalbard – where they take on prowling Polar Bears and goslings survive having to ‘base-jump’ from their cliff nest sites. One of the UK's smallest geese, these incredible birds can make the epic 2,000 mile journey to the Solway in as little as 61 hours – cruising at speeds of more than 70mph!

The sight of the gathering masses feeding in the fields or swirling as they come in to roost is no less spectacular! Numbers of Pink-footed Geese are also good (and their own journeys here no less amazing) and these are joined by noisy flocks of Greylag Geese. Herds of trumpeting Whooper Swans can be found grazing fields of spring barley, the grey-washed youngsters staying with their parents throughout the winter.

Large flocks of wintering Shelduck, Pintail, Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall also gather on the region's marshes, fields and lochans - or out in the coastal bays, where the likes of Common Scoter, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser maybe joined by divers, grebes and Black Guillemot. In winter, the Solway's shores and mudflats teem with waders, including Curlew, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, while smaller numbers of Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper inhabit the rockier coasts.

Travelling inland, the freshwater wetlands of Loch Ken and the Ken Dee Marshes are the winter haunt of orange-billed Greenland White-fronted Geese, dapper Goldeneye and spring Goosander, with males blushed salmon pink. Increasingly scarce in the UK nowadays, Willow Tits occur in the woodlands here - and with no Marsh Tits to worry about here, everyone can be sure of making a correct identification! And the wild hills beyond are hunted by Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Common Buzzard and nowadays Red Kite, following a successful reintroduction here.

Join us in March for some exceptional winter birding in Scottish Solway and let guide Colin Bushell introduce you to the very best of the unspoilt Galloway coast, marshes and hills.

WHOOPER SWANS 1238 Finland 2013 Gordon Small

Good numbers of Whooper Swans pass the winter months on the lochs and fields inland of the Solway coast © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Day 1
ARRIVAL AT KIRKCUDBRIGHT

We meet this evening at our hotel in the Scottish harbour town of Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kirr-coo-bree), with an informal get-together in the bar around 7.00pm, followed by dinner.

Centrally located, close to the coast and with the scenic Southern Uplands just a stone's throw away, Kirkcudbright makes the ideal base from which to explore Dumfries and Galloway. Night Kirkcudbright

Days 2 - 5
THE GALLOWAY COAST & HILLS

We have four full days to explore and enjoy the key birding spots of Dumfries and Galloway. We may decide to visit some areas more than once or 'mix and match' the running order of our below itinerary locally in order to make best use of the weather and what birds are about at the time of our visit.

LOCH RYAN, THE RHINS & THE MULL OF GALLOWAY

A full Scottish breakfast will set us up for our first day of birding as we head west to explore the Rhins, a hammerhead of land that forms the western tip of Galloway. A rewarding spot for birdwatching at any season, the Rhins is notable for its wintering seaduck on Loch Ryan and its summer seabird colonies on the cliffs at the Mull of Galloway - the southernmost tip of Scotland. There's a lot to see here so we might spread our birding over two days!

North of Stranraer, Loch Ryan is a large sea loch that gazes out towards the isolated granite island of Ailsa Craig, which floats like a pyramid on the distant horizon - a summer home to 70,000 breeding Gannets, and from whence the rock for Olympic curling stones is hewn.

Eider and Greater Scaup are the dominant seaduck on the sheltered waters of Loch Ryan, but winter brings smaller numbers of Common Scoter, Goldeneye - males now throwing their heads back in spring courtship display - and Red-breasted Merganser, too. Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Black Guillemot are also likely and the shore attracts hordes of gulls in winter. We'll be looking especially for any 'white-wingers' such as the hulking Glaucous or sleek Iceland Gull. The attractive Mediterranean Gull is also worth watching for - come March, adults may already be looking resplendent in their breeding plumage of jet-black head and blood-red bills.

Touring the loch we should bump into the small flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese that spends the winter here. The area known as ‘The Wig’ is a favourite spot for these attractive small geese - and often holds a small flock of yellow-billed Twite, too. Black-necked Grebes (formerly regular in winter on the loch) can still be found on passage in March, and we'll check the fields inland for Pink-footed Geese.

To the south of Stranraer, plants such as thrift, sea campion and dog violet will be springing up on cliffs of the Mull of Galloway and bottle-green Shags may already be nesting. In March, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes start to visit the cliffs, flying to and fro and staking an early claim to the best breeding ledges. Black Guillemots can also be seen around the coast, their bright red feet often visible in the clear water - paddling furiously! Offshore, we may see brilliant white Gannets heading for Ailsa Craig, while onshore the maritime heathland holds Peregrine, Kestrel, Stonechat and Rock Pipit.

The sandy shores of sweeping Luce Bay host overwintering species and some of the smaller lochans here have recorded scarce birds such as Smew - and even Lesser Scaup in the past!

We round off our visit to the Rhins watching for Hen Harriers. Although their numbers are sadly diminished now compared to the larger roosts of days gone by, we may be lucky as these wide-ranging predators slink back 'home' for the night. Barn Owl is also possible before we head to our hotel for dinner.

DEE VALLEY, LOCH KEN & THE GALLOWAY HILLS

The picturesque Dee Valley lies just to the north of our hotel and makes for another rewarding day out. We may start by checking out some of the smaller lochs for wintering wildfowl such as Goldeneye and Goosander, with a stop along the way to look for Dipper.

If the weather is favourable, we will venture into the hills and scan the skies for the few remaining pairs of Golden Eagles that still haunt the wilder and more remote uplands of southwest Scotland. Despite their size the eagles can be elusive - but there will be plenty of Common Buzzards and Red Kites for sure! We should hear ‘cronking’ Ravens and see them tumbling and flipping over in characteristic spring display above the slopes - and maybe a Peregrine or Hen Harrier, too.

Dropping down to the gentler green pastures below, we'll skirt around the shores of Loch Ken. A winter home to orange-billed Greenland White-fronted Geese, these suspicious birds can sometimes be a little tricky to find in the gently rolling terrain of the lochside margins - but from viewing platforms and roadside lay-bys we usually manage to pick them out.

Bird feeders on the reserve attract Nuthatches (uncommon but increasing in Scotland) and the scarce Willow Tit - two species with little more than a toehold in Scotland. Here is a great chance to get to grips with the latter’s subtle identification fieldmarks: bull neck, pale wing panel and dull black cap. Normally they are very difficult to separate in the field from their close relative, Marsh Tit - but here we will have no such worries as the latter does not occur! Other more common woodland species to watch for in winter include Great Spotted Woodpecker, Siskin and Bullfinch - and we may be lucky to chance upon a Red Squirrel or an even Otter.

SOUTHERNESS POINT & RSPB MERSEHEAD

East of Kirkcudbright, we head to Mersehead RSPB reserve and the Solway coast. A series of well-situated hides affords wonderful views of the geese, which includes a large chunk of the entire Svalbard population of Barnacle Geese that winter on the inner Solway in southwest Scotland and Cumbria. The wetlands will be packed with birds at this time of year and we should find large flocks of Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Teal. With luck we may also see Hen Harrier hunting here.

The Solway is one of the top places in Britain to see wintering Greater Scaup and we will make the short onward journey to the Nith Estuary at Carsethorn, which is often frequented by large rafts of this species.

The Solway's shores are also an important area for wintering waders, with Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Turnstone all present. Sometimes the odd Whimbrel or Greenshank lingers here for the winter and a small flock of confiding Purple Sandpipers can usually be found on the rocky foreshore at Southerness Point.

Inland of the coast, fields around Lochmaben regularly hold large flocks of Pink-footed Geese, and the scarce Tundra Bean Goose is also on the cards - providing we search diligently! Wooded lochans afford another opportunity to chance upon the uncommon Willow Tit and wintering wildfowl 'oddities’ can sometimes include Smew and Long-tailed Duck. Four further nights at Kirkcudbright

Day 6
FAREWELL KIRKCUDBRIGHT

The holiday concludes after another traditional Scottish breakfast at our hotel in Kirkudbright, but - depending on travel plans - there may be  time for some final birding this morning before we say our farewells and journey home.

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In winter, gulls gather around the shores of sheltered Loch Ryan, where we'll be looking especially for any 'white-wingers' such as the hulking Glaucous Gull - this a first-winter bird © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

We return to the wild coasts and hills of Dumfries and Galloway on this single-centre, small group tour to SW Scotland and the Solway Firth.

In winter, tens of thousands of wildfowl and waders flock to this five-star region for birds. Up to 40,000 Barnacle Geese throng the Solway's coastal marshes - and there are thousands of Pink-feet and Greenland White-fronted Geese, too. Headlands and sea lochs host bobbing seaduck and auks, and birds of prey to watch out for include Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier and Red Kite; there are Whooper Swans on the lochs, Dippers on fast-flowing streams and Willow Tits in the woods.

March is an excellent time to visit Solway - and Kirkcudbright is the perfect place to stay!

Led by Limosa’s friendly expert guides, our UK holidays are suitable for birdwatchers of all levels of ability, interest and experience. Just bring your bins and enthusiasm for birds - we’ll do the rest!

The cool Scottish climate is famous for its unpredictability, so come prepared for everything from wind and rain to cool, calm and sunny days! March temperatures in Dumfries are typically in the range of 4-9C (39-48F). As one would expect in the UK, some rain is likely at any season. August to January are the wettest months in Dumfries & Galloway and by mid-March the winter rains are tailing away (April averages the driest month of the year here).

Birds

80-100 species

Mammals

0-5 species

Accommodation

5 nights accommodation based at the cosy and comfortable, family-run Selkirk Arms Hotel in Kirkcudbright - and perfectly situated for easy exploration of Dumfries and Galloway. All rooms are en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival at the hotel on the evening of Day 1 and concluding with breakfast on Day 6.

Food is good - from fresh, local and traditional Scottish to modern cuisine. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel. Packed lunches during the day.

Walking

Easy. Short walks at a gentle pace over good trails and mostly flat terrain. Sturdy waterproof walking shoes or boots are essential. Wellies recommended in wet weather.

Travel

Ground Transport   By minibus

Participants arriving in Kirkcudbright by car will be sent a map and joining instructions for the hotel. We gather for an informal get-together in the hotel bar at around 7.00pm on the first evening.

For those without their own transport, we pick up at Dumfries railway station at 5.00pm on the Thursday afternoon. We are able to drop off there again at midday on the Tuesday. There is no extra cost for pick-up and drop-off as described.

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