Caerlaverock WWT is undoubtedly a superb birding experience and I drove up to D&G to meet Chris Baines for a look at the American Wigeon that had been found on 2nd. My problem with Caerlaverock (and any site on the Solway in fact) is that it's so difficult to get there. The route is straight forward, it's just that there are so many avian distractions on the way. Crossing the border near Gretna I was soon watching skeins of Pink-footed Geese and later Barnacle Geese near Cummertrees where 15 Whooper Swans were in the fields.
Several Tree Sparrows (a species I don't often see in D&G) were feeding near a haystack with a huge flock of Chaffinches and Yellowhammers near Priestfield but I couldn't find a single Brambling unfortunately. A Merlin was causing havoc with the bird flocks here and later near Ruthwell where I stopped for a flock of 56 Golden Plover.
It was well past opening time for the WWT grounds by the time I stopped yet again just outside the reserve where 260 Pink-footed Geese were available for "Bean-check" on the deck. No Bean Geese but a Pale-bellied Brent Goose was a surprise (they normally associate with the Barnacles here) and over 100 Whooper Swans were out there too.
Entering Caerlaverock I could see Chris and he gave me the thumbs-up so I knew the American Wigeon was present and exchanged New Year greetings before strolling along to the Peter Scott Observatory overlooking the Whooper Pond where the wigeon was consorting with some of its Eurasian counterparts.
The drake American Wigeon had moved off the pond when I arrived but could still be seen grazing with Eurasian Wigeon nearby. It was quite easily picked out by virtue of its creamy-buff crown stripe contrasting with its greyish brown face. The purple-pink chest and back were further obvious differences from the respectively pink and grey plumage of the drake Eurasians.
Eventually the American Wigeon flew onto the pond showing its gleaming white underwing (including the axillaries) where the finer points such as the black line at the base of the bluish-grey bill could be noted. It was interesting to note how the intensity and extent of the green crescent-shaped mask varied with posture.
After spending sufficient time with the American Wigeon and watching the intriguing drake Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid on the pond Chris and I decided on a walk to the other hides to check the Barnacle flocks. Plenty of thrushes along the paths in the hawthorns still; mainly Fieldfares with a few Redwings but there seems to be a lot of Blackbirds around at present. Our timing was perfect as we entered the Saltcot Tower Hide as an old birding friend of mine John Archer exclaimed that the Cackling Goose was on the merse with Barnacle Geese. Pete Berry joined us here and I was particularly pleased to see this minima lacking a white collar, as it was an individual I'd not encountered previously. You can just see a small dark-bellied goose in the Barnacle Geese in the distant record shot above.
A snow-capped Criffel could be seen across the Nith as I parted from Chris and headed in the direction of the border, stopping at Brow Well at dusk seeing a Greenshank and another large flock of Barnacle Geese.
Another great day's birding at D&G's premier birding hotspot in the company of some friends old and new. Can't wait to go back!