Birds of Dumfries and Galloway :
Dumfries and Galloway, better known as South West Scotland, has a vast population of wild birds. Most of them are common species such as Tits, Finches, Starlings, Sparrows and Robins, but there are also famous migrants such as Barnacle Geese. The coastal reserves are regularly visited by many species of wading bird and by the common birdwatcher (Vigilans avidus), both contributing to the seasonal ecology and economy of the area.
This list is likely to grow enormously as interest in the site continues. The writer will try to keep pace with suggestions and is always happy to receive images of bird species.
Dumfries and Galloway is home to most species of the hawk and owl family still present in Britain. All the following birds have been seen at Craigadam Estate or nearby. The Golden Eagle is an occasional overflying visitor.
Buzzard (Buteo buteo) : The 'kiew' of this robust hawk is a common sound over moorland and open woodland in Dumfries and Galloway.
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) : Smaller than a buzzard, but still a match for anything up to the size and weight of a hare. A breeder on moorland; the birds will pass food to one another in flight.
Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) : A woodland hawk that takes a wide variety of prey including crows, pigeons, game birds, rats and hares. Now more widespread due to protection and re-introduction.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) : This most famous of Scottish raptors has been seen passing through Craigadam. Breeding pairs have been seen further to the west in the Carsphairns.
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) : The commonest bird of prey in Britain, widespread above fields and roads in Dumfries and Galloway. An occasional user of large nestboxes. Feeds chiefly on small rodents; above overgrown grazing land, a sign of field mice. Distinctive rust-brown back.
Merlin (Falco columbarius) : Now rarer, but this smaller cousin of the Sparrowhawk will take on anything its own size or smaller. The male has a beautiful slate-blue back but is otherwise similar to the Kestrel.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) : Black backed but with a grey underside, this beautiful bird resembles the eagle in its 'waiting on' and 'swoop and strike' attack pattern. Impact speeds can be up to 180 m.p.h., - enough to outpace even the fastest pigeon. Nests on cliffs and crags in Dumfries and Galloway.
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) : Very fast low-level predator of songbirds, pigeons and other small woodland and hedgerow birds. A small bird, but can fly off with a pigeon larger than itself.
Barn Owl (Tyto alba) : Buff coloured in the day, grey to the eye at night, this owl is sometimes called 'Farmer's Friend' because of its intake of rodents and love of farmland habitats. Some old barns in Dumfries and Galloway still have 'owl holes' to encourage nesting by this threatened species. Forestry Enterprise action near Newton Stewart and elsewhere has lead to nestboxes being built in the woodlands. The results are encouraging.
Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus) : A daylight hunter on moorland and above estuary grasslands, most commonly seen in winter. Wings can meet in flight under the body, during courting displays.
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) : This woodland bird has 'the wit to woo'; its 'k'vick' and 'hoo-hoo' calls are commonly mistaken for 'to-whit-to-whoo', as it hunts and courts at night. An eater of voles and other smaller rodents. Present in Dalbeattie woods and hence the logo of Dalbeattie Internet.
A wide range of local and migratory wading birds feed or breed in the Solway Firth merse (salt marshes) or feed on the tidal sands and mudbanks.The following three species are of particular interest :-
Bar-tailed Godwit(Limosa japponica) : A spring migrant, sometimes overwintering, breeding in Scandinavia and Russia. Rich chestnut summer plumage changes for winter to a speckled buff-brown more like a snipe. Godwits plunge their beaks deeply into sand and mud after the worms and other invertebrates it feeds upon.
Sanderling(Calidris alba) : Like a gull with a grey-brown body and a rusty head in summer, but grey and white in winter, this tideline feeding bird is found along sandy sections of the Solway Firth coastline.
Turnstone(Arenaria interpres) : This migratory bird visits Britain in winter to feed, lifting shoreline stones in its efforts to find sand-hoppers and other invertebrates. Dark brown and white in colour in winter, the summer breeding season sees adults with chestnut and black backs.
The geese, swans and ducks listed here are just a few of the species that are resident in Dumfries and Galloway or which regularly visit this area.
Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) : In the air or on the ground, groups of this species 'yap' amongst themselves, the noise reaching a crescendo as they take flight. They forage on coastal grasses, - six will eat as much as a mature sheep, - whilst over-wintering in western Scotland, returning to breed in Spitzbergen and Greenland.
Greylag Goose (Anser anser) : The ancestor of the domesticated goose, which inherited its cackling and 'aang-aang-aang' honking in flight. Agricultural development reduced its range to Scotland from its former eastern England breeding grounds.
Pink-Footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) : Other species have orange legs and webbed feet, but Pink-footed Geese are as their name indicates. The back is white and grey, the belly and neck mostly brown-pink, the head being dull brown. A migrant from Greenland and Iceland, over-wintering in Scotland.
White-Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) : Dark-bodied but with a white forehead above the orange beak, this is a winter visitor from breeding grounds in Greenland and Russia. It feeds in marshes and meadowlands mainly near the coast.
Bewick's Swan (Cygnus bewickii) : This species are seen in V-shaped skeins in British winter skies on migration from their Siberian breeding grounds. Short-necked, with rounded heads and black and yellow bills, they feed on marshlands seeds and water plants. The rounded yellow patches on the bill vary from bird to bird.
Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) :Long-necked, almost silent in flight, these swans are amazingly noisy when in flocks. The odd trumpeting sound that gives them their name is quite distinctive. The black beak has an angular yellow patch on it. The birds often seen grazing in flocks on grassland in winter, but migrate to and from the Arctic.
Pintail (Anas acuta) : This duck normally only winters in British lakes and estuaries, but there are some pairs resident in Scotland. Dark headed, with a white front to the neck and a barred grey back, the male is quite distinctive. The female is a pale mottled brown.
Common Scoter Duck (Melanitta nigra) : Dark feathered, the male having a small yellow patch on its bill, this duck has only a few hundred resident pairs in Scotland, living mainly in moorland on the shore of lochs. Over-wintering migrants from the Arctic and Sub-Arctic swell the numbers in winter. Whilst it may live inland, feeding on vegetation, insects and molluscs, coastal examples prefer a diet of mussels.
Scaup Duck (Aythya marila) : 'Scaup' means 'broken shells', as this bird feeds chiefly on mussels, diving down to the mussel-beds. It is another over-wintering visitor from Northern Europe, visiting coastal marshland and estuary. A few pairs breed on inland lochs and rivers. Scaup prefer to nest in loose colonies on islands.
Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) : Beautiful birds, with dark green head, cream body, a chestnut breast-band, two black stripes on the back and one under the belly. The male's red bill has a knob above the nose and between the eyes, the female lacking this knob. Most of the year living in Britain, they moult in autumn in the German and Danish estuaries round the Heligoland Bight, returning to Britain for the winter. Unusually, they nest underground in old rabbit-burrows or other hollows, groups of immature chicks staying in 'nursery groups' under the care of a few adults whilst the other adults forage.
Nearly 40% of Dumfries and Galloway has forest cover, the majority being commercial Larch, Spruce, Pine and Fir plantations. These are home to a variety of woodland species, some of which are listed here. Some take advantage of clearings near streams and rivers.
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) : This tiny insect-eater is found in the coniferous plantations near the tops of the trees. The crest of the male is orange, the female's being yellow, each framed in a thin black 'moustache' running back from the bill. The back and upper wing feathers are mostly dull green, the underside a speckled cream buff colour.
Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) : The peculiar bill crosses like a grapple, a very powerful design that allows this bird to tear open pine and fir cones to extract seeds. Males are a colorful brick-red with dark wings, the females being greenish-yellow with dark wings. The Dumfries and Galloway coniferous plantations are excellent habitats for these birds.
Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) : Though common in Dumfries and Galloway, this bird's need for clean fast-moving shallow waters has seen its decline elsewhere. The brown back, white breast and chestnut belly, make this bird unmistakable in its habitat. It is unusual in its flying underwater to find invertebrate food.
Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) : No longer as common as it has been, its jewel-colored turquoise blue-green back and orange chestnut underbelly are hard to mistake. Craigadam is fortunate in having resident Kingfishers, as they are uncommon in Scotland.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) : This bird may be disliked by rival human fishermen, but its white neck, slate-grey back and long beak and legs make it amongst the most attractive of anglers.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) : A common sight and sound in most seasons in plantations and mixed woodland, particularly where damaged trees are rotting but upstanding.
Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) : The 'kew-kew-kew' or 'yaffle' of this cider-logo bird is more common sign than the sight of the bird itself. Bright green and cream with a red cap, it has been seen in Dalbeattie and Mabie Forests.
|All text and images © 1998 Richard Edkins of Dalbeattie Internet|