Wildlife in Dumfries & Galloway - Birdwatching Holidays
Where the Solway Firth pushes a huge wedge of sea, sand and mudflats between Scotland and England, hundreds of miles of wild coast edge the northern shore. At many places, from the Rhinns Peninsula beyond Stranraer to the Inner Firth near Dumfries, you can see rare coastal flowers, breeding waders and wintering geese and swans. Go inland for bluebells in ancient oakwoods by rivers, red kites over farmland, red squirrels along Forest Park trails and wild goats and red deer in the uplands
- Geese, swans and natterjacks
- Willow tits and warblers
- Saltings, falcons and waders
- Wildfowl hides and walks
- Red kite trail
- Ancient oaks and bluebell
- Osprey watch
- Red deer and golden eagle
- Sea cliffs and puffins
It doesn’t get much better for wildfowlwatching in Britain than this. At any season, Caerlaverock is good for ducks, swans and waders. But from late September until spring, it’s superb. Take the B725 south from Dumfries, then a minor road south of Bankhead to reach the visitor centre at East Park Farm. Use observation towers, numerous hides and a ‘wild swan observatory’ to see barnacle geese (the entire Svalbard population, on occasion), whooper swans, Bewick’s swans, geese and ducks. Breeding Natterjack toads (only found in Scotland along the inner Solway) call on spring and early summer nights.
Gilbert and Sullivan fans who like wildlife should warm to Fountainbleau and Ladypark at the edge of Dumfries, between the A701 and A709. Willow tits (or tit willows, in G&S speak, and uncommon in Scotland, whatever the name) breed here. Listen for their buzzing calls from the network of paths and boardwalks. Use a hide overlooking a pond to hear sedge warbler and reed bunting.
You can stroll among bird-rich grassland near the Solway shore at Mersehead, off the A710 near Kirkbean. Farming here is geared to boosting breeding cover for lapwing, redshank, curlew and other waders and giving winter food for finches and geese. Use marked trails as you look for peregrine and merlin on the hunt for prey, see barnacle and pink-footed geese in winter and scan the ‘merse’ (saltmarsh) by the sea for waders and plants such as sea aster.
For some inland viewing of wetland birds from the comfort of a hide, try Threave Garden and Estate, off the A75 a mile west of Castle Douglas. From the car park at Kelton Mains Farm you can use paths (watch for roe deer) to reach several hides with contrasting views. Two on a disused railway line overlook fields where geese feed in winter. Others look across fields, river and marshes, giving a chance to see kingfisher, goosander and mallard.
Celebrate the return of red kites to southern Scotland by following the Galloway Red Kite Trail that includes various good wildlife-watching spots between Castle Douglas and New Galloway. There’s a kite feeding station (feeding time 2pm) and hide at Bellymack Hill Farm, by Laurieston. For the Ken-Dee Marshes in the heart of kite country, go north on a minor road which leaves the B795 near Glenlochar Bridge to reach a car park at Mains of Duchrae Farm. From here, you use a trail to see woodland birds such as redstart, pied flycatcher and what may be Scotland’s biggest breeding group of willow tits. Watch for red squirrels in the trees and otters by the river. See the website for the Galloway Kite Trail
Restoring oak woodlands to make a leafy network from the sea at Wigtown Bay to hill summits tens of miles inland is a bold vision. You can share part of that view by visiting woodlands along the valley of the River Cree. An accessible taster is at the Wood of Cree (largest ancient oakwood in the south of Scotland), about 4 miles north of Newton Stewart. Use a boardwalk and wheelchair-useable path to see bluebells and primroses, wood warbler, pied flycatcher, redstart and wetland birds. Both Scotch argus and purple hairstreak butterflies use the wood.
Keep alert for ospreys fishing over the shallows of Wigtown Bay (good for sea aster and other saltmarsh flowers), near the town of the same name. And get an inkling of action at an osprey eyrie through the video-link in the County Buildings in Wigtown itself.
Follow in the footsteps of the youthful Robert the Bruce through some of his old haunts in Galloway Forest Park, a current haven for red squirrels, inland from Gatehouse-of-Fleet and Newton Stewart. There’s a huge network of trails here - including cycle, horse-riding, driving and walking routes. Good tasters are at Glen Trool, where a trail around Loch Trool might give you a view of a hen harrier or peregrine over the moors or wood warbler in trees. At Clatteringshaws, use the visitor centre as an introduction to the largest unafforested area in the park, where you might see wild goats, red deer, merlin or the occasional golden eagle.
There’s much more than geography of interest at the Mull of Galloway, southernmost point on the Scottish mainland. The lighthouse - built in 1828 - looks great, as do thrift and sea campion and the massed guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, shags, kittiwakes and puffins - that breed along the cliffs. Watch for gannets from a nearby colony flying offshore and flypasts of Manx shearwaters from June to September.