Saturday, 9 November 2013

1st - 8th November - Scottish Reading Week get away!

So for the last week I've been in Dumfries and Galloway having a nice, relaxing holiday with Chris and his mum.

I drove to Chris' on Thursday evening after a busy day of lectures, a presentation and packing for the week in my hours' lunch break. We left on Friday 1st and made our way up to Kircudbright via New Abbey (for a lovely lunch)! We arrived at the farm where we'd be staying just before dusk and I was blown away with how beautiful it was. We could see the sun setting behind the Isle of Man and the converted Steading we were staying in was gorgeous. The evening was spent settling in, catching up with the farm owners who Chris and Carol have known for years and lamping. The lamping session wasn't successful because it was totally calm. Sneaking up on birds was impossible but the star gazing was phenomenal and there were shooting stars every few minutes. Despite the frustration of not catching any birds, it was a pretty magical night.

The weather on Saturday was atrocious, so we spent most of the day inside. I attempted to make some progress with my dissertation, but can't say it was entirely least I've written down the exhaustive list of questions to ask my supervisor now. We managed to venture into Kircudbright in the afternoon for a short walk, browse of the shops and some food shopping, before being chased back into the car by some pretty impressive hail showers and lightening.

Hardcore Scottish resident running for cover
between 2 ridiculously heavy rain showers

The view from my window as we hid in
 the car during an almighty hail storm!

Sunday's weather was a lot better and we managed to get out into the local area. We spent the morning walking around the farm, so I could get my bearings and then went to Belly Mac Feeding Station to see the Red Kites (Milvus milvus) being fed. I couldn't believe how many there were (150+) and was disappointed when it started raining again and they all dispersed. We then went to Cream o' Galloway farm for lunch and then on to Carrick for a lovely sunset walk on the beach.

Sky full of Red Kites - Sorry for awful photo
Chris and Carol enjoying the sunset
Beautiful sunset at Carrick beach

Monday was spent helping with some sheep farming. Charlie and Elain e (The farm owners) have a herd of ~500 Lleyn ewes and these needed to be fluked and sorted into groups of 50 for tupping. It was great fun handling sheep again and doing a bit of farming! I did a lambing season during my gap year and I'd forgotten how much I loved sheep farming. The weather all day was beautiful and it felt great to be driving sheep around the fields with the sun on my face. Farming is so much easier when the weather is nice.

Me in the race. Mist and Meg are excellent
sheep dogs and made my life much easier
This ewe had beautiful markings

The weather on Tuesday wasn't quite as good but it was still nice enough to get out. We went into Kirkcudbright and bought lunch (delicious freshly made sandwiches) and then headed to Mereshead RSPB to look for the large Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) flocks. The reserve itself was very nice, with a range of habitats from short grazed fields, large ponds, reedbed and marsh to deciduous and conifer wood to sand and pebble beach with large mud flats. We saw hundreds of Barnacle geese plus large wildfowl flocks and mixed tit and finch flocks. I also got a surprise when one of the volunteer wardens turned out to be one of the guys I'd worked with at Lake Vyrnwy in July. It was very nice to see him again and catch up on what the late summer season at Vyrnwy had been like. All in all a lovely day.

A very small proportion of the geese we saw

Wednesday was more farming. We fluked, vaccinated and ear tagged 100 ewe lambs, which was great fun but hard work. I'm still a bit weak from a cold I've only just got over, so the vaccinating really took it out of me. It's surprisingly hard work to hold ewes still for long enough to vaccinate them.

Me vaccinating. The facial expression was just for show...I was being gentle really

Thursday was our final full day in Scotland so, after a traps ringing session in the morning, we headed out to Ken-Dee Marshes RSPB for a nice long walk and to try and see some red squirrels. The weather, walk and company were all excellent and I got great views of 2 red squirrels and plenty of tits at the feeding stations.

Willow tit coming in to the feeding station
Greedy Nuthatch that scared everything else away
Awful Red Squirrel picture in low light, but it proves I saw them!

Friday morning was spent packing, tidying the Steading and saying goodbye to Charlie and Elaine. Then it was straight down the A75 and M6 to Ormskirk. We had just enough time at Chris' house to unpack Carol's car, unpack and repack Chris' bags, have a bite to eat and then repack my car and head back to Bangor.

It was a fantastic week away and exactly what I needed after a long summer and busy start to my 3rd year. I look forward to going back up at some point when I don't have to feel guilty about getting behind with Uni work.

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