Discovering Scotland’s Secret South West

Bluebells in ancient woodland, Galloway
Bluebells in ancient woodland, Galloway

Managed to make the most of the last days of our British spring, definitely the best season here in the UK, with a visit to Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, just a short distance over the border from where we live.

The place has a fair bit of of fine flora and fauna, but is a lot less well-known than other Scottish wildlife hotspots, and is way handier than the distant Highlands for us. It was meant to be a bit of R&R, a break from work after a rather hectic few months slogging away in the office following our latest South Africa trip, but we packed the cameras, just in case, as you do…

The bluebells were in their final flourish but still pretty impressive
The bluebells were in their final flourish but still impressive

Bowled over by what must be one of the most beguiling bluebell displays for some seasons we were glad we’d lugged the gear with us on our walks in the woods while we were there. Admittedly a few days too late for the very best images we still couldn’t resist photographing the final flush of these heady, hyacinth-scented wild-flowers rippling across the woodland floor in waves of intense indigo.

So having unzipped the camera backpacks and blown away the cobwebs we decided to pay a call on the area’s famous and impressively aerobatic red kites. We’ve never visited the kite feeding station in Dumfries and Galloway before, although we’ve photographed a couple of times at the one at Gigrin Farm in Rhyader, Wales, which attracts huge numbers of these birds, and flocks of keen photographers, in the winter. It’s a bit odd really given the D&G site’s reasonable proximity to our home in Northumberland, but there you go…

Red kite flying in to the feedling station
Red kite flying in to the feedling station

Suffice to say we were quite impressed given it wasn’t the best time of year and the lighting/weather conditions weren’t ideal for tip-top flight shots. We had plenty of birds wheeling and careening over our heads to make for a challenging and fun afternoon’s photography and, thankfully, not all the birds had wing tags on.

Dumfries and Galloway is just one of several locations in the UK where red kites have been successfully re-introduced. Supplementary feeding in one or two of these spots by private, commercial operations (usually farmers diversifying to help make ends meet) provides enough food to attract the birds for the delight of tourists and photo-fiends, but not enough to make the birds dependant.

Tiny transmitters are attached to the kite's tail feathers
Tiny transmitters are attached to the kite’s tail feathers

A couple of years back we photographed Forestry Commission conservationists attaching transmitters to the tail feathers of  a number of red kites in one of these reintroduction schemes in Grizedale Forest, Cumbria.  This would enable the experts to keep tabs on where the birds where and how far they travelled form the release site. The guys were seated at a table, just like a sewing circle, chatting to us about the project as they painstakingly stitched way.  It was fascinating to see how these beautiful birds of prey, covered  by a cloth, remained docile throughout the whole procedure.

Seeing the success of such an initiative for ourselves in D&G in the last few days certainly whetted our appetites for a return photography visit later this year in the autumn or winter when even more birds should be visiting in softer light or even falling snow.

Aerial acrobats, the kites are a big hit with tourists
Aerial acrobats, the kites are a big hit with tourists

We particularly enjoyed photographing in the open (there are no photography hides here) enjoying wide, almost all-round views, and the freedom of movement to photograph the birds approaching from different directions as well as those whisking right over our heads.

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