There are many nature reserves throughout Dumfries and Galloway offering excellent opportunities for bird and wildlife watching. These include:
The RSPB Mersehead Nature Reserve near Dalbeattie is a former sea-marsh farm with a viewing hide and Visitor Centre open all year round. It is ideal for viewing migrating geese and other wildfowl.
Image: Evelyn Simak
The Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve consists of an area of coastal wetland located at Wigtown, 6 miles south of Newton Stewart. An extensive area of mud and sand flats, it is the largest Local Nature Reserve in Britain and offers opportunities to view Pinkfoot, Greylag and Barnacle geese and Pintail, Shoveler and Wigeon as well as notable waders including Curlew and Oystercatchers. Otters may also be seen from time to time.
Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve and Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre is located at the mouth of the Nith Estuary near Dumfries and has extensive reedbeds, coastal woodlands and salt marsh, providing food and cover for large numbers of migrant and resident seabirds and waterfowl. There are up to 13,000 Barnacle Geese during winter and live camera views of nesting Barn Owls during springtime.
Image: Renata Edge
Rockcliffe and Rough Island on the Colvend Coast consist of coastal cliffs and heathland including Motte of Mark Ancient Monument. The area has good sand and mud flats making it ideal for watching seabirds and wading birds.
Image: David Hagwood
Other reserves in Dumfries and Galloway include:
Dumfries and Galloway is also home to two osprey breeding grounds and there is great excitement in the region when the ospreys return in the summer from their winter migration to West Africa, mainly Senegal and Gambia. Bells are rung in local churches to announce the hatching of any new osprey chicks, a rare but welcome event.
The first of these osprey settlements is near Wigtown and the second is at the Threave Reserve near Castle Douglas. The exact location of the Wigtown breeding ground is kept highly secret, but an Osprey Visitor Centre does exist in Wigtown's County Buildings, with live video footage, while there are viewing platforms on Threave Estate.
Ospreys became extinct in Scotland in 1916 and it wasn't until 1954 that a pair recolonised naturally in Scotland, now home to more osprey breeding locations than anywhere else in the UK.
Red Kite arrived back in Dumfries and Galloway in 2001-2002 as part of a Scottish Natural Heritage initiative to reintroduce these raptors throughout Scotland.
A Red Kite Trail has since been created in partnership with the Forestry Commission and other interested parties while a Red Kite Feeding Station at Bellymack Farm, Laurieston near Castle Douglas, affords the public an opportunity to see these amazing birds up close at feeding times, every day of the year.
Red Kite are monogamous birds that form pairs for life. They lay one to four eggs a year and will live for at least 15 years. They are now thriving in Dumfries and Galloway and many chicks have been successfully reared and, indeed, have started their own families.