A beautiful spring morning, accompanied by glorious birdsong, was the setting for the primary workshop ‘My Great Adventure’ at Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), Dumfries and Galloway.
Twenty-three excited and enthusiastic pupils from Lochside Primary, eager to learn about the amazing journey taken by the Svalbard Barnacle Geese that fly 2,000 miles to winter on the Solway at Caerlaverock every year, were met by Brian Morrell, Learning Manager at the reserve.
The morning started with a guided walk around the ‘Peter Scott Centenary Walk’ during which Brian encouraged the children to close their eyes and listen to the many different birdsongs, specifically pointing out the call of the Chiffchaff that had recently made the long journey from Africa and explaining that the main reason for bird migration is the search for food.
The children were able to experience bird watching from a hide and were also delighted to be shown the badger setts. Primary Teacher, Miss Baxter commented, “this term we have focused mainly on animals – so hearing all about the barnacle goose migration, whooper and mute swans was very beneficial. We had learned about badgers, so seeing real live badger setts was a big bonus too!”
The Reserve has a wide variety of resident water birds, including mute and whooper swans and mallard, widgeon and tufted ducks, which are fed daily by Brian and other staff members.
The children enjoyed identifying the different species and hearing about the record-breaking feats of these magnificent birds; the fastest time for a bird to fly back to Iceland (800 miles) is 11 hours 36 minutes; Laetitia at 27 years old is the oldest swan; and one family have raised 46 cygnets!
Brian explained to the children that many of the birds at Caerlaverock are tagged, and records relating to their weight, condition etc. are kept throughout their lifetime. Additionally, a number of the barnacle geese have been tagged with GPS devices which allows their progress to be tracked on their flight back to Spitsbergen, enabling WWT staff to record their speed, height and distance travelled. In fact, the tagged geese can be tracked to a five-metre radius anywhere in the world. The geese at Caerlaverock are a conservation success. At one point only 3,000 remained; now, thanks to the research work in which the WWT is involved, the population is in the region of 30,000.
The pupils had the opportunity to use the biggest binoculars in Scotland to view a flock of around 2,000 barnacle geese and enjoyed taking part in an interactive session, where they got a ‘goose’s eye view’ and were ‘caught’, ringed and had their head and wing spans recorded! The obligatory visit to the Reserve shop rounded off a fantastic day which was enjoyed by all – the local sparrow population was particularly delighted with the picnic lunch!