The RSPB Mersehead Nature Reserve sits on the southern coastline of Dumfries and Galloway and is a haven for several important bird species in Scotland. The extensive wetland and salt marsh habitats allow year-round bird!
This nature reserve is one of the top ones to visit if you’re an avid birder exploring Dumfries and Galloway. There’s plenty to see among the mudflats, wetlands, farmland, and woodlands that comprise the nature reserve, including a visitor centre. Learn about the migrating birds that flock to these impressive wetlands each year, and get advice on the best place for wildlife watching.
Geese are one of the nature reserve’s most prominent visitors and are a welcomed sight along with the breath-taking surroundings of the region.
In This Post
About the RSPB Mersehead Nature Reserve
You can find the RSPB Mersehead Nature Reserve, about 18 miles from Dumfries, which makes this extensive wetland reserve easy to slot into a day of activities. The nature reserve boasts about 7.25 hectares of land, mainly comprised of wetland habitats, improved grassland, sand dunes, and coastal trails that show off Scotland’s stunning southern coastline.
The area is crucial for conservation, and 25% of the world’s Svalbard Barnacle Geese overwinter within the Mersehead Nature Reserve. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds maintains the overall biodiversity of the different habitats that occupy the nature reserve, which makes it easy for geese, lapwings, and wigeons to flock to during the spring and autumn months. It is also a part of the Solway European Marine Site, and offers breathtaking scenery and wide expanses for guided walks.
There are two distinctive nature trails you can walk within the Mersehead Reserve, the Wetland Trail, which takes visitors through 3.2 kilometres of wet grassland and offers thousands of bird species shelter. The other is the Coastal Trail, which provides the chance to see dunes of international importance and the inter-tidal sandflats.
Details to Know
The Mersehead Nature Reserve is an excellent place to bring your friends and family if you want a fantastic day out. The reserve has a dedicated family zone within their visitor centre, specifically for young ones to play. While the parents sort out the plan for exploring the freshwater wetland habitats, the kids can enjoy colouring in, playing small interactive games, and learning about wildlife watching.
You can choose to do a series of family events, including pond dipping, bug hunting, and spotting birdlife! The visitor centre is open all year round, with their opening times ranging from 10:00 – 17:00 in the summer and 10:00 – 16:00 in the winter. The visitor centre also offers guests hot drinks and ice cream to refresh themselves on the reserve’s nature trails.
Avid birders will be glad to know, however, that the hides and trails dotted across the nature reserve are open for use from dawn until dusk! Indulge in as much birdwatching at your own pace without worrying about closing time.
Suppose you plan to embark and explore the reaches of this nature reserve. In that case, it’s good practice to refresh yourself with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which gives you a guideline on how to gain responsible access to this conservation site without disturbing the wildlife. This is especially important during the ground-nesting bird season between April and August.
Best Time to Be There
There are two excellent times during which a visit to the Mersehead Reserve should be on the top of your priority list: Spring and Autumn.
Spring is particularly magical, as that’s when the wet meadows fill with lapwings and skylarks. These beautiful and unique-looking breeding birds are a fantastic find for any birder, and their abundant chirps make it very easy to distinguish them from the rest of the wildlife. In addition to birds, we can’t forget to mention butterflies, roe deer, rare natterjack toads, and wild flowers, which grant the saltmarsh area with plenty of sights and sounds to feast on.
On the other hand, autumn brings large movements of geese to this great reserve, including the aforementioned Svalbard Barnacle Geese, Pink-Footed Geese, and many more. These birds number in the thousands and make their home here for winter before flying back to their northern homes in spring.
How to Get There
Luckily, you won’t have to take any ferries or boats to the Mersehead nature reserve’s breathtaking scenery. The reserve is easily accessed either by train, bus, or car. Although, taking a train will only be able to take you to Dumfries, from which you’ll be required to continue onwards with other public or personal transportation.
From Dumfries and other towns in the local area, you can catch a bus to Caulkerbush, which sits about 1 mile from the visitor centre. Ensure you’ve reviewed the timetable information to find the best route.
Finally, you can reach the nature reserve in various ways, such as Castle Douglas, Dumfries, and more by car. Watch for the nature reserve sign that sits just after Caulkerbush.
Top Birds of RSPB Mersehead Nature Reserve
Whether wintering Barnacle Geese or Lapwings, Mersehead is one of the best places to go birding in Scotland and has a vast and biodiverse ecology. Here are the top birds to keep an eye out for while visiting this stunning attraction:
Svalbard Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis)
When the Svalbard Barnacle Geese arrive to stay overwinter, Mersehead comes alive with tourists and avid birders who want to see these gorgeous geese. Over 25% of the Barnacle Geese world population flock to Mersehead, so it’s unsurprising to know that maintaining the area is paramount.
RSPB Mersehead has begun to farm spring arable crops such as oat and re-seeded grassland to grow the number of Barnacle Geese and other important farmland birds who come to winter at the reserve (to great success).
You can spot these geese by their black head, neck, and breast, which contrasts against their cream face and white underparts. Their chorus of load barks and yaps makes them easy to single out, and you’ll often find them with other geese.
Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus)
Another frequent visitor to the scenic north shore on the Solway coastline is the Pink-Footed Geese. This proud bird flocks to the nature reserve during the autumn months and is one of the many wintering waterfowl you can see while visiting.
The Pink-Footed Geese start their journey back to their northern breeding grounds when the weather thaws, but you may still catch them if you visit during March or April. Their adorable pink feet and bright orange-yellow bills make them easy to spot, so keep your eyes out!
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Lapwings are among the most unique-looking ground-nesting birds you can spot while walking along nature trails. Their distinctive crest of feathers is one of the best ways to spot them, but their rounded wings also give them away when they fly.
Lapwings arrive in spring and establish territories before they begin to breed. You can spot the young birds making their first flights across the wetlands in summer. Unfortunately, this farmland bird’s population is in severe decline and is now extremely rare to find.
Pintails (Anas acuta)
You may confuse the Pintail for a mallard at first inspection, but once it turns sideways, there’s no mistaking the iconic tapered tail that sharply extends from the bird. They are also slightly larger than a mallard, with curved back wings and a brown head.
A few breeding birds flock to Mersehead each year, so pay special attention to these birds while you’re on the hunt.
The Widgeon duck is a stunning example of a dabbling duck. The male of the species has a chestnut-coloured head with a broad green eye patch that stretches down its neck. They are beautiful, multicoloured birds that can regularly be seen wandering the vast expanses of the wetland lochs.
Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
If you catch a skylark off-guard, you’ll see the bird’s brown crest rise in response – a fantastic display that is only bested by the bird’s display flight. They are agile and quick birds, able to fly vertically exceptionally quickly.
However, their recent dramatic population declines make the Skylark sit on the Red List species.
Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
Reed Warblers and Grasshopper Warblers are common breeding warblers that visitors can see flying through the reed swamp. Reed Warblers are plain, unstreaked birds in a warm brown hue that arrives in the summer months.
There are several accommodation options that you can enjoy while you’re visiting the Mersehead Nature Reserve. A pair of semi-detached cottages are open to be booked throughout the year. They come with two bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, open fires, and other amenities.
Dumfries and Castle Douglas are nearby hotspots and offer many other accommodation options, but feel free to read through our accommodation options in Dumfries & Galloway.
Things to Do Nearby
The Mersehead Nature Reserve is also close to nearby to many other attractions that Dumfries and Galloway are known for, such as the Galloway Forest Park and Caerlaverock Castle, as well as the Mull of Galloway nature reserve also has a great selection of bird species to look forward to. Read through our complete for things to do nearby.
- Things to Do in Castle Douglas
- Things to Do in Dalbeattie
- Things to Do in Dumfries
- Things to Do in Gretna
- Things to Do in Kirkcudbright
- Things to Do in Lockerbie