Scottish Birdwatchers’ Conference

Scotland's Rural College, Barony Campus, Parkgate, Dumfries DG1 3NE

Date: 17 March 2018
Time: Registration from 9am, conference closes at 5pm
Price: £30 incl. VAT per person, £20 students and under 25s

Every year the Club arranges a one-day Scottish Birdwatchers’ Conference, organised by a local branch of the SOC, in conjunction with our partners, BTO Scotland.

Hen Harrier by Donald Watson - cropHen Harrier painting by Donald Watson, reproduced with the kind permission of the Watson family.


The 2018 Scottish Birdwatchers’ Conference:

Donald Watson Centenary Special, a celebration of the birds of Dumfries & Galloway

Presentations: Saturday 17th March

Field trips (optional): Sunday 18th March

How to book:

  • Go straight to online booking – click here
  • To book and pay by credit or debit card over the phone, please contact Anne Cotton at BTO Scotland on 01786 466560 (for security, we discourage sending your bank details in the post)
  •  A copy of the booking form is included with the December issue of Scottish Birds.

Donald Watson

Donald Watson (1918-2005) was a renowned Scottish ornithologist, wildlife artist and author. He specialised in painting birds in their natural environment. During his life, he had several one-man exhibitions in the UK and abroad. Indeed, the gallery at SOC Headquarters is named in his honour. He was a founder member of the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) and the SOC and was President of the latter from 1969-1972. As well as illustrating over 30 books, he wrote several himself including Birds of Mountain and Moorland (1972), The Hen Harrier (1977), A Bird Artist in Scotland (1988) and One Pair of Eyes (1994). He was local bird recorder for Galloway for 30 years, having moved to the area with his wife in 1951.


Here’s who we have lined up for you…

John Threlfall (Artist)- Donald Watson – An Artist’s Appreciation

Donald was a founder member of The Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) and present member John Threlfall will look at Donald’s art, his influences and his legacy. Donald was in many ways the archetypal Galloway artist, his landscapes are so recognisable, his sense of place perfectly captured, his feeling for weather and atmosphere so true and all this animated with living, breathing birds going about their daily routines. There was nothing routine however about his exquisite observations and the portrayal of those birds on the page either in his paintings or his illustrative work.

John had the good fortune to visit Donald in his studio many years ago and when he subsequently moved to Dumfries and Galloway himself was able to see more of and appreciate still further the art of this generous, humble, gifted man.

The talk will conclude with a look at a recent collaboration between the SWLA and the BTO on migrant birds and John’s contribution to this exciting project, all coinciding with an ongoing exhibition on ‘Migration’ by members of the SWLA at the SOC, Donald Watson Gallery, Aberlady.


Brian Smith (Chair, SOC Dumfries & North Solway Ringing Group) – Pied Flycatchers in SWT Carstramon Wood Reserve

Brian has been a BTO and SOC member for over thirty years. He has been part of a team that has monitored 130 nest boxes in SWT Carstramon Wood Reserve since 2002. Although Blue and Great tits, Redstarts and Nuthatches have used the boxes over this time, the main focus has been the changes in fortune of the wood faithful strain of Pied flycatchers as described in the talk. Not only are adults and pulli ringed under the BTO scheme but since Nest Recording has gone online the fullest possible data is collected.


Crystal Maw (Site Manager, Galloway Reserves, RSPB Scotland) – Changes in Bird Populations at RSPB Barclye

Crystal started working for the RSPB in 2006, at Abernethy forest in the Cairngorms whilst studying for her degree in wildlife conservation. She fell in love with Scotland that summer and has been lucky enough to spend her working life so far in some remarkable parts of the country. She spent five amazing years in the Inner Hebrides, working to improve the populations of chough and corncrake and their associated habitats, on the islands of Colonsay, Oronsay, and Islay. From there Crystal moved to Dumfries and Galloway to become RSPB warden of the Galloway reserves, and a few years later site manager, where she currently stands. The reserves she manages are Ailsa Craig, Ken Dee Marshes, Kenmure Holms, the Mull of Galloway and the Wood of Cree.

The RSPB almost doubled the hectarage of the Wood of Cree reserve a decade ago by purchasing a neighbouring farm called Barclye; 200,000 trees have been planted on that site since then. In this talk Crystal will take the audience through the changes that have happened since the RSPB bought the land, and how those changes have affected the birds that use the reserve.


Mark Pollitt (Manager, SW Scotland Environmental Information Centre) – Bird Recording – a Birder’s Legacy…

Every birder has the opportunity to leave a legacy for future generations through the records they contribute. Mark’s talk will examine records of a range of species of local interest over the last 10 years, mapping their distributions and reflecting on what the records show us.

Mark is manager of the South West Scotland Environmental Information Centre (SWSEIC), the local environmental records centre for Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire. A former national organiser of the Wetland Bird Survey at WWT Slimbridge, Mark currently manages a database of over ¾ million local wildlife records, including over 300,000 local bird records.


Edmund Fellowes (Wildlife Photographer) – The Joy of Birds

Edmund is a lifelong birder and has been a member of BTO for more than 50 years. He emigrated from London in 1971 and came to Dumfries for the birds and for the environment. He has spent most of that time working in Dumfries as a GP, with binoculars in the glove box of the car. Edmund has taken part in many BTO projects and was the Atlas organiser for Dumfriesshire. Over the years, he has photographed a lot of local birds just for enjoyment and he passes his images on to BTO for use in publications. Now retired, he has lots of opportunities to enjoy his birding.

Edmund’s talk is entitled “The Joy of Birds” and looks at their beauty and at the comings and goings of their lives.


Brian Morrell (Centre Manager, WWT Caerlaverock Wetland Centre) – Little Egrets in Dumfries & Galloway

Brian has worked for WWT at Caerlaverock since 1992 and in that time has been fortunate to have been able to follow the barnacle geese on several expeditions to Bear Island and Spitsbergen. He was born and brought up in Dumfries and Caerlaverock was his local patch. After graduating in Zoology and undertaking many short-term contracts, he ended up back at Caerlaverock and after 25 years still enjoys it immensely. He started out as a volunteer then worked as Reserve Warden, Learning Manager and now Centre Manager.

Brian had not long started working at Caerlaverock in the summer of 1992 when he saw a little egret fly over the meadow to feed in a pool on the flood ground. This was a rare sighting indeed and he was quickly on the phone to Angus at Birdline Scotland with the news. Nowadays little egrets have extended their range northwards and are now seen on a regular basis throughout Dumfries & Galloway and also further north in Scotland. Brian’s talk will chart their successful movement north and their current status in this region.


Cat Barlow (Leader, South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project) – Reinforcing South of Scotland’s Golden Eagles 
Cat has worked in conservation for 17 years and began her raptor involvement working with Roy Dennis and Dr Tim Mackrill on the Osprey translocation project at Rutland Water in 2005 . Cat has lived and worked in Langholm for the last 8 years, leading the award-winning community/ education project Making the Most of Moorlands, alongside the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP). Cat is a keen bird-ringer, member of North Solway Ringing Group and member of the D&G Raptor Study Group monitoring Hen Harrier, Merlin, Barn, Tawny and SE Owls. Cat will be speaking about the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project (SSGEP), an exciting new project aiming to reinforce the Golden Eagle population in the south of Scotland.


Chris Rollie (Area Conservation Manager, Dumfries & Galloway, RSPB Scotland & Chair, D&G Raptor Study Group) – A Quarter Century of Raptor Watching and Monitoring in Dumfries & Galloway
Chris Rollie’s talk will cover what has been happening to raptors in D&G over the past 25 years or so, as monitored by D&G Raptor Study Group. The group had various influential founding members who are no longer with us and Chris will pay tribute to them in detailing the changing fortunes of raptors across the region. The talk will look at population levels, habitats, landscapes, pressures, recent arrivals and speculate on a positive future for raptors in the countryside.


Conference costs

The charge for the conference is £30 (incl. vat) per person. A limited number of discounted places are available to under 25s and students, priced at £20. This includes registration fee, lunch and teas/coffees. We regret that no refunds can be issued after 5 March.


Local birdwatching

Whether you are interested in exploring the area independently or joining an organised group outing, there are several sites with easy reach of the conference centre, which is located nine miles north of Dumfries on the A701. WWT Caerlaverock Wetlands Centre, near Glencaple, has internally important numbers of wintering geese, swans and waders, as does RSPB Mersehead, which is off the A710 at Caulkerbush. Both sites should provide good views of the Svalbard population of Barnacle Geese. While visiting Mersehead, Southerness is close by on the Solway coast and is good for wintering waders including Purple Sandpipers. Castle Loch Local Nature Reserve at Lochmaben is the closest freshwater site to the conference centre, located adjacent to the A709, eight miles east of Dumfries. It is the largest freshwater loch in Dumfriesshire and has a boardwalk around it affording good views of the wintering wildfowl.

Book your place online now – click here


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