Springtime in the natural world can be a frantic, fast-moving affair. A long summer of seemingly endless daylight lies ahead, and everything – from bumblebees to beetles and birds to badgers – is gearing up for it. Hibernators are awakening, plants bursting into life, and migrants arriving from the south as others depart northwards. Each day brings further changes, and it can be difficult for the amateur (or indeed professional) naturalist to keep up.
This year, though, the weather has had other ideas, and spring has so far been a stop-start affair. Forvie has alternately looked (and felt) like the Arctic and the Mediterranean in the course of the past week.
Nine consecutive days of wintry showers, icy winds and overnight snowfalls made it difficult to convince oneself it wasn’t still midwinter – temperatures had been higher than this in December after all. But for the sharp-eyed, the signs were there. Monday saw the first Sand Martin of the year flitting through the dunes of South Forvie. By then we had been on the lookout for these for the better part of a month, but they had hitherto been held up by the northerly airflow. Two days later a couple of Swallows followed suit; these were greeted automatically with a smile and a “Welcome back!”, as if encountering an old friend.
I always enjoy the thought that just a few weeks ago, these very same birds may have been hawking for insects between herds of Zebra and Wildebeest on the savannahs of Africa. On their incredible journeys they’ll have seen sights that I’ll never see. They also serve as a reminder that we’re all interlinked on this beautiful, crazy planet of ours, regardless of borders, boundaries and human politics, illustrating the need for us to look after nature globally, not just within the confines of places like Forvie.
Long-distance migrants are also great examples of both the toughness and the fragility of nature. Each year they tackle their mammoth migration in the face of untold adversity, and still make it to our shores. But in the case of many of our summer visitors, they do so in ever-diminishing numbers. This makes the sight and sound of the first returnees a special, bittersweet moment each spring. It’s a mixture of excitement and relief that they’ve made it.
This week we also enjoyed our first Osprey sightings of the year. On Tuesday a commotion arose among the local gulls over the estuary, and sure enough, there appeared among them the lumbering-yet-dashing silhouette of this charismatic summer visitor. It proceeded to drift its way upstream, occasionally pausing to hover upon sight of a fish in the shallows, before continuing northwards. Then on Friday, it or another Osprey headed downstream past us as we returned from the morning rounds of the ternery. Always a treat to see!
Another first for the year was a handsome Peacock butterfly. While their Small Tortoiseshell cousins have been active for a while now, and are now a frequent sight on fine days, Peacocks are always a little scarcer here. Their magnificent eye-spots are utterly distinctive; this is one of the first butterflies that many budding naturalists learn to recognise. They’re also frequent visitors to garden flowers, so keep an eye on any early spring blooms and you may be lucky enough to see one.
We happened upon something else this week that I took to be a first for science: a vertical-take-off Fox. While walking down to the ternery on Monday morning, we discovered a neat set of Fox tracks in the snow. But there were only five footprints, and nothing either side of them. Surely the Fox had landed like a Harrier jump-jet, walked a couple of paces, and then taken off again? Judge for yourself.
Disappointingly, the explanation was much more prosaic. Upon returning from the ternery, the snow had melted, revealing a faint set of tracks either side of the deep ones. Clearly there had been a particularly soft patch of sand into which the Fox’s paws had sunk, leaving the five obvious prints. But the hard sand either side had captured only shallow prints, which had been easily covered by the overnight snow. Mystery solved.
Seeing as we’re dealing in firsts, we’ll end with a mention of our new information panels around the Dune Trail. These take the form of old-fashioned wooden fish-boxes, in a nod to our coastal cultural heritage, and their colourful panels help to point out and explain some of the special features of the Reserve. They include information on Forvie’s wildlife, landscape and human history, all of which help to form the rich tapestry of the Reserve. Hopefully they’ll be as well-received as the popular ‘wildflower boxes’ which we deploy on the Heath Trail each summer.
That’s it for this week’s instalment then. Most notable that I have got to the end of it without falling out with my computer. I reckon that’s a first as well.