About time too

The last full week of May finally delivered a series of fine and settled days, the likes of which had hitherto been painfully scarce this spring. At last, heading out onto the Reserve for the day’s duties started to feel like a pleasure, rather than an ordeal at the hands of the elements. And not before time.

A fine day at Hackley Bay

Walking southwards along the cliffs from Collieston to Rockend, in order to census the Eider population – and thus to gauge how many nesting pairs we might expect – also allowed us to take in the botanical delights of the coast path. In terms of wild flower interest, this is one of the more diverse parts of the Reserve. The varied topography of the cliffs creates niches for specialist as well as generalist plants, with each location having its own microclimate and soil chemistry. Consequently, one bay or headland can host a different range of plants to the next one.

A typical mix of clifftop flowers

On the most exposed headlands and precipitous cliffs, the salt-hardy seaside specialists such as Thrift and Sea Campion hold sway. These are tough, low-growing and well-adapted to withstand the strong winds, salt spray and parched conditions of life on the edge – in the literal sense.

Thrift growing alongside the coast path
Sea Campion likewise

The section of path around the north side of Hackley Bay is a particularly rich hunting ground when it comes to wild flowers. This is one of very few spots on the Reserve where Kidney Vetch can be found. A member of the pea family, its burnt-yellow flowers are borne in clusters which are not only distinctive in appearance, but also to the touch.

Kidney Vetch

In truth this plant should have featured in last week’s blog under the ‘fluffy things’ premise, but arguably the word ‘fluffy’ simply isn’t enough to describe its delightfully soft feel. I am in fact an advocate of the term ‘fwuffy’, which just sounds a softer word (OED application form currently in the post for this one). However, it’s probably best if you look out for the plant, have a feel of the flowers, and judge for yourself.

Dewightfully fwuffy

I recently mentioned the appearance of Meadow Saxifrage flowers along the coast path, and these also have a remarkably localised distribution at Forvie. The ‘Fulmar stack’ – the slouched crag of rock at the south end of Hackley Bay’s sandy beach – is its sole stronghold, with the exception of just one or two isolated plants on the adjacent footpath. Clearly there’s something about the soil chemistry or climate in this one particular spot that the Saxifrage finds to its liking. Now, with the flowers at their best, the stack looks a bit like it’s received a light sprinkling of snow – which somehow doesn’t seem that unlikely given the cold spring that we’ve endured this year.

The stack at Hackley Bay
An abundance of Meadow Saxifrage

Violets, by contrast, are much more widespread across the Reserve, and can be found along the cliffs as well as in the dune slacks, on the heath and throughout Forvie’s grassland. This spring seems to be producing a particularly good showing of them, and we’re hoping that it’ll be a correspondingly good year for Dark Green Fritillary butterflies, whose caterpillars feed on Violet leaves.

Violets – everywhere just now

Another widespread and common species, but one we’re always pleased to see when it first appears, is the Northern Marsh Orchid. A little fussier than the aforementioned Violets, these attractive orchids prefer the damper areas of the Reserve and shun the drier parts of the heath. The wet flushes along the coast path, as well as the damp grassland around the freshwater lochs and pools, are the most productive areas to look for them.

The first Northern Marsh Orchid

Damp or dry isn’t a problem either way for Tormentil, a characteristic plant of the heath. It’s equally happy among lush grassland or, as in this example, on the bare dry sand by the sides of the footpaths. Curiously, its distinctively-shaped flowers almost always have four petals arranged in a cross shape, but occasionally a five-petalled example appears on the same plant – see if you can spot one in the photo below. The reason for this is unclear, though it does make a mockery of the ‘key’ at the start of the wild flower field guides which often use the number of petals as an identification criterion. The trouble with nature – as we’ve often found – is that it doesn’t read the field guide!

Tormentil – heathland speciality

While Hackley Bay is a notable location for botanical interest on the Reserve, another little hotspot is the site of the lost village of Forvie. The relict stone walls of Forvie Kirk – the last visible remains of the settlement – provide an unlikely but attractive setting for a range of flowering plants.

Forvie Kirk, during a service in 2019
Wild flowers growing on the kirk walls

While passing by the kirk in the week, we spotted a plant we hadn’t previously noticed in all our collective years at Forvie. Clearly another member of the pea family, it resembled a tiny, two-coloured version of Common Vetch (a widespread species with which we’re much more familiar). This stumped both Catriona and I, and upon returning to HQ we consulted the field guide. A bit of head-scratching and cross-referencing of photos later, and we settled upon the identification as Spring Vetch. A new species for us – though chances are we’ve been walking right past it for years…

Spring Vetch – a new one on me
Common Vetch – much more familiar!

While it’s a pleasure to be reporting upon the wealth of botanical interest now appearing across the Reserve and local area, other plants are a less of a welcome sight. Last week we renewed hostilities with the Pirri-pirri Bur at Foveran Links, where we have been battling against this invasive species for more than a decade now. As ever, we owe a debt of thanks to our volunteers for their efforts; last week’s visit will doubtless be the first of many such excursions over the coming months.

Spraying Pirri-pirri Bur at Foveran LInks
Enemy in sight!

Finally, on the theme of ‘about time’, a couple of wildlife highlights (for me at least) upon which to report. If I’m honest, this first one was a bit daft. Regular readers will know I’m very keen on my ‘garden list’, i.e. wildlife seen from my own property next door to the Reserve. Picture the scene, then, on Tuesday morning, when Catriona and I were walking up the road to the Reserve office at opening-time.

Hearing the local crows furiously mobbing something, I looked up to see a distinctive shape wheeling around, dodging the crows. Pointing, I spluttered something along the lines of “Flippin’ Marsh Harrier! Garden tick!”, at which point the two of us legged it headlong back up the road in order to view the harrier from our own front yard. Luckily the harrier obliged, and we enjoyed great views of it above the house before it drifted off north-east. Always a notable bird at Forvie, this was species number 166 on the garden bird list!

Marsh Harrier – cue an injury-time-winner celebration

The following day, this was surpassed by a sighting of even greater magnitude – a live Water Vole! I couldn’t believe my own eyes as it motored across the ditch at the north-east corner of Sand Loch, looking like a clockwork miniature Beaver. A long-awaited first sighting at Forvie for me, this follows a long series of near-misses and false alarms – never mind friends, colleagues and neighbours all seeing them, just to rub it in. But there it was, large as life, and right at the end of our road to boot.

Gotcha at last! – photo (c) Alan Ross, River Dee Trust

A good week then – Marsh Harrier on the garden list, and the Water Vole ghost finally laid to rest. About time too!

Flowers, flies and fluffy things

The title of this week’s update is a fair reflection of the eccentricity of the month of May at Forvie. This, after all, is the turbocharged, full-throttle part of spring, following the dress rehearsal months of March and April when things are just starting to get going. Even in a cold year such as this one, by mid-May there’s plenty happening on all fronts, and each week brings something new.

Wild Pansies in the dunes

The first Wild Pansies began to show their cheery faces in the dune slacks about a month ago, but it’s now in mid-May that they’re looking their best. Being tiny, they appear to the eyes of the standing or walking casual observer as small flecks of blue, white and purple among the grasses. However, it’s worth taking a look at them up close, if your knees can take the strain (mine protest with a series of cracking and crunching sounds, but it’s still worth it). It’s easy to see how these flowers caught the eye of early gardeners, and were duly domesticated.

Beautiful in blue

Other early spring flowers are now past their best and beginning to go over. A wee while ago we reported on the appearance of Colt’s-foot in the dunes, its flowers appearing oddly in advance of its leaves. Those flowers are now setting seed (the fluffy seed-heads bearing a family resemblance to the ‘clocks’ of Dandelions, their distant relatives in the daisy family). But as the flowers turn to seed, so the hoof-shaped leaves that give the plant its common name begin to appear.

Colt’s-foot: flowers already going to seed…
…and leaves now beginning to appear.

Mid-May is peak nesting time for Forvie’s Eiders, with many of the females now starting their long, solitary, four-week vigil on the nest. During this period the duck will sit tight, only leaving the nest for a quick drink of water during extended periods of dry weather. However, if there’s regular rainfall such as we’ve had recently, she can obtain sufficient drinking-water from the vegetation around the nest, and won’t leave her precious eggs at all. Imagine four weeks sitting down in the same spot! By the end of the incubation period, she must be feeling pretty stiff and sore. Never mind hungry, as she won’t have eaten anything since she laid the eggs. Good fat reserves and a high boredom threshold must surely be prerequisites for success as an Eider duck.

Eider duck on the nest

On the estuary, the remaining unmated females are now substantially outnumbered by the males (drakes), who fall over themselves for the chance to impress a potential mate. It’s not unusual at this stage of the season to see up to twenty drakes attempting to woo a single female, in a frenzied ‘courting party’.

Eider courting-party

Luckily for the female in question, Eider drakes are much more gentlemanly than other species such as Mallards (where females come in for some really rough treatment by parties of hormone-fuelled drakes). Eider drakes are never forceful with the females, and any physical violence is directed exclusively towards their male competitors; even then it tends to be mild and theatrical rather than seriously harmful. The video clip below is a good demonstration – and it’s also worth turning up the sound!

Check out these moves – and sounds

Down at the ternery, the week’s major piece of news was the hatching of the first Sandwich Tern chick. This will hopefully be the first of many, with the nest census earlier in the week having revealed 903 clutches of eggs (to go with the 2,428 clutches of Black-headed Gull eggs that we counted at the beginning of the month). That’s a lot of fluffiness waiting to happen – if only they can avoid the ravages of avian ‘flu this year. An uncertain couple of months lies ahead, and all we can do is keep our fingers firmly crossed.

The first Sandwich Tern chick of 2023, with its sibling yet to hatch
Sandwich Terns: parents-to-be
The ternery bustling with life – here’s hoping it stays thus

Insect life has been painfully slow to get going in the cold spring of 2023, but we’re now seeing increasing numbers of common and familiar species such as Seven-spot Ladybirds pottering about among the vegetation.

Seven-spot Ladybird

The Forvie butterfly transect – the weekly survey that takes place from April to October to record the Reserve’s butterfly fauna – has yet to produce a single butterfly this year so far. But as any wildlife surveyor or amateur naturalist will tell you, it all kicks off when you’re not actually surveying. So while the transect has so far drawn a blank, we have started to see ones and twos of Green-veined White flitting around other parts of the Reserve. With plenty more, we hope, to follow.

Green-veined White

One of the most abundant and recognisable insects at Forvie in high summer is the Six-spot Burnet moth. It’ll be a while yet until we’ll see these on the wing, but the sharp-eyed observer in mid-May might well spot their distinctive black-and-pale-green caterpillars in the dunes, particularly where there are large amounts of Bird’s-foot Trefoil, the caterpillars’ favourite foodplant. Like the aforementioned Wild Pansies, these little caterpillars are attractive and boldly-marked when seen close-up, but can be remarkably inconspicuous from standing height.

Burnet caterpillar
Mind your feet!
Six-spot Burnet – coming soon

The other newsworthy insect of the moment has to be the St Mark’s Fly. Largish in size with big eyes, dangling legs and a slow, drifting flight, people sometimes mistake them for biting insects such as Clegs. However, these are harmless creatures, bumbling around in a good-natured but clumsy manner, and nectaring on any available flowers. Unassuming and oft-misunderstood they may be, but they’re as much a part of spring at Forvie as the song of the Skylark or the drone of Bumblebees among the Willow catkins. What’s more, you can tell the males from the females by means of their hairy eyes – I mean, what’s not to like?

St Mark’s Flies
Hairy eyeballs – that’ll be a male then

St Mark’s Day, from which the fly’s name is derived, occurs in late April, which is when these characterful insects tend to emerge in the southern part of their range – although at our northerly latitude, it’s normally well into May before we start to see them. And be assured that the Clegs won’t be on the go for a while yet – so no need to fear the insects when you’re walking on the Reserve just now. It’s only St Mark’s flies and their fluffy eyes.


The Scottish east coast upon which Forvie sits is famous (or more properly infamous) for the dreaded haar. This dense fog forms when cold air, cooled by the notoriously chilly waters of the North Sea, moves onshore and comes into contact with warmer, moisture-laden air over the land. The net result is that while inland areas are sweltering under clear skies and high temperatures, the coastline is smothered by a cold and impenetrable shroud of airborne condensation. While folk in Ellon or Oldmeldrum may be experiencing a heatwave, here at Forvie it can be ten or twelve degrees colder, with visibility effectively zero. What’s more, it can persist for days on end, as has been the case lately.

The dreaded words upon opening the curtains in the morning: “Haar’s in!”
Coast path disappearing into oblivion

Oh, the joys of living on the east coast! Friends and neighbours were all variously rumbling, grumbling or wondering at it, or just questioning what they’d done to anger the gods. After all, we’d already endured a dismal cold spring this year, even before the cloudbase came down to meet us. So is there actually anything positive to write about the phenomenon dubbed Haarmageddon?

Catriona looking like she’s about to step off the edge of the world

Actually, I promise it does have some redeeming factors. Admittedly not if your plans consisted of a barbeque, some cold beers and catching some sun, but please bear with me.

Out on the heath, all the fine threads of spiders’ silk among the vegetation become bejewelled with tiny droplets of moisture. While this doesn’t do the spiders themselves any favours whatsoever, rendering their carefully-set traps obvious to potential prey and predators alike, it does make for a remarkably attractive scene. It also serves to reveal a vast world of invertebrate life normally invisible to our eyes, reminding us of the diversity of life on the Reserve – and how much of it we usually barely even notice.

Moisture-laden cobwebs
Millions of tiny gems

Out on the coast path, the emerging wild flowers appear to glow in the mist. The startlingly white flowers of Meadow Saxifrage can be found alongside the footpath around the top of Hackley Bay, and their form reminds me of a set of vintage fairy-lights. They certainly appear back-lit in the mist in any case.

Meadow Saxifrage on the coast path

Primroses have been on the go for a good while now; the cold spring has meant they have persisted for longer than usual, and along the cliffs of North Forvie they are at their best just now. In some areas the cliff slopes are piebald with great clumps of their yellow blooms, contrasting with the darker colours of the grasses and dwarf shrubs. Sadly the visibility was too poor to take a decent panorama though – one for another day I guess!

Primroses in the mist

The cliffs are also currently studded with the deeper yellows of Cowslips, close relatives of Primroses and bearing a family resemblance.


Indeed, Cowslips and Primroses are so closely related that they readily hybridise. The resultant cross-bred offspring are known as False Oxlips (since they closely resemble Oxlips, which are a true species rather than a hybrid). Sure enough, Forvie’s cliffs are a good place to find False Oxlips alongside both of their parent species, and they’re well worth seeking out – even on the dreichest of days.

False Oxlips
A bit of brightness in the murk

The other factor in favour of the dreaded haar is that it can bring us some interesting birdlife. The same onshore winds that ushered in this week’s cold air originated far to the east of Scotland, and brought with them a rush of migratory birds from continental Europe. Drifted westwards by the breeze, then disorientated by the poor visibility upon reaching our coast, these weary travellers made landfall upon our shores in considerable numbers. About a dozen different species were involved, several of which are typically scarce here at the best of times.

Garden Warbler
Common Whitethroat

It soon became clear that in terms of numbers, this was the most significant spring ‘fall’ of migrants for some years; in my 17 springs here there have only been three really notable falls (2023, 2015, and a particularly spectacular and memorable weekend way back in 2009). So it was a rare treat to see a variety of species that are normally hard to find here, and to see them in quantity. Most numerous were warblers of several kinds, along with three species of chat: Wheatear, Whinchat and Redstart. A handful of Tree Pipits and Pied Flycatchers completed the cast.

A handsome Wheatear
Lesser (left) and Common Whitethroats
A rather cute female Pied Flycatcher – photo (c) L Goodwin

One of the best things about a spring ‘fall’, as opposed to a similar event in autumn, is that many of the birds are resplendent in their summer plumage. There are few finer sights in European ornithology than a male Redstart in his breeding finery. This is a tiny firecracker of a bird, an explosion of colour even on the dampest and dullest of days.

A fine male Redstart… photo (c) L Goodwin
…looking a bit damp though! – photo (c) L Goodwin

Last September I reported upon the biggest autumn ‘fall’ since 2008, which elicited a mixture of excitement and sheer relief (some observers, myself included, had begun to doubt whether we’d ever see such scenes again due to the ongoing declines of many migratory songbirds). This week’s arrival was met with a similar mix of emotions, and was enjoyed and appreciated beyond measure.

For this alone – and speaking both as an east-coast resident and naturalist – I am willing to concede that the dreaded haar does occasionally have its up sides!

It’s all about Seals

Hi folks! As I often do my seal counts on a Sunday, I thought why not write a bit about Forvie’s nationally famous seal haul-out in this week’s blog post. While doing a bit of research for this blog, I was amazed to discover that back in the 1990s, you would be lucky to see even a handful Grey Seals here. Today, in complete contrast, it is quite common to see up to 3000 Grey Seals at the haul-out in January, when the wintering population reaches its peak. They come here to moult, fish and rest over the winter and early spring. Some of the seals will then travel over 200 miles north to Orkney to give birth to their pups along rocky coastlines. Although in recent years, a few females have given birth to pups at Forvie’s haul-out.

Seals staring at me from their haul-out. Viewing and photography should always be done from the Newburgh side, from across the river.

Since 2010, Grey Seal numbers have been increasing quite dramatically on the Ythan. In 2017, the Ythan Estuary seal haul-out was officially designated, in response to increased disturbance caused by naturally inquisitive visitors, drawn in by the spectacle. This designation provides additional protection for the seals from any intentional or reckless harassment. Although thankfully, our seals enjoy a peaceful and hassle-free life most of the time. Thank you for watching them from a distance! Much appreciated by us and more importantly, the seals. Our haul-out is just one of 195 designated seal haul-outs across Scotland.

“Give me a kiss”.

The Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) is by far the more common of the two species found here. Nationally thriving on Scottish coasts, globally it is quite rare and only found in the North Atlantic, the Baltic Sea and the Barents Sea. The species is divided into three distinct subspecies, with a Western Atlantic population ranging from North Labrador (in Canada) to New England (United States), and two Eastern Atlantic subspecies. The North American subspecies is slightly larger and heavier than the Grey Seals we see at Forvie and the Baltic subspecies (Halichoerus grypus macrorynchus) is the smallest of the three. The entire worldwide population is around 400,000 individuals, 40% of which live in UK waters and a staggering 90% of that number breed on Scottish coasts.

Ah to be a Grey Seal. They look so happy and chilled out.

Grey and Harbour seals can live for 20-30 years in UK waters, but apparently Western Atlantic Grey Seals can live a bit longer than their eastern counterparts. Captive animals can live well into their 40s. Grey Seals are considerably larger than Harbour Seals (and adults are arguably less cute). Greys typically have that long sloping ‘Roman nose’ and oval forehead, whereas Harbour Seals are more endearing, with an almost ‘dog-like’ face and steep forehead. Harbour Seals eyes are located on the front of the face, whereas Grey Seals’ eyes are more towards the sides of the head. Adult male Grey Seals can weigh up to 310kg and measure up to 2 m in length, they’re impressive animals, with adult females being comparably smaller than the males. Male Harbour Seals can weigh up to 100kg and can measure up to 1.5m, so the species are visibly smaller in side by side comparison.

In terms of hunting habits, both species primarily hunt fish, although recent evidence shows that Grey Seals eat quite a wide array of marine life, including young porpoises and birds, and will even resort to cannibalising their own young. Grey Seals can travel well over 100km to forage and are quite content on exposed and rocky coasts, whereas Common Seals will generally only wander up to 50km from their haul-out sites to hunt, and prefer sheltered coastlines. Grey Seals are definitely the more adventurous of the two species, quite happily breeding and hauling in new places, whereas Common Seals like to return to their place of birth.

The Common Seal or Harbour Seal is widespread in the northern hemisphere, although at Forvie, it isn’t as common as its name might suggest, and you are much more likely to see a Grey. Globally, there are five sub-species, and European Harbour Seals (Phoca vitulina vitulina) can be found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. There are roughly 100,000 harbour seals in Europe and 30% of them are found in UK waters, 80% of which make Scottish waters their home.

Harbour Seal staring at me with its more conventionally ‘dog-like’ face.

If you are wanting to spot a Harbour Seal at Forvie, they’ll be smaller in size and in groups (or lone individuals) away from the main haul-out. But frankly I’ve had better luck finding them near the Bridge of Don at Aberdeen. This is because Greys can be aggressive towards Common Seals, and therefore you often find Harbour Seals avoiding them. Recent studies have shown that Grey Seals could be contributing to the decline of Harbour Seals, by competing for food resources. Adult male Greys have even been reported to predate on juvenile Harbour Seals and mortally wound adults. So if you are wanting to see Harbour seals in greater numbers, you would be better off visiting a haul-out on the west coast.

Grey Seal pups are of course born with that iconic fluffy white fur, which they shed over the first few weeks of life. They are without doubt absolutely adorable! Pupping happens mainly between November and December in Scotland for Grey Seals, whereas Common Seal pups are born in June and July.

Two Harbour Seals staring at each other.

Another significant difference between pups of the two species is their behaviour and appearance in the first few weeks of life. Grey Seal Pups cannot swim immediately and have to wait many hours on the haul-out on a daily basis, while their mothers go fishing. When their mothers return, they suckle for milk, which can be up to 60% fat. They are dependent on their mothers in this way for three to four weeks before shedding their white coats and taking to the water. In contrast, Common Seal pups are born without the white coats (these are shed in the womb) and they can swim within hours of birth.

On the edge of the haul-out.

If you haven’t seen them before, it’s quite an experience and well worth the visit. Thank you for taking the time to read my 2nd blog. Take care, Danny.

Grey Seal pup.

“When’s this winter going to end?”

This was the question asked by one of our NatureScot colleagues on a site visit to Forvie this week. Right enough, after yet another duff prediction on my part that we’d finally turned the corner into a proper spring, this last few days has felt anything but spring-like. A biting cold wind, a leaden grey sky low enough to scrape your head on, and a good dose of rain/hail/sleet/snow (delete as appropriate, as we’ve had them all at one point or another) have made the last week of April feel more like the first week of January. Back out with the winter woollies then.

A grey day in South Forvie… again
Not looking very spring-like today

While we may find the unseasonably wintry conditions a bit irritating or downheartening, spare a thought for our wildlife, which must be utterly bewildered and confused. This week saw the year’s first Arctic Tern return to Forvie from its travels in the southern hemisphere, though it could probably have been forgiven for wishing it had lingered a little longer on its northward migration through the tropics.

Arctic Tern – hopefully the first of many

Our plants must be even more confused. Yes, the day lengths are increasing steadily, but so far there has been no corresponding rise in temperatures. There’s no doubt that many of our wild flowers are late emerging this year as a direct result of the cold spring. That said, certain species are gradually adding their colours to Forvie’s palette, and each week now will see more and more variety, whatever the weather throws at us. Here is a selection of some of this week’s newly-emerged flowering plants.

Wild Pansies
Common Scurvy-grass
Red Campion
Marsh Marigolds

Insects have also understandably been slow to get going this spring. Butterflies have so far been scarce, and for the most part restricted to those species such as Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock which overwinter as adults – though they may have been better served staying in bed a while longer before emerging. Probably the most notable insect news this week has been the appearance on the footpaths of Devil’s Coach-horse Beetle larvae. Glossy jet-black and fast-moving, these will eventually metamorphose into the scorpion-like predatory beetles which are a familiar sight throughout the Reserve during summer and autumn.

Devil’s Coach-horse beetle larva
What a beast!
The adult Devil’s Coach-horse Beetle

These plant and insect pioneers carry a spirit of optimism that’s frankly difficult to get alongside on the really rough days. Even Forvie’s Black-headed Gulls, irrepressible larrikins that they are, have been looking a bit miserable hunched into a northerly blast of hail or sleet. Most of these are now incubating eggs, and they’d be well advised to sit tight at the moment.

Black-headed Gulls braced against a hailstorm

A small proportion of the gulls are ringed as part of the annual monitoring programme of the breeding colony. If you look carefully at the gulls on the estuary, you might spot one wearing a yellow ‘darvic’ ring bearing a unique alpha-numeric code. For example, the photo below features ‘Yellow 2CP7’ – a bird hatched at Forvie in 2016, now paired up and in the prime of its life. ‘2CP7’ is a good example of an individual who has faithfully returned to its natal site to raise young of its own – and an illustration of the importance of stable and well-protected colony sites like Forvie. A happy story then – even if its ring number makes it sound more like a Star Wars robot than a wild bird.

‘2CP7’ and its mate

Reserve manager Catriona has a sharp eye when it comes to picking out ‘darvics’. A few days ago she came back from the ternery with the following photo…

Who’s this then?

Catriona asked me if this was a Forvie ring number, as it looked a little unusual. Upon seeing the photo, I noticed the metal ring on the bird’s other leg had been applied above the ‘knee’ joint, which isn’t a Forvie practice (or indeed a UK one). This was a bit odd. It was only then that the penny dropped: this wasn’t even a Black-headed Gull, it was a Mediterranean Gull – note in the photo the thick crimson legs and big white eye-crescents. Catriona had been so intent on reading the ring number that she hadn’t realised the gull wasn’t the ‘usual’ species!

Identification now made, Catriona reported the ring number to Raymond from Grampian Ringing Group, who quickly got a response from the appropriate bird-ringer. It turned out that our Mediterranean Gull had been hatched in Germany last summer, at a breeding colony on a gravel-pit just outside Leipzig. And it also turns out that the German name for Mediterranean Gull is Schwarzkopfmöwe – which translates literally as ‘black-headed gull’. So no shame in confusing the two species Catriona!

‘A3JZ’ – Schwarzkopfmöwe aus Deutschland!

From international travellers to residents now, and up on the heath the Roe Deer bucks are gradually getting into condition for the summer rut. Their newly-grown antlers are covered in soft ‘velvet’, which they will gradually lose by rubbing against vegetation during the spring.

Roe buck in the mist
Beginning to shed their velvet

The Willow copses on the heath are favourite places for them to rub the velvet from their antlers, and we occasionally find evidence of Roe Deer ‘thrashing’ the trees when we’re out and about on the Reserve. As well as removing the velvet, this activity also serves to leave a scent mark (as well as a fair bit of visible damage to the tree in question), which lets rival bucks know who’s in town. It’s the Roe Deer equivalent of the pumped-up, attitude-filled teenage male armed with a rattle-can, who spray-paints his signature everywhere he goes.

Deer-thrashings in the willow scrub

Lastly, poor weather notwithstanding, it’s the time of the year when Forvie’s Shelducks are pairing up and heading into the dunes and surrounding fields, where they will nest in disused Rabbit burrows. As such, it’s common to see pairs and small parties flying around prospecting for nest sites, often far from water.

A party of Shelduck

Of course, the pairing-up process involves a lot of displaying and posturing, and occasional bouts of mild violence (typical ducks, then). So we’ll leave you this week with a quick video clip of Shelducks doing their thing – 48 seconds of head-tossing, neck-pumping, tail-chasing mayhem. Enjoy – and try not to laugh at them.


The Sanderling’s Old English name is ‘sand-yrðling’, meaning the ‘sand-ploughman’.

Hi folks! I’d like to introduce myself, I’m Danny the new weekend warden at Forvie National Nature Reserve. Any of you who have visited the reserve recently, might have already seen me on patrol, and maybe even stopped to have a quick chat with me at Waterside Car Park, about the local wildlife and particularly (but not exclusively) the birdlife. I confess I am a bit of a bird nerd! My previous post with NatureScot, was as a Seasonal Reserve Officer at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve in Deeside. It’s a great privilege to be working as a permanent Reserve Officer here and I am very excited and grateful to embark on this rare and unique opportunity.

A Sanderling running along the tide line.

This week I wanted to focus on Sanderlings, that energetic little ‘wind-up toy’ of a wading bird, which you can often see running along the shorelines of our beaches and estuaries in pursuit of food. I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about this species, as most of them have started their lengthy migrations back to their breeding grounds in the Arctic Tundra. Their name comes from the Old English sand-yrðling, meaning the ‘sand-ploughman’.

It’s a small and plump little sandpiper, approximately 18cm in length and can weigh as little as 40g, although a well fed bird may tip the scales at 100g, pretty small by most animal standards, but pretty colossal for an unsuspecting estuarine invertebrate! This species overwinters on UK coasts, so usually, we only see these birds in their winter plumage (unless we happen to be visiting Spitsbergen or somewhere else in the high arctic in summer), which is very pale, almost white apart from a dark shoulder patch. In summer, when these birds might have flown up to10,000km to reach their high arctic breeding grounds, their plumage changes quite markedly, the face and throat transition to a rich goldie-orange tone with brown speckles (quite similar to Dunlin). Juveniles are spangled black and white and show much more contrast than adults.

The sanderling is a circumpolar species and in summer, it resides in the High Arctic areas of North America, Europe and Asia. In North America, it mostly breeds in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Greenland and to a lesser extent in Alaska. Eurasian Sanderlings breed in Spitsbergen and the northern Russian Tundra, anywhere from the Taymyr Peninsula to the New Siberian Islands. You might say its winter distribution is rather cosmopolitan across temperate coastlines of the northern hemisphere. These birds are impressive migrants, travelling between 1,900 to 6,200 miles from their breeding grounds to wintering sites. That’s a lot of grit and determination for such a tiny little wader! Individuals which migrate further, also arrive later and leave earlier.

Most adults depart their breeding grounds in July, whereas juvenile birds leave in late August and early September. Adults that leave very early, still in their breeding plumage, can end up in their wintering sites, only a few months after having left them to breed. So, it’s quite common for people to mistakenly think birds are breeding much further south than they should be, when in fact, they have simply started their winter vacation extremely early! The northward migration begins in March at the southern end of their winter distribution, which means that birds on Scottish coasts can still linger into late May. Most of our Sanderlings will be birds which breed in Siberia, but Scotland does host a few Greenlandic individuals too; now that really is a long haul flight!

Sanderlings are circumpolar.

Sanderlings have quite specific feeding habits, hunting for invertebrate prey, buried in the sand within the upper intertidal zone. When the tide is out, their prey can burrow relatively deep down beneath the surface. Conversely, when the tide comes in, the invertebrates move into the upper layers of sand and feed on the plankton and other detritus that washes up with each wave. They then burrow down rapidly again as the water retreats, leaving no marks on the surface; so the Sanderlings hunt for them by probing their beaks into the sand quite randomly, swallowing whatever happens to be there.

It’s estimated that there could be up to 4000 invertebrates per square metre on the shorelines in which they hunt, especially in spring time, when productivity starts to increase. But because their small, stubby bills can only penetrate up to 3 cm into the wet sand, Sanderlings often appear to rush franticly and erratically around the edge of the surf. What’s really going on, is that they are optimising their chances of catching as many prey animals as possible, at the point at which invertebrates are at their most vulnerable (i.e. closest to the surface).

Oilfield support vessel and a huddle of Sanderlings in the foreground.

One final cool fact about these small birds, which you can find on the British Trust for Ornithology’s website, is that the oldest ringed Sanderling is 17 years, 7 months and 3 days old (set in 1988), that’s many tens of thousands of miles of flying around the globe! What an incredible life that little bird must have lived.

Sanderling facing the Seals on the opposite side of the Ythan river mouth.

That’s all I’ve had time to write about this week, but below are stills of some of the other local species I’ve filmed, and that I hope to talk about in future blogs. Thank you for taking the time to read my first Forvie blog! Take care and catch up again soon. Cheers, Danny.

A Grey Seal playing a game of ‘hide and seek’ with me.

Sunshine and spring cleaning

It was with no little relief that we finally got a view of the sky at Forvie this week, after what had seemed like an eternity of sullen, overcast and often downright dreich days. We’re now halfway through the spring of 2023 (!) but it feels like all we’ve had so far is a series of false starts. But with the forecast looking fine and settled at the time of writing (read into that what you will), here’s hoping we’ve actually turned the corner this time.

A sunny view southwards along the beach

At least some of Forvie’s flora are now buying into the idea of spring for real. One of the more notable flowering plants to come to prominence on the Reserve recently is Colt’s-foot. It’s a member of the daisy family, with its flowers bearing a close family resemblance to many of its cousins both wild and domesticated. What sets Colt’s-foot apart, though, is its odd habit of leaves and flowers appearing separately, at different times of the year. So in spring, its yellow blooms appear from the ground almost as if by magic, with no other trace of the plant visible. It’s not until summer that we’ll start to see the broad silvery-green leaves that give the plant its name. This strange arrangement gave rise to Colt’s-foot’s old alternative name of ‘Son-before-father’ – flower before leaf.

Colt’s-foot flowers
A splash of sunshine among the dunes

Colt’s-foot has long been used medicinally, in the treatment of sore throats, coughs and colds, although most people I know now seem to prefer off-the-shelf remedies. However, it’s still in high demand by one species at least. Cinnabar moths are usually specialists upon Ragwort, which is enthusiastically consumed by its yellow-and-black caterpillars. But if they can’t find any Ragwort, then the leaves of Colt’s-foot suit them just fine as second choice. The moths will be on the wing in early summer, when the leaves of Colt’s-foot begin to emerge: perfect timing for hungry caterpillars that can’t find any Ragwort to eat!

Cinnabar moth

While the yellow flowers of Colt’s-foot are brightening up the dune slacks, so the blues and purples of Violets are doing the same across the heath. These too are important food-plants for insects, and Forvie’s substantial population of Dark Green Fritillary butterflies rely on them at the larval stage. We won’t see the butterflies themselves until summer, but the Violets serve as a reminder that they won’t be long.

Violets on the heath
Dark Green Fritillary

Down on the estuary, the cast of birdlife is changing from day to day. Winter visitors have mostly now departed (though Danny did see a late group of Whooper Swans hurrying by recently), and we’re now seeing species that are passing through en-route to their breeding grounds further north. These Black-tailed Godwits, for example, will probably be heading for Iceland or Scandinavia, and some of them have already begun to assume their gorgeous rusty-red summer plumage.

Black-tailed Godwits
Resplendent in summer finery – phwooaaarr!

Another species of wading bird on the move just now is the Golden Plover. Despite their beautiful golden colouration, these blend in unbelievably well with the mussel-beds of the estuary, and even large flocks can be remarkably difficult to spot. Things get a bit easier when they acquire their summer plumage though, when their undersides are jet-black with a white border. Check out the following photo and see how many you can spot – there are both summer- and winter-plumaged birds in the flock, and the former stand out far more conspicuously than the latter!

Golden Plover flock on the mussel-beds

One of the estuary’s more eagerly-awaited summer visitors also put in a couple of appearances this week. Ospreys pass through the Ythan Estuary on migration in spring and autumn, but birds from local nests also fish on the estuary throughout the summer. These are big birds, with a wingspan of some six feet, and their habit of taking headlong dives into the river at high speed (and often from great height) while fishing makes for a spectacular sight.

A returning Osprey over the Ythan

While on the subject of birds, Monday saw our first public event of the 2023 summer season – and it too was on the subject of birds. An evening slideshow about Forvie’s avifauna stretched the Forvie Centre classroom to its limits in terms of seating capacity, and I for one was astonished at the turnout. Hopefully this bodes well for further events at the Reserve this year. Keep an eye on Forvie’s media channels to stay abreast of what’s coming up – we will update this information throughout the season.

“Check out the stonking colours on this Red-backed Shrike…”

Meanwhile on Thursday we joined forces with the two Laurens from East Grampian Coastal Partnership, and enlisted the help of a super-keen gang of volunteers, to carry out a beach clean.

Intrepid beach-cleaners

We decided to split the group into two teams, to tackle the estuary foreshore and seaward beach respectively. This allowed us to get a lot of ground covered in the available time, and put a real dent in the amount of marine litter washed up on the Reserve.

Clearing rubbish off the estuary…
…and the beach

Of course, when beach-cleaning you never quite know what you’re going to find. This time around we didn’t happen upon anything truly remarkable, or interesting, or just mind-bogglingly disgusting (though we’ve found plenty such things in the past). A fire extinguisher (empty!), some kids’ toys and a retro disinfectant bottle (1980s perhaps?) were probably the most notable items, giving rise to the two usual questions: 1) how the blazes did that end up here; and 2) how many years has that been drifting around the North Sea?

How did you end up here?
A vintage disinfectant bottle – other brands are of course available

At the end of the event, we had amassed some 230 kg of beach litter, all of which will be safely removed from the marine environment, to the benefit of nature and human visitors to the coast. As always, we were indebted to the volunteers who put in a real shift on the day. Although it often seems like a hopeless and thankless task, any plastic removed from the environment is a huge positive. It’s very much a case of ‘every little helps’ (other brands of plastic bag are of course available too).

A good haul – champion!

So that’s the spring cleaning complete, for one week at least. Here’s hoping now for some more sunshine…

Feeling Gullible?

We’ve been feeling gullible this week. No, it wasn’t because we believed Steely’s Isle of May giant tortoise post for 1st April (see https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/2023/04/01/giant-tortoises/ ), rather because gulls have been something of a feature this week. In spite of a rather cold and wet week, we reckon there are upwards of 1700 Black- headed Gulls on the colony now – and, in keeping with it being Easter weekend, we’re expecting eggs any day.

Black- headed gulls

But those haven’t been the only gulls on the go this week. As well as our usual selection of herring, common and black- backed gulls, were were treated to the ghostly white wings of an Iceland Gull just outside the office on Monday. In spite of their name, these gulls actually breed in Greenland, but they were first identified (by European explorers, obviously, rather than the natives who’d known about them all along) and named in Iceland. Flying against a grey sky with the other gulls, it was very easy to pick out by its all-white plumage.

Then, down on the estuary, we were treated to the sight of a couple of gulls from -usually – further east. Firstly a tern-sized Little Gull, who may be on its way east to breeding grounds in Finland or Russia.

Little gull

Then a rather smart Mediterranean gull. In spite of their name, most breed around the Black Sea, but small numbers have also colonised England since the 1960s. They look a bit like a souped-up black-headed gull, with a black hood, red bill and white eyelid almost giving them a clown face.

Mediterranean gull on beach ( with red beak).

The other big news of the week it that we’ve seen the first Sandwich Terns on the ground in the colony. Admittedly, this was on Tuesday, which was a nice day, but it’s always exciting to see the first ones back and exploring future nest site. Since then, the weather has put them off again and they’ve gone back to hanging around the beach, waiting for it to dry up. You and me both, guys!

1st sandwich terns on the ground
Sandwich Terns and Black- headed gulls

These weren’t the only ‘first’ for the week. We saw our first Sand martin on Tuesday, along with our first Wheatears of the year. These wee birds are the only passerine to regularly cross an ocean on migration, with some making the journey from Africa to Arctic Canada, by way of the UK, Iceland and Greenland. Two cracking males were bouncing around the track near the old railway carriage, no doubt feeding up after a long trek. And they may still have many miles to go.


On the menu might have been this violet ground beetle. While softer prey like worms or grubs are preferred, even a hard-shelled beetle can be bashed around to get at soft inner parts. But this one definitely got away, disappearing into a tussock after we took this picture!

Violet ground beetle

Away from the birds, at least some of the wild flowers are sulking in the cold and damp. Celandines, usually so starry and cheerful – like this….

…. are sulking and waiting for the sun to come out. Can’t say I blame them.

Closed celandine

But, in spite of the cool weather, some of the wildlife is already well on with breeding. Down by the Coastguard’s Pool, this is unfortunately evident in a scene of toad carnage around the pool… there are patches of spawn on the grass, bits of skin and webbed feet everywhere. This pool is much-loved by toads for breeding and they can congregate in big numbers here- and boy, do the predators know this! Most evident are the herons but they don’t tend to leave bits behind, it’s down the hatch with the whole toad. Much likelier culprits are crows, foxes or otters. Toad skin is full of nasty chemicals so these creatures are quite adept at shaking the toad out of its skin – and that’s what you see left behind.

Grey heron
Spawn on grass

And the toads are so obsessed with breeding, they seem oblivious to the possibility of being eaten. Even during the day, you find them crawling slowly pond-wards, the gravid female often carrying a passenger, a lucky male gripping her tightly in a mating embrace. While he won’t be able to fertilise her eggs until she lays in the water, it means he can hitch a lift and be in prime position when she gets there.

Close-up toads

The toads aren’t the only thing breeding. Now April is here, we’ll see a lot more birds starting to nest on the ground, including pipits, eiders, skylarks and snipe. So, a wee reminder if you’re planning to visit us this Easter weekend, to please keep your dog on a lead. You may not spot wildlife, but it will see you and, unfortunately, scares easily. Your help is appreciated!

Marching onwards

Well that’s March in the rearview mirror already, and it seems extraordinary to think that we’re already one third of the way through the spring of 2023 (and for the most part, it certainly hasn’t felt like it either). The transition from March into April represents a big milepost in Forvie’s year, not least because it’s the ‘official’ start of the bird breeding season. This means that the southern tip of the Reserve, including the ternery and seal haul-out area, is now closed to the public until the birds finish nesting in August. By the weekend we had finished putting up the ‘barrier fence’ that marks out the boundary of the closed area, crossing the Reserve from estuary to beach.

Barrier fence completed

The sanctuary area behind the barrier fence is of massive importance for our ground-nesting birds during this most sensitive part of their life cycle. It allows them to raise the next generation free from disturbance (and, we hope, largely protected from predators too). Regular visitors (and readers) will be very familiar with this annual routine, and we’re very grateful to everyone who respects the temporary access restrictions while the birds are nesting. An internationally-important seabird colony depends on your goodwill and co-operation!

This lot all depend on you!

It’s also the season when we ask dog-walkers to keep their pets on a lead or at heel, and to avoid straying off the footpaths. This is to protect the often-overlooked species which nest on the ground throughout Forvie’s grassland and heath, such as Skylarks. Once again, we’re extremely grateful to those visitors who respect this request (and, more to the point, respect Forvie’s wildlife). Nature reserves really need to be seen for what they are – refuges for under-pressure wildlife in a nature-impoverished landscape – and in the current age of biodiversity loss, this has never been more important than it is right now in 2023. We all have the right to enjoy the Reserve – and with this comes the responsibility to respect and look after it.

Kenny and Scout setting a good example
Skylark on the ground at Forvie

While putting up the barrier fence, eagle-eyed volunteers Jim and Richard spotted this rather magnificent Violet Ground Beetle. This sensibly-named invertebrate does exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak – it’s strictly terrestrial (where it lives a roving predatory lifestyle, feeding on other invertebrates), and is possessed of a lovely purple iridescence which makes it easy to recognise. This is the first one we’ve come across this year – another sign of the year marching on.

Violet Ground Beetle – photos (c) Jim Lister
What a stonker!

The often-wet weather this week made for good tracking conditions in the sand around the ternery, and recent tracks of both Badger and Otter were spotted alongside the usual Fox and Rabbit footprints. Here’s hoping the electric fence will do its job this year and keep these predators out of the ternery until the end of the nesting season. About 130 sleepless nights await…

Badger tracks
Otter footprints

Out on the estuary, some of the ducks are practically going bonkers in their efforts to impress the ladies. The display of the male Red-breasted Merganser is one of the more ridiculous efforts, involving some frankly painful-looking stretches.

Red-breasted Merganser drake displaying to a potential mate…
…she doesn’t look very impressed!

After the winter doldrums, life is beginning to get more interesting for the botanist. Spring flowers are always a welcome sight, and few more so than the first wild Primroses of the year. This particular clump was spotted at Sand Loch, but it won’t be long until the cliff-slopes from Collieston south to Hackley Bay are studded with these delicate and beautiful blooms.

Primroses at Sand Loch
Covered in morning dew
Delicate and beautiful

Increasingly diverse sources of nectar and pollen are now available to emerging insects, and Willow catkins are particularly popular with Bumblebees of several species. These have been in evidence during the milder and sunnier days which have punctuated the otherwise grey and cold latter half of March.

Bumblebee on willow catkin

Meanwhile, the often-damp conditions have been conducive to the overland movement of amphibians, as they seek out breeding pools. I happened upon this Palmate Newt on my way up to the office on Thursday morning – it’s clearly not just me who uses this particular road for commuting then.

Palmate Newt on the road

A bit of people-news to finish up with this week. Firstly, a warm welcome to Danny, our new weekend warden, who is picking up where Patrick left off last autumn. Danny joins us from the team at Muir of Dinnet NNR, so it’s fair to say that Forvie isn’t his first rodeo! Weekend visitors will likely meet him in the Waterside car park / barrier fence areas, where he will be carrying out wardening and visitor engagement duties throughout the coming summer, as well as helping to look after the ternery. Welcome on board Danny!

Lastly, on Friday we welcomed Richard Thomson MP to Forvie, where he spent a morning discussing some of the on-site issues with Reserve Manager Catriona. His visit coincided with a rather cold and grey morning – it certainly didn’t look or feel very spring-like – but nevertheless some very useful time was spent out and about in South Forvie.

Richard Thomson MP with Catriona, overlooking the ternery (and dressed for winter too)

Into April we go then – fasten your seat belts, folks, as it’ll be pedal-to-the-metal right through until autumn now. Onwards and upwards…

Incongeruous sights

Deliberate spelling mistake in the title this week, readers – sorry about that. In my defence though, I was desperate to make some sort of dreadful pun about one of the week’s notable events: the stranding of a mighty Conger Eel at Collieston beach just next door to the Reserve. This generated a lot of interest both locally and beyond, and when you see the photos, it’s not difficult to see why.

Leviathan ashore

This impressive beast measured about five feet in length, and was easily as thick as one of my legs. It’s not the first time we’ve found this species washed up locally, but even so, most folk – with the exception perhaps of sea anglers and sport divers – will never encounter one in a lifetime. Conger Eels live discreetly along rocky coastlines where they spend the daylight hours holed up in crevices, emerging at night to feed on fish, crustaceans and carrion – they are formidable predators and unfussy eaters. They are extremely powerful and muscular fish, as anyone who has ever caught one on a rod and line (inadvertently or otherwise) will testify, and they combine this power with a fearsome mouthful of teeth.

Impressive though it is, ‘our’ Conger is only an average specimen – it’s reckoned that some individuals can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh upwards of 200lbs. This gives the Conger Eel the title of World’s Heaviest Eel, while only the Moray Eel of the tropics can rival it for length. A true leviathan of the deep.

A face only a mother could love
Say ‘aaaaaahhhh’

This past week straddled the spring equinox, which falls on 21st March, and the alignment of the earth and moon at this particular time gives rise to some of the highest tides of the year. Allied to a low-pressure weather system and a strong southerly wind, this led to some spectacularly high water levels on the estuary mid-week. All of the inter-tidal saltmarsh disappeared completely – including almost the entire island of Inch Geck – lending a strangely unfamiliar feel to the estuary landscape that we know so well.

A massive high tide at Waterside
All that remained of the island of Inch Geck

It wasn’t just ourselves that felt slightly disconcerted by the change in the landscape. Many of the usual roosting sites for the Ythan Estuary’s wading birds were also submerged, and the birds had to seek out new places to rest while waiting for the colossal tide to drop back again.

Curlew flooded off the estuary
Greenshank and Redshank, trying to keep their feet dry

Down at the ternery, work continued on the electric fence that will (hopefully) protect the nesting terns and gulls from predators throughout the coming summer. On Wednesday we rigged 2,000 metres of steel wire which will carry the electrical current. A simple but effective home-brewed system of posts and ratchets allows us to get the tension of the wire just right.

Had me a reel good time

Our work on the fence corresponded with Wednesday’s high spring tide, and the strong wind and resultant swell boosted the already-high water level even further. The estuary ended up rising to within less than two metres of the electric fence, which was alarming to say the least. This absolutely justified our decision, back on day one of the fencing season, not to fence in any more of the tempting-looking shingle at the north-west corner near the estuary!

Just after high tide – a bit too close for comfort

Not bothered at all by the spring tides, the Black-headed Gulls remained comfortably ensconced in their colony nearby. By the end of the week, upwards of 700 birds were settled on the colony, a remarkably high number for such an early stage of the year. We hope this bodes well for the season ahead.

The gullery on Wednesday

Tuesday saw a big milepost in the year, with the arrival of the first Sandwich Tern, recorded by eagle-eyed local naturalist Ron Macdonald. We saw our first one the following day, and by Thursday a minimum of seven birds had arrived. With their harsh yet excitable calls mingling with the raucous babble of the Black-headed Gulls, it sounded like summer in South Forvie once again.

Newly-arrived Sandwich Terns

Not that you could hear very much on Wednesday over the gale. In fact, at times it was difficult to see anything either, such was the ferocity of the windblown sand.

That’ll be breezy, then

The sand-blow at the southern edge of the Dune Trail was prodigious, and the once-surfaced footpath is rapidly disappearing under the inexorable flow of sand. I fear it won’t be long before we have to dig out and rescue our sign and waymarker posts – again.

Sand-blow in action
Better go fetch my spade…

Moving onto a rather gentler theme, we followed up last week’s Peacock butterfly with the first Small Tortoiseshell of the year. Like the Peacock, this had clearly stowed away somewhere in the building during the winter (possibly in the visitor centre, which is located in the older and colder part of the building and receives only maintenance-heating). But the rising temperatures of spring had rousted it from its slumbers, and we found it in a semi-moribund state on a windowsill, like someone coming round after a heavy night on the beer. Having been ushered into a glass for safe transport, it was relocated to the outside timber store where it could continue to wake up at its own pace.

Who’s that lurking on the windowsill?
The year’s first Small Tortoiseshell

Jumping subject again, we were treated again to an immense display of aurora on Thursday night into Friday, putting the top hat on what had already been an eventful spring equinox week. The following series of photos were taken from Collieston, at the northern boundary of Forvie, on a memorable night indeed.

A night to remember

Finally, I can’t sign off without mentioning the week’s most notable event of all. After more than two years on the Forvie team, modern apprentice Mark has left the fold, and will soon be heading Stateside to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. We all owe Mark a great debt of thanks for his efforts at Forvie and the other Grampian NNRs, where his exceptional work ethic and unfailingly good humour have made him an extremely popular and well-regarded member of the team. We wish him all the very best in his new adventures – just mind and watch out for Grizzlies. And Rattlesnakes. And Mountain Lions. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t. Seriously though, the adventure of a lifetime awaits, and very well-earned too.

I’d better sign off then, before I start getting watery-eyed…

Thanks mate – and we’ll miss you.