Autumn Forvie style

Autumn is kicking in at Forvie. We don’t have a huge forest of trees gently glowing with autumn colours – our trees are wind blasted, are grateful to have made it this far with half the normal compliment of leaves and often lose the rest before they have a chance to go any fancy colour. But the heath has its own autumn display, just subtle and low down; hidden but no less pleasing on the eye. Like little fireworks, splashes of colour appear as the day length shortens, the temperature drops and the plants prepare for winter. The palette is supplemented by weird and wonderful fungi and all set against the most wonderful of lichen wallpaper. Keep a close eye out for autumn Forvie style.

Ythan wreck

After putting up a photo of turnstones sitting on the wreck near the mouth of the Ythan I was asked what was the story oft the boat. Well I didn’t know, but I knew a man who did.

Ron Macdonald was able to fill me in with a little detail.

The wreck is all that remains of the Leith trawler ‘Keremma’. On 21 April 1976, the salvage vessel ‘Minto’ was towing her to Fraserburgh when both boats ran aground at the mouth of the estuary. She leaked several hundred gallons of diesel into the estuary which polluted the mussel beds and some loss of wildlife. So it has sat there for 43 years gradually breaking up and integrating into the Ythan itself. It is very satisfying seeing the wildlife use it, the turnstones as a high tide roost and in the summer the tern youngsters often use it as a resting while they wait for their parents to bring them the next fish. It is now a very well photographed feature of the Ythan mouth.

So now I know and when I next walk along the beach another small piece of what is an endless story of the NNR, will have fallen into place.

Easterly winds, rising rubbish and oil spills

After a period of solely westerly facing winds disspointinly for the birding community, we have over the last couple of weeks had a few days of easterly winds.

Along with days of strong easterly winds Forvie Beach is more inclined to collect marine litter, forced up the beach from the tide and the winds.

On a recent trip down to the beach we started seeing a number of large items that we decided to collect at a later date when the 4×4 was available. Having returned a few days later I was already struggling to see some of the rubbish and briefly thought maybe someone had moved it? Until i see the tail end of rope sticking out of the sand I realised that a lot of it had been buried by sand already!

Almost totally buried

It did make me pause and think, how much more rubbish has gathered under the sand? Buried and exposed over and over with passing storms, a landfill under your feet perhaps. Maybe some of this rubbish didn’t wash up recently but has been laying under the sand for some time until it was exposed again with recent winds?

marine litter fashioned into a roving bin along the beach

Aside from that it was important to remove it. From some fish boxes and a good length of rope on the beach I made an impromptu roving bin, to collect marine litter as I made my way up the beach.

A leaking container of used engine oil was found on the beach.

This leaking oil was definitely one of the saddest things that I’ve come across and very difficult to remove/deal with.

As I was writing this article someone brought a second leaking container of oil up to the office – 2 in 2 days, dangerous stuff

What I wasn’t expecting while I collected a few items along the beach was the response of people out for a walk on the reserve. While my intention was to collect a few large items various small groups were walking up the beach collecting smaller pieces and adding to the pile or taking it with them. To me, this is a big part of what working with SNH is all about, connecting people and nature. But this was inspiring in a unique way. There was no event, no planned beach clean – people took time out of there day on a whim and it soon reminded me of an impromptu beach clean. No one was asked to help, they simply did – they were connected people and nature.

Winter is coming – the whoopers are here!

It was a dark lowering morning at first light. Gleams of brighter weather on the horizon but a gentle but bitter north breeze reinforced the 3 C temperature my car told me of.

But what a morning. The sky was filled with skeins of pinkies shuttling across the sky yelping encouragement to each other. Groups had already settled on stubble fields while another group hung around the flooded piece near to the visitor centre.

And as I came round the corner Cotehill Loch looked pretty busy. The usual congregation of ducks and coots had been supplemented. 90 ghostly whoopers, youngsters and adults, had taken up temporary residence to the annoyance of the local mute swan pair and their 3 cygnets. A number of the whoopers were resting up with heads under there wings. Had they arrive during the night from Iceland and, exhausted, were catching some well earned sleep? Whatever, they are the harbingers of winter, arriving on a cold northerly wind, adding their hooting voices to the mass pinkie chorus all around, and reminding me to get my thermals out of the draw.

Rewilding on a small scale.

Outside the visitor centre at Forvie there is a wealth of plant life from birds-foot trefoil, greater birds-foot trefoil, thistle, black knapweed, ragwort, rosebay willowherb, ox-eye daisies etc.. This diversity offers advantages to a wide variety of other life – from nectar rich flowers for pollinators to preferred food stuff of certain caterpillars. This in turn helps insectivorous species like our small birds, that also feed of the seeds of some of these plants as well.

Red admiral on some ragwort during the flowering season outside the visitor centre

At this time of year most of the flowers are out of season are dying off and seeding the ground, providing plenty of food for migrant and resident birds.

Black knapweed with a late flowering head and older buds containing seeds

The plant life at the centre is self managing, gardening here is quite easy. With the seeds of these plants readily available we decided to collect a small portion to spread down at waterside car park.

There are areas there, verges of the car park, that host predominantly grasses docks and nettles. To help bolster a wildflower meadow we spread the small amount of seed collected on the edges of the vegetation – the roughed up edges to the vegetation have a better chance for new plants and small plants to sprout.

It may take a couple of years to notice any difference but hopefully some plants will start to take hold and help feed our wildlife.

If you are fortunate enough to have your own garden an unkept part to your garden, a small wildflower rich meadow, along with srubs etc. can massive contribution to wider wildlife. It helps connect wild areas for wildlife like Forvie to the wider countryside

Common Cranes at Forvie

Ron Macdonald, local photographer, birder and former SNH staff member writes about the increasing sightings of Common Cranes on Forvie NNR. All the excellent photographs are his and taken at Forvie.

Common Cranes have been regularly seen on the Reserve over the summer, chiefly in the area between the Snub and Waulkmill on the Ythan estuary.  Up to 11 birds have been seen in August but most often it’s a party of three, two adults and a sub adult, that are present.

Keen to know more about how many birds there are and their movements,  we asked Amanda Biggins, formerly the RSPB’s Assistant Conservation Officer for the East of Scotland and Hywel Maggs, Senior Conservation Officer for the East of Scotland.  The RSPB East Office has been monitoring breeding cranes since they first successfully recolonised the North East, successfully fledging a chick in 2013.

Here is what they told us. In 2019 there was a minimum summering population of 17 breeding and non-breeding birds. This includes 2 confirmed breeding pairs, one possible breeding pair and 2 apparently non-breeding pairs. Each of these pairs involve birds of a breeding age (>3 years old). Many of the other sightings are of birds that show signs of immaturity or appear to be unpaired. During periods of the summer, some of these birds have joined up as a flock which probably accounts for the August observation of 11 birds, but for most of the summer, they have been present as smaller groups or pairs. These larger counts do not include the confirmed breeding birds, as they remain on/around their breeding sites through the summer until they leave around about now.  Non breeding birds will continue to be seen in the area through October, feeding on the stubble grain and occasionally visiting the estuary to bathe. So keep a weather eye  open for them and please report any sighting to the RSPB at this email address esro@rspb.org.uk. Also included is a more comprehensive blog that Amanda wrote in 2018 https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/scotland/posts/crane-spotting

Our thanks to Hewel Maggs and Amanda Biggins for providing the information.

Common crane (a sub adult) chasing mallards at the Snub!