Highs and lows

Coming back to work after a lengthy break is always a tricky business. After a single week off, it’s usually possible to hit the ground running, and pick up where you left off the week before. But being off for a fortnight or more tends to lead to a bit of physical and mental inertia setting in, after which it can be tough to get going again. There’s also the not-quite-knowing what to expect upon your return, what with the Reserve having effectively been unstaffed for a while, and the general public having been out in force – what could possibly have gone wrong?…

On the flip side, stretching ahead of us is a new year, full of hope and promise, bursting with opportunity and (hopefully) packed with wildlife and excitement, and memories waiting to be made. So it was that we returned last Monday for our first full week back in harness, with the appropriate mix of trepidation and relish. And sure enough, that first week was one of high contrasts.

A new dawn

We had ended the festive break on a high, with a magnificent display of aurora borealis over the night of 8th-9th January. Although we don’t have a north-facing coast, Forvie isn’t the worst place to be when the northern lights are on show; our skies are relatively free from light pollution, allowing the spectacle to be enjoyed to best advantage. At our home on the northern edge of the Reserve, we braved the sharp cold to soak up the experience, and most of our neighbours appeared to be doing the same. It’s another fine example of a natural phenomenon bringing people together, in much the same way as a great wildlife experience, or a stunning sunset. Of which more later on!

A band of aurora over Collieston
Getting brighter…

From the cosmic high of witnessing the ‘merrie dancers’ over the weekend, we were brought back down to earth with a bump on the Monday morning. It turned out that at some point during the break, somebody had decided to use (and abuse) Waulkmill bird hide for an impromptu party. This involved the usual ritual of leaving rubbish everywhere and setting things on fire. Clearly incapable of thinking ahead and providing their own firewood, our revellers instead chose to demolish some of the infrastructure of the hide itself. This included parts of the window sills, interpretation panels and even the uprights of the bench seat, rendering it unusable. I suppose the small mercy was that they actually had the fire outside the hide.

Fire site partly cleared up
Damage to the seating, shelving and interpretation

Faced with this sort of knuckle-dragging boneheadery, it’s natural to get angry and aggrieved and question the very future of humanity. But that’s not what we’re employed for. At times like these, there’s nothing for it but to roll up your sleeves and get on with fixing things up. And while we’ll have to buy in some timber to replace some of the damaged fixtures, there was some work we could do immediately, and help came from a rather unlikely source. Our old friend Storm Arwen had bequeathed to us a supply of timber at Waterside Wood, so we took advantage of this to get the hide bench back on its feet – literally.

Free building materials, courtesy of Arwen
A cheap but effective repair
Back in service again (both the bench and me)

The other notable piece of idiocy concerned the sign at Waterside informing people about the seal haul-out. This is an important piece of infrastructure, as it advises would-be seal-watchers to view the haul-out from the Newburgh side of the river, rather than risk disturbing the haul-out by approaching from the Forvie side. For whatever reason, somebody decided to destroy the wood-and-acrylic A-frame sign (which I had just rebuilt in the autumn, thinking it would be good for five or six years). Luckily the heavy Perspex sign itself survived, but the rest of the structure was nowhere to be seen. (!?*@%$#&*?!)

Whatever the reasons for its destruction, it meant another high-priority repair job during the first week back at work. This done, it was reinstated by the end of the week, ready for the weekend’s influx of visitors.

Seal sign rebuilt (again)

Just as the week proved to be high in emotional contrasts, so it was in terms of its weather too. From hard frost at the weekend, by the Friday it was grey and dreich yet unseasonably mild. In between times, there were a couple of really beautiful, almost spring-like days (whisper it quietly though). Even some of the local songbirds bought into it, with Great Tit and Starling both indulging in a bit of singing practice in readiness for the approaching spring.

From a cold and frosty Monday…
…to a dreich but mild Friday

While all the unplanned repair work wasn’t exactly the best start to the year, we were compensated by some immense sunrises and sunsets during mid-week. On Wednesday and Thursday in particular, the colours had to be seen to be believed, and the photos simply cannot do justice to the beauty on show.

Collieston sunrise
Gonnae be a good one…
Rubbish photos though – you had to be there!
The view to Bennachie
A fiery cloud dragon, or mayfly, or something
Sunset at the Flooded Piece

That’s the first full working week of 2022 negotiated then. While in many ways it wasn’t a typical working week, I suppose it was a fair reflection of the highs and lows that we tend to experience here. And the latter, at least, make you appreciate the former all the more. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the year pans out!