Meetings and partings

To quote that great philosopher Kermit the Frog, life is full of meetings and partings. True words indeed, for a year on the Reserve is a continuous merry-go-round of arrivals and departures. Different species (frogs included) come and go with the seasons, and August is as busy a time as any in this respect. We find ourselves bidding some species their annual farewell, while welcoming others back after a period of absence.

In last week’s instalment, we spoke of the migrating wading birds as harbingers of the changing seasons. This week, the most obvious changing of the guard has taken place among Forvie’s butterflies. Suddenly there are Vanessids everywhere – by this, we mean that quartet of boldly-coloured powerful fliers comprising Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Sure enough, all four have been in evidence over the past few days, making for a colourful scene among the drought-parched grassland.

Painted Lady
Red Admiral
Small Tortoiseshell

These four species are easily recognised with a little practice, and unlike a great many invertebrates they also have memorable names. They are well worth seeking out while they’re in such good condition, being freshly emerged into the world. An adult butterfly’s lifespan is a short one, and it won’t be long before they start to show the wear and tear of their fast-paced existence. Indeed, compared to the resplendent, newly-minted Vanessids, the last few Dark Green Fritillaries are looking pale, wan and world-weary.

A faded fritillary

Some butterflies, however, get a second innings each year, and we’ve just started seeing the first Small Coppers of the second generation. The first brood is on the wing during late spring, then there is a midsummer hiatus until the second brood starts to emerge about now. Though only tiny, these are real gems, and a close-up view of one is always a moment to be treasured.

Small Copper – tiny yet stunning

Down at the ternery, the partings are happening at a rapid rate as the last of the birds begin to depart and disperse. At the time of writing, just a few dozen Arctic and Common Terns remain attending chicks within the colony, with the vast majority having already upped and left. When we say farewell to these, we can only wonder at what lies ahead of them. These are birds with a truly global range, and some of ‘our’ birds may even visit the Antarctic region in the coming months. They’ll go places and see things that I never will.

I must admit that it’s always a relief when the last ones depart, as it means we can finally begin to dismantle the protective electric fence around the colony, and another season of stress and sleepless nights is mercifully behind us. Especially this year, with the spectre of avian flu casting a long shadow over the whole season and adding to the usual worries. But at the same time, we’ll still very much look forward to being reacquainted with the terns again next spring!

Farewell old friends – Arctic Terns
Adults and fledglings ready for the right-away

Something we’ll not be sad to see the back of is Himalayan Balsam. This week we were re-united with Karen, Tom and Alan from Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, in order to finish the assault on the Foveran Burn that we began last week. This time we reached the upstream source of the balsam, and a massive effort by the combined team got the whole lot cleared. A great result, and we’ll see how it looks next season!

Catriona tackling a balsam plant
What a beast (the plant, of course)

Karen reliably informed us that Himalayan Balsam is the fastest-growing annual plant in the UK. Remarkably, this means that the ten-foot-high plants, some with stems almost as thick as my forearms, are all the product of a single growing season. It seems almost impossible that these colossal structures could grow from seed to this height in just a few weeks – but that’s one of the secrets to its success, and consequently one of the reasons it’s so dangerous as an invasive species.

This one was a two-person lift!

Finally – and I’ve left this item until last, in case I should get emotional and not be able to see the screen hereafter – we have one very significant parting to report. After four years of sterling service to Forvie, our weekend warden Patrick is moving on to pastures new.

Patrick has contributed massively to the running of the Reserve since 2019, not least by holding the fort at weekends throughout the busiest period that Forvie has ever known. As well as being the public face of Forvie, he has also made invaluable contributions to the monitoring of the ternery and the Reserve’s botanical features, and been a great mentor to Mark and Caitlin when they each started out here. Apart from all the hard yakka, Patrick has also brought a vast amount of good humour and bonhomie to the Forvie team, and I for one will miss the craic more than anything.

So thanks for everything mate, good luck in your new adventures – and don’t be a stranger!

Thanks Patrick!