High Tides and Pony Rides

It’s safe to say that the rather abysmal weather conditions over the last wee while have made the reserve rather quiet. Though the same can’t be said about last Sunday, as we were lucky to have a day of marvellous weather, and everyone must’ve been thinking the same thing, wanting to get outside and make the most of it as the number of people I chatted to at Waterside exceeded 200! Following the days of high winds I was almost surprised when I went for a patrol to the beach and the way marker beside the tern monolith had nearly disappeared under all the sand, each time I walk over you can see less of the way marker. I know the dunes are always changing but I have never personally seen such a drastic change in the landscape in my time working here, with the big dune and surrounding area looking like a completely different place.

Top of the big dune looking like the Sahara
Spot the way marker… with so many days of high winds you can see less and less of it

As mentioned on our Facebook, the other week I had the pleasure of meeting Kate and Simon from Inclusive Countryside Access as they had planned to meet us with Obama, the lovely pony to take people out along Newburgh beach on Friday and Saturday a couple of weeks ago. As someone who really loves animals (who isn’t in this line of work?) I was already excited at the thought of getting to hang out with a pony at work, which is something we don’t often see here at Forvie. Many of you that frequently chat to me at Waterside will know that I love fussing over animals, and I often say ‘any time spent petting a dog is time well spent’, the same applies to meeting a pony. However, learning about the project and meeting the masterminds behind it, was what I was the most excited for.

Working with care homes, special needs schools and other various organisations Inclusive Countryside Access provide all terrain wheelchair access with the help of Obama and the chariot which has its own unique safety system to protect the person on board and the pony. The idea is that everyone should be able to go out into the countryside and our wild spaces to experience nature first hand, and this project allows people who in many circumstances would struggle or never get to go out and explore outdoor spaces like our nature reserves. Thanks to this, the outdoors becomes accessible for all.

With a combination of an amber warning for rain, 80-odd-km/h winds and a tide so high that the beach could barely be seen on the Friday morning, we all decided that the sensible decision would be to call it off for the day. The conditions were too harsh to be out in, for us and Obama, as well as nearly losing a wheelchair!

The wind or a ghost? Obama didn’t seem bothered either way
Low tide wasn’t looking very low at all…

Thankfully, the weather on the Saturday was nowhere near as wild as the previous day, although it certainly wasn’t a calm day. Upon regrouping, with the addition of Richard one of our volunteers, it was decided that it was still too cold and windy to take those who were scheduled to come out onto the beach. I was then asked if I wanted to go for a test ride along the beach, sitting in the wheelchair to take pictures and videos from the point of view of the rider – what can be experienced, for those who in many cases, wouldn’t get the chance to visit a place like Newburgh beach at all.

Getting a good view of the seals
The seals getting a good look at us!
Taking a running approach back to the carrots

It’s safe to say that I had a fantastic time, and a comfortable journey. The beach is my favourite place to de-stress and it makes me realise how I have taken for granted being able to go for a wander along the beach whenever I feel like it. They say that nature heals and nature is good for you but that isn’t just some myth! Spending time outside, connecting with nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve your mental and physical health, so with the way things are nowadays, especially throughout the pandemic people have had to spend a lot more time indoors, looking at screens. For many people, that have restricted or no access at all to natural spaces, work like this could make a huge difference to their lives and having sat in the seat myself, you certainly get the full experience or being outdoors and seeing the nature all around you! On top of this, many people find animals to be great mood boosters, and for some people who struggle to communicate, animals can be a fantastic aid, and help in boosting mood and confidence.

You can find more information about this organisation and contact details on their websites:

https://www.icaccess.org/

A good view of the estuary, you can see the back of the wheelchair which is pulled on and secured with a winch
Obama having a whale of a time

Finally, I want to give a huge thanks to Richard, one of our volunteers who stayed out in the cold and wind for the whole day and didn’t complain once. I first met Richard when I came into the job earlier this year, joining him on one of his butterfly surveys and since the departure of our beloved Patrick, Richard has come out to help me patrol the reserve and undertake surveys nearly every weekend, rain, wind or shine. We really value the work that all of our volunteers put in to help, so, thank you!

Enjoying a hard earned cup of tea and the rainbow after our last beach clean

Speaking of volunteers and hard work… On Thursday, our dedicated team of staff, volunteers and Lauren from EGCP – Turning the Plastic Tide, braved the elements and spent the day doing a (rather soggy) beach clean in an effort to remove more of the plastics and rubbish that the recent floods and stormy weather have washed onto Forvie shores. One of our main aims for the day was to remove as much of the plastic bio-media that has been washing up in extremely high numbers both along the riverbanks of the Ythan, onto the estuary and along the beach. In just one 60m stretch of riverbank, over 2300 of these tiny little filters were collected. Scottish water and their environmental team are also continuing their efforts to remove as much of these from the environment as possible.

A bucket of biomedia… just a fraction of what is to be collected.
Bits and bobs and other bags of rubbish also collected

I think it’s fair to say that it was not an ideal day for working outdoors on Thursday, with wind and never-ending showers, the weather was pretty miserable. However, every one of us persevered in an effort to collect as much rubbish as we could, making the day a success! Again a huge thanks to Lauren and all of our wonderful volunteers for helping out (and Georgie, of course)!

A bit of rain can’t stop Elaine and Georgie!

High Tides and Hale Stones

Mother Nature clearly couldn’t make her mind up this week regarding the weather, with a mix of sun, rain, wind and hale, it feels as if we’ve experienced nearly all four seasons! Changes in the weather can’t stop us getting plenty of work done and making the most of it.

Upon heading out to the reserve on Monday, Mark noticed that the estuary at high tide looked a good bit higher than what we usually see. At 4.4m the tide was considerably higher than what we normally see which can vary on average between just above 3m up to 3.9m. Looking at the photos you can really see the difference!

You’d be needing your wellies to walk along Newburgh beach…
Waterside looking rather wet…
Inch Point would’ve looked like a small Island if the tide was any higher!

Many of you that frequent the visitor centre and the heath and sand loch trails may have seen our wildflower information boxes dotted along the paths. These 15 boxes are put out every year in the late spring next to spots where their corresponding flowers can be spotted to allow people to learn what’s what along with a small fact file about each plant. Some are fairly easy to spot and more abundant than others as Richard and I learned earlier in the year as we went out with boxes in a wheelbarrow trying to find the best spots for each. At this time of year the boxes need taken back in again with most of the plants not matching the pictures as they’re either dead or looking rather worse for wear.

A particularly sorry looking Ragwort.

The boxes are taken in for the winter to save people looking for something that isn’t actually there! Mark stepped up to the job and collected all of the boxes and brought them back to the office in the pickup where him and I offloaded them on Tuesday and put them in the shed for what you could say is their winter hibernation, where they will stay until they re-emerge next spring to be placed back on the trails.

With just the two of us here this week and a list of jobs needing done mark and I decided to pair up and take on the task of giving the area around the visitor centre a bit of a tidy up, which ended up being quite the task. On Tuesday we set out with the brushcutter and allen mower on a mission to get it all done before tea time. This was certainly a two man job, with mark even working into the evening to get as much done as possible.

On Wednesday we kitted up in our wellies and waterproofs and spent the day raking up all of the cuttings. Mark decided we should make one big pile to see just how big it would be. With a rakes, pitchforks and wheelbarrows at our disposal we worked the whole day to tidy up the area only taking a break to avoid a brief shower of rain. These kind of jobs, while slow and often tiring always come with the satisfaction of seeing the finished product afterwards. In this case our finished product (or almost finished product as I think a second cut will be needed!) was a mountain of vegetation that ended up being considerably larger than we first expected. Then came the mammoth task of putting the majority of the cuttings in the pickup and spreading them over the nearby meadow, and putting smaller piles of it into our compost bins.

Obviously I had to lay on top of it just for scale!

Over the two days we saw plenty of little critters including lots of small spiders and a plethora of other insects as well as a handful of toads and toadlets! Not to mention that every passing dog simply had to have a nosy around and investigate this new monument on their usual walking route.

Hello there friend!
Some kind of small larva that I have yet to identify. Look at that colour!

As the week moved on, the sporadic showers became more frequent and the days started to feel more like winter. I was welcomed to the office Saturday morning with torrential rain and even hale stones! As the hale began to build up around the office door I was seriously hoping that I wasn’t going to be stuck inside for long, even on the cold days I still want to work outdoors!

After such a warm summer, weather like this is a huge change!

After checking the forecast which predicted the weather would clear by lunch time I braved the elements and headed out to the reserve, checking the bird hide on my way. Upon arrival I spotted a reasonably sized white bird which I quickly registered was not a swan nor a gull from a distance while I was driving along the edge of the track. This bird I realised was a Little Egret, something I personally have never seen in the flesh before so I fumbled around the car grabbing the scope and crept out the car to try and get a snap of it and at the same time kicking myself for not taking the camera in the car. It didn’t hang around for long and shortly afterwards it flew off, though still an exciting start to what seemed to be a pretty miserable Saturday morning.

Ruffling those feathers.

The dreich weather didn’t hang around for long thankfully, and by mid-morning the dark grey sky had turned blue and the sun had emerged, making me reach for my sun cream in preparation for the day ahead.

As I was going about my regular weekend work, chatting to folk and getting a spot of bird watching in from my usual post at Waterside car park I was accompanied by a Buzzard which flew right above me, gliding, almost looking as if it was levitating on the spot whilst looking around below it. Against the clear blue skies it seemed like the perfect photo opportunity but without the camera I didn’t think I would have time to run to the car to set the scope up for a photo, so a rather shaky through-the-binoculars photo would have to make do!

On the blurry side but beautiful nonetheless!

Finally, the weekend comes to a close with a chilly morning that turned into a gorgeous day. It’s apparent that people wanted to make the most of the nice weather with visitor numbers today totalling at a whole 194 people that I interacted with throughout the day at Waterside. Plenty of great conversations had today and clearly lots of people getting out to enjoy both nature and the sun.

To rain or not to rain?

With summer coming to an end and autumn beginning it’s safe to say that this week has been rather cold and wet compared to the last few months, even on the brighter days there is still a chill in the air.

With the tern fence down, and school holidays over the reserve has been less hectic than it is in the summer months but working on a nature reserve means there are always jobs needing done to keep you busy.

On Tuesday morning Mark and I headed out to the mouth of the estuary to do an Eider count and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of wind (nearly every day is a windy day around here) giving the reserve a calm and almost serene atmosphere. From this survey we counted 717 Eiders as we made our way up the estuary, these surveys are important in giving us a good idea of how our Eider population is doing. I must admit that counting hundreds of birds can at times be difficult though, it’s always nice to get out and do a spot of wildlife watching.

Peace and quiet, perfect conditions for doing a bird survey

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with E…

This week has involved some of the more manual, and slightly less exciting jobs though that doesn’t make them any less important! A job that I have been trying to get done for a week or two now is scrubbing the lichen off of all the way markers and giving them a lick of paint. The only thing is, you can’t paint things outdoors if it starts to rain… and every day I head out with my tin of paint and brushes I seem to be cursed with a mix of downpours and constant drizzles (even though the forecast said otherwise). I have no idea whether this is bad luck, bad timing or fate just not wanting these posts to be painted in a rush but Friday was the perfect example: Lovely weather in the morning, so I gathered my supplies and headed for waterside. I thought that I was in luck with the occasional glimpse of the sun trying to break through the clouds yet the minute I sat my things down and began to paint, contrary to the forecast, mother nature had other plans and the heavens opened. I guess that the unpredictable weather is just one of the things you have to embrace when working outdoors.

While these sporadic drizzles and occasional downpours can be a slight inconvenience for us trying to get jobs done, it is great for the amphibians here on the reserve, especially after the very hot and dry summer that we’ve had (maybe the newts, frogs and toads have been doing lots of rain dances of recently, rather than my bad luck). Walking past the sand loch and around the heath trail I try to watch my footing as to not step on the many toadlets and froglets that are hard to spot if you’re not looking for them!

If I stay still maybe she won’t be able to see me…

One exciting moment this week was a rather small visitor in the form of a newt travelling across the steps outside the office which I nearly missed until Annabel pointed it out to me. For amphibians to be able to move any distance from bodies of water they need damp conditions like we have seen in the last week to prevent their moist skin from drying out. Amphibians use both their lungs and their skin to breathe. These animals use their lungs to breathe on land and ‘skin-breathing’, also known as cutaneous gas exchange to effectively breathe under water. The especially thin skin and mucous membrane of these animals allows them to absorb oxygen through the surface of their bodies which then directly enters their blood stream.

A pound coin for scale

In recent weeks I have had the joy of being accompanied during disturbance surveys by a Cormorant (probably not the same one but I like to think it could be, maybe I should think of a name for it) that perches itself on the post closest to the shore at Inch point. The first time I saw it I jumped at the opportunity for a good photo through the scope but didn’t want to risk scaring it off. I opened the car door VERY slowly, crouching behind the door I crept out of the car with my scope and tripod in hand, did a rather awkward crouch-walk around the back of the car and set up the scope, peeking around from behind the car, desperately trying not to ruin the opportunity for a good photo and cause this bird any bother. After a few minutes of taking some snaps I hesitantly stood up, needing to start the survey and expecting the prehistoric looking bird to fly off. After a quick glance and a moment of looking at one another I think we came to the mutual understanding that with the water separating us, we clearly were not going to bother one another.

Just chilling
Take a bow

Cormorants catch their food by swimming and diving under the water. These birds have evolved to spend as little energy as possible underwater by not having to fight against their own buoyancy with feathers that do not retain air and become easily waterlogged, allowing them to dive deeper with ease. Their sacrifice for being such strong swimmers is that they have to dry off after a swim and can often be seen stood facing the sun with their wings spread out to the side.

Who needs a hairdryer when you have the wind?

With the time of year for spotting many insects is coming to an end, there is still plenty to see! I have been putting the moth trap out on clear nights with the hope of catching something exciting, though any moth is still a good find to me. A few weeks ago a gentleman came to the office asking me to have a look at some pictures he got of a large moth nearby, at first glance I thought that it was a Privet hawk moth which was exciting enough however, upon closer inspection I came to realise that it looked more like a Convolvulus hawk moth! An exciting find considering the species is a rare migrant from mainland Europe.

Look at those colours!

Hello there!

I have yet to see one of these marvellous moths with my own eyes, and none have wandered into our moth trap thus far. A girl can only hope!

What a view!

Working during the weekends on the reserve come with a change of pace as most of my time is spent on the reserve patrolling and standing at the entrance to the reserve at Waterside. The focus of the weekend work, especially at this time of year and into the winter months is to a chat with people coming to the reserve giving advice on responsible wildlife watching, sharing information about the reserve and of course having a general chit chat. Spending the majority of my weekends on the reserve has given me the opportunity to get to know many of the people who frequently visit the reserve (and their dogs, of course) and have interesting conversations with familiar faces and newcomers alike. Since my first weekend on the reserve earlier this year, each week people tell me how beautiful the reserve is and how lucky I am having the opportunity to work here and honestly, I couldn’t agree more.