You’ll doubtless have seen in the news the gigantic tropical storm, ‘Dorian’, making its way through the Caribbean and up the eastern seaboard of the USA recently. It’s incredible to think that the winds that lashed Forvie earlier this week were actually the tail-ends of the very same storm that devastated the Bahamas, having thereafter tracked its way right across the Atlantic. For one thing, it makes you realise how small our planet actually is; here at Forvie we play host to weather and wildlife from all corners of the world. I’m always at pains to tell visitors that the Reserve, while awesome in its own right, is a part of the complex, joined-up system that is the natural world. We’re quite literally all in it together.
Now westerly winds aren’t especially helpful to the wildlife enthusiast here. We tend to wish for an easterly or south-easterly airflow, which can bring exciting visitors from the near Continent – like the hawk-moths featured in a previous blog entry. Or at this time of the year, migrant birds.
Goldcrests, for example, depart northern Europe in huge numbers each autumn, fleeing the onset of cold weather and heading for milder places. They’re properly tiny, only weighing five grams or so, and it’s miraculous that any of them survive a North Sea crossing (upon arrival here, some weigh as little as four grams, having used up 20% of their bodyweight in a single flight). They certainly wouldn’t want to attempt the crossing from Norway to Scotland in a headwind, so while the wind stays westerly, these birds remain scarce here.
For those migrants that do make the trip, the little pockets of willow scrub on Forvie Moor provide welcome shelter and food after their gruelling journey.
These isolated little copses are great places to see migrant birds when the weather conditions are favourable (ideally easterly winds and a bit of cloud, fog or drizzle to force the high-flying birds down). When such conditions occur during peak migration periods (chiefly May and August-November), this can result in spectacular ‘falls’ of birds. The bushes along the Heath Trail are a good place to look, and have also produced several juicy rarities like Bluethroat, Wryneck and Red-backed Shrike in the past. Watch this space for news on any exciting arrivals in the coming weeks – weather permitting of course!
The best we’ve come up with so far today is a single Lesser Whitethroat…
Away from birds, it’s been great to see plenty of newly-minted butterflies out and about; many of these recently-hatched individuals will overwinter as adults and emerge next spring ready to breed and produce the next generation. This immaculate Red Admiral was sunning itself on the Heath Trail footpath earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, down on the estuary there’s been a ‘fall’ of a different kind. A big stranding of Lion’s-mane Jellyfish is underway – sometimes termed a ‘wreck’. This is when large numbers of jellyfish, having come to the end of their one-year lifespan, are washed ashore and left high and dry on the strand line.
The Lion’s-mane Jellyfish is thought to be the largest species of jellyfish in the world. It is present in the northern waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans and is a cold-water specialist. While those that occur here tend to be relatively small – usually up to about 50cm across – in the northern part of its range it can grow up to 2 metres across, with up to 30 metres of tentacles suspended beneath the jelly-like bell. The tentacles produce a sting; although not usually severe, it’s still inadvisable to touch if you find one washed up on the beach.
So, it’s now mid-September, and your author is crossing his fingers (and anything else he can possibly cross) and wishing for some easterly winds over the next few weeks. But whatever the wind and weather does, there’s always something to see here at Forvie. Maybe see you here over a rare bird or two? Here’s hoping!