Back to the bog

Well that is me back to the bog. I came to just fill the staffing gap over the summer, hoping to learn a bit and see some new wildlife. I arrived in mid-tern season and left in mid-goose season and everything in between has been anything but mid. I like to immerse myself in reserves where I work but Forvie and its people have buried me and it will take a while, physically and mentally, to shake the sand out. The wildlife, landscape and people have been some of the best I have ever worked with, and i have been around a bit. I head back to my more normal habitat of the Stirling NNRs, that is 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands (Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss and Loch Lomond NNRs- we have a blog for that as well if you are interested).

There have been so many highlights and pictures capture them better than words so here are a few.

male bluethroat
Whoopers on Cotehill loch one morning
Terek sandpiper – 2nd for the North-East of Scotland.

Many thanks to all the SNH staff, Forvie volunteers and local people who have made it such a memorable experience for me and Finn.

Forvie NNR on TV

The fruition of a days filming with the BBC at Forvie a few weeks ago (see blog post here) can now be seen on the BBC Scotland Landward programme. The film crew came to film a piece about the Great Forvie Beach Craft challenge (see here) and did a bit of a beach clean first and then looked at what some of the rubbish collected could be used for. You can see that Finn really enjoyed himself.

To watch the whole programme follow this link here – if you just want to see the Forvie part then go to 22 minutes and miss out the bit about the sprout harvest (!).

Forvie’s purple sandpipers

Ron Macdonald, local birder and photographer supreme, writes about a subtle Forvie visitor :

This morning I’m off to photograph purple sandpipers on Forvie’s wild eastern shore,  where the North Sea pounds against the high cliffs.  Here on the rocky shore below the cliffs I find 16 Purple sandpipers foraging amongst the rock pools, gradually being pushed higher and higher as the tide comes in.  Soon they’ll call it a day and head for their high tide roost on a nearby islet.

I’ve always been drawn to purple sandpipers.  Compared to other waders they’re much more confiding, usually allowing me to get within 3-4 metres before they edge away keeping that minimum distance between us. They are slightly larger and dumpier than a dunlin with an overall grey looking plumage with yellowish legs and beak.  On the face it you would think  their grey plumage might make them, err, grey and uninteresting but the grey set against the yellow orange bill and legs results in one smart looking bird. This morning I’m lucky enough to come across a bird with the last vestige of its purple summer plumage which adds to its beauty (see below).

The Purple sandpipers that winter on Forvie probably breed in Canada. Research on birds trapped and ringed in Eastern Britain (Kincardineshire to Yorkshire) are mainly short-billed and come from the Norway breeding population.  North of this and on Scotland’s west coast, long-billed (almost certainly Canadian breeders) dominate. Northeast Scotland has populations of both and there appears to be no clear boundary line between the two populations –  rather the percentage of small billed birds decreases as you go north.

Purple sandpipers have fared badly in the last while.  Research* in the Moray Firth found that from from the mid 1980’s, the total population fell from 400-600 birds to 200-300 in the late 90’s, which represents over half the population. The decline in the Moray Firth has been replicated elsewhere in Britain with a similar 50% drop in the purple sandpiper population.  In the Lothians the decline has even been greater. Nowadays the UK wintering population is around 10,000 birds.

What has caused the decline?   Research* has shown that the recruitment of young birds has been insufficient to maintain the numbers.   Exactly why this should be the case is open to question but climate change has been put forward as a possible reason with birds preferring a colder winter climate.  Increasingly, young birds are choosing to remain in Iceland, rather than migrate as far as UK. Adults are very site faithful so they keep coming to traditional wintering areas. As they die off numbers will drop – hence the decline.

Another reason responsible for the decline is the improvement in sewage treatment and the relocation of outfalls into deeper water which in turn reduces the amount of invertebrates found in rocky pools close to settlements.

It’s now nearing high tide and the birds have stopped feeding. The occasional squabbling between feeding birds stops and most tuck their heads under their wings.  Suddenly, as if on cue, a large wave breaks on the shore and they flit across to their high tide roost.

All photographs (c) Ron Macdonald.

* Summers, R.W., Butterfield, D.P., Swann, R.L. & Insley, H. 2005. The decline of Purple Sandpipers Calidrismaritima in the Moray Firth, Scotland – an effect of recruitment. Wader Study Group Bull. 106: 34–38.

Cleaning beaches for the BBC

It has been a long day at Forvie. Daryl, Finn and myself have been filmed from all angles down on the beach and back up at the Forvie Centre today for the Landward programme. They have been finding out about our Great Forvie Beach Craft challenge (see here) and what we are suggesting people can do with the rubbish off the beaches.

It seems like it might go out in December but we will let you know the time and date when we know it. It will be well worth watching just for Daryl’s “Jack Hargreaves” impression (kids just ask your grandparents) !

In praise of bare sand

At Forvie we do a lot of bare sand. The Forvie sand dunes are some of the most active in the UK. What is an active sand dune? Does it move? Well yes that is the whole point. At Forvie there is a combination of sand washed ashore from the seabed where it was dumped by the ice age, and wind that blows the sand off the shore and across the land. And we have lots of sand and lots of wind. This has lead to dunes of bare loose marching across the landscape through history. But when the sand reaches a place out of the wind, in the lee, then it becomes stationary and then it can be colonised by plants. Marram grass is often one of the first and it offers shelter for other plants and mosses to move in afterwards. There is a whole succession of different plants that grow in the different stages and aspects of the dunes. This range of niches for plants and the animals that use them, from bare sand to well vegetated stable dunes means that a dune system can hold many more species of different types.

So any dune system always need dynamic bare sand so that there is a constant creation of new habitats. If the whole dune system is stabilised all of the species that use the early stages of succession are heading for extinction. So at Forvie we welcome bare sand as it means we will be passing dunes onto future generations.

At the south end of the reserve opposite Newburgh is an enormous bare dune of sand that is resolutely marching north with the prevailing wind. It is an amazing place to be on a windy day. The quantity of sand on the move and the energy that it does so has to be seen to be believed. The whole of the surface of the dune seems to be shimmering and sand is in the air, in your hair, in your clothes and in your lunch. Now that is a dynamic landscape. Above is the face of this dune which is gradually moving over the top and enveloping older dunes are in grinds forward.

The landscape at the south end of the reserve is constantly changing – each day it can look different and footprints can disappear on windy days in minutes. And the sand dominated land has an ever changing beauty with striking pictures to be seen in the distance and close-up.

But further south from Forvie is another part of the dune system, the Menie links that is being turned into golf course. Here part of the site has been stabilsed and just about all of the bare sand features no longer exisit. So the various stages of dune formation have been lost and for that reason it is being proposed that the site no longer has enough nature conservation interest to be designated as an SSSI.

You can read more about why the Menie golf course part of the Forveran Links SSSI is being proposed to be denotifed here.

Quite simply with sand dunes all green is not good, you need green and yellow to maintain dunes for future generations. .

The great Forvie beach craft challenge

We want to set you a challenge. Can you make use of beach rubbish recovered from Forvie beach? Or any other beach for that matter?

Every year we pick up tons of rubbish from the Forvie NNR coast line. Much of it is plastic and nearly all of it has to go into landfill. And every piece has been carelessly discarded.

Rather than burying it all in the ground, how about if some it could be put to use? Like a spoecia lepisode of where “Blue Peter meets Scrapheap Challenge” Forvie staff have been having a go at putting some of the beach rubbish to a working use. Here are some of the finished items.

A mat made from beach rope.
One of several different bucket designs we have tried.
A garden water butt made from a plastic drum off a beach.
Van storage using fish boxes.
Van storage using old netting off a beach
A cat-scratching pole using beach rope.

Do you fancy having a go? If so we have put some large ton sacks of all sorts of beach rubbish by the Forvie centre entrance for you to help yourself and get making.

There are also items that can be just reused as themselves. Fancy a couple of desk tidies? A stair banister? A football? Some rope? Boat bouys and floats? An inflatable flamingo? Just help yourself.

An inflatable flamingo of course.

All we ask is for you to send us some pictures of what you have made to or tagging SNH into pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Also you might have been doing this for years, if so we would love to see your ideas and creations, please send them through or tag us on social media.

Every piece of plastic rubbish re-used might save you money and stop another new piece of plastic being purchased and entering the system.

So get making! And show us the result!

A bridge over a nature reserve – the Logie Buchan War Memorial

In the quietest corner of Forvie NNR is a bridge. It spans the whole NNR, crossing the Ythan where the estuary mudflats narrow and are taken over by reedbeds. It is a beautiful, peaceful place, away from traffic, sheltered from the nagging wind that batters the rest of the reserve; a place to see kingfishers and roosting swallows, to hear redshank and overhead geese. So this makes it the perfect place to also read the bronze plaques fixed to the parapets that are memorials to those of the surrounding parish that died in the 1st and 2nd World War and remember.

The bridge was built in 1935. Before that a ferry, the Boat of Logie, took people across the river. The remains on the jetties and pilings can still be seen and the cottage on the east side is the former ferryman’s house.

The bridge was a long time in the making. It was 1820s that the parish of Logie Buchan first cojnsidered replacing the ferry with a bridge but little progress was made. It became more likely when in 1891 Miss Mary Cruden left a bequest of £35 “for behoof of the parish as maybe considered most beneficial”. Miss Cruden’s sister suggested that the money should “be appropriated for any scheme that may be set on foot for the erection of a bridge at Boat of Logie.” By 1919 the funds stood at £700 and a bridge and war memorial committee was formed. But it wasn’t until 1934, with the funds at £3000, that bridge building was started. Finally the bridge was opened in 1935, a fine achievement for a small community, with an opening ceremony that was one of the outstanding events of the parish.

There are only names on the war memorials and the stories of who they are and how they fell are not there. I found a little bit more information about these soldiers and have included it below.

Though I don’t know the full stories of these soldiers, I do know a bit of the story of my grandfather who fought in the 1st World War, was wounded, recovered, went back to the trenches and was wounded again. And I know the story of his brother, my great-uncle who fought and died leading his men during the same war. So that peaceful spot on Forvie NNR with its war memorial on the bridge over the Ythan, is where I think of them, and remember.

Details of some of the soldiers named on the Logie Buchan bridge war memorial.

Murray Alexander H Pte 201587 2nd Gordon Highlanders eAberdeen Killed in Action F & F 04-Oct-17 Tyne Cot Memorial M. R. 30 Panel 135 to 136

Mackie Robert Pte 4311 7th Gordon Highlanders b Logie Buchan e Aberdeen Age 22 Died of Wounds F & F 14-Oct-16 Son of Christina & the late Robert Mackie, Tipperty Croft, Logie Buchan, Ellon, Aberdeenshire. Courcelles-Du-Bois Commuanl Cemetery Extension Fr 0133 Row A Grave 3 ADJ 23-10-16

Hardie Lewis John Pte 2234 5th Gordon Highlanders b Old Deer 24/03/1890 e Peterhead Age 26 Killed in Action F & F 13-Nov-16 Son of Margaret Hardie, Newark, Tipperty, Ellon, Aberdeenshire & the late George Hardie. Buchan Observer: 1914: Tipperty, Ellon. (Recruits). The Roll of Honour Vol III : Eldest son of Mr G Hardie : page 127. Y Ravine Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel Fr 1490 Row C Grave 65 ADJ 30-11-16 RoH Eldest son.

Gray Adam Pte 39450 16th Royal Scots b Logie Buchan e Aberdeen Age 40 Died of Wounds F & F 15-Apr-17 Son of the late Adam & Annie C Gray. Native of Nethermill, Birness, Logie Buchan. Listed under 16th Bn maybe 12th Bn. Etaples Military Cemetery Fr 0040 Plot XXII Row H Grave 9

Slessor George L/cpl 292169 7th Gordon Highlanders b Ellon e Peterhead Age 22 Killed in Action F & F 20-Nov-17 Son of Mrs I Slessor, Bridgefoot, Birness, Ellon, Aberdeenshire. Orival Wood Cemetery, Flesquieres Fr 1498 Plot I Row D Grave 36 Ellon & Logie Buchan

Scott Thomas Hardy Cpl 33368 15th Royal Scots “D” Coy b Logie Buchan 07/04/1891 e Dundee Age 26 Killed in Action F & F 28-Apr-17 Son of the late Rev William Frank Scott & Henrietta Porteous (nee Hardy) Scott, St Andrews Manse, 11 Albany Terr; Dundee. The Roll of Honour Vol IV page 179: Grandson of the late Rev Thomas Hardy , of Foulis Wester. Educated Morrison’s Academy, Crieff Occ: Commercial Traveller. Roeux British Cemetery Fr 1194 Row C Grave 1

Guthrie Alexander Lt 32nd Royal Field Artillery “Y” TM Bty 1st HB Coull 23 Killed in Action F & F 12-Jul-17 Son of Rev William G Guthrie, & Mrs Mairia A Guthrie, Manse of Glass. City Roll of Honour: The Manse, Glass. Officers Book page 207. 1901 Census : 216: Logie Buchan: The Manse. 2/16. Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery, St Georges B 173 Nieuport Mil Cem Mem 1 City Glass Logie Buchan & Town House

Guthrie Albert John Lt 5th Gordon Highlanders Age 25 Killed in Action F & F 30-Jul-16 Son of Rev William G Guthrie, & Mrs M A Guthrie, Manse of Glass. Officers Book page 242. Thiepval Memorial M. R. 21 Pier 15B & 15C ADJ 08/08/16 Glass Logie Buchan & Peterhead

Dean George Murray Lt 5th Gordon Highlanders Age 31 Killed in Action F & F 13-Sep-18 Husband of Margaret Dean, Rowan Cottage, Ellon, Aberdeenshire. Officers Book page 242. Voters 18/19 2nd Lt in Army (a) Station Rd; Philosophe British Cemetery, Mazingarbe Fr 0115 Plot IV Row E Grave 8 Ellon & Logie Buchan


 The Scottish Military Research Group – Commemorations Project Forum Index -> Aberdeenshire – Civic Memorials

A morning walk with the seals

My early morning walk on the reserve is often to commune with the seals at the Ythan mouth. It is such a fantastic sight to see so many large mammals gathering together in a great display of bioabundance.

But I always head down to Newburgh beach to see them. A short walk from the car park by the golf course and you can see the seals across the river getting on with their business quite happily, while having no impact on them. If you wait then those in the water will sometimes come closer to have a look. It is worth taking a bit of time to return the complement, you can see all sorts of interactions between individuals and also take in the sound of all those animals together (and smell if the wind is blowing towards you!).

You shouldn’t approach any of the seals on the north side of the river as, not only will you not get much of a view of the animals as they will quickly head into the water but it isn’t good for the seals to get disturbed. For this reason this haul-out location is a protected site for seals so to avoid disturbing the seals it is best to avoid the mouth of the river on the north bank of the Ythan.

Young and old pinkies

A few days ago I headed out onto Forvie moor at first light. The flooded piece west of the visitor centre had been the night time destination for some of the thousands of pink-footed geese that are in the area. That morning they had already gone leaving a blizzard of feathers and a carpet of poo…and 2 dead fellow geese. I could see from the distance 2 bodies, 1 lying in shallow water of the pool the other on the mud, both showing no signs of struggle or wounds, both seemed to have passed away quietly during the night. It might be that both were weakened by the long migration flight or the might have been fatally wounded by shot from wildfowlers and succumbed during the night. Either way, they were worth a moments pause to wonder what their life journeys had been that lead to this fateful pool at Forvie and to admire the sheer beauty of these birds. And it also gave me a chance to have a close look at these birds. Pink feet are classified as “grey geese” giving the impression that they might be dull on the eye but nothing could be further from the truth. Up close these are striking birds. We see plenty of pinkies feeding in the fields or flying over but I have never had one in the hand before. The subtle scalloping of the feathers, softness and strength of their wing feathers and the dappled shadows and varied grey across their bodies were worth lingering over. And I could see that though both birds were clearly pinkies they were very different.

These differences made one bird a juvenile, one hatched this year while the other was a mature adult.

A juvenile pink footed goose, not the plainer neck and body feathers.
Juvenile pink footed goose with no pale edging to the body feathers.

The youngster has it first set of feathers on, these don’t have the pale edges and tips that the adults feathers have, especially on the flanks and the coverts (the top side of the wings). A young birds feathers are also narrower and shorter. Even on the neck there is a difference with the adults having more distinct furrows in the feathers. And when I checked the legs for rings (there weren’t any) I could see that the adults feet were stout, solid and a rich pink colour while the juveniles were much duller in colour. These juveniles, in normal circumstances, will gradually moult these youngster feathers and grow a new set of  adult feathers in time for spring and the long journey north again.

An adult pinkie – see the beautiful pale edges to the wider body feathers.
Adult pinkie feathers with beautiful pale fringing.

This difference between adult and juvenile feathers helps us monitor how the pinkie population is doing. By counting the mix of adults and youngsters in the flocks arriving here in the UK the success of the breeding season can be recorded – how many youngsters against numbers of adults. All useful information when so many species, especially very northern ones are finding the conditions of a changing climate difficult to deal with. 

Juvenile pinkie
Adult pinkie