Suns up, seals out, sheds built.

Well if you weren’t at Forvie on Monday I feel a bit sorry for you. With temperatures up to 14 degrees, clear skies, a slight wind, and an impressively high tide, what’s not to love?

Sadly someone forgot to tell the birds and after going along the length of the estuary I managed one of the lowest bird counts to date, you’d think a 4.4m high tide would in fact bring out more birds on the “high water bird count”, unless they were all enjoying a mid-afternoon siesta in the grass from the February sun? Who knows…

I’ve never actually seen this whole section of the road disappear into the tide before, cue some gazelle-like agility to tiptoe around the water’s edge to carry on the survey.

This week’s seal count down at the Ythan mouth came back with 1260 seals. Now this does sound high but we’ve recently had upwards of 3000 seals on the haul out which has smashed Forvie’s site record by at least 800! I’m curious if this week’s “low” count is just by chance or if the usual spring peak has occurred already before the end of February, because if not we might be on track to have a real boatload of seals come April when the seals are usual at their peak. Time shall tell.

1260 of Forives finest enjoying a nice lie about.

Also, we have a new shed. The lads impressively managed to get the whole thing up within a day, I swear I said hi one minute, blinked, then there was a shed outside.

Hard at work.

Sadly we weren’t quick enough to get our handprints into the fresh concrete last week in a “Hollywood Walk of Fame” impersonation but then again I’ve heard fresh concrete isn’t the best for you so maybe that’s a blessing in disguise.  

This new shed comes with a revolutionary new feature known in the industry as a “functional roof” this is designed to stop rain from entering the structure and means we no longer have to use a wok to keep the shed dry (and lucky for you I’m not writing this blog from Forvie today or else I would be showing you a picture of that rusty abomination)


Here’s some cautiously good news to send you off with, after my estuary and beach checks for any dead/sick birds from bird flu there were zero this week! Who’s to say what the near future holds with this current outbreak but at least in the recent short term our birds have had a good week!

Housekeeping for birds.

Although it may not feel like it spring is nearly here (he says confidently as snow lies in his garden) and with that our sandwich terns may very well start to arrive in the next month, so that means its high time to get the ternary prepped and ready for our esteemed guests.

One of the first tasks that needs done before the electric fence can be installed is to clear the ternary of all the dead woody vegetation, such as Rosebay willowherb and Nettles, from the previous growing season. The main reason we do this is to make it easier to the birds to land in the ternary but it also gives the birds extra nesting material, without this you can imagine how difficult it is to set down in an already crowded ternary also full of hundreds of stabby branches.

Clearing the ternary was a much simpler task than last year, we think this is because 2021 was a fairly dry year and this meant the vegetation growth was stunted, but in the way things go, no doubt all the unused soil nutrients (see bird crap) from 2021 will lead to a bumper crop of nettles and the like this summer…

Burning away the excess vegetation.

Thanks once again to our volunteers who came along for the afternoon and helped with the cutting, raking and burning!

Just before you go I’ve compiled a few photos of our seals from this week’s count, we had 650 greys hauled out on the beach and I took a moment to take some pictures of the different coat colours and patterns that were on display. Most of the time when I see our seals their coat is just a generic glossy dark colour due to them only recently exiting the water, but given the chance for their fur to dry out you can really appreciate their individuality!

A mix of light/dark and spotty/plain seals.
The right hand seal here almost reminds me of a dairy cow with its white fur and black spots!

Stay tuned for more ternary content in the coming weeks, bye for now!

Happy New Year!

And we’re back, or at least I am, (while the rest of the team enjoys their last days of holiday) but I’ve still got the birds to keep me company…

Not just the birds but the seals too, that’s quite a turn out!

I hope everyone’s had a great start to their year! It’s certainly been a beautiful January so far, the mornings have been chilly but with some cracking sunrises here at Forvie!

It’s certainly a stunning commute at this time of year.

Although Forvie hasn’t been looking too icy or snowy it’s a different story over at Dinnet with Thursday greeting me with snowy spells and both their lochs being partially frozen over.

Chilly Deeside.
And a almost summery looking Forvie.

I’m almost jealous of the colder weather over at Dinnet, my last two bird counts there have been a complete breeze with all the waterfowl being corralled into the few unfrozen pockets on the two lochs, if only it was so easy on the Ythan…

It’s actually quiet handy for another reason too. Seeing a waterfowl line up of a teal, wigeon, mallard, goldeneye and graylag all side by side on the ice puts some context into the size comparison between these birds and gives a amateur birder like me a lot more useful information than your typical pocket bird guide.

Swan butts on the air while they feed under water at Loch Davan.
Some snowy hills and threatening clouds above Loch Davan.
And on the other hand Forvie being usually bonnie for January.

Despite the sunny weather at Forvie its been a fairly quiet week, I’m guessing it’s due to a mix of everyone now either being back at work or enjoying their last days of freedom at home, but I’m not complaining, it was strange-but quite nice-to have done a patrol of the site and not bumped into more than 5 people. It gave me a chance to think about the busy year ahead and all the brushcutting, butterfly counting, tern babysitting etc to come, so maybe a slow start to the year isn’t all that bad.

We’re looking forward to a great 2022 here at Forvie and we’re hoping you’re able to come and visit us soon!

Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt?

NNR staff have had a novel task over the last two weeks as we have been asked to forage for trinkets that will show off our reserves to the delegates attending COP26 later this month. So while I’ve been out working and wondering across Forvie I’ve been keeping an eye out for anything particularly pretty.

Although it’s definitely both wild and eye-catching, this fox moth caterpillar is probably not what they’re wanting crawling around on a conference table.

So because kidnapping a seal or eider for a fortnight was frankly out of the question I’ve decided to send down a box full of pretty rocks as well as some heather, mussel shells, and marram grass because I feel as if these items can actually help tell the story of Forvie (in addition to being aesthetically pleasing).

Heather is about as Scottish as oatcakes or whisky and it’s obvious to see why I would use this plant to represent Scotland’s nature at an international conference such as COP, even the word heather makes you picture Scotland’s hills and glens, so you would be forgiven for not knowing that a costal NNR like Forvie is actually home to large areas of dune heath.

Forvie was once managed as a shooting estate where grouse and partridge were hunted and where the heather was burned to provide fresh growth for the game birds to feed on. This practice ended in 1979 after an out of control fire and ever since the heather has been allowed to develop naturally leading to the formation of large areas of dune heath which are widespread across the north of the reserve.

The Forvie dunes are exceptionally mobile and are constantly being rearranged and added to by strong winds and seas, this barren and highly disturbed landscape would be mostly uninhabited if it weren’t for the next item on my list, our marram grass.

Marram grasses are a sand and dune specialist and can survive long periods of drought and even being buried by sand for as long as a year. As marram grass grows it gradually binds the sand in place with its roots which allows for the accumulation of water and nutrients, this in turn allows for the growth of other grasses, mosses, lichens, liverworts and fungi which will attract more wildlife such as invertebrates and birds eventually creating a richer and more diverse ecosystem on the fixed dunes.

Vast stretches of the mobile dunes along with some marram covered fixed dunes in the background. ©Lorne Gill
This sea rocket is another example of a plant which can tolerate the bare sand, you can see its slowly making its own mini dune behind itself.

The last item I wanted to talk about was the mussel shells. The Ythan has had a long and varied history with its mussels, the earliest records of human consumption of mussels (Mytilus edulis) date back 8000 years to the large mounds of discarded mussel shells left by earlier humans. Since then mussels have been fished for at Forvie as food and as bait for the Salmon fishing industry.

The Ythan was also once home to a population of freshwater mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) which famously were the source of the “The Kellie Pearl” the largest freshwater pearl ever discovered in Scotland that now can be found on the Scottish crown jewels. These freshwater mussels are unfortunately now extinct throughout the length of the Ythan due to a mix of overfishing, climate change and pollution, this unfortunate loss shows what unsustainable management can do to a species.

Nowadays most of the Ythans mussels are caught by our Eider ducks who will swallow the mussel whole and then crush the shell using their strong gizzard in order to get at what’s inside.

An Eider Drake floating along the Ythan.

One last hunt (I’d hesitate to use the word treasure here) we’ve been up to recently is searching for Pirri pirri in the dunes south of the Ythan. Our plan here is to map all the populations of Pirri pirri so they can be removed before they are able to set seed next year and spread any further.

Originally from New Zealand, Pirri pirri is an invasive small creeping plant which when left unchecked can dominate costal ecosystems.

Well that’s everything from my little “show and tell”, to close out I’ll leave you with some pictures I took of the Ythan while I was out on a litter pick.

Unfortunately I can’t fit a view like this into a box and send it away, or even truly do it justice with a photograph, you’ve got to be out there yourself to see it.

Winter is coming and so are the birds.

It’s been a busy week over at Forvie.

Our winter birds have been steadily returning, you may have started noticing the skeins of geese flying overhead or the larger numbers of waders such as lapwings and oystercatchers down on the Ythan, perhaps soon our own native Daryl will come back to Forvie from his own migration (see Holiday).

Because of this it’s now time to restart our winter wader and wildfowl counts, the first one of this season gave us a total of 4,399 birds with just our lapwings making up 1,499 of these! We were even blessed enough to have the sun shining and no horizontal rain for our survey-for a change-and, I’m sure this trend will continue all the way throughout the winter…

We’ve also been spending time at the south end of the reserve dealing with Himalayan Balsam.

If you hadn’t already guessed this plant hails from the Himalayan Mountains but was introduced by gardeners in 1839 and now finds itself comfortably at home in the rivers of Scotland. Despite its undeniable beauty Balsam does cause us a few problems on the reserve, its rapid growth rate allows it to outcompete our native plant life and within a few seasons it can completely dominate the riverbanks by smothering out all of its competition.

Himalayan Balsam is the UK’s largest annual plant and can grow up to 2.5m tall from seed in a single season! Pictured here is the tallest specimen I found this week.

Thankfully dealing with Balsam is a relatively easy job, but you do need to watch out for the seed heads. Balsam seeds pods “explode” when touched which can spread the seeds up to 7m from the parent plant, this method of seed dispersal is the root of both its common name “Jumping Jack” and its scientific name Impatiens glandulifera meaning the impatient gland bearer.

We carefully cut off the seed heads and place them in a plastic bag to prevent Balsam from reseeding, the main plant is then pulled from the ground and left to dry out.

As summer nears its end our wildflowers have set have set seed and died back, meaning, that it’s now time to remove the dead vegetation from our pollinator meadows. Meadow cutting creates the prefect conditions for next year’s wildflowers to flourish so they can provide a fantastic food source for our local pollinators. You can read more about our wildflower meadows and their inhabitants here.

Sorry, the cuttings aren’t for you.
The Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar is a big fan of the rosebay willowherb found in our pollinator meadows.
Cutting the vegetation away slowly and carefully helps prevent accidentally harming any wildlife such as this toad here.

Well that’s all I’ve been up to, our regular programming will resume next week with Daryl’s return so stay tuned!