Forvie Pollinator Trail – the gift that keeps on giving.

The flowers are going over on the Forvie pollinator trail but this isn’t the end of the interest and value of it. We are lucky that our office window looks out over part of it so we have been able to watch as a small flock of young goldfinches that have been making a daily raid on the seed heads of the knapweed and thistles. These birds have not yet got the striking red and white faces that the adults have and it is only the flap of a wing and the flash of the gold that gives their id away. Daryl calls them Grey pate which rightly sounds a lot less glamorous than goldfinch but either way the pollinator garden is providing a great food source.

The mass of knapweed seed heads.
Unpopular with some but thistle seeds are vital food for many birds and other wildlife.

And you might think that it vis only the flowers that are important and once they are over hte garden has less use. But a careful look at the hogweed stems shows that there is a whole tranche of insects using all parts of the palnt. These holes are the excit holes of stem borer – possibly a type of beetle or fly. These insects lay their eggs in the stems where they hatch giving the larva a safe home and good food supply until they are ready to chew their way out. Some of these species overwinter in the stems so though we cut parts of the garden as a haymeadow we also leave other area for cozy places to spend the winter.

Holes left in hogweed stalks from stem borers
The tansy is about the last thing in flower.

In the next couple of weeks or so we will be cutting and raking the meadow to allow the flower species to flourish the next year. But we will leave plenty of areas uncut to leave homes for the wintering invertebrates.

Cleaning Forvie’s Beach

Recently we were delighted to have a group from BP come to Forvie to do some beach cleaning. The environmental team based in Aberdeen had decided that for a team building event they wanted to put something back. So with the East Grampian Coastal Partnership (more info here) acting as the go between they turned up early one morning to clear up the accumulating waste that collects on the Forive coast.

And they were brilliant. They threw themselves into the job on a day where the weather gradually went downhill. The wind picked up giving everyone a bit of a sandblasting but this wasn’t enough to put the guys ff. No bit of rubbish was too big for them to tackle. Large lengths of rope and straps were dug and pulled out of the sand and taken off the beach. As you see below this made for a good work out.

An impressive pile of rubbish was removed off the site.

Where possible we look to re-use some of the rubbish rather than putting it all into landfill. You can see below that some of what we found was put to use immediately.

So many thanks to the BP team and to Crawford Paris, the East Grampian Coastal Project officer. A great bit of work and at the end of the day they left Forvie in a better state.

If you would like to help out Forvie yourself in the same way then we have a public beach clean event at Forvie on Sunday 22 September. We will meet at the Waterside car park at 11:00. Please wear warm clothing and bring food and drink to keep yourself going.

Wild westerly winds

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.

Wednesday morning at Forvie; looks nice, but by jingo it was windy – note the windswept clouds!

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.

Goldcrest – Europe’s smallest bird, and a typical east-coast migrant

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.

Forvie Moor, with its welcoming willow scrub
A little oasis for tired migrants

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…

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.

What’s black and white and red all over? Red Admiral, of course.

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.

A wreck of Lion’s-mane Jellyfish
Vast numbers involved!

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.

Lion’s-mane jellyfish close-up

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!

Catch-up time

No, I’m not talking about your favourite box sets (or even the test match highlights, perish the thought). Rather, this time of the year is when we at Forvie finally start to catch up on tasks that we simply don’t have time for during the full-on height of summer. These are the ordinary, humble, everyday tasks that nobody notices, unless of course they don’t get done – a bit like the dustbin collection at home. I’m talking about things like strimming and mowing the paths, fixing holes in the tracks, repainting and repairing things, and generally keeping the infrastructure of the Reserve ticking over. We even get to help out off-site from time to time, such as yesterday when some tree-cutting work was required over at Muir of Dinnet.

Tree work at Dinnet – the start of the estate work season

Strimming and mowing here at Forvie has been a hazardous business lately, due to the vast numbers of tiny toadlets present in the grass. These are this year’s offspring of the Common Toad population (we also have Common Frogs here, though they are usually substantially outnumbered by the toads), and are currently dispersing in all directions. So you really have to watch where you’re putting your feet (and your brushcutter).

A tiny toadlet, rescued from the path of the lawnmower
Perfectly formed, with finely warty skin and delicate ‘fingers’ (the toad, not me)

The weather has certainly cooled significantly this last week, with some quite chilly mornings and a heavy dew coating all the vegetation. This view over Sand Loch illustrates the rather subdued feel to some recent days, with the colours of the plants beginning to fade and a grey sky overhead.

Sand Loch on a becalmed autumn day

While autumn is now well and truly upon us, some of our wild flowers are resolutely remaining in bloom – a vital resource for the late-season bees, butterflies and other nectar-loving insects.

Lady’s Bedstraw still flowering
Eyebright flowers with an attendant Grayling butterfly

However, some other plants are definitely now done for the year. Here’s some Yellow Rattle from a few weeks ago, and then from this week. Quite a contrast!

Yellow Rattle in full flower…
…and now gone to seed – the papery husks containing the seeds rattling in the breeze

While the wild flowers are definitely slowing down, bird migration is picking up, and the first Pink-footed Geese have already returned to the region from Iceland (we’re awaiting their arrival at Forvie any day now). So now’s not the time to be morose about the passing of summer; the autumn here is a dynamic and exciting season. Put away the box sets for the dark evenings of midwinter, and come and enjoy what the Reserve has to offer. There’s plenty to catch up on.

A walk on the beach

A walk along the beach is a special thing and Forvie is a great place to do it. It just does you good to get a wide open landscape, by the sea, with so much to look at. Not only is the wide expanse spectacular but look closely and there special sights all around. Have a look at the sand shapes, beautifully designed by tides, currents, wind and flow.

Of course you are sharing the beach with wildlife, so go slow, keep your distance and you will see more. A lone golden plover here, its golden speckled back catching the sun.

At the south end of the Forvie beach are usually a large number of seals. You can see them brilliantly from the Newburgh beach, looking across the river. Don’t try to get anywhere near them from the Forvie side as they aren’t used to people and will flee to the water. This isn’t good for the seals and spoils the wildlife watching of others.

Look out for evidence of other beach users. Curlews are regulars, they are growing new sets of feathers and leave the old ones for beachcombers to find.

It may look a tough place to live but thousands of creatures live on or under the sand. Sometimes all we see is the tracks they leave.

Unfortunately, carelessly discarded rubbish appears, some rubbish is more benign but balloons are bad for wildlife. What a strange way to celebrate, by letting loose litter that can frighten roosting birds or get tangled in wildlife. Why not pick it up, take it back to the bins #take3forthesea.

So when is your next walk-on-the-wild-side beachwalk?

Our resident seals and the season changeover

Following on from a familiar theme in our blogs about the reserve, autumn is here. The end of the summer here at Forvie is signified with the departure of our fascinating terns back to West Africa and further south to the Antarctic.

With the terns gone, the barrier fence closing of the south end of the dunes to the Ythan Estuary mouth has been removed. This has opened up the reserve a little more for some exploring (and there was a lot to explore already) until next April with the return of the tern colony and the re-installation of the barrier fence.

A change in the season brings a change in the wildlife.

We are starting to see a lot of different wader species come in through the estuary. Both sides of the estuary are filling up with juvenile birds which unlike their parents, they are shockingly comfortable around people! Last week on the Newburgh side of the estuary during high tide a flock of juvenile knot landed extremely close and happily fed away while people watched nearby. It can be an amazing experience to see so make sure you keep your eyes peeled when you’re near the estuary 🙂

Sanderling feeding in the shallows

In the coming month we will also start seeing the spectacle of Pink Footed geese arriving on their autumn migration from their northern home. Although I will miss the terns I am very much looking forward to the familiar sight and sound of geese cackling overhead.

The Forvie Seal colony

Although there is plenty of change, one of the many species that are resident here at Forvie NNR all year round are our Grey seals and Common Seals. They truly are an amazing sight and long before I got the opportunity to work here at Forvie, I made regular trips to see the haul-out. The seals come to rest on the now open south end of the reserve.

The seals here are Forvie are protected as a designated seal haul-out. It is an offence to intentionally harass the seals. In other words, as with a lot of other protected species on the reserve, respect has to be given to the space and welfare of the animals. For this reason please do not go see the seals at Forvie through the Ternery or from walking along Forvie Beach. To help protect and reduce disturbance to the seals there is a blue roped barrier fence as a last defense on the southern tip of the reserve which we advice people to stay behind. There are also plenty of informative signs about the seals on the reserve so please give them a read as you pass! In some cases seals might chose to rest their blubbery bodies elsewhere (further up the beach for instance or on the Newburgh side of the estuary) so pay attention to their behaviour wherever you see them and do not approach them. If they are raising their heads from rest and looking in your directions they are getting anxious. This is a definitive signal to back away give them more space!

Forvie National Nature Reserve – Blue zone with red marker on bottom left corner showing the location of the blue roped barrier fence along a sand dune edge.

As I discovered for myself, you can get a truly magical experience of the seals from Newburgh beach and this is where we advise you to go see them from.

The best views of the seals from Newburgh Beach

High tide can be the best time to visit as the seals will haul-out high up on the beach to rest, with many swimming up and down the estuary, curiously peaking their heads above water to see what you’re all about as you pass. Occasionally with the safety of the water around them they come very close to the waters edge while checking you out! I would note to please be careful when skipping stones when you see seals around, you never know when one will be just under the waters murky surface. Although you may be very close in this instance keeping water between you and the seals allows them to feel safe and it is a great rule of thumb to go by.

Grey seals curiously watching people walk past

So get out and enjoy the reserve! There is a lot going and a lot passing through, just remember to do it responsibly.

Medieval Forvie

Elaine Sherriffs, who previously worked at Forvie as the seasonal reserve officer and is now one of our stalwart volunteers, writes about Forvie in medieval times

Forvie kirk as it stands today on the Forvie muir.

If you follow the Rockend track to the ruins of Forvie kirk, spend a few minutes to imagine what it was like to live in the now deserted village. Standing by the ruins of St Adaman’s Kirk you will find yourself where a thriving community once lived.  The heyday of Forvie village was during the 12th and 13th century at a period of warmer, drier weather in Scotland, making life here quite pleasant. 

Forvie kirk

Villagers grew ‘bere’, a type of barley, oats, wheat, rye and kale.  The runrigs (furrows made by the plough) are just visible on the landward side of Forvie Kirk.  Oxen would pull the heavy wooden ploughs and seaweed was spread on the sandy soil as fertilizer. 

Plaited horsehair and hemp were used to make lines and nets for catching haddock, mackerel, herring.  Dried rushes were made into pots and creels for crabs and lobsters.  Mussels, sea anemone and lugworm were collected from the sea and estuary for bait. 

In fact if you lived at Forvie in the Middle Ages your life would have been quite pleasant with food, fuel and the opportunity to trade with the nearby port of Newburgh giving access to a much wider market. After a hard days work on the land or on the sea you could look forward to a supper of ‘brose’ (watery soup) made from barley, oats, kale, beans or pease boiled up in a cauldron over an open fire and maybe accompanied by bread, butter, cheese and oatcakes. If your were lucky you might also have fish and meat (venison, rabbit, pork, duck, eel) washed down with a jug of heather ale.

The villagers’ homes were made stone, mud and wood with turf and marram grass to thatch the roofs.  Fuel consisted of peat dug from nearby bogs, timber from the woodland that still covered much of the land and driftwood from the beach.  Fresh water was plentiful from the burns draining Forvie moor into the sea.  It sounds almost idyllic.

Sadly this prosperous village was overwhelmed by natural forces – the gradual movement of sand northwards making the soil poor and infertile.  After the great sandstorm of 1413 the village was doomed and the end came when the village was finally abandoned in 1680.

Forvie kirk was one of the only village buildings left after the great storm of 1413.