A Grand Day Out

A bit of a change for me this week, helping out at Forvie NNR https://www.facebook.com/pages/Forvie-National-Nature-Reserve/148240088525022?ref=ts&fref=ts with some tree work and bird counts. It’s a great chance to learn some new skills and spend some time at another wonderful nature reserve. Forvie couldn’t be more different from Dinnet. The reserves are almost the same size but Forvie is dominated by sand dunes, heathland and the magical Ythan estuary. The Ythan is an internationally important area for resident and migrating birds, and the reason for this is….mud. Glorious mud, nothing quite like it for feeding the birds. It looks devoid of life to us and people tend to steer clear of the muddy bits. Sensibly so – it’s like walking in wet cement. Walk into the mud and you stand an excellent chance of losing your wellies (I know from experience, there’s nothing quite like that sinking feeling when you know you’re going to have to wade back in your socks), but the birds are light enough to potter across the surface. And what we can’t see is that the mud is packed full of life like worms and shrimps, which are food for a huge variety of birdlife.

Mud, glorious mud...

Mud, glorious mud…

Dunlin come here in the winter but breed in the uplands of Scotland and the Arctic circle in the summer.

Dunlin feeding on Ythan Estuary

Dunlin feeding on Ythan Estuary

These shelduck have recently returned from one of their communal moult sites. Almost all of Europe’s shelduck gather together to moult and most go to the German Waddenzee. They breed here at Forvie, in rabbit burrows (occasionally after evicting the rabbits) and feed on invertebrates in the mud. On a quiet day, you can hear the ‘plap-plap-plap’ of their beaks as they sieve the mud.

A pair of shelduck, female in front

A pair of shelduck, female in front

Wigeon graze the saltmarshes around the estuary but often roost at low tide.

Roosting wigeon

Roosting wigeon

These lovely long-tailed duck spend the winter here, far south of their breeding grounds in the high Arctic. Old names for them are “oldsquaw” in America or “coal and candlelight” in Scots, from their black–and–white plumage.

Long - tailed ducks

Long – tailed ducks

And you can’t mention Forvie without mentioning eider ducks. These are looking at their finest right now, and all the males are furiously trying to attract a lady friend. The males display by bobbing their head and calling. It’s best to listen to an eider call, http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/e/eider/ as there have been all sorts of descriptions of how it sounds. “Wind through the wires” is one or “distant bagpipes”, but I always think they sound like a group of posh ladies who have just heard a particularly juicy piece of gossip!

Eider displaying

Eider displaying

If you hunt through the eider on the estuary, you may even find an odd-looking one that seems to have bumps on its back. These bumps or “sails” are a feature of a sub-species of Northern ( or borealis) Eider. Some of these bird may have come from a long way north or they may be resident here. This bird has some characters of a Northern eider – a brighter beak and small sails – but is unlikely to be a pure-bred one.

Eider duck with possible 'borealis' sails on wing

Eider duck with possible ‘borealis’ sails on wing

As it’s the best time of year to see the ducks, why not take a trip to Forvie NNR?

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