Today we welcome back guest blogger and ace photographer Ron Macdonald, who takes us on a virtual tour through the dunes of South Forvie, where we encounter one of the reserve’s lesser-known inhabitants.…
Come with me today, as we take a walk by the estuary side and towards Forvie spit where we find the UK’s largest haul-out of grey seals. But it’s not the seals which we have come to see but an LBJ – a Little Brown Job of a bird called a twite, which winters here amongst the windblown sand that blasts the sparse coastal vegetation.
Our walk takes us past 3 hut circles but there’s more buried underneath Forvie’s shifting sands. All the huts have the entrance on the east side which means they get the early morning sun and maybe like today, they were sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds which often bring rain. They’re from the late Bronze or early Iron Age (1800-3000BC) and have been here unchanged through the millennia. Puts one’s own short life into perspective, doesn’t it?
As we pass the huts, skylarks announce spring, singing their wee hearts out, flying high in a towering flight then fluttering to the ground in their typical display flight.
The landscape gradually changes from heath and marram-covered dunes to larger areas of bare sand interspersed with shingle terraces. Daryl and the reserve’s volunteers are busy erecting the fence around the ternary which hopefully will safeguard the eggs and chicks from foxes that are attracted by the ready meals on offer. Soon the area will be closed off to the public allowing the terns and the neighbouring colony of black-headed gulls to breed free from disturbance by people and hopefully foxes.
But before that we have a chance to observe the 40 twite feeding in front of us. They’re nervous, continuously landing and taking off, performing large arcs in the sky as they wheel around, briefly touching down on the shingle beds before they’re soon up again.
It’s not long before we see the reason for their jittery behaviour as a sparrowhawk flies low over the dunescape using the tufts of marram grass as cover to surprise any unwary bird. This time the stealth approach is unsuccessful but it will be back.
The twite that winter here breed in North West Scotland, not on the coast but in the hills and uplands of Ross-shire, Caithness and Sutherland. We know that through the efforts of the Grampian Ringing Group who ring a sample of birds each year. They’ve never trapped a foreign ringed twite or had a bird ringed on Forvie re-trapped on the continent.
The moniker LBJ is a bit unfair. Yes, they do look nondescript when you see them in the distance but close up their yellow bill and subtly brown and tan streaked plumage is very attractive.
It’s time to head back via Forvie’s wild east shore where the full force of the North Sea breaks on the sandy shore. As we climb the last dune ridge and drop onto the beach there’s another patch of shingle. Surprise surprise as 11 snow buntings flit in front of us, not that bothered by our presence.
Trundling along the shoreline we keep an eye open for terms as it won’t be long now before sandwich terns return to Forvie. As I write (16 March) the first one was reported this weekend off the Black Isle in Highland Region.
All photographs in this blog post (c) Ron Macdonald. Thanks Ron!