Day two (Saturday 18th March) and we arrived at Forvie Sands Nature Reserve, kindly arranged by Mrs Sausages’ two PhD supervisors as a long overdue get-together. Despite being buffeted all day by a fierce North Sea wind, it was a fantastically rewarding visit. Sightings began even as we readied ourselves in the car park.
A Grey Heron had built a nest in the conifers overlooking the parking area and was making its presence known with loud squawks and by frequently taking to the air to ward off potential predators. It was when we entered the reserve proper that the healthy numbers and variety of birds on site became apparent. As the river Ythan estuary came into view, a flock of Shelduck were coming in to land. The shoreline was being patrolled and prodded by a large number of Curlew.
While the long-billed Curlews were probing soft sand and mud for their food, the exposed sand was covered in thousands and thousands of mussels. These mussels are one of the reasons why some species of birds and lots of humans have thrived in and around Ythan estuary for centuries.
The mussels are a favoured food of one of Forvie’s most numerous birds, the Eider.
Forvie is home to the UK’s largest Eider population during the summer months and with such a plentiful supply of food, it’s not hard to see why. The Eider will swallow the mussel whole, shell and all. The shells then get crushed in the bird’s gizzard and are passed through the other end.
The estuary stretch was also home to Mallards, Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Redshank and some Goosanders in the distance.
It was not just shorebirds and waders though. Our walk adjacent to the estuary saw Buzzard, Kestrel, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats and Linnets on the farmland just before the dunes.
One of Mrs Sausage’s supervisors is a very seasoned birder with a fantastic ear for bird calls. He was predicting birds long before they came into view from a single call. A Common Ringed Plover flying from behind a dune was just one of the highlights. He also spotted around 40-50 Knot on the distant shore while we paused for a picnic on the dunes. All this whilst carrying his infant daughter on his back!
There was some significant mammalian life present at Forvie too. Grey Seals were in very large numbers. We had a dozen or so bobbing up and down in the estuary opposite our chosen picnic spot. This beautiful female juvenile even came ashore to investigate our presence a little closer.
Egged on by 6 or 7 other seals that had gathered in the water, this one galumphed up the sand to within around 40 foot of us, stared us in the faces, stared back at the seal clique for approval and teenage dare completed, went back to the water.
It was only when we made a turn towards the sea that the full extent of the Grey Seal numbers at Forvie were revealed. Accompanied by an almost overwhelming odour of rotting fish, was a huge herd (collective noun alert) of around 700 Grey Seals.
This was a huge seal community of huge Walrus-like adults and sleeker, paler juveniles, huddled together along the shoreline. It may have smelt pretty bad but it was an amazing sight.
A walk along the beach brought a small flock of Sanderling skimming over the waves while the North Sea pounded our faces with a spiteful wind. Cormorant, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull completed the seabird contingent. As the sun set and the light faded and we made our way back to the car park we watched a large flock of Golden Plover circle around the reserve before settling into a far corner.
This was our third visit to Forvie and while it never disappoints this trip was made especially enjoyable by being able to spend it with two very knowledgeable people. From picking out distant bird calls to showing us tiny lichens and other flora we would otherwise have been oblivious to, both our knowledge and appreciation of this superb reserve has grown.
We managed to squeeze in one more visit to Seaton Park on the Sunday. With blue skies and dare I say it, some warm temperatures, we were finally hopeful of seeing the Harlequin Duck. Despite the beautiful weather this visit ended up with us seeing the least amount of bird life of our three visits.
There were no Dippers, Goosanders, Goldeneye, Treecreeper or indeed the Harlequin. We did have what I think we can safely declare to the the resident Kingfisher put in a brief appearance and also this singing Goldfinch.
Further down the Don we also managed this Grey Wagtail.
And a slightly photogenic juvenile Herring Gull.
Our final bird of the trip was this solitary Redshank on the River Don, taking in some rare Aberdeen sunshine.
Despite missing out on the target bird for the trip (the Harlequin) the trip to Forvie made up for it in many ways. A great range of birds and some genuine close encounters with the Grey Seals. It may be while before Aberdeen sees a full Team Sausage scanning it’s skies again, but we do hope it’s not the last.