Genevieve Dalley, RSPB Trainee Ecologist, tells us about a recent trip to Forsinard Flows.
Going with the Flow
As a trainee ecologist I get to travel around Scotland, waving nets and poking through pond weed in search of freshwater invertebrates.
This week I was at Forsinard Flows, right at the very top of Scotland. The birds have largely moved on by this time of year but there is still plenty of interest, such as the carnivorous sundew plants (below) coming into flower.
There was also an abundance of dragonflies and damselflies – with common hawkers whizzing past my ears and female black darters (who are in fact bright yellow) busy laying eggs in the sparkling pools.
Common hawker dragonfly (Aeshna juncea).
Female black darter (Sympetrum danae).
I was also lucky enough to have a ‘first’ moment: the first time I have ever seen the incredible egg laying behaviour of the emerald damselfly.
Once mated, the male continues to hold onto the female and together they slowly climb down a piece of reed and head underwater to lay their eggs.
This is a risky business! It is difficult to break the surface tension to enter the water for such small creatures, and once under the water they risk being eaten by predators such as fish. They then have to attempt to break the surface water tension on the way out – not always managing to release their wings and fly again.
Male above and female below. These emerald damselflies enter the water.
Completely submerged, the female starts to lay eggs.
I also had the chance to work on a project investigating the potential of some of the lochs at Forsinard for breeding Scoters. I got to use a variety of methods to survey for freshwater invertebrates (a food source for Scoter chicks) – and have fun messing about in a loch with a dry suit!
Me (left) and fellow trainee ecologist Kirsty Godsman (right) in a loch in the depths of Forsinard.
There is a serious side to this work – Forsinard holds a large proportion of Britain’s breeding common scoter population, which is currently a red listed species. Their numbers halved between 1995 and 2007 and the reasons for this are not fully known. However, there is a team of dedicated people determined to find out quickly and hopefully will be able to reverse this decline.
Common scoter chicks photo Andy Hay.
The interactions between fish, invertebrates and scoters are complicated and it is essential to untangle this web of interactions. An initial three-year study has investigated the behaviour of scoters, finding a preference for large invertebrates and shallow lochs. In light of this information, the current project aims to test various management methods to see how best to manage lochs for breeding scoters.
These are beautiful birds but can often be overlooked as they spend a lot of time in places where few people get to see them. Once they have bred in places like the lochs of Forsinard, they up sticks and live out to sea for the winter months – making them very hardy birds!
So, if you find yourself visiting Scotland this summer, or are not yet decided on where to take your travels, why not give Forsinard Flows a visit?
Fab pics :0)
Lovely photos,Genevieve, thanks very much. I have been a Friend of the Flow Country for many years but never yet managed to get there to enjoy that remote and beautiful area. It's great therefore to see some pictures. More please! Richard.