Trip reports

A trip to Forsinard RSPB reserve

A trip to Forsinard RSPB reserve
Margaret Harrison

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Winnie & I had decided to take public transport up to Orkney for our holiday so that we could spend a day at the RSPB reserve at Forsinard Flows. We stayed our first night at Helmsdale & of course did a couple of hours birding there, then next morning on by train to Forsinard, where the station is the RSPB headquarters.
We were the only visitors that morning, and we found that all three wardens and two interns were to go out for the day surveying Red-throated diver & Common scoter populations. This is done twice monthly in June, July & August to determine numbers of birds nesting, breeding & numbers of chicks raised on the reserve. Forsinard holds 89 pairs of Red-throated divers & 27 pairs of Common scoter, 9% & 37% of the British breeding populations respectively. We met up with warden Terri Cunningham, (who used to work at SHQ), who kitted us out with wellingtons for our day. We were to survey a small lochan, making a round trip of about 4hours. Navigation over the bog was by GPS tracking as there were no paths, trees or other navigational aids, & Terri had only done this once before! The landscape is majestic, rather to my mind like Dartmoor, but even wetter. Navigation involved skirting around pools, in some cases jumping from tussock to tussock. Terri showed us the wealth of blanket peatland plants & insects living here, pointing out moth pupae, two varieties of sundew, pink bog bean plants in the pools & evidence of the Red deer (poo). We eventually reached Little Lochan, where a pair of birds had bred in 2012, & were pleased to find a single pair of Red-throated divers. We kept our distance as they were aware of us, but could discern the dull red throat patch. Our work done, we only had to navigate back, taking in a chain of smaller lochans. On leaving the reserve by train we saw huge blocks of conifers but also the restoration work of tree felling & drain blocking to raise water levels and create new peat eventually across 15,600 hectares of damaged blanket bog, using over 13,000 dams, and removing trees from 2,200 hectares of land, a project of true National importance.

Margaret Harrison