Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Flows...

On Saturday 18th I returned from Forsinard where I had completed a weeks volunteering for the RSPB at their Forsinard Flows reserve in Sutherland, North Highland. The Forsinard reserve which is approximately 20,000 hectares in size and is the RSPB's largest reserve consists of blanket bog, and is one of the largest remaining areas of this habitat in the world. Large areas of the flow country were planted up with commercial non-native conifers in the 70s and 80's due to tax breaks. This of course was a short sighted vision and people are starting to now realise that these blocks of trees not only severely damage the bog and it's biodiversity but that a functioning peat bog is a much better carbon sink for combating climate change. The RSPB's main focus at the moment is to restore afforested areas on their land back to peat bog by researching various felling techniques to find the most effective solution.

Day.1 - I left for the reserve on Sunday morning and made my way North. A fairly uneventful journey with a short stop at the Mound near Loch Fleet for a quick check which turned up nothing unusual. The weather was perfect and I arrived at the Forsinard Visitor centre at 14:00. Forsinard itself is tiny with the visitor centre / train station, a handful of cottages and a hotel. Upon arriving the place was very quiet which was surprising with the nice weather. I checked around the visitor centre but it was empty so I phoned the office number and a girl called Kirsty who is an information officer appeared at the office door across the road. She gave me a brief introduction and showed me around the cottage where I would be staying. I was told that usually my fellow housemates would welcome me but most of the volunteers and staff were on a weekend camping trip.

Visitor Centre
I spent the afternoon having a look around. A Spotted Flycatcher outside the visitor centre was nice to see and I walked the 1 mil Dubh Lochan nature trail which takes in some of the pristine bog habitat. The sun was still out but it was very windy.

The rest of the day I spent unpacking some stuff and getting familiar with the house. I thought it was clear that no-one was coming back by now so I headed to bed.

Day.2 - Monday morning started with me being woken up by a noise a lot like a smoke alarm when after a few seconds I realised it was a smoke alarm. I rushed through to the kitched to find a very tall man called Paul burning toast. Will came through not long after and I was introduced to my housemates for the week who had arrived back home at 1:30am. Paul and Will were long-term volunteers and turned out to be very nice people to spend the week with. I reported to the office at 9 and met most of the staff on the reserve. A quick induction of the office, visitor centre and house and it was time to get started. Unfortuntately the water had stopped working so that had to be fixed first which took us up to lunch. In the afternoon Paul, Will and myself were sent out to a part of the reserve which had already been felled and water levels of the bog were being monitored for research purposes. Our work consisted of finding dipwells which are essentially bits of pipe vertically in the ground with a GPS and measuring the water levels inside using a a tube and blowing through it til it hits the top of the water. The results are then recorded. The weather wasn't too great and the walking was tough for someone not used to the bog.

Day.3 - I reported to the office again and due to the weather, plans had to be re-shuffled so in the mean time Paul, Will and I went back to the workshop at Keeper's Cottage where I was staying to make some dipwells. This mainly consisted off drilling wholes in 1 metre length pipes and painting canes to mark the plots. After an hour one of the RSPB staff members called Martin came over to pick me up. We were heading out to part of the reserve to install new dipwells in areas of forest not yet felled.The weather was not great, the midges were bad (thankfully I had a midge net) and the walking tough with a metal frame full of equipment on my back. But it was good to be carrying out hard work and making a contribution. This was the job for the rest of day which was quiet in terms of wildlife although I heard a flock of Crossbills.

Day.4 - I was picked up at 9 at the cottage this time by reserve ecologist Mark Hancock. We were installing dipwells again but in a different area this time. We parked up the truck and made our way out to the first location with all the equipment. Getting near to the first location which was very wet I was following closely behind Mark when I stepped over a wet area and nearly disappeared into the bog! I was up to my chest and Mark had to pull me out. Scary at the time but hilarious later on! Whilst mark installed the dipwells and took peat measurements my job was to clear access routes by brashing the the trees. It was great to work with Mark as he is a fountain of knowledge and I learned a lot in a short space of time.

Later on in the evening a little party was held for Will's birthday and we watched a DVD on a large screen projector. The film was Paul and it was pretty funny!

Day.5 - This was easily my favourite day on the reserve. I was picked up at the cottage by Mark at the again to go out and install dipwells. Not long on the road and was explaining to Mark I hadn't seen a Hen Harrier before. Two minutes later and one appeared briefly not far from the road but disappeared behind a hill. We stopped the truck and the bird came back into view for a few seconds. It was a female or juvenile and a life tick for me. Most of the harriers that bred on the reserve had already moved on so it was nice to see one although brief. Whilst at roadside we also flushed a Snipe which was a nice addition to the year list. Later on in the morning a pair of Ravens were seen and flocks of Crossbills heard and the weather was fantastic. At lunch we headed to an area to see if we could see more Hen Harriers and bumped into Claire the assisant warden carrying out a deer count. I then spent the afternoon with Claire helping her count the deer in her assigned area. This is a count carried out throughout the reserve by several people at the same time to assist in deer population monitoring. When driving around I saw a couple of Wheatears and the highlight of the day and the week was a family group of Merlin which had been regularly seen. One of them, again a female or juvenile landed on a hummock a couple hundred yards away and I got a cracking view through the high spec scope in the truck. Another life tick for me.

Day.6 - Friday I was back out with Martin again installing dipwells. Not much variety through the week but still very important work. The weather was miserable and there was no wind so the midges were really bad. We only had a few to put in so we were finished by lunch with the afternoon spent making some more dipwells and cleaning up the cottage for new arrivals. Earlier in the week I spotted a moth trap in the cottage and asked if we could put it out at some point as I had never done it before. Paul decided to put the moth trap out on Friday night and we would check it in the morning.

Day.7 - We were up earlyish to check out the moth trap. It was already really warm by 8.30am and very still so the midges around the cottage were really bad. We couldnt put on repellent incase of poisoning the moths. There were groups of Meadow Pipits already picking off some moths that didn't make it into the trap. We unloaded the trap under attack by midges and got as many as we could into containers and lost quite a few. They were quite active due to the heat. We put some containers in the fridge and got down to ID'ing some. Paul was the moth expert I was just observing. Well over 100 moths in the end with some not getting ID'ed before I left due to lack of time. Paul and Will had to go on a supply run to Thurso in the afternoon so that was my cue to head home. I took a detour through Glen Loth on the way back which had some stunning views.

All in all it was a great week. Met some really nice people and learned a lot in a short space of time. Saw a couple birds that I hadn't seen before and a lot of moths! Hopefully be back again at some point for a longer spell this time. Selection of photos below, no bird photos though unfortunately. Next blog could possibly come from Finland as I leave next Thursday if time permits!

Year List additions:
129: Hen Harrier
130: Snipe
127: Merlin

Keepers Cottage
Silver Y

The Ben Griams
Glen Loth
The Mound

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