The following day we visited the Northern Sahara! Well, not quite but the Sands of Forvie NNR on the Ythan estuary is the most spectacular glacial dune system in the British Isles. Only 30 minutes on the bus north of Aberdeen, the area has the largest breeding concentration of Northern Eider in Britain which nest over a large area of protected coastal moorland. There are large numbers of breeding Shelduck and a large, though sadly diminishing Ternery (Little, Common, Arctic and Sandwich). Luckily the weather was favourable and by lunchtime all these white-plumaged birds were gleaming in the Mediterranean-like light!
While the news came in that southern England was about to sink under the huge number of Painted Ladies arriving, we were experiencing our own mini-plague in the north - not adult butterflies, but masses of larve of Garden Tiger and Six-spot Burnet moths! At first we saw a few hopelessly blowing across the dunes in the strong wind, somehow having lost their grip of their dune-side foodplants. Now I’m no bunny hugger (all too happy for escapee Eagle Owls to clear up the cats and small dogs) but after carefully placing the first few back in the marram grass, we soon realised this was completely futile due to the sheer numbers involved. Still, easy picking for birds that like the hairy tiger moth larvae and so it was strange that not a single Cuckoo was seen or heard on the moor, particularly in view of the number of host Meadow Pipits displaying.
We walked around 10 miles of this extensive area visiting (photos below) the remains of Forvie Kirk, Hackley Bay, Sand Loch, Cotehill Loch and the upper reaches of the Ythan and around 60 species were noted including Razorbill, Gannet, Red-throated Diver, Rock Pipit, Whimbrel, Kittwake, Fulmar and Sanderling.
On the Monday we took another bus to Blackdog for the Surf Scoter which we managed to dip, not for want of trying but due to sheer lack of optical power. My field scope was still in Ayrshire and it became clear on arrival that the flock of around 500 Common Scoters were just too far offshore to be adequately searched through using just binoculars. Later back on High Street in Old Aberdeen, we at least ticked the memorial plaque to Scottish ornithologist, William Macgillivray. Then it was back on the overnight coach from the wild North and back to the grime.