Field Trip: RSPB Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve, Saturday, 21 May, 2022

This was the Group’s last outing in their 2021/2022 Programme. Ten members left Inverness at the earlier time of 8.00 a.m. and were joined en-route by another six. The weather forecast for today was not favourable but, the sun was shining as we headed north with a full minibus. On the way, travelling on the A9 by-passingTain jackdaw, carrion crow, starling and common gull were some of the species recorded. Continuing onto Golspie, then Brora, oystercatcher, shelduck, mute swan, lapwing, curlew, mallard and collared dove were added. Our next location – Helmsdale saw our list increase with the addition of goldfinch, bullfinch, chaffinch, house sparrow and blackbird. On the final leg of our journey to Forsinard, two small herds of red deer were visible not far from the roadside and greylag geese, dipper, gooseander and buzzard were some of the birds seen. Arriving at Forsinard Flows Field Centre, the wardens Paul and Ben together with volunteer Bryan welcomed us with coffee and biscuits which were much appreciated after our early start. Ben gave a very interesting presentation about the reserves various projects before all three accompanied us on the 1500 metres boardwalk to the Lookout Tower. You may recall this Tower caused a stir, for various reasons amongst the local residents when submitted for planning permission in 2014. However, planning was eventually granted and construction began. You can imagine how difficult it must have been to hit a solid base for the foundations. The Tower stands on stilts which go 4 metres down into the peat. One of the objections was the colour; the building was to be built using larch wood and it was thought this would make it stand out instead of blend in with the surroundings. At the official opening, in 2016 the Tower was a strong yellow colour but, now, in 2022 the wood has weathered considerably and the colour blends beautifully with the surrounding peat bog. After spending some time at both levels of the Tower, everyone appreciated the excellent views of the area’s landscape: without the Tower this would not have been possible, and, humans being human would be tempted to walk over the peat bog, causing damage. Leaving the Tower, the group proceeded along the Dubh-lochain trail which is one mile long and took us back to the reserve’s visitor centre. On the way, stops were made to view the bog in miniature with a variety of peatland plants such as sundews and butterwort. Whilst at Forsinard, we added house martin, skylark and swallow to our list for the day. After having lunch at RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows reserve, we took to the road again, crossing the Sutherland/Caithness boundary marked by the “Split Rock”. We had great views of our clifftop destination on the mainland, and also across the sea to the cliffs of Orkney’s mainland and the Old Man of Hoy – as well as the less picturesque site of the Dounreay nuclear power station! On the outskirts of Thurso, we saw a group of feral pigeons, but among them was one bird which looked like a “pure” rock dove. Given proximity of cliffs as suitable habitat for it, we gave it the benefit of the doubt and decided it was a “proper” rock dove, rather than a “mere” feral pigeon! Once we arrived at Dunnet Head, we paused for some group photographs to commemorate the trip. We then walked down to the main viewpoint for the cliffs. There were plenty of fulmars and cormorants flying around, and, basking on a rock just above sea level, a single great black-backed gull. On the cliff itself were a good number of razorbills, and – conveniently positioned under a distinctively-coloured patch of rock on the cliff-face – was a single puffin. Once we’d located it through a ‘scope, it was easy to see with binoculars. Some of us then walked round to a viewpoint from which we could see the other side of the head. This cliff-face seemed more popular with the birds! There were quite a few more puffins there, and razorbills too, but also guillemots and kittiwakes. However, by this time, the rain was coming in, and so we headed back to the minibus for our journey back to Inverness. As we approached the Cromarty Bridge, a lesser black-backed gull and red kite were spotted. The total number of species recorded by Fiona for the day was 50. Thank you Fiona for keeping the list.