A Little Egret has returned to Findhorn Bay on 19 April 2021. This is the first one we have sighted since early January 2020. Like the others that we have seen in the past this one is favouring the channels in the south western corner of the bay where the River Findhorn flows into the bay. It is feeding in the old Findhorn channel and resting up on the remote areas of saltmarsh in between the channels. In the past Little Egrets have often stayed around for a while, so hopefully this will do the same.
Pink-footed Geese this autumn have been remarkable for several reasons. Not only did they arrive a good two weeks earlier than usual but also in record breaking numbers. Their numbers have also stayed consistently high for much longer than we usually experience.
The first significant influx occurred at the beginning of September and by the 20th we had a count of over 56,000 which stands as a record for the Bay. After this peak their numbers dropped off a bit as some continued their migration to their wintering grounds further south which is normal. However in recent weeks numbers have gone back up again and there are now over 30,000 roosting overnight on the Bay which is exceptionally high for this time of year.
The graph show the numbers on the Bay over the last 3 months.
The majority of birds only use the Bay as an overnight roost and can be seen departing from just after dawn to around 10AM. In the afternoon their return to the Bay can start as early as 3PM but can continue until well after dark. During the day they can be seen feeding on fields in the local area as far away as Elgin or even beyond.
Findhorn Bay is the largest roost locally, but it is not the only one. Whiteness to the west of Nairn and the Nairn Bar area to the north of Culbin are also used as roosts. A recent survey a couple of weeks ago found that nearly 13,000 were roosting at Nairn Bar as well as over 34,000 on Findhorn Bay.
The total UK population for over-wintering Pink-footed Geese has steadily been increasing in recent years. A Wetland & Wildfowl Trust survey earlier this month for the whole of the UK recorded around 400,000 and it is probable that the true total was somewhat higher. The numbers that we have locally at the moment represent a significant percentage of this UK total.
The reasons for these very large numbers are difficult to determine. Clearly the birds appear to be breeding successfully and this is steadily boosting numbers. Locally, there are probably factors that are encouraging them to stay in the area. Many of the stubble fields have not yet been ploughed this year unlike 2018 and these are good habitats for the geese to forage on. This is also beneficial to other species such as Whooper Swans. The wetter summer we experienced this year compared to the drought of 2018 has also left the grass in better condition. Whatever the reasons the sight and sound of so many geese on the the Bay is spectacular.
With the clocks changing last weekend it also marks a time of change on the Reserve. The Ospreys have now arrived back on the Bay and have already been seen fishing off Findhorn village.
In the last few days Sandwich Terns have also returned from their over-wintering grounds in southern Africa. Look out for them sitting on the buoys off the piers.
Out on the Bay numbers of waders are changing. Oystercatchers have started to move inland to their breeding sites, whereas Redshank numbers have gone up as birds moving north stop off on the Bay. A few days ago there were over 1000 feeding on the southern end of the bay. At this time of year we also get large numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin stopping off on their journey back to their breeding grounds in the north.
The Pink-footed Geese are still around with nearly 20,000 counted at the dawn roost a few days ago, and many stay here during the day feeding on the salt marsh around the southern end of the Bay. By the end of April most of them will have departed.
In the woods along the River Findhorn there are Chiffchaffs in good numbers singing along with many other woodland birds. It is also a good time to see some of the early flora coming up on the woodland floor before the leaves appear and shade everything out.
There are large areas of Dog’s Mercury, Few-flowered Garlic, Great Wood-rush as well as the first few flowers of Wood Anemone appearing. In amongst them are also some Lesser Celandine, Green Alkanet and Common Field Speedwell.
As well as these native plants in the woods, unfortunately there are also large patches of Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed just starting to appear. These non-native and highly invasive species grow rapidly and quickly crowd out our native plants. Much work is being done to try and eradicate them, but it is an enormous task in some of the woodlands along our rivers.
Numbers of Common and Grey Seals have steadily increased in recent years. They can be seen at their haul-outs near the mouth of the bay nearly every day. As a result of this increase Findhorn Bay is now a designated haul-out site.
Moray Council Ranger Service in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage have produced an information board which is being put on a number of the Nature Reserve signs near the mouth of the Bay.
Over the last couple of weeks many of the waders have started to return to the Bay. Over 300 Curlew are being counted and Oystercatcher numbers are up around the 400 mark. Many of these birds will have local breeding sites. Good numbers of Redshank are also being seen although they are a bit down from a peak of 600+ a week or so ago. Other waders around include Dunlin, Knot, Sanderling, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit, a couple of Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and a few returning Turnstone.
On the beach and offshore then Terns are the most numerous birds at present with 300+ Common Tern, 130 Arctic and even 14 Little Tern (including 2 juveniles) on the beach recently. It isn’t certain where these Little Tern will have come from as there are no known breeding sites in Moray at the moment.
On shore in the Reserve many of the spring flowers have now gone over, but the heather around the beach car park area is starting to look good and will continue to flower through August. The star plant in flower at the moment though is the Green-flowered Helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes). This is a type of orchid and is a rare plant. The site on the edge of the Reserve is the only reported one in Scotland, so how it got all the way to Findhorn is a bit of a mystery.
With the cold weather of late April now over, the start of May has seen warmer and (some) sunnier days. As a result flowers are starting to bloom again and the first butterflies of spring have emerged. At the same time many of our over-wintering birds have moved on and summer visitors have arrived.
In the woods beside the River Findhorn in the SW corner of the Reserve many early flowering plants are coming out before the light gets crowded out by the leaf canopy of the woodland. These include the blues of Green Alkanet and Wood Forget-me-not as well as Cow Parsley, Greater Stitchwort and Wood Anemones. Butterflies that can be seen include Green-veined Whites and Speckled Woods.
The saltmarsh is relatively quiet at the moment, but plenty of Scurvy Grass is in flower and a few Ringlet butterflies can be spotted.
In the coastal heathland near the beach car park there is plenty in flower. Most obvious is the Whin or Gorse and the Broom which both provide a bright splash of yellow. Smaller plants include Birds-foot Trefoil, Common Dog Violet, Thrift and Common Storksbill. On sunny days Small Copper butterflies and Dingy Skippers can be seen on the wing. The Skipper is easily overlooked but is a relatively rare butterfly this far north in Britain.
Amongst the birds on the Reserve, many of the wildfowl on the Bay have now departed although there are still good numbers of waders which have stopped off at Findhorn on their way north to breeding grounds. Latest counts included 50 Bar-tailed Godwit, 450 Dunlin, 600+ Ringed Plover and 270+ Knot. Summer arrivals include Swallows, House and Sand Martins, as well as Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers. However the star bird is a Grasshopper Warbler which is offering fine views beside the B9011 to Findhorn just north of Kinloss village. If you do go and look for it, then take care with the traffic as it is a very busy road.