Basin Notes - April 2001

A Touch of Frost

An interesting and busy activity packed day for families was held recently at the Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre.

This included mud studies for groups of children, nest-box making and seed and fat-ball bird feeding, as well as a quiz and sleuthing trails.

There was also a talk by Barbara Hogarth on "Winter in Angus." Barbara, who is vice-county recorder for Angus and lives below the Sidlaw Hills, was introduced by Graham Christer.

Approaching winter is heralded by the reddening rowan berries, ripening brambles and berried bushes such as sea buckthorn and hawthorn, with their rich load of berries excellent for helping birds over winter near the coastal margins.

When snow blankets the countryside, it can be picturesque, clean and crisp and excellent for taking in frost covered leaves or frozen waterfalls or ice sculptures along the margins of streams, grasses now dead, but supporting fascinating if brief ice pillars. Spider webs also picked out by ice frosting make beautiful shapes.

Some plants are well insulated by the snow and ice, needing this protection up on the high plateau to survive the low temperatures. Mossy cyphel, moss-campion form cushions which also help to protect their roots.

Dwarf azaleas with leathery leaves and mountain aveus emerge as soon as the mantle of snow and ice melts to show their exquisite pink cushions.

For creatures adapted to the Arctic snow fields, the mountain hare and the ptarmigan, which are camouflaged by their winter white coats, they really need the snow for protection from predators on the high moorlands. Down below among the trees, roe deer blend in beautifully in the dark dappled woodland.

Barbara explained that in April, purple saxifrage appears in lovely pink cushions. Also emerging, though less showy, is the cudweed and mosses. Before the grasses regain their fresh new growth, the various club mosses and fruiting heads of horsetails will gain prominence along the soggy ditches and marshy areas.

Tree shapes are picked out by frost or against the snow clad hills revealing their elegant structure. Lichens and the various textures of tree bark are often worthy of closer inspection.

"Witches broomsticks" - the twiggy agglomerations seen on birch are often hospitable places to find a wren searching for food.

Later the woodland floor may be magically transformed by flushes of bluebells, swathes of wild garlic or early purple orchid. Daffodils are also seen to best advantage under the fresh green canopy of beech.

As well as the excellent detail on slides, Barbara brought along a collection of fallen branches with pine cones, Carline thistles and teasels, all good ideas for winter feeding for birds in your garden and hedging.