Basin Notes - April 2002

Signs are that spring is on its way

The month of March is often noted for its variable weather conditions and this year has been no exception.

Whether this variety is the spice of life for Mother Nature I don't know, but almost irrespective of the weather, the lengthening hours of daylight will signal to our flora and fauna that spring is on the way.

March and April heralds a gradual exodus of our winter migrants from the Basin to their northern breeding grounds, many travelling beyond the Arctic Circle. On the move are waders such as redshank, knot, dunlin, black and bar-tailed godwits and also wildfowl, which include wigeon, teal, pintail, shoveler and goldeneye.

More locally, lapwing, oystercatcher and curlew are also heading for their breeding territories.

Some of our birds will already be breeding. Raven and grey heron start as early as February, followed by mallard, moorhen, rook and blackbird in March.

A few of our summer migrants have already arrived from Africa. A swallow was sighted in Kent on March 1st, a wheatear in Central England on March 20th and a sand martin in Fife on March 17th.

The sand martin is often our first summer migrant to arrive at the Basin, usually during the last week of this month.

An osprey arrived at the Loch of the Lowes on March 20th but it was not believed to be one of the established pair thart breeds there.

March signals the start of the breeding season for many small mammals such as the field, bank and water vole. They fall prey to a number of mammal and bird predators but keep their numbers up by breeding several times a year and producing up to eight young per litter which are independent in a matter of weeks.

Brown hares are known for their mad behavour in March. Several may be seen lolloping along around a field when suddenly one races off, hotly pursued by a second. They may then leap around and confront one another by standing on their hind legs and exchanging blows with their forepaws.

In the past, this extraordinary boxing match was thought to be between two bucks fighting for the favours of a doe. It is now known that this sparring is an unreceptive doe fighting off the advances of an amorous buck.

There are still two red-throated divers on the Basin at the time of writing as are a flock of seventeen barnacle geese.

Two stoats were recently seen in front of the visitor centre, one of them in the transitional stage from ermine to summer coat, and in a reversal of roles, I have twice seen one of the stoats being chased by a rabbit in recent weeks!