Basin Notes - April 2004

Home for Summer

Returning migrants are always a welcome sight. Sand-martins are returning now to their breeding grounds. Adult birds arrive some three weeks ahead of the year-olds reared last summer.

After fledging, sand-martins fly around their neighbouring colonies. In this important period they learn to recognise a familiar area and home in again the following spring.

Sand-martins take a route west of the Pyrenees on the way to their wintering area, around Senegal, south of the Sahara. However, on their route northwards they travel a more easterly route, crossing the North African coast into France. They travel in short stages, arriving in good shape. Other long birds travelling north will fly long distances at night - warblers, chats and fly-catchers do this.

Swallows and later swifts swoop in in early summer. Swifts are last in and first out, raising a single brood. Swallows may attempt a third brood which may delay them into October. Former swallow nesting sites in farm buildings are not so available now with the conversion of steadings into dwellinghouses.

Wagtails have a tendency to return from the south too, but their migration is only partial. 'Watery-wagtail' is a corruption of the old Scots 'Wattie-Wagtail' in the style of Robin Redbreast. Large roosts of pied-wagtail can be seen, particularly at Stracathro Hospital where around a thousand birds can congregate in the accommodating ridge roofs. Large greenhouses are also favoured, but it remains to be seen if poly-tunnels will meet with the same wagtail approval.

Seabirds, such as the sanderling, make tremendously long journeys, nesting in the high Arctic, along the Siberian Arctic tundra, eventually flying south to Australian shores. Some young birds may not make it to the extreme northern latitudes and spend their summer along our shorelines.

Arctic tern breed too in the far north but over-winter in the Antarctic. Their routes take them along continental coastlines and through the vast, inhospitable southern ocean, to touch the southern coast of Australia and Tasmania.

An occasional but welcome arrival this year, the hoopoe is down the coast at Seaton cliffs. To access the cliffs, park at the Victoria esplanade, Arbroath, and walk along the cliff path. This area is also looked after by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and has a very fine wildflower interest, as well as a beautiful sea-shore with red sandstone carved by the seas over the centuries. This was a noted place for smuggling in past times.

In the mediaeval fable, the Parliament of Fowls, the hoopoe is king of the birds. It may be inconspicuous on the ground, where its decurved bill is a useful tool for finding insect larvae and insects, but when airborne its distinctive black and white markings and its bouncing flight pattern, with abrupt changes of direction, make it unmistakable, as does its erectile crest.

Spring cleaning and refurbishment at the Scottish Wildlife Trust's visitor centre at Rossie Braes is ongoing. New interpretation will be in place when it re-opens to the public in May. Meantime enjoy the lovely primrose banks and spring flourish of gean and black-thorn. The hide is still open.

In the nesting season it's a good idea to 'gang warily' if walking along a river bank or near the salt-marsh edges. Eider sit higher and are so well camouflaged that they are hard to spot unless they are frightened by a loose dog or noisy children. They sit brooding for around 30 days anc were they human, would definitely have 'dc not disturb' signs on their bedroom door handles!