Basin Notes - August 2000

Celebrating five exciting years at the Wildlife Centre

The Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

I know it's a cliché, but it really doesn't seem like five years since the first visitors arrived to view the basin from this most splendid of viewpoints! A lot of water has flowed under the bridges since then! The Centre is still going strong, and with a new development plan in the pipeline it looks like continuing for some time.

The Centre now has to compete with other visitor attractions, most notably the new Seabird Centre at North Berwick. Despite the competition, the Basin Centre is still regarded as the best estuary bird watching site in the country. Those who helped to raise money for the construction of the Centre and have manned it since as volunteers can be justly proud of its reputation.

During these five years there have been many changes. The dramatic transformation of the grounds from bare earth to a series of well established gardens and havens for wildlife is the most obvious.

Planted with native trees, shrubs and plants, the grounds have attracted a great variety of small mammals, insects and birds. It is a tribute to the dedicated band of volunteers who turn out in all weathers that the grounds look so well. The wildlife certainly seems to appreciate their efforts.

Another major change is that none of the original Scottish Wildlife Trust staff now remain at the Centre. Blair Wilkie, the last of the original staff members, departed to Edinburgh last month. We were all sorry to see Blair go and wish her every success in her new role as SWT head of policy on lifelong learning. We hope she will drop in for a visit from time to time. Blair's departure has left a gap in the Centre's ability to provide full-time educational facilities for visiting school groups etc. After much thought, seven part-time teacher-naturalist posts have been created. Recruitment was mostly from the pool of Centre volunteers, plus a local farmer whose land adjoins the basin.

Since starting in June, the new post holders have received a baptism of fire. Over 500 children and teachers visited the Centre in the second and third weeks of June. prior to the summer break.

This system is currently being used successfully at other nature reserves. It means that ranger/naturalist Karen Spalding and Centre manager Graham Christer can concentrate on their own very busy jobs.

Most of our winter birds are now breeding in the Arctic. The main interest on the reserve at the moment comes from breeding Eider ducks and moulting swans and sawbills (red-breasted Mergansers and Goosanders).

A nest recording survey has found over 400 Eider duck nests. Despite the large number of nests, predation seems to have been high. A number of dead adult females have been found. It appears that death resulted from the birds being egg-bound and unable to lay.

One remarkable female Eider sat on its nest for fifty two days from May 9 to June 27 and eventually hatched two chicks. The normal incubation period for Eider ducks is twenty-five to twenty-eight days.