Basin Notes - August 2009

Turning of the seasons

Many of us are reluctant to admit it, but already there are signs that the seasons are changing and we are moving from summer into autumn.

Not only have the schools resumed after the summer holidays, but nature is providing the usual signals. The berries on the rowan and hawthorn trees are changing to a deeper shade of red. Some of the leaves on the birch and willow trees are beginning to turn yellow and to fall when the wind gusts.

The wheat and barley fields around the Basin form a golden patchwork which rolls towards the hills, reflecting a sun which already appears noticeably lower in the sky than it was a few weeks ago.

These are interesting days for those of us who monitor the changing population of birds. The majority of swifts have already started their migration to sub-Saharan Africa and any large flocks spotted at this time of year are usually passage birds moving south.

Another summer visitor, the sedge warbler, journeys south making use of reedbeds as it travels, and during the past two weeks large numbers have been present in the reedbeds to the west of the Basin. Many will have bred further north and are pausing as they too head for sub-Saharan Africa. As some birds leave, others return. Not all are migrating across entire continents.

Common gulls, lapwings and oystercatchers, some of which have produced young on the open hillside or river banks in the Angus glens, are now returning to the Basin. Grey herons can breed late into the season but many of them also are returning from their inland heronries to the tidal waters around Montrose.

Greenshanks are making their autumn appearance. Some of these will be birds which have in north-west Scotland and the Outer Hebrides but many will be birds which have spent the summer in Northern Europe.

Most will continue their journey southwards to whiter quarters anywhere between the south of England and Africa. A few however will remain in Scotland throughout the winter, chiefly on estuaries.

With all these birds on the move, some inevitably go astray and provide birders with opportunities to see species which are uncommon in this country.

The area around the Basin almost always provides a surprise or two during the autumn migration season.

The first of this autumn's unexpected visitors was a white-rumped sandpiper, which was present for three days at the beginning of the month.

This small brown wader breeds in Alaska and northern Canada and winters in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, but almost every year a few turn up in Britain, having been displaced across the Atlantic.

They remain only a few days, and then presumably try to get back on track for South America.

Two surf scoter, another bird which breeds in Alaska and which spends winter on either the east or west coasts of the southern USA, appeared at the mouth of the North Esk at much the same time as the white-rumped sandpiper was present on the Basin.

One is left to wonder how many North American birds cross the Atlantic and pass through the area unnoticed.