Basin Notes - August 2010

Wildlife Bounty

Last week, while walking along the sands near Milton-haven, I came across the first jellyfish I've seen for quite some time - they had become stranded in some shallow, sandy rock-pools.

Jellyfish and comb jellies are especially abundant in our coastal waters around this time of year and often alarm both locals and holiday makers alike. The common or moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita, named for its distinctive four violet crescents of eggs, congregates to breed in sheltered bays, inlets and estuaries - usually in substantial numbers. However, don't panic! - these wonderful creatures are totally harmless, since their stings can't penetrate human skin. As a child, we used to affectionately refer/call them "Jelly Babies".

The giant rootmouth jellyfish is the other species seen and reported locally - it tends to breed in much deeper water offshore, often forming immense pods which occasionally result in some dramatic mass strandings. Comb jellies, or sea gooseberries, can look similar, but are totally unrelated to jellyfish. They are fast-swimming predators armed with paired, retractable tentacles for the capture of unwary prey and can swarm in shallow waters, in large numbers, too - sometimes on especially calm nights, they phosphoresce brilliantly.

In the May edition of the RSPB magazine, I read a fascinating article about swifts and their incredible migrations, lifestyles and unbelievable sleeping habits etc. Sadly, this wonderful species isn't around with us long and as I write, most, (if not all), have already started their long migration south again. Swifts have actually suffered one of the biggest population declines of any species over the last few decades - therefore, the RSPB are now asking us all to help. These avian speedsters can be very unobtrusive at their nests, but if you know where they've actually nested locally, they'd really like to know. The society is also particularly keen to hear about parties of swifts "screaming", but only the ones you've seen/heard this year at roof level because this usually indicates that they are definitely nesting nearby. If you're captivated by /observed these birds and feel you can help out, the easiest way to provide important information about the swifts in Montrose is to go to

Over the next few weeks other, unseen, physiological changes will take place in many of our remaining summer migrants - as they all start to put on extra weight.

The stored fat will be used for their long journeys south as fuel for their incredible muscular exertions. In fact, the diet of some species changes quite markedly i.e. insects that many birds rely/ feed on up until now are, to a certain extent, spurned in favour of sugar-rich foods such as elderberries and blackberries. Birds like warblers, which have to travel huge distances, may even double their own body weight. That's why you'll certainly see whitethroats flocking to local bramble bushes/patches very soon and blackcaps, chiffchaffs, garden and sedge warblers etc attacking elderberries with great relish too...

Last year saw by far the largest ever recorded arrival of Painted Ladies butterflies in Scotland - therefore, if you're out for a walk and witness a flash of orange and salmon pink fly past, chances are you've just seen one of these beautiful, spectacular, migrant visitors. Strong flight and migratory urges actually make it a very cosmopolitan insect - only Australia and South America miss out.

However, it cannot survive our winters but crosses the Mediterranean each spring, spreading north with each generation born. Last autumn, large numbers were spotted in Angus making the return trip south - though quite flighty, it can be approached relatively easily when drinking the nectar of thistles or buddleia flowers or bushes. Currently, for great views of other stunning butterfly species like Small Copper, Dark Green Fritillary, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Peacock etc, I strongly suggest/recommend a walk around the SNH St Cyrus SSSI Nature Reserve.

Finally, remember to keep both your eyes and ears open, over the next few weeks - for the eagerly anticipated ( and noisy) return of the pink-footed geese. Yes folks, autumn already!