Basin Notes - August 2013

How are things at the Basin?

I am often asked "How are things at the Basin?" and this is sometimes a hard question to answer. The wide range of organisms that we clump together under the title "wildlife" are in different stages of their lives at different times of the year and to assess how well each group is doing at any point is difficult. This is because the only valid scientific way of assessing populations is by rigorous, regular measuring of numbers in a reproducible manner that can be used in comparison with other results from other parts of the country.

However, I am sure my inquisitors are only really interested in my view of the current situation and any good stories I might have about wildlife encounters. So I will now provide my very subjective, non-scientific view of the state of Montrose wildlife.

There has been a lot of media coverage of the plight of pollinators over the past few years, but I have to say that bumblebees have been everywhere in very good numbers this year and it is one of natures wonders to stand by a flowering plant to see it smothered in furry, buzzing brown or stripy bees.

Not doing so well are the hoverflies, which have been almost completely absent until last week. These very beneficial insects are often mistaken for wasps, but have no sting and can be seen hovering, perfectly stationary in shafts of sunlight around flowering plants. They seem to have the ability to transport themselves - Star Trek style - to a point in space a few inches from where you first spot them without flying the distance in between.

Those joys of summer, the butterflies, have been variable in numbers so far. Only a few years ago Small tortoiseshell were under close scrutiny because of their falling numbers, but this year there have been large numbers everywhere I have been. In contrast, the garden favourites, Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies have been almost absent; I have seen only two of each where I would expect to see them every day.

Garden birds have been showing similar variable patterns with House sparrows and Chaffinches in good numbers but Greenfinches and Blue tits in very low numbers. Goldfinches have done very well, as have Starlings and Tree sparrows given the number of juvenile birds begging for food.

The numbers of Swifts was down again this year, and House martins and Swallows also seemed less common than before. Sand martin numbers nesting in the wall at the Basin Visitor Centre were better than last year but not up to the highs of 5 years ago.

On the Basin, good numbers of Lapwing and Redshank have returned from their breeding grounds. Black-tailed godwit in partial breeding plumage have appeared to brighten up the views. However, there were fewer terns of all varieties this year and they failed to raise any young on the raft again this year. Last year they were washed out with the torrential rain, while this year they laid a few eggs but there were so few adults that they could not defend the eggs from crows.

So, from my point of view, it has been an up-and-down year so far and we look forward to see if the Pink-footed goose numbers are up to the heights we have seen over the past few years and whether the other migrant waders have recovered from their poor numbers last year.

For a scientific confirmation of these variations, we shall have to wait for the collation and analysis of the surveys around the country. The Basin counts of wildfowl and waders, part of the national Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), are available on the website for those of you who want to keep a close eye on monthly fluctuations.