Basin Notes - December 2005

Problems facing birds during winter

It looks as if the predicted hard winter may be true after all!

After a few days of hard frosts, seemingly snow will follow, and this means that the Montrose Basin birds may have a hard time finding food.

The birds which feed in the Basin should be alright as the coming and going of the tides should keep the mud fairly frost-free, but the ones which chiefly just roost in the Basin and feed in the surrounding fields may have problems!

These include the geese and some of the waders such as Golden Plovers and Lapwings. Even the Wigeon may have difficulty as they tend to be 'grazers' rather than 'dabblers'.

We shall just have to wait and see, but if the frost remains during daylight hours, we will probably find that many birds will move south and west in search of better feeding grounds.

A tell-tale sign can be the movement of hundreds of Skylarks which tend to be the first species to note a change for the worse in the weather. There is not much we can do about this problem, but we can certainly assist our garden birds by feeding them through the most adverse weather conditions.

You can make 'fat-balls' by melting lard and adding almost any food items you can think of, or for ease, you can pop into Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre and purchase a variety of bird food.

Countless thousands of birds will be saved if we help them out during a cold snap. Equally as important is a constant supply of drinking water, which may prove difficult with sub-zero temperatures.

If you are taking the easy way out and visiting the Centre at weekends why not make use of the shop for some Christ mas presents for human friends as well?

Some of the bird numbers in the Basin are quite impressive at the moment including 4895 Wigeon 1870 Eiders, 1004 Shelducks, 1137 Redshanks, 1500 Golden Plovers and 700 Curlews.

Apart from these commoner species we also have 62 Pintails, 44 Shovelers, 35 Scaup and 60 Black tailed Godwits. One or two unusual species have been turning up lately including a blue phased Snow Goose and an American Green winged teal. It is interesting that this latter species appeared last year and is frequenting the same area around Rossie Point.

Talking about birds feeding in the mud in the Basin, reminds me of some interesting facts such as in some areas, in a single square metre of mud, there are 390,000 tiny snails called hydrobia and 90,000 little shrimps called corophium which is just as well, as a Redshank can eat 40,000 of these per day.

It is the Shelducks that feed on the hydrobia by scooping them up in their spatulate beaks and sifting the mud and water through a comb-like structure at the side of their beaks to retain the tiny snails.

Oystercatchers (slightly misnamed) can eat 315 cockles per day and they also love mussels.

Another wader called a Knot will eat 730 tellin shells per day whilst many other wading birds will probe deeper into the mud for lugworms and ragworms. The Knot by the way was named after King Canute who held back the tide and has the Latin name of Calidris canutus.