Basin Notes - December 2006

2006 remembered for bird flu scare

At this time of year we tend to look back at what has happened during the last 12 months so these notes are a summary of what was seen on the Basin over this period and to remember the less common species recorded.

In January, merlin, gadwall and woodcock were seen, with 34 grey plover present on the 15th - a high number for the Basin. February was uneventful but March brought some wintry weather and with it came fieldfare, redwing and brambling Waxwing, siskin and stonechat were seen at Sleepyhillock. Roe deer were present at the Lurgies and six brown hares were counted in a field nearby. A stoat in partial ermine put in an appearance in front of the visitor centre and on the 28th the first osprey was seen, I think the earliest ever recorded.

Early April brought the bird flu scare following confirmation that the headless swan found dead at Cellardyke had the deadly H5N1 strain. Speculation was rife that the bird had come from Montrose Basin. However, it was eventually identified as a whooper swan and not a mute swan. It was then thought that the Cellardyke bird had originally come from continental Europe. Whooper swans do come to the Basin in winter but from Icelandic breeding grounds.

Thankfully the bird flu scare died away and during the rest of April we welcomed our summer migrants from Africa such as willow and sedge warbler, sand martin, swallow and sandwich tern.

Swifts were back in early May and on the 7th, four male garganey were seen at the Slunks - a great sighting indeed They migrate from Africa to breed in the UK but only a few pair breed in Scotland. Some 130 pink-footed geese were still present on the 14th and a few days later three bar-headed geese arrived, staying on at the Basin until September. A female marsh harrier was recorded on the 25th.

Shelduck and eider ducklings appeared in early June and on the 17th, we had our annual visit from a little egret A rare sighting was that of a hobby on the 1st and 9th of July. This swift and graceful falcon is also a migrant from Africa and lives on small birds and insects. July also saw some early returns of knot and dunlin in summer plumage.

On the 1st August two green sandpiper were seen at the edge of the pool in front of the visitor centre. This was a great close up view of a wader which is only seen occasionally at the Basin On the 13th a male marsh harrier with a wing tag was spotted This raptor was extinct in the UK 100 years ago but breeding pairs have been increasing over the last 20 years.

Butterflies put on a great show during August and September and the ever increasing humming bird hawk moth was seen on the buddleia at the visitor centre. Sightings of note in September at Rossie Spit were 8 curlew sandpiper and four little stint The first pink-footed geese returned on the 14th. A beauty on the 16th was a pectoral sandpiper. This wader breeds in North America and is seen periodically as a vagrant in the UK.

In October there was an early morning sighting of a barn owl perched in front of the centre. Sanderling and long-tailed duck were also seen - both infrequent visitors to the Basin. At the end of the month a kingfisher started to visit the pools in front of the centre and it has been seen regularly up to mid-December.

The arrival of a great grey shrike in front of the centre on the morning of 12th November certainly enlivened a quiet Sunday. Sadly it stayed in the open for all of 20 seconds but a few visitor and volunteers got a quick look of it. This is a very striking bird with light grey and white plumage and a prominent black eye mask.

On the 18th a great northern diver was seen and as far as I can ascertain, it was the first sighting in 10 years This species winter around our coasts and islands and are mostly Icelandic breeders. They have a distinctive and plaintive call during the breeding season which sends shivers down your spine! 80 fieldfare and a snow bunting were recorded on the 17th December along with 113 whooper swans.

So there you have it. A quick account of a year around the Basin from a birdwatcher's point of view I have no doubt that the wildlife around us will give us further pleasures and a few surprises during the coming year.