Basin Notes - December 2008

Migrating birds continue to arrive

During November I managed to miss seeing the waxwings that Russell mentioned in his Basin Notes two weeks ago. However, the colder weather has heralded the arrival of other birds from Northern Europe including fieldfare, redwing and mistle thrush.

I have seen them recently in small flocks by the Visitor Centre, Sleepyhillock and House of Dun, feeding on hawthorn, holly and yew berries.

Fieldfare and redwing are easily recognised as visitors from abroad but many of our familiar birds such as chaffinch, starling, blackbird and robin seen in our gardens in winter will have come from Northern Europe to enjoy the more temperate climate in the UK. In some winters, immigrant chaffinches to these shores have been estimated at 15-20 million!

Pink-footed geese number around 9000 at present but 45,000 were counted on the 9th October, the highest number in ten years. Small numbers of greylag come and go with 2 pale-bellied brent geese seen occasionally. 86 whooper swans were seen on 18th November. Other sightings of note around the Basin included barn owl, firecrest, kingfisher, little grebe, gadwall and greenshank.

Recently the following have been seen around the Visitor Centre - buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk, peregrine, great spotted woodpecker, goldcrest, grey wagtail and a merlin perched by the sand martin nesting bank.

Otter sightings on the Basin have increased this year. 3 recordings were made in November including a female and 2 cubs. A fox has twice been seen recently at the Visitor Centre and 2 were spotted at Sleepyhillock.

On 23rd November a long-eared owl spent the day roosting in a blackthorn bush just 10 metres from the Visitor Centre viewing gallery. This owl inhabits deciduous woodland and conifer plantations close to open country. In winter it can be found by coastal marshes and may form small communal roosts.

UK breeders remain largely resident but birds from Northern Europe will migrate to Britain for the winter. A nocturnal hunter, its diet consists of voles, mice and small birds often caught at their roosts. Its long ears are actually feather tufts and its rounded face with striking orange eyes can be very expressive depending on whether it is alert or relaxed. This owl is slightly smaller than a wood pigeon but is not seen that often. Its daytime roost in a thicket coupled with its cryptic plumage in shades of brown, means that it frequently goes unobserved, even by the keen bird watcher.