Basin Notes - December 2009

Don't forget water in winter!

With the amount of the stuff we receive in this country, you could be forgiven for reading this statement and thinking this person has lost the plot! However, at this particular time of the year, it's vitally important to remember just how many of our native creatures rely on this life-giving/saving substance...

For example, the birds that come into our Montrose gardens need your water - even in our increasingly warm, rain-filled winters. Though they can eat snow, they still need to bathe as it's crucial that the insulation provided by the feathers be in tip-top condition. Don't be tempted to use a chemical anti-freeze in the water though -I heard about this method the other day in a conversation with neighbours - some brands may harm the feathers and others are highly poisonous!

Land birds cannot cope with salt anyway and there was an incident/report many years ago, on Merseyside, when over 600 brambling died in one day after drinking from puddles on the road which had been scattered with salt. Some birds died through poisoning, others tragically because they were unable to fly properly, therefore, unable to avoid speeding cars!!

To prevent water in our gardens from freezing please use warm water from the tap and turn all the ice out of your bird-baths and drinking bowls daily. A floating ball in the water, a night light or carefully insulated light bulb, (for the more adventurous and technically minded), under the container/bowl will also stop this precious liquid from freezing in all but the hardest Scottish frosts.

December is traditionally a rather bleak time on the seashore and beach here. Most inter-tidal fish and many invertebrates have simply moved offshore, seaweeds can look sad and battered and clean areas of rock sometimes show where mussel mats have been stripped by the frequent and wild winter storms. There is still, however, a lot happening - it's just not very obvious...

Many tiny invertebrates have begun their reproductive cycle and are actually now brooding eggs or larvae in the icy waters of the Basin. These new lives won't be shed until the onset of the spring tides and when the plankton bloom begins again.

Low on the shore, in more accessible shallow rock pools, you might find the butterfish, pholis gunnellus, curled up beneath a rock or stone, guarding its eggs. Like other northern species, this curious and common local fish is a winter breeder all around the county coastline and its larvae will usually appear in the early spring.

Finally, from ancient times, people have hunted the wildfowl and geese that return to the Basin each year and the traditional Christmas bird used to be a goose. This festive period why not go goose-hunting yourself - with binoculars or a camera? We have thousands of pink-footed geese here and frequent annual sightings of other species like brent, bean, Canada, white-fronted, greylag and barnacle - all visiting Angus from the Arctic. Their honking and V-shaped skeins create a magical experience in our skies.

Witness these wonderful gifts from the natural world for free or enjoy this seasonal spectacle from the panoramic viewing platform at the SWT visitor centre on Rossie Braes.