Basin Notes - December 2010

Seasonal Berries

For centuries holly and ivy have featured in winter religious festivals to become surrounded by myth and legend.

Holly was seen as a beacon of life in mid winter and the red berries were said to give protection against evil, and misfortune would befall you if you chopped a holly tree down.

The presence of ivy in the home at Christmas apparently helped to keep goblins at bay, Wildlife is of course inextricably interwoven through these plants as the seasons evolve.

The male and female hollies grow as separate trees and only the female will produce berries. It provides a natural haven for nesting birds such as blackbird and robin. The holly blue butterfly lays its first generation eggs on holly where the caterpillars feed on the flowers and emerging fruit. It is, however, a rare butterfly in Scotland.

In summer, ivy plays host to a multitude of different insects, and birds use it extensively for nesting and roosting in. In autumn the globular flower clusters provide a rich source of nectar for hover flies, wasps and butterflies such as red admiral and painted lady.

The red berries of holly, rowan, hawthorn and yew are favoured by our winter visitors from Northern Europe. Waxwings have been here since October and small flocks were seen around Montrose for several weeks. Redwings and fieldfares arrived in force once the cold spell set in during late November.

These thrushes can be seen frequently at Sleepyhillock where they perch on the tall deciduous trees and gorge themselves on the berries of the numerous yews that grow there. When the ground is free from snow and ice they are natural foragers in fields and parkland looking for invertebrates.

Less common birds like brambling and siskin may well be coming to your bird table now. In severe weather even the shy and secretive snipe, woodcock or water rail have been known to venture into gardens in search of food when their natural feeding haunts become frozen over.

These last three species have been seen several times recently from the Visitor Centre windows along with merlin, bullfinch, brambling, long-tailed tit and 14 tree sparrow. The latter are a declining species in many areas and it is a welcome sight to see such numbers feeding together.

Also seen around the Reserve were 146 greylag, 140 whooper swan, 17 grey partridge, short-eared owl, barn owl, 10 roe deer and a mink.