Montrose Basin played host to a very rare avian visitor during the final days of 2001, prompting an influx of bird watchers from many parts of the country.
A first winter ivory gull took up residence by the west shore of Rossie Island opposite Rossie Spit on December 27th and stayed until January 4th.
Apparently unafraid of Man it could be approached to within a few metres by bird watchers and photographers alike. Its natural habitat is the pack-ice of the high Arctic where it feeds on fish and left-over carrion from seal and polar bear kills. On the shore here it was seen feeding on a dead mallard and an eider.
Adults are white but first winter birds have dark markings around the bill and eyes with dark tipped wing and tail feathers, which can be quite striking in flight.
This bird (about the size of a common gull) is rare in NW Europe and such sightings are mainly of juvenile birds during winter.
The visit of the ivory gull prompted me to think of past rare visitors to the Basin so I trawled through our records at the visitor centre over the last five years and came up with the following sightings.
During May 1997 an avocet was on the Basin by the widgeon hide for six days.
This elegant black and white wader became extinct in Britain during the mid 1800s but then in 1947 breeding birds were discovered at two locations in Suffolk by flooded areas used in war-time defence.
Developing and preserving its natural habitat ensured a gradual increase of birds across several counties and they now breed as far north as Yorkshire.
During the same month a spoonbill appeared (with visits in 1998, 1999 and 2001).
This exotic looking bird is more at home in Holland, France or Spain during the summer.
However, they are increasing during summer in the UK in places such as East Anglia and are expected to start breeding there in the near future.
May 1997 came up with a third party - a little egret. This white heron is widespread in mainland Europe and many winter in Africa. Its dark bill, long black legs and yellow feet are in stark contrast to its all-white plumage. Their numbers have been increasing in the south of England in the 1990s and they have been breeding in Dorset since 1997.
Others worth a mention in 1997 were Slavonian grebe (2), a rough-legged buzzard and a Chilean flamingo, which took up residence for 19 days in June.
1998 was a quieter year but two notable sightings in front of the visitor centre in October were great grey shrike and bearded tit. There were several good sightings in 1999. In May a hobby (at Maryton) and spoonbill were seen plus a male garganey, a scarce summer migrant from Africa.
A Temminck's stint, a tiny wader the size of a robin, was seen by Old Montrose in July and a marsh harrier and dotterel in August.
In February and March 2000, six short-eared owls burned over the west end of the reserve and a snow goose was spotted among pink-feet in March. A rare sighting in December was a hen harrier by the widgeon hide.
A male smew was a good tick, for local birders in February 2001 and an even better one in March was a red-breasted goose, which stayed with a flock of barnacles for eight days. It normally winters in Eastern Europe and breeds in Siberia.
One was also seen briefly in November among a flock of pink-feet. The year ended on a high note with our ivory gull, only the second recorded in Angus in 20 years.
So what of 2002 around the reserve? A snowy owl? A black vulture? A greater yellowlegs perhaps? One never knows, so keep those binoculars at the ready.