Winter may yet hold some surprises, but the promise of spring is evident all around us. The days are becoming noticeably longer and in the Nature Reserve Car Park at Mains of Dun the snowdrops and winter aconite are both in flower.
The yellow winter aconite, a member of the buttercup family, was originally a garden plant but is now widely naturalised. It is frequently the first plant to flower each year and the bright yellow flowers give a surprising and welcome touch of colour as early as January. Each yellow flower is surrounded by a circle of green leaves, and Richard Mabey in Flora Britannica reports that this "ruff has led to them being known as "choirboys" in Suffolk.
Information continues to be received about some of the birds ringed in Angus by members of the Tay and Grampian ringing groups. A clutch of young ospreys was fitted with colour rings last summer and after fledging were seen feeding on Montrose Basin. One of those birds was sighted in recent weeks in Senegal, West Africa. It will be interesting to see if it returns to Angus next summer.
Three of the large flock of wintering whooper swans are carrying rings which can be read with the use of a telescope. Two of these swans were ringed in Iceland in the summer of 2007 and have been sighted at Montrose for the past three winters.
The third swan was also ringed in Iceland but in 2004. It initially wintered for four years at Caerlaverock, on the north Solway coast, but over the last two winters she has joined the Montrose birds. Most whooper swans return to the same wintering grounds each year, a characteristic known as site fidelity. However, as evidenced by this bird and others, some changes can occur.
Beginning on February 14, St Valentine's Day, was National Nest Box Week. This annual event is organised by the British Trust for Ornithology and aims to encourage people to provide homes for dozens of species from blue tits to barn owls.
Many old nesting sites are disappearing as barns are repaired or converted for housing and as woods and un-cultivated land is tidied. These changes mean that birds are being forced to rely on boxes in increasing numbers.
After a hard winter such as the one we are currently experiencing, it is particularly important for resident species to have a good breeding season if numbers are not to seriously decline. Advice on making or purchasing nest boxes is available on the BTO website at www.bto.org. You do not need a large garden to provide a home for birds and there is little to beat the pleasure of seeing birds successfully fledged from your own box.