Basin Notes - February 2013

Birds Gentle on the Ear

Even if the unpredictable and often severe weather we've been experiencing lately shows very little sign of it, spring is definitely signalled to those who have an ear to hear it, in the beautiful, natural form of birdsong.

I've noticed/noted recently that the usual, everyday communication calls of our birds are already being joined by the sounds of territorial individuals claiming their own space and advertising for mates.

For months, the wistful, "watery" sound of robins defending their territories has been the only real song we've heard - (a topic I've touched upon and written about in a previous Basin Notes), but over the next few weeks, as they start their more cheerful, full-blown and upbeat spring song, they will be joined by local blackbirds, song/mistle thrushes, dunnocks, wrens and all members of the tit family.

Meanwhile, starlings, chaffinches, greenfinches and buntings, that will join the chorus a little later on, are still generally gathered in flocks at the moment and are not really thinking about their forthcoming domestic matters or family duties just yet.

There is still the small matter of the freezing temperatures, finding enough food, basic survival and rest of the winter to get through before these species start their own preparations for nesting etc in earnest.

The annual RSPB Big Garden Bird Survey, last week, got me thinking - if you were asked to name a bird with pink, blue-grey, black, white, green and yellow plumage, you'd probably think of something exotic, foreign, rare and perhaps tropical or even lost! But incredibly, you need look no further than your own bird tables, garden bushes or trees, to locate a species matching that fantastic description: the cock chaffinch!!

Sadly, all too often we are guilty of overlooking some of our own, more common avian neighbours and easily forget how truly wonderful and attractive these little birds actually are. Male "chaffies", which begin to sing in February, have moulted into their full breeding finery by the end of the month, and always look particularly splendid and smart as spring/breeding fast approaches. Their distinctive trilling song, noted for regional "dialects" in different parts of the British Isles, (according to research carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology, or BTO in the 1990s), sadly meant that many ended their lives as cage birds before finch trapping was finally outlawed here, in the 1950.

Finally, please remember that this is a great time of year to see, watch and photograph red squirrels. Unlike many of us humans, these amazing, iconic little mammals actually look their very best just now, with their deep red coats and those characteristic ear tufts - often missed by visitors and locals alike, (who only ever really see red squirrels in summer), they are surprisingly easy to spot around Montrose and the Basin.

Look in some of the numerous patches of deciduous woods, where the winter trees are leafless, near the town or at my own favourite spot -Montreathmont Forest, out the Forfar Road. Good Luck!