AS this is the first Basin notes of 2004, I thought it would be of interest to give a round-up of the more unusual bird species that visited the Basin during 2003. January to March saw little of interest as far as rarities are concerned and it was not until April that things started to appear. April 26 saw two Avocets and a male Red Crested Pochard off the Old Montrose Pier.
The Avocet is a very distinctive, bird with shining black and white markings and a thin, strongly upcurved bill which is swept from side to side under the water when searching for food. A Little Egret returned on May 10 and stayed until October 10, often associating with Grey Herons along the western margins of the Basin. Two were present during 2002 for a period of about six months. Two Little Terns were observed on Rossie Spit on May 15 and a single Spotted Redshank was seen up the Slunks on May 4. Spotted Redshanks are striking birds in their sooty black summer plumage, though this is rarely seen in this country.
June turned out to be a quiet month although July turned up another two unusual species. I saw a Turtle Dove below-one of the bird tables at the centre, feeding on split grain, on July 2. Obviously smaller and darker than a Collared Dove, with a rusty yellow-brown back, it is a summer visitor to Britain, breeding mainly in Southern England. It is a shy and watchful species in Europe where it is much hunted.
Two Little Ringed Plovers, distinguished from the Ringed Plover by a yellow ring around the eye and lacking a wingbar, were located up the Lurgies on July 19, followed by another Spotted Redshank on July 20 on the pools below the centre.
August is traditionally the time of year when migrant waders return south from their Arctic breeding grounds. A single Wood Sandpiper, two Green Sandpipers and a Curlew Sandpiper were all seen during the first two weeks followed by three Ruff from August 13-24.
Another annual species reappeared-the Black Swan on August 17. Two were present from August 28 until October 8. This is an Australian bird, though many escapees from wildfowl collections are now living in the wild throughout Britain and are even breeding in some areas.
September saw the arrival of yet another Spotted Redshank from the 10th until the 27th of the month, followed by the sighting of a single Barn Owl near Maryton ditch on September 16 during an early morning wildfowling wardening session. The first arrival of the Pink-footed Geese usually occurs mid month and this year it included the sighting of a single Snow Goose - easily recognised by the pure white plumage with black wingtips - on September 27.
In some cases it is a genuine visitor from North America but most cases are probably escapees from zoos and collections. Two Barn Owls were seen near Maryton ditch on October 21, again very early in the morning so it would appear that we have a resident pair living in this vicinity of the Basin.
Two unusual plumage variations turned up in a couple of species during October. The first was a leucistic Pink-footed Goose followed by a very white Oystercatcher with dark markings on the wings. It arrived on October 26 and is still present. Leucism is caused by a lack of pigment in the feathers and gives a "washed out" appearance to the plumage.
Waxwings started to appear in Angus during October having travelled from then: Scandinavian breeding areas. Eighteen put in a very brief appearance on October 23, perching on the wires in front of the centre and searching for berries. Another single bird was seen flying over the car park on November 28.
The end of the year proved to be a little quieter with only two species worthy of note. A single female Hen Harrier flew past the Wigeon Hide on November 3, being mobbed by Crows, and three Gadwall were seen off Rossie Spit on December 8. Gadwall are a reasonably common duck on some Angus waters such as Forfar Loch but it is an unusual species to see here on the Basin. Here's hoping for another rarity packed year in 2004.