Basin Notes - January 2007

Falcons pick their moments to swoop

The Angus and Dundee Bird Club usually ends up at the SWT Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre after the January 'Wader Watch' along the Angus coast.

This year, apart from the usual Knots, Dunlins, Redshanks, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Oystercatchers and Lapwings, the group added a Greenshank as well. This particular wader sometimes over-winters in our area in small numbers (normally as individuals). Not only does the Centre have a commanding view over the Basin, it offers warmth and protection from the elements as well, and is a great place to sit and have a picnic lunch. Please note that during the winter months, the Centre is only open from Friday to Sunday 10 30 am until 4 pm.

Our wintering population of Pink-footed Geese (around 5,500 at the moment) can sometimes have a bit of a problem making use of the Basin as an evening roosting ground when the recent high winds have been sweeping over the mudflats. They tend to seek out the most sheltered area and face into the gale and hope for the best.

I am sure that they do not get much sleep as I can hear them, from my bed, 'pinking' away for much of the night! Fortunately, birds in general do not seem to require too much sleep, and you can watch the waders at the high tide roost catching a bit of shut-eye, but if you look closely you will notice that quite often an eye will open up on the lookout for the local Peregrine Falcon, which can cause havoc.

This bird will roost on a building in Montrose waiting for the right moment to dash out over the Basin in search of food, and more often than not (Knot) it will be a wading bird as there are hundreds of them available as food I have seen one of these birds of prey striking a Black-tailed Godwit in mid air, then actually picking it out of the water as an Osprey will do with a fish!

Our Ospreys will be enjoying the heat and abundance of fish in probably either Senegal or The Gambia right now, and I must admit it is very tempting to go out to join them. Ospreys breed all over the world, and it says a lot for their loyalty to Scotland to make the journey back in March instead of remaining where they are to nest or stop halfway in a much warmer country.

It is really good to feel that the shortest day is behind us now, and believe it or not birds like the Lesser Black-backed Gull will be thinking of travelling back from the Mediterranean to reach our shores in February, and others like the Chiffchaff, Sand Martin and Northern Wheatear will be here in March.

It is at this time of year that we can also look out for some flowers breaking through the soil such as Aconites, Snowdrops and Squills. Keep a lookout too for over-wintering butterflies like the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Any dark, dry corner in an attic or shed could be the chosen spot.

They will have their wings closed, and the undersides are dark so they are not always easy to see.

Other butterflies such as the Painted Lady and Red Admiral will also attempt to spend the winter in hibernation with us but the former virtually never survives whereas the latter can be seen as early as February on a warm, sunny day.