Basin Notes - January 2008

Helps clear the cobwebs

By the time you all come to read this article you'll probably feel like you've been "eating for Scotland" over the past few weeks.

Many of you will, no doubt, be looking for that perfect antidote for all the Christmas/new year excesses, without having to resort to the chemist or medicine cabinet. If, like me, you've had your seasonal fill of fun, games, TV and presents, chances are you'll be craving a bit of fresh air, some wide open spaces/countryside and a chance to get your limbs moving again.

If the weather outside isn't too wild, why not clear the cobwebs with a smart/brisk walk on Montrose beach, or along the shingle near Ferryden?

On the "strandline", look out for "sea wash balls", which look like bright yellow balls of bubble-wrap.

These are, in fact, the egg cases of the common Whelk, Buccinum Undatum, which live in deep water at this time of year, and are currently breeding/spawning.

These spongy egg-masses are familiar tide-line objects commonly washed ashore throughout the wintry month of January. Close inspection may even reveal the developing embryos within each pod. However, normally all but one of these baby whelks within these capsules is doomed, as the first to hatch eats all its other siblings...happy new year!

Last week a friend told me he saw what he described as a "really red" squirrel. Apparently it ran out on to the Brechin road near Sleepyhillock Cemetery as he was driving into Montrose.

This sighting isn't really that unusual or as comical as it may first sound - both red and grey squirrels are quite easy to spot and hear at this time of year if you are patient and know where to look.

Red squirrels look their very best in the winter months with their deep red coats and those wonderfully characteristic ear tufts -often missed by walkers and observers who only ever encounter or see them in the summertime.

Surprisingly perhaps, January can be a great time for watching these enchanting little creatures for this is usually the month when the first matings take place.

Several males, attracted by the smell of a female in heat, may gather in one particular place or spot, often following her for several hours. In some of our local deciduous woods the winter trees are completely leafless and the squirrels should, therefore, be much easier to spot as their treetop mating acrobatics are hard to miss if you're lucky enough to encounter them on your walks - but can be very, very hard to follow.

A walk through a stretch of wet woodland with lots of food-laden alders and birch trees or around an area of open set-aside farmland is bound to pay dividends too as it's not just female squirrels that are pleasantly smelly.

On damp, dank days - and we'll have plenty of them in the weeks ahead - you may come across a "foxy" smell along the path. This very distinctive musky scent will be readily recognised by those of you who have smelt it before.

The odour comes from the fox's urine, which is sprinkled sparingly at each of many scent points about its range. If January is snowy and you find fox tracks, why not follow them and see if you can find the fox's marker post?

Search around for a trunk of a sapling or something similar that looks darker than normal. If you're really brave, stoop down and have a quick sniff to confirm your finding!

Finally, I'd like to mention a recent Christmas avian sighting which brightened up the festive period for more than one of our many local birdwatchers.

Four Berwick's Swans - two adults and two juveniles - were sighted on and around the Basin on December 24th, 25th and 26th. These beautiful birds are smaller than our resident Mute Swans and occasional

Whoopers - often described in field guides as more "goose-like" and chunky. However, their neck still look equally long and slim when you observe their compact shape with its "square" tail.

A breeding bird of the high Arctic tundra that winters hi Europe, but is very seldom seen at Montrose, hence the excitement this wild and wary birds brought to the locals who were lucky enough to observe them. Happy new year and nature/wildlife watching to you all in 2008.