Basin Notes - July 2000

Fighting for Survival

The month of June sees Mother Nature in full flow as the next generation of birds, animals, insects and plants fight for survival in a competitive and sometimes dangerous world.

Paradoxical as it may seem, it is during this period when young life is in abundance that death takes a heavy toll. The majority of birds for example never see their first birthday, most dying in the first few weeks of life.

Once out of the nest they are subject to all kinds of dangers, particularly natural predators such as crows and cats. Regrettably, the inexperience of youth is often their undoing. Young birds are often seen on their own on the ground but they are seldom abandoned.

Parents are likely to be in the vicinity feeding other members of their brood. The temptation to take them into human captivity should be resisted, as they tend not to survive.

Casting our eyes now above the horizon, we can see one of our more remarkable summer migrants - the swift. Arriving from southern Africa in May they stay only long enough to breed, leaving us again in August.

They can be seen over towns, lochs and open country and "screaming" parties can be readily heard on a quiet evening as they dash across the summer skies.Their crescent shaped wings make them supreme fliers and they can catch up to 10,000 aerial insects daily when feeding their young.

Stormy weather can be a problem as this can severely restrict the availability of insects, but when food is scarce the young birds can lower their temperature and go into a state of torpor, thus saving energy until food is readily available again.

On leaving the nest, they set off immediately for Africa without their parents. Eating, sleeping and preening on the wing, they can clock up 10,000 miles a year and may not touch land again until they breed (they can do this on the wing too)!

On the Basin, the first shelduck broods have appeared. The ducklings are very eye catching in their stripey brown and white down, and parents have to be constantly vigilant as a crow or gull will exploit any unguarded moment to snatch a duckling from the mud.

There are eider ducklings too, and their numbers will continue to increase this month and into July, many of them forming creches of 50-100 youngsters, cared for by adult and non-breeding females.

After mating the male eider slopes off and leaves the female to incubate and bring up the young ones, whereas the male shelduck remains in the vicinity of the nest during incubation and plays an active part in rearing his offspring.

Although still early summer, some birds such as redshank and lapwing have already returned to the Basin. These are often seen as single birds around the edge of the estuary and have probably been unsuccessful on their breeding grounds.