Basin Notes - June 2007

Old Mill car park - One of nature's secret havens

A car park is not normally a tranquil place where the sights and sounds of the natural world can be appreciated.

An exception is the Old Mill car park by Mains of Dun and it is one of nature's secret havens.

It is surrounded by trees of ash, elm, rowan, elder, silver birch, alder and willow and at this time of year they play host to our songbirds in full voice.

Your arrival may be greeted with a brief period of quiet, but if you stand still a musical chorus will soon get underway - the mellifluous song of the blackbird then a willow warbler and chaffinch singing.

Greenfinch, robin and dunnock join in. The fluty notes of a song thrush drift in the breeze followed by a great tit's song. And so it goes on - a musical variety show to savour and enjoy.

Nature has also provided a mosaic of flora around you. Garlic mustard is there with its bright green leaves and white flowers. So to is ox-eye daisy, foxglove and the bold spikes of teasel. Red campion is always showy with its lovely pink flowers and there is the twinkling blue "eyes" of field and wood forget-me-nots.

At the car park entrance I scan the road verge with my binoculars and I am delighted to get my first sighting of an orange tip butterfly. Only the male has the characteristic orange patches on the outer third of the forewings. Its range is gradually spreading north and east.

A survey was completed 10 years ago and is being repeated this year. If you see one of these striking butterflies you are invited to report this by sending a dedicated postcard (available from Montrose Basin Visitor Centre) to Butterfly Conservation Scotland so that the present range and density of this butterfly can be recorded.

Little terns have been nesting on the shingle beach east of the Glaxo factory for the past 3 years with very limited success. They are a priority species of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and a Scottish survey in 2004 identified less than 70 breeding pairs.

This year a number of conservation bodies have united to form the Tayside Tern group. Funding from the Landfill tax has been secured and will help to pay for wardens to protect the site round the clock.

The nesting sites chosen by little terns are often prone to human and canine disturbance, avian predators and high tides so this can be a vulnerable time for them.

At present, there are over 20 birds around the site with nine identified as sitting on nests. The site is cordoned off and notices are displayed for the public's information. Visitors to the site are encouraged to speak to the duty warden for an update and they can view the terns through binoculars or telescope.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is a criminal offence to disturb nesting birds.

Once the chicks hatch they will unfortunately become fair game for gulls, crows and rats. We certainly hope however that this protected site will enable many youngsters to fledge and to make it to their winter quarters on the West African coast.

The little tern is a rare breeder in Scotland. In fact it is three times rarer than our osprey. So this is really a great conservation story being played out on our own Montrose beach.