Basin Notes - June 2008

Yellow gorse and broom

After my last 'Basin Notes' a few weeks ago, I was asked by one reader to clarify some of my observations and information.

She was referring mainly to the abundance of yellow in our countryside at the moment, and which plants were responsible for the majority of it e.g. the main differences between gorse and broom.

Local sandy heaths, waste ground, field boundaries and stony railway embankments are still (as I write), ablaze with bright yellow broom. It is a green shrub that can easily be mistaken for gorse at a distance. However, it is not thorny, and it doesn't grow in such "rambling" bushes. It is particularly common in our area and is sometimes called or referred to as "Scottish broom" in some publications.

In late summer it develops black pods, which burst with a sharp crack/pop, and scatter the seeds. Where there are large colonies of broom, like edges of Montrose beach etc, they resound all day with these explosions - especially when the sun is hot!

Anyone who has been down for a walk on, or near the beach recently will have noticed and heard some rather more familiar noises there too...

The Little Terns (see last week's article in the Review) are back and their nesting area is again fenced off and being watched-over by a dedicated team of wardens. But there are also other tern species to look out for locally... and literally!

Arctic Terns (colony within Glaxo plant) are actually still arriving and theirs is an amazing story, in its own right. For example, these fearless birds have made an incredible journey, way up from the Antarctic, where they've spent the winter - therefore, it's not really surprising if some of them are late to appear in or around our shores and beaches!

Although we have an established colony at the Glaxo, most "Scottish" arctic terns nest mainly in the Orkney and Shetland Isles. However, the vast majority of the species go on up to the Arctic to breed. They are elegant white seabirds with a black cap and long, forked tail - sometimes referred to as "sea swallows". (Although many locals and dog-walkers may have a few other names for them!)

Ideally, they like to nest on islands or on grassy cliff-tops and feed themselves by diving for fish -but they have been suffering in recent summers from a death of sand eels.

Common terns have mostly arrived by now in Scotland. They winter off West Africa around the equator - here they can nest on our numerous suitable beaches around the UK coast... and increasingly on artificial islands made for them on flooded gravel pits, ponds and enclosed tidal estuaries, like our own Basin.

They are slightly larger than Arctic terns, with longer streamers on their forked tails, and have a darker tip to their red beaks.

However, the two species are often hard to distinguish and unidentified birds are known to birders sometimes as "comic" terns!