This new year of 2001 has been very interesting from the birdwatchers point of view. The cold and wintry weather has forced birds to move about the countryside in the search for food supplies. Some of these movements can be quite dramatic. Waxwings arrived from Scandinavia just before the turn of the year and descended on berry-bearing bushes all over the east side of the country. Once the pyracantha and cotoneaster berries had been depleted they turned their attention to rose hips - swallowed whole!
At the same time as the waxwing irruption, the redwings and fieldfares arrived from their European breeding grounds. These members of the thrush family quickly spread out to find insects and berries in the countryside but the heavy snow falls blanketing the ground inland forced them to flee to the coastal fields and gardens where their food was not hidden away under the snow.
A quick visit to the Basin by a male smew was a treat and something that we had hoped for each time a male turned up at the Loch of Strathbeg. But the questions arise "Why had one not been seen on the Basin before?" and "Why did it turn up this time?". The wintering population of smew in Britain is at most 300 and commonly around 100, so it not really surprising that they don't often venture onto the Basin as they prefer small areas of fresh water. They also won't dive in water deeper than 4m so the Basin is right at the limit of its preferred habitat.
A short time after the smew, 20 barnacle geese were seen roosting on the Basin mud with the winter resident pink footed geese. Again, "Why were they on the move from their west coast wintering grounds?".
Shoveler are usually seen on the Basin in small numbers but this year they have abandoned their usual haunts at the west end of the reserve to float past the Wildlife Centre in groups up to 30 birds. The males are very handsome with a green head and chestnut and white flanks and the huge spatulate bill.
So there are more questions than answers. It is trying to find the answers to these problems that makes birdwatching a fascinating hobby.*****
The outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease is a great worry to the hard pressed farming community and the restrictions on the general public accessing land used by livestock extends to the Basin Local Nature Reserve. The Wildlife Centre is open as usual but other access points to the Reserve are over livestock farms and therefore closed.