Basin Notes - March 2009

Spring on the way

Continuing the avian theme from the last Basin Notes, I'm sure you'll all be aware that spring is well on the way and bird song is increasing in both intensity and volume. For two of our most common and noticeable species, this is certainly very evident at this particular time of year.

Our local blackbirds and starling are already entering into their breeding season - but not everything is as clear-cut and normal as it may first appear and seem...

Many of these birds, which many of us take for granted, as being "native" or "British", are in fact, foreign visitors! As I write, throngs of these unnoticed winter migrants are flying back to their own breeding grounds on the continent.

The best way to differentiate the locals from the visitors, is by paying particular attention to their beaks - here in Angus, more blackbirds already have their distinctive bright golden-yellow bill, whereas, continental birds have beaks that may be mostly brown - or at least, sullied with brown.

The starlings that are about to/beginning to migrate away from these shores, have very dull bills, but those of our residents will again be a brighter yellow, and have a noticeable coloured "flush" at the base of the lower mandible - pink for a girl and blue for a boy!

Whilst out on a recent walk, I noticed a few weasels darting in and out from an old dry-stone dyke.

Traditionally, March and April are the months of greatest activity for male weasels (and for male stoats later in our "Scottish" spring), as they set out in search of mates.

The territorial system tends to break down as the dominant males begin to range more widely and further afield. At the same time they become much more diurnal and, although they still have quite short activity periods - generally up to about 45 minutes at a time - they are likely to be more visible now... especially as the local vegetation is still very low.