Basin Notes - March 2010

Shoreline Find

One of the great pleasures of beach-combing is the possibility that something new and unexpected will appear on the high tide line. The same is true walking the mudflats at the edge of the Basin, and this month produced a very rare find.

Among the usual timber and floats there was a dead fish which was not immediately identified as any of the species which are found locally. Further enquiries revealed that it was an Atlantic Pomfret (Brama brama) also known as Ray's Bream.

The Pomfret has an unusual appearance. The body is fairly flat and elliptical in outline and its mouth contains rows of small but very sharp teeth.

Within days of the find in the Basin, a number of others had been washed up on beaches in Angus and in Fife, and some worried residents had to be reassured that we were not experiencing an influx of piranhas.

Unlike piranhas, the Atlantic Pomfret is harmless to humans and is in fact a regular catch for Spanish fishing fleets in the Bay of Biscay and elsewhere on the Spanish Atlantic Coast.

It rarely appears on the fishmongers slab in Scotland but is a popular food in southern Europe and in South Asia.

It is known that some shoals migrate from the Atlantic into the North Sea, usually in late summer and autumn, but the reason for the recent finds on our beaches and elsewhere remains a mystery.

Perhaps shoals have been pursuing prey too close to the shore and have become disorientated, as they are a fish which in normal circumstances appears to prefer deep and relatively warm waters.

The birdlife on and around the Basin continues to be dominated by winter visitors, with good numbers of teal, wigeon and whooper swans still present.

The numbers of pink-footed geese are substantially smaller than in the autumn, but on most evenings about 5,000 still return from their local grazing.

Grey Herons are leaving the Basin and returning to heronries to repair last year's nests and prepare for another breeding season. The resident mute swans have also been attempting to disperse to breeding territories, but the recent cold spell with its frost-bound ground and frozen pools has meant that many have been obliged to return to the Basin in order to find a reliable food source.

Most of us will have noticed that the hours of daylight are at last beginning to increase. As the days lengthen, the point at which the sun sets begins to move north from the southern horizon. By mid-summer the sun will be setting in our northern sky, but over the next few weeks assuming a clear evening, the sun viewed from Montrose should be setting in the west, on the opposite side of the Basin from the town. Just another of the many pleasures of observing nature in this part of the world.