Basin Notes - May 2001

Spring is Sprung

SPRING is synonymous with rising sap and hormones as Mother Nature prepares for another season bursting with new life and vigour.

Winter on the other hand is not readily associated with the creation of new life, but even during its harshest days, the next generation of some creatures is on its way.

Although rabbits may breed all the year round, most kittens are born in late winter and spring. The mating season for foxes is January and February and for red squirrels January to March.

Stoats and pine martens mate in summer, but the development of the embryos in the females is delayed until the following spring when the young are born after a four week period of active gestation. Summer mating badgers also use this delayed method of producing their young the following spring.

Some birds too, make an early start to the year. Grey heron and raven may begin breeding in February with dipper, rook, blackbird, moorhen and mallard following on in March. Early April always sees a mallard or two pop out from nowhere with a line of fluffy ducklings waddling in mother's wake.

A bird's mating behaviour is programmed more by the lengthening hours of daylight than the weather, and this induces hormonal changes in preparation for courtship and mating. On the Basin at present, ducks are involved in the ritual of courtship with brightly coloured males performing the more active and elaborate displays.

Eider, goldeneye and red-breasted mergenser each have a distinctive display which may include head and bill tossing, neck jerking and stretching, along with.pursuit flights through the water. Calling is also part of this ritual; the soft cooing sound of the eider being the most recognised on the Basin.

The next five weeks will see millions of summer migrants pouring out of Africa and on through Europe. Instinct is a potent driving force as they surge through country and continent to seek out their breeding grounds and to ensure the production of the next generation.

My first sighting of this year's summer migrants was a chiffchaff in front of the visitor centre on March 28th, followed by a sand martin by Bridge of Dun on March 29th. I was surprised and delighted to see a female redstart in my back garden, also on March 29th. It would have wintered around the Sahara, but alas it stayed with me about 15 seconds, and then, with a flash of its red rump and tail, it was gone.

On the final two days of March, a red-breasted goose appeared close to the Basin with a flock of 20 barnacle geese. This was a rare treat for birdwatchers as it winters mainly in Rumania and breeds in Siberia.

With the commencement of British summer time the Montrose Basin wildlife centre is now open daily from 10.30am to 5pm.