Basin Notes - May 2011

Warm weather brings out the wildlife

The wonderful April weather has produced the early blossoming of numerous flowers and trees and in turn so many insects, amphibians and reptiles have been emerging much earlier than normal.

With the hottest Easter on record just passed, the candelabras on the Horse Chestnuts and the flowers on the Norway maples are fully out plus the likes of garlic mustard, sweet cicely, cow parsley, forget-me-nots and bitter vetches and in consequence, the small tortoiseshells, peacocks, orange-tips, green-veined whites and green hairstreak butterflies are all out having a great time feeding. Hopefully they are also laying lots of eggs for future generations.

Some ponds are chock-a-block with wriggling tadpoles and newts, common lizards and slow worms are active.

I have heard my earliest ever cuckoo this spring and birds such as wood warblers, garden warblers and pied flycatchers are all back from their African winter haunts so much earlier than previous springs. The settled, warm weather with southerly winds has been the reason for this.

When you see the first swift or spotted flycatcher, you will know that all the other migrants have arrived. You may hear the swifts before you see them as they scream around the Montrose buildings. These are the most aerial of all birds as they really only come to rest when they are nesting or sleeping. They can reputedly even catch the odd nap on the wing. Their four toes are all pointing forward as they can only cling onto a surface.

Bird migration is one of the most incredible features in nature when you think of swallows flying all the way from South Africa not only to Scotland but to the barn in which they bred the previous spring! It is believed that these birds can identify landmarks such as rivers or glens, which they follow to find their way home. I say 'home' because these birds instinctively return to where they were born. Many birds could very happily re- main in Africa to nest with a much better food supply but like so many other creatures, including ourselves, they return to the land of their birth.

Toads also make a much shorter migration from their winter hideaways to the ponds where they were born.

What is also great is the fact that so much of our wildlife appears to have survived one of our worst winters. It was wonderful to hear so many bird songsters in a recent dawn chorus. The first to start up was a robin, closely, followed by blackbirds and song thrushes. Then came the blue and great tits with the odd crow adding its bit to the cacophony. The chaffinches came in at the end of my half-an-hour listening on April 21 and the warblers seem to like a bit more warmth before they start!

At the Basin the common terns are back on the raft and were building nesting scrapes on May 1. Also back is the 'flying flock' of 15 sheep, and a cow and calf are due to arrive to assist with the management of the grassland.

With the warm evenings more moths than normal are out and about and at a recent moth-trapping evening we caught 65 Hebrew characters, 43 common quakers, seven clouded drabs, seven red chestnuts, six. water carpets, five mottled greys, five Engrailed, two Brindled Beauties, two Emperors, two Autumn Green Carpets, one chestnut, one red green carpet and a red swordgrass.