Basin Notes - November 2003

Autumn Arrivals

Autumn sees an ever-increasing number of wildfowl and waders migrating south in preparation for coming winter.

Many birds that have bred in the Arctic tundra will find the temperate climate of Montrose Basin, along with its vast food store, very much to their liking.

The first of the month heralded the arrival of 21 shoveler on the Basin. Britain supports some breeding pairs but our winter population is mainly migrants from Eastern Europe.

Another 'winter duck', the scaup, has also arrived on the Basin mostly from breeding sites in Iceland. It is essentially a sea duck and 30-60 will spend the winter on the Basin. Migrating pintail will also arrive this month from Scandinavia, Iceland and as far away as Russia. An estimated 28,000 winter in Britain, the Basin population being in the region of 80-130.

The numbers of pink-footed geese so far this October have again been poor, the most recent count at the time of writing a mere 7000. The number of these geese wintering in Britain is in excess of 260,000 - roughly 85 per cent of the world population.

Sixty seven greylag geese were seen on October 5th. They are usually fleeting winter visitors to the Basin although around 90,000 mainly Icelandic breeders, will winter in the UK. Six barnacle geese were also counted on October 5th.

Another winter visitor is the golden plover. Their evocative call in summer has lightened the heart of many a hiker on upland or moorland. Plaintive, haunting, bell-like and melancholic are some of the words attributed to their call that is seldom heard outwith the breeding season. They sport a black belly and throat in summer that is absent in winter. Their plumage on their upper parts is beautifully speckled in black and gold which is a most effective camouflage on their nesting grounds.

Widely distributed in summer they are gregarious in winter, gathering in flocks at coastal sites and around estuaries. On a dull day in winter visitors to the centre find they are possibly the best camouflaged birds on the mud flats. Numbers usually peak in November on the Basin and in a good year may exceed 2000.

Most of the male eider have now shed their eclipse plumage and are resplendent in their breeding finery. They have had a poor breeding season due in part to fox predation and it will be interesting to note if this winter counts show a decrease in numbers.

Our little egret, first spotted in June, is still with us. Recently it has been seen in front of the Centre, its black legs and yellow feet contrasting sharply, with its pure white plumage. Other recent sightings of note were cormorant (99), heron (54), mute swan (126), whooper swan (2) and guillemot (5). A kingfisher also makes a periodic appearance at Old Montrose Pier