Basin Notes - October 2008

A safe haven for swans

Out on the reserve earlier in the week I saw the familiar sight of a pair mute swans and six cygnets.

One individual (the female or pen) from this pair is easily recognisable by its plastic 'darvic' ring, XZF. Locals will recognise them as they have nested on the Curlie pond in Montrose for many years now and bring their cygnets back onto the Basin each year.

After arriving back on the basin this pair often take up residency on the Mill Burn and generally choose to stay away from the all the other swans that visit the reserve. That is until the cold of winter when they can sometimes be seen feeding on waste grain in fields near the reserve. Montrose basin sees a significant increase in the number of swans visiting during the late summer. At this time there can be nearly 200 mute swans on the reserve.

These birds return to the basin because for a time during moult like many wildfowl they become flightless and the expanse of the Montrose Basin is a safe place to stay. A tide line of white feathers around the edge of the reserve in July demonstrates this moult well.

Amongst the many designations Montrose Basin has one is for the number of mute swan on the reserve. Many of these visiting birds will then stay on during the winter.

Soon the Mute Swans will be joined by whooper swans which have come south from Iceland, these are truly wild birds breeding in the short arctic summer, distinguished by their yellow bill base and distinctive whooping call after which they are named.

We have recently seen an increase in the numbers of this species choosing to winter on the Montrose basin last year up to 150 whooper swans wintered on the reserve. Hopefully soon the reserve will be recognised for this species too.

XZF and family are quite distinctive on account of the darvic ring on her leg but also their slightly anti-social behaviour. I used to wonder if perhaps they don't enjoy the presence of all the winter visitors on 'their patch' but then recently a lone Canada goose has joined their cohort, so maybe they are just picky...

The next time you're looking at birds here on the reserve, or even in your back garden, pause long enough to try and imagine what its life story might be.

Some may have travelled many miles, others may be resident. Some will return every year whilst others may never return and some may be lost - perhaps blown off route.

Science is slowly finding ways of looking into the life stories of some individuals but we will probably only ever have a limited insight into this fascinating world.