Basin Notes - October 2010

More Geese than ever before!

It is an unmissable fact that the pink-footed geese have returned to Montrose for the winter.

The sight and sound of tens of thousands of geese leaving the Basin in the early morning light, or returning to roost as the sun slowly dips down behind the Angus Hills is truly breathtaking.

Montrose Basin is an internationally important site for wintering pink-footed geese and to encounter such vast numbers of these noisy, gregarious birds is an unforgettable experience. Having spent the summer months in Iceland, the "pinks" depart their northern breeding grounds in September and October and make the long journey to Scotland, a journey which can take between one and four days, depending on the prevalent weather conditions.

Small migratory birds, such as warblers and swallows, have an inbuilt instinct to migrate, including when and where to go. One of the most fascinating things about the migration of swans and geese, however, is that the young of these species must learn their migration route by following their parents over 2500 kilometres from Iceland to Britain and back. This is evident if you observe the large flocks of geese resting on the Basin closely, where it is possible to see small family groups of adult and juvenile birds.

Maybe I'm biased; ok, I'm extremely biased, but I believe that witnessing the sky appear to turn black with skeins of geese flying low over the Angus countryside as they come in to roost is one of the most exciting events the natural world has to offer. I am fortunate enough to see the geese every day at work but this absolutely spectacular sight never fails to enthral and engross me.

Last year the record for the most number of pink-feet visiting the Basin was broken when 51,000 geese were counted in mid-October. Numbers this year appeared to be as high, even though it was still only the end of September, so we decided to call together our loyal band of dedicated goose counters for an early morning head count.

As the sun rose quietly over the North Sea on October 1, our hardy volunteers began the arduous task of recording the numbers of birds in each skein as the geese left the Basin to feed in the stubble fields surrounding Montrose and beyond. After a couple of hours counting and what seemed like an endless number of birds, we finally made our way back to the visitor centre for a well-earned cuppa and to combine our totals.

The numbers rose, and kept rising. The anticipation was killing us, when would the calculator stop going up? We didn't think we could, but we surpassed last year's record, and we still had more to go. Another cup of tea and a few minutes later the grand total was in - 65,060 birds, absolutely astonishing. The most incredible point about this count is that it took place on 1st October; we don't expect the numbers to peak until later this month, so we could potentially go even higher!

We are extremely lucky and privileged in Montrose to have one of the most dramatic wildlife spectacles in Britain, if not the world, right here on our doorstep and if you have never visited the Basin during late afternoon over the winter months, you don't know what you're missing. I would encourage each and every one of you to find a nice vantage point over the Basin, sit back with a flask of tea or a fish supper and enjoy the magnificent performance of these remarkable birds returning to the safety and security of their Basin roost.