Basin Notes - October 1999

Winter visitors

Cosmopolitan is hardly the word that springs to mind when one is thinking about the natural world. The influx of migrants at this time of year is taken as the natural world’s calendar reminding us that autumn is here again. Those of us who live near the Basin know only too well the natural "alarm clock" as the pink-footed geese stream to and fro in raucous gaggles. Music to some people but noise to others!

We tend to think of them as the return of "our" birds but they are really only on holiday from their natural home in Greenland and Iceland where they breed. But the rolling Norse accents of the pink-feet are not the only "foreigners" to be found at this time of year. You may have noticed the robin again over the past few weeks as it sings loudly and displays its bright new red breast for all to admire.

People often wonder where they have gone in the late summer. The answer is that they need to hide while they moult and grow a new set of feathers. This is a matter of life and death as the robin must be able to lay claim to a feeding territory for the autumn and winter so that it can survive to next spring. It must be able to defend its chosen area against other robins with the same thing in mind, so a sparkling ruddy waistcoat and a good voice are its weapons in the battle.

You may see the singing matches as two robins face each other across a garden and throw verbal grenades at each other from behind their red shields. Most of the time, the intruder will fly off deciding the resident bird has the better credentials for occupying the territory. However, evenly matched birds may come to blows if one doesn’t back down and then the feathers will fly! But listen closely. Does the intruder have the overtone of German or Dutch in its voice? It may well have, if we had the ears to hear, because our resident robins are joined by many thousands from across the North Sea where the winters are harsher and food less readily available. This is also the case for blackbirds, whose European relatives also come to spend the winter in milder climes.

Incoming knot and dunlin along with wigeon and teal swell the number of birds on the Basin to well over 12,000 (which is not including the possible 30,000 pink-feet). For all those avian visitors to the B∓B that is Montrose Basin, food is in good supply as the mud provides snails, worms, shrimps and molluscs for the hungry beaks. The geese get only Bed on the Basin and must forage for their Breakfast in the surrounding fields.

For birds visiting our gardens, peanuts, sunflower seed and water provided by us, augment the natural larder of seeds that they need to survive. You can top up your seed supplies from the shop at the Wildlife Centre, which is open all through the autumn and winter from 10:30am to 4pm. You can witness the "foreigners" feeding, and find out more about the wildlife from staff and volunteers.