Basin Notes - September 2004

Long flight lies ahead for birds

The first week in September brought a welcome spell of late summer sunshine bat for many of our migratory birds, summer is over and long journeys lie ahead.

Autumn migration is much less frenetic than in the spring, wife some birds taking weeks or months to reach their wintering grounds.

The swift is an early migrant, setting off for Africa as soon as the young ones are independent The joy of, watching their aerial manoeuvres from my kitchen window was cut short by the abysmal period of rain and mist in mid August and when the weather eventually cleared, they had gone from our skies.

Our sand martin nesting site in front of the visitor centre was a hive of activity in mid summer with at least 50 young having fledged. Now the site looks rather forlorn and empty, the birds having moved on during late August.

House martins will move on from the UK during this month and research suggests that in some years, 90 million birds from Europe may cross the Sahara Desert on their way south.

There are plenty of swallows about and parents are still feeding young ones under the eaves of the centre. They will migrate from the UK during September and early October and some birds will not complete the 6000 mile long haul to their wintering grounds in South Africa until November.

As our summer migrants fly south, our winter migrants arrive at the Basin from their northern breeding grounds. Early arrivals of ducks and waders start in August and gradually increase through September and October.

During this time Montrose Basin is like an airport with international travellers arriving daily. Here are some examples: black-tailed godwit, redshank, wigeon and scaup from Iceland; knot and turnstone from Greenland; golden plover, goldeneye, bar-tailed godwit and dunlin from Scandinavia; grey plover and pintail from Russia; shoveler and teal from the Baltic States. Around 40% of Europe's waders spend the winter on Britain's estuaries

Large numbers also use our estuaries for refuelling stops and moulting during their migration from the high Arctic to their winter home in West Africa.

It is of course the incredible fertility of estuarine mud flats containing billions of invertebrates that sustain these birds in winter.

Our most numerous bird on the Basin in autumn and winter is the pink-footed goose and the first of them will be here any day now. Many of us associate their arrival with winter just being round the corner. But wait a minute, what happened to autumn?

According to my diary autumn starts on September 22 so if you hear the pink-feet cackling above your head during the next few days, rest assured that it is still summer!

Recent sightings around the Basin have included black swan, little egret, 13 buzzards, 40 heron and 6 osprey on September 4 - the highest number ever recorded over the Basin.