Basin Notes - September 2012

Gathering and Departing

This is the time of year that our local bays at Montrose and Lunan start to fill up with bird-life. Our soon to be departing birds such as Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns are frantically feeding to gain the energy they will require for the long migration south.

The Arctic Terns have the longest distance to go, and are our furthest travelling birds. Some of them will spend our winter in Antarctica. Many of the Sandwich Terns will just go as far as the Mediterranean. Also in the bays, there will be many Kittiwakes and auks such as Common Guillemots and Razorbills which will spend the winter far out at sea, only returning to sea cliffs during really inclement weather. It is a good time to watch out for the 'pirates of the seas', the Great and Arctic Skuas, which will harass the terns and Kittiwakes until they regurgitate their previous meal.

These birds will be augmented by others such as Red-throated Divers, Common and Velvet Scoters returning from their northern breeding grounds. Have a look along the shoreline as you may well come across some wading birds such as Dunlins, Sanderlings and Knots also just arrived from the north, and will be keen to feed on the sand-hoppers (very small shrimps).

The Latin name of the Knot is Calidris canuta, named after King Canute who reputedly could hold back the incoming tide. The Knots often run along the shoreline looking for food but also it appears as if they are holding back the tide. If you listen closely, you may hear the calls of these birds, which sounds a bit like "Knot".

Whilst you are walking along the tide-line, have a look for shells. There will be numerous kinds but some of the common ones are Periwinkles (Buckies), Top Shells, Limpets, Razor Shells, Cockles, Mussels, Rose Tellins, Dog Whelks, Blunt Gapers and Icelandic Cyprinas (which look a bit like ashtrays). If you are really lucky, you may happen upon the beautiful little Cowrie or a Pharaoh Sunset Shell.

The iconic Ospreys are still around but they too will be eating as many fish as possible prior to their marathon journeys to West Africa. It is possible to watch them fishing for flounders from the window of the SWT Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre, then take the fish to one of the branches or posts sticking out of the water to eat it.

I wonder when you last heard the Swifts screeching over Montrose? My last ones were seen on the August 13. These birds are often amongst the last to arrive from Africa but the first to head back. They take their time, and usually do not arrive at their southeast African haunts until November. You will still see Swallows and House Martins but many of the smaller Sand Martins will be well on their way to Africa.

This is the time of year to watch out for rare birds, which have been blown off course during their migration. It normally requires fairly strong easterly winds for this to happen as these migrants, from Scandinavia and further east, are really just wanting to head due south but the easterlies can blow them onto our shores.

If there is some rain and mist during this period, then the chances of seeing these rare species increases as the birds only wish to fly during clement weather; so if they get caught up in adverse conditions, they will seek the nearest available landfall.