Reserve Sightings

Moorhen chick from video (19-07-2014 12-21) - cropped

Moorhen Chicks (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Probably the most exciting sightings this week have been the 3 Moorhen chicks. 2 were first seen on the 15th, with 3 sighted today at the Kingfisher Pond outside the Visitor Centre viewing window. After watching the 2 adults collect nesting material earlier on this year we weren’t sure if we would see any chicks, so 3 is great news.

Keeping with the rail family, a Water Rail chick was also seen this week at the Bank of Scotland hide on the 17th. Another unusual sighting was a Peregrine Falcon seen catching and consuming a Redshank just outside the Visitor Centre on the 14th.

Other sightings this week include a Sparrowhawk seen outside the Visitor Centre on the 15th. I Green Sandpiper, 3 Dunlin, 106 Lapwing, 4 Black-tailed Godwit, and 11 Greenshank seen at the Lurgies on the 16th, and 44 Common Sandpiper also seen at the Lurgies on the 17th. From the Visitor Centre 198 Redshank were seen on the 13th, 14 Canada Geese on the 15th, 1 Greylag Goose on the 16th, and 61 Goldeneye also on the 16th. Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser numbers have remained high, with 48 and 74 counted on the 13th respectively. Grey Heron numbers have now reached 37, and these can be seen throughout the Basin.

In other news, we have a new exhibition at the Visitor Centre by the Montrose Basin Heritage Society which will run until the end of August. Entitled ‘Mapping Montrose Basin’ it is a display of extracts taken from a series of maps covering the Montrose area from the 16th Century until relatively modern times.


Georgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, Events, General, Sightings |

Wild It Yourself

If the TV programmes, magazines, and paper articles are anything to go by then Britain has been bitten by the D.I.Y. and up-cycling bug and it’s easy enough to take these ideals out into your garden, balcony, or window sill to W.I.Y. (Wild It Yourself).

Insect Hotel visitors (c) Andy Wakelin

Insect Hotel visitors (c) Andy Wakelin

Even the smallest gardens can be turned into a wildlife haven and while window sills may not quite have the same impact they can play an important role in building a network of corridors between other sites. You can buy a number of products on the market today that are all designed to help you attract wildlife and items like window bird feeders are great to get all the family a little closer without leaving the comfort of your home. But it can be just as easy, and a little more fun, to make your own from items that you would normally throw away.

insecthotel 2 -Andy Wakelin resized, copyright

Insect Hotel (c) Andy Wakelin

An old flower pot and saucer can be scrubbed down and made into bird baths and flat feeders by gluing the saucer onto the up turned pot. Used jam jars and straws can be turned into pooters for insect observation. Yoghurt pots make great containers and moulds for fat feeders that can be hung by the window, and unused wooden planks can be used to make bird and bat boxes (just make sure that its rough cut and untreated). Best of all, old pallets (sourced from supermarkets and D.I.Y. stores), piping, broken bricks, roof felt, unused logs, wood shavings, and dry grass can all be used to build an insect hotel that will also attract reptiles and nocturnal mammals during the day. A quick search online will give you great ideas, but to start off you could visit The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales Activity sheets page and The Wildlife Trusts Wildlife gardening factsheet page.

Detailed picture of our Insect Hotel (c) Andy Wakelin

Detailed picture of our Insect Hotel (c) Andy Wakelin

Of course, you could go even simpler than that. Skip on using any chemicals (such as pesticides and herbicides), leave areas of the garden un-trimmed and un-weeded, cut small ground level holes in your fences to allow wildlife to move from garden to garden, allow vegetation to rot down naturally without being removed, and put together an un-contained compost pile (just make sure you don’t put any food waste in these). For smaller areas, pots containing plants like lavender and thyme are great ways to attract insects and can easily be contained on a window sill.

Don’t forget we have a ‘Wild about the basin’ children’s activity this Wednesday, 10.30am till 12.00noon. Give us a call to book a place as these are very popular.

Wild about the basinGeorgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, Events, General, Mammals, Reptiles |

Reserve Sightings

Blue Tit Harry Bickerstaff (44)

Blue tit (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Probably the most obvious sight this week is the size of this year’s ducklings and chicks, with many now only distinguishable from their parents by the remnants of downy feathers. While Eider and Mallard ducklings can still be distinguished from the window, this marks the ending of the breeding season for many of our water based species. However, some of our smaller, shorter lived woodland species may now be on their second brood.

Terns_2233a AndyWakelin

Terns above the Tern Raft (c) Andy Wakelin

Eyes are still firmly fixed on the Tern Raft, with numbers reaching up to 26 individuals of possibly Common and Arctic Terns. While distinct pairs can be seen, it’s looking more and more likely that this is a colony of unsuccessful breeders. This is not unusual for Common Terns, with individuals not starting to breed until they are 3 years old and successful breeding only truly occurring once they are 5. While the raft may not be the home to any young Terns this year, there’s every hope that these individuals will return to the raft early next year to breed.

Common Sandpiper - richard blackburn

Common Sandpiper (c) Richard Blackburn

Other sightings this week include 2 Common Sandpipers and 2 Linnets at the Salt Pans on the 8th, juvenile Great-spotted Woodpeckers making regular visits to the feeders and a White Throat by the Dipping Pond, also on the 8th. 23 Sandwich Terns were spotted again, this time on the mid basin sand banks. Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, and Oystercatchers can be seen throughout the basin at low tide and even at high tide today 90 Redshank, 28 Oystercatchers and 56 Lapwing were seen from the Visitor Centre window. Today’s count also include a Sedge Warbler at the feeders, 2 Swallows over the Salt Pans and 33 Goosanders, 128 Mute Swans and 140 Shelduck throughout the Basin itself. 20 Gannets were also spotted today at Montrose Bay. No Osprey have been recorded this week, but the tide times have meant that they are probably hunting at the Basin in the early mornings or evenings.

Georgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Uncategorized |

Practical Volunteer Day

Kicking back in the garden sipping an ice cold drink, getting stuck into a good book whilst the bbq warms up behind you…… there a better way to enjoy the fleeting Scottish summer?

Of course there is! Why not come along and get stuck in at our practical volunteer day next Monday? Meet others interested in conservation and learn more about the work of maintaining the reserve.

Just call 01674 676336 for further details and to book your place.

July Practical Volunteer Day (c) SWT

July Practical Volunteer Day (c) SWT

Posted in Events, People |

Reserve Sightings

Arctic and Common Tern (c) Arthur Grosset

Common and Arctic Tern (c) Arthur Grosset

All eyes have been trained on the tern raft over the past few days as we have been deliberating; what species of tern are actually on there!? The raft is usually inhabited by Common Terns as they arrive on our shores earlier than Arctic Terns. However, after settling on the raft early this summer they then deserted and a new group of terns have now taken up residence. Having monitored them over the past week we have noticed that they’re being more aggressive than usual towards any nearby predators, a trait of Arctic Terns. With the tern raft camera being out of use it’s difficult to confirm what species they are, but we have been trying to figure it out by using the telescopes. The main areas to focus on when trying to distinguish between the two species are the beak and the tail. Common Terns have orange beaks with black tips and short bottom tail streamers whilst Arctic Terns have fully orange beaks and long bottom tail streamers. These differences may seem easy to decipher when looking at them in a book, but they’re much harder when trying to focus on a moving tern a few hundred metres away! So with plenty of debating we are sure that the majority of the Terns are Commons, although we still think there are a few Arctics in there.

Elsewhere on the reserve the numbers of waders have been steadily increasing as they return from their summer breeding grounds. Counts have included 110 Redshank, 103 Curlew, 76 Lapwing, 17 Common Sandpiper and 13 Black Tailed Godwits. Wildfowl species have also been counted in high number this week, with 175 Mute Swans, 79 Red Breasted Mergansers, 85 Goosanders and 44 Goldeneye being counted today. A third species of tern was seen on Rossie Spit today as well, with 26 Sandwich Terns roosting there at high tide. Seen flying past the Centre this weekend have been 3 House Martins, a swift, 2 Buzzards and an Osprey.

Craig Shepherd,

Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.

Posted in Birds, Sightings |

Much Ado About Mothing

With National Moth Night 2014 fast approaching what better time is there to champion these underrated nocturnal wonders?

Often the first question that needs to be answered when speaking about moths is; how do you tell them apart from butterflies? Despite the contrasting attitudes towards moths and butterflies they are closely related and have a lot in common. They’re both part of the scientific order Lepidoptera, meaning scale winged and deriving from the delicate powdery scales that cover them. Both moths and butterflies start their lives as plant devouring caterpillars before transforming themselves into the adult forms that we’re used to seeing, and they both feed on nectar from flowers, supplementing this with other liquids.

So how do you tell them apart? Below is a list of the easiest ways to separate the two species, although there are always exceptions to the rules.

  1. Shape of Antennae

This is probably the most obvious difference between the two groups, with butterflies having clubbed antennae that are wider at the tips and moths have wider, feathery antennae.

  1. Resting Posture

Butterflies usually rest with their wings folded upwards whilst moths rest with them lowered down over their back, as can be seen in the picture below. Despite this, butterflies may still rest their wings over their backs if they’re ‘sunning’ themselves.

butterfly-moth-comparison (c) HowStuffWorks

butterfly-moth-comparison (c) HowStuffWorks

  1. Wing Colouration

Generally, butterflies have vividly coloured wings whilst moth’s wings are less colourful, assisting with camouflage. This, however, doesn’t mean that moths are always dull, with many being brightly coloured, particularly those which are toxic.

  1. Pupa

Butterflies and moths pupate, or become adults in slightly different ways. Both go through this transformation in a protective shell called a chrysalis, however, moths usually spin a silk cocoon around the chrysalis whilst butterflies leave theirs bare.

  1. Time of Activity

One of the simplest, yet still not fool proof, ways to tell a moth from a butterfly is the time of day that you see them. Most moths are nocturnal and will be seen at night (the classic moth to flame scenario) whilst butterflies are usually diurnal and are active during the day.

  1. Mate Selection

They use different methods to aid them in mate selection, something that’s reflected in the antennae shape. Moths use their wide feathery antennae to detect potential mates via scent. These antennae have a large surface area and help them detect scent molecules called pheromones from up to 6 miles away. Most species of butterflies lack this ability and instead choose their mates visually.

So now that you know how to tell a moth from a butterfly, why not get outside and learn more about these interesting species yourself? There’s no better time than national moth night and no better place than here at Montrose Basin, 8pm tonight! Our local moth expert will be on hand to show you how to identify them and answer all your questions.

National Moth Night

National Moth Night

Craig Shepherd,

Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.

Posted in Butterflies & Moths, Events |

Reserve Sightings

Geese Harry Bickerstaff (328) - resized

Waders at Rossie Spit (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

While we have a few waders that remain at Montrose all year round, predominantly Oystercatchers and Curlew, the numbers of other species drop dramatically in the spring and summer months as they move to their breeding grounds. Over the next few weeks we’ll begin to see the numbers increase as unsuccessful breeders return to the Basin. Those spotted from the Visitor Centre window this week include 26 Lapwing on the 25th, 8 Redshank on the 26th and 35 Curlew today, but numbers from around the Basin have included 32 Lapwing, 14 Redshank, 180 Curlew, 376 Oystercatchers and 1 Greenshank.

Common Tern continue to be seen daily on the Tern Raft with courtship behaviour and nest scraping all being seen. As yet, there are no signs of eggs, but we will be keeping our eyes peeled.   Along with the juvenile Blue Tits, House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows and Goldfinch, 2 juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers have also been visiting the feeders. Distinguished from the adults by their red crown, they make looking down from the Viewing Gallery window a rewarding exercise.

Other sightings on the reserve this week include a Chiffchaff at the feeders and a Sparrowhawk on the 24th, 2 Collared Doves at the feeders on the 27th and 70 Goosanders in the centre of the Basin.

National Moth Night is on 3rd – 5th July and we’ve organised an evening of discovering about moths here at the Visitor Centre on Thursday 3rd July from 8pm until 10pm where you’ll learn about the moths we have at Montrose and how to identify them.

Moth night family funGeorgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, Butterflies & Moths, Sightings, Species profile |

Reserve Sightings

We finally have some good news about the terns – although following the experience of the last few years we’re certainly not getting ahead of ourselves! Today has seen the return of 14 Common Terns to the raft, and although the majority of them don’t seem to have settled, the signs are encouraging. A few of the females seem to be scraping their nests on the raft whilst a pair has been seen performing courtship rituals and then mating nearby. The pattern seen this year is very similar to that of last year, with the terns initially returning to the raft in high numbers before failing to settle, leaving and then returning around a month later in reduced numbers. The first egg was laid on the 15th of June last year, but with any eggs laid before the 20th of July having a chance of being successful, we still have plenty of time left this year. Eggs laid into July, however, do have reduced chances of success as it means the colony has to remain active around the breeding site for longer and therefore postpone their migration. This could also lead to the majority of the colony leaving behind the few adults who still have chicks at the nest site, which as we saw last year can be a dangerous game to play. Last year’s successful breeding pairs were so few that Carrion Crows managed to drive them off the raft and take their eggs. So, there’s still plenty of hurdles to cross this year, but at least we’re making progress.

Other sightings on the reserve this week have included Ospreys on Monday, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday and Marsh Harrier at the Lurgies on Wednesday. The Lurgies also held a Whooper Swan, 2 Kingfishers, 2 Shoveller and another Osprey on Wednesday. Today’s counts have included 91 Red Breasted Merganser, 56 Goosander, 400 Eider chicks and 33 Shelduck chicks.

Shoveler (c) SWT

Shoveler (c) SWT

Craig Shepherd,

Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.

Posted in Birds, Sightings, Species profile |

Mud, Glorious mud

Tsunami Andy Wakelin (13) - resized

View over Montrose Basin (c) Andy Wakelin

Of all the different habitats we have at Montrose Basin the mud is definitely the most obvious. At 750 hectares (or 1500 football pitches) the sheer size of the area can be fully seen when the tide is at its lowest. While most estuaries are shaped by the erosion and sediment deposits of the river and tidal activities that feed it, Montrose has been given its flattened shape through glaciations during the Ice Age and the Storegga Slide tsunami in 5000BC



The tidal nature of estuaries makes the mud a very hostile environment to live in. Most birds and mammals are constantly on the move and more sedentary species must be able to survive both underwater and exposed to the air. Despite this, large numbers of invertebrates can be found in the mud and estuaries have been shown to be as rich in biodiversity as tropical rainforests. Invertebrate species that can be found at Montrose Basin include Mussels, Cockles, Winkles, Shrimp, Round worms, Corophium, and Hydrobia. As well as feeding the waders and wildfowl we’re famous for, these invertebrate feed the Plaice, Flounder, and Sand Goby that attract Osprey and Seals to the Basin. The extra effort needed by the birds to keep up with the tide is well worth it though as 1 cubic metre of mud has been calculated to have the same number of calories as 14 Mars bars.

Geese Harry Bickerstaff (165)

Waders feeding (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust Montrose

Low to mid tide is the perfect time to come (tide times can be found here) and see the different methods in which birds use to collect these invertebrate. Shelduck are the filter feeders of the wildfowl community, sweeping their bills side to side along the mud to collect small crustaceans on the surface. Like most ducks Eiders dive for their food, feeding exclusively on mussels which they swallow whole and crush in their gizzards. Curlew’s distinctive long bills allow them to probe deep into the mud reaching prey that many other species can’t. While they happily feed across the mud they tend to carry prey to the water’s edge to wash before feeding. Oystercatchers tend to feed along the water’s edge, where the prey is easier to reach, but their bills also have a unique adaptation which allows them to slip their bill in between the shells and cut the shell-closing muscles. Even the Carrion Crows here have adapted to food of the shelled variety and can be seen repeatedly dropping their prey from high up onto the rocks below.

Georgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, Fish, General, Mammals, Species profile |

Reserve Sightings

This week has continued the sightings of young birds throughout the Basin. The last count on the Eider ducklings was 103, as of today, and these have been joined by a number of garden and woodland bird juveniles, including Blue Tits, House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, and Great Spotted Woodpecker. 11 Pheasant chicks were also spotted by the feeders on the 11th. A flock of 60 Starlings was also seen on the 13th. Not everyone’s favourite perhaps, but with Starling numbers in decline throughout Britain it’s always nice to see a healthy number here.

Red-breasted Mergansers and Goosanders are now a regular sighting with 25 of each spotted on the 8th and 9th respectively. As yet, there is still no sign of breeding on the tern raft, with only 4 Common Terns being spotted on the raft on a daily basis. However, Terns will breed right into June so we’re still keeping our fingers-crossed for now.

Other sightings on the reserve include a Yellowhammer at the Wigeon Hide on 9th; 4 Ruff, 2 Ringed Plover and 2 Pintails on the 9th at the Lurgies; and a Marsh Harrier.

Georgina Bowie,  Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, General, Sightings |