A Dread of Terns

Common tern and chick

© Richard Blackburn

After several weeks of closely scanning the tern raft, we can finally confirm a number of sightings of tern chicks this week. While they can be a little tricky to see, if you drop by the centre you’ll often see them running over to meet feeding adults and they’re very visible if a ‘dread’ occurs — when the adults are disturbed, whether by a predator or other movement, and all fly up at once.

Our highest count so far stands at 12, and we’re hopeful we’ll see more over the coming week.

Sandwich Terns feeding

Sandwich Tern © Nick Townell

Overall we’re confident that the terns nesting on the raft are all Common terns, though we also have a number of Arctic and Sandwich terns in the area, with over 600 Sandwich terns counted at Tayock this very morning!


© David Murray

The Kingfisher continues to be a regular visitor, pausing in front of the sand martin wall almost every day! This makes for some terrific views, and has given us some great opportunities for photos.

By this time many of the year’s juvenile Ospreys have fledged, too. We often see a larger number from the centre, as they learn to fish and the adults prepare for migration. We’ve already seen two fishing in the Basin today!

Wild about the Basin summer

In other news, there’s still time to join this week’s Wild about the Basin. This week you’ll be having a go at pond dipping just in front of the centre, and discovering great diving beetles, water boatmen, and hopefully maybe even dragonfly larvae!  Bookings are only £4 per child, and can be arranged by calling us on 01674 676 336.

Ben — Visitor Centre Volunteer

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A eventful week on the Basin


Kingfisher – (c) Andy Wakelin

Well it has been another very eventful week on the Montrose Basin reserve.  From the visitor centre we have been delighted to see the Kingfisher hanging out at his regular fishing spot.

Northern LapwingSWT

Northern Lapwing – (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

We have also seen a second brood of Moor hen chicks, which are now being shown how to feed and forage in the salt pans by their siblings from the first brood.  We have also had regular sightings of a good number of Starlings and Lapwings right in front of the visitor centre windows.


Juvenile Stoat – (c) Andy Wakelin

There has also been almost daily sightings of the juvenile stoats by the dipping pond.

Little egret Kyle Thomson

Little Egret – (c) Kyle Thomson

We have also been fortunate enough to have reports of four Little Egrets on the Lurgies.  Many of you will remember that we have had one Little Egret visiting the salt pans  throughout the Spring.


Fledgling Sand Martin – (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust


Sand Martin – (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

We have also rung some of our Sand Martin chicks with BTO bird rings.  Our newly refurbished Sand Martin wall has been doing exceptionally well this summer and we are hopeful that a second brood will be laid in the coming weeks.

In addition to all of this we have had regular sightings of Roe deer, Foxes, Common Sandpiper, Tern chicks and we’ve had two new Highland Ponies delivered to graze the salt pans. I could bore you all day about the many varied and different things that we have seen from the visitor centre.  There is never a dull moment here, you should come and experience it for yourselves.

Our Wild about the Basin events have been doing spectacularly well, with 24 children going out onto the mud on Wednesday.  So please book, call 01674 676 336 if you wish to attend this weeks Wild about the Basin event – Camouflage mini beasts. That way we can avoid any disappointment.Wild about the Basin summerPlease follow us on Twitter @MontroseBasin or like us on Facebook – Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve and visitor centre – http://on.fb.me/1Mhk7TW

See you soon,

Emma – Visitor Centre Assistant Manager



Posted in Birds, Events, General, Mammals, Ringing, Sightings | Tagged , , , , , , |

Summer Sightings

While we’ve often mentioned many of the birds you can see at low tide, the basin is also a great spot to see wildlife at high tide. The many eider ducklings we’ve seen over recent weeks are getting bigger and bigger now, and some growing from almost featureless black balls of fluff to brown juveniles.

The lapwings are returning to the basin, having spent the last few months in the fields nearby the basin for the breeding season. Additionally, we saw some really great views of Goosander right in front of the visitor centre this week, as they chased for fish in their distinctive manner.

Several Goosander in Montrose Basin.

© Andy Wakelin

At last, the stoats have been more adventurous! We’ve known that there have been stoats nearby for a while, but in the last week at least 3 youngsters have been spotted play-fighting around the dipping pond. Hopefully there’ll be even more to see soon, as stoats tend to have litters of roughly 6 to 12 kits.

Over the last few days we’ve also begun to see some flocks of juvenile Starling come into the salt pans just in front of the basin, with one of our volunteers counting a flock of 47. Also increasing is the number of common tern, with counts seemingly doubling to numbers of 70 – 80 on the raft. This will only rise further when we begin to see their young emerge.

Starling on a feeder.

© Andy Wakelin

The swallow chicks that have been nesting under the eaves since April have just started to fledge, too. 2 chicks were seen, and there are at least 3 more nests so you can expect to see more over the coming weeks! Finally, we’re very hopeful to see sand martins fledging soon. They were late to arrive this year, but we’ve been seeing more and more activity near the wall recently.

A Swallow on a window ledge.

© David Murray

The perfect opportunity to see all this is our Journey to the Centre of the Mud event this Saturday! This takes advantage of the lowest tide of the year to provide an unusual opportunity to see the wildlife of the basin from a different angle.

Our Wild about the Basin events kick off next Wednesday, and continue every Wednesday through the 5th of August at 10:30 – 12:00. Each week has a theme as we discover the wildlife near the basin, and you can find out this week’s theme over on the Facebook page in the next few days.

Booking for both these events is essential, and can be arranged by phoning 01674 676 336.

Journey to the centre of the mud1Wild about the Basin summer











Ben Newcombe – Visitor Centre Volunteer Intern

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This Week at Montrose Basin

I’m new to the basin this week, and it’s been great so far. I’m looking forward to working with everybody here, and my ID skills are already undergoing crash course training with all the wildlife on the basin! It was quite an eventful week to start on, as there have been plenty of good sightings from the centre – A brief highlight of mine was seeing an osprey on the basin. We’ve also periodically had some good views of a young buzzard from the scopes right here in the centre.

Osprey and Fish[1] AndyWakelin

(c) Andy Wakelin

There was an eventful afternoon one day, as a mallard took her chicks on top of the sand martin bank at the worst possible time – a couple of crows and a heron were both lingering nearby. It wasn’t long before one of the ducklings inevitably dove off of the edge, soon followed by all the others, and the nearby birds quickly swooped in. Unfortunately the heron had already claimed the first chick before the mallard could get down to the water in front of the bank and regroup her chicks.

Grey Heron AndyWakelin

(c) Andy Wakelin

As we briefly mentioned last week, the common tern on the raft have been receiving a lot of hassle from a nearby crow. This has only increased this week, and the crow has been seen appearing to steal a number of eggs throughout the week! Luckily the terns now seem to be getting slightly better at warding it off, but the crows are far too persistent for them to chase them off consistently. It has certainly made for great watching for everybody visiting the centre over the last week.

As you may be aware, the centre’s 20th birthday is coming up,and as part of the celebrations we’ve also been preparing a timeline of the centre’s history. This has plenty of information on the centre, including some articles and photos some of us had long since forgotten! This is now ready to view on the mezzanine upstairs, alongside further information on the two highland ponies that have recently joined us. We’ll also be holding a free open day on the 27th of June to celebrate this event, and we’d all encourage you to drop by – experience should be no barrier, as we’d be more than happy to direct you to some good sights and provide help with the scopes and binoculars to get a good view, should you need it.

Happy Birthday, Visitor Centre!


Ben Newcombe – Montrose Basin Visitor Centre Volunteer Intern

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Basin Baby Boom!

Is it pre-emptive to say that summer is finally upon us? It certainly feels as though it is with this utterly fantastic weather we’ve been having. And to go along with the nice weather, things are certainly becoming exciting on the Nature Reserve itself!

The numbers of chicks which have been seen from just our windows alone have been phenomenal. With each passing day, the number of young Eider ducks has been growing steadily, and Moorhen and Shelduck chicks have been joined by new Mallard ducklings.

While chicks on the reserve have been hatching, so have the Ospreys on nearby nests. This has resulted in more of the species coming to Montrose Basin to fish in the river. Usually at a low tide, we have been known to spot up to 6 Osprey at once on the reserve, which provides a unique viewing experience for our visitors. Joined by other birds of prey such as Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and sometimes even Peregrine Falcons and Marsh Harriers, they truly highlight the level of diversity of wildlife on Montrose Basin.

Osprey, Montrose Basin by Gus Guthrie

(c) Gus Guthrie

Elsewhere, both the artificial Sand Martin bank and the Tern Raft have been busy. We have been delighted with the number of Sand Martin which have showed signs of nesting in the wall; although we were worried with their late arrival, it has been a significant improvement on last year and shows that the refurbishment it was given in March was truly worthwhile. The Tern Raft has also attracted good numbers of Common Tern this year, but a crow has been persistently landing on the raft and disturbing their attempts to nest and mate. We will need to just keep on watching to see what will happen next.

(c) Andy Wakelin Meanwhile, the seals are still content!

(c) Andy Wakelin
Meanwhile, the seals are still happy!

With all of this activity, we are extremely fortunate to be able to share it with the rest of the world. Much of our work would not be possible without the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. For every £2 spent, 50p goes towards charities such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and of the millions of pounds raised in this way for the Trust, Montrose Basin has managed to not only maintain our beautiful reserve, but also give the public the opportunity to experience this haven in different and exciting ways. This includes Journey to the Centre of the Mud on July 4th, a guided walk into the estuary led by the Ranger, and the People’s Postcode Lottery Goose Breakfast on October 4th in which people can come here early and see tens of thousands of Pink-footed Geese flying over the Basin, followed by breakfast. These funds are also put towards the maintenance of our camera, which allows us to stream sights from Montrose Basin live on the internet every day on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.

Before all of that, however, we are celebrating our 20th Anniversary on the 27th June, and everyone is invited to join us! We will be holding an open day during which anyone can come along and see what we’re all about. In the afternoon, we will host two of our popular children’s activities, pond dipping and mud safari. There will be FREE entry all day long, and we’d love to see you here!

Happy Birthday, Visitor Centre!

David Murray – Visitor Centre Assistant

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Highland ponies at Montrose Basin

As you may know, Montrose Basin Nature Reserve has welcomed two new inhabitants over the past month. A pair of beautiful Highland Ponies now call the Saltpans home as per a brand new grazing regime.

(c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

(c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

This is Inga. Inga is 17 years old, and can be identified by the luscious locks on her mane which matches her wild at heart demeanor.

(c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

(c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

This is Blossom. Blossom is slightly older at 20 years, and has shorter mane hair as she is more open to being groomed.

Apart from being wonderful to watch from our Visitor Centre window, these Highland Ponies provide a much greater service to our reserve. Known to be selective grazers, ponies create areas of shorter vegetation alongside taller, undisturbed vegetation. This mosaic habitat management, benefits a range of species including invertebrates, small mammals and birds. Also, they have a tendency to favour grazing upon long grass rather than flowering plants, meaning that the flowering plants gain a competitive advantage, thus providing much needed nectar for our pollinators.


Highland Ponies are not often used in conservation grazing, but the breed has real merit and a positive impact can already been seen on the Salt pans at Montrose Basin. As a rare native breed, a role in conservation grazing can only help to secure the future of this placid and gentle pony.

Montrose Basin is holding Highland Pony Society talk on Monday 8th June from 6pm – 8pm where you can learn more about the history and uses of the breed. The event costing £8 for an adult and £4 for a child includes a cold buffet. To find out more and to book a place contact the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre on 01674 676 336.

Highland Pony Talk

David Murray – Montrose Basin Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Events, Mammals |

Busy week at the Basin!

There’s been plenty going on here at Montrose Basin over the past week!

We started out on Monday, with our Balsam BBQ. Our volunteers spent a few hours out on the reserve removing non native Himalayan Balsam from the reserve, followed by some delicious food. The turnout was good, and we are absolutely delighted by the amount of progress which was made. A big thank you goes to everyone who helped us out!

Eider creche2 AndyWakelin

An Eider duck creche. (c) Andy Wakelin

While we’ve been busy, so has the wildlife! To go alongside the Moorhen chicks which have inhabited the Saltpans for the past few weeks, we have now had sightings of Shelduck chicks and Eider duck chicks. First seen on Sunday and Friday respectively, we can’t wait to watch front and centre as these ducklings transform into independent adults in their own right. We invite you all to join us during what will be a very exciting time, to see the development of these waders, along with migrants such as Sand Martin, Swallows and Terns, which are finally nesting and showing intent to breed.


So, what’s next for June? On Monday 8th, we are hosting a member of the Highland Pony Society for a talk on how our ponies, Inga and Blossom, contribute towards the conservation of the reserve. Then, on Saturday 27th, it’s our Visitor Centre’s 20th Birthday, and to celebrate, admission is free all day! Join us and discover firsthand what makes Montrose Basin so special. Also, children’s activities will run throughout the afternoon, meaning this anniversary is one you won’t want to miss.

Highland Pony Talk


David Murray – Visitor Centre Assistant


Posted in Birds, Events, General |

A little bit on the Little Egret

If you’ve been following us on Social Media over the past week or so, you may have seen us getting quite excited about a white bird which has been wandering around the Saltpans in front of our Visitor Centre recently. What you may not know is why.

Little Egret Andy Wakelin

(c) Andy Wakelin

This bird is the Little Egret. A smaller member of the Heron family, the Little Egret is white with a black bill, black legs and yellow feet. Although it is quite unmistakeable when recognised, many of our visitors have had to look twice, with some doubting their vision. This is because this particular bird is extremely uncommon in Scotland. In fact, their first breeding record in the whole of the UK was less than 20 years ago, and most bird guides claim that they are only found in the South of England.

However, climate change is driving natives of the Mediterranean such as the Little Egret further north each year, and the tidal estuary at Montrose Basin; especially the marshland areas such as the Saltpans, provide both a suitable habitat and plenty of fish and crustaceans for this bird.

Little egret Kyle Thomson

(c) Kyle Thomson

Unfortunately, our Little Egret is, as far as we know, on her own at Montrose Basin, which means that we aren’t expecting her to have chicks. We can hope that it’s only a matter of time, however; with many migrants finding themselves in a more northerly location each year, until she finds a mate. Until then, we will appreciate this magnificent individual in all its glory.

(c) David Murray

(c) David Murray


Come down to Montrose Basin to check out the Little Egret along with a whole host of other wildlife and spectacular scenery!

David Murray

Montrose Basin Visitor Centre Assistant

Email: montrosebasin@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Facebook: Montrose-Basin-Wildlife-Reserve-and-Visitor Centre

Twitter: @MontroseBasin

Posted in Birds, Sightings, Species profile |

Balsam BBQ!

Balsam BBQ Event! 25 May 1pm – 5pm

What is Himalayan Balsam?

Introduced to the UK in 1839, Himalayan Balsam is now a naturalised plant, found especially on riverbanks and wetlands where it has become a problem weed. Himalayan Balsam tolerates low light levels and also shades out other vegetation, gradually impoverishing habitats by killing off other plants. It is sometimes seen in gardens, either uninvited or grown deliberately, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not escape into the wild.


Himalayan Balsam is a tall growing annual, 2-3m (6-10ft) in height. Between June and October it produces clusters of purplish pink (or rarely white) helmet-shaped flowers. The flowers are followed by seed pods that open explosively when ripe. 9620900873_a464975e94_k © digirose

The problem.

Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds. These are dispersed widely as the ripe pods eject their seeds, the explosion is incredibly robust; seeds from one pod can cover as much as 23 feet (7 meters).

Aerial spread!

Close up of the “grenade” pod.

The plant is spread by two principal means;

  • The most widespread distribution tends to be by human means where individuals pass on seed to friends.
  • Once established in the catchment of a river the seeds, which can remain viable for two years, are transported further afield by water.


Plants that out compete other more desirable plants or simply invade half the garden are classed as weeds and require control. This can be done using non-chemical means such as pulling or digging out, or suppressing with mulch.  

What not to do.

So if you come across Himalayan Balsam, don’t disturb the pods. Not only will you help it spread, you might get blasted by the ‘grenade’ pods.  

What to do & How you can help?

Last years volunteers hard at work.

Last years volunteers hard at work.

This 25 May will be our ‘Balsam BBQ’ event from 1pm to 5pm, join the ranger for an informative day of practical volunteer work controlling this invasive non-native species on the reserve. Followed by a well earned BBQ! For more information on the ‘Balsam BBQ’ event: Facebook Balsam BBQ Event!


Montrose Basin Visitor Centre

Email: montrosebasin@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Facebook: Montrose-Basin-Wildlife-Reserve-and-Visitor Centre

Twitter: @MontroseBasin

Posted in Events, General, People, Wildflowers | Tagged |

Signs of Spring – Sand Martins, Swifts and Swallows

Don’t let the weather fool you – spring is well and truly under way, which means that our summer migrants are coming back to Montrose Basin.

One such bird is the Sand Martin. It’s tendency to breed along rivers makes Montrose Basin a prime location for Sand Martin, and in 2001 we built an artificial nesting bank fit for their breeding needs. In the past, we have seen over one hundred at one time and we are just beginning to see this year’s Sand Martins arrive on the reserve, with many sightings at the Bridge of Dun. They sometimes return as early as March, but they, along with many other migratory birds, have been behind schedule this year! Sand Martin’s are the lightest of the Martin family; an adult male weighs less than a £2 coin!

Sand Martin

(c) Ken Billington

In the past, our Sand Martins have been followed closely by Swallows. Nesting on ledges and beams in the top of buildings, sheds and also under bridges. Here at Montrose Basin, we often find Swallows nesting in nooks and crannies on the edge of our Visitor Centre. There was much folklore surrounding Swallows; seeing the first Swallow of the year was considered a good omen, and before migration was understood, it was thought that Swallows spent the winter buried in the mud of ponds and lakes!


(c) Earth Rangers

Another summer migrant which is often mistaken for members of the Swallow and Martin family are Swifts. Despite being bigger than both the Sand Martin and Swallow, all three are most commonly seen on the wing travelling at very high speeds and can therefore be difficult to identify. Swifts even sleep on the wing, appearing motionless at 10,000 feet. What a sight that must be!


(c) Michael Veltri

Don’t forget to attend our Optics Fair this weekend at the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre. From 10:30 am until  4 pm, an Opticron representative will be on hand to advise you about a wide selection of binoculars and telescopes.

Optical Fair May

David Murray

CJS Seasonal Visitor Centre Assistant

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