Kingfisher 101

With the Kingfisher making an almost daily appearance at the Visitor Centre we thought it was about time we gave this enigmatic species its own blog post.

This is one species that doesn’t need any physical descriptions, but at only 16-17 cm it’s definitely much smaller than people expect and on very dull days you can get a hint of the Kingfisher’s actual colour, a dark brown. The distinctive colours that we see are actually due to the interference between the different wavelengths of light being reflected from the different layers of its feathers. Males and females can be distinguished from each other by the orange-red colour of the female’s lower mandible, and juveniles tend to be duller than the adults with blackish feet.

Kingfisher (1) -

Wind swept and interesting at the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Its compact body, large head and long bill make it perfectly adapted for dive fishing, and the distinctive head bobbing is a good indicator that food has been spotted as it uses this movement to gauge the distance of the prey. While it keeps its body compact and streamlined in dive, the wings are opened once it enters the water, allowing it to reduce its speed and depth as well as propel itself back out of the water. To ensure that it continues to have a visual on its prey once it enters the water its eye has two foveae (the area of the retina which contains the greatest density of light receptors) and the Kingfisher is able to switch from the central fovea to the auxiliary fovea giving it binocular vision while in the water. It is also able to protect its eye by closing a transparent third eyelid.

Kingfisher - Nick Townell

Kingfisher on its ‘usual perch’ at the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre (c) Nick Townell

Kingfishers are solitary and highly territorial, mainly due to the fact that they must eat around 60% of their body weight on a daily basis, with territory size depending on the amount of food available. Even pairs formed in autumn will keep separate territories until mating begins in spring. Due to this high food requirement mortality rates can be high, especially in juveniles who may not have even learnt to fish before they are driven off their parents’ territory, and being high on the aquatic food chains means that they are vulnerable to river pollution and build-up of chemicals.

Georgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, Sightings, Species profile |

Tricks and Treats

We are delighted to announce that our Goose Breakfast is now fully booked and with record numbers of geese, looks set to be one of our finest events.

If you were not lucky enough to have booked a place, don’t fret.  Our next Goose event is Sunday 14th December, where you can experience the Pink-footed geese from the comfort of the Visitor Centre, while eating a mince pie and a hot drink.  For the kids there are loads of Christmas themed crafts to keep them entertained. Booking is essential.

This weekend is also a family fun filled event with our Halloween party from 1-4pm this Saturday.  Prizes for the best Halloween costumes and lots of fun crafts.

No need to book just turn up on the day in fancy dress!

Look forward to seeing you all.

halloween ffd & goose breakfastEmma Castle-Smith – VC Assistant Manager

Posted in Events, General |

Last chance to vote!!

We would encourage everyone who has not voted for the Woodland Trust – Scotland’s tree of the year, to go and do it now! Closing date is Sunday 26th October.

Please vote using this link:

Our old faithful Scots pine at the Loch of the Lowes has been nominated and we are really hoping that we win.  For those of you that don’t know the story behind the tree you can read Sarah’s blog (Link below).


Lady’s Tree (c) J.Close

Emma Castle-Smith – VC Assistant Manager

Posted in Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , |

Reserve Sightings.

Pink-footed Geese (45)

Mass Take Off (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

This week has been a pretty amazing week when it comes to Pink-footed Geese numbers. Tuesday’s count gave us an amazing, Basin recording breaking number of 70,153, but today’s counts is even higher at 78,970! This is a great sign for the health of the species and should make for spectacular viewing on our People’s Postcode Lottery Goose Breakfast next Sunday morning.

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Kingfisher at the Salt Pans (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Golden Plover numbers have also been unusually high this year, with over 1270 sighted on the Basin at low tide. The Kingfisher can still be seen daily from the Visitor Centre, even remaining long enough for some great photos, along with the more unusual sightings of a Blackcap. Other unusual sightings have been an Osprey seen over Rossie Spit on Wednesaday and a Water Rail at the Salt Pans at high tide.

Godeneye  (109)

Goldeneye (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Little Grebes have made a real return to the Basin this season, with regular sightings at Rossie Spit including 19 seen on Wednesday. Other waterfowl seen at the Basin this week have been 6 Barnacle Geese, 1 Canada Goose, 6 Whooper Swans, 25 Goldeneye, 9 Scaup, 2 Shovellers, 3 Teal, and 24 Pintails. Waders have included 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 17 Dunlin, 4 Greenshank, and 25 Curlew. On the predator front, both a Sparrowhawk and a Stoat have been seen in front of the Visitor Centre along with the daily viewings of Buzzards.

Georgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, General, Mammals, Sightings |

Reserve sightings 10th October 2014

This week we have seen the numbers of Pink-footed Geese climb to over 44,000.  The Rangers have estimated that the peak number could now have approached around 60,000 but without an official dawn count we can’t be sure of the exact number.

Pink-footedMassTakeOff (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Mass take off (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

On that note, we have rescheduled our Pink Sunset event, as it was postponed due to poor weather conditions.  We are delighted to announce that it will now be on Saturday 18th October at 5pm.  Please call the Visitor Centre to book for further details.

Pink sunset

The Kingfisher continues to make its daily appearance in front of the Visitor Centre.

A Little Egret has been spotted on the salt pans this week, as well as a solitary Canada Goose, Teal and Grey Heron.

Yellow-browed Warbler (3)

Yellow-browed Warbler (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Our most exciting spot this week has been the Yellow-browed Warbler, a rare migrant from Siberia.  It’s a similar size to the Firecrest and moves quickly in the berry covered trees.  It was first spotted on Tuesday but has been seen throughout the week at other places around the Basin and in front of the Visitor Centre today.

Golden Plover have also been spotted on the Basin at low tide.  These were initially counted by a volunteer on Wednesday and numbered around 226.  Today the count increased to around 350 individuals.

It just goes to show, that even though the weather is getting colder, the Basin continues to support a vast number of species and individuals.

Posted in Birds, General, Sightings | Tagged , , , , |

Autumn Crafting

WP_20141008_12_08_22_Pro - Alison O'Hara - c,r,c

Awesome Autumn creations (c) Alison O’Hara

As those of you that came to our Awesome Autumn yesterday will know, autumn is the perfect time to do a bit of crafting with the children. With trees dropping leaves, twigs, nuts, and seeds a little bit of scavenging can produce a large array of tools and supplies to make some unusual items.

Leaves are definitely the easiest to find, the most colourful and have the most versatility. While they can be used as stamps, dried leaves can also be painted on directly to produce a variety of pictures. They work particularly well for painting trees and a mammal who loves dropped leaves the most, hedgehogs. Damp, newer leaves can be folded and rolled to produce flowers, with the red to yellow colours fitting in perfectly with the colours we expect to see in roses. Those crafters with shaped hole punches can use them on the leaves to produce unique toppers to any picture or even cards.

Trees’ nuts and seeds can be used for more than just a game of conkers. Acorns work well on their own, with a bit of glue, to producing flowers while adding toothpicks means you can make people and beloved pets. Those lucky enough to have a Horse Chestnut tree near them can string the seeds together to product brown caterpillars and snakes, which can be painted to produce brighter varieties, or used as the base to make hedgehogs, squirrels, and snails.

Twigs make great paint brushes and stamping tools, perfect for painting trees, but work particularly well as a base for more 3D structures. Weaved together or fastened with string they are great for photo frames, dream catchers, and mobiles, as well as being part of more wintery flower displays.

Then, of course, there’s the mud. More easily accessible around this time of year it can either be used on its own, mixed with a little bit of water, or added to red and orange acrylic paint to produce textured pictures with a unique colour all of its own.

All of this with the added bonus of doing a bit of wildlife watching while you collect your supplies, not exactly something you can do in a shop. If you want to learn more about autumn crafting then why not come to our next Awesome Autumn children’s activity on Wednesday 15th October, 10.30am – 12noon.

Georgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Events, People |

Pink Sunset

As the nights are drawing in, the Pink-footed Geese are really starting to build up in number.  For the last two days, there have been large skeins of geese constantly flying over the centre.  A strong visual and audible reminder that Autumn is well and truly here.


Flying geese sunset NON T - resized & right

Pink-footed Geese flying (c) Laurie Campbell

The Rangers were out with a couple of eager volunteers this morning to count exactly how many Pink-footed Geese there are now on the Basin.  The Pink-footed Goose count now stands at 38,685.  An astonishing number to attempt to count but by no means the largest count to date.  On the 8th of October last year, 46,769 were counted on the Basin.

So hopefully this number will only continue to increase as we look forward to our next Goose related public events.

Have you ever wanted to see the Geese fly into the Basin while watching the sun go down? This Sunday 5th October is our Pink Sunset event.  Come and join the Ranger for the opportunity to see the geese in a different light, followed by hot soup and a roll.  Interested? Call the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre for more details and to book your place.  01674 676336

pink sunset & awesome autumn

If a Pink Sunset is not for you then why not come along with the kids to our Awesome Autumn fun days on Wednesday the 8th & 15th of October.  Lots of seasonal crafts and kids activities, 10:30 – 12:00.

Emma Castle-Smith – Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.

Posted in Birds, Events, General | Tagged , |

Reserve sightings


Goose breakfast NM1 SWT T1

(c) Scottish Wildlife Trust – Goose Breakfast

This morning we had our first People’s Postcode Lottery Goose Breakfast of the season.  It was a glorious morning with a beautiful sunrise and a warm 13 degrees Celsius.  Our visitor’s were treated to excellent sightings of the Pink-footed Geese taking off from the mud.  Soaring around in front of them and then settling back down again.  Clearly the Geese were not in a hurry to get their breakfast this morning.

Pink-footed goose Harry Bickerstaff (249)1

(C) Scottish Wildlife Trust – Pink-footed Goose

The Pink-footed Geese numbers now stand at more than 11,000.  Friday’s dawn count of 11,328 does look as though it may have increased further over the past few days.

Pink-footed Geese 011 Harry Bickerstaff1

(C) Scottish Wildlife Trust – Pink-footed Geese in flight.

Over the past week we have seen the numbers of Golden Plover drop slightly from 60 to 37.  The male Kingfisher is still making it’s daily appearance and the female Kingfisher was sighted on Friday as well.

The Eider ducks continue to be seen daily in good numbers, as does the Redshank and Mute Swans.  We have also been visited several times this week by the Stoat, which is very exciting.


Curlew Sandpiper (Courtesy of BTO – JHarding)

On Monday there was also a bit of excitement at Tayock, where a Curlew Sandpiper was spotted by one of our dedicated volunteers.   Every Autumn Curlew Sandpiper’s make their migration from their breeding grounds in the Arctic down to their wintering grounds in Africa.  A journey of over 12,000 km.  What an astonishing little bird!




Posted in Birds, General, Sightings | Tagged , , , |

The most exciting breakfast EVER!

Pink-footed geese taking off from Montrose Basin

Pink-footed geese taking off from Montrose Basin

Calling all lovers of breakfast!  Would you like to experience Sunday morning brekkie in a new and exciting way??

Why not join us for our famous Goose Breakfast!
Join us at 6:30am on Sunday the 28th, and experience the geese lifting off the basin at sunrise! Then back to the Visitor Centre for some breakfast and a hot cuppa.

The rangers have been out this morning to count the Pink-footed Geese!!! Our total now stands at 4,778!!! This should continue to rise throughout the week! The number of Geese last year peaked during September so with 6 days to go we should be inundated with Geese by Sunday.

Booking is essential. Please call the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre on 01674 676 336

Adults £8, Children £4.


Posted in Birds | Tagged , , |

Reserve Sightings

Pink-footed Geese Harry Bickerstaff (217) - resized & copyright

Pink-footed Geese on the Salt Pans (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

The numbers of Pink-footed Geese have increased this week to 346, as seen on the Monday. This number is lower than the 3,000 seen last year and the awe inspiring 63,844 of 2012> It is likely that the milder weather has meant that they’ve stayed in Iceland and Greenland to feed for longer before their migration of 2,250km to Montrose. Others migratory cues (such as day length) will have taken over though and the numbers will probably increase rapidly over the next week.

Wigeon & teal flight Harry Bickerstaff - resized & copyright

Wigeon and Teal in flight (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Kingfisher continues to make its daily appearance on ‘its usual perch’ in the Salt Pans in front of the Visitor Centre and numbers of Red-breasted Merganser and Goosanders remain high and visible (89 and 96 respectively) throughout the Basin. Numbers of Wigeon and Shelduck have also greatly increased in the Basin and the elusive Teal can still be seen in the Salt Pans, with 11 spotted on Monday.

DSCN0177 - Andy Wakelin - cropped, resized & copyright

Swallow on Visitor Centre (c) Andy Wakelin

Some of our summer visitors have also remained with us this week; 12 Swallows have been seen flying around the centre’s eves, 2 Sandwich Terns spotted on Buoy 2, and a juvenile Osprey in the centre of the Basin.

Herons on Dyke - Andy Wakelin - resized & copyright

Grey Heron at the Salt Pans (c) Andy Wakelin

Other sightings this week have been 23 Goldeneye mid Basin, 3 Golden Plover and 80 Lapwing in front of the Visitor Centre, 3 Greenshank at Rossie Spit, and a Little Egret at the Old Montrose Pier. Canada Geese continue to make an appearance with 15 seen on the 14th and 9 Greylag have also been seen on the Basin on a regular basis. Grey Heron numbers also remain relatively high, with 23 seen at the Salt Pans on the 17th. The Stoat has made another appearance this week, at the Dipping Pond which seems to be its regular Rabbit watching spot.

Georgina Bowie, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, Mammals, Sightings |