Living among the beasts of the basin

In an attempt to get closer to wildlife, volunteers at the Montrose Basin Visitor Reserve have set a series of camera traps. A camera trap captures motion up to a distance of 10 metres, in day or night. The aim is to get an insight into the behaviour of wildlife around the basin, closer than usually achievable in person. Attempts were made in two separate locations, using different methods for each. The results of which highlighted certain dos and don’ts for subsequent traps.

Attempt number one was a success. Hidden within a large bush, the trap’s field of vision was open but sheltered. Furthermore, the trap was close to the ground, with bait (seeds) scattered in front of it. After a week the camera was recovered, and footage reviewed. It was found that after three days of recording, the memory card was completely full – there was a LOT of activity. As shown in the video (link below), among those captured were – pheasants, blackbirds, robins, mice, rabbits, blue tits and more. The abundance of activity was due to the plentiful supply of food, and the calm conditions below the shelter of the shrubbery.

Capture video: https://youtu.be/LBse7AOXRjc

Location one – large sheltered bush.

Unfortunately, attempt number two was extremely unsuccessful. Why the method leading to the success of the first attempt was not followed in the second is beyond this author, even though he was the trapper. The second location was far more open and lacked any sufficient shelter. The only trigger of activation was the tree to which the camera was attached. The tree waved ferociously in the winter winds, as did trees in the field of vision. Among the errors, the second location wasn’t as strategically placed as the first. This attempt was more ad-hoc and opportunistic.

Lessons learned.

  • Capture in shelter
  • Provide bait
  • Set up in areas of known activity (animal wise)

Going forward, the camera has been located in accordance to the above lessons. Watch this space for some more Montrose Basin action!

 

Benedict Murray, Visitor Centre Assistant

Posted in Birds, General, Mammals, Sightings, Species profile | Tagged , |

Natural Flood Management, the Witch, and the Basin.

After Scotland experienced some of the worst floods it has seen in decades (if not centuries), questions are being raised in many communities on the effectiveness and sustainability of hard engineered flood protection schemes. As a result, alternatives are being sought in the UK and around the world, and a measure appearing to be increasing in popularity is Natural Flood Management (NFM).

NFM is the alteration, restoration or use of landscape features in a way to reduce flood risk. Already, reports have emerged of the success of NFM in mitigating the recent flood events. An example of a few methods can include upstream water storage – field flooding, leaky dams – tree planting and woodland creation, and the re-meandering of artificially straightened river systems.

While some communities are developing projects to enhance the natural landscapes ability alleviate flooding, others are lucky enough to have these features in place already.

During the winter flooding, Montrose remained relatively dry; in comparison to Marykirk or Brechin. Similar to these two places, Montrose sits adjacent to a river – the South Esk. However, several natural features help separate us from the water.

Marykirk flooding

Snapshot of drone footage of Marykirk flooding – 30 Dec 2015, PaceProductions UK

The river South Esk enters the Montrose basin from the west, and discharges to the North Sea, draining a catchment area of 564 km2 (SEPA). The river reached its highest ever peak flow record of 3.733m on 30/12/2015 (A record of 21 years), and over-topped its banks.

As seen below, before reaching the basin, the river floods adjacent land due to the low gradients of flat surrounding fields and meanders in the river system.

SEPA flood map basin

South Esk Flood extent – Low likelihood scenario, SEPA flood hazard maps – 2016

The meanders in the river system help slow the flow of water. In these areas of constriction, such as corners or the base of bridges, the water level rises, and eventually spills out onto the floodplain. The fields act as temporary storage for the surplus of water, reducing the amount of floodwater travelling downstream and into the Basin. This is one of two components of flood alleviation which Montrose benefits from.

The second is the Basin itself. Montrose Basin is a unique example of an enclosed estuarine wetland. Wetlands are among the world’s most important environmental assets, containing a vast number of plant and animal species compared with other areas of the world. In light of the recent flooding, their value has just gone up.

When the tide is out, floodwater from river channel or sea entering the Basin will spread out across the surface, dissipating energy and decreasing in velocity. The same applies for sea waves when the tide is higher; waves lose energy when travelling through tidal marshes or mudflats due to increased bottom friction (Smolders et al. 2015). However, attenuation is dependent on wetland properties, such as the size and elevation.

The Basin effectively acts as a natural buffer from an influx of floodwater and storm surges not only by dissipating wave energy, but also by providing flood water storage (Smolders et al. 2015). The name itself gives away its function; the large basin fills with water.

The point to be made is the importance of the Basin and its location, and the consequences that Montrose may face if it wasn’t there. Had Dronner’s Dyke of 1677 been a success, the current flood situation in Scotland may have been even closer to home. Luckily for us, nature (or the witch) was stronger, as the dyke perished in a storm (1678).

Reflecting upon the widespread damage left by the recent flooding, my appreciation has never been greater for the Basin, and more generally – wetlands.

Benedict Murray, Visitor Centre Assistant


Help spread awareness about the importance of wetlands, and celebrate Worlds Wetland Day this February 2nd 2016. Check out the site at http://www.worldwetlandsday.org/en/

“Wetlands are vital for human survival. They are among the world’s most productive environments; cradles of biological diversity that provide the water and productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival”

#WorldWetlandsDay #WetlandsForOurFuture


References:

S., Smolders, Y., Plancke, S., Ides, P., Meire, S., Temmerman, 2015, Role of intertidal wetlands for tidal and storm tide attenuation along a confined estuary: a model study, Natural Hazards and Earth Sciences, Copernicus Publications, European Geosciences Union


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

DRONNER’S DYKE DESTROYED

17.01.1679

This January, Montrose has had some of the strongest winds ever, which led some to believe that something mysterious was in the air. After a brief legal case, Meggie Cowie was found guilty of performing witchcraft, consequently leading to the destruction of Dronner’s dyke. The witch was seen poking her boney finger into the dyke, conjuring a mighty storm leading to the demise of the great structure. Locals reported her rambling blaspheming and heralding delusions masked as environmental concern. Ms. Cowie was sentenced to death and burned at the stake on 14.01.1679.

witchburnblog

Burning of witch, source – www.shakespearesengland.co.uk

The dyke was planned to be a major feature of the burgh. It was intended that the dyke would reclaim the Northern half of the Basin for agriculture. The project was completed during the summer of 1698, and the dyke was without a doubt, one of the great wonders of the world. Best described by our Rev. Roberts Edwards, who gave his blessing and wrote “The citizens of Montrose, by a dyke almost two miles in length, which they are raising at that bay. In the river South Esk, on the west side of the town, will gain when that noble work is complete about a thousand acres of land. And as the sea will be forever shut out, Montrose may boast of land of its own acquisition, so fine to resemble the Elysian Fields.”

dronersdkyepicald

Dronner’s Dyke, Montrose basin, source – www.nls.uk

A minority of town’s folk contested the project, hailing that their ancient right to mussel and salmon fishing would be affected, while others quarrelled over sewage disposal issues. The most significant individual against the noble cause was the local witch, Ms. Cowie. Due to her heinous intervention, a violent storm breached the dyke, ruining the cause.

Alas, the dyke has been destroyed, and the capital spent on the project is unlikely to be reclaimed or raised again soon. We can only look to the future and hope, once all witches and wizards are eradicated– Dronner’s dyke shall return.

 

B.G.Murray, Assistant Editor, Montrose Gazette – Published 17.01.1679

Posted in General, People, Uncategorized | Tagged , , |

Well that was a little Auk-ward.

What to do when you find wildlife in unusual places.

If you asked a member of the public what they think working for the Scottish Wildlife Trust means.  I reckon they would conjure up an image of people working outdoors on the land. Protecting Scotland’s wildlife for the future by counting birds; maintaining the reserves and rescuing injured wildlife.  Well the first two are certainly true but we can’t however claim to have the expertise or tools to rehabilitate injured or exhausted wildlife.

Although many of our staff and volunteers have amassed knowledge over time about how to deal with such things, it is not actually part of our charities overall vision.  Of course we are sympathetic when wildlife is in need of rescue but if we can’t do anything, what would we advise?

The Scottish Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) is Scotland’s only national welfare charity.  In 2014 alone, it took in over 7,200 wild animals into care.  At the moment as you may have seen on the BBC they have been inundated with exhausted Little Auks.

Little Auk (c) WikiComms

Little Auk (c) WikiComms

These Arctic sea birds are about the same size as a Starling, but they don’t usually spend time on our coastline.  In fact they spend their summer in the Arctic and their winter out in the North Sea. So in turbulent weather such as storm Frank they are vulnerable to being ‘wrecked’.   So what should you do if you find one in your garden?

Call the SSPCA (03000 999 999) and you will be put through to someone that can ask you all the necessary questions.  If they deem a rescue necessary then they will send out an officer and possibly take it back to the wildlife rescue centre at Fishcross in Clackmannanshire.

Whether its a Little Auk or an injured animal, how do you know when to intervene?

A little knowledge of animal behaviour and ecology can go a long way to understanding whether an animal is out of it’s normal habitat or acting strangely.  But if your not a wildlife expert then here is an easy way to assess the situation.

Only intervene if the animal is clearly;

  • in immediate danger, for example on a road
  • seen to have an injury or bleeding
  • is weak or visibly emaciated

Usually birds and animals will attempt to get away from people if they are approached and as a general rule if you can pick them up then they must be feeling very tired or poorly.

However, in some cases being ‘rescued’ by someone can cause more distress than is necessary.  So have a look at the animal from a safe distance and ascertain the problem, then call the SSPCA for advice.

IF POSSIBLE PLEASE DO NOT PICK UP A WILD ANIMAL! Wildlife can be dangerous especially when fully grown.  Just this morning an adult Cormorant was rescued by police after it was spotted on a busy road in Hillside.  Unfortunately it caused its captors some damage with it’s razor sharp beak before being subdued.  They called the centre and shortly afterwards, it was released on the reserve and flew off effortlessly.

Every so often the centre will get a phone call about an injured animal, that someone has taken into their home.  This is not advisable and I would urge everyone to seek advice from the SSPCA before removing the animal from the wild.

All too often wildlife gets taken into our homes and inexperienced carers inadvertently kill the animal by attempting to feed it.  Sometimes just the stress of the experience of coming into a heated home filled with unfamiliar scents can be enough to kill them.

Gull chick (c) Pixabay - DesignFife

Gull chick (c) Pixabay – DesignFife

This is especially true in the summer months in Montrose when gull chicks are left unattended in peoples gardens for hours on end.  By our very nature humans want to take care of baby animals and are often distressed by the thought of an animal being abandoned.  However, in many cases chicks are left on their own out of necessity by their parents but not abandoned.  The adults of course do return periodically to feed their young.  So taking a gull chick indoors would almost certainly mean that the parent would ultimately abandon it.  As its absence would lead it to think that the chick had been caught by a predator.

As a wildlife charity we are always delighted to help the public with any and all enquiries about wildlife.  We would never wish to see anything in distress or harmed in anyway but please consider whether or not intervening will make the situation worse. Please do not hesitate to call the centre but if you do have a Little Auk in your garden then calling the SSPCA will certainly get the wee guy into care quicker.

Emma Castle-Smith                                                                                                                                        Visitor Centre Assistant Manager

 

 

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

Cheerio but be back soon!

As I sadly come to the end of my 3 month internship here at Montrose Basin Visitor Centre, I have had the chance to reflect on my time here. It has been such a rewarding volunteering experience: Meeting and working with wonderful people; encouraging enthusiastic kids (who often know more than I do!) in their discovery of nature; speaking to other volunteers and visitors and learning so much about birds in the process; and  also encouraging my own desire to learn new things and explore the natural world more, all in the most interesting and beautiful place I have ever had the joy to work.

The wonderful visitor centre  (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

The wonderful visitor centre (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

I have gained a lot from this internship, not only my new found bird ID skills, but also my growth  in confidence in presenting what I know and expressing my love for nature. It’s been an incredible insight in to the running of a visitor centre – planning of events, upkeep of the building and grounds and running a small gift shop and cafe. All of the employees and volunteers here are always working hard and it’s been great to be a part of such a passionate, upbeat team.

My favourite job whilst volunteering here has definitely been engaging with visitors at the viewing window (although I was terrified of this at first!). I have learned a lot about the Basin estuary through finding things to talk to people about and have also learned a lot from the visitors themselves as we are often visited by very knowledgeable birders!

The Basin is a perfect place to appreciate the details of nature. I have seen more species of bird here in one place than I have anywhere else. This is what prompts me to share a few small thoughts with you (as it is my last blog and all!).

In observing the unique estuarine habitat here at the Basin I’ve been struck by just how diverse the species that live here are. Everything serves a purpose, whether it‘s providing food for another animal, or simply the intrinsic value in its own beauty. In improving my bird ID skills I’ve come to appreciate the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between each species of bird. There’s a certain joy in finally being able to tell the difference between a female mallard and female eider, and slowly over time coming to realise that, actually, they really are quite different!

Female Mallard (c) Nick Townell

Female Mallard (c) Nick Townell

Female Eider (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Female Eider (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Learning to value the details in nature is something that I will definitely take forward with me in life. I have always appreciated the diversity in the natural world around me, but somehow, noticing all of the finer details makes it even more awe inspiring. Simply wandering over to the window to look out over the Basin brings more inspiration than any amount of research ever could.

The Basin  (c)Andy Wakelin

The Basin (c)Andy Wakelin

This makes me wonder about how we may be better stewards of nature. I have come to realise that there is an incredible value in simply taking the time to sit and watch; to pay attention to the diversity and beauty around us and not rush by; to go out, experience things and search for endless new discoveries. This is what helps us to understand the true worth of the things that we have the power to protect.

 

Aileen Corral- Visitor Centre Intern (over and out!)

Posted in General, People | Tagged |

Nature is my medicine.

Heron at sunrise NB LIM SWT

Heron on the Basin (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

From ancient Greece, Rome and China to the present, the belief in natures ability to restore and cure has been persistent. Borne from this belief are the foundations behind passions for gardening, bird-watching, hiking, and even in the philosophy of Romanticism (Bate, 2005). As towns and cities become more urbanised and less green, numerous studies and growing evidence suggests that experiencing nature is beneficial for mental health as a form of therapy.

Pearson and Craig (2014) discuss an influential framework presented by Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) termed attentional restoration theory (ART). ART claims that those spending excessive amounts of time in an urban environment, can suffer from cognitive fatigue. In other words, living in an urban environment forces one to focus their attention to overcome constant stimulation. In comparison with the natural environment, the demand on executive-based attention is reduced, therefore allowing greater restoration of depleted attentional resources, used when in urban environments. Basically, when experiencing nature, ones mind is able to relax and return to default.

Another interesting finding was the experience of ‘being away’ when with nature (Pearson and Craig, 2014). Similar to the term ‘being in the moment’, being away refers to the feeling of escapism, the process of removing oneself from the stresses of everyday life. Pearson and Craig explain that studies reporting the effects of ‘being away’ with nature, find that ones attention to demanding tasks improves following exposure to natural environments.

In a study by Korpela et al. (2001), students were asked to describe their favourite places. The results were heavily biased toward natural environments, for example – cottages surrounded by trees and a lake, beaches, woods etc. Although the study does not explicitly link nature the mental health of the individual, it implies that for many, nature is a prime source their happiness.

DSC_0144 Adams

View of Montrose from the Lurgies (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Studies aside, the natural benefits are being practised worldwide, and in the western world, is known as ‘ecotherapy’. Ecotherapy can involve anything outdoors, such as working in nature, be it a conservation project, gardening or farming. It also involves experiencing nature, such as enjoying the views on a walk or cycling through some woodland.

A blog written in 2013 details the journey of a man named Michael.  After a serious head injury, he suffered severe depression and panic attacks, and as a result, got involved with an organisation called ‘Growing Well’. The organisation practices ecotherapy, which supports people from periods of mental illness by providing a supportive environment on an organic farm. Over time, this environment enabled Michael to regain his sense of worth and self-confidence in the outdoors.

Others with similar experiences to Michael go on to explain how ecotherapy has helped them:

“It gives me structure, makes me utilise the daylight and get out of bed. It gives me something outside of myself to nurture and look after and that helps me to better look after myself.”

“I do ecotherapy to get sunlight onto my skin and into my mind. It shines light through the dark fog of depression.”

DSCF2552

Sunset of the Basin (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

As we race ever forward to an increasingly technological era, the simple wonder of experiencing the outdoors is becoming less common. We as a species are moving indoors, sticking our feet up and turning on the television, ironically watching David Attenbourgh documentaries about the wonders of nature. Over the past two decades, it has been reported that children are spending less than 30 minutes a day outdoors each day, and more than seven hours in front of an electronic screen (Sandberg, 1999).

Whether you are suffering from a mental illness or not, its important to realise the multiple benefits you can experience just outside your door. I hope this leaves you considering going on an adventure this weekend, and receiving a little therapy as you do so.

Benedict George Murray, Visitor Centre Assistant


Stuck for ideas?

Check out the Montrose Basin Wildlife Visitor Centre!

The Visitor Centre is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 10.30am – 4.00pm until 29th February, 2016.

Reserves and hides will remain accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Reserve maps can be obtained from the Visitor centre or here http://bit.ly/1LYFzJ9


References:

Bate, J., 2005, Falling in love again, Book Review: Depression cut the naturalist Richard Mabey off from the natural world. He charts his slow process of recovery in Nature Cure
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/feb/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview2

Hofferth, S., and Sandberg, J., 1999, “Changes in American Children’s Time, 1981-1997,” University of Michigan
Institute for Social Research. http://www.puttingfamilyfirst.org/research.php

Kaplan, R., and Kaplan, S., 1989. The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Korpela, K. M., Hartig, T., Kaiser, F. G., and Fuhrer, U., 2001, Restorative experience and self-regulation in favorite places

Pearson, D.G., and Craig, T., 2014, The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments, Available online at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178/full

Putting ecotherapy into the picture,
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/putting-ecotherapy-into-the-picture/#.Vm1bItKLTGg

Posted in General, Mammals, People, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Not Another Bird Blog?!

Haha jokes! We love our birds here at Montrose Basin, but  this isn’t another blog about birds… Not really anyway!

Sadly, this will be my last blog as an intern here at the Scottish Wildlife Trust – Montrose Basin. My time here has been both challenging and enjoyable but most definitely worthwhile.

There are lots of different aspects to working within the visitor centre, from the lovely staff and volunteers, the huge range of wildlife seen from our large panoramic window, the panic and commotion when the coffee machine decides to malfunction (it makes a cracking cup of coffee, but yes, it has a mind of it’s own) and of course, you – the visitors, members, readers and curious minds that decide to step into the centre hoping to escape the cold (and of course, check out our brilliant facilities and shop – did I mention we make a great cup of coffee? ;))

WP_20151101_14_56_12_Pro

(c) SWT

Interning here has been one of the most interesting experiences I have ever been through. I have always had a thirst for learning and new experiences, and simply could not pass up an opportunity to work with this great organisation. Learning about birds and other wildlife on the reserve was quite challenging to begin with. Shamefully, the only knowledge I had of birds went as far being able to distinguish a pigeon from a duck (I know what you are thinking, “typical city girl”). However, being able to use customer service skills I had gained from previous jobs and getting to know the members who visit the centre regularly was, for me, one of the perks of this internship.

Eider SWT (23)

Knowing the difference between a male and female eider duck is impressive, right? (c) SWT

Another aspect of the visitor centre that has made me enjoy it so much is the great people that work and volunteer here. With their warm welcomes, the staff and volunteers included me as an important member of their circle (which always made the bus journeys from Dundee to Montrose a little less painful).

As well as being able to work alongside some pretty awesome people; being surrounded by dedicated bird watchers and members of SWT that are so passionate about birds has been enlightening.  I will never forget the day when an elderly couple came in to look through the telescopes at the windows and were ecstatic over spotting a Kingfisher for the first time so clearly. To witness genuine happiness painted across their faces was positively one of my favourite moments I have had here.

Female Kingfisher (c) SWT

Who wouldn’t get excited over a Kingfisher?! They’re glorious! (c) SWT

And that is it- apologies if this blog has not been the informative/factual account of birds you may have been expecting, but I hope it sheds some light on how fantastic the Montrose Basin visitor centre is. Overall I have had a great experience here and I am thankful for the lovely people I have met and the opportunities I have been given as an intern. This isn’t a goodbye, who knows, they might even let me do a “guest” blog in the future 😉

 

Meili Oh – Visitor Centre Intern

 

As of 1st November, the Visitor Centre will be opened Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, from 10.30am – 4.00pm until 29th February, 2016.

Reserves and hides will remain accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

Posted in General, People |

What’s that big black bird?

A question asked by 8 year old John.

That, young John, is Phalacrocorax Carbo. Or more commonly known as – a Cormorant.

Cormorant ©Wikipedia

John’s beautifully simple description aside, how else would one recognise a Cormorant?

It is semi-aquatic, meaning that it is most often found by water, along coasts, estuaries, or sand banks. On Montrose Basin, they are often seen at high tide on Rossie spit, and are easily distinguished from other common residents, such as Oystercatcher, Redshank and Wigeon.

IMG_20150406_133954

Rossie spit (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Cormorants sit low in the water, with their heads raised regally. Excellent divers, they dive under the water, without a prior look into the water below. It’s been found, that Cormorants can reach depths up to 45m in search of food, such as fish and eels.

Leap diving ©Wikipedia

One of the Cormorants most recognisable behaviours, is their characteristic crucifix stance. They are not alone in doing so, with companions elsewhere such as Brown and White Pelicans, some storks, herons, vultures, and hawks (Ehrlich, 1988).

Why do they do this?

Great question John. The prevailing theories suggest the stance is an energy saving technique.

Spread wings © Copyright Walter Baxter, Creative Commons

Cormorants lack the water resistant properties that many other aquatic birds possess, and therefore must dry their wings. It requires large amounts of energy for a Cormorant to regulate its body temperature in order to dry its wings. For this reason, it is thought that cormorants use nature’s hand-drier – the wind. The wind compensates for the cormorant’s lack of water resistance, drying residual water from the birds’ plumage.

Other theories suggest that the crucifix stance assists food digestion. The stance increases the exposure of the bird’s front to the sun. Digestion requires energy, and it is thought that the heat absorbed from the sun reduces the amount of heat required to be generated by the bird itself.

Wait, is that a Cormorant or a Shag?

Excellent question John. These two black, aquatic birds can be easily be mistaken for one another. However, certain indicators of identity can aid the distinction between the two.

Shag © Wikipedia

Firstly – but only helpful if standing next to one another – the Cormorant is much bigger than Shag.

There is slightly more white found on the Cormorants plumage, primarily around the face, and a patch above the legs. Both juvenile Cormorants and Shags have white fronts, and therefore other indicators are needed to aid distinction. Cormorants always have black feet; Shags have pale coloured feet until adulthood.

The variation in head shape is a key indicator. While a Cormorant has a relatively streamlined beak to head, a Shag has a raised eyebrow or peaked crown. During courtship, Cormorants raise a tuft to rear of their head, while Shags raise the tuft at the front.

The Cormorant’s beak is thick, with a light grey colour, and a yellow patch at the base. Shag’s have a more slender beak, with black upper mandibles, and a far more distinct yellow on the lower mandible.

Finally, a more detailed difference is that Cormorants lack the green tinge of adult Shags.

Now John, if you have any more questions, you know where to go don’t you? Check out the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre. I hear its a pretty swell place.

 

Benedict George Murray, Visitor Centre Assistant

Reserve maps can be obtained from the Visitor centre or here http://bit.ly/1LYFzJ9

As of 1st November, the Visitor Centre will be opened Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, from 10.30am – 4.00pm until 29th February, 2016.

Reserves and hides will remain accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Posted in Birds, General, Species profile | Tagged , , |

Fantastic Mr Fox and the Salt Pandemonium

The estuary here at Montrose Basin is ever changing. Since beginning my time volunteering here I have watched with intrigue as the Basin transforms over the course of the day, as the high tide brings birds in close to the visitor centre for excellent viewing and the low reveals mudflats which attract a multitude of waders, wildfowl and seals. I have never experienced a change quite as extreme as the one we witnessed on Friday, as an extra high tide came in, backed by strong winds and the salt pans were flooded.

Flooded salt pans and field  (c) Andy Wakelin

Flooded salt pans and field (c) Andy Wakelin

Usually shallow pools normally adorned with dipping ducks and hungry herons were engulfed into the mass of the estuary. This was a spectacle in itself; however not the only one as the flooding also created an island, on which a lonely fox became trapped! We watched intently from the visitor centre window as the beautiful creature searched his small island for an escape route.

Fox in the sun  (c)Andy Wakelin

Fox in the sun (c)Andy Wakelin

 

Neither the ponies nor the birds who had taken refuge on this dry patch of land seemed perturbed by his presence, and neither he theirs. He seemed a lot more preoccupied with getting back home than finding himself a snack!

Fox and oystercatchers  (c)Andy Wakelin

Fox and oystercatchers (c)Andy Wakelin

Reluctant to step in to the water, our furry friend wandered back and forth for some time before eventually giving in and wading to the mainland where he joyfully dashed in to the bushes and out of sight.

Wading fox  (c)Andy Wakelin

Wading fox (c)Andy Wakelin

This unusual daytime visitor and the interest of the flooding saltpans led me to look into their history.  Beginning in the 12th century, the saltpans surrounding the Basin were vital as a part of the booming salmon export trade from Montrose. Water from the estuary was captured here during high tides and as the water evaporated and a concentrated solution of brine was created. This was then boiled to remove the rest of the water, and the resulting salt was used to preserve fish before export. When the visitor centre opened here in 1995, these salt pans were scraped out to provide shallow pools for wildlife.

salt pans  (c)

salt pans (c)Scottish Wildlife Trust

However, these pools became increasingly invaded by the surrounding vegetation and by 2007 had almost dried up. A new strategy was needed. The pools were once again scraped out and this time the area was fenced off so that a flock of Scottish Wildlife Trust’s hardy Hebridean sheep could be routinely placed in the area to graze the vegetation and keep it under control. Cattle have also been used to graze this area, but recently we have used Highland ponies, which can often be seen happily meandering around the salt pans and nearby field.

Ponies (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

Ponies (c) Scottish Wildlife Trust

I have been blessed to see many species of bird enjoying these salt pan pools including teal, moorhen, water rail, snipe, grey herons, the occasional little egret and our wonderful resident kingfisher (have a look at our previous blog for some information about him!).

 

Aileen Corral- Visitor Centre Intern

Posted in Mammals, Sightings | Tagged , , |

The King of the Basin

As I prepare to write this blog, the star and inspiration of it has just so happened to appear in front of me sitting on it’s usual perch. Yes, that’s right, it has it’s very own spot here at the Basin. A beautiful sight, it sits poised, almost as if it knows of it’s many admirers watching it from the visitor centre. As if we are not already wowed by it’s appearance and overall elegance, it’s stunning display of catching fish at the ponds in front of the centre is another reason to find this small bird widely impressive.

(c) Harry Bickerstaff

Although Kingfishers appear brightly-coloured, with their signature blue-green back and orange front, they are actually brown in colour. The reason the colour we observe is different to the brown pigmented colour of the feathers is because the structure of the wings causes light to be refracted in different directions before it reaches our eye. If the light was reflected directly back to us, the kingfisher’s plumage would appear much less spectacular!  (QI- Kingfishers)

Males and females have very similar physical characteristics, however, females generally possess red colouration on their lower mandible. This is the easiest way to tell them apart in the field.

Male Kingfisher (c) SWT

Male Kingfisher (c) SWT

Female Kingfisher (c) SWT

Female Kingfisher (c) SWT

Here at Montrose Basin our frequent visitor enjoys the delightful delicacies of our brackish (slightly salty) ponds. Our sticklebacks are particularly popular with him. Swallowing them whole, he manoeuvres the fish so its head faces inwards. This is so the protruding body armour plates of the fish do not suffocate or damage the inside of the Kingfisher’s throat during consumption.

Stickleback (c) Wiki Commons

 

Kingfishers are generally short-lived, typically living for around 2 years (although the BTO have a ringed bird recorded as living over 4 and a half years) (BTO) . Once kingfishers have fledged (at around 24-25 days old) their parents force them our of their territory and the youngsters are left to fend for themselves.

Front view of Kingfisher (c) Harry Bickerstaff

Front view of Kingfisher (c) Harry Bickerstaff

We have seen the Kingfisher from the visitor centre window on an almost daily basis since early July, and even had a sighting of 5 at once earlier in the year. They are fantastically attractive birds and do not fail to amaze each time they are spotted. We are fortunate to have our little Kingfisher choose our reserve as its place for comfort and food, even though it was almost taken from us by a sparrow-hawk! It has returned since then, crisis averted – Phew!

Meili Oh – Visitor Centre Intern

Reserve maps can be obtained from the Visitor centre or here http://bit.ly/1LYFzJ9

As of 1st November, the Visitor Centre will be opened Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, from 10.30am – 4.00pm until 29th February, 2016.

Reserves and hides will remain accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Posted in Birds, Sightings, Species profile | Tagged , , |