Basin Notes by Russell G Nisbet

AFTER the really cold, snowy period, believe it or not there are signs of things to come! Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Robins, Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves have started to call, and Snowdrops and White Butterbur are appearing from the soil, which has been blanketed by the snow. If you look closely at shrubs such as Flowering Currants, you will note that the buds are forming.

It is usually quite tricky to identify shrubs and trees in winter but if you look at the buds, this can aid identification. Sycamore buds are green, Ash are black, Horse Chestnuts are brown and sticky, and Lime are reddish. The Horse Chestnuts along with the Poplars are the first to come in to leaf.

Tawny Owls are ‘hooting’ but this is not too uncommon at this time of year, and, on the South Esk, Dippers are also in song. This, too, is not unusual as this species along with the Robin can sing all year round. I have heard reports of Great Spotted Woodpeckers ‘drumming’, and I hope you have all heard the “teacher, teacher” calls from the Great Tits.

Another sign of things to come is the return of Razorbills, Common Guillemots and Fulmars to their nesting cliffs. A recent walk along the cliffs at Dunnotter Castle proved this. The Fulmars were on the nesting ledges, although probably still prospecting, and the auks were off-shore but interested.

The next time you are walking along the beach at Montrose, take a good look out to sea as there have been recent sightings of Hump-backed Whales. I was fortunate enough to spend half-an-hour watching two of these magnificent creatures in a feeding frenzy along with over 100 Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls. The ‘spouting’ was very obvious, and, on one occasion, the tail fluke appeared in all its glory in preparation for a deeper dive. These mammals are not very common in the North Sea, and usually migrate along the west coast.

No doubt you have all seen the much commoner ‘pods’ of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. One way of telling dolphins from the smaller porpoises is that the former often clears the water completely.

The bird, which heralds the coming of spring, is the Lesser Black-backed Gull. It is this month when they return in huge numbers to our shores from southern seas. They are very similar to the ubiquitous Herring Gull but have a dark mantle instead of silver-grey. In recent years, some of these LBB’s have been over-wintering but you will see a big difference in their numbers by the middle of February.

In past years, I have seen Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies on the wing in February, but if they are not out and about, take a look in some dark warm corners of attics or sheds are you may come across hibernating ones. These three species spend the winter this way as complete butterflies in a torpid state whereas many other species will be in grub or chrysalis form.

However, if it is too chilly for you to venture out to look at nature, pop into the Montrose Scottish Wildlife Centre on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday to watch nature from the cosy, welcoming centre. The bird feeders are always kept topped up, and the new CCTV cameras will allow you to see parts of the reserve you have not seen before!

Russell G. Nisbet