First summer migrants appear at Montrose

EVERYONE knows that “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”, however when the first summer migrants start to reappear you know the worst of the long, harsh winter is well and truly over.

Sand martins are always one of the first migrants to return and this year they didn’t disappoint with four birds paying the pools in front of the Visitor Centre a flying visit on March 23. 

Since then the number of sand martins on the reserve has increased and several were seen investigating the newly refurbished artificial nesting wall in front of the Visitor Centre on April 2.  

Currently, around 30 to 50 can be seen zipping over the pools in the Salt Pans each day and they have been seen mating and furiously digging tunnels in the sandy bank at the end of which they will excavate their small nesting chamber. Where, all being well, the female will lay between four and six eggs.

The day after our initial sand martin sighting I was talking to one of our volunteers, Harry, when a faint birdcall at the bottom of the car park caused us to stop mid-conversation. We looked at each other and in harmony said, “Chiffchaff!” 

Another summer visitor had arrived.

The next summer migrant to arrive on the reserve was the old favourite, the graceful swallow.  Having spent our winter as far away as South Africa a single bird was seen flying low over the mud of the Basin on April 4, a full week before the first sighting in 2010. 

They are yet to arrive around the Visitor Centre where normally four or five pairs nest under the eaves of the building, providing visitors with exceptional views of the birds entering and leaving the nest. 

This year we will be installing a small camera which will allow us to watch the progress of one of the swallow nests on screens in the Centre.

I was pleased to hear that another migrant had made it safely back to Montrose when, as I arrived for work one morning last week, I was greeted by a song which I immediately identified as a willow warbler. 

Almost identical in appearance to the chiffchaff, willow warblers arrive later and depart before their ever-so-slightly smaller cousins. On recording this sighting on the sightings board in the Visitor Centre I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first record in 2010 was the exact same date, April 11.

One of the most popular summer migrants to visit the Basin is the majestic osprey and the first of 2011 was recorded on April 14.

Ospreys don’t actually nest on the reserve but we often get birds coming to the Basin in search of food and during the summer, sightings of fishing ospreys are an almost daily occurrence. Towards late summer as the birds start to think about migrating back to Africa and this year’s young are investigating the big, wide world we can have up to five or six ospreys fishing on the reserve at one time, it really is a spectacle.

There are still plenty of other migrants yet to be recorded at Montrose this summer, such as house martins, sedge warblers and grasshopper warblers to name a few, but probably the most eagerly anticipated are the common terns which nest on the man-made raft located in the middle of the Basin. 

Thanks to help from Montrose RNLI and Montrose Sailing Club, this season we have installed a brilliant new HD camera to watch over our tern colony and the footage will be streamed live on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.

Last year we had over 100 nesting pairs on the raft and this summer we hope to have even more. 

If you’ve never experienced a tern colony you are in for a real treat - they are absolutely fantastic birds and watching them will definitely be entertaining and enthralling stuff.