Mid WINTER is an excellent time to visit the SWT Wildlife Centre in Montrose (open Friday to Sunday) for the chance to see some quite unusual birds from the panoramic window.
Very recently, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club and the Angus & Dundee Bird Club had a joint meeting visiting the centre, and were able to see the uncommon Great Northern Diver and an even more unusual Black-necked Grebe spotted by Andy, one of the volunteers. If you can time your visit to coincide with an incoming tide, this will be to your advantage. At least two hours before high tide is the best time as the flowing tide will bring many birds such as Greenshanks closer to the Centre.
Andy counted 168 Pintails last weekend whilst hearing the squealing calls from a Water Rail. Meanwhile, a small party of the localised Tree Sparrows was feeding at the feeders just below the window. There are still around 25,000 Pink-footed Geese roosting in the Basin, and there is a party of around 40 Scaup as well.
Although it is mid January, I have noticed that the odd Black-headed Gull is showing signs of losing its white winter head plumage, and after a few days of mild weather, the earth has warmed up enough to permit growth by some of our early plants such as Snowdrops, Gorse, Daisies, White Butterbur and Lesser Celandine. While walking along the banks of the North Esk recently, I could smell the lovely aniseed scent from the Sweet Cicely which is one of the umbellifer plants (parsley family). Normally, I would have to wait until March before rubbing the leaves to obtain this aromatic smell. I am sure that you have noticed some of your garden shrubs coming into flower or, at least, showing signs of forming buds.
It is always lovely to hear a snatch of bird song in mid winter. The two main species to listen out for are the Robin and the Dipper as both sing all year round. To hear the Dipper, you will need to visit either the North or South Esks, and you may have to strain your ears just a little as these birds often sing close to the sound of running water. I have always thought that this is a bit of a paradox as most birds wish to sing from a prominent position, and to project the volume of the song as far as possible!
Another bird species, which has a song only heard at close quarters, is the Bullfinch. This species pairs for life; so perhaps the song is meant to be heard intimately by its female only. Dippers also mate for life; so it could be the same for them.
During these milder days, you may have noticed hatches of insects dancing in the air. This is one of the beauties of our temperate climate, which enables chiefly insect eating birds to stay with us for the winter. Having said this, all of these birds such as Robins, Dunnocks, Wrens and Treecreepers have to adapt in order to survive. This is where we come in to help them get through the winter.
If it is possible, we should feed the birds especially during the harder periods. We can buy food at the Wildlife Centre or make our own by melting down some lard and mixing in any odd foodstuff you can think of; then hang it up in the garden if you have one. Remember that water is also essential, and make sure that the container is kept ice-free. I hope you have a good winter watching the birds that you have attracted.