Basin Notes

A COLD nip in the air, shortening daylight hours and the evocative call of wild geese can mean only one thing: autumn. This always seems a busy time of year and after a long period of wet, there has been a lot of activity on local farms, but it’s not just farmers that are harvesting.

This is a time of nature’s plenty, and it’s a great opportunity for wildlife to prepare for the cold winter months ahead. Whether migrating or hibernating, this wild harvest means many species can build up fat reserves to cope with change in the weather.

Around the reserve over the past week many swallows have been preparing for their migration to South Africa. Feeding entirely on insects on the way after building up some fat reserves before they leave, there is a very real risk of starvation on this long journey as many birds take a route across the Sahara Desert.

While many of our breeding birds are leaving to spend the winter in warmer climes, we have already seen the arrival of several wader species that overwinter on the basin. Attracted by the estuary’s rich and abundant food source, redshank, oyster catcher, dunlin and knot have all been seen this month.

The breathtaking sight and sound of the first wild geese is, for many, the clearest indication that autumn has arrived. At the basin, we have already seen the arrival of thousands of pink-footed geese from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland.

Last year there were over 63,000 on the reserve and, as an internationally important site for our over-wintering population of pink-feet, it’s vital that we keep track of how many geese visit the reserve during the season. This means a dedicated team of volunteers to help us out every year facing early starts and cold conditions to count the geese as they leave the basin at dawn to find daytime feeding grounds. If you’d like to experience thousands of geese leaving the basin for yourself and maybe learn a little more about pink-feet, why not join us on one of our goose breakfasts.

There are ways you can help wildlife at this time of year. If you have nest boxes in your garden, now is the time to clean them out. The nests of most birds harbour fleas and other parasites which remain to infest young birds that hatch the following year. Removing old nests and cleaning the box with boiling water will reduce the chance of bird parasites overwintering in the nest box.

A woodpile can be an ideal habitat for hedgehogs, as well as toads and many insects, to use during the winter months. Hedgehogs look for ideal locations to hibernate towards the end of autumn and piles of brushwood can provide a suitable habitat. Hedgehogs need to hibernate to conserve energy as their food source (slugs, beetles and snails etc) becomes scarce and hard to find in colder weather.

They aren’t just sleeping as their heart rate and breathing slow right down and their body temperature drops. So why not give up a corner of your garden, if you have the space? Autumn foraging is a great way for us all to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer at this time of year.

Take care if foraging for wild mushrooms and, if in doubt, don’t take the risk. Remember, whether harvesting fungi or berry picking, only take what you will use as many species of wildlife rely on these autumnal food sources.

There are lots of events to get excited about this autumn, including: Creatures of the Night – September 29; Awesome Autumn – October 3; People’s Postcode Lottery Goose Breakfast - October 7.

Places are limited and booking is essential for all of the events. Please call the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre for more details: 01674 676 336, or e-mail:

Anna Cheshier

SWT Montrose Basin Ranger