Basin Notes

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BY THE time you all read these notes, Harry Bickerstall and a very dedicated/hardy band of birders, will have already completed their ‘Dawn Chorus’ walk.

This event was recently arranged by Scottish Natural Heritage and held, on Sunday, May 22, at the beautiful St Cyrus Nature Reserve.

Please spare a thought for these “early birds” – having had to start this annual celebration of sunrise, at 4am!

Although, this event revolved around the current, wondrous birdsong and calls we’re all enjoying, if you happen to be out and about near any woods/woodland please keep your ears open and listen out for the sound of drumming too.

Both our resident woodpeckers – the great spotted and the green – drum with their bills on wood, (and other materials), as the main means of advertising their territories. In fact the choice of a good branch or trunk, to act as a sounding board, is very important indeed. I’ve noticed the great’s drumming actually and it usually consists of about 16 loud, fast blows delivered in less than a second, followed by an interval of a few seconds. Whereas the green drums very rarely, weakly and for at least twice as long as the great spotted.

Obviously, all woodpecker species have had to evolve excellent skull insulation and protection to absorb the enormous stresses and impacts caused by their constant hammering of wood etc to expose both their food and advertise territories - which would otherwise be a source of some massive headaches.

Talking about woodpeckers’ food, many wildlife lovers are sometimes shocked at this time of year by some of these birds’ eating habits and choices of nutrition. Many residents in and around the town have put up their own nestboxes and, nine times out of 10, the vulnerable nestlings within our garden boxes are reasonably/relatively safe from most predators.

However, in years when food is scarce the noise they make in trying to get their distraught parents to find more food can be fatal, attracting a host of potential killers – the great spotted woodpecker in particular – that can easily “chisel” them out. These birds invariably go directly for the young, breaking into the box at their level. Squirrels and crows, on the other hand, usually try to enlarge the entrance/hole in order to reach the defenceless youngsters and eggs. (That’s why, on last year’s Springwatch programme, the presenters continuously stressed the importance of considering/putting a protective metal ring around the entrance of each box).

As we all know, our weather can be highly unpredictable. Generally speaking, Scotland’s climate is usually too cold to harbour lots of reptiles. However, a recent local reptile event/walk in the nearby Angus Glens, produced some amazing results and finds i.e. a total of 11 adders and three slow worms were recorded over the entire weekend.

I’ve personally never, ever seen a slow worm but was interested to hear that we do have them in our immediate area. Sunbathing seems to be a favourite pastime for these wonderful creatures, as they need to warm-up their bodies and build-up their energy reserves etc. Some apparently like to climb into hedges and “drape” themselves over the topmost twigs – so please take great care when pruning/clipping back, at this time of year.

A favourite place to hide and absorb warmth is under an old sheet of corrugated iron which gathers heat very quickly, especially first thing in the morning. If you have an area of rough grass at the bottom of your garden, why not try laying down a sheet yourself and, with luck, the resident slow worms will find it and gratefully make good use of it.

Finally, if you’re interested and want to see some fantastic pictures of local amphibians and reptiles, like adders up Glen Esk/near Edzell etc, please view Niall Benvie’s wonderful portfolio of wildlife photographs online – believe me, you won’t be disappointed.