A hint of Spring weather has been with us this last week and plants and animals are going about the business of feeding, growing and reproducing. At least the resident species are - the migrant birds are departing for their summer quarters to breed. For Montrose Basin this means a dramatic change in the types of birds to be seen. Going are waders, ducks and geese. Coming are warblers, terns and buntings.
To keep track of the comings and goings, every month a small band of counters take up positions on the periphery of the Basin at high tide and count every bird they see. This is undertaken as part of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). The data collected from all over the UK shows the pattern of habitat usage and long term trends in bird populations. Collating these numbers gives the total for each species at each site which is sent off to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge where all the returns are processed and published annually.
Analysis of this data shows that Montrose Basin is in the top 5 sites in Scotland in terms of the total number of wetland birds that use different habitats. In terms of estuaries, it is the second most important - only the Forth Estuary holds more birds on average. The area of the Forth is much greater than the Basin so it could be argued that we have the greatest density of estuarine birds in Scotland on our doorstep. This means better birdwatching as birds are concentrated in a small area that is easily accessed.
In addition to keeping track of bird populations, the WeBS data also identifies those sites which are most important for particular species. The data shows the Basin is Internationally Important for pink footed geese, redshank and knot. This means that more than 1% of the world's population of these species use the Basin at some time during the year. In fact 13% of the world's pink footed geese are here at the peak times in October and November. Now they are on their way back to Iceland and Greenland to breed.
Anyone who is interested in joining the counters in this important work should phone the Wildlife Centre on 01674 676336.
The monthly counts for the Basin are available on the Montrose Basin Web Site at http://www.montrosebasin.org.uk/birds.php and follow the links to Counts and Sightings.