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17 September 2014
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Wetlands | Montrose Basin

Winter waders

Montrose Basin

The small town of Montrose in Scotland has an impressive history with battles, castles, and whaling having featured in its past.

Today the area around Montrose, the Montrose Basin, is a bird watchers' utopia.

Montrose Basin - a favourite feeding place for winter waders.

The Montrose Basin is packed with the some of the best views of wading birds and ducks you'll find in Scotland during the winter months.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Curlew (Image c/o RSPB Images and Chris Gomersall)The Montrose Basin nature reserve, which is run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, is a mixture of reed bed and salt marsh.

The reason that birds are attracted to this habitat is its thick, glutinous mud which is rich in food and nutrients.

In some places the mud is 30 feet deep, and it's packed with tiny molluscs and snails called hydrobia - one square metre can contain 390,000 of them.

For birds like Oystercatchers, Curlews and Redshanks, this tidal wetland is like a top notch restaurant.

Winter is a particularly good time to see the birds on the mud flats, especially Pink Footed Geese which over-winter from Iceland and Greenland.

The birds arrive in October and November and, if you're lucky, you'll see up to 35,000 of them roosting out on the mud flats and then flying in to feed on the surrounding fields.

Eider Ducks

Eider DuckWinter is also the best time to see the wintering wildfowl that use the reserve including the Eider Duck, one of the fastest flyers on the planet.

There has been a steady increase in the numbers of Eiders wintering in the Montrose Basin in recent decades, and this is a good season to watch a repertoire of their courting behaviour.

It's common for there to be about 1,700-2,000 Eiders including 400-500 breeding pairs.

This sea duck is also our heaviest duck, but despite their weight, these birds are built for speed.

The Eiders are the UK's fastest birds in horizontal flight, reaching an amazing 50 miles an hour thanks to their powerful wings which are almost 100% muscle.

In winter Eiders are at their very best - the males with their exaggerated head action can be seen chasing the females, and making a husky cooing sound.

These birds don't breed until the late spring, but they start pairing off in the winter.

The males are easy to spot with their black and white markings and a beautiful peach chest.

The females look dowdy by comparison, but their downy feathers have brought this species world-wide renown.

The grey-brown feathers that the females pluck from their breast to line their nests are the main component of eider down which can provide insulation to minus 35 degrees.


Oystercatcher (Image: c/o RSPB Images adn Chris Gomersall)Also look out for other birds feeding in the mud including Black Tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, and Redshanks.

Despite its name the Oystercatcher is mainly looking for cockles at Montrose Basin - this bird can consume one every 72 seconds, that's about 500 a day.

The birds winkle the cockles out of the mud after locating them with their highly sensitive beaks.

Nearly 200 species have been recorded on the reserve with other birds including Shelduck, Wigeon and Knot.

Also watch out for Common Seals, lounging on the land bar, when the tide is out.



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