First summer migrants arrive

Everyone knows that “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”, however, when the first summer migrants start to reappear, you know the worst of the long, harsh winter is well and truly over.

Sand martins are always one of the first migrants to return and this year they didn’t disappoint, with four birds paying the pools in front of the Visitor Centre a flying visit on 23rd March. 

Since then, the number of sand martins on the reserve has increased and several were seen investigating the newly refurbished artificial nesting wall in front of the Visitor Centre on 2nd April.  Currently, around 20 to 30 can be seen zipping over the pools in the Salt Pans each day and they have been seen mating and furiously digging tunnels in the sandy bank, at the end of which they will excavate their small nesting chamber where the female will lay between four and six eggs.

The day after our intial sand martin sighting I was talking to one of our volunteers, Harry, when a faint birdcall at the bottom of the car park caused us to stop mid-conversation.  We looked at each other and in harmony said, “Chiffchaff!”  Another summer visitor had arrived.

The next summer migrant to arrive on the reserve was the old favourite, the graceful swallow.  Having spent our winter as far away as South Africa, a single bird was seen flying low over the mud of the Basin on the 4th April, a full week before the first sighting in 2010.  They are yet to arrive around the Visitor Centre where normally four or five pairs nest under the eves of the building, providing visitors with exceptional views of the birds entering and leaving the nest.  This year we will be installing a small camera which will allow us to watch the progress of one of the swallow nests on screens in the Centre.

Swallow (c) Niall Benvie
Swallow (c) Niall Benvie

I was pleased to hear that another migrant had made it safely back to Montrose when, as I arrived for work earlier this week I was greeted by a song which I immediately identified as a willow warbler.  Almost identical in appearance to the chiffchaff, willow warblers arrive later and depart before their ever-so-slightly smaller cousins.  On recording this “sighting” on the sightings board in the Visitor Centre I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first record in 2010 was the exact same date, 11th April.

One of the most popular summer migrants which hasn’t been seen at Montrose yet this year is the majestic osprey.  At this time of year they are more intent on ensuring they reclaim their nest, or finding a new site if required, mating and incubating eggs, so it’s not surprising they haven’t made it to us just yet.

Ospreys don’t actually nest on the reserve but we often get birds coming to the Basin in search of food and during the summer sightings of fishing ospreys are an almost daily occurrence.  Towards late summer as the birds start to think about migrating back to Africa and this year’s young are investigating the big, wide world we can have up to five or six ospreys fishing on the reserve at one time, it really is a spectacle.

Our Loch of the Lowes reserve near Dunkeld has the honour of hosting Britain’s oldest breeding osprey, who now in her 21st year nesting on the reserve, has just yesterday laid her 59th egg.  You can keep up to date on her progress by following the Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Blog by clicking here.

There are still plenty of other migrants yet to be recorded at Montrose this summer, such as house martins, sedge warblers and grasshopper warblers to name a few, but probably the most eagerly anticipated are the common terns which nest on the man-made raft located in the middle of the Basin.  This is why we have chosen to have a common tern on the title banner at the top of our blog for the summer season. 

This season we have installed a brilliant new HD camera to watch over our tern colony and the footage will be streamed live on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.  You can see it by clicking here, and although it’s all quiet at the minute, when the birds return at the end of the month that will certainly change!  Last year we had over 100 nesting pairs on the raft and this summer we hope to have even more.  If you’ve never experienced a tern colony you are in for a real treat, they are absolutely fantastic birds and watching them will definitely be entertaining and enthralling stuff.

As for what will be the next migrant to arrive?  Although I’m not a gambling man, I’d put my money on sandwich tern.

Adam – Montrose Basin Ranger

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Everyone knows that “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”, however, when the first summer migrants start to reappear, you know the worst of the long, harsh winter is well and …

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