Springing Into Action

Spring will soon be here, well maybe once the snow has disappeared! And what better way to mark the start of the season by coming down and spotting the firs summer migrants of the year.  Here at the Visitor Centre we are in the prime spot to see most of these anticipated visitors, with Swallows nesting in the centre eves, Sand Martins bombing in and out of our nesting bank and terns taking residence on our specially constructed raft.

The first summer migrants to arrive are usually Sand Martins, arriving on the reserve at the end of March (25th of March in 2012 and the 23rd in 2011).  Sand Martins spend the winter months in sub-Saharan Africa and will commonly return to the exact same wall, or even nesting hole, as the year before.  In 2002 an artificial breeding wall for the Sand Martins was constructed in front of the visitor centre, and has been used every year since construction. Each year has seen about 50 of the nesting holes occupied, apart from last year which saw only around a dozen holes occupied, most likely due to the lack of any real summer!  The first Sand Martins of the year have already been spotted in Cheshire, on the 28th of February, so more may follow soon, depending on the severity of cold snap that we are currently experiencing.

Sand Martin at Montrose Basin (c) Richard Blackburn
Sand Martin at Montrose Basin (c) Richard Blackburn

Soon to join the Sand Martins are Swallows, usually arriving to nest in the eves of the Visitor Centre in early/mid April.  Last year s first sighting was on the 17th of April, with two individuals seen,  although they weren’t joined by any further arrivals until the 2nd of May.  The first UK sighting has already been made this year, with an individual being seen on the 28th of February in Lancashire.  This unusually early sighting is thought to be down to high pressure and the resultant northerly winds pushing migrants up their migration route quicker than usual.   However it’s unlikely the birds will reach as far North as here anytime soon, being halted by the cold front and resulting snowfall that we are currently experiencing.  This is resulting in any birds that have left early and reached the Mediterranean coasts will stay there until the weather improves again.

Swallow at Visitor Centre (C) Richard Blackburn
Swallow at Visitor Centre (C) Richard Blackburn

Our next Spring migrant to arrive is usually the Osprey, with the first spring sightings on the reserve most commonly being in the April.  In 2012, however, the sighting was slightly earlier than usual, being on the 30th of March.  Following the trend of the Sand Martins and Swallows, an early sighting has also been made in Southern England already this year, on the 23rd of February in Lincolnshire and on the 25th in Cornwall.  Here at the Scottish Wildlife Trust we will be highly anticipating the arrival of the resident female known as ‘Lady’ back to Loch of the Lowes reserve in Dunkeld.  If ‘Lady’ returns to her usual haunt this year then it will be her 23rd migration, an amazing feat that has seen her  produce 56 eggs and successfully fledge 48 chicks. To be kept up to date with any news of her arrival, visit Loch of the Lowes’ blog at http://blogs.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/osprey/

One of the last summer migrants to arrive on our shores are the terns, with the Basin being commonly visited by three different species, Sandwich, Common and Arctic.  The first to arrive back for the summer are typically the Sandwich Terns, returning from their West African wintering grounds as early as March.  Here on the reserve it’s usually well into April when they first arrive, being the 19th of April in both 2011 and 2012.  Next to arrive back are the Common Terns, over wintering in Western and Southern Africa, returning to the UK throughout April.  Here on the reserve we would expect to see them at the beginning of May, or even the end of April if weather permits.  Last of these three species to arrive back is the Arctic Tern, completing its mammoth 24,000 mile round journey to the Arctic and back in May.  Last year on the Basin we had our first sighting on the 18th of May, significantly later than the sighting on the 2nd of May in 2011.  

Arctic Tern (c) SWT
Arctic Tern (c) SWT

On the reserve we have a specially constructed ‘Tern Raft’ which provides a stable platform for the Terns to nest on throughout the summer.  The surface of the raft is covered with crushed shells, providing them with ideal material to form the depressions that form their nests.  There are also bricks placed on the raft to provide shelter for the chicks once they have hatched, allowing them to evade the danger of any overhead predators such as crows.   The raft was first constructed to try and ply the Arctic Terns away from nesting on the roof of the local GlaxoSmithKline factory, but due to the Common Terns earlier arrival date, they have always managed to take over the raft for the summer!

So come down to the centre to help us spot our first arrivals of the year, or keep an eye out on the blog and we will keep you updated as they come and go.

Craig Shepherd,

Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.

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Spring will soon be here, well maybe once the snow has disappeared! And what better way to mark the start of the season by coming down and spotting the firs …

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