Montrose Basin may become the land of the pink-feet over winter, but it’s the waders that hold the fort when it comes to guaranteed viewing. Of course, with waders being the aquatic version of woodlands ‘little brown jobs’ identification can be a little tricky, so, with the help of some photos taken by our very talented volunteers, here is a little low down on what species you’ll be able to see here. This week we’ll start with the most common and ‘easiest’ to identify. Regular visitors to the Basin will probably already know these, but for those of you just starting out….
This bird can be easily taken for granted as you tend to see them everywhere, including fields, grassy verges beside the road and roundabouts. One of the largest waders, their distinctive black and white plumage, red bill and legs, and red eyes make them standout in whatever environment you find them in. Even if you don’t see one, you’ll know they’re there by the distinctive piping calls they make, especially when flying. They’re name is a bit of a misnomer though as there’s hardly any evidence that they’re actually capable of opening a fully developed oyster. It is believed that the name was coined in North America in the 1730s where they were described as eating oysters, and replaced the British name of Sea Pie in the 1800s.
Juveniles look very similar to adults, with only the legs and bills being slightly paler. But, perhaps the most fascinating thing about the oystercatchers at Montrose is the leucistic individual who’s been spotted for the last two years, and can be seen in the pciture below.
The redshank is another species you can see here in large numbers, usually working their way along the tide line, delving into the mud for worms and small invertebrates. Their bright orange/red legs are the key to identifying them, with adults also having orange at the base of their bill and juveniles a grey bill. While the plumage is slightly greyer over winter, without the blackish bars running down the breast, redshank plumage is usually made up of speckled brown feathers along the back and wings, and a pale belly. Around about this time of year the juveniles tend to have a bright ochre colour around the edge of the feathers, but this can be difficult to see unless you manage to get really close.
Fewer in number and not to be confused with godwits (more on those later), the greenshank is taller than a redshank, has grey plumage along its back and wings, and is one of the most elegant waders we get, it can be very quick when it needs to be. The legs are more of a grey/yellow than green and the bill turns upwards very slightly. While you will normally see them hunting along the tide line with the redshanks, its’ definitely worth scanning a bit deeper in as they also hunt for small fish and crabs. The adults tend to be paler in the winter, with whiter breasts, with the juveniles being very similar in appearance.
You don’t even need to see this one on the ground with binoculars to be able to identify it, though obviously it’s definitely worth it. The distinctive broad winged shape in flight and clear ‘peewit’ call let you know that it’s a lapwing (its name describing the way in which the birds fly). These birds tend to be more skittish than other waders, and are usually the first to take off if disturbed, so flying is when you tend to notice them first. However, lapwings are just as distinctive on the ground, with the unique crest off the back of the head being the most obvious characteristic. This is one of the easiest ways of identifying juveniles from adults, and the crest remains short in juveniles until the following year. They can appear black and white from afar, but the plumage along the upper side of the body is actually green, with a black chest and while belly. During the breeding season the males will also have a black throat, but around this time of year they are similar to females with a white throat and pale brown cheeks. As a species that has been put on the Red List for conservation it’s always great to see the hundreds that we get here on a daily basis.
Despite being the largest wader we have, its brown plumage means that you can sometimes miss them entirely when their feeding on the mudflats. Often described as ‘stately’ their long, downward curved bill is their most distinct feature which they use to, not only probing into the mud, but under seaweed, into rock pools and beneath grass and reeds. Why the curlews bill curves the way it does is still a bit of a mystery, but it’s believed that it gives the bird a better view for accurate probing, and the sensitive end allows it to find prey through feel rather than sight. Males and females are very similar in appearance throughout the year, though females tend to have longer bills and males have paler under parts (only seen when flying). Though usually a little bit sleeker, juveniles tend to look very similar to the adults with the best form of identification being the dark dogtooth bars found on the tail feathers. Watch them long enough and you’ll find some interesting feeding behaviour, such as shaking crabs to break off their legs and washing lugworms in the water before swallowing them whole.
One of the best places to spot these species is at Rossie Spit (also visible from the Visitor Centre) as the tide comes in, as the pictures below show.
Next week we’ll be looking at more ‘exotic’ waders found at the Basin.
Georgina Bowie (Visitor Centre Assistant)