It’s always exciting when a rare bird is reported on the Montrose Basin reserve – it gives the visitor centre this special ‘buzz’ when birdwatchers come filing in asking about the bird’s whereabouts and how they can best see it. It hasn’t happened many times since I started working here, so needless to say, when I read the bird report that a hoopoe was on the reserve, I was a little taken aback!
The only times I had seen a hoopoe before seeing this unusual visitor were from looking through photos from people’s holidays. Hoopoes are quite regular sightings in southern Europe and Africa, but seeing one in the north-east of Scotland is a completely different story.
It seems the hoopoe had been in the area for a while before it was reported. It turns out it was the first record of a hoopoe on the reserve, but certainly not a first for the area. Between 5 and 20 hoopoes turn up in Scotland every year. This one was last seen on the afternoon of the 16th, which I found more of a relief than anything – I like to think that it was starting to feel the chill of the oncoming Scottish winter and finally decided to start moving further south.
When rare bird visitors turn up in the Spring, they tend to only hang around for a brief period of time before moving on – they need to stay on the move in order to get to the right place and have a successful breeding season. However, if a rare bird visitor turns up in Autumn, it’s more likely that they’ll stay in the same spot for a good few days. They’ll take advantage of any suitable feeding spots, build up some good energy supplies, and then continue their migration as if that accidental detour never happened. So fingers crossed that’s what the hoopoe had in mind! It certainly did seem to be feeding very well, and was preening away quite happily and even displaying its crest from time to time.
It was a really special experience to be able to see such an exotic bird at Montrose Basin, but I think it was even more special to see other people having that experience. I loved how we could tell if the hoopoe was still around by looking through the telescopes in the visitor centre and seeing if the bundle of birdwatchers were still there. When we went out to see it with our own eyes, it was a little surreal to be showing passers-by what we were all patiently looking at and lending them our binoculars so they could get a closer look. And while seeing the hoopoe itself was the highlight of the trip, seeing so many cameras all focused on one unassuming bird was a pretty unforgettable sight too. After the word had spread, it was beyond rewarding to be able to give visitors directions then see them come back into the centre with big smiles on their faces.
Even though the hoopoe isn’t on the reserve any more, this is still one of the best times of year to visit Montrose Basin. Just today we’ve seen a huge variety of waders and ducks – little egret, turnstone, greenshank, shoveler, and pintail just to name a few. We’re hoping the kingfisher might pay us another visit too. So if you’re looking to see a hoopoe, perhaps planning a trip abroad next summer is the best option, but a trip to Montrose Basin will promise you lots of other exciting wildlife too.
Visitor Centre Assistant Manager