My name is Jay, and I have just completed my second year at the University of Dundee, where I am studying to become a Primary School Teacher. In March-April this year, I undertook an 8 week voluntary placement at Montrose Basin Visitor Centre as part of the module Learning from Life, which provides a unique opportunity for students to gain some experience outside the classroom.
At the beginning of my time at the Visitor Centre, I was admittedly very anxious going into an unfamiliar environment. Initially, the fact I was going to be working with lots of experienced individuals worried me, and so I felt very vulnerable and isolated as I introduced myself to everyone. Despite my worries, all the volunteers were extremely welcoming, and as I began to develop my relationships with them all, my initial feeling of being out of place gradually disappeared. Chatting with the volunteers and staff members really helped me boost my knowledge of the local wildlife and how to identify different birds.
At first, I never imagined becoming so enthralled upon the sighting of a particular species, but this changed very quickly after I started volunteering. For example, watching the Ospreys hunt for food never became boring. The way they scan the waters below and eventually dive for their meal is a magnificent sight to see. They may take their time when it comes to hunting, but the wait is definitely worth it, especially since their catch rate (in my experience) is 99% successful.
Another interesting occurrence I had was witnessing what I have since described the ‘frog massacre’. Just after the centre closed at 5pm, Joanna (Visitor Centre Assistant Manager) and I spotted a Grey Heron in the dipping pond. The frogs definitely put up a fight against the heron, – at one point, it attempted to take two at once, however one of the pair managed to escape. The rest of the army however, was not as fortunate.
One of my proudest moments came near the end of my placement, where I managed to capture footage of the nesting female mallard return to her nest!
The best sighting of my time at Montrose Basin, however, occurred on the very last day. Joanna asked me if there was anything I had not yet seen that I would still like to, and I distrustfully responded that I would love to see the elusive Water Rail. After 8 weeks of not spotting it, as I made my way to lunch around midday, I stopped to see if I could get a better view of the Mallard in the nesting tube. Low and behold, just behind the tube was none other than the Water Rail, swimming about suspiciously in the reeds.
To those thinking about taking up a volunteering position at Montrose Basin Visitor Centre, or indeed anywhere else, I would say go for it! There is no doubt that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on placement, and although it is now over, I still intend to return as a volunteer when possible in order to increase both my knowledge and experience whilst also up keeping my new interest. I am very grateful to have been given such a unique opportunity, and would also like to thank all the volunteers and staff members for being so welcoming and supportive.
MA2 Education Student
University of Dundee