Off Canvas

Abernyte Nature Watch

As usual the autumn started - in my eyes and ears anyway- with the arrival of the Pink-footed geese, of which large skeins appeared between the weekends of 15th and 22nd of September, with some reported even earlier than that. Soon there were thousands of them at Montrose Basin. Autumnwatch on the television reported a Waxwing up by Abernethy, but so far we have not seen any in Abernyte.

However folk have been seeing medium sized flocks of "winter thrushes" (Fieldfares and Redwings), some Fieldfares were in our garden weekend of 7th November, and flocks were seen along the road by Tim at East Newton. As soon as the weather turned cold in October, we could hear a Mistle Thrush giving its coarse trill - it is usually to be seen defending a Rowan, often a white-berried one, against all-comers. Further south they can find the white Mistletoe berries that gave them their name.

Another of my favourite birds, the gorgeous bullfinch, has been around this weekend (9th November) feasting on berries at Hillhouse, East Newton and Abernyte. They like the seeds which are protein rich, and separate them skilfully from the fleshy part of the fruit, which they leave lying on the ground below the tree. Bullfinches nearly always appear in pairs and are one of the species which lovingly stay with their mate for life.

The bird feeders have become more popular with a cold snap of -2oC for a couple of nights on 8th and 9th November. Then we had a lot of Tree sparrows, Greenfinches and Tits of various kinds “hitting” the food. The Long-tailed tits are appearing in gardens, going around, apparently cheerily, in family groups, always talking to each other with little churrs and squeaks, sometimes joining up in the company of fellow tits other small birds. Safety for them is sometimes in numbers.

On the 9th October Gordon reported two new bird visitors in his garden. One was a Magpie – a single solitary bird - it was tolerated by the Jackdaws for a while and then attracted some attention from them! Magpies are very handsome birds which have increased in numbers from absolute zero to occasional visits. They are now quite common in Dundee and frequently seen along Riverside, sometimes in small flocks. The second was a Jay - another single solitary bird which had visited the garden a couple of times recently and could be heard clearly with its raucous call.

Jays are famous for their liking for acorns, which they store for winter by burying them. They are therefore useful planters of oak trees and this is probably how oaks move uphill as well as down. The Jay could be a local bird searching for food down in the garden after the end of the nesting season, or it could be one of the many Jays reported amassing on the continent in early October – they may come here for the winter to seek food and avoid the continental winter. Have you got a good crop of Acorns this year? If so you may be visited by Jays.

Sadly I have been seeing many unhealthy looking Ash trees around the parish. Ash dieback disease, as with the Dutch Elm disease, is going to be a terrible scourge if we lose the old trees that are such a characteristic of our hedge lines and hillsides. Apart from their individual beauty with their deeply cut grooved bark and pinnate leaves, that turn the most wonderful golden colour in the autumn, they provide nesting holes for birds and support enormous numbers of invertebrate creatures, making them an ecosystem all of their own.

Can you imagine how many millions of tons of carbon must be stored in their massive bulk? All that could be lost if (or when) we lose them. Tree diseases are more and more a part of the scene; perhaps it may be best in future to allow trees to self-seed (or be planted by birds) rather than importing nursery-raised saplings from elsewhere? The less we transport these diseases around the better it must surely be for us and our wildlife.

We had some extra excitement this summer, when we saw our first beaver in this country at the SWT reserve at Loch of the Lowes. In May 2019 the beaver became a protected species in Scotland, so for the first time since the 16th century we have the chance to see them back in the wild. There is good evidence that they can help in flood protection by retaining run-off for longer, and in doing so create habitat for other aquatic wildlife.

Look out for beavers and other wildlife as autumn-coloured leaves fall all too soon and the Braes and Carse take on a darker and more wintery feel!