Par­sons and egrets meet in the basin

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS OPINION - An­gus Whit­son

You may re­mem­ber what a lovely morn­ing Mon­day was. Inka and I went out soon af­ter 8.30 and were greeted by a spec­tac­u­lar win­ter’s scene – the ground iron hard and the grass white with frost.

The tem­per­a­ture gauge in the car showed -8°C, which seemed pos­i­tively Mediter­ranean – a month ago, stay­ing with friends at Old Bridge of Tilt, near Blair Atholl, we had wo­ken to a tem­per­a­ture of -13°C.

There wasn’t a breath of wind to so much as shiver the top­most branches of the trees or the grasses at the burn side. The sun­rise to the east wel­comed in the day with brush­strokes of pink and dove-grey cloud on a corn­flower blue sky, re­flected on the snow-topped hills at the back of the vil­lage. To the west, the wan­ing half moon gen­tly dipped out of sight be­hind the Gle­nesk hills.

Mem­o­rable walk

Inka re­gains his lost youth in these con­di­tions and I de­cided to head for Mon­trose Basin, the great tidal es­tu­ary that takes its name from the town, and the walk up the River South Esk from the his­toric old jetty at Old Mon­trose. I should walk there more of­ten as there are 360° views all the way and end­less in­ter­est.

To the east, the Auld Kirk steeple in the mid­dle of the town dom­i­nates Mon­trose’s sky­line from what­ever di­rec­tion you look. I used to col­lect old prints of the town and it is the sin­gle most recog­nis­able fea­ture in all of them. West­wards, the eye is car­ried to the am­phithe­atre of the foothills of the Grampian Moun­tains.

The tide was out, al­most on the turn, as we took the track along the sea wall that pro­tects the low-ly­ing fields on the other side from flood­ing. Ice had formed above the low wa­ter mark and, de­spite some warmth from the sun, it was nippy on the tips of my nose and ears.

Many of the geese that ar­rived in Oc­to­ber have dis­persed but a pack of pink­foot flew over us. On my short walk I met a friendly robin and saw red­shank, mal­lard, wigeon, ei­der duck, mute swans and gor­geously hand­some shel­duck. The haunt­ing, bleak win­ter cries of whaups (curlews) car­ried on the still air.

A black rab­bit – a par­son, my fa­ther would have called it – prob­a­bly dis­turbed by Inka, burst out of the whins, saw me and shot back into the cover again.

White set­tlers

Changes in weather pat­terns from global warm­ing have brought un­ex­pected visi­tors to The Basin, which hith­erto was too cold for them.

A ditch on the land­ward side of the sea wall takes drainage from the fields. A hun­dred yards ahead of me a pure white bird that I didn’t recog­nise, but was rem­i­nis­cent of a heron, was fish­ing – its back to me. With Inka firmly into heel, I hoped I could creep close enough to get a pho­to­graph.

De­spite my best ef­forts it heard me and took to the air. I saw where it landed and tried to stalk it again but it was too wary and took flight once more. An­other birder, with tele­scope and cam­era, came up the track and greeted me: “It’s the Man with Two Dogs”. We got talk­ing – we’d met be­fore on the ice rink, curl­ing – the brither­hood of the ice. He had been com­ing to The Basin for 40 years to watch the chang­ing birdlife scene over the sea­sons. He reck­oned the bird I had seen was a lit­tle egret, one of four that have taken up res­i­dence on the lo­cal na­ture re­serve. It was a first for me, as I have al­ways as­so­ci­ated them with the hot cli­mates of France and the Mediter­ranean.

On the far bank, where the river runs into The Basin, are ar­eas of reed beds and mud known as the Slunks and the Lur­gies. I con­sulted my Dr Jamieson’s Et­y­mo­log­i­cal Dic­tionary of the Scot­tish Lan­guage to find the deriva­tion of the two words.

A slunk is a quag­mire, just what the Slunks are when the tide is out and the mud is ex­posed. The mean­ing of Lur­gies seems lost in the mists of his­tory but, then, there have al­ways been things that drop out of the ken of man.

Yel­low petals

Even in the depths of win­ter, you will al­ways find some blos­som on the whin, or gorse, bushes which gave rise to the old Scot­tish adage: Ye canna kiss the lassies when the when the whin is not in bloom. Well, I saw plenty yel­low whin blos­som on my walk – enough, cer­tainly, to at least beg a peck on the cheek!

The Basin’s his­tory goes back far be­yond the Ro­mans who es­tab­lished a camp at to­day’s Gil­rivie Farm to sup­ply their army, which de­feated the Cale­do­nian forces at the bat­tle of Mons Graupius in

AD 83.

Pic­tures: Ron Mitchell.

A lit­tle egret fish­ing in the Sa’ty (Salty) Dykes, the 13th Cen­tury salt pans which can be seen from the ob­ser­va­tion win­dows of the Scot­tish Wildlife Trust Visi­tor Cen­tre.

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