Shivering in St Cyrus

Reserve Manager Therese Alampo gives an update on what’s been happening at this popular reserve just outside Montrose.

I have never seen the reserve so cocooned in ice.   All the sandy tracks to the shore are like glass, this ice extends all the way down to the tideline.  To think that the sand can be so solidly frozen despite its salt content is incredible.  What a struggle this morning to walk to the tideline – I am glad nobody was watching me slip and slide across the sand.

So what makes the sea salty?  It has taken hundreds of millions of years to create our salty oceans, with rivers carrying small amounts of dissolved salts from surrounding rocks and soils into the ocean.  The water from the ocean then evaporates and falls as rain leaving the salts behind in the sea to intensify.

As I have walked around the reserve I have been imagining all the life that is tucked away waiting for spring.  Our lizards lie in torpor beneath the ground or within holes in logs.  During this time they close most of their bodily functions down so they can survive, and remain at a very low level of ‘life’ with their heart  slowly beating to conserve energy until the weather improves.


Some of our bugs also await better conditions either in the form of eggs, caterpillars, nymphs or adults! Ladybirds and lacewings are the most commonly found by people as they hibernate.  Some Invertebrates produce their own antifreeze (glycerol) so that their blood does not freeze.  If you do accidentally wake/find any of these bugs just gently cover and leave them be, if a butterfly is accidentally awakened by your central heating pop it in a cold outhouse, safe from spiders.


Making ‘bug hotels’ for them to hibernate in during the winter is so useful and we shall be running an event in the summer to help folk with designs.  Forest School made a lovely one on the reserve last autumn.  I do hope the hedgehogs I saw last summer are safe and sound in their hibernation slumber too, they certainly had a good year to fatten up.

A real star of January for me are the robins and in the UK we have some of the most bold and ‘tame’ in the world.  In many places on the continent they are shot or trapped for food so unsurprisingly they are not so forthcoming with their approach to humans.  Declared our national bird in the 1960s it is unarguable the most well-known and easily identified bird in the UK.  Both adult male and female have red breasts (the young are a dappled brown) and both sing and hold territory in the winter, you may see them flitting around after dark if you have the lights on.



Robins do have a dark side though as they are ferociously territorial and only one bird (or a pair in the summer time) will inhabit your garden.  Any intruders will be attacked and driven away, this is especially obvious in the winter when food is short.  Only 75% of robins survive to a year old and then 10% of adults are killed during territorial conflicts.  Even if you put a robin Christmas tree decoration outside it will soon be destroyed by your resident bird, the red breast triggering conflict.  Please remember to feed your birds and give them some water during these cold spells, we have had a robin in the office everyday this week looking for treats.

Whilst out taking a group from the energiser program on a tour of the reserve last week we saw some great glimpses of spring on the way, after the blizzards subsided of course.  We were lucky to see the ravens pairing on the cliffs and giving us a wonderful show of acrobatics and glorious vocalisations.


The cliffs also had pairs of fulmar re-establishing pair bonds (they pair for life) and checking out nest sites, we stopped for a while and enjoyed  watching groups and partners cackling to each other. The peregrine and buzzards then made an appearance as the sun came out.  A beautiful day with crisp snow and blue sky and lots of wildlife.


Keep an eye out for stonechat too, I have just seen a male stonechat in beautiful plumage defending its territory against my truck!  Great birds with a call that sounds like two stones being tapped together.  Wordsworth called them ‘restless birds’ and they certainly are and they are a real emblem of St Cyrus as they flit from the tops of gorse bushes to a tasty bug on the ground and back.


The beach is looking so much better, thanks again to everybody once again.  I have been trying to do a few hours every week too, to try to get rid of more of the plastics.  It’s going to be a really messy job but when the weather gets a little better I am going to open every bag and separate the recyclables – I’d love a hand and will send out a plea on Facebook when the time comes.




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