June 19th   Leave a comment

I have been inland most of the time this week, so I did the Balcomie – Kilminning loop this afternoon. It was typical June – no waders apart from a few local ringed plovers and oystercatchers, shelducks, eiders with their chicks and the first few goosanders back in a moulting flock, group fishing in the shallows. At Fife Ness a steady stream of gannets and auks, with some puffins close in. Further out, manx shearwaters – their season has started this week with hundreds passing past Crail every day, and hundreds in an hour on a good evening (last Tuesday, the 15th for example).

June at Balcomie – eider chicks, shelduck and goosanders, but barely any waders

Posted June 19, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 18th   Leave a comment

Now is the best time to see cuckoos around Crail as they head back to Africa. I saw one at lower Kilminning flying around the trees, with its characteristic anorexic bird of prey look, as it was disturbed by walkers. I think the most reliable way to see a cuckoo at Kilminning is to sit on the bench by the metal gate overlooking Kilminning coast and the sea, on a weekday either early or late when it is not busy. The meadow below and around Kilminning Castle is good for caterpillars and they often stop to feed there if it is quiet. But not for long. The cuckoos are moving quite quickly back to Africa now and some will be back in the Congo in three weeks’ time. The adults seem to follow the coast so anywhere along the coastal path is also as good as Kilminning. But you need to be ready because they dash over your head and then are gone – you see grey, falcon wings, a long tail, and as I have already written, a skinny, whippy impression. If you see a weird hawk fitting this description over the next couple of weeks, be fairly confident it is a cuckoo.

Cuckoo (JA)

Posted June 19, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 16th   Leave a comment

I had to read the Handbook of the Birds of the Western Palearctic entry for corn buntings today for some reassurance. I know corn buntings are late breeders but I am losing my nerve as we move into the second half of June with no chicks being fed in a nest yet. The text was reassuring – Cornwall and Sutherland, nests starting mid-June to July; England, an average start day of May 25th. Split the difference and throw in the two week late season then we have corn buntings in Fife this year on nests just now, with the earliest chicks hatching in a week or two. And I am seeing pairs in many territories mate guarding, male sitting idle in others as if they have a female on the nest, and even many territories where it looks like the male have just started. But with the skylarks feeding chicks, and even some fledged, young linnets and starlings everywhere, it still seems too late.

The closest I have got so far to a corn bunting feeding chicks this year – I am not sure why it is carrying this little grass seed head. Too small for a chick feed and not great for nest building. It carried it into a barley field and disappeared – perhaps just a snack for itself between incubation sessions.

Posted June 16, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 14th   Leave a comment

I was out in the wheat and oat prairies northwest of Kilrenny Common this morning. I had just spotted a distant female type marsh harrier close to Kilrenny and was cycling for a better vantage point when I noticed a female yellow wagtail on the road. It was picking up insects around a puddle from last night’s rain and then flew off into the tramlines of an adjacent wheat field. The marsh harrier was forgotten as I watched where the wagtail had disappeared. I wondered if this could be another breeding bird or just a migrant. Then the wagtail was up and calling. It flew over me on the road clearly carrying a bill full of insects and continued 100 meters into an oat field before dropping down into it. Instant gratification – proof of another breeding pair of yellow wagtails. And this one a long way from Barnsmuir: my first breeding record of one breeding to the west of Kilrenny. My route to and from Kilrenny took me past the three other active yellow wagtail nests at Barnsmuir, and there was still activity at two of them today, also with chick feeding going on. I didn’t see any activity at the third Barnsmuir nest but the male was still around over the weekend. So I will settle for 4 yellow wagtail nests on the go at three separate sites (where a new site is at least 1 km away). This great news: 6 years on and we nearly have a reliable (and perhaps expanding) breeding population of yellow wagtails in Fife.

Female yellow wagtail feeding on flies at Barnsmuir (this one on May 18th) (JA)

Back to the marsh harrier. I didn’t see it again after the excitement of the yellow wagtail, but Tom Glass – the resident birder at Kilrenny – has been seeing one about for the last couple of weeks. Presumably we have a summering bird, happy enough to hunt over the faux reedbeds and meadows that the cereal prairie at Kilrenny provides. The habitat is similar to where marsh harriers have started breeding in the Netherlands, so anything is possible.

The marsh harrier wasn’t my raptor highlight – although they are rare Crail birds. I was just north of Pittenweem when I picked up an unusual looking buzzard. It was all dark and the wings looked relatively broad and rounded. I thought goshawk briefly, then it banked, and I saw a large white rump and tail base above a longish tail. The only raptors with white rumps in the UK are female harriers – and this had broad wings so must be a hen harrier. But the wing shape was too broad and so shorter looking than a harrier. A buzzard helpfully stooped onto the raptor to help with size comparison – the hawk was about the same size or slightly larger. Then the penny dropped. A Harris’s hawk! A social, desert living species from southern USA and Central and South America. Last seen by myself on a BBC wildlife documentary pack hunting in Arizona, and also tellingly at a couple of falconry demonstrations in Fife over the last few years. Although I would love this to be a wild vagrant, it is much more likely to have escaped from one of these displays: it is one the commonest birds of prey in captivity and relatively easy to train for falconry. I watched it being mobbed by just about everything as it soared and gained height over Anstruther, before heading off, high towards Crail. I wished it well, although it will not have a lot of luck finding other Harris’s hawks in Crail.     

Bless John Anderson for having even a Harris’s hawk in his collection – from Chile in 2018. A long way from Crail except as the falconry bird flies. (JA)

Posted June 14, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 12th   Leave a comment

Another grasshopper warbler! Only 6 birds in 19 years up to 2021 and now my sixth bird on the Crail patch in 2021. A grasshopper warbler was singing from the line of small, scrubby trees separating the cattle field and the brassica field just north of Kilminning. It was a keen singer and likely to be another breeding bird – or perhaps the Fife Ness pair relocated? Grasshopper warbler song is the same kind of subliminal noise as a quail at a distance. You hear it, but don’t really notice it. Grasshopper warbler pops into your mind but you have to concentrate to actually then really hear it, rather than imagining it. If you have never heard a grasshopper warbler before, it’s well named. They sound like a grasshopper, reeling away, or an electrical buzz. Not like a bird at all.

Grasshopper warbler

My joy at another grasshopper warbler was tempered as I reached Crail again. I saw a squashed bird on the road. I initially thought it was a young starling but on closer look it was a corn bunting. And right by a usual song perch, by the road, of territory 73. I have been watching this bird singing here since the 25th of April. Sometimes on the pill box closer to Crail, but mostly on the lone bush on the right hand side of the road as you head to Fife Ness, but before the airfield. I confirmed it was the male of the territory that had been killed. It didn’t have a brood patch – a patch of bare feathers that females have when incubating. I was at the airfield last night and recorded the bird in territory 73 singing at 8:30 pm. I saw it squashed at 12:30 pm today, and probably only just so. Such a shame. Many birds get hit by cars – a huge number. It is rarely this personal, but everyone is a tiny, individual tragedy.

The male corn bunting of territory 73. Hit by a car and then run over sometime this morning. A tiny tragedy.

Posted June 12, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 10th   Leave a comment

Two unusual birds today. I heard a quail calling from a wheat field at Beley Farm, Dunino this morning. My first one of the year, and perhaps not unexpected considering the hours I am spending in quail habitat every day (wheat fields). Quails are not regular on the Crail patch but I have had them now for the last three summers. Before that it was only 2011, but there were several in this “quail year”. If quails have a good breeding season in southern Europe in March and April, then some of these birds move north to breed again resulting in a small invasion into Britain in June. Even in quail years you have to be very lucky to see one. They spend their entire time in dense crop fields and unless a passing raptor or fox flushes one up they are invisible. Luckily, they call night and day when they are breeding – a soft “wet my lips” or “quip whip whip” repeatedly. It is not loud even though far carrying and steals into your brain as if you are imagining it. You have to concentrate to actually notice it. My other unusual bird at Dunino was a crossbill flying over. It could have been a local breeder or an early migrant, dispersing after breeding (crossbills breed very early). I have only had crossbills on the Crail patch list in 7 out of the last 19 years so they are always good birds, although there have been a few around this year already, particularly the flock at Cellardyke in January.

One of the cellardyke crossbills this January (JA)

Posted June 10, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 8th   Leave a comment

June is a good time to see mammals. There is not much real night time so they have to come out when you can still see them, and there are a lot of young animals around – more to see and not as wary as the adults. This week, as I tour the farmland around Crail looking for corn buntings I am seeing young roe deer, rabbits, hares, badgers, foxes and today, a family of weasels. I met them on the coastal path at Kingsbarns. A mother came round the corner with three (maybe more) half grown youngsters. They shot off to hide. The mother going under a big rock, but the young ones going into the grass. One’s strategy was to stick its head into a grass tussock, with that toddler logic of – I can’t see you so you must not be able to see me. A little bit of squeaking coaxed it back out so I could look at it properly.

A young weasel this morning – it is looking over a plantain and a dandelion leaf to give you an idea of how tiny it was

Corn bunting – this is the bird in territory 16 at Boghall, in the corner of the field where the twites and over 100 wintering corn buntings were this winter.

Posted June 8, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 7th   Leave a comment

I spent much of the day at Kilminning, moving rocks about to restrict vehicle access just to the car park, and then putting up a noticeboard to explain what we are doing. All journeys start with a single step, and the journey of rewilding Kilminning will be a long one, but good to start. Throughout the day the background noise was juvenile starlings following their parents and making their post-fledging begging call. It’s hard to describe. Best to find a starling at this time of year and listen – an adult will be with its juveniles, and the fledglings will be calling constantly. It is a sound of the summer – marking the end of the spring. The juvenile starlings will be fed by their parents for another week or two and then will join up in single age flocks and move down to the shore to feed on the seaweed maggots for the rest of the summer.

Juvenile starlings at Kilminning waiting to be fed as their parents forage in the bean field below. The parents can recognise their own young – it must be via call.

Posted June 7, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 6th   Leave a comment

Still no sign of any chick feeding by the corn buntings; there is much less singing and they are less detectable in pairs so I think most females are on eggs now. At least one of the three active yellow wagtail nests has now hatched. I watched a female bringing a beakful of small items (black flies?) in to the nest area that always seems to be occupied by the first nesting pair. Males at the two other nests were making their “alert for the female sitting on the nest call” and not doing any chick feeding yet, but these nests must be due to hatch soon too. I watched the house martins very busily collecting mud at the puddle at Barnsmuir by the fruit shack. They must need hundreds of beakfuls of mud to make a complete nest. There are still some puddles around in the rutted tracks of most of the farms but they are drying out fast. And we are entering a dry and warm spell for the next couple of weeks.

House martins collecting mud at Barnsmuir today

Posted June 6, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 5th   Leave a comment

With the warmer, sunnier weather of the last few days, there have been more butterflies about. This morning up at Lower Kenly, I saw my first small copper butterfly of the year. I usually see them at West Braes or Kilminning – they like the short grass of the coastal path. Although they are coppery red, they are actually “blues”. Female common blues are like small coppers, but with less red – they are often along the coastal path too. Small coppers have a dark hind wing, contrasting with red. It looks black at first glance, but if it catches the light, it is iridescent. They are worth looking at closely, although they are very flighty and shy butterflies, moving on if you get within a few meters of them.

Small copper butterfly

Posted June 5, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 3rd   Leave a comment

I was watching the swifts over my front garden and the High Street this evening. They have finally got going and have been screaming and chasing this week. Sadly none have come closer than a few meters from my swift nest boxes. One of the swifts was just hanging in the air, soaring into the wind, high above. Swifts don’t hang, they always keep moving, so it wasn’t a swift. A peregrine – the same arrowhead shape as a swift on first glance (although not a perfect match – that would be a hobby, a much rarer falcon). The peregrine stayed hanging high above for several minutes, waiting for something to pass by below, before drifting off south over the sea. Some years I see peregrines nearly every day, but this year it is about once a month, so nice to have one coming to my house.

Peregrine (JA)

Posted June 3, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 1st   Leave a comment

I had an osprey flying over this Pitkierie (just north of Kilrenny) this morning. Unbelievably this is only my second osprey in the Crail patch. My first was on the 26th August 2006, flying along the shore at Kingsbarns Beach before cutting the corner off to the Forth. Ospreys can be easily seen in parts of Fife – the Eden Estuary, late summer, is the closest place – and all over the Highlands (although 75 years ago there was only a single pair of ospreys breeding in Scotland). But they are rarities here. Most ospreys migrate from West Africa, so they fly over Fife and each year there are a handful of sightings of migrating birds, but always to the west of Crail. It was great to see an osprey again here, and it reminded me that my last osprey – in the absence of going anywhere except my local Crail patch in the last year – was in Liberia, in January 2020.

The distant osprey this morning, gaining height before it continued west: local patch gold. One of the easiest raptors to identify even at this distance because of its pied plumage and general gull like look.

Posted June 1, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 31st   Leave a comment

More haar this morning. The corn buntings were as undetectable as they were in March. Three birds bothering to sing out of a potential dozen, and then invisibly in the fog. I watched a swallow sat in a field clearly fed up with the weather. Waiting for it to brighten up and the insects to get going before bothering to fly.

Swallow waiting out the haar in Kingsbarns this morning

Posted May 31, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 30th   Leave a comment

The sun finally did come out this afternoon, with the haar retreating to the middle of the Forth. I was out checking corn buntings at Barnsmuir. I got excited when one popped up out of a grass covered dyke. I expected to find a nest but instead the reason it was skulking around the wall, I think, was because it was feeding on snail shell fragments from a thrush anvil. I still think most of the corn buntings are mate guarding at the moment – I see pairs a lot with the male only singing when it has a good view of the female below it. Otherwise, the male keeps quiet and follows the female around. If they are mate guarding then they are also laying eggs now, and so extra calcium – hence the snail shells – will be needed by the females.

I checked two of the yellow wagtail nests this weekend and they are still active with females on the nest. I work this out by looking at the male’s behaviour. They perch reasonably close to the nest site, watching the nest area and have a particular call they use, I assume to tell the female that I (perceived as a potential predator) am in the area. It gives away the fact that there is a nest on the go with a female sitting on eggs. Once the chicks hatch you get a confirmation that this is the case because the nest becomes even more obvious as the parents fly back and forth to the same bit of field with food. I am hopeful that the other two nests (of the four in total) are still on the go because when a nest fails the pair then hangs around together all day. But yellow wagtails can move sites between failed nests at the scale of a kilometer or two so if this has happened then I won’t necessarily detect this until I refind the pair starting a new nest somewhere else.

As I walked around the perimeter of another winter wheat field I heard a distinctive honking. A flock of 27 Canada geese approaching. I watched them coming in from the Forth, after a flight from somewhere further south, perhaps in England, to continue over Fife straight towards Boarhills. I lost them making an exact beeline to the mouth of the Kenly Burn, where each summer, a flock of 50 or more Canada geese spend a couple of months moulting. The first birds each year – like today – arrive too early to have bred successfully. Today’s flock might be failed breeders or sub-adults that aren’t old enough to start breeding (Canada geese usually only start breeding in their 3rd year). Each year more and more Canada geese seem to come to Kenly, and they also seem to be getting earlier in their arrival.

Part of the flock of 27 Canada geese – my first for the year – heading towards Kenly this afternoon. This takes the Crail patch year list up to 146, over two months ahead of last year.

Posted May 30, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 29th   Leave a comment

True to form. The sun came out on Friday, the temperature shot up – well, went to a normal summer value – and the haar came in. At some point in the future, when climate change has shifted the Mediterranean up to us, this will be a blessing. But at the moment, the haar is just a shame. Another day of wet feet and wooly hats. The silver lining is that the haar often comes in on an easterly wind, and it can bring migrants in that should be heading for Scandinavia. With that in mind, Kilminning was the obvious choice to start the day. It was quiet however, with the haar dancing in and out, promising a shaft of sunshine, but then bringing the cloud back just as it began to feel warm. Quiet migrant wise, but noisy with starlings angrily shrieking as their chicks are about to fledge – probably a few early nests already have chicks out. You don’t see the chicks as they hide deep in bushes for a few days after fledging but you hear the anxious parents reacting to every single crow (and there are a lot of crows about).

I tried Balcomie Beach where the haar had cleared a bit. The sun was causing the beach to steam creating a second mini-haar. Interesting in an Icelandic sort of way but not great for appreciating the waders: 40 or so sanderling, 20-30 ringed plover and a few dunlin. The high Arctic bound crowd refueling on the seaweed strewn beach. Sanderling, so white and clean in the winter, get an interesting orangey, lichen covered boulder look to them in the summer. They are brilliantly camouflaged for the Arctic tundra.

Sanderling on Balcomie Beach this week (JA)

The visibility wasn’t very good at Fife Ness. Some Arctic terns. They will be much more frequent now they have eggs on the May Island, and the off duty bird will be off fishing. A flock of six velvet scoters, all males except for one female. Turnstones on the rocks – more of the high Arctic bound crowd.

Later, in the afternoon, I was mapping fields and corn buntings at the end of Balcomie golf course when I saw a shape lolloping over the rise of the cattle field there. A badger scurrying out of a sett in the middle of the field. Another badger followed it, and then another. Just as suddenly they came back, dashing back into their hole, one, two three. And then back out again, and then back into the hole again. Three youngsters daring themselves to run out into the field, in daylight, and then getting scared, running straight back to safety. The wind was behind them so they didn’t notice me only a few meters away. My dog, with the same low to the ground eyesight, couldn’t see them but could smell them being upwind: interested but thankfully just a cautious interest. I hardly ever see badgers, and then it is usually only at night, crossing the road when the sighting is often spoilt by thoughts of squashed badgers, so this made one of my best ever sightings. There are badgers literally everywhere around Crail. Hundreds of them. But they usually keep themselves to the dark.     

Local badger cubs (JA)

My phone pinged. A possible rustic bunting along the coastal path at West Braes. A major scramble saw four of the Crail birders at the site within about twenty minutes. But our run of luck with rustic buntings continued – no sign of it, as with the couple of sightings of a wintering bird last year. It felt a bit like a needle in a haystack, but too close to home not to try for. The spring migrant season is coming to a close, but there is still another week for big rarities to turn up.

Posted May 29, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 26th   Leave a comment

The weather is finally on the turn, moving at last from March to May. Quite a few birds are feeding chicks now and it will have been hard for them to find enough insects, but at least the chicks are still somewhat insulated from the weather in their nests. I have a pair of great tits and blue tits feeding chicks in bird boxes in my garden. I think they have at least a week before they fledge. When they do, they will be at their most vulnerable to cold weather and particularly rain, so a good forecast is good news. Chicks fledge with fewer feathers (or at least not as well developed) feathers, than adults. They still can rely on feeding from their parents, but only for a couple of weeks, especially early in the season when their parents will desert them soon to start another brood. They need to learn to forage, find shelter and avoid the sparrowhawks: many don’t manage to do this. The highest mortality for small birds happens in the first couple of weeks. Early breeding species like robins, song thrushes and blackbirds have already fledged their first brood chicks. I have noticed an increase in song thrush song the last few days which suggests to me that their chicks probably didn’t survive too well these last couple of weeks and they are already renesting. The later season nesters – the swifts and the corn buntings – have been treading water but they should now be speeding up. Fingers crossed that the good weather does materialize.

Song thrush and newly fledged chick – some chicks have fledged already, but the starlings, tits and buntings will start fledging chicks in the next couple of weeks (JA)

Posted May 26, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 24th   Leave a comment

It has been raining all day and I have stayed inside, missing the corn bunting searching. There has been 12.4 mm of rain in the last 24 hours. May seems set on winning a prize for wettest month to contrast with April’s driest record. There were some pauses in the rain and I took the opportunity late afternoon for a walk around upper and lower Kilminning. A spotted flycatcher at the top, a garden warbler and one of the icterine warblers at the bottom, all left over from Saturday. The icterine had moved to the bushes and trees along the entrance road in response to the south-westerly wind. It was keeping to dense cover but singing as I arrived making it easy to find. I tried to get good views and had finally sneaked up to an elder bush, was watching the warbler working its way out of the leaves to some bare branches when a male roe deer erupted from the grass in front of me. The deer’s sudden dash and my dog’s even more sudden stop as she reached the end of her extender lead sent the icterine off into the middle of Kilminning and that was that. I was glad that didn’t happen on Saturday when there would have been a disapproving audience. You can imagine I was the only one out there this afternoon birding in the rain: a good sign actually. Anyone that wanted to see the icterine warbler must have done so already over the weekend. It isn’t the easiest bird to see, but 30 minutes of trying turns up a reasonable view. I shouldn’t think it will be off anywhere tonight so there is probably another opportunity tomorrow morning when the weather should also be much better. I wasn’t totally alone at Kilminning: a group of local plant surveyors were there making a baseline plant list so we can see how things change in the coming years as we create new habitats.

One of the weekend’s spotted flycatchers: at least one is still present at Kilminning (JA)

Posted May 24, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 23rd   Leave a comment

With the fall yesterday I was put in a bluethroat frame of mind this morning. If there is a bluethroat around Crail, it is probably around now. They are fantastic birds to look at in the spring, but bluethroats have become increasingly scarce both at Fife Ness and the May Island in the last 30 years. They are also often skulkers, liking thick vegetation alongside damp ditches. So a bit of a long shot. My best bet always seems to be the yellow house at Wormiston – ditches, rank grass and dense bushes, but also a nice lawn and a couple of ponds for an extrovert bluethroat. The house is a good migrant spot anyway. But not today. I did at least pick up a nearby corn bunting that I hadn’t heard singing since the beginning of April. Elsewhere there didn’t seem to be any new migrants: willow warblers in the patch, and a spotted flycatcher or two at Kilminning. I didn’t have the patience to track down the icterine warbler(s) today, that was seen and heard singing again at least until lunchtime. Today I paid attention to one of my favourites – the spotted flycatchers that had got eclipsed yesterday.

Spotted flycatcher and a St Marks fly spotted below at Kilminning yesterday (JA)

The high Arctic waders are coming through Balcomie now. There was a flock of bright orange, black and white turnstones and a nearly full summer plumage bar-tailed godwit on the rocks to the north of the beach. And to really lift the spirit, four females eiders swam in from a choppy sea herding a flotilla of 22 newly hatched ducklings, after their swim over from the May Island – the first eider chicks of the season for Crail.

Bar-tailed godwit (JA)
The first eider chicks in at Fife Ness at about 11 this morning. I was sat next to John when he took this photo. At the time I estimated 22-24 chicks – I think you can count 25 in the photo. We wished them well. They may have survived the crossing but now they need to avoid the gulls, hence their close guard of the adult females. (JA)

Posted May 23, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 22nd   Leave a comment

Yesterday I spent nearly all day inside, listening to the increasing north-easterly gale and the rain hitting the windows. Not a day to be outside. Nevertheless, a red-backed shrike was reported from Kilminning late afternoon, so out I went. It was ridiculous to be looking for any bird considering the weather, but the shrike had found a calm spot in the lee of the trees by the main road. It may have found a calm spot, but I didn’t find the shrike. Still it wasn’t the weather for any bird to continue its migration, so I returned home fairly hopeful I might see it the next day.

Today dawned, bright and sunny, with little wind. A great improvement and great shrike finding weather. But the shrike was eclipsed by a report of an icterine warbler from lower Kilminning. The shrike was a good sign of good birds and some early birders had made their own luck and found this quite substantial rarity at about 8 this morning after a very early start. I was down at Kilminning by 8:20 and was watching the bird within a couple of minutes. Sometimes it works like this, most of the time it doesn’t, as with the shrike last night. Icterine warblers are fairly common throughout northern Europe as a summer migrant but are only rare passage migrants to the UK: the last Crail patch bird was on the 21stAugust, 2006, at the Yellow House, Wormiston, in a big fall of less scarce migrants after some easterly winds and rain showers. So today’s icterine is only my second on the Crail list. The icterine warbler was feeding in the top of a sycamore, sometimes showing well, but mostly just offering fleeting glimpses. It became apparent that different people were watching different birds – two icterine warblers were present, one much yellower than the other. One of the birds stayed around a single sycamore much of the day (the brighter yellower one), singing every so often, and the second moved silently around a large loop around the edges of Kilminning, occasionally feeding in the trees by the Sibe thrush bench. After my initial great views it took some perseverance, especially in the afternoon to see it again well. But the song was easy to hear all day and really made the occasion. Icterines have a great, raucous, powerful song, with lots of mimicry with diverse scratchy and grating notes mixed in – I am not generally a fan of jazz, but this is as close to jazz as you get in birdsong, and it sounds good. The first icterine in the sycamore was accompanied by three spotted flycatchers, at least three garden warblers and a fair number of greyish brown “northern” willow warblers. The whole lot were probably on their way to northern Sweden before they got blown over to us yesterday. It was great birding – birds to look at everywhere, and every so often you laid eyes on the glowing yellow icterine.

The browner, non-singing icterine warbler at Kilminning – this afternoon from the Sibe thrush bench. A classic easy id – big bill, open unstriped face, a very obvious whitish wing panel, lead grey legs and a long primary projection

I went home for lunch after checking the rest of the site (another garden warbler and more northern willow warblers at the top part of Kilminning; a singing lesser whitethroat at Balcomie). My Whatsapp pinged again as I ate my sandwich – the male red-backed shrike of last night had been refound at lower Kilminning. Off again down the Fife Ness road. This time it wasn’t an instant find. The shrike – like last night – was not fond of people and went into cover as soon anyone approached. When I got there it had disappeared again. I wandered through Kilminning Coast and then along the edge of Sauchope Caravan Park before finally relocating the shrike on a fence post along the western wooded edge of Kilminning and the wheat of the airfield. A lovely bright male: always a thrill even though they are becoming more predictable – the last week in May at Kilminning after any kind of rain shower or haar on a slight easterly. I didn’t approach it and enjoyed it as a distance.

Male red-backed shrike at Kilminning today – a long way away, but this one really wanted to be alone

Posted May 22, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 19th   Leave a comment

There is a little wood of oak trees just north-west of Bonerbo and south-east of Kingsmuir, as you take the high road from Crail to Cupar. Just as I was thinking about how scarce oak trees are close to Crail, and that this might therefore be a good spot to find a jay, I heard one. They make a loud, harsh screech of a call – it’s very distinctive, which is a good thing because jays are often very shy. They are often highly persecuted which makes them even more cautious. Even though they are probably in most of the larger wooded patches around Crail, I usually only see them flying between woodland patches, and then only one or two a year if lucky.

Jay (JA)

Posted May 19, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings