April 20th   Leave a comment

More great migration weather and more great migrants coming in today. A flock of sand martin over Kilminning, my first house martins over Crail, lots of northern wheatears in the bare earth fields around Crail (one at Balcomie had at least 5 in it), barn swallows now everywhere and more willow warblers. No sign of the yellow wagtails back at Barnsmuir this afternoon though – the fields are better habitat than last year, although not so damp, so I’m reasonably hopeful for them breeding again this year, if they return. There was an influx of yellow wagtails in the Lothians today so I think our yellow wagtails will be back tomorrow. Another black redstart was found out at the cottages at Balcomie and I managed to connect with this one in the afternoon. It was feeding in a recently irrigated bit of potato field, using a low stone wall on the edge to fly down for insects on the ground. It was fairly shy and I had to sit in the adjacent sheep field for about an hour before it came relatively close. It was a female type – pretty much all sooty grey apart from its dark red tail. This might be an adult female, or it might be a young male. Some males stay looking like first years even when they breed for the first time. There was also a common redstart found at Kilminning, atypically out in the open, on the wire fence by the SWT sign. I got there too late – I suspect it had retreated into some more typical wooded habitat. Still there is always tomorrow to find it again. The wind is now south westerly for a couple of days but is back easterly on Monday for the rest of the week, with rain showers forecast for Thursday and Friday. So all lining up well for next weekend. But I think there is more to be found this weekend though…

Today’s black redstart at Balcomie cottages
Finally getting a bit closer

Posted April 20, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 19th   Leave a comment

There was a black redstart reported from Kilminning yesterday evening so I was down there early this morning. I wasn’t very optimistic – they can be hard to find down on the rocky shore down there. But it was a perfect spring morning with bright sunshine, no wind and the temperature climbing. And there were three northern wheatears on the rocks and three barn swallows overhead. Today and yesterday were perfect migration conditions: there were more wheatears around the airfield and later, swallows all the way between Crail and St Andrews.

Northern wheatear

Posted April 19, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 18th   Leave a comment

The wind went a little bit more southerly today with the airflow coming up from Europe, rather than just east across the North Sea. The temperature went up by eight degrees and I saw my first swallow of the summer over Kilrenny. In Denburn there were willow warblers singing and my first blackcaps – like the willow warbler of last week, feeding like new arrivals and barely singing. And later, my first whimbrel, flying over my garden calling briefly from the evening sky. I whistled back but it was already on its way north-west, in a hurry. If you are a whimbrel you can really move – it might have been in Iberia yesterday and be in Iceland tomorrow.

Male blackcap – females have brown caps

Posted April 18, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 17th   Leave a comment

I saw a hoopoe on the way to work today. If ever there was a rare bird made to be identified from a moving car, it is a flying hoopoe – a big strikingly patterned butterfly of a bird. We had just passed the kirk at Boarhills and the Balmashie cottages on the corner when a bird flying up from the stone wall or the verge by the road caught my eye. A hoopoe, at eye level as we passed. It banked up and flew briefly beside the car before heading over into the field behind the wall. Only two seconds worth but I can still see it burnished into my mind: Africa, Italy and Cyprus brought to the East Neuk this morning. The hoopoe will be an overshooting migrant that flew a bit further than intended last night. They are common in the south of Europe and they are familiar to anyone who has a summer holiday around the Mediterranean. They are shy but like gardens, parks and orchards so are often seen on the irrigated lawns or golf courses around resort hotels, very noticeable as they fly away like my bird this morning, with their bold black and white stripes. If you get lucky and see one on the ground they are very endearing, picking daintily about with their very long curved bill and frequently flicking up their long crest like a cockatoo. They are pretty rare in Scotland. A few turn up each year and we have had a couple in the Crail area in the last 16 years. I missed them both: April 5th 2014 in a Pinkerton garden, and March 23rd 2011 in a Marketgate garden (only 150m from my house!). They get noticed and identified by non-birders but they don’t hang around. I put mine out on the grapevine immediately and John Anderson was out looking for it within the hour, but it wasn’t seen again today. Still, third time lucky for me and I have it at last for my Crail area list – now up to 228 species. Spring is truly here – swallows and who knows what else tomorrow.

A hoopoe – this one taken by John in Fuertaventura. It is small pigeon sized and even more striking in flight.

Posted April 17, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 14th   Leave a comment

The wind continues from the southeast but without bringing any warmer weather or many more migrants. I had my first willow warbler singing in an unenthusiastic manner in Kilrenny today – perhaps concentrating more on getting its condition back after arriving last night rather than thinking about its territory. As our climate gets warmer and spring gets earlier, there is more of a danger of migrants arriving later than the best time start nesting (so their chicks are being fed at the peak of insect abundance in a few weeks’ time), but I don’t think this will be a problem this spring. Scottish springs are usually slow to get going anyway so this is thought to be more of a problem for English birds.

Willow warbler

Posted April 14, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 13th   Leave a comment

There were lots of sandwich terns passing Balcomie and Fife Ness today. I counted 9 off Balcomie Beach at one point. They have been in Fife for a week but these were my first and today must have been their major arrival. It isn’t the summer without the screech of a sandwich tern. There were also over 20 long-tailed duck out from Balcomie Beach: they will be on their way north soon.

Sandwich Tern

I also had my first shelduck of the year. The usual pair are back in the bays just to the north of Balcomie Beach. I think they are successful breeders there every two or three years so I wish them luck for this year.


Posted April 13, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 11th   Leave a comment

Dunnocks are very common in Crail but often overlooked. Their other name – hedge sparrow – and the phrase “dull as a dunnock” doesn’t lend them much glamour, But they are worth noticing. Greyer and with a finer bill than a sparrow, they creep around on the ground very delicately. Dunnocks are amazingly tolerant of people and the environments we create. There is hardly a garden or field edge or copse in the UK without a dunnock. They are probably more human adapted than even house sparrows. I have one singing away in a rose bush just by my back door and its neat nest will be tucked away nearby, with a clutch of tiny, bright blue eggs.

One of my back garden dunnocks singing this morning

Posted April 11, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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