October 13th   Leave a comment

Most of the barnacle geese seemed to have gone through: today it was only small flocks of less than 10. Yesterday was quite spectacular and it did seem that every barnacle goose there ever was, was passing. Kilminning has also lost its redwings too. There were still some chiffchaffs and a brambling. And several red admiral butterflies, sailing around in the continuing warm, unseasonal sunshine.

A chiffchaff at Upper Kilminning today

It has been a busy non-birding week and some good “local patch gold” birds that I have seen have fallen by the wayside. I had another grebe past Crail on the 9th. I picked it up late as I sea watched from my house, which meant a two second view rather than 10. It was a red-necked or a Slavonian, my initial ID was the former, but I can’t be sure, particularly when it so conveniently fills a hole in my year list. On the 10th I had a raven over Fairmont. The first on the patch for a couple of months since I stopped looking for corn buntings up near the Secret Bunker. They may be back in the Fairmont area now for the winter as they were last year. On the same day I has a jay flying out of the woods at Cambo. There was an influx of jays along the east coast at the end of last week and several were seen at Kilminning last Saturday.

Posted October 13, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 12th   Leave a comment

A change in the weather – a pulse of north-easterly wind overnight with some rain showers. This morning dawned wet but with a lot of birds coming in. Most noticeable were the barnacle geese and the redwings. I was in St Andrews as it got fully light and there were constant flocks of barnacle geese flying overhead, heading down the coast towards Fife Ness. Their ragged, untidy V formations giving them away long before I could hear their yapping, angry poodle, calls. There were barnacle geese passing all day, but there were thousands passing in the first hour. The same pattern for redwings. There were hundreds at Kilminning this morning. Every so often a sycamore would suddenly erupt as a flock of fifty would take off and head further inland. There were other migrants about: at least 8 chiffchaffs between Upper and Lower Kilminning, some blackcaps, a few brambling, song thrushes and mistle thrushes. And the first woodcock of the winter at Balcomie Cottages.

One of the many flocks of barnacle geese moving down the coast today (John Anderson)

Posted October 12, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 10th   Leave a comment

This morning was again unseasonably warm, with little wind. It was perfect for finding birds: I could hear everything and the only things moving in the trees were birds. But there was nothing there to find once again. I spent an hour in the Patch and the caravans at Fife Ness, had a good look around Craighead, Balcomie Cottages and a quick look in at Lower Kilminning around the bench bushes. Song thrushes, goldcrests, robins, a blackcap, a chiff-chaff. The only summer migrant I saw today was a swallow at Balcomie. On the beach the curlew sandpiper was still around, feeding with dunlins along the low tide line. There was a confiding bar-tailed godwit feeding in stinky pool. Usually they are very shy but this one was desperate to keep feeding, pulling out big ragworms as it waded in the pool. Both the curlew sandpiper and bar-tailed godwit are potentially very long distance migrants – breeding in the high Arctic of Siberia and heading, perhaps, as far as South Africa. The curlew sandpiper is looking fatter and fatter by the day and must be ready by now to head south. There was one more obvious migrant wader. A greenshank on the rocks at Fife Ness.

The bar-tailed godwit at Stinky Pool today (John Anderson)

The best birding of the day was the big flock of gulls in the harvested potato field just outside of Crail and next to Balcomie Caravan Park. Lots of herring and black headed gulls, but amongst them an adult little gull, looking very odd in a muddy field, and a leucistic herring gull. Almost pure white apart from its dark bill, and faint speckles of yellowish indicating an immature. Almost exactly the same plumage as the one we had around Crail last winter, but that bird should be in mostly adult plumage by now – such as that is when the bird is all white anyway. The bill should be more adult like and not all black though. So a different bird and just a coincidence I think.

The leucistic herring gull

Posted October 10, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 7th   Leave a comment

I was lured out twice today as some migrants turned up along the East coast, and a Radde’s warbler on the May Island at lunchtime. Kilminning had a chiffchaff or two, a lot more redwings, but I didn’t find anything special. The curlew sandpiper continues its residence at Balcomie and Fife Ness: I saw it roosting with some redshanks at low tide at the north end of Balcomie Beach. Eventually all the waders on the beach (dunlin and ringed plover) were spooked by something and it flew off with a dunlin towards Fife Ness. Fife Ness itself was very quiet except for a steady stream of newly minted juvenile gannets heading out of the Forth for the first time. This evening the temperature is at 16 degrees, an insane level for mid-October. A strange autumn indeed.

The juvenile curlew sandpiper on Balcomie Beach this lunchtime – day 18

Posted October 7, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 6th   Leave a comment

A much better day today. Dry and sunny, with a north-east wind. It brought skeins of pink-footed geese in this morning, cutting the corner of Fife Ness and over Kilminning. A flock of 20 whoooper swans did the same – my first for this winter. I heard them in the distance, a faint bassoon-like honking, and then they flew over me into the Forth. It is a magical sight to see a flock of migrating swans, especially in autumn sunlight against a blue sky. There were a few other things at Kilminning – definitely more song thrushes, blackbirds, robins, goldcrests and blackcaps than the last few visits. I heard a redwing and a brambling too. So some migrants, even if not anything rare.

Whooper swans (John Anderson)

Posted October 6, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 5th   Leave a comment

It’s been a very rainy day. I tried walking over the stubble fields at Boarhills at lunchtime but rain stopped play: soggy skylarks and meadow pipits being the only thing on show. Later I tried some sea watching from my house in between emails and administration and lucked out on a male scaup flying by. Another surprisingly rare bird for the Crail patch, with one recorded in only seven of the last 19 years. They are either flybys like this as birds move along the coast or on the reservoir at Carnbee. Despite the very slow autumn, the scaup takes the year list up to 168, only 5 short of the record last year, and I am still a month ahead of when I hit 168 last year. But there is still no sign of any good migrant weather.

Scaup (John Anderson)

Posted October 5, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 3rd   Leave a comment

When you are a local patch birder, leaving your patch in October is very foolish. Yet here I am heading down to England for a couple of days. Previous similar trips away have led to me missing a red-flanked bluetail in Denburn, for example. Spectacularly it was found literally as I left Crail heading for the station, and then it stayed in the wood until I returned, but after dark, two days later. The wood was empty the following morning. Consequently, I checked Denburn Wood superstitiously and very carefully this morning before I left, even though the winds barely suggested anything had come in. Other birds have turned up like this bluetail but then they stayed long enough for me to connect with them when I came back – the eastern olivaceous warbler, a pied wheatear, a Radde’s warbler. But even though it all worked out in the end, all the time I was away, there was the worry about missing them. This is all foolish, particularly if you are not a birder, or bothered about a local patch, or take the long term view that anything missed is then even more special when you see it next time it appears. But if rationalizing anxieties like this actually made them go away then humans would be much happier and much more sensible than they are. So, I sit on the train hoping that the next bit of Fife Bird News that hits my phone is not that mega rarity – like a pallid harrier – that I cannot go and see until Tuesday. True to form, as I left Crail this morning, my phone binged. I checked it with dread at the station. A northern wheatear. Perfect, so far.

Northern wheatear (John Anderson)

Posted October 3, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 2nd   Leave a comment

This week has remained frustratingly devoid of rarer migrants, and as September has passed into October, it is fair to say that this autumn, apart from the seabirds and shorebirds, has not turned out well so far. So it goes sometimes. Birders suffer from the same syndrome as farmers and always benchmark things to the best year they have had, so inevitably as the years go on, each season is a relative disappointment. It’s a way of thinking that has to be actively fought against because going out birding around Crail always means some good birds. Take today for example. Although checking the Patch and Kilminning this morning only turned up a chiffchaff in the former and four bramblings and a redwing in the latter, bramblings are always nice to see, especially chewing away at whitebeam berries and scrapping with the local chaffinches, and the redwing was the first of the winter. A whimbrel and a northern wheatear at Balcomie were another two good birds for the day. And the juvenile curlew sandpiper was also still in residence to perk things up. It was showing well again in Stinky Pool. It was pulling out thread like worms fairly frequently: it makes me wonder why nothing else ever turns up at Stinky Pool. Perhaps it is just too disturbed, this curlew sandpiper is notable for its tameness for example – Stinky Pool was a great site for waders thirty years ago when there were certainly fewer golfers and coastal walkers.

The curlew sandpiper in residence at Stinky Pool – its 14th day

But the saving grace of today was the sea watching. Fairly slow, but perfect visibility and a lively wind pushing gannets, kittiwakes and razorbills past at a high rate. Always something to look at and to look for. I watched from Fife Ness in the morning and from my house in Crail at other times. There was a reasonable set of seabirds during the day: sooty and manx shearwaters, arctic and a pomarine skua, lots of little gulls, a handful of sandwich terns, common and velvet scoters and a slow and steady passage of red-throated divers into the Forth (they must be heading further south but hugging the coast as they go, otherwise the Forth further west must have ten thousand of them already). On a good south-easterly wind like today there is always a hope of good seabirds and rarities. You just have to keep looking and get lucky.

Plenty of great gannet and wave action today during sea watches (John Anderson)

Posted October 2, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 26th   Leave a comment

My son has gone back to Glasgow University at last. Great for him for any number of reasons, and great for me because I now have full access to my sea watching telescope which sits in front of his bedroom window, overlooking the Forth. Finally, sea watching from my house first thing in the morning is an option again – and this is when a lot of seabirds are on the move. This morning, within five minutes, I had a Slavonian grebe flying by accompanied by two common scoter. Initially I thought a teal was with the scoter, but an overall greyish brown tinge made me suspicious and then I saw the white wedges on the inner trailing edge of the wing. Any grebe other than a little grebe are very rare past Crail or Fife Ness. Slavonian grebes have appeared on my Crail year list in only 6 of the last 19 years, red-necked grebes in 3 years, and great crested and black-necked grebes only once. All of these are not too hard to find in the inner Forth during the winter, but when they arrive and leave, they don’t seem to pass us.

Later in the morning I walked from Kingsbarns to red sands at Boghall and then back along the Drony Road. Again, strangely empty of corn buntings, although a flock of seven flew over calling heading towards the stubbles to the north of Kingsbarns that were so popular last year. Perhaps they are all there already. At the sheep fields of Boghall there was a large flock of linnets but no twite. On the beach there were two grey plovers – the first of the winter. There was a flock reported from the Eden today as well so perhaps they have just arrived. There were also bramblings arriving today – the first were reported from a few places in the East Neuk, including one I had flying over my garden calling. The good weather makes it easy for the winter visitors to arrive even if it doesn’t make for good conditions for vagrants. We should expect some redwings in, any day now.

Grey plover (John Anderson)

Posted September 26, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 25th   Leave a comment

The wind died down overnight leaving a very still day, and a calm sea. A very important characteristic of the day as it turned out. Sea watching at Fife Ness was to the horizon, with everything pin sharp and visible all the time above the sea. Although the hour I spent there was slow, the clarity of every bird made it one of the best sea watches of the autumn. Two sooty shearwaters and four manx shearwaters passed going north, the first for a week. There was a flock of over 100 little gulls milling around for the hour and a constant passage of pink-footed geese. I was just short of 1000 by the end of the hour. But the best bird was an adult pomarine skua, complete with its distinctive extended tail “spoons”, flying steadily north. No squinting into the wind, no disappearing behind the waves: my first nice and easy pomarine skua in years.

There were some small changes elsewhere. More northern wheatears – there were six around Balcomie Beach – a couple more chiffchaffs at Kilminning, and a couple of white wagtails on the east beach at Sauchope. It is worth checking out every group of pied wagtails on the shore at the moment because there are lots of white wagtails passing.

White wagtail at Sauchope today – a male moulting into winter plumage

This afternoon the lack of wind and calm sea was significant again because I took the May Princess out to the May Island. I haven’t been in the autumn before except to stay on the island to ring birds: why would you go for a random day trip when the puffins and all the other seabirds are gone? And when there was almost no chance of any migrants because of the good weather this week. The reason, as it emerged, is that the May Island is an amazingly atmospheric place when it is quiet. No seabirds, no wind, no noise, just calm and amazing scenery. I stood on the top of the island, in the last of the evening sunlight, with an unparalled view across the Forth, from Fife Ness to Edinburgh and back to St Abbs. Very peaceful. There were some birds of course. A female peregrine patrolling the cliffs, rock pipits and pied wagtails, a few northern wheatears and in the Heligolands a couple of chiffchaffs and a willow warbler. But it was eerily quiet without the seabirds. There was just a single shag on a ledge on the cliffs, otherwise all the others were on the sea around the island, with a few razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and a single juvenile puffin half way between Anstruther and the island. As the May Princess left, we encountered a pod of about 30 boisterous bottle-nose dolphins. A complete contrast to the calm before. They were surfacing right by the boat, leaping out in pairs and trios. The St Andrews Masters students that were the actual reason for my trip were completely captivated and the island was totally sold on them, even without its puffins.

Bottlenose dolphins on show by the May Princess and the Osprey III, Anstruther ecotourism in action
Guillemot in Anstruther harbour struggling with a flat fish – just the wrong shape entirely to swallow

Posted September 25, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 23rd   Leave a comment

The pink-footed geese are here! They are a little later this year, but today there were thousands passing Crail. Most to the north, as they cut off Fife Ness and battled with the strong westerly winds, or to the south, following the Forth. You could hear flocks calling in the distance all day.

I was out at Kilminning for an hour this morning, still smarting at the harrier I missed on Sunday. As well as the geese, there was a steady passage of swallows and house martins heading west along the coast. The elder bushes only had a few robins (their numbers are increasing) and a female blackcap.

Pink footed geese (John Anderson)

Posted September 23, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 22nd   Leave a comment

The wind got up today for the first time in a couple of weeks with strong south westerlies heralding in the equinox. I was up at the stubble fields at Boarhills thinking about mapping the winter distribution of the corn buntings. The fields were almost empty even in the areas of high density corn bunting breeding. In about six stubble fields I found only a flock of Canada Geese, a stonechat, a couple of skylarks, some grey partridges and a handful of meadow pipits. Where the buntings are at the moment I really don’t know. Hillhead Farm on the other side of Kenly Water was just the same: lots of great wild bird seed mix habitat along the field edges but no buntings.

Some of the ten Canada geese now left at Kenly as the late summer flock finishes moulting and heads back, I think, to England

The curlew sandpiper from last Sunday resurfaced today, feeding on stinky pool at Fife Ness with a couple of dunlin and a ringed plover. It was a reasonably tame bird – by definition any wader using stinky pool is tame because of the disturbance of the coastal path and a golf green directly beside it – so I could sit less than twenty meters away as it fed. I was there near to high tide so the rocks behind were busy with other waders: thirty dunlin, twenty turnstone, five purple sandpipers, ringed plovers, redshanks oystercatchers, curlews and even a couple of whimbrel.

The curlew sandpiper at Stinky Pool this afternoon
The same bird (John Anderson)

Posted September 22, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 19th   Leave a comment

Sadly today is a tale of the one that got away. I was about 5-10 minutes too late for a juvenile pallid harrier that came in from the sea at Kilminning at about 12:15 today. The lucky finders, George Dunbar, Matt Jackson and Dan Burt put the news straight out but I was in (ironically) a Scottish Ornithologists Club Council meeting at home. I’m afraid I left the meeting straight away – a pallid harrier is a once in lifetime bird for a local patch. But when I got to the airfield I could only briefly string a distant juvenile gull and track golden plovers and gulls flying up in response to a merlin hunting along the back of Sauchope. The harrier had stayed around the airfield for only 10 minutes before heading inland towards Sypsies. So close. One of my favourite birds that I see often in West Africa, but never in Scotland. This one would likely be a Finnish bird, heading down to Africa through Sweden and Norway, and getting diverted through Scotland by the wind. Yesterday there was a honey buzzard over the May Island that will have done the same.

The one that got away.. a juvenile pallid harrier that I didn’t see at Kilminning today. Found by George Dunbar, Matt Jackson and Dan Burt. Thanks to George for letting me post his video grabs showing an absolutely perfect record of this rare bird. They aren’t tricky to identify but these photos leave absolutely no doubt.

There were some other good birds around today, although no small migrants – pied flycatchers and redstarts are again conspicuous by their absence this autumn. As well as the harrier, there was a grey phalarope, curlew sandpiper and a pomarine skua seen (by the same team that got the harrier – clearly on a roll). I only connected with the curlew sandpiper. A juvenile roosting on the shag rocks at Fife Ness with redshanks, dunlins and a couple of purple sandpipers. It wasn’t the best of views as it shuffled in and out of dead ground but I was glad to see something good today. Curlew sandpipers are surprisingly rare around Crail and only turn up (usually on Balcomie Beach) every 3-4 years. They must fly by Fife Ness every year, but then they are just another dunlin like wader shooting by, when we are concentrating on seabirds much further out. And last but not least today, the first pink-footed geese of the year: skeins flying past Fife Ness and cutting over the peninsula calling the autumn on.

Curlew sandpiper (John Anderson)

Posted September 19, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 18th   Leave a comment

The excellent weekend, but not so great for migrants, weather continues. Cycling along the coastal path in just a t-shirt in the middle of September makes for a pleasant day but migrant wise I only found a northern wheatear in the stubbles at Wormiston, and a whimbrel on Balcomie Beach. Swallows seemed scarce too.

The whimbrel on Balcomie Beach this afternoon – I whistled it back down to the beach after it was flushed by some walkers, but it left again soon after this, grumpy I think because it only found me rather than another whimbrel

Sea watching at Fife Ness and Balcomie produced red-throated divers coming in to the Forth again at a rate of about 20 an hour. Flocks of common and sandwich terns were passing quite frequently too. Waders were hard to find at Balcomie, and it was only a young male peregrine hunting along the beach that produced any, as the small number of dunlins, ringed plover and turnstones hidden among the rocks broke cover and flew out to sea. The peregrine, unusually, instead of heading off after its hunt came back for another two passes through the area over the next fifteen minutes, stooping at starlings and even a pied wagtail flock. Lots of chaos over the golf course ensued but no cigar for the peregrine. It did then eventually fly off towards Crail in search of less spooked prey.

Male peregrine (John Anderson)

Butterflies provided the most unusual sightings today. First a speckled wood butterfly at upper Kilminning. They are now regular in late summer around Crail, but ten years ago they were very rare. And then a painted lady butterfly on the buddleia in my front garden this afternoon. Both butterflies will be migrants. The speckled wood from further west and the painted lady from the southern Europe. So far this summer there have not been many painted ladies, in contrast to huge invasion from early summer onwards in 2019. Last year I had my first painted lady in Crail also just in September (the 17th).

Speckled wood butterfly at Kilminning
Painted Lady butterfly

Posted September 18, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 15th   Leave a comment

There was a hint of some migrants this morning at Fife Ness. I stopped at Craighead because I saw a chiffchaff in one of the ashes. Always a good sign. So I stayed a few minutes and sure enough a spotted flycatcher appeared. I then found a garden warbler at lower Kilminning, again frequenting the elder bushes by the newly rebuilt bench. A couple of whimbrels were on the shore at Sauchope to finish. But overall the weather is too good. The easterlies too light, and too little rain. A fine, warm autumn, great for migrants to head off and past, but not to stop.

Whimbrel (John Anderson)

Posted September 15, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 14th   Leave a comment

I have changed my mind about the guillemots and razorbills that have been close inshore the last couple of weeks. I don’t think they are in trouble. Quite the reverse, they are here in such large numbers because there are lots of fish about. I was out at the Eden estuary today with a class, teaching them to count (birds – obviously they can count in general), when I noticed that the river was full of auks. As the students practiced counting the oystercatchers, I counted over 2,500 razorbills and about 500 guillemots packed into the Eden, along a few hundred meters from the mouth at Outhead. My heart was sinking imagining that this was some massive wreck of starving birds when I saw that most of them were feeding vigorously, almost in a frenzy, with lots of herring gulls, sandwich and arctic terns, and red-throated divers in attendance, all also feeding vigorously. Not a wake, but a party. Lots of happy auks and after about an hour they swam out of the river, back into St Andrews Bay. And so the dead auks that are turning up on the beach are probably the inevitable collateral of very large numbers of birds in one place where we can see them. Juvenile mortality, in particular, is always high, for all bird species, and if guillemots and razorbills are normally in the North Sea at this time, then we wouldn’t see the deaths. Anyway, just a theory, but all those auks today looked like they were fine. And quite a spectacle too. With a supporting cast of a couple of white-tailed eagles loafing on the mud behind, and a little tern fishing in the foreground.

Razorbill (John Anderson)

Posted September 14, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 12th   Leave a comment

Still fairly quiet with warm days and little wind. There are still lots of guillemots along the shore, and more and more are turning up inland and dead on beaches. It does look like a mass mortality is occurring at the moment. Guillemots are susceptible to starvation, but usually coincident with storms making visibility to see fish and fishing generally difficult for them. The North Sea has been fairly calm for the last six weeks so it is a bit of a mystery at the moment. On a brighter note, there was a steady passage of red-throated divers into the Forth today – one or two past every ten minutes. There were also four northern wheatears at Balcomie Beach, the highest number this autumn. In a good period this can be as high as 20-30, but perhaps it is the start.

Northern Wheatear (John Anderson)

Posted September 12, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 11th   Leave a comment

I have been checking the beaches at Balcomie and Sauchope diligently for the last couple of weeks hoping for a ruff. It’s peak passage time for them through Crail and they have become more reliable, with them turning up at this time in the last four years. I finally saw a couple today, but not on the beach. I know full well that ruff are more like golden plover in their habitat choice – they like wet fields and pasture as much as the shore – but had absently mindedly forgotten it again this year. The two birds today were in a flock of herring gulls, picking their way along the furrows of a newly drilled field. The gulls flew up as I cycled past the big field next to Pinkerton (that had up to six corn bunting nests in it only six week ago) and I saw the two ruff with them. They circled round but wouldn’t come back down, finally heading off over Crail (and my garden!). I was spared the angst of wondering whether I can count a bird that would have been seen from my garden (if I was in it), but seen from elsewhere, because I already have seen ruff a couple of times from my house while sea watching. If I decide to relax this rule then there are a few species I can add (white-tailed eagle, Balearic shearwater, whinchat for example). I will see how desperate I get to add new garden species as the years go on…The great thing about a competition where you are the only participant is that you might as well make up your own rules to suit.

Ruff (John Anderson). These two from a field the other side of Crail August 2019

Seeing the ruff has ended a bit of a famine period for migrants. It has remained very quiet the last few days. Kilminning and the Patch seem almost empty of birds except goldfinches and swallows. I have also been checking the waders at Balcomie every day. Still lots of dunlin, with smaller numbers of ringed plover, sanderling and turnstone, but nothing more unusual. And the last couple of sea watches haven’t turned up a single shearwater or skua. There were only three pale bellied brent geese past Balcomie this morning and lots of sandwich terns. The other tern species have more or less gone although there should be small numbers about through until October. Another migrant today, though, was a juvenile marsh harrier. I picked up a large raptor being mobbed by crows over Wormiston House: it just looked a bit wrong for a buzzard, all dark and lanky. I cycled after it and refound it hunting over the fields at Randerston, its harrier shape and golden crown obvious even at a distance. It has been my best year for marsh harriers around Crail – I must be up to seven or eight for the year now. A few winter migrants have also perhaps started to arrive, although covertly. I have seen a few robins scrapping and there have been a couple of small flocks of blackbirds at north Kilminning suggesting that some of them are already here for the winter.

Dunlin Balcomie Beach (John Anderson)

Posted September 11, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 7th   Leave a comment

There was a big passage of meadow pipits this morning along the coast and over Crail heading west (although eventually south). The wind is back in the west so it is British migrants only. Meadow pipits are one of the commonest breeding birds in Britain with perhaps three million birds moving south each autumn. The main breeding range is the mirror of the main wintering range. The Scottish Highlands and Islands empty of them and the southern and eastern counties of England fill with them. They call continuously as they go, a thin “tsip-tsip”, so you always know it is a flock of meadow pipits. It’s hard to know just how many are migrating – the flocks moving directly along the shore at treetop height are always very noticeable, but if you look out to sea there are many, much less conspicuous, following the coast too, but low over the waves.

A September meadow pipit – a lot stop to refuel on the rocky shore as they head south to England, or even further afield to southern Europe (John Anderson)

Posted September 7, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 5th   Leave a comment

I walked from Kingsbarns to Kenly Water along the coastal path this morning and then back inland via Pitmilly. It’s one of my favourite walks and a good antidote to the current fruitless searches of Kilminning. There were little gulls all the way. I wasn’t seriously counting but I got to over 90 going south. We count little gulls passing this time of year but in fact there are probably several hundred (several thousand?) little gulls between St Andrews Bay and the May Island, and they go back and forth, close in and far out, during August and September, giving apparently variable numbers and passage periods every day. Later at Fife Ness there was a flock of 45 milling around a kilometer out, attracting other little gulls from the south. Again, there were lots of guillemots about close in at Kingsbarns and Kenly, but not enjoyably so after I found four dead guillemots washed up in about 200 meters of beach at Boghall beach. There have been reports of starving guillemots further north along the coast, with large numbers at St Andrews. So the many guillemots close in to the shore is probably not a good sign. There are lots of fish about and the other seabirds seem to be doing well – there are very few razorbills close in with the guillemots, for example. But perhaps not the particular fish that guillemots feed on, although when I checked their diet in the bible – “Birds of the Western Palearctic” – pretty much every local fish species is listed as prey. They eat just about anything swimming within a particular size. The water is very clear at the moment and there have been no recent storms, so it is a bit of a mystery why guillemots, in particular, are dying. At Kenly Water there was the usual late summer flock of Canada Geese. I counted 70 but could only see about half the flock. Migrant wise it was quiet as at Fife Ness: a couple of wheatears (which are very scarce so far this autumn) and some willow warblers. The local whitethroats and sedge warblers are still about but definitely getting much scarcer – they are slipping away day by day. Back at Kingsbarns at lunchtime there were probably over 100 house martins over the village. If this represents local birds rather than a temporary gathering of birds on passage then something good is happening for house martins in Kingsbarns. The biggest flocks of house martins I have seen over Crail late summer has only been about 40-50 birds.

One of the starved guillemots I found today washed up at Kingsbarns
Juvenile razorbill close in at Balcomie Beach this afternoon- fairly lethargic (but sometimes auks just are) so perhaps also starving

Posted September 5, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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