November 22nd   Leave a comment

There are worst places to sit on a sunny, Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee, than the mouth of the Kenly Burn. A merlin greeted me as I walked down from the main road, jinking over a dyke, leaving a chaos of curlews in the field behind it. Down at the sea, it was high tide. There were about 45 mallard, a few teal and the usual redshank and turnstone. The fields there are still all stubble and there is big strip planted for wild bird food, so there were lots of reed buntings and yellowhammers around, and a flock of noisy tree sparrows. They always seem busy and with somewhere to go to, but somehow just always end up back in the same bush. I sat looking over the shore towards the Aberdeenshire coast and scanned for otters. One was seen at the Kenly mouth last week. I will get lucky eventually, but not this morning.

Teal (JA)

Posted November 22, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 21st   2 comments

I’ve been out a few times this week but it has been quiet with nothing to really tip me over the edge of writing something. I’m normally in Nigeria during November and I am missing the jolt of African bird excitement, and the reprise of all the summer migrants. There is plenty to see around Crail in November, there is just no real sense of change unless there is a storm. Balcomie Beach has about 40 sanderling, 10 ringed plover and a handful of dunlin in residence now. Sanderlings are real winter birds. Their pale grey and white plumage fits in so well along the surf on a bright winter’s day. No signs of bar-tailed godwits for several weeks now. The rocks have good number of turnstones and purple sandpipers. There are still a few purps at the north end of Balcomie Beach and most days there is a flock of twenty or so at the low tide edge, directly in front of the light at Fife Ness, occasionally with a single knot that seems to also be wintering there. This week there has been a bit of diver passage of all three species, particularly with the northerly winds of the 19th. Mostly red-throated divers as usual. I had a great northern diver lumbering back northwards this morning past Fife Ness.

Sanderling (JA)

At Kilminning there is a party of five bullfinches in the top section, adding a dash of colour to the treetops now most of the berries have gone. There is a flock of 30 fieldfares around the airfield. Otherwise, it mostly tits and goldfinches. Today I noticed two goldeneye back in Roome Bay so some have finally made it here for the winter.

One of the five bullfinches at the top of Kilminning, resident for the last couple of weeks

If you walk through Bow Butts at about 15:45 you will see the Crail starling murmuration. It’s, fair to say, only a mini murmuration and not the spectacle to be seen on the Somerset Levels or autumn watch. But it is local – which is a real plus at the moment – and the 200 starlings occasionally form into a single flock like a giant amoeba and swirl into impressive patterns and loops.

Crail’s lockdown starling murmuration over Bow Butts this week – it might be small but you don’t have to go far to see it

Posted November 21, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 15th   Leave a comment

November has been fairly mild. Nine or ten degrees in Crail most days and a long way from frost. This has been the way of winters for the last decade, with any sustained cold periods moving past Christmas now. I’ve noticed the mild weather by the lack of sea ducks and particularly goldeneyes. Species like long-tailed ducks and goldeneyes can winter in a number of places, and they move westwards as the winter progresses and freezing conditions chase them across Europe. In milder winters fewer reach us because there is no need for them to come here: conditions in the Baltic, for example, might stay perfect all winter. So it seems this year. It can all change very quickly though and huge numbers of waders and waterfowl can move to the UK if a sudden and sustained freeze hits continental Europe. But these events have also been rarer in the last ten years. Today I went up to Carnbee Reservoir and it only had 2 goldeneyes instead of the usual 20. And no coots at all. Another continental visitor when conditions get bad (particularly in the East Neuk). Numbers of wigeon (35) and teal (10) were also very low. Lots of the resident little grebes though. While I was there counting the ducks I tried some playback to lure a water rail out for my year list. I had given up and was heading up the hill to my car when I heard one contact calling. Usually it is blowing a gale up there and hard to hear anything. Today I could hear the relatively quiet, but still grumpy and squeaking call as one moved through the thick vegetation at the head of the reservoir as it probably checked out my playback site to see if the now silent intruder was still about. It was a good lesson. Water rails don’t always respond noisily and patience is a good idea. I missed water rail here in the new year and at the Boarhills pond, so this bird today made 170 for the year list, now two ahead of my best year so far in 2019.

Water rail (JA). Easier to hear than see.

Although there aren’t many goldeneyes in from Europe, there are lots of fieldfares. I had three flocks of over 200 between Crail and Carnbee, and another flock of about 50 up at Sypsies. As I passed the secret bunker a jay flew away from the side of the road into the woods. Another bird I missed on the new year, and good to know that there are one or two still wintering, or resident there.

Jay (JA)

Posted November 15, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 14th   Leave a comment

After my off patch excursion excitement of Thursday it was back to the relative quietness of a walk around Crail this afternoon. Despite the poor weather, the highlight was a (the) female merlin still in the stubble field next to Pinkerton and behind Sauchope Caravan Park. I picked it up as some starlings and curlews flew up and away from it as it flew low over the field. Starlings should definitely get out of the way, but merlins are no threat to a curlew. But from a curlew’s point of view its not worth taking a chance – and curlews might live tens of years, so they should be cautious. A falcon coming rapidly towards you head on could easily be a peregrine. And male peregrines often adopt a flickering wing (think mistle thrush in flight) action to conceal their approach that merlins also use. The size difference between the two is no good, as Father Ted will tell you: is it large and far way or small and close? So the curlews flew up, only to land immediately with a sheepish air as the merlin passed overhead. The starlings, of course, kept going and the merlin followed them down into Roome Bay. All in all it was a bird of prey walk – there were three separate sparrowhawks and a kestrel also about.

Merlin (JA)

Posted November 14, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 12th   1 comment

I went twitching this morning. Perhaps because lockdown comes back tomorrow, perhaps because it was just on the edge of my local patch and it’s good to hedge your bets. But really because it was a Hudsonian godwit, a rare wader even in North America where it breeds. And I have a soft spot for waders. A Hudsonian godwit turned up on the Eden Estuary at least 12 days ago but was only positively identified after some pictures were posted up a couple of days ago. It is an easy bird to overlook being very similar to a black-tailed godwit, which is quite common at the Eden in winter. When they fly, however, they show a very distinctive black underwing – and the photo captured this. I went out this morning overconfident that it would be easy to spot. But I hadn’t reckoned on the godwits roosting at a distance. There was a flock of 33 black-tailed godwits close to Guardbridge as the tide was rising. I scanned through them – all looked just like black-tailed godwits. One by one the rising water caused them to fly a short distance to dryer mud. I checked 28 underwings – all pure white and so not the Hudsonian. Five shuffled or swam so I wasn’t 100% sure. I cycled down the south shore of the estuary to check for other godwits. I found a single bird with curlews in a flooded field halfway to St Andrews. Another black-tail. I headed back to Guardbridge and had just got there when the Hudsonian godwit was reported flying away with the roosting flock of godwits – I had overlooked it earlier. Luckily the flock came down just below the Edenside stables, where a grassy, saltmarsh area provides a roost even on a high spring tide. I biked down and started working my way through the flock again. I picked up a slightly smaller, more spangly-backed bird in amongst them but felt it was just wishful thinking. Then the flock flew in alarm and it was there – right in the middle – black underwing contrasting and obvious, and the bird a little bit more compact and shorter legged looking as it sped away. The flock circled round and came back to roost. The search began again. Luckily the Hudsonian godwit flicked its wings up and gave itself away. We (now a small group had gathered) could follow the bird as it walked through the flock for a couple of minutes before it resumed roosting. The differences were very slight. A grey mottled panel on the scapulars contrasting with a browner wing, the white of the supercilium more concentrated just in front of the eye and a slightly more peachy buff tone to its plumage generally. Thank goodness for the underwing. My time was up and I headed back to Guardbridge, home and work. Nothing like a twitch with a time limit, as long as you get the bird well in the last few minutes.

Black tailed godwit and hudsonian godwit – tricky (JA)
Hudsonian godwit and black-tailed godwit – easy (JA)

Posted November 12, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 10th   Leave a comment

There was some more fog around this morning. But the stillness made it very quiet at upper Kilminning. I easily picked up the Siberian chiff-chaff calling. I assume it is the same bird as I found on the 15th October, but then it could be another one in on the easterlies. Certainly, there have been a lot of blackbirds and woodcock arriving in the last few days: I flushed a woodcock as I followed the chiff-chaff around to get a good view. In case it was a new bird I had a good look at it and its plumage ticked all the right boxes: it looked very grey today, but this might haver been the fog. The call was great too: a single sad “tseu”, occasionally quite piping like a sad dunnock. I was able to record the call because it was so quiet. Although its very clear, its not very loud. If you go looking for the chiff-chaff over the weekend, when the go karts on the track next door are in action, then you won’t be able to hear it. Today it was very active in the top of the sycamores moving around the entire top of Kilminning, doing a circuit in about 10 minutes. Without the call – and it was calling for periods of about thirty seconds, making 5 or 6 calls in that time, interspersed with about five minutes of silence – it was impossible to keep track off. Otherwise it was redwings and mistle thrushes, and a brief view of a female merlin hunting through the fog at lower Kilminning.

Siberian chiffchaff at upper Kilminning this morning – here responding strongly to playback of its call

Posted November 10, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 8th   Leave a comment

Although the fog lifted yesterday afternoon, the south-easterly has brought more grey weather. There are still bramblings around Crail and I heard some more at Wormiston as I headed down to the shore this morning. The usual suspects but with more gannets than the last few days passing, some wigeon flocks and a flock of six goldeneyes. Good to see as none of the wintering goldeneyes have appeared yet at Fife Ness and Roome Bay. Two divers flew past, one larger than the other: a black-throated and a red-throated together. A third diver came past – probably another black-throated but you lose your confidence when the second of the much less common species comes past and the usual is always a steady stream of red-throated divers. Of course, events like these are never independent. You see one unusual species, you are more likely to see another, because clearly the conditions are right for it. You need to keep your nerve to identify a distant flying black-throated diver. But if you get the capped look, more bulky head, some darker contrast on the sides of the neck and long feet it is a black-throated. When I went through this checklist then the third bird was a definite black-throated diver.

Goldeneye, male and female (JA)

Posted November 8, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 7th   Leave a comment

The fog rolled in late afternoon yesterday and this morning it was still lingering. I had a walk round Crail – it was not going to be a good morning for birding anywhere. It turned out well though. As I crossed the stubble field at Pinkerton a merlin – probably a female, but everything looks bigger in a fog – flew up from a mound of earth and moved to a fence post. As I continued, I wondered if me putting up the skylarks might lead to a hunt. Merlins frequently chase after birds flushed by people, or dogs, or horses or even vehicles. It is hard for merlins to find a few very cryptic skylarks in a huge field. Sure enough, my dog put up four skylarks and the merlin was off after one in a rapid climb. It disappeared into the fog, still powering up after the skylark.

I came back to Crail past Balcomie Caravan Park. There was a mixed flock of tits and song thrushes that caught my attention in the sycamores along the northern boundary. And then a chiffchaff. Any winter chiffchaff in Crail is worth a lot of attention – of the two last winter, one was a definite, and the other a probable, Siberian chiffchaff. This one fitted the bill for a Siberian chiffchaff, with brownish or whiteish tones throughout apart from greenish on the primaries, brown ear coverts and very black legs. It wouldn’t call though to clinch it. I tried playback and it stopped feeding and flicked its wings, looking around to a Siberian chiffchaff call, but then resumed feeding when I played common chiffchaff call. It might have been an order effect, and I should have played common chiffchaff first. Still another bit of circumstantial evidence. This is the 4th Siberian chiff-chaff this autumn, although this one not quite certain. But I am getting the impression that they are less rare than thought, just overlooked. It helps that we don’t have regular overwintering common chiffchaffs around Crail so any chiffchaff that appears is an unusual bird and I give it a good look.

There were one or two bramblings in another mixed flock in the top of the big sycamores in Beech Walk Park. More song thrushes too. The fog seems to have brought a few things in. All in all, a good doorstep walk.

The likely Siberian chiffchaff in Crail today

Posted November 7, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 6th   Leave a comment

The geese have been flying over all week while I have been working at home. I had to follow them outside this morning. The sea was flat calm, with only a passing group of six dolphins and the lobster boats to disturb it. A beautiful winter’s day. When I got to Balcomie Beach the flock of sanderling (about 28 in residence now) was in a tight huddle at the tide edge. Flocks of starlings popped up and started spinning in tight balls over the adjacent rocky shore, and a trail of redshanks shrieked along the coastal path. I didn’t see anything but I bet it was a merlin. As I scanned for it, I picked up a carrion crow showing pale grey areas like a hooded crow. Hooded crows are the western Scottish and Irish form of carrion crows. They are considered a separate species, but carrion crows and hooded crows hybridise and there are a lot intermediates along the zone where both “species” meet. Because the zone is narrow and the intermediates are at a disadvantage to either parent form, this strengthens the case that the two forms are distinct species. The support for a split into two species or lump into one has varied through the years but recent genetic evidence shows them to be very, very similar. The jury is still out. If this actually matters of course. Hooded crows and carrion crows are more distinct to look at than many more obvious species, and both live in different areas. They might as well be different species for the purposes of birding. Anyway, my bird today was mostly carrion crow with a touch of hooded crow. Slightly paler grey areas rather than very pale grey, although it was grey in the distinct patches where it was supposed to be ruling out a pale plumaged carrion crow (they often have paler feathers particularly when on a poor diet). I’ll wait for a full, 100% hooded crow on the Crail patch before I decide whether to put a new species on the Crail list. There were a lot of thrushes again at Kilminning.

A carrion crow/hooded crow hybrid at Balcomie this morning

There are a lot fieldfares around this year: there was a big flock up by Kingsbarns Distillery yesterday as I passed. A fieldfare was in the flock of mistle thrushes at the top of Kilminning. Although I know this feature already, I was really struck by the black tail of the fieldfare contrasting with the white belly when the birds flew above me. This compares to a only slightly dark undertail, with much less contrast with the belly in a mistle thrush. Both species always look distinctive from below but this seems to be one of the main reasons.

Fieldfare – showing its black contrasting tail (JA)

Posted November 6, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 3rd   Leave a comment

It does look a lot like autumn is over. There is a slim chance of something coming in with some south-easterlies at the end of the week but I think we have had our lot this season. It has been an exceptional autumn in terms of some very good birds turning up. The only thing missing was some late October easterly rainstorms to bring in lots of thrushes and woodcocks at once. They seem to have trickled in more this year. At Kilminning this afternoon there were no summer migrants at all – my last one was a barn swallow on the 29th October. That may well be it now until next April. There were still five species of thrush there including quite a few redwings feeding on the hawthorn berries to seal that winter feeling.

Redwing on cotoneaster (JA)

Posted November 3, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 1st   Leave a comment

Another very windy day. I stayed around Crail and tried my luck walking through the stubble fields just to the east of Crail. I put up about 40 skylarks, rather than the 400 of a couple of weeks ago and nothing else except some linnets. There was a gull melee in Roome Bay again at high tide. I sat in the grass at the back of the beach and let the waders and gulls come to me as the tide came in.

Oystercatcher in Roome Bay this afternoon

One of my colour-ringed redshanks came close enough for me to get a photo to do it justice. YGSS (yellow green, sky (blue) sky (blue). I caught this bird more or less where it was today in February 2012. It was an adult then, so at least 1.8 years old. You can age redshanks in their first winter but after that, when they moult into adult plumage completely by their first breeding summer at one year old then you only know that they are not juveniles. So this bird is over ten years old, at least. Please say hello to it when you are next down at Roome Bay – it is almost always halfway along the beach, below the toilet block – and its rings, the ones above the knee, that identify it are easy to see without binoculars, the two pale blue ones look like a single whiteish one. Although I have talked about this before, it is worth mentioning it again just in case you are horrified by the number of rings on the bird. Why so many? Because redshanks move across the planet and a lot of redshanks are ringed in different places, so you need a lot of rings to ensure that each one marked has its own unique combination. Surely this harms them in some way? Not as far as we know, and I have studied the issue specifically in redshanks as part my research: I found that there was no effect on their survival at all and I would have been able to detect even just a 1% difference caused by the colour rings. So please enjoy the bird as a recognisable neighbour that has chosen to settle in Crail like many of us have, and as an individual contributing to our knowledge of how important somewhere like Roome Bay is as a habitat for wild birds and how long a bird like a redshank might live on average.

YGSS in its 11th year as a resident of Roome Bay

Posted November 1, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 31st   Leave a comment

It’s been a gale all day, with a strong southerly wind pushing the remaining gannets close to Crail as they pass. I watched for late skuas a couple of times today but apart from kittiwakes and guillemots little was passing. It was a wild sea so exciting to watch regardless. I walked along the coast towards Anstruther in the afternoon as far as Caiplie. There were fieldfares coming in from the sea the whole walk. It was the same yesterday and the day before. Small flocks passing over Crail, heading inland, here for another winter. I watched a couple of cormorants on the rocks trying to dry their wings. Their solid work in flapping their wings to shake the water off was undone by every other wave. They gave up and dived back into the spume. Roome Bay mid-afternoon was at high tide and so full of herring and black-headed gulls, redshanks and turnstones. I saw three of my colour-ringed redshanks, two now ten years old, among the 40 others. It’s always cheering to see the marked individuals back again each winter, like old friends, but each year there are inevitably fewer.

One of the fieldfares just in from Scandinavia today, having a quick break at West Braes before heading inland
Cormorants trying to dry their wings in the sea spray

Posted October 31, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 29th   Leave a comment

Kilminning felt quite wintery today. There are barely any goldcrests and no sign of the long-tailed tits, with just the occasional redwing and mistle thrush that might be a migrant. There was one tree sparrow flying around chipping plaintively in search of some pals: the large dispersing flocks seem to have finally gone on their way. I wonder if any were brave enough to cross the North Sea. There were bullfinches at both the top and bottom of Kilminning. At this time of year we sometimes get northern bullfinches turning up, potentially from as far away as Russia. They are larger and have a deeper toy trumpet call. No sign of this in the buffinches today but it does seem like they might be possible migrants. They are not usually resident at Kilminning, although I might expect these birds to stay for the winter.

Male bullfinch (JA)

Posted October 29, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 27th   Leave a comment

Yesterday lunchtime John Anderson found a red-backed shrike at Upper Kilminning. He phoned me just as I had started a four hour teaching session so there was no chance of seeing it that day. There was some nail biting on my part because although red-backed shrikes are worth seeing, at this time of year “red-backed” shrikes are much more likely to be one of the sister species from Central Asia, which are very rare indeed. It turned out to be “just” a red-backed shrike, so I could relax a bit, especially as when finishing work at five there was no light left to see it with the clocks going back over the weekend. Anyway, there was rain and mostly cloud overnight so there was a reasonable chance of it staying put. Sure enough, this morning I saw it about 7:30 in the sycamores at Kilminning where it was found the day before. A very obliging bird, catching flies and large insects (I saw it eating a wasp) along the edge of the trees and frequently perching on dead branches in full view. Sometimes a late or early season shrike can behave like a large warbler, staying in cover because there are no flying insects to catch. I was glad of the opportunity to think about late season red-backed shrikes and what you need to see on them to identify them. Like most things, not too tricky when you know how, but without any experience a bit daunting. Once again, having photos makes it easy. The shrike was about all day today and may well be here tomorrow. Best seen along the trees on the west side of the road down to lower Kilminning, about 50 meters from the entrance, where there is an open grassy area between the road and the largest area of tarmac.

In context
Identification
And to enjoy (JA)

Posted October 27, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 25th   Leave a comment

During the autumn and winter we have two different types of pipit on the rocky shore around Crail: rock and meadow pipits. One is supposed to like rocky shores and the other meadows, but they both feed side by side in places like Roome Bay, Fife Ness and Balcomie. Habitat is not very helpful as an identification feature, although you will hardly ever see a rock pipit away from the shore. But they can be easily distinguished even though they are superficially very similar. And they are good species pair to build up your birding confidence with. You just need to run through a quick mental check list when you see a pipit on the shore: grey or brownish, definite streaking or not, dark or pale legs. After a bit of practice you assimilate all of these characters into one general impression so you can do it without thinking. Then it’s off to learning the next similar species pair: like cormorants and shags, arctic and common terns, chiffchaffs and willow warblers. There’s always another one to master whatever your level: greenish versus arctic warbler for some, or mistle and song thrush for others. One step at a time. With 10,000 bird species (or 12,000 depending on how you split your species) there is always another challenge.

Rock and meadow pipit (JA)

Posted October 25, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 24th   Leave a comment

Despite a strong south-easterly wind for most of the day there wasn’t much passing at sea. More gannets, but most a long way out, kittiwakes, a couple of little gulls, common scoters and two goosander during sea watches from Crail and Fife Ness. There were three purple sandpipers on Balcomie Beach. One was unexpectedly on the sand with the dunlins and I only picked it up as it flew away from me giving its swallow like “zwick” call. Structurally purple sandpipers are very similar to dunlin, and both can swop habitat, although you see more dunlins picking around on rocks by the surf than purps  on the mud.

Purple sandpiper on Balcomie Beach this afternoon ; I tried to get a photo of the one on the sand, but it was much more wary than this pair in their element

Posted October 24, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 22nd   Leave a comment

As I cycled out of Crail towards Fife Ness this lunchtime I noticed the wind was against me. Sadly, just a bit of north-easterly swirling around a weather front rather than a pathway from Europe. There were a few things about at Kilminning and the Patch: redwings, redpolls and a few blackcaps. No long-tailed tits though. There were several flocks reported yesterday and I have seen a few in the last week. They must have all been migrants that have now moved further inland. Another absence today was the gannets. They will be leaving us over the next month. I scanned the horizon today and only saw two: they will be further out rather than gone just yet, but typically I can count hundreds in a scan. It always feels wrong when there are no gannets passing Fife Ness, but winter is coming. They are only really absent for December and January. The highlight of my short trip out today was the big stubble field at the Balcomie end of Crail. As I passed, hundreds of skylarks flew up and started milling around. They kept at it in a swirling flock, like a loose starling murmuration. Then I saw the cause, a female merlin skirting around the edge of the field before flying up high and trying its luck stooping at a skylark and then a couple of linnets. I lost it over the airfield, still trying unsuccessfully to catch something. I left the skylarks still swirling, though now high up to stay safely above the merlin, some of them singing, just to let it know their invulnerability.

Gannet (JA). Off to the Bay of Biscay soon.

Posted October 22, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 20th   Leave a comment

One of the dangers of writing a blog – or any other bit of social media – is that you post only the highlights and give a misleading impression of wall to wall excitement. So to remedy this let me mention yesterday afternoon. I had been waiting all day for the rain to stop. In the end I headed out mid-afternoon to Roome Bay in a light drizzle hoping to reconnect with the Mediterranean gulls again. When I got there it was coming on to rain harder, but there were a lot of gulls again so I kept walking eastwards. It was all black-headed and herring gulls, and it always seemed that the next group a little further on would have something more interesting with it. The wind was behind me as well, so I really didn’t want to turn around anyway and face the now proper rain. I just kept going until I was nearly at Fife Ness, when the oncoming dusk made me rethink my strategy and make the turn back for home. I came back through Kilminning and some stubble fields, putting up tens of skylarks but again nothing more interesting. My feeling of virtue being rewarded was misplaced. I was out there but to little effect other than getting completely soaked. The dog was well walked, although I noticed she was reluctant to go out this morning when she saw it was raining again. Not every day is a birding blinder at Fife Ness.

But then you do get another go at it the next day. Better weather today and better birds. The rain cleared up by mid-morning and by lunchtime it was a lovely, sunny late autumn day. I heard the Siberian chiffchaff at the top of Kilminning a few times, but it stayed elusive in the tops of the sycamores. It has now been here at least 10 days. Thirty minutes later at the bottom of Kilminning I heard a Siberian chiffchaff again calling – a second bird, 900 meters away from where I last saw the first. This was a brighter bird than the top chiffchaff – still barely any greens or yellows, but a brighter buff and with a more marked supercilium, and without the very obvious brown ear coverts of the first bird. The call was another absolute classic Siberian chiffchaff, as good as the top Kilminning bird. Siberian chiffchaffs are never going to be split as a separate species, they intergrade all the way along from Siberia to the UK, but they are very distinctive and have come, well, from Siberia – another link from Crail to a far flung and exotic part of the world. Key to getting on to them is the sad, almost piping “sue”, single syllable call – sometimes quite loud and more strident than you might imagine.

Siberian chiffchaff – this one in January 2017 further down the coast in Fife (JA)

Two Siberian chiffchaffs is a good trip out by any standards. I also had a brambling in the top part of Kilminning, and some blackcaps in the lower part, a couple of common snipe and redpoll flying over, and best of all three barn swallows moving along the coast as fast as they ever go, although heading east. There is still life in the autumn yet.

By the way. I wrote a community land asset transfer for lower Kilminning during lockdown as part of the Crail Community Partnership’s aim to increase the wooded and wildlife habitat around Crail. Fife Council agreed with our case: that we would do a better job than them in looking after and rewilding the area. The land is ours – subject to final legal process – for the £1 I bid. But although the price of the return of land to the community was cheap, lawyers are not. And then we need to make a proper environmental plan to restore the land – to remove much of the tarmac (although leaving enough for access and parking), create a wetland and a more wooded, more biodiverse habitat. You know where this is going: if you have ever visited and enjoyed Kilminning then please donate to help us make a proper nature reserve. If you have only read about it in Wild Crail, please donate anyway, ready for when you do come and visit this already special place, that will I hope in twenty or thirty years be something really special.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/south-kilminning-community-ownership

One of Kilminning’s regular star turns – a barred warbler in Sept 2017 (JA). Elderberries for it now guaranteed forever !

Posted October 20, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 18th   2 comments

A still and grey day, with the wind dying down through the morning leaving an absolute flat calm from Crail to the May Island. I resumed my normal loop today rather than fixating on Kilminning. There were more skylarks coming in at Wormiston: there are hundreds in every stubble field now. On Balcomie beach there were 25 turnstones, 6 dunlin and the usual suspects – oystercatchers and redwings. I sat at Fife Ness for 30 minutes and enjoyed the peace. One kittiwake, a few common scoter and three far out auks were only thing going past apart from the gannets and shags. I did have two flocks of twite. One of five and the other of 15. The latter as if they had just come in from the sea. We probably have British and Scandinavian breeding twite spending the winter with us. There have been flocks reported from Boarhills to Fife Ness in the last week so we may be in for a good twite winter.

Twite (JA)

Upper Kilminning seemed a bit busier than yesterday. I spent a while trying to get good views of a flock of 6 redpoll feeding in the sycamore tops. They were clean and whiteish looking so may well have been Scandinavian birds. I had a distant glimpse of a chiffchaff while looking for the redpolls. It looked cold in tone too so may have been the Siberian chiffchaff again. A flock of 8 mistle thrush was around, feeding on the rowans but mostly flying around nervously like newly in migrants. They are very handsome thrushes – their spots underneath are much more even and widely distributed so they look much more spotted than song thrushes (see photo for Oct 12th below).

Migrant mistle thrush at Kilminning this morning

One of the real joys of living in Crail is that birds really are on my doorstep. I was cooking the Sunday dinner – very well organised and everything in the oven for an hour before tweaking required – when I got a message on the Fife Bird News WhatsApp group that there was a Mediterranean gull and a little gull in Roome Bay. Perfect timing and I jumped on my bike and was down with the gulls in three minutes. It was high tide, late afternoon with little beach left and there was a line of gulls – mostly black-headed – all along the surf. The path at Roome Bay is a few meters higher than the beach so it is a great place to see birds closely at high tide. If you stay on the path and don’t go down on to the beach, the birds are happy to ignore you even though you are only ten to twenty meters away. The Mediterranean gull was easy to spot – an adult, with pure white wings. After a minute it appeared to teleport down the beach: there was also a second adult. At various time times after a disturbance they paired up, but mostly they fed apart, picking up the seaweed maggots being washed out of the strand line wrack. Mediterranean gulls are a little bigger than black-headed gulls and the black-headed gulls gave way. I spent a happy twenty minutes trying to get a decent photo despite the fact that it was really too dark. Still it was a white bird against dark water so it could have been worse. The little gull had moved on but there was a juvenile kittiwake, a ton of herring gulls and all of the Crail resident redshanks and turnstones also taking part in the high tide feast. And then back to cooking without even a single burnt roast potato. Perhaps might have been a different story if they had been Sabine’s gulls.

Mediterranean gulls in Roome Bay this afternoon. Look for the white, not black wing tips, and the black shaded eye mask, rather than a black ear spot, to pick them out from black-headed gulls

Posted October 18, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 17th   Leave a comment

In birding terms, there has been a bit of a clear out over the last two days. The birds that came in mid-week have moved on and there has been little to replace them. One was a woodcock I saw coming in off the sea this morning during a brief seawatch. Its dashing, slightly wobbling flight over the North Sea over for another winter. To a bird that likes the dark and dense cover, to still be out over the sea at dawn must be an agoraphobic nightmare. It must be such a relief to see some cover ahead. But apart from the woodcock there was little about today. Only a few goldcrests left, no chiffchaffs or blackcaps, no redwings or great spotted woodpeckers. If felt like an average winter’s day rather than autumn. It is all in the wind and the rain patterns, and when they aren’t right then places like Kilminning are quiet. I struggled to find anything in the Patch that doesn’t live there year-round. Even Balcomie Beach was very quiet – only redshanks and gulls. I suppose this autumn is just averaging out.

A wren at Kilminning this morning – always a reliable resident to compensate for the migrants John and I didn’t find today (JA)

Posted October 17, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings