Archive for November 2010

November 29th   Leave a comment



More heavy snow showers for the last two days. We can expect a few odd things turning up on the beaches as everything gets frozen inland. Common snipe and woodcock are very likely with the chance of jack snipe. Woodcocks are usually nocturnal so look for dark long-billed birds flying up from the grassy margins by the shore at dusk.







In Roome Bay at the moment there are a few goldeneyes. They are small diving ducks that hang out in the surf. The males are very handsome black and white with a prominent white spot on their black heads. Females or immatures are less distinctive with brown heads and grey backs.

Goldeneye pair



A highlight this morning was three peregrines chasing each other above Crail. I occasionally see a pair hunting together, but today I think they were seeing off a second male. Male peregrines are much smaller than females, but they are much more agile. Peregrines look amazing when they are flying at full speed in strong winds like this morning. When they are chasing each other you realise that most of the time they must be taking it easy, even when hunting.


Posted November 29, 2010 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 27th   1 comment

Blue Tit

Snow showers all day and some fantastic skies as most of the storm clouds passed to the south of us over the sea. It’s been about freezing overnight for the last few days and not much warmer during the day. The birds around Crail are noticeably tamer. In Denburn today there was a large mixed flock of blue tits, blackbirds and robins feeding on or close to the ground, joined by a chiffchaff. This might be a wintering bird or a late migrant. It looked fairly pale and washed out, with a slight wing bar, like a Siberian chiffchaff (a rare migrant), but I did not hear it give its distinctive very sad call to confirm its identity.


I have had both “normal” chiffchaffs from the UK or Europe and Siberian chiffchaffs at this time of year in Denburn so it really could have been either. The chiffchaff was feeding frantically; insects must be in short supply in this weather.

Now is a very good time to be feeding birds in the garden. Whether it’s seeds, bread crumbs or left overs it will all be appreciated. Many of our garden bird populations now rely on the food we put out each winter. In cold weather like this week regular feeding will be certainly be keeping many small birds alive.


There were also about 6 siskin feeding in the alders with some goldfinches. The tiny seeds in alder cones are favourite food for siskins. They are fairly unusual birds for Crail. They often pass over in spring and autumn but they rarely stop.

In the fields just outside Crail, north of the road to Fife Ness, were a couple of whooper swans. They were mixed up with a large flock of woodpigeons, starlings, curlews, herring gulls and skylarks all feeding in a stubble field. Some of these will be migrants in from the continent to escape the hard weather. Certainly there have been some very large flocks of woodpigeons coming in from the sea over the last few days.

Pink footed goose


Lots of pink-footed and greylag geese have been passing over Crail this week. Some are feeding in the fields but many seem to be on their way back and forth from the Lothians.




In the night sky just now Jupiter is visible to the south. It’s more or less above the Isle of May at the moment at about 8pm. Four of its larger moons are easily visible through binoculars. In the same position at 7am is Venus. Again through binoculars you can easily see it is a crescent – just like our moon, when it is between us and the sun it shows phases.

Posted November 29, 2010 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 24th   Leave a comment

My Crail sightings have been missing for the last two weeks because I have been away in West Africa making my annual visit to Nigeria. Plenty of birds, although not much other wildlife in Nigeria. I visit Nigeria partly because of the birds of Crail. One third of Europe’s breeding birds are in fact African birds that only spend the summer with us. Many species that we think of as Scottish such as warblers, flycatchers and swallows spend more time in Africa than they do in Europe. And nearly all of our migrant birds are declining. Some of the reason for this is likely to be because of circumstances in Africa such as habitat and climate change.

I have spent the last two weeks in the company of some our birds in their winter quarters. Where I was working there was a steady passage of garden warblers and tree pipits. They winter in the rain forest and savannah woodlands of Africa. I last saw them in September and October on passage through Crail and now they are more or less in their winter quarters. Other familiar Crail birds from this summer, in less familiar African surroundings, were willow warblers and whinchats.

Grey Phalarope

But now back to the cold and the grey skies. It hasn’t seemed to actually get light this week until yesterday. I missed some fantastic storms, one of them brought in a grey phalarope to Roome Bay last week. These are rare waders that swim on the sea like ducks. I have only seen a couple in Crail before so I was sorry to miss it.

The waxwings are still here. I saw a flock of 40 or so for most of the day around the Bute building in St Andrews yesterday. Some of the birds were flycatching making them much more obvious. They were still around today and reports from all over the UK indicate that the current waxwing invasion is one of the biggest ever. Keep looking out for them – remember they look like starlings in flight and are easily overlooked unless you are lucky enough to have one landing right in front of you.



Posted November 29, 2010 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 4th   Leave a comment


There seem to be waxwings everywhere just now, although I have still to see any actually in Crail. But I think this reflects me being out and about rather than them not being here. Yesterday I had a flock of 13 at Kippo Wood, and today in St Andrews around the Bute Building on South Street I have seen 4 separate flocks  of 10 to 40 birds passing over.

Posted November 29, 2010 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 2nd   Leave a comment

Little Auk

At last there was a little auk passing past Crail into the Forth. Unusually it was on its own. There were some passing guillemots and razorbills to add a size reference (little auks are half the size) so I could be certain of my fairly distant sighting. Although little auks have a very wobbling flight and look unstable as they fly with very buzzy wing beats. The same is true for puffins but even more so for little auks.

Posted November 29, 2010 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 1st   Leave a comment

Whooper Swans


A relatively quiet week with some highlights around Crail being whooper swans occasionally commuting over the village. There are now about 65 redshank around Crail from Harbour Beach to Roome Bay with about 20 turnstone . They are feeding often on the big piles of wrack washed up with the southerly gales at the end of last week. We are definitely heading into winter with the gannets getting scarce. There have been thousands of little auks past the May heading south too but sadly none close enough in for me to see from Crail.



I didn’t manage to catch up with any waxwings in Crail, but was lucky enough to see a flock of about 20 in a whitebeam close to Morrisons in St Andrews this morning. Waxwings are truly spectacular birds that never disappoint. They simply don’t look like a European species – too intricately coloured and exotic. I saw a second flock of 12 from my University office window a couple of hours later while on the phone to a colleague who was bemoaning missing the waxwings over the weekend. They were heading in his direction and he picked them up a minute later from the adjacent building. We are in the midst of a waxwing invasion to the UK just now (or irruption as it is called) so keep watching out for them in any berry tree or bush around Crail throughout the winter.


Posted November 29, 2010 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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