December 11th   Leave a comment


The cold weather finally shifted on Thursday. We had a shift of 11 degrees within 24 hours, from minus three to plus eight degrees. These kinds of temperature shifts are characteristic of Scotland in winter. Animals really have to be flexible day to day here. Most of the snow around Crail was gone by Saturday. You can see it lying still inland and in the hills to the north but we are back to winter business as usual. I should think there are a lot of relieved small birds now.

Up until Thursday it was still a woodcock week. You couldn’t fail to bump into them during any walk around Crail, particularly in the less snowy areas of Denburn or in the sheep field below the wood. The pink-footed geese are still in many of the fields around Crail. They have been quite nocturnal this week; I have heard geese flying around Crail every night whenever I have been listening.

There has been a magpie in Crail this week. I think this may have moved in with the colder weather as well. It is moving between the Kirk and the school. You only notice that we don’t usually have magpies when they actually appear. I love magpies’ calls – their slightly ominous rattling call has been used as a soundtrack on so many old films that wanted to create an atmosphere of bleakness or disquiet (think of the graveyard scene in Great Expectations, the version with Alec Guinness in it). Hearing a magpie consequently always transforms my sense of place: lovely Crail becomes something a bit more sinister for a brief moment. Poor magpies, they really do get a bad press.

Barn Owl (demonstrating how nocturnal it is...never generalise in biology)

On Wednesday evening I saw a barn owl along the main St Andrews road between Hammer Inn and Crail. It was flying over the car I was a passenger in. That I was a passenger is relevant because I didn’t crash the car as a consequence. It is hard to pay attention to the road when a barn owl is passing just over the windscreen. They are fantastic birds, but sadly they are strictly nocturnal in Fife. I only ever get similar fleeting glimpses when I am travelling at night around Crail. Where I grew up, in Cambridgeshire and East Anglia they are often active during the day, and particularly so in winter. Nothing beats the sight of a barn owl hunting over a frosty sunlit field. They are often so intent on finding mice and voles that they will fly right up to you. But because they are so nocturnal here they are rarely seen and it is hard to assess how common they really are. I think there are several pairs in the area. The closest is at Wormiston and this pair will come into the centre of Crail – although often people will mistake night flying gulls for barn owls so I am not sure if this is a common occurrence.

Posted December 11, 2010 by wildcrail in Sightings

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