Week ending February 20th   Leave a comment

Stairs to the sea - Roome Bay Beach completely underwater

Wild Crail didn’t need any wildlife to be wild this week. We have had strong southerly and south-easterly winds for a lot of this week, making the sea rough. It has also been a week of spring tides, with tides being further pushed up by the winds to cover every single bit of beach. The new repairs along the coast path by the Brandyburn are already being washed out as a consequence. Saturday, in particular, we had very wild seas at the high tide with some fantastic breakers out from the harbour. The redshanks were forced to retreat to the last bits of harbour beach that were left uncovered before finally taking refuge in a long line on top of the harbour wall.

The merlin has been showing well again this week. I saw it hunting rock pipits around Roome Bay, with one persistent hunt leading to the rock pipit flying into the closed toilet block above the shore. The toilet is surrounded by a metal grill above the wall and this was too fine for the merlin (small though it is) to follow the pipit. The merlin landed on the wall and I could see it looking for the pipit in the toilet. It finally found the door which has a much wider metal grille on it and then followed the pipit on foot into the toilet. I’m not sure what happened, but I saw the merlin again hunting over the nearby beach ten minutes later suggesting the pipit got away. This might not be true, however, because merlins often cache prey. When they catch a bird like a pipit, they sometimes bite the head off and then store the body under a rock or piece of driftwood for later consumption. They can then keep hunting, maximising good conditions perhaps. I have seen merlins coming back to their caches several hours later. They may forget exactly where their cache is and spend several minutes shuffling around looking in likely places before finding and eating what they had stored, or even giving up. There is always the risk that the prey it stored has been stolen by other birds of prey or particularly crows, so some of these apparently forgetful incidents of searching may be a merlin in denial.

There have been up to 15 goldeneyes in Roome Bay this week. They seem to thrive in the very rough surf as do the eiders. Both species are in very obvious pairs now and there is a lot of courtship displaying going on. The strong winds have been pushing seabirds past Crail. On Saturday there was a steady stream of razorbills and kittiwakes past.

Male Eider

A sad note. I noticed a squashed barn owl on the road to St Andrews just past the Wormiston turn off on Tuesday morning. A lot of young owls will die every winter and barn owls can produce a lot of young in a year, but nevertheless I felt a lurch as I identified it. This winter will have killed a lot of birds of course, not necessarily from direct starvation, but from accidents and predation arising because starving animals, perhaps like this owl, will have taken one risk too many to find food.

Redshanks roosting on the harbour wall on Saturday - half of them colour-ringed too! (Note also this poor photo is mine not John's)

Posted February 20, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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