Archive for April 2011

April 30th   Leave a comment

Sand martin prospecting in the drainage pies above Roome Bay beach this morning

There were 5 or 6 sand martins prospecting for nests down at Roome Bay this morning. When I first moved to Crail about eight years ago they bred there for the first two years in small numbers but not since. They used the drainage pipes put into the concrete walls above the beach. Sand martins are colonial and usually nest in a sandy or muddy bank, digging out their own nest tunnels. But they are not averse to using an old burrow, or even an artificial one like the pipes at Roome Bay. It’s great to see them back and I hope they will establish. Then we will again have three species of swallow catching insects around Roome Bay for the summer.

There were some more summer migrants around today. The winds have been easterly or south-easterly all week making migrants turning up in Crail more likely. If they continue we may well expect a rarity like a shrike or a cuckoo in the next week. But there are plenty of more common migrants to be seen now. Denburn is full of blackcap song as predicted and I think one has taken up the nightingale challenge I set last week: its song this morning had a few nightingale elements making it even more beautiful. Maybe he has been hanging around in southern Europe on his way north and has picked up a few tips. There was also a willow warbler singing in Denburn and at Kilminning. There were common whitethroats singing at the airfield and by Sauchope caravan park. They are one of my favourite migrants because they are one of my local birds when I visit West Africa in the winter, and of course they are Crail birds too. There were sedge warblers singing down at Kilminning also.

I was very pleased to see two corn buntings singing in the fields between Kilminning and Crail golf course. They are an East Neuk specialty having disappeared from many of their traditional sites further inland over the last 50 years. They just about hang on around Crail. We have pairs around Wormiston and over the road by the new steading, and also down by the airfield, although these have been scarce the last couple of years. It is good to see them back in this area, and also another pair of singers at the steading earlier in the week.

Corn Bunting

Posted April 30, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

Week ending April 24th   1 comment

I have been away this week in Cyprus, but came back on Saturday to catch up with the spring here. For those of a smug disposition, the eastern Mediterranean is having a cold spring. It was warmer in Scotland for much of this week compared to Cyprus. I was working on the highest mountain in Cyprus and had snow and very cold hands for most of the week. I was glad to get back to sunny Crail.

Migrant northern wheatear

There have been many more migrants arriving this week. This Sunday was typical with swallows visibly arriving from the sea at Roome Bay in the light south-westerly winds. There was also northern wheatear which landed on the rocks briefly, possibly making its first landfall after flying continuously for a day or so. There are now flocks of house martins over the town and there was a willow warbler singing from the edge of the sheep field above Roome Bay. Sandwich terns were passing earlier in the week. The other terns are usually later with common terns turning up in Roome Bay in the first week of May and arctic terns a week later.

The winter birds have now more or less left although there is still a passage of red-breasted mergansers. There was a group of 8 in Roome Bay on Sunday displaying to each other. All the waders have left the shore except for a few oystercatchers that will stay and breed in the barer fields behind the shore, and ringed plovers on the more deserted beaches of Fife Ness. Just as the numbers of people on the beaches increases so the waders disappear. It’s a happy coincidence; even if they were not moving on to breed I think they would have to leave because of the disturbance. The oystercatchers seem to manage although they can feed inland if necessary. It always seems a bit lonely down at Roome Bay without the redshanks, turnstones, and curlews. They won’t be back until late summer although we may get a few passage birds passing from further south through until the end of May.

One shorebird to look out for this week is the whimbrel. These are smaller versions of curlews that are summer migrants. They have a fantastic clear series of seven whistles that they utter while they are migrating. Even when they pass high overhead, unseen, you still know whimbrels are passing. They occasionally stop on the shore. Look for a shorter billed curlew with a striped head pattern, or listen out for their seven whistles when they fly away.

Whimbrel - listen for the whistles

Migration will be continuing this week and many more summer migrants will turn up. There is a lot of bird song as these newly arriving migrants (a cuckoo or two if we are lucky) start to breed. I am leading a guided bird song walk at Cambo next Saturday (30th April), kick off at 05:30 if you want some help in identifying the various songsters, or just want to enjoy this annual aural event.

The primroses are making a lovely show out at West Braes at the moment.

Posted April 24, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 13th   Leave a comment

The swallows are back. Three this morning at least. Two at the steading just north of Crail and one in Kingsbarns.

Barn swallow

Posted April 13, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 12th   Leave a comment

I have just spent the last week in England. Travelling back up from Cornwall on Saturday I followed the spring in reverse. There were swallows pretty much everywhere down south but they became uncommon by the Lake District and then only occasional in the Borders. The same was true of chiff-chaffs and blackcaps. In Crail today there was only a single chiff-chaff singing in Denburn and a northern wheatear in the field next to Pinkerton. With the continuing good weather we should expect the swallows back tomorrow, with the house martins and sedge warblers soon behind them.


It probably takes a small bird a couple of months to move from its winter quarters in Africa to its breeding grounds in northern Europe. It is only now with tiny “geolocator” tags that are small enough to fit on birds down to the size of nightingales that we are able to record, to some extent, the timing of this passage. There are a lot of technical problems. The tags record sunset and sunrise which, with an accurate clock, is all you need to determine latitude and longitude. But cloudy weather and dark rain forests can make this difficult. Perhaps the biggest hurdle though, is unreliable technology and the fact that the birds have to be recaught a year later to download the data. The tags are far too small to be able to transmit their data as the tags on large birds like storks and eagles have done for many years now. This technology will come. The holy grail is a tag small enough to put on birds like swifts. A swift might fledge from a nest, say in a rooftop in Marketgate, and not touch down again for the next 3-4 years. Where they go (somewhere in Africa), where they eventually breed (same town, same county, same country?) is a mystery, never mind what they do in the meantime. Still at least we know the swifts will be back in another three weeks. They are one of the latest migrants to arrive, but they probably take only a week or two to complete their migration. I might be able to tell you definitely in a decade.

Wheatears have been passing through Crail all week; Bill Alexander had four a couple of days ago along the coast at Kilminning. This is always a good site for wheatears in the spring and autumn.

Northern wheatear - next stop the Arctic

Posted April 12, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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