Archive for June 2011

24th June   Leave a comment


I finally caught up with one of the quails this year at Hilleraye Farm a few kilometres north of Crail this evening. I was helping with the annual Scout camp and so found myself sitting in a field at about midnight around a camp fire. It was very quiet and occasionally in the distance I heard snatches of quail song. Later on during the night I heard the quail calling in short bursts as I lay in my tent. This year is turning into a quail year. There was a quail also reported calling on the outskirts of St Andrews today. Every few years many more quail make it to the UK in June and July. This might be because of good breeding conditions earlier in the year, so that many southerly breeding birds and their young end up moving northwards.

Camping is a great way to hear nocturnally calling birds. I also heard some tawny owls giving their loud “ker-wick” call that they give when the young fledge and there were quite a few sedge warblers also singing throughout the night. They are probably birds that are starting second broods. Sedge warblers also sing all day along with species that only seem to ever sing during the day such as yellowhammers. Yellowhammers are common everywhere around Crail at the moment and deserve a look. They are a lovely splash of colour and stand out, except when they decide to use the gorse bushes as song perches.

The farms around Hilleraye, Cocklaw and the secret bunker are great for hares. A walk across any field recently cut for silage will flush up a hare or two. Many will be fairly small and will have been born earlier in the year, but there are plenty of adults about too that are still breeing. Hares don’t just scrap and box in March.

Hares - "mad" in June too


Posted June 26, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 20th   Leave a comment

Bill Alexander had a quail just outside of Crail this afternoon halfway between Kirkmay and Troustrie. They skulk in wheat and barley fields but draw attention to themselves by their “wet-my-lips” call. A very clear and monotonous “quip–qui-quip” that is very ventriloquial (I had to check that wasn’t spelt ventriloquail). Quail are summer migrants and we suspect they may have a rolling breeding season where they breed in southern Europe in March and April and then the adults and offspring move to Northern Europe for June and July. The adults breed again and possibly also some of the offspring from the spring. We know that quail young develop to adulthood very quickly but linking up a fledged young from say Morocco with a breeding bird in Germany is, as you might imagine, a tricky endeavour. I went out to look for the Crail quail in early afternoon but did not hear it despite playing its call back around the potato field where Bill heard it. This is now about the third quail I have missed in the area. We have maybe one every two years and you have to be lucky to connect up with one. Consolation was a couple of corn buntings singing on either side of Sypsies.

Corn bunting

Posted June 20, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

Week ending June 19th   Leave a comment

Remember last week – a rainy Saturday and then a beautiful Sunday with rain in the evening? The pattern was exactly repeated this week, and also with the mostly rainy week preceding. Crail’s rainy season continues. We have had 27mm of rain so far this June which makes it a pretty damp month for the East Neuk. The fulmars nesting on the cliff at Castle Walk are having to sit tight through their interminable damp eight week incubation period. It is hard to tell whether their chicks have hatched yet but if they haven’t it must be soon. But the rain has been good for the house martins that are still nest building. They can start broods right up until September and there were pairs prospecting along the High Street this week.

House martin collecting mud for its nest and so happy with the rain

The first goosanders have arrived at Fife Ness and a few will be at Crail in the next couple of weeks. They are powerful, serpent like ducks that breed in Scandinavia. The males lose their more colourful plumage after breeding, desert their females and young, and fly over to the East coast of Scotland to moult. They form quite large flocks, sometimes feeding cooperatively along the shallow rocky shore. They chase fish like cormorants and can easily be overlooked as they spend a large part of their time underwater. The goosanders will be with us until September when they then move into freshwater lakes and rivers to over winter. They are replaced by quite similar red-breasted mergansers, which do just what the goosanders do along the rocky shore except only during the winter.

Goosander at Fife Ness - here for the late summer to moult

It is midsummer this week with the longest day next Tuesday (21st). A couple of dryer evenings this week have been light to a degree right through the night. This makes anything that benefits from the dark lose out. The local barn owls cannot be nocturnal even if they want to. John found a bird out hunting in the early evening relatively close to Crail last week. It is nice to know that some survived the cold winter. That legacy is still with us with many birds still to recover their populations. Stonechats, for example, are pretty much extinct in the Crail area – I haven’t recorded any in the last year. They are well known for being vulnerable to cold weather and for their populations to fluctuate. They will be back I hope in a few years, although not if we have another cold winter.

One of those strictly nocturnal barn owls again

The seabirds continue to put on a good show past Crail with puffins and gannets passing by continuously. Manx shearwaters are regular in the evenings now and should remain common through to September. Sandwich terns are starting to come back into the Forth after breeding. They hang out at Fife Ness and pass Crail for the next 3 months in noisy family parties. There are a handful at Fife Ness just now but there will be hundreds in a few weeks. If you haven’t been to the Isle of May yet this year, the next couple of weeks are peak time. 50,000 puffins can’t be wrong! And the arctic tern colony down at the harbour is back this year.

Posted June 19, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 12th   Leave a comment

Today was almost a complete contrast to yesterday. Saturday was a very rainy day with over 10mm of rain falling. Today was beautiful with warm sunshine at least until early afternoon, although this evening it is raining again. I am reminded of the monsoon. In tropical areas, during the rainy season, it is often sunny and hot first thing, but the clouds build up and then it rains in the afternoon. The last few years in Crail, in the summer, it has often been like this. It has almost got to the point that we should stop referring to the summer but instead talk about the rainy season. We have dry winters and springs but then come June it tends to rain right through until the autumn.

Razorbill with sand eels for its chick

Midsummer is rushing up on us. It always catches me out. It only seems like the breeding season has started before species start finishing. The blackbirds, for example, have fledged most of their chicks. Some will be nesting through until the end of June but that will pretty much be it. Sparrows, tits and starlings have all fledged their young more or less and will be seen more and more in big mobile flocks of adults and young. The seabirds are still in full swing though. This afternoon there were hundreds of puffins and razorbills shuttling back and forth by Crail. They have bigger and bigger chicks to feed now so will be very busy for next three weeks.

Eider chick - surviving for now

There was a group of 13 eider chicks in Roome Bay this morning with 12 adult ducks with them. As each eider nest will have had many eggs and many chicks hatching this is not a great ratio. But eiders are long lived and if there are no storms now for the next few weeks then most of these chicks may survive. I think they may not be having a great year though because of the series of storms in May. The herons in the kirkyard are still making their comeback though. There was a bird sitting low on the nest, presumably on eggs this morning.

I am seeing peregrines about once a week over Crail. This morning a female flew in from the sea at Roome Bay – perhaps one of the Isle of May birds – and headed off rapidly to Wormiston and beyond. I have timed them flying at 100 km per hour in level flight when they are hunting and this bird was probably going at 50 km/h. They can really cover the ground. It could esily have spent the day hunting around the Tay or even further afield before coming home.

Posted June 12, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 9th   Leave a comment

Grey Heron by its new nest behind the kirk

John went down to the Kirk yesterday morning but the herons were away. They had returned at least by the evening. Again they were standing a little forlornly by the nest.

Posted June 9, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 7th   Leave a comment

I am grateful to Jason Lang who emailed me today about the herons nesting behind the Kirk. I went out this evening to check out this new development and sure enough there was a pair of grey herons sitting on a rudimentary nest on top of the flat and ivy covered elm tree in the middle of the graveyard. Several things are unusual about this. First herons nest early. The heronry at Kingsbarns got going in March and should be fledging young just now rather than laying eggs. Second, herons nest in colonies. And third, we don’t have a heronry in Crail. But of course never generalise with biology and heronies must get started somewhere and sometime, and some birds do nest much later than others. Perhaps what is happening is that the recent very high winds have destroyed many of the existing heron nests along with any young they might have had in them. So we have a pair trying to renest but with their traditional nest (and they can be reused for decades) probably destroyed, and maybe even their tree itself damaged beyond further use. It would then make sense for a pair to search for a completely new site. Anyway, whatever I might speculate, we now have a pair of herons nesting in Crail. The flat-topped tree they are nesting on and the position by the church makes them look more like storks rather than herons. Very picturesque and completely unfazed by me walking around the tree a few meters below them. John will get some photos tomorrow morning and we will watch this potential colony with hope for the future.

While thinking about damaged heron nests in the high winds of the last couple of weeks I noticed that almost every tree, but particularly the sycamores and horse chestnuts, are wind scorched on one side. Depending on your point of view, autumn from the west and spring from the east. The storms will really have made a huge difference, affecting tree productivity now right through the summer (smaller and fewer conkers this autumn) as well as affecting all the birds that will have lost nests and young like the grey herons.

Lacking a photo of the herons tonight I will post one of a stock dove. There are several also in the kirkyard at the moment and calling in nearby Denburn. They are very handsome pigeons, a cross between feral pigeons and woodpigeons in looks, and usually overlooked as a consequence.

Stock Dove

Posted June 7, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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