Week ending September 4th   Leave a comment

I spent a few days away at the start of the week and coming back to Crail it felt like autumn had really started. The summer seabirds have more or less gone. There are almost no auks to be seen out at sea and we won’t really see any puffins now until next April. Out at Fife Ness most of the terns have gone although there are still sandwich terns passing Roome Bay and the harbour. The swallows have been passing south as well. On Friday there were large flocks passing over Crail, joining our swallows briefly and then continuing on along the coast. On Saturday morning at Fife Ness there was no wind at all and the commonest birds to be seen were swallows again. They were hawking over a perfectly flat sea along the shore as they do over inland lakes. I should think they were taking advantage of the perfect conditions to fatten up a bit on seaweed flies for their continuing migration.

On Friday and Saturday there was a little stint at Balcomie. A new Crail species for me taking my Crail list up to 195. John Anderson found it on Friday and took some absolutely stunning pictures. The picture below brilliantly captures the scale of this bird. Little stints are well named – imagine a shorebird the size of a house sparrow. But it takes no concessions for its tiny size. It breeds in the Arctic – maybe this bird was born in July in Novaya Zemyala – and it winters in West Africa. I caught up with it on Balcomie Beach on Saturday morning feeding high up on the beach, occasionally with some dunlin. Dunlin are usually the tiny waders on the shore, but they look much bigger when they are in company of a little stint. The stint was hard to spot amongst the seaweed and the small rocks on the beach and it took twenty minutes or so. It is a great feeling to finally see a bird when you have “twitched” it (twitching is when you go for a rare bird that someone else has found). My serious twitching days are long over, but I still twitch for my Crail list. I had seen a couple of little stints on Thursday in Sweden, and there have been some on the Eden estuary all week, but not in Crail, and not at least for the last eight years. I am finding there is nothing more satisfying than getting a new bird for Crail, even if it is not particularly rare. But regardless of its status on my list, little stints are brilliant birds. I hope this one makes it safely to Africa where it will find lots of other little stints, rather than dunlin, to flock with.

Juvenile little stint at Balcomie Beach on Friday - small enough to hide behind a wrack holdfast

It looks like the Castle Walk fulmar has fledged at last. My wife Sue saw the chick looking more or less like an adult midweek and it was gone on Sunday. I hope it is healthy and happy somewhere in the North Sea just now. Perhaps it will be back to breed in Crail in 7 or 8 years. If it doesn’t meet an accident it will probably outlive me – fulmars can live more than 50 years, and probably much longer than this. The gannets at Bass Rock are also fledging. I saw my first on Saturday and they were regularly past Crail, leaving the Forth on Sunday. Newly fledged gannets are dark brown, with fine white spots on a close view so stand out compared to the nearly all white adult. They fly more heavily than the adult, almost like cormorants. Young gannets fledge with a lot of “baby” fat to tide them over until they learn to catch fish.

Three ages of gannets - left to right, adult, first winter and third winter

Other birds this week included a marsh harrier passing through Kilrenny, a probable short-eared owl up at Wormiston, a common sandpiper around the harbour on Sunday and both pomarine and long-tailed skuas past Fife Ness on Saturday. I only connected with the common sandpiper. I have been looking for skuas all weekend but no luck. Long-tailed skuas as their name suggests have long tails – very long tails – and fly like terns; pomarine skuas are more like great skuas in build and have strange twisted central tail feather extensions like spoons. Both often migrate in flocks and should you encounter one it is quite spectacular.

Posted September 4, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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