September 17th   Leave a comment

Another day after a storm. Yesterday was a truly terrible day with driving rain and strong winds. But the winds were south-easterly and a continuation of lighter easterly winds the day before. So I watched the bad weather with hope for today and the possibility of rare migrants being grounded at Fife Ness. Watching the sea in the first hour after dawn seemed to bear out my optimism. A great skua immediately and followed by a black guillemot. My first for Crail. They are common on the west coast of course but there are only a few records from the Forth, mostly from the autumn from the Isle of May. It flew rapidly past Crail on its way to the inner Forth; a dispersing juvenile, perhaps, that was blown around the top of Scotland in the gales of the last week or so, but now heading back south down the wrong coast.

Black guillemot - an adult from the west coast but this was the look more or less of the bird past Crail today

The black guillemot was not a sign of other great things. Denburn was dead quiet, at least in an unusual sense. Its autumn soundscape of robin and wren song, with flocks of blue, great and coal tits calling to each other, was not augmented with the metallic “pick” of a pied flycatcher or the triple syllable whistle of a yellow-browed warbler. No migrants at all, not even a chiff-chaff. Without a chiff-chaff in Denburn there is almost no hope of finding something rarer. They are the best barometers of whether it is worth looking harder. We know it’s not sufficient just to have easterly winds to get migrants in autumn. The weather has to be right in Scandinavia or central Europe as well. Clearly today we were missing that element.

I went out to Fife Ness anyway. The sea was good for most of the morning. Skuas were visible all the time, mostly arctic, some great and with one or two pomarine skuas. All fairly far out and so hard to split the pomarines and arctics. At one point I picked up a chunky skua far out that I identified initially as a great skua on first glance. It then revealed itself to be a pomarine/arctic. I stuck with pomarine on the basis of its initial heavyset resemblance to a great skua, and its larger size compared to kittiwakes nearby, but at a kilometer it is a tricky call. Luckily a distinctive dark phase arctic skua started following it, looking about three quarters of its size to finally clinch the identification. This is, however, what you call technical birding. More like a puzzle. There is some satisfaction in getting a reasonably sure identification at all, but lacking any real sense of the species as something exciting. Other interesting, and thankfully closer birds were a greenshank and quite a few flocks of teal and wigeon passing. The sandwich terns are still passing in good numbers and there were a few common and arctic terns with them. Red-throated divers also continue to stream into the Forth.

The day brightened up and by the afternoon it was beautiful. There were thunderstorms out to sea towards the north. It is a wonderful luxury to sit in warm sunlight, in a gentle breeze watching a violent thunderstorm out at sea. The sky was practically black riven with lightening flashes yet bizarrely contrasting with the calm pale blue sea closer to me around Fife Ness. The gannets flying by were still in sunlight so glowed against the dark sky adding to the contrast. I stopped and watched the thunderstorm for an hour and never made it to the patch to look for migrants.

This juvenile dunlin was on the beach at Balcomie with the thunderstorm behind it this afternoon

Posted September 17, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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