September 22nd   Leave a comment

Female marsh harrier at Kingsbarns

John found a marsh harrier up at Kingsbarns yesterday. He then saw a second bird later in the day. I could only get out there late today and jumped off the bus from St Andrews on my way home hoping they were still there. I walked up the road towards Kippo to the barley field where John said they had been hunting. Just as I arrived at the exact spot where John had suggested I look I saw some crows making a fuss on the horizon. Crows diving down on something is always a good sign of a raptor and sure enough a female marsh harrier appeared low over a stubble field. It flew behind a wood and then came closer over the wheat field where I was standing. I have seen many marsh harriers but seeing one on my Crail patch was definitely special. I see most of my marsh harriers now in West Africa where they are a common bird over farmland. We tend to associate them with reedbeds in the UK but as an African wintering bird they are much less specialised in their choice of habitats. I watched this harrier over our fields and really felt its connection to Africa and the dry fields where I will see them again in a month’s time when I make my next visit to Nigeria. This bird might be well on its way to Nigeria itself by then. This was my first marsh harrier in the Crail area and it is a scarce migrant for us. They breed in the Tay reedbeds but this bird may well be a migrant from Scandinavia stopping with us for a few days to refuel after the storms of last week. I noticed it had a very full crop – a big bulge in its throat hanging down as it flew – suggesting it was finding the hunting good. That it has stayed with us for a couple of days or more suggests that as well. It may have been eating birds: the stubble fields are full of migrating pipits, or perhaps more likely mice and voles displaced by the harvesting of the fields at the moment.

Marsh Harrier at Kingsbarns

There are quite a few wheatears to be seen, particularly at West Braes along the grass by the shore. I have a student, Emma Blackburn, studying wheatears in northern Nigeria and she started her first fieldwork yesterday. She sent me a text to tell me there were no wheatears – they haven’t arrived yet. But she should expect to find some anytime now. The wheatears we have passing will almost all be birds of this year. The adults will have left last month and should be in North Africa by now if not further along with their journey. Emma did catch a whitethroat so some migrants have made it back already.

Juvenile wheatear

Posted September 22, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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