October 15th   Leave a comment

There were a couple of yellow-browed warblers reported on Thursday and Friday after a spell of light easterly winds so I headed down to Fife Ness first thing with high hopes. The patch was very quiet although a flock of 25 twite flew over, distinctive with their squeaky bed spring calls. There are usually some twite around Crail every winter but they are inconspicuous and hard to find. In contrast the sea was the busiest I have ever seen it with a steady passage of thousands of kittiwakes and auks – mainly guillemots – heading south. The kittiwakes had their usual attendant arctic skuas.

Goldcrest - hanging out with a yellow-browed warbler today

I didn’t connect up with a yellow-browed warbler until the afternoon. A couple were reported from Kilminning in late morning and so I went looking after lunch. There was a minor circus in the currently unoccupied travellers site near the shore with about 10 birders all looking for the elusive warblers. It took a bit of searching even with exact directions to the tree where one had been seen a few minutes ago. Yellow-brows are tiny and are easily hidden by the sycamore leaves where they find insects. They also tend to hang out with goldcrests which behave in the same way, so your eye is often drawn to the wrong bird: although goldcrests themselves are well worth looking at of course. The warbler wasn’t calling much either which is the main help to tracking them down. As I tramped below the sycamores I flushed a woodcock: the first of this winter. We should expect an influx of them any day soon and the gardens of Crail will be full of woodcock for a couple of days before they disperse inland.

But the best bird, or rather birds, of the day were two merlins hunting over the High Street. I had just got home when I saw a female merlin making a dash at something above the co-op. It had spotted a single, late swallow. It climbed above the swallow and then started stooping at it, with the swallow diving and climbing above the rooftops to try and evade the merlin that was chasing right on its tail. On the second stoop a second female merlin appeared and the pair of them then continued to chase the swallow for a couple of minutes. The swallow tried to find some cover in the sycamores of Beech Walk park but was chased out over the gardens of Marketgate. I lost sight of them all shortly after a vertical stoop by one of the merlins. When you don’t see anything come back up from that type of dive it usually means a successful hunt. I expect someone in Marketgate will find a pathetic pile of swallow feathers in their back garden. Good for one of the merlins that may have come in from the North Sea today, hungry after a flight from Norway or similar, but not so good for the swallow that will never see Africa.

Posted October 15, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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