Archive for November 2011

November 27th   Leave a comment

The gales continued most of today, and it felt colder, but the sun shone and it was a beautiful day. Denburn Wood has lost most of its leaves so the mixed flocks of tits with a couple of treecreepers are easy to see now. There are at least five purple sandpipers back in Roome Bay. They can best be seen about an hour or two before high tide on the rocks around the old boating pond.

Purple sandpiper - back in Roome Bay for the winter

Harbour beach had a flock of gulls, redshanks and turnstones feeding along the surf as at Kingsbarns yesterday on the high tide. The beach was eventually completely covered and the redshanks were forced onto the concrete wall behind the beach. I went down to the harbour again at low tide this evening to see how many redshanks were feeding under the streetlights. Only two, although both ones I haven’t caught before, but still not worth trying to net them on tomorrow night’s very low tide.


Posted November 27, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 26th   Leave a comment

The wind has been fairly ferocious from the West all day. Most birds seem to be sheltering. I watched the sea at first light this morning and had to search to find anything. One shag fishing and a gannet, a kittiwake and an auk struggling to come into the Forth against the wind. It felt like I was seawatching in Southern England. Despite the wind it has stayed mild all day again. It’s thirteen degrees tonight, so again all a bit Southern England.

I finally found some birds today at Kingsbarns in the shelter of dunes. The tides this week are very high and as at Roome Bay this pushes all the sandhoppers up the beach and many get washed out. This attracts large numbers of gulls, waders and starlings to pick them off, and perhaps particularly today where it was sheltered from the wind at Kingsbarns below the car park. It will be the same tomorrow and it is well worth going to see. Hundreds of gulls – black-headed, common and herring gulls swimming and pattering along the tideline picking the sandhoppers from the surf. Then at the waters’ edge redshanks, sanderling and purple sandpipers, and on the wrack strandline, starlings, rock pipits and pied wagtails. A fantastic gathering of birds, alive with movement as they avoided the waves or all swirled up briefly as a beach walker came too close.Black-headed gull

Posted November 26, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 20th   Leave a comment

Another mild day. This time last year the really cold weather began, with daytime highs of only a couple degrees. The mild weather is set to continue for the next week at least so no sign, just yet, of a repeat.

This afternoon I found a couple of tree sparrows at the back of Pinkerton, moving between the back gardens and the stubble field at the northeast end. There are tree sparrows in the hamlets around Crail but this is one of the few times I have found them in Crail. Tree sparrows look a lot like house sparrows but have complete neat brown caps and little black marks on their ears so they look reminiscent of an old style aviator complete with leather flying cap and radio headphones. It is probably well worth checking out the sparrows that are coming into your garden, they may well not all be house sparrows. We are lucky to still have them here. Tree sparrow numbers have declined by 80% in Britain over the last 40 years and house sparrows have also almost disappeared from many parts of the south.

Tree sparrow

Posted November 20, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 19th   Leave a comment

The flock of geese and swans that arrived on Wednesday is still with us. This morning there was a flock of 25 tundra bean geese at the crossroads pools with the whooper swans, white-fronted geese and barnacle goose also reported from nearby fields. I think it is an epic flock – the bean geese have certainly come from Siberia and the rest of the flock was probably picked up on the way. They are all probably very glad to be somewhere like Crail, enjoying the mild weather and the many still available stubble fields to regain their condition after migration. There has been a country wide influx of bean and white-fronted geese. The weather conditions wouldn’t really have suggested this, but something unusual has happened on the continent to bring us all these geese.

Tundra bean goose - from Siberia

At Fife Ness this morning I tramped round the patch looking for late season rarities but all was quiet. There was a flyby from a barnacle and a white-fronted goose. In any other week this would have been very unusual. I also had a snow bunting passing over. The first of the winter, although I didn’t see any last winter at all. Fife Ness is about the best place to find snow buntings and I suspect that the golfers see them more than I do. Snow buntings aren’t very shy and love the short grass of the fairways.

Snow buntings

Posted November 20, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 16th   Leave a comment

It has been so grey and dark the last few days that even the continuing south-easterly winds haven’t been enough to lift my spirits. And this is despite the Isle of May having a few good birds over the last few days but they seem very remote and often Crail misses out. Yesterday, for example, there were some good geese on the May and the day before a very rare dusky warbler. But just as I got to work this morning I got a phone call from John Anderson telling me that he had a mixed flock of rare geese up behind Crail in the pools up at the crossroads that have been so good for waders this year. I dashed back to Crail as fast as I could. A real twitch – full of nervousness as I hoped on the journey that they were still there and then a real sense of relief and achievement as I saw the birds I was hoping too. Not one new species for my Crail list, but two! 17 tundra bean geese and 25 European white-fronted geese feeding in the stubble by the wader pool. Neither species are particularly rare, but then rarity is relative and I haven’t seen either in my eight years in Crail. And I probably have seen less than a hundred bean geese and even fewer white-fronted geese in 32 years of birding. As well as these new geese there was a single barnacle goose and nine greylag geese with them and also five whooper swans. A fantastic mixed flock for Crail – any of these five species would make a good day’s birding. These were the same geese, more or less, reported from the Isle of May yesterday, so for once we didn’t miss out. I think I will go looking for the dusky warbler tomorrow.

Tundra bean goose - number 200 for the Crail list

The two new geese species take my Crail list up to 201. Here’s to the next 100. The next 100 will be a lot harder though: it always gets harder. The common species get seen and then it is just the rarities, which get rarer and rarer.

European white-fronted geese

Posted November 16, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

Week ending November 13th   Leave a comment

I am back in Crail and have lost 20 degrees and the sun which hasn’t appeared at all this Sunday. I flew back yesterday from Nigeria. The first 45 minutes of the flight is over progressively drier and drier savannah, with scattered trees and vegetation clustered around villages or dry river beds. Then you hit the desert and it is 3 hours of unremitting emptiness. Not much sand, although the dune seas are spectacular, instead it is dry plains interspersed with islands of rock, sometimes forming small mountain ranges. Features everywhere shout that it used to have water in abundance – salt pans, dry river beds and water eroded valleys. Six thousand years ago there were hippos in the Sahara. Now there are only isolated trees and bushes left along the old river beds – surprisingly common throughout the desert – and visible as dark circles on the pale landscape. Life clings on even in the harshest conditions. With temperatures in the 40s, even at this time of year, the desert is a massive barrier: two to three thousand kilometres for our summer migrant birds to cross to get back to Crail next year. I left the flycatchers and warbler and harriers behind but they will be crossing the desert too in just 4 months time.

The middle of the Sahara - not that much sand - and even trees along the ancient dry river beds

Seal pup at Fife Ness this week

There was a lot of sign of recent stormy seas on the beach around Crail today. There have been several young seals reported washed up along the coastal path. Last weekend Andrew Tweedie had a seal pup out at Fife Ness. The seals breed on the beaches of the Isle of May and the biggest danger for the pups is to be washed out to sea before they are ready. There is not a lot to be done for those that get separated from their mothers in this way. For every one we might rescue hundreds more will be drowned and washed up unnoticed. It is tough being a young seal, although I think they might have a relatively easy life when they get bigger. Despite the circumstances it can still be a memorable encounter when you find a young seal, and some are old enough to survive when they get themselves back into the water. They look cute but have a very strong bite so are best admired at a slight distance.

A walk round Crail on Sunday afternoon showed winter is here. Only a few gannets and kittiwakes at sea, although a female scaup passing into the Forth was a good sighting for Crail (making 150 species for the year). There are very large flocks of starlings now around the airfield and it looks like they are starting to roost in Crail. There was a small wheeling flock above the high street in the late afternoon. This week there have been a few woodcock coming into Crail. We should also look out for waxwings, although we will be lucky to have another good waxwing winter after last year’s spectacular one.

Posted November 13, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 29th   Leave a comment

I am in West Africa just now, near Jos, Nigeria. My GPS tells me it is exactly 5,243.57 kilometers from my house in Crail. It took me six hours to fly here. I have been helping to catch and ring birds this morning and we caught a lot of garden warblers and a couple of pied flycatchers. These have come the same 5,000 or so kilometres, although under their own steam. The last pied flycatcher I saw was at Fife Ness a few weeks ago and now I am seeing them at the other end of their journey, although the Fife Ness bird is unlikely to have got here already. The birds today probably left northern Europe at the end of August. The flycatchers are now keeping company with sunbirds, hornbills and parrots and enjoying a temperature of 29 degrees today.

Pied Flycatcher - caught in West Africa for ringing

Posted November 1, 2011 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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