Week ending December 4th   Leave a comment

Winter has come at last. The second half of this week has been chilly with night time temperatures down to about 1 degree and several nights of frost. At sea the gannets have all but disappeared. They are now mostly down off the coast of France and Spain until March.

I am seeing sparrowhawks hunting through the gardens of Crail on most days. They move very quickly through an area, from Roome Bay, for example, through Pinkerton to the Balcomie Caravan Park in less than a minute, causing panic as they go. The sparrows stop cheeping and dash into cover while the starlings take off and form a dense flock above the flight path of the hawk. If they are all lucky of course. A panic of birds not followed by a sighting of the hawk often means that it has been successful. In these circumstances it is often worth watching for some extra minutes to see the sparrowhawk flying up and carrying away the small bird it has just caught. Sometimes it is possible to identify what they have got, but most of the time it is just a limp shape. Sparrowhawks usually eat their prey in cover to avoid the attention of crows which might steal their prey. So after catching it and spending a minute or so killing it (they squeeze them with their talons) they will usually move to a favoured secluded place to pluck and eat. Sparrowhawks don’t fly far in the winter though to do this, other raptors will try to steal their prey as well as crows. Merlins are particularly good at this being much faster than sparrowhawks. I have seen them catch up an apparently oblivious sparrowhawk before rolling onto their back at the last minute to grab the prey from below the sparrowhawk. The sparrowhawks may try and chase but they have little chance of getting back their prey. But this is rare, and mostly a sparrowhawk will make the cover of a dense bush and reduce the bird it has caught to a neatly plucked pile of feathers with perhaps the odd leg and bill part discarded beside it. These dramas are happening daily in Crail. On Sunday there was a merlin hunting over the High Street, and if you watch your garden for 30 minutes or more you will be pretty sure to see a sparrowhawk passing through. Or at least the panic that they cause to the other birds even if you are not quick enough to see the hawk.


I spent Sunday afternoon in my back garden preparing to plant some fruit trees – I was drilling some wire stays into a wall. While I was working I kept thinking about waxwings and in the quiet after stopping the drill I realised I could hear them calling. Behind me there was a flock of 16 waxwings. The first I have ever had in the garden. They were only there for 2 minutes before flying off towards the High Street. I have been searching Crail for them for the last month and I should really just have stayed at home.

There are some whooper swans in the flooded stubble fields along the Anstruther to St Andrews road at the moment. But the mixed goose flocks seem to have moved on into West Fife. There is also an itinerant white stork in the county. So far it too is in West Fife but it may make its way over to the East Neuk in search of milder weather. White storks are increasingly wintering in southern Europe rather than migrating to East Africa, but Fife is definitely not a regular stopping area. A white stork would be a fantastic bird to round the year off with, so I will be keeping a hopeful lookout. That’s the best thing about birding around Crail – you really never know what is going to turn up, and it might even be in your own garden.

Whooper swans

Posted December 4, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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