Week ending January 29th   Leave a comment

There are ten pairs of mallards out in Roome Bay, feeding in the shallows at low tide and loafing around the old bathing pool at high tide. Once again they are spending the winter in the sea rather than in the limited small ponds around Crail. In the summer when they split up into pairs, they can manage with only a small amount of fresh water. They use the ditches along the St Andrews road for example, that barely have a trickle of water in them. Often with tragic consequences: I see male ducks squashed on the road come the spring. In the winter, however, they like to flock up. There is safety in numbers. And a small ditch really won’t do for more than a couple of ducks. So they end up in Roome Bay, although they will be thinking about moving back fairly soon. The mallards are all in obvious pairs and the males are very aggressive if a lone male turns up. Most of the ducks that winter at sea – goldeneyes, red-breasted mergansers, long-tailed ducks, scoters – all use freshwater to breed. Eiders are actually one of the few ducks that use salt water both for wintering and breeding.

Drake mallards

I was reminded some more about safety in numbers when watching the goose flock, which is back again at the co-op at Anstruther. There are 1000-2000 pink-footed geese there in the same potato field as before Christmas and this Sunday morning it also had 8+ taiga bean geese, 3 European white-fronted geese and 10 or so barnacle gees among them. Quite a wild goose search to find the others amongst the pinkfeet, although the barnacles stood out somewhat as black and white amongst the greys and browns. The geese were very vigilant. Usually such a large flock allows individuals the luxury of not having to put much effort into looking for approaching predators. The chance is that at least one individual somewhere in the flock, or indeed several individuals, will be looking up at any one time is pretty high. But the geese today did not look very laid back. Perhaps the proximity of the busy road and the co-op has made them more wary, or perhaps more likely the prospect of being shot at.

Kilrenny common is a great place to visit just now for a good range of small birds. On Sunday morning around the playpark were 30 or so yellowhammers, a mixed flock of tens of tree and house sparrows and the usual good mix of several finch species. Kilrenny is a bit of an oasis. When you walk out into the fields between it and Anstruther the numbers of small birds dwindle to nothing. Good job there are the geese to look at.

I had a beautiful view of a male sparrowhawk this week flying just above the ground over the field behind the graveyard extension. It was doing a classic sneak attack, barely flapping its wings and then a final rapid glide into the gardens of Bow Butts. I think it shot straight into John Anderson’s garden. He feeds the birds so always has a good lot of finches in his garden, and so John also feeds the sparrowhawks. A lot of people are unhappy with this equation, but sparrowhawks have a living to make like any other species. I just enjoyed the flash of blue and red as it passed and its skill at approaching the garden undetected by all except me who just happened to be looking in the right direction at the right moment.

The fulmars have been back on the cliffs now for a couple of weeks but seem to have got more serious. Pairs are obvious and birds are sailing around Castle Walk and the harbour cliffs all day now. If you ever wonder about that sea-gull flying with strangely stiff wings, look again, that’s a fulmar. They never bend their wings at the wrist like a gull so are distinctive even miles away at sea.


There are plenty of roe deer still about Crail. Every walk, particularly out towards the airfield seems to disturb some. They bound away showing off their pure white bottoms. It’s handy for identification – pure white and no tail – it’s a roe deer. If its buff and no tail it’s a red deer. Not that we have red deer around Crail but then if you never check the common you never find the rare.

Roe deer - the pure white bottom and not much tail identifies it




Posted January 29, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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