Archive for February 2012

February 26th   Leave a comment

Balcomie Beach at low tide is a treat at the moment. Twenty each or so of sanderling, dunlin and ringed plovers along the water’s edge. The sanderling scurrying backwards and forwards as the waves lap in, the dunlins probing more sedately behind, and the ringies further back still, on the dryer sand, walking sedately and picking prey from the surface. There were a couple of grey plover and bar-tailed godwits on the beach as well today. One of the godwits was just starting to turn orange on its underparts even though its breeding season in the Arctic is not until mid-summer.

A bar-tailed godwit at Balcomie

Our local breeding season is a lot closer though. I met Jim Cobb on the way down to the patch and he told me his chaffinches that he rings through the winter are all territorial now and so impossible to catch, and that the robins in his garden are building nests. The blue tits in Crail are also looking very interested in breeding with a lot of song, obvious pairs and territorial chases to be seen this week. It certainly has been a lot milder and seems to be shaping up for an early spring.

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Posted February 26, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 25th   Leave a comment

There is a female black redstart up on the rooftops at the top the Hen’s Ladder just now. I heard a soft repeated “huit” call which made me stop and look around as I walked down to the harbour this morning. I didn’t immediately recognise it but I knew it was something unusual. I then spotted a plain grey head poking up from the gable of 16 Westgate and realised that it was a black redstart. I might hope to see one or two a year in Crail. They are early migrants passing through in very small numbers in March, and of course we had a lovely male spending a couple of months with us last winter below the cliffs of Roome Bay. This bird is feeding on the rooftops much as black redstarts do in Germany and France where they are a common garden bird. It looks like a dull greyish robin with a rusty brown tail which it frequently shivers drawing attention to itself.

Female or young male black redstart

Posted February 25, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 24th   Leave a comment

Starlings going to roost

If you have some time in the next few days go up to Bow Butts between 17:15 and 17:30. There are about 600 starlings coming into roost in the Leylandii bushes scattered along the street. They are doing their classic wheeling about in dense shape-shifting flocks before they descend to roost. It never fails to impress. There is something so mesmerising about the flocks as hundreds of birds act as if they are one animal. But do go and see them soon – the evenings are drawing out and many of the starlings will be heading back to Russia to breed any time soon.

Posted February 24, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 19th   2 comments

Song thrush - singing a lot at dawn at the moment

We have had a mixed week of temperatures. Last night went below freezing and today was below five degrees all day. On Wednesday and Thursday it was up to 12 degrees and there was a bat around my garden at dusk. Mid-week you would have been sure that spring was just around the corner, and on Sunday sure it wasn’t. The birds were apparently convinced by the warmer temperatures though, with blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, chaffinches and blue tits now all singing at dawn in my garden. But dawn is actually the real cue, rather than simply temperature. Change in day length is hard-wired into most birds to allow them to get ready to breed when the temperatures reliably get high enough. So even on a very cold day like this morning the birds were still singing because they know that spring is round the corner and that territories have to be maintained. As the days lengthen the birds also have more time to feed so they can afford to use more time and energy singing. Although they will have stopped singing sooner this morning, than on Wednesday.

We are gaining 4 minutes of daylight every day at the moment, with it being noticeably lighter later every day. Because the world wobbles we have little change in day length at the points when the earth reaches the top or bottom of its wobble and starts tilting in the opposite direction (the winter and summer solstice). But as we approach the spring equinox, in a month’s time, the earth is changing its angle to the sun fastest and so we have the most rapid increases in day length. The same applies in the autumn, although in reverse, when the dark winter nights suddenly seem to rush in. The change in day length in the spring doesn’t quite affect us in the same way as it does birds but I think it certainly cheers most people up.

Living in a seasonal and variable climate is one of the great joys of Crail. It is terribly dull at the equator with no change in the day length, no long summer nights or very short winter days, or best of all the feeling of a constantly changing environment. This week with the obviously lengthening evenings and the sharp contrasts between winter and spring temperatures has been a daily celebration of our seasonal change.

The sea today from Harbour Beach was lively this afternoon. I counted 20 or so red-throated divers, lots of gannets and constantly passing razorbills. Razorbills seem to be the earliest auk to get ready to breed with many now in summer plumage and in obvious pairs. The puffins are still far out in the North Sea and I don’t expect to see one of another month or two.

Razorbill in spring breeding plumage

Posted February 19, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 18th   Leave a comment

Pale-bellied brent goose eating sea lettuce

There is a pale-bellied brent goose down at Roome Bay, between the Brandyburn and the old swimming pool. It is not particularly shy, which is unusual, and is feeding on the sea lettuce on the flat rocks at the tide edge. This morning, close to the high tide, it was directly below the swings, only 30 meters from the main path and several dog-walkers went by without disturbing it. It eventually flew out to land on the sea when I stopped specifically to look at it, but swam back when I moved on. Bill Alexander has seen it since Wednesday so it is likely to stay in Roome Bay for a bit longer. It’s a rare chance to get a close view of this handsome goose. If you go and see it you might be surprised at how small it is – not much bigger than a large duck.

Posted February 18, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 12th   1 comment

Today it was clear that the summer migrants are on their way. At least in human terms. The harbour and beach was full of people this afternoon. It reminded me that the resources that a lot of birds like redshanks rely on in the winter are pretty much unavailable to them during the spring holidays. But today was mild, or at least felt mild with sun in the afternoon and practically no wind. So the redshanks were roosting all afternoon anyway, safe on the rocks out from harbour beach. As they were pushed onto the beach by the rising tide, so the crowds were pushed off by the setting sun. It’s a different story though when it’s really cold. Then disturbance along a beach can have fatal consequences for waders hard pushed to meet their soaring energy demands as they struggle to keep warm (for a bird warmth = food). But of course then there are few people about and certainly no-one actually hanging around on the beach for any length of time. Still, today was the start of the switch from just birds on the beach to just people.

Redshank - starting its timeshare with Crail's other beach visitors today

Posted February 12, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 11th   Leave a comment

This morning I walked from Balcomie, north along the shore to the end of the golf course and then cut back to Crail along the track from Wormiston Farm, past the yellow house and through the now all ploughed and empty fields. Although it was quiet inland – almost a desert, with only flocks of finches (linnets, greenfinches and chaffinches) in the farmhouse trees – the sea and shore was very busy as usual. The highlight of the morning was a couple of pale-bellied brent geese flying along the shore (bird species number 86 for my Crail year list and usually a September bird. John tells me that they have been regular between Fife Ness and Kingsbarns recently. I did have them early in year, last year as well so I wonder if they are starting to regularly winter along our stretch of coast rather than just being passage birds. I also counted ten red-throated divers out from the golf course with one of them starting to get a ghost of a red-throat in anticipation of the spring.

Brent goose (pale-bellied form so probably from Svalbard)

Posted February 12, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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