Archive for March 2012

March 31st   Leave a comment

The last day of March. The wind went round to the north-east this morning so it has been a lot cooler today. Still a lovely day. There were two pairs of buzzards displaying over the centre of the town this afternoon. Buzzards “sky-dance” like a lot of raptors where one bird flaps up in an exaggerated way and then makes a 45 degree stoop with wings closed before flapping up again. This is repeated across the sky making a series of waves. The other bird of the pair watches and makes it mewing calls. I’ve always wondered why the Crail starlings do such a good buzzard impression in their songs. It must be from spring days like today. I first saw buzzards sky dancing as a boy on a school exchange in Germany. I was brought up in East Anglia so there were no buzzards there 30 years ago and it was very exotic and exciting to see these large birds of prey displaying above the house where I was staying. I’ve since always wanted to live in a place with buzzards above my garden. The herring gulls nesting among my chimney pots were less impressed.

A common buzzard making deep exaggerated wing flaps as part of its sky dance

A bucket full of tadpoles on the way back to the Denburn

I released a bucket load of tadpoles in the Denburn this afternoon. Ours have grown fast and large, but those that stayed in the Denburn are catching up. I was really pleased to see tadpoles everywhere in the pond. It is a really good year for them so far. I don’t think our helping hand will make much difference, but at least we have put back 70 or so healthy large tadpoles which are too big for any of the fish in the Denburn to eat. We have kept 30 or so and will release them in a couple of weeks when they have grown both sets of legs and turned into froglets.


Posted March 31, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 29th   Leave a comment

Wren singing - they might be tiny but they are very loud

We have had a fairly incredible week weather wise and it has brought spring on almost to summer. The degree of leaf burst and grass growth has been spectacular and most of the songbirds have started breeding, if they weren’t already doing so. Wrens seem particularly active at the moment with their disproportionately loud song for their size. The first summer migrant birds were reported at the weekend, with the usual early suspects leading the way: lesser black-backed gulls joining the herring gulls above St Andrews, chiff-chaffs everywhere, an osprey over Kirkaldy and a northern wheatear at the Eden Estuary. And today I saw my first barn swallow over Kingsbarns. I almost always see my first swallow as I pass through Kingsbarns, but usually in the second week of April, not the last week in March. Things are very early this year indeed. I know one swallow doesn’t make a summer but this one seems almost a late comer after the high temperatures earlier this week

Posted March 29, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 18th   Leave a comment

Today was another perfect early spring day. Although the air temperature was only about 10 degrees, there was little wind and so in the sun it felt much warmer. I saw my first butterfly of the year – a small tortoiseshell. The frogs in Denburn pond have hatched. They are still tiny wriggling blobs attached to the jelly of the frog spawn. Our tadpoles developing in a warmer tank at home are much larger and will start growing their hind legs and eating meat in a day or two. At the moment they eating pulped spinach and lettuce voraciously.

The frogspawn in Denburn has hatched - the dark mass in the middle is all tiny tadpoles

Denburn was full of bird song this afternoon. All the usual suspects but with great tits dominating today. They have a loud, monotonous “tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher…” song which is indelibly one of the sounds of spring for me. Blackbirds and song thrushes were fairly obviously building nests so the early spring seems to be resuming after the colder weather earlier in the week.

The herring gulls in the village are getting cranked up for spring too. Pairs are defending chimney pots and are shrieking constantly. I watched a buzzard flying over the village this afternoon and the gulls responded by flying up and calling even more loudly. The buzzard stayed high and so the gulls left it be. In St Andrews this week I have watched lower flying buzzards (that often come over the centre of town) being harassed very vigorously and being escorted from the area by posses of gulls. I noticed in The Citizen that the residents of St Andrews are paying for some Harris hawks to be flown over the town this spring to deter the rooftop nesting gulls that are plaguing residents. They should perhaps watch who wins when the buzzards come over. I think the Harris hawks will get the same short shrift. I remember a Crail Primary School summer fair when some local falconers were invited and their flight of a Harris hawk attracted in gulls rather than frightening them away. The poor hawk ended up huddled pathetically in a tree in Beech Walk Park with some very angry and even noisier than usual gulls circling above it. The next time the falconers came they decided not to fly any of their birds. I will be watching with interest in St Andrews to see whether the same story unfolds.

Posted March 18, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 17th   Leave a comment

Common buzzard

I went for a walk along the Dreel Burn at Anstruther this morning. This is the best place, closest to Crail, to see kingfishers, although they are no means certain, being absent for months on end. I didn’t get lucky so kingfishers remain, for me still, a missing species for the Crail list. There were, however, small flocks of pink-footed geese and a peregrine flying over. And a very confiding buzzard. It was probably hunting voles, perched at the top of a bush throughout my walk, even though the path passed by within meters. It is a really good sign when birds of prey don’t pay you much heed. It means that they are not being bothered much, or even worse persecuted. I wish raptors were as tame everywhere in Scotland.

Posted March 18, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 14th   Leave a comment

Four planets are showing well above Crail at the moment. We have had some lovely clear nights this week and they have been very obvious. Both Jupiter and Venus are very bright in the western sky in the early evening until about midnight. Venus is the really bright one and Jupiter less so. You can see both planets show obvious disks through binoculars and through a telescope you can see several of Jupiter’s moons and at least a couple of bands. In the eastern sky Mars is showing as a very bright twinkly red star, starting low down at dusk and moving higher and round to the south by about 11 in the evening. By this time Saturn has also risen, in more or less the same place that Mars started four hours before. Saturn is a modestly bright star, one of two (the right hand one) low down due east at about 22:45. Through binoculars it looks odd for a star – oval in shape rather than a twinkly spot (it doesn’t matter how good your binoculars are, stars don’t look any different, whereas the planets resolve themselves into shapes). Through my 60x telescope I use for birding, Saturn is just fantastic. It is tilted away from us so we are seeing it from underneath. Tonight I could see the main gap between the rings, the rings themselves and a faint band on Saturn itself. The planets will all be visible for several weeks to come.

Posted March 18, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 11th   Leave a comment

Meadow pipt - one of the earliest spring migrants

This morning at Fife Ness the sea was full of gannets diving in the spring sunshine. There were flocks of pink foot geese flying north, some far out at sea so I should think they are now on their way back. But the red-throated divers that have been a regular feature inshore for the last month have gone completely. I saw just one flying far out at sea. There were few waders too. Early March can be quite a quiet time before the spring migration season gets going at the end of the month. There was a single meadow pipit flying up the coast. Over the next couple of weeks this should turn into a constant stream north before our local migrants are joined by the African migrants, and we will get the first wheatear and swallow.

Today was back to the warm weather after the cooler week. Our tadpoles from last week have hatched in the warmth of our house, but the frog spawn in Denburn is still intact. My son Sam found the first moth of the year, a common quaker, hiding on his windowsill. We will have to start trapping next week and see what else we get if it stays mild.

Common quaker - an early moth flying in March and April

Posted March 11, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

Week ending March 4th   1 comment

Frog spawn in Denburn

It has been hard to avoid the spring this week. Up until this weekend we have had daytime temperatures of 14 degrees. There are clumps of frog spawn already in Denburn Wood although I should mention that there were clumps about this time last year, even after the much colder weather of that winter. I think frogs must be ready to jump (literally) at the first run of mild nights at the end of February regardless of whether it is a cold year overall. The spawn will just develop more slowly if they get it wrong, but of course, the longer the spawn sits there the more likely it is that something will come along and eat it so it shouldn’t pay the frogs to start too early. As I wrote last year, the frog spawn in Denburn has very low survival and you hardly see any tadpoles making it to froglets. My son Sam and I collected a clump from the pond in Denburn this Sunday and when they hatch and grow up into large tadpoles we will release them back into the pond. My son gets the thrill of looking at the tadpoles develop (it is after all a rite of passage for all small children), and we also hopefully get an increased survival rate for the frogs in the wood.

Everything has responded to the milder weather. The herons at Cambo are rebuilding their nests or sitting in the field nearby the heronry. The magpies and dippers in St Andrews are also building. Everything else is singing like crazy with the dunnocks and skylarks starting this week joining the starlings and song thrushes. Out at sea on Saturday and Sunday there were lines and lines of gannets coming back into the Forth with the occasional pair of kittiwakes. The fulmar ledges were more or less all occupied all around Crail on Sunday afternoon, with the calm weather after the rain (fulmars might as well sit on their nest site when the wind isn’t blowing because flying is so hard for them without a stiff breeze). Next week is not going to be so mild so I think most nest building will stall, but if it had stayed as mild we could have expected some eggs in early blackbird nests this week.

One of the hundreds of gannets coming back into the Forth this week

The brent goose in Roome Bay has moved on but there are still a few pairs of wigeon with the mallards – look out for their chestnut heads with a broad orange stripe on the crown. On Saturday there were also four pairs of goldeneyes in the bay. A highlight on Saturday was a peregrine hunting along the shore.

Drake wigeon

The starling roost spectacle continues over Bow Butts every evening. From quarter to six onwards is a good time to look as it gets dark. Dusk is getting later as we hurtle towards the solstice. In three weeks’ time when the clocks go back it will be light until nearly 8pm, and I bet there will be some early birds already feeding chicks by then. I’m looking forward to a lovely dry, warm and sunny April, before of course our rainy season starts mid-May.

Posted March 4, 2012 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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