Archive for April 2012

April 29th   1 comment

Cowslips just coming out at West Quarry Braes

The cold easterly wind was still with us all day. There were willow warblers singing at West Quarry Braes this afternoon and quite a few swallows up at Wormiston, but no new migrants. The swallows were feeding in the lee of the wood where you could almost imagine it was spring when the sun came out. The vegetation has slowed down too and is later than previous years even after the early start we had in late March. The cowslips are just coming out at West Quarry Braes for example.

It’s been a wet month. We have had 63mm of rain. This compares to just 5mm that we had in April last year. The last month that was wetter was last August (90mm). I hope this means that we are heading for a different pattern of rainfall this summer, with a dry late summer rather than the dry spring followed by a rainy summer that we have got used to over the last five years.


Posted April 29, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 28th   Leave a comment

I was out again at Cambo first thing this morning guiding a bird song walk. A beautiful sunny morning but still freezing with the bitter north-easterly wind when we came out of the woods. There were a lot of blackcaps singing this morning along with the usual resident birds of Cambo. A couple of chiff-chaffs and a few swallows being the only other summer migrants. The initially early season is now turning into a late season. There is still no sign of the whitethroats and sedge warblers that should have arrived at the start of this week.

This afternoon there was a long-eared owl at Fife Ness Muir. I spent a frustrating half an hour of glimpses of it as it shyly moved away between the dense pines before my son flushed it directly towards where I was sitting. It perched a few meters away from me and I had the best view I have had of a long-eared owl for years. Long-eared owls, unlike their very similar cousins short-eared owls, are strictly nocturnal and much more wary. But this time I was able to look straight into its bright orange eyes and admire its “ears” held up like a crest. I am always telling my son to be quieter when we are out in the field. Today I was glad of his noisy feet.

The owl is another migrant on its way to Scandinavia like the ring ouzels of yesterday. A white-fronted goose also passed by going north. Normally this would be the bird of the day but this winter was so good for geese that it was almost expected. Apart from this there was little else. The ringers in the patch were looking fairly miserable as they gazed at their empty nets. I was smiling. The long-eared owl is my first for Crail bringing my Crail list up to 204 species.

Long-eared owl - with its glowing orange eyes even if its "ears" are tucked away

Posted April 28, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 27th   Leave a comment

We have continued to have north-easterly winds all week with frequent rain showers. Swallows are now back in Crail but there are more to come and the house martins haven’t arrived yet. Last night there were 12 ring ouzels reported from the Isle of May and this morning there were other migrants there as well. I went out to Cambo first thing and found a single male ring ouzel feeding in the short grass by the main house. Ring ouzels are once or twice a year birds for Crail and I missed one at Wormiston last weekend. It was great to check what I thought was a blackbird striding about on a lawn to see the big white breast band and the whitish on the wing that made it a ring ouzel, They are also bigger than blackbirds. This one was with a fieldfare – both species heading north to Scandinavia to breed I should think – and the ring ouzel was a similar size. I expect there were one or two people in Crail with ring ouzels feeding in their gardens this morning. At this time of year it is always worth looking twice at any blackbird.

Two spring male ring ouzels - not photographed in Crail but I suspect they could easily have been this morning

Posted April 28, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 22nd   Leave a comment

The weekend has not turned out to be as busy as I might have hoped. We had a few days of easterly winds with frequent rain showers at the end of the week which always spells good birds if it happens at migration time. In any other year I might have thought it was too early, but with this summer apparently happening at the end of March and the early movement of some migrants it seemed that maybe the spell of easterlies was timed just right this year. Sadly it was wishful thinking again. Some birds turned up this weekend but not the major arrival I was hoping for.

On Friday there were five swallows on my way home from St Andrews to Crail suggesting that things were moving. On Saturday morning there were a couple of blackcaps (the first of the year) singing in Denburn. They are our best common songsters and it was wonderful to hear them again. There were also a couple of chiff-chaffs. And the rule is, as I have said many times before, if there are chiff-chaffs in Denburn, then there are other rarer things about too. But not for me – I tramped around Crail in the morning and biked down around Wormiston in the afternoon and didn’t find anything else. There was at least a ring ouzel reported at Wormiston in the morning even if I didn’t see it. I did see two singing corn buntings, one at Wormiston Farm and a second at the Yellow House.

Sea-watching from Crail on Saturday afternoon was good though. I had the first arctic skua and manx shearwaters of the year passing east. Best of all was only my second black guillemot ever from Crail. This was going into the Forth and may even have landed in the sea off the harbour. Unlike last year’s first, this bird was in full black summer plumage apart from the big white wing panels. It really stood out among the hundreds of razorbills that were passing in the opposite direction. There was also a steady northward (strictly eastward from Crail of course as they go round Fife Ness) passage of common gulls and kittiwakes.

On Sunday, there was a firecrest ringed at Fife Ness Muir. By the time I got there in the afternoon there was no sign of it, with a single chiff-chaff being the only migrant I saw nearby. The sea in contrast was full of birds moving north. Mostly gulls and gannets with a single bonxie (great skua) causing panic as it cruised by. There was also a pair of shelduck shuttling between Balcomie Bay and Fife Ness, flying as walkers on the coastal path went by. They will be local birds and I think they have difficulty in finding an undisturbed place to breed. They need a rabbit burrow in sandy soil for their nest, which is not too difficult to find, but they don’t like disturbance and are vulnerable to predators, which are much harder to avoid. Otherwise it was fairly quiet. There were some more swallows around Crail, the first sand martin for me up at the flooded field pond at the crossroads, and the first house martins in Roome Bay reported by Bill Alexander.

Shelduck at Fife Ness

Posted April 22, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 18th   Leave a comment

John went to the Isle of May today where the seabirds are starting to breed

Despite the cold weather things are moving and spring has arrived. Two nights ago was one of the first evenings this year when the Firth of Forth was alive with seabirds. Streams of gannets, auks, fulmars and kittiwakes passing by from close in to Crail to the horizon. There were a lot of puffins among them. It seems like they are much more obvious (or common this year). A single great skua cruised by on its way north.

This evening the first willow warbler was singing in Denburn. There was apparently an influx in Fife today with several also singing in Kilrenny.

Newly arrived willow warbler

Posted April 19, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 15th   Leave a comment

Today was surprisingly cold when you were out in the north-east wind. Especially after spending some time in a sheltered corner like Roome Bay. The summer migrants seem understandably reluctant to come back despite the warm weather a couple of weeks ago. I did see another swallow today over the field closest to Pinkerton and sandwich terns were passing Crail all day.

One of this weekend's sandwich terns pausing to refuel before continuing on its way north from west Africa

Posted April 16, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 14th   Leave a comment

One of the Carnbee dotterels this morning - closer and in the sun today

The dotterels are still out at Carnbee. I went to see them again this morning and there was a small crowd. Apparently these are the first dotterel seen in Fife in 30 years. So quite an event, particularly for any Fife county listers. The dotterels came very close to us this morning after a bit of encouragement – they have a lovely peeping, half chiming call that is fairly easy to copy. The photographers were complaining that they came too close for their long lenses. There was also a flock of 50 or so golden plover in the adjacent field. Like the dotterel they were moulting into summer plumage with spangled golden backs and pure black bellies. And also like the dotterels these will also have been on their way to the uplands. Some goldies nest on the tops with the dotterel, although most are lower level breeders in the heather moorland.

There is a chiff-chaff singing in Denburn near the pond at the moment. They sing their name repetitively (like cuckoos) so are one of the more easy summer migrants to recognise by sound. The shore was quiet in comparison this afternoon. The redshanks and turnstones are disappearing quietly as they drift north, the goldeneyes are long gone and even the eiders are getting fewer as they move over to the Isle of May to breed. In compensation there were a couple of sandwich terns passing.

Posted April 14, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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