Week ending 20th May   Leave a comment

I returned from Cyprus yesterday to a very cool Crail. Even without the contrast of the Mediterranean, the last week’s weather has been unseasonably cold and wet. The swifts returned the week before last but fled again in disgust this week. On Sunday, for example, even as the weather turned sunny, the swifts did not return until the evening.

Whimbrel at Balcomie – on Sunday May 20th there were 7 on the golf course

At Fife Ness on Sunday morning, at least, there were signs of spring and summer. There was a spectacular group of seven whimbrels feeding on the golf course. They moved from fairway to fairway dodging the golfers, feeding up for the next leg of their journey. I have said this before, but can’t help but mention it again. These incredible travellers were probably in North Africa the day before yesterday, and might well be in the Arctic in the next two days. There are now lots of whitethroats and sedge warblers singing. Last visit, before my trip away, there was only a single individual of each.

The seabirds were very busy past Fife Ness and will remain so for the whole summer. Guillemots, razorbills, puffins, kittiwakes and gannets streaming by in both directions. There was also a big passage of arctic terns. These are one of the last migrants to arrive. I guess they have the excuse that they are coming the furthest, all the way from Antarctica. I always forget each winter just how perfect arctic terns are. They have such fantastic, light and easy flight, beautiful pure plumage, and gorgeous long tail streamers. On a more technical level – you tell the difference between arctic and very similar common terns (none today although reasonably common in the forth as well) in flight by their proportions. Arctic terns look neckless with their wings right at the front of their body, whereas common terns have their wings more in the middle of the body. I spent years and years confusing them before this feature clicked and now I can split them even when they are well out to sea.

Arctic tern back at the Isle of May and passing by Crail in big numbers just now

Some of the resident birds will have fledged their first brood of chicks already and we should expect the first starlings to fledge any day soon. It always catches me out. Even as the last spring migrants are still passing, there are some residents, like blackbirds, which might be already finishing their second lot of chicks (although perhaps few this year with the continuing cold weather).

If anything very rare is going to appear in Crail this spring, then the next couple of weeks will be the time for it. The Isle of May has been getting blue-throats, a thrush nightingale and on Sunday a red-backed shrike, so things are looking promising. It’s always an exciting time of year as old friends like the terns and swifts come back and there is always hope for something really special.

Posted May 20, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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