Archive for June 2012

June 29th   Leave a comment

Two week or so old herring gull chick on my roof last night – apologies for the photo, one of mine of course through my telescope using my phone rather than John’s proper job

It’s gull chick season again. Crail gets filled with initially cute and fluffy gull chicks on every other rooftop, that then change into less attractive, half-feathered and noisy young gulls. This transition is accompanied by a change in position from chimney top down where they can be easily ignored down to front garden where they are more obvious. The gull chicks have a shrill insistent whining for food so as they stride around on the ground they appear abandoned. I often get calls at this time of year from people worried about them being abandoned and helpless at this stage. It’s true they are better off on the rooftops where cats, dogs, people and particularly cars aren’t a problem, but from the parent gull’s point of view they expect their chicks to wander about a bit and they can find and feed them easily in a quiet moment wherever they are. So the best thing to do is to leave them be, or possibly shoo them to a nearby place of relative safety away from the road. I had a gull chick walking along the gable of my roof last night. Sooner or later it will take a tumble down into the garden and then we will have to periodically discourage it from wandering out to join the crowds and the cars.

Posted June 29, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 25th   Leave a comment

Gannet diving – how streamlined can you get?

This afternoon we had 17 degrees. A sad testament to the summer we are having that I need to point this out. At least we had a beautiful day today. And this evening was a perfect Crail moment. Still sunny, a bit of a breeze and the gannets coming in close to fish. Nothing beats the drama of gannets plunge diving. A gannet beating steadily along will start to slow and spread its wings before turning itself into an arrow. Before you have even registered this it has disappeared into the water tens of meters below. The speed and force with which they hit the water is incredible. They were close enough in tonight that we worried that they might hit a rock just below the surface. I suspect they know what they are doing although I have read reports of gannets getting it wrong and breaking their necks hitting fishing boats, driving their bills so deeply into the deck that they couldn’t be pulled back out without tools. Gannets are a star Crail bird and we are lucky to have this spectacle every day, even if they not always so close in.

There was a common tern fishing in Roome Bay this evening. They have been scarce this year and in fact this is my first for the year for Crail. Chance or indicative of something?

Common tern

Posted June 25, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

Week ending June 24th   1 comment

I had a walk down at Cambo on Sunday. It is much quieter in the woods now with only blackbirds and chaffinches singing, joined briefly by a late robin. Robins have a skulking and songless time in July and August while they moult. They burst back into song in September, and are pretty much the only birds singing then. The burn through the woods was also quiet. No sign of grey wagtails. They have been scarce in Crail this summer too. I don’t know if their numbers were affected by the two very cold winters in the same way as the stonechats, but they have certainly passed from being a daily bird in Crail to once every few weeks.

There were three goosanders down at the burn mouth. The first I have seen this summer. We eventually get tens of goosanders spending the late summer with us between Kingsbarns and Crail. The males arrive from Scandinavia after breeding quite early. Like most ducks, their contribution to breeding is only to get it started. They can then afford to spend the rest of the summer fishing amongst the rocks here while the females are still raising their chicks in Norwegian rivers and fjords.

Goosander – they fish on the rocky shores around Crail in late summer while they moult

Otherwise the shore was quiet like the woods. The ever present oystercatchers, a curlew probably having the summer off from breeding, and lots of young, but independent and capable starlings. There were a few well grown eider chicks but really barely any considering the number of pairs of eiders we have breeding in the area. From St Monans to Kingsbarns, I am still seeing hardly any eider chicks, so I think my earlier idea that they are having a bad season is unfortunately true.

The highlights of the walk, down on the shore just to the south of the burn, were the sand martins. The colony probably has over 40 birds and most were feeding over the rocky shore, picking up the seaweed flies only centimeters above the ground. Often they were in pairs, one closely following the other. This suggests that they are laying second clutches of eggs, or having to renest after failing. Sand martins are famous for their infidelity and a male can only hope to be the father of the chicks he looks after if he keeps an eye on his female. Every so often I saw a trio, with a third bird following a pair and probably looking out for his chance.

There was a dead fox cub on the side of the road at the entrance to Cambo. It’s always a shame to see a road kill fox, but at least we know there are cubs about at the moment. It looked about half size, so probably killed just as it started to get independent and to wander further afield.

Local fox cub

Posted June 24, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 17th   Leave a comment

The day brightened up a bit after the rain showers of late afternoon. One good thing about rain is it tends to clear up the heat haze from the sea and make the bird watching much easier. So there have been a lot of good sea-watching opportunities this week. On most evenings now, and for next month or so the sea is alive as the seabirds shuttle back and forward to feed their chicks. The manx shearwaters reappeared this week for the summer, joining the usual auks, kittiwakes and gannets. We don’t have manx shearwaters breeding anywhere nearby. They travel great distances though during their search for food when not on incubation duty or when feeding chicks, circuiting literally around the British Isles. All the birds this week passed Crail going to the east so if our ideas about them are true then they were going clockwise back home. They were perhaps heading back to the big colonies on the west coast or around the Irish Sea.

Razorbill – one of the thousands of seabirds passing back and forth past Crail every day at the moment as chick feeding starts in earnest

Posted June 17, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 16th   Leave a comment

It has been a truly dismal day for June. In a particularly miserable summer, today stood out for its unremitting greyness, dampness and coldness. The swallows and house martins were reduced to hawking just centimeters above the grass in sheltered parts of Beech Walk park in search of any flies. Their poor foraging day was a great opportunity to see them at very close quarters at least. The house martins were particularly tame, flying very slowly almost around my feet as I walked along.

Some birds are managing despite the weather. There was a newly fledged brood of whitethroats along the Brandyburn. The youngsters were typically clueless, perched out in the open waiting for their parents and more curious about me than frightened. I could see the adults desperate to bring in their food, but because they are much more wary and skulking unable to do so until I moved away. The young whitethroats will soon learn the ropes, although perhaps their priority is not to hide away. Missing a meal because you are hidden from your parents, as well as any predator, might not be the best strategy on a cold, wet day.

Newly fledged whitethroat

Posted June 17, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 11th   Leave a comment

There were two broods of eider chicks in Roome Bay today. One has fairly young chicks of a few days old and the other much larger chicks well into their second week. Most of the females in the bay don’t have any chicks though. There are at least 10 females without chicks. I hope more appear from the May Island because otherwise this means they are having a very bad breeding year.

Eider chicks now in roome Bay – but not that many

Posted June 11, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 10th   Leave a comment


I walked down the burn at Kenly from Boarhills this morning. It reminded me of a tropical mountain rainforest. The trees are very tall along the burn. Their leaves cut out most of the light and with all the rain it was very humid. It is a lovely walk just now, but very wet. The highlight was the resident dippers. They added to the tropical feel. South American forests are stuffed with brownish birds that grub around the sides of streams like dippers. We only have the one, but a very special one. Dippers are the only truly aquatic songbirds we have. They forage underwater on insect larvae like caddis flies. They can swim underwater like penguins and also bizarrely clamber along the bottom using their very strong feet to maintain their position in the strong currents of the streams they favour. There are dippers occasionally on the burn through Cambo and on the Dreel Burn at Anstruther but they are only regular on Kenly Water.

Dipper in action looking for insect larvae in a stream – it does this well below the surface of the water too and swims like a penguin

There was a single male mute swan at the mouth of Kenly Water. It was extremely grumpy, posturing with its wings curled, hissing and banging its wings trying to frighten me off. I didn’t see a female on a nest nearby – they do occasionally nest on quiet sea beaches – but there must be one there. Mute swans may be common at St Andrews but they are rare around Crail and this may be the closest one nesting to us, if indeed it is. I will have to go back there in a week or two and look for a flotilla of chicks on the sea.

There have been one or two sparrowhawks shuttling over my garden in the middle of Crail this week. I think the nest is somewhere in the West of Crail and the birds seem to be hunting mostly in the East, probably where there are young starlings that are around the beaches and the airfield. Every time a sparrowhawk commutes over it is tailed by swallows or swifts or pied wagtails making it obvious to everything it might want to hunt and to me of course. The alarm calls of its potential prey are the best cues that a sparrowhawk is around.

Posted June 10, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 9th   Leave a comment

I think the spring migration period is pretty much over for us in Crail. The Isle of May has continued to have some goodies this week like a greenish warbler but nothing major has been found over our side of the water for a week or two. I had an optimistic look around the patch at Fife Ness this afternoon. There was nothing out of the ordinary apart from a garden warbler. We only have them on passage in Crail so this was a late migrant. The last garden warbler I saw was in Nigeria last November and as always it was good to see this strong link with Africa in Crail. Although Garden warblers breed across much of Scotland I might only see a few a year here; last year I missed out completely. To my mind they are one of our best singers. This one was only doing a grumpy churring and some very soft sub-song. It was probably unhappy at getting to Europe so late this year. The whitethroats that also arrived from Africa at the beginning of May are now feeding chicks. I saw several busy looking parents with beakfuls of food between Balcomie and Fife Ness.

Garden warbler – not much to look at but a lovely song

Posted June 10, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

%d bloggers like this: