Archive for August 2012

August 31   Leave a comment

A gannet on a brighter day than today on its way back to Bass Rock and a big hungry chick

Sea watching this week has been relatively quiet. After the first few newly fledged gannets last weekend there has only been a trickle past Crail since. The adults are obviously still shuttling back and forth to the Bass Rock feeding their chicks probably desperate for them to fledge so that they can come to the fish rather than have it delivered each time. I watched a string of returning gannets far out this evening, a long white line, startling punctuated by the all dark brown shape of a great skua following them in. It eventually overtook them and began harrying them. There must be a thousand potential meals to steal for the great shuas at any time in the Forth at this time of year. Despite this I think this skua was wasting its time. The gannets continued ploughing on and I think the skua gave up, eventually heading back towards Fife Ness.

There were a surprising number of swifts about this evening. Today felt relatively cool – it went down to six degrees last night – and with the strong westerly breeze and rain showers it was hardly migration weather. Perhaps these were northern Scottish swifts blown over from the west coast rather than Scandinavian birds that I might expect passing at this time of year. Every time I see a swift at this time of year I wonder if it might be my last. Certainly I won’t have another day of seeing tens of swifts until mid May next year (outside of central Africa at least). When they go the real summer (such as it is these recent years) has truly gone.


Posted August 31, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 26th   2 comments

There is another pool! Perhaps the best one yet just a couple of hundred meters away from the Troustie roadside pool. The new pool is along the track up to Lochton farm, just before Troustie. It’s another depression in a field of barley, but it looks well established and quite deep. This morning there was a green sandpiper, a greenshank and a few teal on it. I disturbed both birds and they flew off to the Troustie pool. They then flew back to the Lochton pool a bit later. This probably means that some of the apparent passage over the last two weeks was just the same birds shuttling around the pools. The ruff flock is a good example. It’s been easy to keep track off with a distinctive combination of 4 females and a male. This flock has been at every pool I know off including the puddle on the airfield road just outside of Crail.

A razorbill born this summer and still being fed by its parents – listen for the whistle

This weekend has been much quieter than last. The winds have been more westerly this week and the flow of migrants has dried up. Today the wind was more easterly but we will need a couple of days more to get things going. At Fife Ness this morning there were a few passage waders – a couple of knot and a sanderling but not much else apart from the constant passage of gannets, kittiwakes and the occasional sandwich tern. But it was a lovely fresh and sunny morning so I sat on the Ness and listened to the whiney whistle of the young razorbills calling so their parents can find them after each dive and they can be fed. A plaintive, quite pleasing whistle even though it is a bit demanding. You can hear them calling on most still evenings in August in Crail, even from the middle of town. It’s one of the most evocative late summer Crail sounds.

Ring-necked parakeet back in the churchyard this morning

Perhaps the biggest news of the day (or the week) is the return of the ring-necked parakeets to Crail churchyard. There was a noisy pair there first thing this morning, but they had moved on by the time I got there mid-morning. A male and female and in exactly the same place as they were last recorded 15 months ago… All very strange. It seems too much of a coincidence that these would be a new pair, but also too unlikely that our pair could have been hiding or somewhere else nearby undetected all this time. Jaquie Herrington, a local Fife birder managed to get a photo of one of the birds.


Posted August 26, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 24th   Leave a comment

I was sea watching this morning from my house before leaving for work when a roseate tern passed by. My first definite for Crail. They are not too hard to identify at this time of year with a good view, looking like a sandwich tern in structure but with a common tern shaped head i.e. not shaped like pterodactyl – honestly have a look at sandwich terns and that’s what the head looks like), and a very obvious dark black leading edge to the wing. I had been watching common, arctic and sandwich terns pass when the roseate came by, nicely contrasting. Roseate terns used to breed in the Forth under the road bridge but they have got rarer and rarer in recent years. They are a fairly rare bird over the whole of the UK now. It’s hard to tell why they have become scarcer here. About 25 years ago the RSPB discovered that many of the UK breeding roseate terns wintered off the coast of Ghana where they often fell prey to small boys. They helped to launch an education and awareness program and solved that problem (and kicked off wildlife clubs all over Ghana as well which are still going strong). Now it’s not so simple – peregrine, gull and mink predation are all implicated. The irony is that roseate terns are spectacularly common in places like the Indian Ocean and our population, in a global sense, is insignificant. But of course it’s that sense of place that matters, the sense of your own experience. I would fight hard to see roseate terns more commonly from Crail regardless of whether they are common elsewhere. In conservation though, you have to be realistic and so perhaps I wouldn’t fight as hard for roseates here as I might for something that has a global population that really depends on the environment around Crail. Puffins on the May Island for example, or especially, the gannets on Bass Rock. There were plenty of gannets this morning and two of them were the first fledged juveniles of the year. Fairly early birds. I hope very many more will be coming past in the next few weeks.

An early juvenile gannet – the first fledglings from bass rock passed by Crail this morning

Posted August 24, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 23rd   Leave a comment

Spotted flycatcher

It has been fairly quiet at the various pools and their surrounds for the last couple of days. The wind has gone round to the west so there will be fewer migrants. There was a spotted flycatcher at the entrance to Kilminning this evening, but this could be left over from the weekend.

There are a few willow warblers passing through the gardens of Crail at the moment. Most are young birds that look very yellow. They have a soft “who-wheat” call. Willow warblers are one of our commonest birds but few breed around Crail. We do get lots at this time of year as they start their migration from central and northern Scotland down to the rain forest edges of West Africa.

A willow warbler born this summer and passing through Crail on its way to Africa for the first time

Posted August 23, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 21st   2 comments

As I walked through Denburn this afternoon I flushed a teal. It’s the first time I’ve seen one there. It was in the little pool at the south end and reluctant to leave. Normally they are very shy but this one just moved a few meters. As I wrote last week, there have been a lot of teal passing Crail on migration and the tired ones look for small, quiet pools to rest up and feed in. Denburn is usually too busy for ducks, but this one must have been fairly desperate. So look out for the tiny and not too shy duck in Denburn – it’s a teal.

There was a single greenshank in the roadside pool at Toldrie this evening. I was expecting more waders because the very sharp, intense showers we had today will have brought any migrating birds down. At two points today we had nearly 2mm of rain in 10 minutes. Perhaps the showers downed the teal that is still in Denburn.

An elegant greenshank

Posted August 21, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 20th   Leave a comment

The usual pools were quiet this evening but there is a small temporary pool on the airfield road about 400m out of Crail that had 5 ruff on it last thing this evening. It is right by the road and so very susceptible to disturbance. I have checked every time I go up to Fife Ness or Kilminning over the last few days and this evening is the first time I have got lucky. John Anderson had beaten me to it though. His car was parked up right beside the pool and he had the birds literally right under his lens. I am surprised he could focus. I left him to it so I wouldn’t disturb the birds although a couple of walkers did anyway. The 5 ruff, 1 male and 4 females, are undoubtedly the group that have been a feature of every Crail pool at some time or the other over the last few days. It is easy to sex ruff. As you can see from the photo that John took this evening there is a huge size difference between the sexes. Males are much bigger than females, so much so they almost look like different species.

Ruff and reeve (the muchsmaller bird is a female ruff also called a ruff)

I continued on to Kilminning and the bushes at the sea end in another futile search for the barred warbler that was seen there again yesterday afternoon. There were tens of whitethroats though – all adults – so I suspect that they are migrants.

Another picture of one of the ruff on the airfield pool just outside of Crail this evening. Just because they and the photos are brilliant.

Posted August 20, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 19th   Leave a comment

This morning was warm and sunny without any wind. The sea at Fife Ness was flat calm and the tide was spectacularly low. The beacon out at sea was clearly on a little island of rocks rather than just poking up out of the sea, and the rocks were covered in seals. Their singing was a mournful background to the morning.

There was nothing unusual about, which perhaps was a relief after yesterday’s false alarm. There were some early winter waders: sanderling, bar-tailed godwit, knot, redshank and dunlin. With them a couple of species that only ever pass through: a common sandpiper and a black-tailed godwit. I have only seen a few black-tailed godwits in Crail even though they are common at the Eden estuary so this was the bird of the day.

Black-tailed godwit, still in summer plumage

The sea was full of birds as usual at this time of year. Far out were some arctic skuas harassing the kittiwakes and an occasional great skua passing closer inshore. There were three species of terns fishing for their juveniles in Balcomie Bay. Mostly common and sandwich terns with a few arctic terns, the shrill calls of their young competing with the wails of the seals.

Juvenile common tern

Posted August 19, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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