Archive for October 2012

October 30th   1 comment

The common sandpiper has moved to the rocks around the boating pond at Roome Bay. It was there at dusk today. Some of the usual harbour beach redshanks had moved there as well at high tide. Even though it is only a few hundred meters away, they tend to stick to the harbour. I don’t think the common sandpiper is hanging out with the redshanks, instead I think they share the same limited options at high tides. There is not much beach and today every bit left of it had a person or a dog on it pushing the birds out into odd places.

There was a small flock of long-tailed tits working their way along the trees of Nethergate as it got dark. The days are getting short and cold now and small birds like tits need to feed all day to meet their energy budgets. Seeing the tits reminded me to start putting out bird food in the garden again. It is nice to have some long-tailed tits back in Crail. Hopefully they will now be here for the winter and visiting our feeders.

Long-tailed tit – a flock is around Nethergate


Posted October 30, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 29th   Leave a comment

I was out at lunchtime looking for my colour-ringed redshanks between Roome bay and Harbour Beach. I expect to have all of them back by the end of October. Of the 31 that were alive at least in January this year, 25 are now back. I might pick up one or two more that I haven’t seen yet – there was a newly returned one today – but this should be about it. So that’s an 81% survival rate in the last 10 months which is about what I might expect (about 75% over the year). This is an average of course, the young birds have a lower chance of surviving their first year and some of my adults are at least 7 years old. The longevity record for redshanks is 26 years so its early days for some of my birds. Down at the harbour about three quarters of the redshanks are colour-ringed. There are a few adults I still need to catch and of course this year’s young – about five birds. They tend to take risks and feed on their own up on the beach so are a bit easier to catch than the adults. But I’ll wait until the holiday week is over and the beaches are a bit less disturbed before I put my traps out.

Redshank RYBG – Red Yellow Blue Green. Alive and well today over 5 years since I first ringed it in the harbour in October 2007. It is at least in its 7th year.

As I was trying to read a distant colour-ring combination of a redshank feeding on the rocks on the opposite side of the harbour, not helped by the surf crashing around the bird, I noticed a common sandpiper. These should all be in Africa by now so it’s a bit like seeing a swallow at this time of year. Common sandpipers are a July and August bird for us and it was strange to see it on such a cold day picking amongst the rocks with the redshank.

Common sandpiper – usually a late summer visitor to Crail

Posted October 29, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 27th   Leave a comment

Despite my predictions and the cold clear nights we have had at the end of the week the olivaceous warbler was still showing well at Kilminning this morning. Not so many birders to see it today: it has been a relative long stayer and everyone who might have wanted to see it has probably already done so. Our last long stayer of a similar rarity and provenance was the masked shrike at Kilrenny in October 2004. It stayed until the first hard frosts and probably succumbed to them. Last winter there were a couple of vagrant warblers that did not migrate any further than the UK and survived the winter, but I don’t fancy the olivaceous warbler’s chances if it stays at Kilminning. Be nice to be proved wrong again though.

I had a brambling and then a flock of 30 waxwing flying over as I walked through Kilminning. Both are good birds to see and late autumn is always the best chance of birds going over: there are a lot of waxwings being reported in the Lothians today. The next week in Crail will be a good time to check gardens for both species. Bramblings are very like orange and black chaffinches and have white rumps. Waxwings are always obvious and when they fly over look for a starling like silhouette and listen for their very distinctive trilling bell like call. We should also expect our annual influx of woodcocks any day soon the wind goes strongly north-east.

Waxwings over Kilminning this morning and there will be others in or over Crail in the coming week

Posted October 27, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 24th   Leave a comment

A big contrast today compared to yesterday. Dreich was coined for yesterday – cold, miserable, dull, foggy and dizzly. A dementor sort of day. Today was the exact opposite. Bonny would be about right. It felt like the last of the summer sunshine, and although cool there was real warmth out in the sun. I went down to Kilminning at lunchtime to enjoy it and to try and see the rarities that are still hanging on there. Tonight it will be clear and with light winds so I expect them to leave and continue their migration. Colder weather is on the way too. The red-breasted flycatcher was easy to see today. It was coming out of the sycamores to feed in the sunshine. There are also many fewer leaves than when we had the other red-breasted flycatcher, in exactly the same spot a few weeks ago, so it was much easier to keep track of it. There was no sign of the single swallow there on Monday but there was at least one chiff-chaff as a final remaining summer migrant.

The red-breasted flycatcher at Kilminning today

I walked down to the other end of Kilminning to have another look at the eastern olivaeous warbler. It was still in the rose bushes by the shore with a dedicated band of photographers next door staking it out. Every so often it would feed in top of the bushes prompting a flurry of clicking. It has been fairly obliging and some really nice photos have been taken, not least John Anderson’s. But I predict it will be gone tomorrow after its two week stay. It should be in east Africa, heading towards Tanzania perhaps. As I left there on Sunday the local birders were expecting things like olivaceous warblers to arrive this week. But not our bird, it might be a little late I think.

The olivaceous warbler still at Kilminning today. Playing peek-a-boo with the photographers

There are blackbirds everywhere. Like the robin invasion of a few weeks ago, now it is blackbirds in every bush and garden. Many will stay with us for the winter, others are like the olivaceous warbler, just refuelling before going further south. They kept on exploding out of the sycamores as I walked back up to the entrance of Kilminning. As I walked I heard a skylark trying to sing above me in a very hurried and disjointed fashion. I looked up and saw a merlin chasing it, the skylark trying to fly rapidly straight upwards as it half sang with the merlin only a few meters behind. Skylarks bizarrely often sing when they are chased by merlins. It seems a crazy thing to do – why further exhaust yourself when being chased by a predator? The reason is what we call “pursuit-deterrence”. The skylark, by singing while escaping, demonstrates that it is a very fit individual, able to outpace and outmanoeuvre the merlin. Merlins are famous for very long pursuit chases. I once watched a chase that lasted over 11 minutes. So it is well worth a skylark communicating to the merlin that it is wasting its time so the skylark can avoid such a punishing chase, and well worth the merlin listening for the same reason. But this skylark was not singing very well so the merlin didn’t give up. I lost them both after two minutes: the skylark climbed for a minute and then dived down with the merlin stooping at it 13 times on the way down before they both disappeared into a clump of pines. Skylarks as last resort seek cover and try to hide. I don’t know the outcome of the hunt – I suspect the merlin was successful but there was no sign of either when I got to the pines a few minutes later.

A merlin at Fife Ness earlier this autumn. There are always one or two around the airfield during the winter hunting skylarks and pipits

Posted October 24, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 22nd   Leave a comment

I’ve been away from Crail for two weeks in Tanzania. Despite lots of things to see there (369 species in the seven days I was birding there) it has been very busy back here. Storms and strong easterly winds ten days ago brought in hundreds of ring ouzels along the coast and a very rare eastern olivaceous warbler to Kilminning. As tens of birders turned up each day to see the rarity, a couple of raddes warblers and a red-breasted flycatcher were found at Kilminning too. And they have stayed there since. I couldn’t believe my luck this morning to be able to catch up with the olivaceous warbler. The first for mainland Scotland and unlikely to make it back on to my Crail list in my lifetime. It was great to see it feeding amongst the dog roses down near the shore after the false alarm earlier this autumn. A very distinctive greyish bird with a long bill and often chacking as it dipped its tail.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler – at Kilminning for the last ten days and showing well this morning just after my return to Crail. Phew!

Posted October 22, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 7th   Leave a comment

Shaggy incap mushroom battling up out of the car park in Marketgate

It has been a while since we had a day of perfect East Neuk weather – sunny from sunrise to sunset and with very little wind. But the season is definitely turning. There was a frost last night and it was down to below 5 degrees. So far it has been a very cool autumn. The rainy season may be over at last though.

I found some shaggy inkcaps sprouting up along the path on Marketgate to add to the autumn feel. Crail is not great for fungi but it has its occasional surprises. Although shaggy inkcaps are very common fungi, their appearance in the apparently barren car park of Marketgate seems a minor miracle of the natural world triumphing against the tarmac.

I didn’t see a swallow today until lunchtime. There was a flock, with some house martins, over Denburn Wood enjoying the sunshine. Their days here are numbered, particularly if the cool weather and particularly the frosts continue.

Posted October 7, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 6th   Leave a comment

The pink-footed geese have been coming over in good numbers for the last couple of days. They will be deserting the Loch of Strathbeg further north and returning to Fife and the Lothians for the winter. There were a 1000 pink-feet at St Monans a few days ago so we can look forward to some spectacular flocks around Anstruther again this winter.

Crail has got its grey wagtails back. They have bred in Crail most summers but certainly not this summer and probably not the last. But we have some migrants now in for the winter and the burns and beaches have got back their lovely high pitched pipping call and yellow flash as they flush from close by. Although they are called grey wagtails, they are mostly bright yellow, especially the adult males. It’s confusing – yellow wagtails – the third British wagtail species – are much duller yellow than grey wagtails. A yellow wagtail would be a very good bird for Crail. They are another of our migrants to Africa that have rapidly declining populations. They were 4 times as common when I was a boy, although never so many in Scotland. I will be in Tanzania next week attending a conference where we will be discussing what we know about our birds in Africa (or Africa’s birds that summer here depending on your viewpoint). I hope to see some yellow wagtails there as well as just talking about them.

Grey wagtail – looks yellow rather than grey as it flies away

Over the last couple of days there have been some large flocks of gulls – just the usual Crail species, black-headed, common and herring mostly – feeding quite close inshore with lots of guillemots. I think there must be shoals of fish attracting them. The guillemots were diving constantly. They can get down to 30 meters and chase the fish underwater like penguins. The gulls have to pick up whatever they can at the surface. The fish must be small, something like sandeels, because the gannets and shags that prefer a good sized fish were not attracted to join the gulls at all.

A guillemt diving to chase fish – they “fly” underwater like penguins

Posted October 6, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 30th   Leave a comment

First thing this morning I spotted a spotted flycatcher in my garden. I have been hoping for one in the garden for years and the winds last week brought in a few to Crail so I was even a bit hopeful. I got lucky at last this morning. One of my favourite birds, just sitting on the telephone wire right outside my son’s window as I had a quick look at the sea through my telescope. The same wire has been occupied by swallows for the last few days. Two migrant species on their way back to Africa. I am beginning to think about my last sightings of them for the winter – at least from Crail. I am lucky enough to be going to Tanzania next week and Nigeria in November so I will be heading south with them as well.

Spotted flycatcher – once a common garden bird, but now a rarity

Fife Ness was relatively quiet. A few bar-tailed godwits on the beach at Balcomie and still a lot of guillemots close in. I saw my first barnacle geese of the winter. A characteristic straggling flock low over the sea, passing the Ness and continuing on towards the Lothians.

Barnacle geese migrating past Fife Ness

Posted October 2, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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