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

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