Archive for December 2012

December 29th   Leave a comment

The tides are high and the winds from the south again so we have had some more big waves down along the shore. Not as severe as a couple of weeks ago. But Roome Bay was all water this afternoon, with hundreds of gulls feeding in the boiling surf as the sandhoppers and seaweed flies were washed out of their usual shelter on the upper shore. The gulls were mostly herring, black-headed and common but with about 20 great black-backed gulls today, which must be about the entire Crail population.

Black-headed gull

Black-headed gull

This winter is turning into a good one for purple sandpipers. There is a big roost down at Fife Ness and I counted about 30 roosting on the rocks directly in front of the car park at Kingsbarns earlier in the week. They are easiest to see at high tide as the darkest small waders amongst all the roosting birds.

Purple sandpipers at the roost at Fife Ness - getting pushed about by the big waves

Purple sandpipers at the roost at Fife Ness – getting pushed about by the big waves

There is a flock of about 150 pink-footed geese in the stubble field between Troustrie House and Thirdpart. Otherwise the fields are fairly quiet unless you get lucky and encounter one of the now widely dispersed flocks of birds, or the small groups of roe deer in the stubbles around Crail just now. I had a flock of fieldfare just north of Crail a few days ago, but otherwise I think there is little moving.

Posted December 29, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 25th   Leave a comment

Black guillemot in Crail Harbour this morning - actualy very close, but taken on my phone

Black guillemot in Crail Harbour this morning – actualy very close, but taken on my phone

There was a nice Christmas present down at the harbour this morning. A beautiful winter plumaged black guillemot. Only my third for Crail, although the second this year. Although they are very common on the West Coast, especially around small harbours like Crail, they don’t much like the East Coast. I think Crail Harbour would be a perfect residence so I hope this all part of a trend. We had West Coast rainfall this summer, and midges are becoming more common, so who knows, perhaps this is an upside of climate change.

Proper photo of a black guillemot by John - much as this morning's bird

Proper photo of a black guillemot by John – much as this morning’s bird

Posted December 25, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 19th   Leave a comment

More contrast, but back to the dreich. There has been a strong south-easterly gale blowing up all day. There were a few gannets blown by which is unusual for December, a few kittiwakes too but not the seabirds we would hope for if we had these winds in late summer or autumn.

I went to Kilrenny after lunch although it was already getting darker. There is a lot of management going on in the wood. A lot of trees being thinned out – mostly sycamores and non-native conifers and a lot of trees being planted (presumably native species). It was very quiet with all the birds apparently in one big mixed flock at the far end. The chaffinches looked like they were already going to roost fed up with the grey day. The mood was emphasised as I walked back along the west edge of the wood. There used to be a wide field margin to walk on but it has now been ploughed and planted right up to centimeters from the wood. Everywhere the little precious margins to the fields that provide what little habitat there is are being eaten up.

Female chaffinch - not taken today - far too grey and murky for photos

Female chaffinch – not taken today – far too grey and murky for photos

Posted December 19, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 18th   Leave a comment

Contrasts. Yesterday it felt like the sun hadn’t risen at all and today it was beautiful and bright. Roome Bay was full of ducks: eider, mallard, wigeon, goldeneye, red-breasted merganser, common scoter and even a flock of velvet scoter flying by. There were a couple of red-throated divers further out too.

Velvet scoters passing Crail

Velvet scoters passing Crail

Posted December 19, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 16th   Leave a comment

There are very few bits of open fresh water near Crail. The largest is the reservoir up by Kellie Law, just northwest of Carnbee. I suppose it is called Carnbee loch but it doesn’t have a name on the OS map. It felt like a proper loch today with about 100 teal there, a cormorant, a goldeneye, tens of mallards and wigeon, a few tufted duck and moorhen. It’s my only regular site for tufted duck, otherwise I might only see one every few years passing by Crail along the coast. Tufted duck are common in any bits of deepish fresh water. They are divers rather than dabblers (think of eiders versus mallards). There are plenty more, along with grebes and pochards that also like to dive, as you go further east to Kilconquhar Loch, which also has reeds and woods around the edge too making it the best place to go in the area for freshwater birds. I wish Kilconquhar Loch was closer to Crail although I think Carnbee has potential. It’s a bit out of the way though and I don’t think many people check it regularly.

There were also a couple of stonechat up at the loch, which makes the third pair I now know about in the Crail area. I’m glad they are coming back and as long as we don’t have another very cold winter they should continue to become more common. It has been cold the last couple of weeks. Today is the first day that the temperature has come up above 5 degrees – up to 8 today – and it makes a huge difference. Everything is a bit less frantic. I should think the stonechats are relieved.

We don’t have the large numbers of pink-footed geese that we have had in previous winters. This time last year there were thousands around Anstruther. Today I only had the occasional flock of 50 or so between Crail and St Monans. There is still plenty of time this winter, of course, for them to come back.

As I came out of Crail on the St Andrews road this morning I saw a female merlin perched on one of the remaining trees. It had that stillness and fixed stare of a hunting bird. Sure enough it started bobbing its head and then launched itself into a very rapid attacking dash two fields away. I couldn’t see what it was attacking until a flock of about 60 linnets flew up from the middle of the newly ploughed field. Falcon eyesight is notoriously good but this seemed impressive even so. Many of the apparently empty fields have birds in them that are invisible to me. Unless they fly I will not notice them. A bird of prey probably actually has similar limitations, but perched high in a tree, any movement at all is noticed and the raptor can then just keep an eye on the general area until the best time to attack. It probably doesn’t see or select its victim until it gets much closer, and may not even do so if the flock gets up into the air well in advance. I don’t know if the merlin was successful because I lost it before it got to the linnets. I suspect it missed because I didn’t see a chase and it just kept on going to the next opportunity.



I had another waxwing in the garden first thing this morning. There is a berry bush in the garden next door which had attracted it. It is turning into a very good winter for waxwings in Crail – three sightings in my garden in the last two weeks for example.

The sea was fantastically rough with the storm of Friday and the remaining swell on Saturday. This was coincident with very high tides so that a lot of debris was washed up. At Cellardyke by the caravan park and the pig farm this morning it looked a bit like a battlefield. Huge rocks and bits of concrete washed up tens of meters above the normal high tide line. And lots of lobster creels. There were about 30 redshanks feeding on the wet mud of the pig farm field enjoying the new temporary mudflat.

Posted December 16, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 13th   Leave a comment

I glanced out of the window mid-morning today to look at the birds coming to my feeders and was rewarded with a flock of 16 waxwings in the tree behind. They were trilling away with their crests up. All very alert as if they had just flown in from the North Sea. After a couple of minutes they were off over the High Street. They are probably in a fruit tree somewhere in Crail just now – check your gardens. More have been coming into Fife all week so even if you miss this flock there will be more.

A waxwing - some in Crail today

A waxwing – some in Crail today

Posted December 13, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 9th   Leave a comment

I have spent the weekend down in Truro, Cornwall visiting my parents. It’s almost a different world from Crail down here. It feels like I have moved forward to spring. Everything is much leafier and I saw my fist daffodil out today. But the most noticeable thing is the birdsong. Here there are robins singing everywhere all day whereas the birds in Crail are in survival mode only. It’s been a few degrees most of this week in Crail, and below about 5 degrees small birds just concentrate on staying alive. The nights are so long now that over two-thirds of any day are unavailable for feeding and of course it’s been very cold overnight. At least four nights this week there has been a good frost with temperatures just below freezing. So the birds are short of feeding time and their energy demands are at their highest level. On a really frosty day a small bird can try to feed all day and still lose weight over the 24 hour period. This is the reason that small birds get fat in winter. A run of really cold days can be endured with some stored energy reserves to tide an individual over. Or of course if there are easy supplies of food from bird tables and feeders.

Some bird species, of course, are not so cold adapted so are absent from the North. Here in Cornwall, for example, there are blackcaps and nuthatches everywhere. Both of these are becoming more common in Scotland as the climate gets warmer. We get blackcaps in Crail during the summer but only a very few in winter. And we have never had a nuthatch, although I expect one soon. They are already in the Lothians so it is only a matter of time if the climate continues to warm as predicted. Another southerly species that I have seen colonising England in my lifetime (and I saw today in Cornwall as a common bird) is the little egret. This is still a rarity in Scotland and the one or two that turn up at the Eden estuary every year are birding events. A decade ago they would have been big news and a decade before that mega news. I think that little egrets are a species that should turn up in Crail any time soon. I won’t be the one to see them. Like hoopoes they are easy to notice and identify, so it is likely to be someone else that spots one passing through instead of me: if everyone in Crail on their walk was on the look out for rarities we would be the best birding hot-spot in the country. With really obvious unusual species though, there are many eyes out there all the time. A kingfisher is the same kind of thing. Everyone knows what a kingfisher looks like and that we don’t have them normally in Crail. These are spreading north too as the climate warms (any bird that eats fish is not a fan of frozen conditions) and so when one turns up in Crail someone is bound to notice straight away. When it does, or a little egret, or a nuthatch, please let me know. They might be familiar to me from other places, but seeing one in Crail would be really special.

Little egret - sadly not seen in Crail yet but surely any time soon

Little egret – sadly not seen in Crail yet but surely any time soon

Posted December 9, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 6th   Leave a comment

I went down to Roome Bay at lunchtime in between the rain showers.  There were a pair of wigeon down at the mouth of the Brandyburn so they are back for the winter. There are also more goldeneyes in Roome Bay with at least four handsome males now.

Male goldeneye - several now in Roome Bay

Male goldeneye – several now in Roome Bay

The cold weather has brought in a few redwings. I heard several around Beech Walk Park. They give a very distinctive high pitched “tzeep” call. It’s a good one to get your ear in for because redwings migrate at night and call while doing so. It’s a very evocative winter sound on a cold starlit night.



Posted December 8, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 2nd   Leave a comment

It has been a beautiful day, very sunny but very cold, with ice and frozen ground pretty much all day. Just before sunrise I was out in the back garden and I heard a waxwing. Their trilling call is a giveaway. It was over my garden in a flash, another trill and a whirr of wings high overhead and it was gone. There are a lot of waxwings about at the moment on a country scale but it takes a bit of luck to connect with them. When they find a good berry tree they will stay for a few days, but then they move tens of miles to find another one. One solitary waxwing is unusual and I bet it was looking more for other waxwings than berries.

I walked around Balcomie and Fife Ness this afternoon. There were a lot of sanderling on the beach at least initially. Most were leaving to roost on the rocks at Fife Ness as the tide moved up but a single bird stayed on the beach. It must have been hungry, staying put even as we approached to within 15 meters. Or perhaps it was one of John Anderson’s regulars. John gets even closer when he is photographing them and one or two must get used to it. A frosty, sunny day is the best way to see the subtleties of a beautifully black and white sanderling.

Sanderling in the late afternoon winter sun at Balcomie

Sanderling in the late afternoon winter sun at Balcomie

There were a couple of long-tailed ducks, four goldeneye and a red-breasted merganser all diving close in to the shore. A few red-throated divers were passing, heading south, but otherwise the sea is fairly quiet as is typical at this time of year. Everything is far out or further south. But it is purple sandpiper time of year for us and there were plenty at Fife Ness today. They were flying to roost at the high tide too, when they stand out amongst the pale sanderlings, dunlins and ringed plovers (that are the same size) as much darker. When they land though they disappear amongst the rocks. Often I only see one or two purps on some rocks, and it’s only if they fly that I realise that were actually 20 or so there. They have some sort of active camouflage I’m sure.

Close up of a purple sandpiper

Close up of a purple sandpiper

Posted December 2, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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