Archive for February 2013

February 24th   Leave a comment

Fulmars getting readyfor spring  on the cliffs at Castle Walk this week

Fulmars getting readyfor spring on the cliffs at Castle Walk this week

The gannets are back. I had hundreds today passing Fife Ness and Crail in small groups. Most a long way out, but some heading into the Forth. There were kittiwakes as well. I heard that the cliffs on the May Island have now started to fill up with kittiwakes, fulmars and razorbills. Our own mini seabird cliff at Castle Walk was busy too, with six or seven pairs of fulmars. So despite the return of the cold weather, spring is still on its way.

I went to visit my best snipe patch this morning. There is a pond and an adjacent very damp field corner just at the start of the old railway line by Ragfield. I flushed a record seven snipe. They sit very tight relying on their camouflage and only fly up when you are a few meters away. When one loses its nerve and goes up, often the rest do, so suddenly an apparently empty bit of pond is full of snipe as happened this morning.

I had four magpies flying over the high street yesterday, their dry rattle giving them away as the shuttled over. They are becoming more common around Crail. We are still not in Edinburgh’s league but I think we now have as many as three pairs in Crail with three pairs at Fife Ness and Kilmining and another at Wormiston.

A highlight today was a weasel running across my path behind the golf course at Kingsbarns. It was carrying something as big as itself. I couldn’t see what it was – it was white and fluffy and could have been a mouse or a small bird. They live at super speed and I barely had enough time to take in its distinctive tiny weasel/stoat shape and the lack of a black tail tip to its tail (that identified it best as a weasel – sometimes stoats seem tiny too) before it was gone into the grass.

This is a stoat but it could just as easily be a weasel without any size reference or sight of its tail.

This is a stoat but it could just as easily be a weasel without any size reference or sight of its tail.

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Posted February 24, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 19th   1 comment

There was a scaup up at Carnbee reservoir today. We only get occasional scaup flying past Crail along the coast so they are a good bird to see. They were much more common in the Forth when the sewage was simply piped out, eating the shellfish that favour fertilised waters. In some parts of Scotland they feed on the waste grain from distillery outflows so they probably have a taste for malt as well.

Female scaup - this one moulting out of winter plumage. The one at Carnbee today was much greyer on its back and flanks

Female scaup – this one moulting out of winter plumage. The one at Carnbee today was much greyer on its back and flanks

There was a stonechat also up by the reservoir. Even with the recent cold weather the winter hasn’t really been very cold overall and the stonechats will have survived well. They should continue their comeback after disappearing, more or less, from the East Neuk, after the very cold winter of a couple of years ago.

I passed the former pool at the crossroads just north of Crail. A new, fair sized pool just alongside the bit that was filled in at the end of last summer has now reformed thanks to the wet winter. The farmer will be frustrated but there were three ringed plovers happily feeding on it. These may well be early migrants. Bizarrely, there was an adult male peregrine perched on the pile of earth in the middle of the former pool only meters away from the plovers. Despite them being handy prey for the peregrine, neither species seemed bothered with the other. Fair enough for the peregrine to ignore the plovers, but the other way round? I watched the peregrine for a while and it didn’t do anything so perhaps it wasn’t hunting. But how did the plovers know?

Posted February 19, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 17th   Leave a comment

It has been a week of weather contrasts. From the snow of Wednesday to the perfect almost spring-like day today. The sea has been almost flat calm for the last couple of days as well. It has been easy to see the pairs of razorbills that are now gathering offshore in anticipation of starting breeding. There was a female long-tailed duck very close in to the shore below the cliffs at Roome Bay this afternoon. It was practically glowing in the sunshine. It was close enough in that I could see it scanning for prey before each dive, its head following things moving below the water. Long-tailed ducks eat absolutely everything – mussels, fish, crabs, insects, plants, eel-grass – and this female must have been eating small fish judging by how quickly she was tracking things underwater.

Female long-tailed duck

Female long-tailed duck

Posted February 17, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 15th   Leave a comment

LLLR in Cellardyke - one of my Crail redshanks showing divided loyalty

LLLR in Cellardyke – one of my Crail redshanks showing divided loyalty

I had a tip off that one of my colour-ringed redshanks had been seen in Ansrututher harbour on Wednesday. I went down to have a look today to see if I could find out which one it was. All my redshanks have 4 unique rings, two on each leg above their knees. They also all have two tall dark blue ones below the knee which are my scheme identifier. Even with a good view it’s tough to see all of the crucial four rings above the knee that I need to identify it as an individual. I finally tracked the bird down at Kilrenny Mill on the shore at Cellardyke. It was LLLR (lime above lime left leg, lime above red right leg) a bird I hadn’t seen in Crail since last November. Normally the adult redshanks in Crail stay put over the winter and I think this may be the case here, just that this bird has two winter homes. I caught the bird as an adult in a net across the harbour mouth on the 10th January 2012. I then didn’t see it again until July last year, and I then saw it regularly up until November, when it disappeared again. I think LLLR may spend half the winter in Crail and the second half in Cellardyke. I will have to see if it does the same next winter. This bird does complicate my estimates of survival a bit – when an adult redshank disappears from Crail mid-winter I usually assume it has died, but if some have sites outwith Crail that they might visit during the winter then they may just be somewhere else. As long as they come back to Crail though, I will see them so I just have to keep watching.

Posted February 16, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 14th   Leave a comment

Crail has been smelling a bit foxy for the last couple of weeks. Foxes have a very distinctive smell and several areas of Crail (Roome Bay, Pinkerton and Denburn) have had this very strong smell. But even though it seems to be everywhere I haven’t seen a fox in Crail for months. I finally saw one crossing the road just outside of Crail in the car headlights this evening. A fox can have a very large range – several square kilometres so it could be one very mobile individual. It’s always brilliant to see a fox: one of the few mammal species that thrives no matter what we do, getting on with it right under our noses, but usually invisibly.

Fox - one or more at large throughout Crail at the moment

Fox – one or more at large throughout Crail at the moment

Posted February 14, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 11th   Leave a comment

A sparrowhawk waiting for an opportunity in Roome Bay

A sparrowhawk waiting for an opportunity in Roome Bay

Another fantastic sea thanks to the strong easterlies and a high tide. Roome Bay was very short of beach and the redshanks were having a job roosting anywhere away from the waves. They were resorting to sitting at the base of the grassy bank above the beach. And as I watched them a female sparrowhawk shot past me just above the surf at the back of the beach. The redshanks had almost no visibility of it as they were tucked so far in to the bank. Luckily for them the oystercatchers were further out and flew off calling in alarm with the redshanks following immediately behind. The sparrowhawk passed through where they were roosting about a quarter of a second later. A very narrow escape. The sparrowhawk then flew on about 50m and perched on the rocks below the cliffs at the far end of Roome Bay. The redshanks meanwhile circled round and came almost straight back to the only bit of land available, the same spot where they had been trying to roost. A minute later the sparrowhawk was back with another rapid low attack and another near miss. The odds are really against the redshank on a very high tide when there is nowhere safe for them to go, and there is a professional sparrowhawk that knows this. I followed the sparrowhawk along the shore in the direction of the harbour. It was the same story there – no beach at all, but no redshanks. I don’t know where they had gone, but sensibly it was away from the harbour where there was definitely nowhere safe to roost.

The strong winds brought my first gannets of the year. A few were passing by Crail, moving out of the Forth where they will have been pushed. There is nothing better to see on a wild seascape than a big seabird like a gannet – albatrosses are perhaps the best, but gannets are not a bad second.

A gnnet and a big sea - perfect

A gannet and a big sea – perfect

Posted February 11, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 10th   Leave a comment

The walk down from Boarhills along the Kenly Water to the sea is guaranteed to turn up dippers. This morning there were 3-4 birds, with three having a small dispute involving chasing and calling suggesting that there are two territories now between the village and the sea. Last year I think there was only one. Working out dipper territories and densities is relatively easy. You just walk along the stream until any dipper flying away in front of you suddenly reverses direction, flying back past you, indicating the border has been reached. You are then in another territory if you see another dipper flying away from you again as you keep on walking. As well as fast flowing streams like the Kenly Water, dippers also need rocky overhangs so they can place their nests above the flowing water. This is one of the reasons they often nest under bridges. I spotted quite a few good natural nests sites along the burn this morning where slabs protruded from the steep, cliffy sides. Dippers are early nesters and will be starting to build in three or four weeks.

Dipper

Dipper

There was the usual flock of wigeon down at the mouth of the burn. The Brandyburn, the Cambo burn and the Kenly Water all have their flock of wigeon at the mouth. The wigeon feed mostly on the shore but obviously like their peck of fresh water. There were a pair of mute swans in the pond just north of the burn mouth. I think this must be the nearest potential nest site to Crail.

Mute swan - probably a pair resident and potentially breeding at Boarhills

Mute swan – probably a pair resident and potentially breeding at Boarhills

Posted February 10, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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