Week ending February 3rd   Leave a comment

The eiders are very busy down at the harbour making the best duck noises on the planet, although the male’s call doesn’t sound very ducky. The males make a soft, human like “whoar-whoar” call while the females respond by saying “no-no-no-no-no” in a much more, matter of fact duck like way. The males throw their heads back to show themselves off as they call – most duck species make this courtship gesture. The sex ratio down at the harbour is about 50:50, but still the competition seems intense with males occasionally having a scrap. The females are looking out for the best plumaged and most vigorously displaying males. This will indicate whether they are good foragers and in good health, which will in turn indicate whether they have good genes for their ducklings. This will be all the males will contribute. Whether the males might be good providers or not is irrelevant. The females do everything themselves after mating and the drakes leave them totally alone when incubation starts.

A handsome eider male hoping to impress

A handsome eider male hoping to impress

The males may perhaps refind their females again in the winter, and eiders can live for 15 years if they are lucky. I suspect our Crail eiders are the same birds every year, so females are likely to be back next door to their males in the harbour or Roome Bay after their breeding period on the Isle of May. Aberdeenshire breeding eiders, however, winter in the Firth of Tay, so this might not necessarily be so. More ringing and marking of eiders is needed to be sure whether our wintering birds stay local all year round. But I’m not sure how you would go about catching them. There is a story from Iceland that if you lie on your back and waggle your feet in the air in a breeding colony then the females will come close and investigate and you can catch them then. I’m not sure I believe that because the eiders on the Isle of May are so tame on their nests that it would simply be easier to just put a large butterfly net over them, or even just pick them up directly from the nest. I have done this with ptarmigan on the Cairngorms (with the proper licence I should add). They will stay sitting even as you tilt them gently up from their nest so you can count their eggs underneath, and after gently lowering them down again. Maybe picking an eider off the nest is too easy and the Icelanders are giving themselves a challenge.

There are at least 5 purple sandpiper now on the large rocky outcrop just out from the play park in Roome Bay. You really do need to look hard to see them creeping around at the water’s edge but they are there fairly reliably most mid-tides (low tide too I suspect but then they really do disappear into the maze of revealed rocks). They are quite tame so if you go out onto the rocks (easier at Fife Ness) you can get quite close if you put the time in as John’s photos show.

Purple sandpipers are easy (or as easy as they ever are) to see in Roome Bay just now

Purple sandpipers are easy (or as easy as they ever are) to see in Roome Bay just now

I was down on Kingsbarn’s Beach again on Sunday morning. There are still plenty of long-tailed ducks out on the sea and a flock of wigeon down at the burn mouth at Cambo. The rooks are getting ready to start breeding in the rookery there. They have been cawing and scrapping over nests since the New Year but it is getting more earnest. They lay eggs in the middle of March which is still a long way off, yet many birds seem to be spending hours at the nests every day. I also saw a flock of goldcrests and a treecreeper on one of the rookery trees. Goldcrests are often elusive in the Crail area outside the autumn migration period and they get hammered by the very cold weather because they are so tiny. So these were my first for the year for Crail.

Rook - a noisy, colonial early breeder

Rook – a noisy, colonial early breeder

Posted February 3, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

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