March 29th   2 comments

An ex-sea parrot  - one of the 51 puffins  I found today on the beach at Balcomie

An ex-sea parrot – one of the 51 puffins I found today on the beach at Balcomie

The scale of the seabird “wreck” brought on by last week’s storms is becoming clearer. I walked from the far end of Balcomie Beach to Fife Ness and counted 51 dead puffins. That’s more or less just 1 kilometre of strandline I checked. So it is likely that thousands are along the shore from Kingsbarns to Crail. I heard that at least a hundred are to be found on Kingsbarns Beach as well. Some of the puffins were still in the process of being washed in by the tide, some were very fresh and others had been dead several days. My impression was that many had died well out to sea and they were still washing in. We think puffins do suffer mass mortalities in severe storms but this usually happens very far out in the North Sea so we don’t see the aftermath. I suspect we are seeing so many just now because the puffins were starting to come closer to the shore for the breeding season on the May Island when they were caught out by this set of storms. It’s hard to know what’s normal or not, but certainly large wrecks of puffin have happened many times before. This might be larger than usually recorded, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worrying: we might just be in a better position to count the dead birds. Interestingly, I counted just 2 razorbills and 1 guillemot amongst the puffins. They start to breed a bit earlier so perhaps they sheltered in the lee of the May Island. There were 6 shags on the beach as well, one with a ring from the May. I found one little auk, although it had been eaten by a raptor. Only the wings were left and there were notches in its keel. A sparrowhawk or a merlin had probably found it weak and floundering on the beach and caught it easily.

I also found a couple of lapwings washed up just like the puffins. As I wrote yesterday there are a load of lapwings about Crail that were probably grounded by the storm. Today I counted another 200 or so between Crail and Fife Ness. So I think my theory is correct about them being migrants driven here by the easterlies, with many others not making it and ending up in the sea. There are many more blackbirds and song thrushes in the pasture fields around the airfield as well suggesting that these are grounded migrants as well.

Balcomie Beach is also full of washed up bones from cuttlefish. They are usually a bit of a find, but not today. Shame I don’t have a budgie. There is no sign of any fresh cuttlefish so I don’t think these died in the storms, so perhaps the waves disturbed the seabed where they were lying. Certainly the beach is also full of mangled creels showing that it must have been very violent underwater as well.

Cuttlefish bone - also lots washed up on the beach at Balcomie today

Cuttlefish bone – also lots washed up on the beach at Balcomie today

Posted March 29, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

2 responses to “March 29th

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  1. The west sands had many dead birds along the strand line too. Interestingly, only a few puffins, but lots of guillemots and the odd razor bill, shag or gull. Opposite to around Crail.

  2. Thanks, perhaps that indicates that the puffins are at least a bit local – Forth birds gathering perhaps a few miles out from the May Island?

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