Archive for May 2013

May 31st   Leave a comment

There have been tantalising birds on the May Island all week – bluethroats and a woodchat shrike among them. There was also a little egret reported from Kilrenny Mill yesterday. So I have been going out hopefully the last few days. But it all seems fairly quiet in Denburn and out at Kilminning and Balcomie. The swallows and whitethroats are enjoying the warmer weather at last, but with no rarities to join them. The lapwings and their chicks are still showing well at Toldrie Pool, and still bizarrely a pair of shelducks. They can nest inland but it’s a long way to the shore or any bit of water that would suit their chicks, so I am not sure what they are doing there.

One of the parental lapwings and some of its chicks getting a bit of a brood up at Toldrie Pool

One of the parental lapwings and two of its chicks getting a bit of a brood up at Toldrie Pool


Posted May 31, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

May 28th   Leave a comment

I got a call from John while I was washing up this evening. There was a wood sandpiper up at Toldrie Pool. Sink happily abandoned, I was up at the pool in about 4 minutes. The wood sandpiper was uncharacteristically relaxed. John was parked up right next to the pool about 10 meters from the bird and I parked behind him with the sandpiper barely lifting its head. I watched it for 30 minutes with it coming so close that I could see the tiny flies it was picking from the surface of the water and the reflections in the drops on its bill. I have seen hundreds of wood sandpipers but none as close and as undisturbed as this bird. And of course it is only my second Crail wood sandpiper which makes it very special indeed. It will be on its way to Scandinavia or possibly even the Highlands where a few pairs breed every year.

Wood sandpier at Toldrie pool this evening

Wood sandpier at Toldrie pool this evening

There were some newly hatched lapwing chicks at the pool as well. The adult lapwings were a little bit wary of us watching the sandpiper and froze the chicks. They give a special call when there are predators and the chicks respond by freezing down into cover. But after ten minutes or so they relaxed and the chicks started feeding in the open on the muddy fringe of the pool. One adult lapwing then turned its attention to the wood sandpiper chasing it away from its chicks.

Lapwing chick - one of a brood of four also at Toldrie Pool tonight

Lapwing chick – one of a brood of four also at Toldrie Pool tonight

Posted May 28, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

May 26th   Leave a comment

On the birdsong walk at Cambo this morning the highlight was a starling . As well as its typical scratchy and drumming notes it was imitating a buzzard, jackdaws and a male mallard duck (they go “qweep” rather than “quack”). All three species were in the background as well as real echoes in the soundscape. Most of the other starlings weren’t singing. They were too busy looking after their newly fledged chicks. But there are always some late individuals, or renests after an earlier nest failure. Starlings usually only do one brood in a season, whereas thrushes and robins, for example, may do several regardless of initial successor failure. As the season goes on everything gets less and less synchronised.

A young Crail badger - John has had better luck than me seeing them alive this weekend

A young Crail badger – John has had better luck than me seeing them alive this weekend

Posted May 26, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

May 25th   Leave a comment

I was out at Cambo this morning doing a reccy for a bird song walk on Sunday. It’s a bit later in the year than usual, but with the late spring everything was still singing. There was a spotted flycatcher in the parkland. A decade ago this would be a breeding bird, but these days it will almost certainly be a migrant left over from last weekend and off to Scandinavia any day soon. Even so it might be worth seeing if it is still around in a week or so. The park in front of the house at Cambo is perfect habitat for them.

There was a dead badger on the road between Cambo and Crail, probably hit last night. Not a very nice sight – this one was as big as a Labrador. Just like the barn owl of a few weeks ago, it is good to know they are around, but I wish I was seeing them alive.

Balcomie Beach was nearly perfect this afternoon. Sheltered from the south-westerly wind the temperature was up to 18 degrees. The only small flaw was the huge piles of seaweed washed up on the high tide line after gales of a couple of days ago. There was a dunlin perched on one of the mounds. It had the black belly and reddish brown back of a bird ready to breed. Perhaps it was only one two-day flight away from the Arctic and the start of its breeding season. Other birds still on their way north were about 50 common scoters a hundred meters out from the surf. Further out still was a big flock of arctic terns. A single wheatear along the airfield road was the only obvious songbird migrant left over from last week.

A dunlin in breeding plumage

A dunlin in breeding plumage

Posted May 25, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

May 24th   Leave a comment

Crail is alive with the sound of angry starlings defending their chicks. They fledged a couple of days ago but are still hiding in thick bushes. They are very vulnerable and the crows and sparrowhawks are making the most of it. First thing this morning I watched a sparrowhawk taking a fledgling from my garden. It was surrounded by a cloud of noisy parents but there was little they could do. There are so many fledging at the same time that most will make it though. I saw my first fledgling flying with an adult this evening. It still looked a bit unsteady. It will be a proficient flyer in a couple more days and then the sparrowhawks will have to move onto another set of fledglings for an easy lunch.

There was a female red-backed shrike recorded from Kilminning this morning. I couldn’t find it at lunchtime but it was fairly windy and any shrike may well have been hunkering down and feeding less conspicuously in cover. The strong north-east wind was making the seabirds more conspicuous however. Lots of razorbills, guillemots and puffins were passing by Crail relatively close in to take advantage of the shelter of the land to make better headway as they headed out of the Forth to feed. The trick with identifying puffins in flight at a distance is that they look like a bit like bumble bees in shape and flash distinctively black and white as they wobble from side to side. They barely look like they can stay in the air and only seem to do so because they are hurtling along.

Puffin - a bird barely in flight at any time

Puffin – a bird barely in flight at any time

Posted May 24, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

May 19th   Leave a comment

An impressive but unidentified orchid at Kilminning - perhaps an realy marsh orchid?

An impressive Early Purple Orchid at Kilminning

There have been easterly winds coupled with heavy rain showers for the last couple of days. Great conditions at this time of year for migrants. The Isle of May had a couple of red-backed shrikes yesterday and there were other good birds all down the east coast. So expectations were high today despite the heavy haar for most of it. I went out to Kilminning in the morning. The entrance to Kilminning just between the golf course and the airfield is the best place to find a red-backed shrike when the conditions are right. If shrikes still bred commonly in the UK they would breed there. It was fairly quiet but I did see a merlin being mobbed by swallows – a very unusual bird for Crail in May and a great indicator that there were migrants around. Then I found a pied flycatcher down at the coastal end of Kilminning. Again a great indicator species. There was a beautiful orchid down there as well. Perhaps an early marsh orchid, but even my UK orchid guide has nothing vaguely like it. It’s an early flowering species at least. (NB: thanks to Catherine Erskine who later identified this for me as an Early Purple Orchid).

Despite having a good look round earlier, I must have just missed the hoped for shrike – one was found there at midday an hour or so after I left. I headed straight back and was rewarded with a fantastic male catching bees and perching nicely out in the open. The haar made everything a bit flat but the male was glowing despite. The shout then went up that there was a common rosefinch up at the cottages behind Balcomie. I raced over there. A scarlet rosefinch would be a Crail tick for me so I was very keen to see it. Sadly I was 5 minutes too late. Despite searching the area for the next hour and finding a second red-backed shrike (another brilliant male), the rosefinch had disappeared.

I was determined to see the rosefinch so I headed out from Crail again mid-afternoon. No sooner had I cycled out of Crail when I flushed what I initially thought was a corn bunting with shoulder stripes from the side of the airfield road. It was a wryneck – my first Crail bird for nearly ten years, and only my second. I see them in Africa every year and they are a thrill there, but to find one in my own patch is the best of all. Wrynecks are woodpeckers that have gone for camouflage stripes and a ground feeding habit. This one was grubbing about in the side of the footpath, probably digging out an ant nest, periodically flying into the rape field opposite when it was disturbed. I continued on to Balcomie with a happy heart. No rosefinch again but the male red-backed shrike was showing even better and the haar was less heavy.

I headed back to Crail via the Fife Ness coastal path. I was hoping for a bluethroat. There will have been some around today with all the other good migrants. But it’s a difficult, skulking species. The path is now lined with singing whitethroats and sedge warblers as it should have been much earlier in any normal year. The temptation in a late year is to panic and think the migrants aren’t coming back at all. They are safely back now. I saw an arctic skua passing along the coast in a break in the haar; they have been scarce this spring. I headed inland at Kilminning and back along the main road. The wryneck was still there on the footpath to finish off the great migrant day – two out of three very good migrant species, with a great supporting cast of minor characters.

I finished the day off watching the swifts over the centre of Crail. Most seem back now and there was even some screaming. The noise of the summer.

A male red-backed shrike from a few years ago but worth repeating - sadly John doesn't have a picture of a wryneck yet

A male red-backed shrike from a few years ago but worth repeating – sadly John doesn’t have a picture of a wryneck yet

Posted May 19, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

May 15th   Leave a comment

There was a passage of arctic terns past Crail this morning and a few manx shearwaters as well. The coast path up to Fife Ness had a few more whitethroats and sedge warblers singing along it this evening. And a couple of swifts today, including one over the high street. Little by little summer is coming, all we need are some temperatures above ten degrees.

A whimbrel - there are still lots about and I can't resist another brilliant picture of one of my favourite birds

A whimbrel – there are still lots about and I can’t resist another brilliant picture of one of my favourite birds

Posted May 15, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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