Archive for July 2013

July 14th   Leave a comment

The warm weather came back for us today with a high of 23 degrees. And although yesterday was fairly dreich I think this was probably better than the 32 degrees of further south.

A signature noise of Crail at the moment is the high pitched, whining whistle of young gulls on the flat roofs and chimney stacks. Even as the gulls fledge the chicks keep following their parent – sometimes for months – making their very insistent and penetrating calls constantly. Whatever you think about herring gulls you have to admire the parents’ continued devoted attention to their offspring despite this ceaseless onslaught. The parents are very jumpy at the moment, so perhaps the calls do put them on edge. Whenever I head out into my back garden a herring gull or two will start making a warning “gow-gow-gow” call even though I am meters below their chick on my rooftop.

The eider chicks are growing steadily. Most are now of a size that makes them safe enough from the great black-backed gulls. There are still ten or so chicks at Roome Bay and the same at the harbour. The males have almost completely disappeared. They moult in July and August, but clearly not in Crail.

An eider with well grown chicks - big enough now that they will probably make it to adulthood

An eider with well grown chicks – big enough now that they will probably make it to adulthood

I am away to Tanzania for a month tomorrow. My apologies but Wild Crail will be on hold until about the 18th August when I return. I’m bound to miss a few things while I’m away but hopefully the 600 odd bird species I hope to see there (and a few mammals of course) will make up :-). Please do have a look at the archives for this time last year and the year before to get a rough idea of what should be about during the month I am away.

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Posted July 14, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

July 11th   Leave a comment

There are a lot of butterflies about. At West Braes (and pretty much everywhere around Crail with a bit of meadow) there are ringlets over every patch of long grass. Smallish, dark chocolaty brown and with a neat cream border around the wing. The other common butterflies there at the moment are meadow browns. These are larger, less uniform and orangey brown. Ringlets do well after wet summers so perhaps that is why we have so many about this year, and by the way this summer is shaping up, why we might not have so many next year.

Male ringlet butterfly at West Braes today

Male ringlet butterfly at West Braes today

Thoughts of why we have so many ringlets this year prompted me to look at my weather station records. Last year seemed like a wet summer and indeed looking at the records we had nearly 100mm of rain here last year in June, with significant rainfall (more than 2mm) on half of the days in June. This June we had only 32mm which is pretty typical for Crail and actually very dry. If you extrapolate that up to a year’s worth, that’s equivalent to parts of Africa adjacent to the Sahara that we consider pretty arid. Temperature wise, June last year had an average temperature of just 11 degrees, two degrees cooler than this June. So mid-summer last year was a cool washout, but this year is much more typical. The sunny dry days we are having are what we should expect living in Crail.

I also saw another of my returning redshanks out at West Braes this afternoon. A group of 7 were roosting on a rock offshore at high tide away from the very disturbed beaches today. Most were on one leg which is very frustrating when you need to see both to get the full combination and so their individual identification. Some were sitting down on the rocks with their legs completely tucked underneath them which is even worse. It took a lot of patient watching and waiting before one or another shuffled a bit and changed position or the leg they were standing on and I could see all their rings. The new bird today is a harbour regular back for its 5th winter and was one of the first birds back last year, also in mid-July.

The black-headed gulls are now coming back as well after their breeding season inland. Most still have their summer brown (not really black at all) heads, but they will lose them soon. Like the redshanks, they are all adults, and the first juveniles will follow shortly.

Black-headed gull - back on the coast again after breeding on a freshwater loch inland

Black-headed gull – back on the coast again after breeding on a freshwater loch inland

Posted July 11, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

July 7th   Leave a comment

A sea watch this evening at nine as the fog ate the May was perfect. Just ten minutes and as many manx shearwaters past, a group of bottle-nosed dolphins chasing fish below, and a steady stream of puffins and guillemots all close in. And finally a bonxie past – the first of the year.

Bonxie (great skua) - the pirate king

Bonxie (great skua) – the pirate king

Posted July 7, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

July 6th   Leave a comment

A spotted flycatcher - probably breeding in Cambo this year

A spotted flycatcher – probably breeding in Cambo this year

I spent most of the day guiding bird song walks at Cambo for the East Neuk Festival. A good idea in principle, and a lovely day. But July is not the time to go looking for woodland birds and definitely not on a hot, sunny day at midday. Thank goodness for the wrens that were still singing and the woodpigeons that are always singing. Everything else was well out of sight up in the canopy concentrating on feeding chicks or hiding and certainly not singing much. We are usually spoilt in cool Scotland with birds being active all day long. In the tropics it gets hot quickly and after about nine in the morning most forest birds stop singing and become much less obvious. We hardly ever get days hot enough to cause birds to “retire” early like today. And it’s worst of all immediately after birds have finished breeding. This is the time that most species moult – grow a new set of feathers – which makes them less able to fly and takes a lot of energy. So a moulting bird tends to keep its head down and not to carry out exhibitionist activities like singing. And the result is a quiet day, with one blackbird, song thrush and blackcap singing apart from the wrens and woodpigeons. I hope I haven’t put anyone off bird song today.

There were two highlights though. As I had lunch overlooking the sea I saw a cuckoo fly in from the east and continue on to the south-west. Cuckoos don’t have chicks to feed so migrate early. This will be a bird from somewhere like Sweden already on its way back to Africa. I have only seen 4 cuckoos in Crail now in ten years. There has been an 80% decline in their UK numbers over the last 20 years and they are now quite special in Fife: it’s only the migrants that we see now. The second highlight was a pair of spotted flycatchers. Another severely declining African migrant that used to breed all over Fife but that we now only see as a migrant through Crail. But probably not this pair – they looked like they are breeding here again which is great news.

Posted July 6, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

July 2nd   Leave a comment

GGLG - last seen in February - now back in its usual haunts by the harbour for the winter

GGLG today – last seen in February – now back in its usual haunts by the harbour for the winter

The redshanks are back! Last week I saw an unringed redshank in Roome Bay but it was just passing through. But today there were 4 adult redshanks on the rocks by the harbour and 3 of them were colour-ringed. I last saw GGLG (Green Green Lime Green – pictured right) on the 4th February. It was one of the first redshanks to leave Crail last winter and perhaps not surprisingly it is one of the first back. It must be a Scottish breeding bird that could start and finish breeding relatively early, unlike the Icelandic birds which will probably be late back this year because of their very late season (see May 2nd). Two out of three of the other birds I saw today left in March rather than April supporting the idea that for a Crail redshank it’s early out, early back. It’s brilliant to have them back – one of them I ringed in 2008 so it’s turning into a long term resident. Four of the birds from last winter were ringed in 2007 so if they come back they will be spending at least their 6th winter at Crail. I can hope for another 21 birds back if they all survive from last winter, although I’m bound to have lost one or two.

Posted July 2, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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