Archive for August 2013

August 25th   Leave a comment

There may well have been some good birds around this morning, but they were hiding in the fog. I spent lunchtime on Kingsbarns beach seeing nothing. It was still nice – Kingsbarns Beach is always nice – I could hear the sandwich terns out in the surf. The “ski –er – rick” of the adults and the continual “skree-skree-skree” of their ever hungry young that forms so much of the beach soundscape at this time of year.

It brightened up this afternoon. There were a lot of willow warblers at Balcomie and Kilminning and one pied flycatcher and a garden warbler indicating that there was at least a small fall of migrants this weekend. There was a large flock of swallows and some sand martins on the airfield fence at Kilminning. They are already lining up on the wires in anticipation of migration – although this flock may well have already been on their way.

I sat on Roome Bay beach in the late afternoon sunshine and watched the seaweed flies displaying on the beach. Although they can seem a bit of a nuisance when you share the beach with them they really don’t bother about people. Today they were on every bit of higher ground on the sand scissoring their wings at each other to attract a mate. In the middle of winter all their effort will be feeding my favourite shorebirds so I wished them well.

A seaweed fly on a washed up creel on Roome Bay beach - making sure that there is plenty of food for the shorebirds this winter

A seaweed fly on a washed up creel on Roome Bay beach – making sure that there is plenty of food for the shorebirds this winter

Posted August 25, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 24th   Leave a comment

The light easterly winds and the rain showers overnight were full of promise for a fall of migrants this weekend. Sadly I think the winds weren’t strongly enough easterly and there was no sign of the hoped for whinchats, tree pipits and flycatchers that we might expect at this time of year when the weather conditions are right. Every few years we get a great fall in the third week of August – there is still time I suppose.

The south-easterlies of yesterday did bring some seabirds in close, although the poor visibility largely counteracted the benefit of the onshore wind – large groups of manx shearwaters were passing and the occasional arctic skua. The gannets were very busy fishing and passing by Crail to and from the Bass Rock: their chicks will be getting large and at their most demanding just before they start fledging in a couple of weeks.

This summer seems to have been a good one for the land birds. Denburn was full of young thrushes today. And I have never seen so many swallows around Crail and the adjacent fields. The warm but not too dry weather seems to have really boosted insect numbers this year which will have made things easier for raising chicks.

The highlight today was a female merlin hunting along the low tide line from Saucehope to the harbour causing panic in the turnstones and redshanks. August is the best time to see merlins in Crail and any small bird of prey you see, even in gardens, at this time of year is very likely to be a merlin. It’s hard to define what makes a merlin distinctive but I think the best way to identify them is by their compact dark falcon shape which also seems a bit like a sparrowhawk (a longer tail and shorter wings than a peregrine creates this impression). If you see a sparrowhawk that then on closer look turns out to be a falcon then you are probably looking at a merlin.

A gannet working hard to fledge its chick

A gannet working hard to fledge its chick

Posted August 24, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 19th   Leave a comment

I returned to Crail from a month in Tanzania yesterday. It was my first visit to Africa during our summer and I missed a lot of our birds that are usually part of the fabric of the African landscape at other times. Even so, last week I was on the coast opposite Zanzibar, watching some early wintering common sandpipers, curlews, whimbrels, grey plovers and sanderlings that all pass through Crail in July and August on their way to Africa. There were more exotic things too like greater sand plovers from central Asia and terek sandpipers from Russia. But despite, the real highlight for me was watching the familiar – a common sandpiper – dancing over the Indian Ocean and then bobbing along the strandline under coconut palms. It was eating seaweed flies and sandhoppers just like on Harbour Beach. I love the sense of connection between Crail and Africa that these birds bring: every time I see a common sandpiper in Crail now I will be taken back to Tanzania as well as transported back to the pebble strewn highland streams where they breed.

A common sandpiper - at home on a Crail beach as well as a Tanzanian beach

A common sandpiper – at home on a Crail beach as well as a Tanzanian beach

And now I am back in Crail to watch the migrants at the other end of their journey. I saw a cuckoo passing over Roome Bay yesterday afternoon. I nearly let it slide past my consciousness without paying it proper attention before I remembered that a cuckoo in Crail is an unusual bird. Over the last few weeks cuckoos (although African species) have been an almost daily occurrence and so my usual alarm bells didn’t ring. Thankfully I came to my senses and appreciated only the second Crail cuckoo I have seen this year as it struggled in the blustery wind heading southwest. It will have been a juvenile. Many of the adults will already be in Africa having passed through Crail in July. Now it’s the young birds’ turn. They will have a vague program to head south with an uncertain destination other than central Africa. If they make it back to Europe next year they will then head back to the same area of Africa that they reached in their first year, reusing the sites that allowed them to survive the previous winter. Like the redshanks in Crail returning to the same bit of beach every winter.

Today there was more evidence of birds passing south. A young wheatear on Roome Bay beach – feeding on sandhoppers – and perhaps sandhoppers again on a Tunisian beach in a week or two. There were also swifts passing through Crail all day in small numbers. They are heading back to Africa at a faster rate than the rest – a bird here today may well be in Central Africa in just a few days. They will be completely gone in a week or two until next May.

juv wheatear

A juvenile wheatear on its way south from Roome Bay to Sahelian Africa. Only 3,500 km to go.


Posted August 19, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

%d bloggers like this: