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

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