Archive for November 2013

November 26th   Leave a comment

I have spent the last two weeks in central Nigeria. Quite a contrast from quiet, cold and damp Crail. I have been catching and resighting whinchats that we have been colour-ringing and tagging for the last year or so. It’s been exciting – we put geolocators on some the whinchats in February. These are light sensitive tags that record sunrise and sunset times allowing you to work out approximate latitude and longitude. Our birds, although ringed in one small area of a couple of kilometres of Africa, bred or summered over an area of 1800 km from the east of Moscow all the way to Poland. That’s about half of the area of Europe. If we turn that around, this means that whinchats breeding in one place in Europe can end up over a vast area of Africa. It means that our migrants don’t winter in any particular place – there is only migratory connectivity on a very large scale – and that if we want to conserve them then we have to think big. Scottish birds like swallows, whitethroats and willow warblers end up spread all over West Africa and we will need to ensure that we help all the countries there to conserve habitat if we want our migrants to keep coming back to us.

A whinchat we are studying in Nigeria - this one went to Russia to breed.

A whinchat we are studying in Nigeria – this one went to Russia to breed.


Posted November 26, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

November 6th   Leave a comment

A purple sandpiper being extreme

A purple sandpiper being extreme

You know it is winter when the purple sandpipers are back. I saw about 16 roosting on the high tide off the car park at Kingsbarns Beach at the weekend (the top reliable spot to see them, amongst the oystercatchers and turnstones) and today a couple with the turnstones in Roome Bay. Rocky shore specialists, with their only concession to softer, less extreme surfaces being piles of wrack on the beach at high tide, although then only perhaps the few juveniles that haven’t been able to make ends meet on the rocks. I have a soft spot for purps and their liking for the hard and extreme environment of the waves’ edge.

Posted November 6, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

Week ending November 3rd   Leave a comment

The snow goose stayed for Friday but was gone by Saturday. I think it will still be hanging around with the pink-footed geese but the flocks wander all winter. One of my colleagues had a snow goose in a flock of 200 pink-feet flying over his house just outside St Andrews. This could only have been the same flock on their way to Crail on Friday morning. So we may have them and the snow goose back again over the next few weeks. As I have said, snow geese really stand out amongst a flock of grey geese and are particularly obvious in flight, so any flock flying over is worth checking at the moment.

The snow goose at Ribbonfield on Friday

The snow goose at Ribbonfield on Friday

The wind went round to the east for a bit on Saturday but brought nothing but rain. By Sunday it was back round to the west and feeling very cold: certainly the coldest day of the winter so far, although seven degrees is hardly Arctic just yet. At Balcomie on Sunday morning it was the winter usual, with lots of waders on the beach. Initially I thought there were only a few but then a sparrowhawk made an attack along the shore. Suddenly there were at least 100 waders of several species visible as they flew off in alarm to congregate along the tide edge. The sparrowhawk sat on the rocks at the edge of the beach after the attack waiting for the waders to forget it was about, and they gradually drifted back up the beach. The problem with this strategy was that although the hawk was now much closer to where the prey was, when it finally attacked a second time it was from a standing start and the waders simply flew straightaway back down the beach again.

Almost straight away a male peregrine appeared, but this time attacking from the other direction and more panic ensued. The peregrine flew strongly out to sea and began climbing, eventually catching up a small flock of dark waders. The peregrine itself was now about a kilometre out over the sea so I couldn’t tell exactly what he was chasing. I suspect turnstones because they tend to flock and fly strongly straight up and out to sea when a peregrine attacks them. The peregrine picked out one of the stragglers and started stooping at it. This went on for a minute before the turnstone finally plunged down to sea level with the peregrine following close behind. I lost them against the darker waves so couldn’t tell the outcome initially. Two minutes later the peregrine appeared flying back over the beach but not carrying anything. The prey had got away. The peregrine continued over the golf course and I lost it again accelerating after another bird towards Kilminning. I love the scale over which peregrines hunt, effortlessly covering a couple of kilometres in a couple of minutes. It makes it really hard to see what they really do though.

The long-tailed ducks and red-breasted mergansers are back on the sea at Balcomie. There were also a lot of young gannets diving just offshore. They are such a contrast to how they were a month ago. They are now sleek and competent, clearly much more aerodynamic and lacking their “puppy” fledging fat. The number of gannets generally is starting to fall as they move down to the Bay of Biscay for the middle of the winter.

Long-tailed ducks back at Balcomie for the winter

Long-tailed ducks back at Balcomie for the winter

Posted November 3, 2013 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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