December 1st   Leave a comment

Crail has slipped into its quiet winter phase. The gannets have gone and apart from a few late winter migrants like grebes and snow buntings to look for, there will be little turnover in the birds for the next few weeks. The redshanks down at the harbour have settled into their usual grooves – a small bit of the inner harbour at low tide, a piece of harbour beach at mid tide and a cluster of rocks at high tide. Their world has narrowed to a few tens of meters until the spring. I see resonances with the whinchats I have been looking at in Africa last week. Both are globe trotters but spend their winters in a tiny bit of the planet, returning faithfully to their hundred meter patch for as long as the live, baring a catastrophe like returning and finding a house or marina built there. I think it’s all about information. Better the devil you know, if you like. They may not be in the best area, but it works for them – they have survived after all. They all took a leap into the unknown as juveniles on their first migration and found a reasonable place to spend the winter, but most of their cohort will have not been so lucky. It is then better to stick with what you know than take a chance on the unknown again.

Redshank - if you see a redshank in the same place during the winter it's probably the same bird each time

Redshank – if you see a redshank in the same place during the winter it’s probably the same bird each time

I watched one of the new juvenile redshanks (as yet unringed – a job for December) trying to carve out a piece of territory on harbour beach. One of my existing redshanks (YWRR – yellow white left leg, red red right leg) was having none of it. They weren’t fighting, but whenever the new bird tried to feed in a particular place the adult would pace alongside it preventing it from doing so. YWRR is a long time harbour bird, always down on the beach at the slipway or in the harbour itself when the tide allows. Each winter it has to exert its authority to prevent the new birds from taking over. Adults tend to have precedence, with the serious fights only between juveniles. It is a dilemma for the juveniles. They need to find a good site to winter in and when they arrive at a new site like Crail their best guide to good, safe spots is the presence of adults. But then those spots are already taken so they have to find the gaps left by adults that haven’t returned, or attach themselves to the periphery. I would love to understand these dynamics a bit better but I have a major problem. If I catch a juvenile to put colour-rings on, so I can track them as individuals, they are understandably a bit stressed by the process and associate this with Crail being a dangerous place to settle in. Their response (and this is difficult to prove) is then to leave and find a “safer” area. I think about half the juveniles I catch do this moving on trick. If I catch an adult they have a broader view of the nature of Crail – my capture of them is a blip in the otherwise relatively safe environment. They will then stay put.

The night sky is good this week. Even if the comet doesn’t make a reappearance on Monday (check near the moon at about 07:00), then there is Venus and Jupiter showing well early and later in the evening respectively. Venus is so bright that it dominates the sky towards Edinburgh in the early evening.

There are still lots of pink-feet around Crail although mostly in smaller flocks. I would expect us to get more if the weather turns colder and there is more frost and ice inland, pushing them out towards the East Neuk.

Pink-footed goose

Pink-footed goose

Posted December 1, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

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