January 1st 2014   1 comment

With a New Year comes a new Year list. Each year I keep a tally of all the birds I see within 10km of my house – the range I might walk or cycle to normally – my local patch list. Any first time ever birds then go onto my overall Crail list. Last year for example the yearly total was 139 species – quite a bit short of the record from 2011 of 157. But I was away in Tanzania for a month so the lower total probably reflects a lack of local effort rather than a poor year. And there were two new species for the overall Crail list – the brown shrike in September and the common rosefinch in October – bringing the total now to 213.

Jackdaws enjoying the warmth of a chimney pot: the first bird of the year

Jackdaws enjoying the warmth of a chimney pot: the first bird of the year

But it all starts again on January 1st. I like this ritual because then every species becomes special again and sought after, if only for a day. It helps you focus again on what is about you and what is missing. My list for 2014 started in my kitchen before dawn: not such a feat of early rising in Crail, it was barely light at 08:00. As I had my breakfast I could hear the herring gulls and jackdaws on my roof, their calls echoing down the kitchen stove chimney. The jackdaws, at least, spend the winter nights and much of the day wedged in the top of the chimney enjoying the warm air from below. I left the house as soon as I could see but the next few birds were calls only: house sparrows in my front garden and a carrion crow sounding like a horn in the distance. And then the common birds of Crail: feral pigeons on top of the Golf Hotel and a blackbird, starling and dunnock along Marketgate. I heard a mistle thrush rattling from the Kirkyard and flushed the resident pair of stock doves from behind the Kirk – the first 10 species of the day.

Then into Denburn and new birds appeared rapidly, one after another – a flock containing blue, great and coal tits with a treecreeper going up the huge dead ash in the centre of the wood. Woodpigeons, robins and wrens everywhere, and the occasional chaffinch, greenfinch and goldfinch going over: 20 species and the sun hadn’t risen yet. I headed out of Denburn and up over the fields to Wormiston. There was a distant buzzard perched over by Sypsies and I flushed a few linnet and skylarks from the winter wheat fields. The usual huge flock of rooks was circling low over their rookery at Wormiston cawing as the sun rose. It was now a brilliant and relatively still morning contrasting with the very dull and windy days that have marked this Christmas. And then I had a great spotted woodpecker flying over. There have been a few around Crail this winter and this one was heading bravely out from Wormiston and heading straight for Crail. Great spots are very mobile and can cope with long flights between patches of woodland. A good job considering how scattered the trees are around Crail.

I then traipsed across the only remaining stubble field, just behind the airfield. Stubble fields are always good for birds and this remaining island of cover, seeds and weeds was particularly good. It contained tens of yellowhammers and meadow pipits and as I flushed them a merlin came up behind them, swooped through the flock and then continued on towards Wormiston over the trees. A distant calling curlew and magpies over at Kilminning completed 30 species. In one corner of the field I flushed a covey of 28 grey partridges. I knew they had done well this summer but this is a really big partridge flock. Again they were probably concentrated by the lack of other suitable fields between Crail and Fife Ness. To round off the now epic field there were 60 or so tree sparrows and reed buntings, along with some pheasants.

I headed over to Kilminning. I heard a goose honking and then a pair of geese flew over. A greylag followed by a pink-footed goose. The only geese I saw all day and such an obliging mixed flock. I think they were waiting just to make my new year’s day list. At Kilminning there was a small flock of tits with some goldcrests and a siskin flew over calling, but only two new species in half an hour. It was time to head to a different habitat. Balcomie Beach and the sea produced a flurry of new species: oystercatchers and redshanks to make a total of 40, then turnstones, a couple of bar-tailed godwits, and rock pipits also on the beach. At sea, great black-backed and black-headed gulls, eiders, cormorants, and further out kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots passing: 50 species. Further on towards Fife Ness there was a flock of common scoter, lots of long-tailed ducks, shags and the occasional red-throated diver and common gull. A grey heron flew off from a rock pool at Fife Ness and roosting on the rocks were a mixed flock of ringed plover, grey plover and a dunlin. I headed down the coast path back to Crail accompanied by a kestrel hovering at eye height just ahead of me, keeping always just a few meters ahead, wary but not really shy. It was so close to me I could see the feathers around its eye and bill fluttering in the wind as it kept its head perfectly still, watching for voles below. A great bird and number 60.

Female common scoter: number 53

Female common scoter: number 53

There was nothing new until Roome Bay with its goldeneyes, red-breasted merganser and the mallards at the boating pond. And then the star bird of the day. I was watching out for fulmars on the way to the harbour when I saw a dark shearwater shape shooting back towards Roome Bay. It was a juvenile arctic skua, another one not in the South Atlantic. I watched it chase down a common gull. And then at last a single fulmar perched on its nest site below Castle Walk. It regarded me and I regarded it: the same bird undoubtedly that I always see there. I wished my neighbour a happy new year. Time for lunch with 65 species in the bag.

Sanderling - the last bird of the day along with a purple sandpiper making number 73

Sanderling – the last bird of the day along with a purple sandpiper making number 73

In the afternoon it was time again for a change of habitat to add to the list. The day had turned back to the gales and early twilight of the last two weeks so the conditions weren’t the best. A walk around Kilrenny Common barely turned up any birds let alone a new species, but a flock of lapwing flew over and there was a collared dove in the village. Sometimes even the commonest species are elusive on a listing day so it was good to finally see what is usually one the first species of the day. Another habitat was needed so off to Carnbee reservoir. The gale was really blowing now so everything was hiding in the vegetation at the side apart from two mute swan (they never get the hang of hiding). I managed to see a couple of teal and coot and a single snipe flushed from the side of the loch. The weather was now really closing in as it came on to rain. One final stop at Kingsbarns Beach for the high tide got sanderling and a purple sandpiper just below the car park. It was practically dark and the rain had become horizontal so it was time to stop: 73 species in total. My best day list for the new year ever, beating 69 for 2011 (when I had 6 goose species and it had seemed like a great day). I had missed a few obvious common species – where were the pied wagtails? And I was a little unlucky not to have seen a sparrowhawk or a grey wagtail, but then this was balanced by the luck of my two goose flyby, the merlin and the arctic skua.

Any listing exercise is perhaps a bit tedious to recount in detail, you really have to be there, but I hope this give you an idea of just what’s around Crail mid-winter if you really look. Happy New Year.

Posted January 3, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

One response to “January 1st 2014

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  1. Really enjoyable read, bravo for such diligence – am sure you had much fun even in those afternoon conditions.

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