March 2nd   Leave a comment

The din in Denburn this morning was fantastic. Wall to wall wren song. Perhaps 8-10 birds singing at the same time. Even for their size wrens have a very loud song and it was hard to hear anything else, even though the chaffinches and blue tits were also singing at the tops of their voices as well. Spring really does seem a possibility this weekend.

Fulmar - a Crailer or not? It's only been here about 75 years

Fulmar – a Crailer or not? It’s only been here about 75 years

The fulmars have been very noticeable on the cliffs this week. Even a pair defiantly sitting on a ledge above harbour beach just above the last landslide. As nesting sites go it can’t be the best suggesting that there might not be that many to go round. As I was watching the fulmars on Saturday I was reminded that they have not always been here. When you first come to a new place you get to know its residents and you assume they have always been here. It’s always then a surprise to find that many of the residents are incomers too, just beating you by a few years. True for many Crailers and also some of the birds, and particularly the fulmars. There will be many Crailers, born here, that will have walked many years along Castle Walk with no fulmars there at all. One hundred years or so ago, fulmars were only found on a few West Coast islands, with a huge colony on St Kilda being their only stronghold. Then something happened – sea warming, the expansion of discards from an increasingly mechanised fishing industry, perhaps a change in foraging behaviour – that then led to a huge population expansion for fulmars. They spread around the whole coast of Britain within about 50 years. Even in my lifetime I watched them change from rareish winter visitors to Norfolk in the early 1980s to nesters all along the coast as they adopted even the feeble sandy and crumbling cliffs there. They are now ubiquitous and one of our commonest seabirds. I even used to see them from my flat on Easter Road in Edinburgh as they commuted from the Forth to nest on cliffs up at Salsibury Crags, a mile or more from the sea. And most bizarre of all, I have even seen one sailing above the A9 at Kingussie, perhaps taking a short cut across Scotland from West to East.

The fortunes of fulmars may be shifting back now. There numbers have been declining for about a decade and their productivity has also been declining for 20 years. Fulmars live a long time – 50 years or more – so any change in the number of chicks they produce will take a long time to show itself. But that fulmars will become less common as the century rolls on seems fairly likely now. Again the reasons for this reversal are not clear – changes in fishing practices, shortages of sandeels, declines in plankton that feed the fish that feed the fulmars as a consequence of global warming are all possibilities. So enjoy the fulmars on Castle Walk and don’t take them for granted: they may just be temporary residents. Although having written that, it’s probably my grandchildren who might miss them so perhaps no need to rush out there to appreciate them just yet.

Another species that has only been a relatively recent arrival to Crail is the collared dove. Again it’s hard to imagine that they haven’t always been here if you grew up anywhere in the UK in the last 50 years, with their soft cuckoo like “who – who – whoooo” as a constant soundscape in every suburban garden. Collared doves only made it to Fife in the mid-1960s. They used to be a rarity to the UK and subject to as much excitement as a red-flanked bluetail in Denburn. Now they are one of our commonest garden birds. They are currently repeating their incredible expansion across the United States. When I was in California in January I saw them everywhere, even though according to my bird book they should have been limited to small areas around Los Angeles. My book was already out of date in the face of this incredibly successful dove. Unlike the fulmars, the numbers of collared doves are still on the up and they have been increasing particularly in the West and in Ireland as they continue their sweep across to the last bits of Europe.

Everything changes in ecology as conditions change, with winners and losers shifting through the years. Whether we like it not, we live in interesting times.

Collared dove - another incomer - only in Crail from the late 1960s

Collared dove – another incomer – only in Crail from the late 1960s

Posted March 2, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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