April 13th   Leave a comment

I saw my first swallow of the summer this morning flying along the coast just off Kingsbarns. It was doggedly heading north, keeping low to sea to minimise the gusty wind from the west. Last year my first was the 16th April, the 12th in 2011, 21st in 2010, 11th in 2009 and in 2012 spectacularly early on the 29th of March. So a fairly average arrival date today. But barn swallows are far from average. We have the most ringing recoveries from swallows so we know better where they winter than for most species. They can be caught in large numbers at their evening roosts, which may contain millions of birds in some areas of Africa. Some of these are in South Africa where there are more ornithologists to catch them, but there are also a few dedicated people catching swallows at roosts in West Africa. This ringing has revealed a pattern of movement of British barn swallows through West Africa right down to South Africa and back again. It’s over 20,000 km there and back as the swallow flies. But to be a swallow is to fly. Even when they are here in Scotland they will be flying more than a 100 km every day as they catch insects. Flying back and forth over a field, or straight ahead to Africa must be the same thing in terms of effort.

Almost straight afterwards I saw my first sand martin of the year. Another migrant from Africa, although our sand martins winter “only” in West Africa. This bird will have been in Senegal or Ghana six weeks ago. They are another early migrant and some will have already started prospecting nest holes behind the beaches between Kingsbarns and Fife Ness.

Yellowhammers really are glowing yellow at the moment and obvious everywhere on the field edges around Crail at the moment

Yellowhammers really are glowing yellow at the moment and obvious everywhere on the field edges around Crail

This afternoon I had another very windy walk around Kilrenny. Everything was taking cover from the gale apart from a few yellowhammers. But I did finally connect with one of the tawny owls roosting in the wood. They can be very hard to see but today it stood out as a lovely brown shape against the dark green branches of the conifer it was roosting in. If you are walking past the pond at Kilrenny, heading north, look for the large owl nest box to the left of the path. Then check close to the trunk of each conifer on the right hand side of the path at about 6-8m high. Sooner or later you will see a tawny owl. I love the way they stare at you sleepily, relying on their camouflage even when it must be obvious that it is blown. But if they do fly off to a more hidden site then they will inevitable get chased and mobbed by noisy tits, chaffinches and blackbirds, so making it even worse. It’s tough being an owl in daylight. At night, of course, the tables are turned and absolutely anything, bird, mammal or amphibian is on the menu. Then the mobbing makes sense: if a blackbird can make a tawny owl uncomfortable enough to move on then it will be safer during the following night. How this works with a breeding bird, like the one at Kilrenny, that will not leave the area is not clear. Perhaps such resident birds get mobbed much less because there isn’t much point. Another theory about mobbing is that it “attracts the mightier” such as a goshawk or an eagle owl which make short work of tawny owls. But again that is unlikely to be a big issue in Kilrenny, but I live in hope.

Posted April 13, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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