Week ending April 20th   1 comment

The summer migrants have been coming in steadily over the weekend. On Friday I had four swallows in Kingsbarns, then six on Saturday between Crail and Fife Ness, and then on Sunday swallows were every ten minutes or so in Crail. There were swallows back in Triangle Park, the old garden centre and even over my garden. I watched a male and female swallow perched side by side on the wire above the Denburn sheep field singing to each other quietly. Pairs don’t migrate together as far as we know, so this may have been an old couple from last year meeting again for the first time since last summer. Anthropomorphism is frowned on in my line of work, but I can’t help feeling that they would be elated under such circumstances. They have made it back for another year, they have met up again in Crail and the sun was shining.

The first willow warbler I saw came in on Saturday. It was singing quietly in Denburn. There were more about on Sunday at Kilminning and West Quarry Braes nature reserve. Again only little bursts of quiet song suggesting that they were all tired migrants on their way somewhere else. There were more blackcaps in during the weekend as well. They have been much more vocal, with some birds singing their hearts out as if they are back home for the summer.

Willow warblers back in Crail this weekend

Willow warblers back in Crail this weekend

Sunday was a lovely sunny day and there seemed to be buzzards everywhere over Crail. At one point I saw 3 pairs from my vantage point above the playground in Roome Bay. I was egg-rolling with my children for Easter. Enjoying the gulls swooping down for the remains and the buzzards displaying to each other above them. Every so often a buzzard would come down a bit lower and all the gulls would divert to chase them off. Every time you hear the gulls really get going with their calling it pays to look up: there will be a low flying buzzard or even better osprey or a sea eagle (then they really kick off). One “buzzard” caught my eye soaring distantly behind Denburn – I don’t know why I really looked at it. I would like to think my subconscious was identifying it as something special but I tend to scan every raptor I see anyway just in case. This “buzzard” turned into a male marsh harrier through my binoculars. Only my second one from Crail in the last 11 years. It’s passage time and the marsh harriers are heading up into northern Europe from West Africa just like the willow warblers. This one drifted over to the airfield before gaining height in a thermal over the main runway (the car boot sale must have been generating a nice lot of heat). Then it started gliding fast towards the east – next stop Denmark if it continued straight out to sea as it appeared to do. Going via Crail is perhaps not the most sensible migration route for a marsh harrier bound for Scandinavia, but accidents happen on migration. A lot of such raptors must pass over us unseen. I felt really lucky today. Often my best birding moments in Crail are the unexpected ones, particularly when I am doing something else. Waxwings in my garden when I am gardening, a pair of grey phalaropes in the sea beyond where my son and I were looking for shells on the beach at Saucehope, a glaucous gull flying in to check out a picnic on Roome Bay beach, and now an Easter egg rolling marsh harrier. It’s why I almost always have my binoculars with me.

Male marsh harrier

Male marsh harrier

On Sunday afternoon I cycled around Crail via Kirkmay and Troustie. There are no pools left in any of the fields now because of the drainage work in many of the farms over the last couple of winters. With the dry April we have been having they would probably have been dry even if they had been left alone. So no migrant waders to look for inland this year unless it we have a very rainy summer – it will be a consolation for me at least. I did count at least four pairs of lapwings that were acting as if they were planning to nest in the fields that used to border the pools. They can manage in a completely dry field. Lapwings nest colonially when they can and three of the pairs are in fields next to each other. The advantage of this is clear when a crow flies over. One lapwing after another flies up, bombarding it until it leaves. A lapwing pair on its own cannot be nearly as effective as a crowd in deterring such would be egg predators. As lapwings continue to decline this creates a real problem for them. It’s a dreadful negative feedback loop with lower and lower densities of lapwings producing fewer and fewer chicks as the nest predators get more and more successful.

Lapwing - several pairs are breeding around Crail this year

Lapwing – several pairs are breeding around Crail this year

Posted April 20, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

One response to “Week ending April 20th

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  1. Hi Will feel free to edit this as you see fit?
    Maybe it is not suitable?

    So sad to see your comments about peewits “Lapwing – several pairs are breeding around Crail this year”
    “When I was a boy” do not worry Will I am not off on one of my rants.
    But I do remember many hundreds around every small town and village.
    The war was also a terrible time for peewits as many people “herried” (raided) nests for the eggs, as there was an obvious shortage of hen eggs.,
    one good thing about my village there was an active unwritten law that anyone caught herrieng a nest (taking more than one egg) would be thrashed soundly by the older boys.
    Here in Ukraine I count flocks of over a thousand peewits sometimes, because it is still the way Scotland was with agriculture fifty years ago.
    Sweden is also this way, but this was instigated by Swedish farmers who love “The Nature” this is reflected in the rise of Corncrake numbers, they simply harvest from the centre of the field out, this saves the majority of young Corncrakes.
    It is interesting to see, by far, the greatest number of sparrows are Tree Sparrow
    In this city in the North -east of Ukraine there is amazing temperature variations, -25° to +35 in Summer, we are now in the low twenties.Trees were planted everywhere by the old USSR making this a paradise for me.
    Unfortunately Silver Birches are one of the few things I am still allergic to, though not as many here as Sweden there is still enough to bother me.I am lucky to have many contacts in the medical profession here.
    Back to birding mode:-
    Daily viewed species- Black redstart common at huge football stadium, I photographed a chick last spring..
    Nuthatches -common in park surrounding football stadium,
    White-backed Woodpecker rare in rest of Europe but very, very common here, even in winter I cannot go out without seeing one, there are a few nesting sites nearby.
    Grey-woodpecker about, only heard by me,
    Black-woodpecker, common, still do not understand why they have not reached UK?
    Wryneck I ringed several a lot of years ago, but I have tried to find them on Beech when only a few metres away,
    Several eagles very high above city, need Will here to id them.
    Ahhh the thunder storm has passed, back out to my birds again !

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