May 12th   Leave a comment

Male Cyprus wheatear wearing a geolocator backpack to record its location over the next few months when it heads back to Africa. Nowhere near Crail I suspect.

Male Cyprus wheatear wearing a geolocator backpack to record its location over the next few months when it heads back to Africa. Nowhere near Crail I suspect.

I have been in Cyprus for the last two weeks on fieldwork and only came back to Crail on Sunday. This is now my 5th year of following a population of Cyprus wheatears. They are handsome black and white migrant birds that breed only on Cyprus and that winter in East Africa. They are everywhere on Cyprus making them an ideal migrant species to study. Rare birds might be more worthy but you can’t really get to grips with understanding a range of general problems if you spend all your time looking for them. And Cyprus wheatears are very easy to catch. A little bit of their song played back through a small loud speaker in a territory brings in both the males and the female and then a maggot-baited spring trap does the rest. I and my students caught and colour-ringed 60 or so new birds and resighted another 45 birds returning from previous years’ ringing. It’s always a thrill to see an individual bird back again that you know well from a previous year, after its wintering adventure in Africa. This year we were also putting on geolocator tags on some of the wheatears. These log sunrise and sunset times so you can work out approximately where the bird has been if you can recapture them the following year. 60-70% of the Cyprus wheatears come back each year so hopefully next May I will have a better idea of where these birds winter – Sudan to Somalia, I predict, but the devil is in the details. We need to know the routes and the timings that they use to get there if we are to understand how the 5 billion birds that breed in Europe that winter in Africa can continue to do so as we change their habitats and climate.

But now back to Crail and the migrants here. I am always slightly nervous of being away at this time of year because even though I get to see lots of other great birds when I am away it is always disappointing to miss a new bird on my home patch. I saw 45 eleonora’s falcons on Saturday on my way to the airport– possibly one of the best birds on the planet – think of a peregrine squared and then add colonial breeding and group hunting…but this would not have compensated for a bluethroat for example, turning up in Crail last week, or even worse in my garden. I am thinking these thoughts because as I was cutting my neglected lawn this evening my neighbour popped her head over the wall to tell me about a strange bird in her garden. I often hear such stories and can do nothing but speculate that I might have missed something special. Luckily five minutes later the neighbour popped up again – the bird was back. I climbed over the wall and was rewarded with a female northern wheatear. Not quite a bluethroat but only my second ever in my garden – OK, in my neighbour’s garden, but clearly visible from mine as it perched on a fence so it counted. My last northern wheatear was exactly a week ago, on the top of a mountain on Cyprus. Also a female, also feeding in the hurried manner of a hungry migrant still with a long way to go to its breeding grounds: the Cyprus bird perhaps to Siberia and the Crail bird today perhaps to Greenland. So many links to the rest of the planet from a single wheatear in my neighbour’s garden on a beautiful May evening. I rounded off the day watching the swifts that are now back in Crail for the next three months. They were in the Congo and then perhaps Burkina Faso as they staged through West Africa only a few weeks ago: we know this from geolocator studies. Perhaps next year I can find out such details for the Cyprus wheatears.

Another Cyprus special: a male masked shrike. This species has been near Crail - one turned up in Kilrenny a few years ago.

Another Cyprus special: a male masked shrike. This species has been to Crail – one turned up in Kilrenny a few years ago.

Posted May 12, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s