May 24th   Leave a comment

A male sparrowhawk - taken in February but shows how vivid their plumage can be and how scarey their eyes are...

A male sparrowhawk – taken in February but shows how vivid their plumage can be and how scarey their eyes are…

The chiff-chaff is still singing in Denburn so it may be trying to breed rather than being a migrant as I thought last week. As I listened to it today I noticed a shape moving silently in the canopy, flying up to perch motionless against the trunk of an alder. If I hadn’t seen it moving up there out of the corner of my eye I would never have seen it. It was a sparrowhawk hunting through the wood. I usually notice sparrowhawks because the birds it eats make loud alarm calls whenever they spot one. But not this time, the sparrowhawk had got into Denburn undetected. It sat without moving like a spectre waiting for its best opportunity to surprise a blackbird or a robin feeding unaware on the ground below. It was a beautiful adult male – orangey-red below and blue above, but with its killer, piercing yellow eye. It will have been hunting to feed its female now sitting on eggs somewhere in or near Denburn. The sparrowhawk eggs will hatch as the song birds of Denburn fledge their chicks. The starlings and tits are all going to fledge over the next two weeks and will provide lots of food for the young sparrowhawks. Timing is everything. The tits time with the caterpillars and the sparrowhawks time with the tits.

The abandoned railway line between Crail and Kingsbarns is a lifeline of greenery and diversity through the otherwise fairly sterile fields. This morning I passed a continuous line of whitethroat territories, with sedge warblers about every 200 meters where the vegetation was a bit lusher or wetter. Both species were singing their heads off and carrying out song flights where they fly up in a circle about tree top height followed by a parachute glide back down. It’s noticeable that every year I often find the sedge warblers and the whitethroats in exactly the same territories as the previous year. For example, there is always a sedge warbler singing just outside of Crail as you head out on the St Andrews Road and there is always a whitethroat singing in the overgrown garden just above the boating pond on Roome Bay. It makes sense on two counts. At least half of the returning birds have bred here before and are coming home. And birds that were born last year are looking for good habitat which will mean they are likely to end up in any empty territories from last year. Without marking individuals I can’t tell whether it’s the same bird back in a territory or a new bird, but it is a 50% or more chance that it’s the same individual, and it’s possible that it’s the same sedge warbler that has been singing to me just outside Crail for the last 5 years.

I passed through Cambo looking for spotted flycatchers which bred unusually, but successfully, last year. No sign of them but it’s early in the season and spotted flycatchers are much less obvious than sedge warblers or whitethroats. They barely sing and can spend long periods motionless high in the canopy.

I saw a few hares today and also during the week. They might be called mad March hares but I reckon that they can also be mad May hares. Six were chasing each other and trying to knock each other over in the field behind Hammer Inn yesterday. Hares can get pregnant anytime apart from mid-winter and they have a peak of breeding in April and May so this is not very unusual. Perhaps it’s harder to see them as the crops get higher in the summer so their boxing seems to happen more early in the spring. Hares, like everything else, are much less common than they used to be, but like corn buntings and grey partridges, they seem to be hanging on around Crail.

Mad May brown hares chasing each other near Crail

Mad May brown hares chasing each other near Crail

 

Posted May 24, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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