June 8th   Leave a comment

Young starlings hanging out at the beach at Balcomie this morning

Young starlings at the beach at Balcomie this morning

I have been worrying about where all the young starlings are. Most fledged more than a week ago but as I walk around Crail I can only find adults. This morning, on Balcomie beach it all became clear. There were hundreds of young starlings down there, waiting for their parents to dig out seaweed fly maggots. Perhaps the whole fledged starling population of Crail to Fife Ness. The adults were digging in the huge piles of now very rotten and smelly seaweed that has built up on the beach over the last three weeks of mainly easterly winds. This high density of food for the seaweed flies is now being translated into a feast for the starlings. Not only is there enough food there to ensure that the fledglings are well fed in their crucial first couple of weeks before full independence, they also have great safety in numbers.

There was also a flock of about 15 sanderlings exploiting the seaweed flies. Unlike the starlings they are fattening up before breeding. They are still on their way north to the high Arctic where there may still be snow cover for another week. The seaweed flies must be a valuable food source for them just as for the starlings, allowing the sanderlings to feed up very quickly and in safety. They still have several thousand kilometres to fly and may have already come from as far away as South Africa. There were some other extreme Arctic waders roosting on the rocks at Fife Ness that were also probably on their way north: eight turnstones in their bright orange, black and white breeding plumage. With them was a single knot – this wasn’t showing any trace of their summer pinky-red colour so may have been a bird taking a year off from breeding, or a young bird. Why it should have been heading north too is a mystery to me – non-breeding birds are probably better off staying on their wintering grounds rather than hazarding a very long migration. But some adults do turn up to breed still in winter plumage. They may be in poor condition or older birds that are trying to make the best of a bad job because their options of surviving to breed next year are reduced.

Summer plumage sanderling at Balcomie

Summer plumage sanderling at Balcomie

Garden carpet - common in Crail gardens

Silver-ground carpet – common in Crail gardens (thanks to Richard Byrne for pointing out this was wrongly captioned)

The summer moth season is well underway. Crail is not a great place for moths and our garden moth trap never gets more than few species. But identification of what we do have is always fun and often a challenge. At the moment a national moth survey is hoping to document all of the large moth species in 10 by 10 km squares. Apparently there is only one species recorded for the Crail square so far! Even with our poor catches I think we can up the total. On Friday night we caught five species but mostly the very common and ubiquitous carpet moths.

Posted June 8, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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