July 11th   Leave a comment

Swift - the sound and sight of the summer

Swift – the sound and sight of the summer

Another sound of that makes this time of year special is the sound of the swifts, particularly at dusk. This evening it was beautifully still and warm, with a huge near full moon over the May Island yet still light at 11 with the swifts screaming overhead. They are the sound of a summer evening to me. It’s hard to know quite what they are doing. The adults should be hard at work feeding their growing chicks rather than chasing each other and apparently trying to impress each other with their aerobatics in the gloaming. Perhaps it’s the birds that are trying to attract a mate to start breeding the next year. Whatever they are doing it’s a free air show every fine evening. It wouldn’t be a summer without them.

This afternoon at high tide there were 10 redshanks roosting with about 25 oystercatchers on the rocks out from the furthest point of West Braes (that’s about two of the small bays along from the harbour). Six of the redshanks had my colour-rings on them and I ticked them off from the list of birds that left Crail at the end of last winter. Two of the four birds I recorded back in July last year were among them: not only do redshanks come back to the same place where they winter, every winter, but they seem to follow the same timetable as well. My “early birds” are likely to be Scottish breeders that have had their three month breeding season – a day’s flight to and the West or North, meeting their mate again on the same bit of marsh or field, efficiently laying and incubating a clutch over a month and then keeping an eye on their chicks for three or four weeks before returning to Crail. The chicks of most shorebirds look after themselves from hatching although they need sheltering and warming from damp weather until they get their feathers. Then the parents are free to leave them and to head back to their winter homes. The juveniles will take longer but will leave their breeding area to find their wintering area in a month’s time. They then take even longer to arrive in somewhere like Crail because they don’t actually know where they are going and have to find a suitable place. Once some do find and settle on Crail then that will likely be them for the next 10 or 20 years if they are lucky and Crail does indeed turn out to be the right choice of a winter home – safe and with plenty of food. And so it goes on with our adult Crail redshanks. I’m always glad to see them back.

The redshanks were roosting in the afternoon sunshine. The days are long and warm and there is plenty of time for them to find sufficient food under these benign conditions. So they take it very easy. The adults all take the opportunity to moult their wing and tail feathers at this time of year. I find these feathers washed up on the strandline until October. It’s good they can be so laid back at this time of year – the beaches are very busy with people and there is very little space they can have to themselves, particularly at high tide. As the season gets harsher and the visitors leave, then they have more opportunities as their foraging needs increase.

One of my colour-ringed redshanks in summer plumage - this one GRRR (Green, red, red, red - the rings top to bottom, left to right, above the knee) is not back yet but I will be looking for it over the next month or so

One of my colour-ringed redshanks in summer plumage – this one GRRR (Green, red, red, red – the rings top to bottom, left to right, above the knee) disappeared in January this year rather than leaving normally in April so probably won’t be returning this year

Posted July 12, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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