Archive for August 2014

August 30th   Leave a comment

There was still a bit of hopefulness for something interesting left over from the winds of mid-week this morning. I tracked down a juvenile wheatear on the beach at Balcomie and a few willow warblers at Fife Ness but nothing else. I just missed an osprey at Fife Ness by about 30 minutes: one apparently came in from the sea and drifted westwards. You really have to get lucky to connect with an osprey in Crail. There were reports of the pied flycatcher and three tree pipits from Kilminning as well showing that, although minimal for now, the autumn migration season is now on. For the swifts of course it is pretty much all over already. I saw one lonely, late bird hurrying over Crail this evening – perhaps my last for this year.

The highlight of the day was a juvenile knot on the beach at Balcomie. This seems to have taken up a bit of a residence – John saw it and photographed it a few days ago too.

The juvenile knot down at Balcomie Beach at the moment

The juvenile knot down at Balcomie Beach at the moment

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Posted August 30, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 28th   Leave a comment

The wind continued easterly last night and then there were heavy rain showers early this morning – a perfect recipe for some migrants this morning. I went out after lunch after it had brightened up to see what had come in. Sadly not much. Nice to be outside in the returned warm sunshine but nothing really to find in the end. I checked out Balcomie and Kilminning and only saw one clear migrant, a pied flycatcher in the rowans at the top end of Kilminning. Lovely to see (and hear) and my first for the year, but not the tens of them I might hope to see in a good fall of migrants, and of course not quite the rarity that I was hoping for. A willow warbler got me going briefly because I was hoping so much. The bright sunshine made me think it looked very bright and a bit greenish – I was hoping for a very rare greenish warbler which is a classic east coast August fall bird and one I have only seen once in my time at Crail. But no, expectation is the mother of invention in birding and I came to my senses. It really had nothing going for it to be a greenish except my desire for it to be one. I wasn’t the only hopeful birder out and about but nothing else turned up during the day. Once again I think we were just a little too far north and a little unlucky. Still it’s early autumn days and by next week who knows what might be about.

An August willow warbler

An August willow warbler

Posted August 28, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 27th   Leave a comment

The dead red squirrel near Boarhills this morning. Such a shame but at least there are some about.

The dead red squirrel near Boarhills this morning. Such a shame but at least there are some about.

Some good news and some bad news…The good news first. There are still some red squirrels in the area. There was one up by the main road bridge over the Kenly Burn at Boarhills. The bad news is that it was dead on the road – killed yesterday by a car. I recognised its poor squashed shape – with bright red fur and bushy tail as I drove to work this morning. I stopped and picked it off the road to double check. It’s always such a shame when a mammal gets hit by a car and even more so when it’s something rare like a squirrel or the otter of last year. The only consolation is that there was at least one to be hit. I haven’t seen a red squirrel in the Crail area for maybe ten years, the last one I saw was on the edge of the Cambo Estate. I have only seen grey squirrels since, although they are not particularly common either.

There have been easterly winds for the last three days. And rain showers forecast for tomorrow. The recipe for some early autumn migrants I hope. The seabirds have been good already, pushed in close to Crail by the wind. On Monday I had a red-necked grebe past and today a couple of black-throated divers; skuas and manx shearwaters too. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

A more cheerful red squirrel

A more cheerful red squirrel

Posted August 27, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 23rd   Leave a comment

The seascape from Crail has changed completely in the last couple of weeks. In the last three days of my usual seawatching from the back of my house in the evening I haven’t seen a single auk. The scurrying puffins of last month have completely gone – I might not see another one until late winter storms push them past Fife Ness. Tens of thousands of puffins make a crowd on the May but they disappear when they spread themselves out into the middle of the North Sea. Today the sea is dominated by gannets and kittiwakes. The juvenile kittiwakes have fledged and a good number are fishing in the Forth with their gentle swooping, almost tern like flight. The gannets won’t fledge seriously for another month so they are passing backwards and forwards in long lines as the puffins were a month ago. And among them, like a shadow or a gull in negative, the arctic skuas are back , wraith-like as they patrol powerfully low over the sea. I have had one every evening for last few days – a juvenile and the rest dark phase adults. Arctic skuas are declining as a breeding species in the UK, probably as climate change makes Britain less suitable for this well named arctic species: great skuas are doing much better though. Ecological change is always about winners as well as losers, although having both species as fairly common breeders is a definite British plus. Arctic skuas are everyday birds in the Forth in August and September, but I never stop getting a thrill when I see one. For a start you need to double check that they are not one of the rarer other skua species (both long-tailed and pomarine skuas can occur too) and then their falcon like domination of their airspace makes whatever species of skua it is well worth watching.

Arctic skua - Johnny Depp eat your heart out, this is the real thing

Arctic skua – Johnny Depp eat your heart out, this is the real thing

There have been a few flocks of lapwings turning up in the fields around Crail in the last week. They are obvious when they stop in a stubble field or when a flock gets up in the air, flashing like huge black and white butterflies, but in a field of brassicas their green backs make them disappear. I had a lovely game of “where’s lapwing” in a cabbage field at Balcomie this morning. One of the cabbages started moving, resolving itself into a lapwing on closer look, and then its neighbour, and its neighbour and so on as I got my eye in – more lapwings than cabbages in the end.

A flock of migrating lapwings - several in the fields around Crail just now

A flock of migrating lapwings – several in the fields around Crail just now

Posted August 23, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 18th   Leave a comment

There are almost no pools left in the East Neuk this year to attract the August passing waders. 2012 was a very, very wet summer and there were several even just around Crail so I had an enjoyable time checking them out in hope. There has been less rain this year and the farmers have been hard at work draining all the boggy field corners and filling in the dips. The result is a much duller landscape and much less hope. But Chris Smout let me know last Friday that there was still one pool left, just past the Kenly farm turnoff when you turn off the St Andrews road by Boarhills. It’s a fairly modest pool – no more than wheel tracks filled in with water at a field edge. But that’s enough. There are four dull looking male mallards there looking for the quiet life as they moult, and this morning a green sandpiper. They don’t need much, any quiet inland pool will do. As sandpipers migrate they must see even these tiny pools as conspicuous flashes of silver far below them. The green sandpiper was feeding in the wet wheel ruts and took off as I approached for a closer look. They look like a bit like bats with jerky wing beats and wings held half closed when they fly. It circled round for a bit and came back to the pool as I left to continue its refuelling before resuming its journey south.

Green sandpiper

Green sandpiper

Posted August 18, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 17th   Leave a comment

There is no denying that it felt like autumn this morning with the cool temperatures and the westerly gale. A characteristic of this summer has been the lack of wind, making it feel much more summery. It feels back to “normal” now, although with the climate changes predicted over the next few years what normal is, is hard to say. I found another two of my colour-ringed redshanks back this morning, making 12 back out of the 22 that were still alive in February this year. I don’t give up hope until the middle of October – some come back early straight from wherever they breed (Orkney? The Hebrides?), whereas other take a more leisurely return and stopover at Montrose (I get regular sightings of the Crail birds from there in August and September).

A redshank born this summer and spending its first winter (and probably all subsequent ones) with us at Crail

A redshank born this summer and spending its first winter (and probably all subsequent ones) with us at Crail

Posted August 17, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 16th   Leave a comment

It was much windier down at Fife Ness today. Proper breakers and seabirds screaming past. Gannets are so much more agile and capable when the wind gets up: seabirds only really make sense on a windy day. No chance of seeing whales but I think my luck there has been spent for a few years. Hundreds of gannets and kittiwakes passed Fife Ness during the hour and a half that I spent there this morning, but only a handful of manx shearwaters and one great skua, indicative that anything very interesting was passing well out to sea, blown out by the strong westerlies. There were a lot of sandwich terns passing close by however, coming round the Ness and heading north. At one point a flock of 8 tree sparrows flew over my head out to sea before losing their nerve and heading back. Every year they seem to try to disperse, but every year they reach the edge of Fife, accumulating at the Ness for a few weeks before they give up and head back inland.

Sandwich terns passing Fife Ness

Sandwich terns passing Fife Ness

Posted August 16, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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