Week ending September 14th   Leave a comment

A week ago, on Sunday evening we had the first pink-footed geese of the winter passing over Crail. A V of 100 or so went over my garden mid-afternoon heading into Fife or the Lothians along the Forth. We always get the first wave of geese coming in about the 6-7th of September – certainly in the first week of September if there have been at least a couple of days of northerly winds to help the first birds down, probably from Spitsbergen. Later at the end of September we get the bulk of them then coming down from Iceland. There’s something so special about hearing the first geese coming back every year.

Pink-footed geese - welcome back

Pink-footed geese – welcome back

The haar has been in and out all week. We have had high pressure with a steady but light east wind for a lot of it. Bits and bobs have been turning up migrant wise. The first redwings at Kilminning on Thursday and a barred warbler caught at Fife Ness Muir on Saturday. I was busy and couldn’t go down to look for the barred warbler. I was relieved actually. They are such hard work being so skulking that you can know exactly which bush it is in and still not see it. Better to bump in one by accident later this season – a large greyish warbler dashing into a bush – than to spend an afternoon waiting for a glimpse of a bird that may already be on its way again.

Tawny owl

Tawny owl

I spent the weekend at Cambo at the annual Crail, Cellardyke & Pittenweem Scout camp. It’s always a bit hectic but there are advantages of camping out for hearing nocturnal birds. I was woken up on Friday night by tawny owls hooting at about midnight, and then their “kewick” calling close to dawn. The hooting is the territorial song of the male and the “kewick” is a contact call, allowing pairs or family members to stay together as they move through dark woodland. We have a tawny owl pair in Crail between beech walk park and market gate but Cambo probably has several pairs with its larger expanse of woodland. Tawny owls are one of the most successful owl species in Europe because they eat more or less anything that moves from insects and worms up to largish mammals and birds. They have been known to catch birds and bats in flight as well as practically swim for frogs. Anywhere that has some large trees will have tawny owls. You find tawny owls even in the middle of large cities. They hunt from chimney pots and lamp posts just as happily as from tree branches – dark owl shaped lumps that you might imagine are owls in a dark street often are. Tawny owls are so successful that their main cause of death is bizarrely starvation. They are intensely territorial and almost all suitable territories are already filled up. Juveniles each year head off in August and September to look for a vacant territory. If they get lucky they find one without a resident, but most do not and get chased out to starve to death. Competition for limited space is the main source of mortality in tawny owls.

Another nocturnal noise at Cambo was the deep honk of Canada geese that are now a late summer fixture of the coast between Boarhills to Kingsbarns. There was a bright near full moon over the weekend so the geese were probably still feeding even at night. I saw a flock of about 20 flying over at dusk. They used to be a difficult bird to see around Crail.

There are still a lot of tree sparrows about and actually in Crail. I saw a flock of 25 mixed with house sparrows at the shore end of Pinkerton, above the cliffs of Roome Bay at the beginning of the week and flocks are regular over the centre of Crail. There were even some out on the May Island a couple of weeks ago. Look out also for migrant northern wheatears on the shore this week – they are perky upright birds like robins but with a distinctive big white rump that flashes as they fly away down the beach.

Migrant juvenile northern wheatear - often on the beach at this time of year

Migrant juvenile northern wheatear – often on the beach at this time of year

Posted September 14, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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