Archive for October 2014

October 26th   Leave a comment

First light – now back to 7 am – and a flock of nine whooper swans flew past Crail heading along the coast towards Anstruther. They were as low as possible, below the level of the houses as beat relentlessly into the wind.

The winds this weekend have been the strongest of the winter so far. It was very easy getting out to Fife Ness on my bike, somewhat harder coming back. When it’s this way round the trip is almost guaranteed to be business as usual. Only when I have to struggle into the wind to get out to Kilminning can I really expect to find something unusual. At least it’s the right way round. On a westerly my motivation to get out there is much less and so the wind assistance is a necessity; on the return the urge for a cup of coffee and to get out of the wind gets me back to Crail. On an easterly, nothing will stop me getting out there so fighting into the wind just seems like earning whatever birds I might find out there. And inevitably I will stay out too long so the wind assistance back to Crail can be a life saver.

Today I wasn’t hoping for much. Kilminning still has a lot of blackbirds, redwings and goldcrests but many fewer than last week. Down at the bottom I found a lesser whitethroat and a chiff-chaff among the goldcrests. As the autumn progresses the chance of a lesser whitethroat from further east increases so I looked at this one carefully. It was not very contrasty than usual and had a warmer sandy brown tinge to the wings so could well have been a “Siberian” Lesser whitethroat. As I cycled (slowly) back into Crail I enjoyed the flock of several hundred starling by Pinkerton. Flocks of starling swirling in a gale above a stubble field is iconic late autumn for me.

One of the migrant blackbirds still in temporary residence at Kilminning - at least until the berries run out

One of the migrant blackbirds still in temporary residence at Kilminning – at least until the berries run out


Posted October 26, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 25th   Leave a comment


A juvenile gannet on the lookout for fish

A fish spotted

A fish spotted

This week there has been an interesting contrast at sea. If you have been looking out there these last two weeks it will have seemed pretty similar – strong winds and rough seas. The contrast is in the wind direction. Up until the end of last week we had strong easterlies and since we have had strong westerlies. The result is a huge decrease in the number of seabirds passing Crail. One evening this week I looked out and saw only two gannets in ten minutes rather than the 200 of a week before. The same is true for kittiwakes. There has still been a steady passage of auks to and fro all week. Today at Fife Ness I had a juvenile pomarine skua going south like a rocket well out to sea, soaring sideways into the wind in loops that made it appear and disappear in big arcs on the horizon. This is “dynamic soaring” that the bigger seabirds do, looping down and up and travelling hundreds of miles in a day with barely a wing beat. Apart from this pom nothing else of great note this week. No little gulls or shearwaters (not even fulmars still!).

A fish targeted!

A fish targeted!

This afternoon I went out to Anstruther to look for a couple of Mediterranean gulls reported yesterday evening. It was very windy and I only managed to track down the usual. But it was nice watching the black-headed gulls behaving like storm petrels – kiting into the wind and trailing their feet just into the water to stabilise themselves and then picking up small prey from the surface of the sea. As I was in Anstruther I checked out all the redshanks for any of my colour-ringed birds. There is one, LLLR (Lime over Lime on the left leg and Lime over Red on the right), that moved to Cellardyke the winter after I first caught it (as an adult) in the harbour in Crail. It’s been over there for two winters now so I think it has changed its wintering territory for good. Most of the redshanks I mark in Crail stay here for the rest of their life, although birds in the first year sometimes disappear a few weeks after I catch them (I may have made them feel insecure about Crail as a safe place…). It is hard to say if a bird disappears whether it has moved or died. Anything that moves further away than Anstruther is unlikely to be resighted. I suspect at least one or two of the other adults that have apparently died have just moved elsewhere in the Forth, but by and large I think this is unusual. It is much better to stick with where you know and any adult moving will have to find space in another place that will already likely be full of other redshanks. I didn’t find LLLR but coincidentally John Anderson did, complete with photo. It was roosting on the very high tide in the churchyard at Anstruther – all the usual sites were completely covered and it is very sheltered there. Probably not the safest place with respect to cats and sparrowhawks but yesterday there will have been few options out of the wind at high tide.

The Crail redshank that has moved to live in Anstruther.

The Crail redshank that has moved to live in Anstruther.

Posted October 26, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 19th   Leave a comment

This weekend the wind has gone round to the west and today we have a howling gale blowing through Crail. The wind is surreally warm so it doesn’t feel as bad as usual. But it’s bad enough to disrupt the birding. Wrong direction and too strong to see anything except in a few sheltered spots. At Kilminning the goldcrests were congregating in the lee of the trees. The blackbirds and redwings were more exposed, drawn out to the treetops for the berries. Despite the week of easterlies Friday morning brought nothing new in; Saturday was very quiet too and today there was no sign of anything apart from what was brought in in the middle of last week. I watched a chiff-chaff among a group of goldcrests, looking at it long and hard trying to make it something more exotic. It’s a chiff-chaff’s lot I’m afraid. Always looked at in hope for something more exciting but then never appreciated when identified. This one was a very brown and grey individual so may well have come from the east. Not much of a consolation for my anticipation of this weekend being the “big” one of the autumn.

Sparrowhawk - also enjoying the influx of blackbirds

Sparrowhawk – also enjoying the influx of blackbirds

Denburn is getting easier to see things in as the wind strips the leave away. There were some long-tailed tits in with the more usual tits and goldcrests this morning. As well as the return of long-tailed tits there was also a grey squirrel or two about. With the wind making it very hard to hear and see things the sparrowhawks were making merry. It must be a nightmare for small birds when it gets very windy because their usual early warning system of alarm calls doesn’t function and there are so many things moving to hide an approaching predator. The blackbirds are taking most of the sparrowhawk’s attention – I am seeing a couple of attacks every time out. Blackbirds are so abundant just now, are a nice size and are often out in the open making them the best prey for sparrowhawks. There is a probably a glut for sparrowhawks when the thrushes come in every year. The blue tits can probably breathe a sigh of relief for this short period when the sparrowhawks’ attention is elsewhere. Even on such a windy day.

One thing I have noticed this week as I toured the parish looking for rarities is the unusually large numbers of magpies this year. Whoever or whatever has been keeping the magpies in check has relaxed this summer and it looks like that several pairs have bred successfully at Crail, the airfield, Kilminning, Balcomie and Fife Ness. There are at least 4 and maybe 5 separate small flocks to be seen, I assume the adults with their young of this year.

Magpie - much commoner around Crail this autumn

Magpie – much commoner around Crail this autumn


Posted October 19, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 16th   Leave a comment

Lots of goldcrests coming in at the moment - lots of these coming through Crail gardens as well

Lots of goldcrests coming in at the moment – lots of these coming through Crail gardens as well

Despite rain showers overnight and the continuing easterlies, this morning just brought more blackbirds, redwings and goldcrests – possibly one or two chiff-chaffs that weren’t there yesterday. Not the more exotic things I have been hoping for. It was still exciting being out first thing with every bush shedding blackbirds and a flock of several hundred golden plover circling around the airfield and Kilminning, undecided where to land. Maybe tomorrow will be the big day.

Posted October 16, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 15th   Leave a comment

There were a lot of thrushes in at Kilminning this morning. Clouds of redwings lifting out of the bushes and heading inland after a night over the North Sea and blackbirds dashing everywhere. Most of them were sooty young males on their first migration from Scandinavia and also on their way deeper into Scotland or England for the winter. A woodcock flushed from the bushes just in front of me as I watched the thrushes. Another overnight arrival. It shook itself and shuffled back into cover looking embarrassed. If there is ever a competition for the top comedy British bird then a woodcock is going to be a strong contender, although maybe a puffin might clinch top spot. A woodcock and lots of thrushes is a great sign of more good birds to come as the easterlies continue. There is still a yellow-browed warbler down at Kilminning to make any eastern vagrants feel at home. Rain showers are forecast for tomorrow evening so Friday may be a very good day.

A young male blackbird refuelling after crossing the North Sea

A young male blackbird refuelling after crossing the North Sea

The seabird show continued today. A juvenile long-tailed skua shearwatering  past, a couple of great skuas making heavier going of it, some little gulls and a continuous stream of kittiwakes going east past Crail in the 30 or so minutes I watched today. The number of kittiwakes (and auks and gannets) passing is huge. In a typical minute I counted 72 kittiwakes going by, and this was going on all day…

Posted October 15, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 13th   Leave a comment

I got very excited when I looked at the forecast last night. Strong easterly and north-easterly winds all week with frequent rain showers. Something good or two should turn up by the end of the week. The sea has livened up immediately with 6 pomarine skuas, a possible long-tailed skua, a great skua, a handful of little gulls and at long last, a sooty shearwater past Crail in the 30 minutes or so I watched today. Everything was heading out of the Forth into the strong north-easterly, slowing their progress so I could watch them at a more leisurely pace than last week. Trouble was that there was no incentive for them to be close in so it was swings and roundabouts – more time, but at a greater distance. Sooty shearwaters have been very scarce this year and I had given up hope: I usually see tens by the end of August but this was the first of the year for me.

Sooty shearwater - a Crail autumn speciality but not so this year

Sooty shearwater – a Crail autumn speciality but not so this year

Posted October 13, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 12th   Leave a comment

Another nearly flat calm day and beautiful conditions out at Balcomie Beach for just sitting and appreciating the stream of pink-footed geese flocks coming down from the north along the coast. Out at sea everything was far out: two tantalising skuas, probably pomarine, and a scattering of little gulls flashing their black and white wings amongst the larger gulls. On Balcomie Beach itself there was a tidy roost of ringed plover, dunlin and a single sanderling, looking almost snow white compared to its brown neighbours.

Dunlin on Balcomie Beach

Dunlin on Balcomie Beach

Posted October 12, 2014 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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