Week ending December 14th   Leave a comment

With only a week to go before the solstice there is not a lot of the day to see anything in. I leave for work in as it is getting light and come back in the dark. Unless it’s owls of course. This time of year is about the best time to see the local barn owls. The back road to Anstruther is probably the best place to see them crossing in front of your headlights or on a fence post beside the road. I did spot a large flock of fieldfares in the bushes just outside of Crail on the St Andrews road at dawn on Thursday and they have been in the area ever since. Outside of autumn they are a cold weather bird for Crail, coming in from the continent to escape the much colder weather there.

A very handsome fieldfare - there are about 50 just outside of the north end of Crail along the St Andrews road

A very handsome fieldfare – there are about 50 just outside of the north end of Crail along the St Andrews road

This week has been the coldest of the winter with a couple of hard frosts. I walked through the town at dawn one day this week and it was spectacularly silent. Just the flight call of a song thrush and a blue tit calling briefly from Denburn. Everything was focussed on feeding and making up the shortfall of 17 hours of freezing darkness. Now is the time to put food out for garden birds.

The goose and swan spectacle has continued on and off this week up near Boarhills. Pink-footed geese are surprisingly difficult to see against a muddy potato field. Only when you stop and start counting do you realise that there are hundreds there. The whooper swans in the same area are a different matter, shining brilliant white against the dark soil. If we get snow or a heavy frost then the reverse applies. I doubt camouflage plays much role for either species in the winter so this is just of aesthetic interest to me. During the summer, swans nest on islands and are too big for avian predators so they can afford to be conspicuous. Being brown and grey coloured does probably count for the pink-feet though. I have walked past nesting geese and not noticed them until very close as they flatten themselves down on their nest in the licheny tundra.

Pinkfeets about to blend in to a potato field

Pinkfeets about to blend in to a potato field: how many can you count on the ground?

The wind got up on Sunday morning so I took myself down to Fife Ness for some token sea-watching. At this time of year my expectations are low although I was hoping for some little auks. Chris Smout had three past Anstruther earlier in the week and it has been a couple of years since I have seen some from Crail. Some winters we can have thousands past. Little auks are like baby puffins and out at sea can look just like a flock of starlings going by – they are starling size and it seems impossible that they can thrive out in the North Sea on even a moderately stormy day. But they are waterproof and unsinkable. It’s the land that catches them out – I have picked them up from roads and gardens on particularly rainy or foggy nights when they end up overland as they follow the coast down from the north and hit the East Neuk sticking out into the sea. No luck on Sunday morning though. Just the usual suspects from Fife Ness. More gannets than I might expect at this time of year and three arctic and/or pomarine skuas (at least one likely the former and one likely the latter) far out. Skuas are unusual at this time of year – like sandwich terns they should be off the coast of Africa just now. There was also a steady stream of red-throated divers past into the Forth.

I am twitchy about little auks because the end of the year is approaching and I am just one species away from 150 on my year list – which now seems the minimum to achieve for a year spent looking for birds around Crail. Species 149 was a bullfinch just on the edge of the “parish” past Anstruther on Wednesday. My record for a year is 156. I won’t reach that this time. Any disappointment about missing species this year won’t last long though. Come the New Year it all starts again.

Posted December 14, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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