Week ending January 25th   Leave a comment

The winter this year seems to be dragging a little – after another week of being entirely indoors more or less during daylight. There were at least a few signs of spring this weekend. A pair of lesser black-backed gulls were around Cellardyke Harbour this Sunday; they winter from England down to North Africa but are pretty scarce in Scotland at this time. I usually expect to see my first in March. Black-headed gulls are beginning to gain their black (actually dark brown) hoods for breeding. And I saw a pair of goosanders flying in strongly from the sea and heading inland over Anstruther. It’s again a bit early and I hardly ever see them in Fife in winter, but they breed on highland rivers so this pair might have been already on their way north (I’m probably being too optimistic but I need a few straws to sustain me).

A serious redshank fight

A serious redshank fight

I walked from Anstruther back to Crail on Sunday along the coastal path. The shore at the east end of Cellardyke is always a great place for birds. There were lapwings and redshanks roosting on the shore, many mallards and wigeons and the usual hundreds of gulls. I keep meaning to put the time in and check every gull there regularly for the rarer species such as Iceland and glaucous gulls, but that’s probably something for when I don’t have to keep my children amused. I watched a couple of redshanks fighting in Cellardyke Harbour. They can be very, very territorial, fighting for a small patch of low tide mud, sometimes it seems almost to the death. I can imagine the stakes are high. As I know from the redshanks of Crail, they have very clear tiny ranges which might be used by the same bird all the winters it remains alive – over 20 years for some birds. The most vigorous fights occur when two birds think they own an area and both feel they have something to lose. I normally expect these kind of fights much earlier in the year, when, for example, a young bird arrives and occupies an apparently empty patchy for a week or two and then the resident adult arrives back a little late to reclaim it. Why protracted fights might occur in late January I don’t know – the redshanks should have sorted it all out months ago. Perhaps an elderly resident died during the cold weather last week and so there is something to fight for amongst the remaining neighbours.

The pig farm area of Cellardyke used to be a magnet for birds. Lots of spilled food and churned ground created lots of feeding opportunities. It is very quiet now with just a few starlings and linnets when there were hundreds there a couple of winters ago. The whole walk back to Crail on Sunday was fairly quiet except out to sea. There was just one large flock of about 30 yellowhammers, ten linnets and a stonechat in a field corner to liven things up. Birds are often clustered during the winter so you expect to go from famine to feast. This flock of yellowhammers seemed to glow against the drab, fairly miserable muddy field corner they were feeding in. And with an irrepressibly perky stonechat perched on a stone wall behind to add the final cheering touch on a grey winter’s day.

A perky stonechat - the perfect antidote to dull winter's day

A perky stonechat – the perfect antidote to dull winter’s day

Posted January 25, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

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