Week ending March 15th   Leave a comment

There were further signs of spring this week: hares chasing across the fields; frog spawn in Denburn and pairs of partridges instead of the winter coveys. It’s a shame that the weather hasn’t also cottoned on. Sunday turned cold again with the wind from the north. There was even a hint of easterly on Saturday. I looked for a black redstart on Sunday as a consequence. Mid to late March is the best time to see a black redstart around Crail. They are an early migrant only coming from Southern Europe. Black redstarts like rocks and cliffs and buildings. We can supply all of these and so looking for black redstarts involves a tramp round farm buildings and the airfield. They perch high and are fairly conspicuous like robins so are not too hard to spot when they are about. No luck though this time, although I got excited for a second or two when I saw a chat-like silhouette flycatching from a fence at the airfield. It turned out to be a lovely male stonechat – the first at the airfield for a long time, so nice to see, but not as welcome as a black redstart would have been. In Germany, black redstarts are common garden birds (and robins are shy woodland birds) so migrants can often turn up actually in Crail itself. It is definitely worth looking at any dark birds behaving like a robin in your garden at this time of year – if it turns round and flashes a red tail then you have a black redstart.

A March stonechat gaining its bright black, white and red summer plumage

A March stonechat gaining its bright black, white and red summer plumage

The resident tawny owl of Denburn has been hooting a lot this week. On Wednesday night it was very atmospheric in Beech Walk Park, beautifully clear with Jupiter and Venus and a whole skein of stars visible to a backdrop of the tremulous hooting of the owl. I still didn’t manage to hear it from my garden though.

The song thrushes started really singing last week but seemed to have doubled their efforts this week. If the temperature climbs up a bit I should think they will start nesting very soon. Song thrush song is very loud and definite, a varied and musical phrase repeated twice with a clear pause, and then a different repeated phrase and another pause, and so on, apparently more or less forever for an early morning bird. Unlike opera singers, birds really do have circular breathing and shunt air around a series of air sacs so they can keep singing regardless of the demands of breathing. A bit like a bagpipe I suppose. Some birds like skylarks are spectacular endurance singers, hovering high above a field and singing continuously literally for hours. It must really impress the females, although because all the other males are also doing it too the only way for a male skylark to distinguish himself is to do it the longest. It’s to our benefit that skylarks have ritualised their duelling for females through never ending song battles. It would be a poor spring soundscape without the larks’ endless song above.

Song thrush - a photo can't capture what wonderful if persistent singers they are

Song thrush – a photo can’t capture what wonderful if persistent singers they are at this time of year

I passed through Sauchope Caravan Park on the way back into Crail on Sunday morning – itself getting busier with a few early human spring migrants. I stopped to check the rocks for shorebirds and noticed a line of cormorants on the point. It’s a contrast to Fife Ness where shags seems to predominate. At Sauchope it’s usually the other way round for some reason. Cormorants and shags always look very similar out at sea but at this time of year it gets much easier. Many of the cormorants have gained their breeding plumage of white on the head and a big white spot on their thighs; shags are uniformly very dark green and so black at any distance. It pays to be a little bit careful however because so many of the shags that haunt Crail are colour-ringed and so many of them have big white rings on their upper leg. A distant “cormorant” showing a white thigh may well be a colour-ringed shag. The best way to split them is: in flight, cormorants have flattish bellies and shags a distinct pot-bellied look and on the water, cormorants have a gently sloping forehead up from the bill whereas shags have an abrupt forehead, at right angles to their bill.

A cormorant in breeding plumage

A cormorant in breeding plumage

Posted March 15, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

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