Week ending April 12th   Leave a comment

The summer migrants started trickling into Fife this week with the fantastic spring weather. Not a flood just yet and by the weekend there only a few reports of swallows from central Fife and we had a northern wheatear at Roome Bay on Saturday. I heard my first local chiff-chaffs at Cambo on Wednesday afternoon and quite a few singing in St Andrews on Friday. Chiff-chaffs are typically the first common migrants to arrive along with sand martins. Some chiff-chaffs winter south of the Sahara but many winter in Iberia so they don’t have so far to go. Sand martins however, winter almost entirely in tropical West Africa and their early arrival during a cold spring must be a shock to the system. The migrants time their arrivals to the local weather conditions and will remain in southern Europe for longer when spring is late, following the warmer weather as it moves north. But it’s a delicate bit of timing and it will be as hard for a sand martin to predict what the weather is like in Fife from the conditions in France as we would find doing the reverse. There are always individuals that will take the risk of arriving early because they gain first access to territories and can get set up before prospective mates arrive, ready for a longer and more productive breeding season. The risk that they find unfavourable conditions is higher the earlier they arrive though so it’s one of those great trade-offs that create the variation we see. Consequently migrants arrive over quite a long period. It’s easy to say when you have seen the first sand martin but not so easy to say when half the population has arrived, or when the last straggler gets here.

Migration can also be a much smaller scale affair. I saw my first corn bunting singing from a wire just outside of Crail on Thursday. This bird probably spent the winter out with the large flock near St Monans and made its own modest migration back last week. Perhaps not the most epic of journeys: there would have been little uncertainty about the weather conditions on arrival or whether it was going to succeed in making the journey. The corn buntings back around Crail are still a great sign of spring. Their populations have been remaining steady over the last few years. I wish them well for a good summer again this year.

The corn buntings are back

The corn buntings are back

 

On Wednesday I saw several red-breasted merganser pairs on the sea at Kingsbarns and there was a pair in the harbour bay at Crail on Thursday. They are a very distinctive duck and when they take off, pairs are a like a couple of speeding arrowheads.

A pair of red-breasted mergansers

A pair of red-breasted mergansers

At the weekend the weather turned back to a more normal Crail spring with strong westerlies and much cooler temperatures. Sunday morning the temperature barely climbed up to four degrees. The early swallows may well be regretting their haste. I was out at Balcomie and Kilminning on Saturday morning but everything was keeping their heads down and there was little sign of even the resident birds. I did see a song thrush with a beak full of food at Kilrenny showing that some birds have got going. Most blackbirds around Crail are on eggs or have hatched their first broods by now as well. If you go into the garden and notice a male blackbird perching near you with cocked tail and a nervous manner you are probably close to the female sitting tightly on a nest. You can try the “getting warmer” game as the male will get more agitated the closer you get to the bush that contains the nest. It’s a bit of a give-away and the smarter birds like magpies and jays, I am sure, use cues like these to help them find the eggs.

Posted April 12, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

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