May 6th   Leave a comment

The last week has finally seen the start of proper spring migration through Crail. There was a spell of light east winds at the end of last week with some rain showers and the migrants have come tumbling down. The showers were particularly heavy over the weekend. In fact we have had double the total amount of rain we got during April – an admittedly very dry month with about 15mm – in the last 4 days. Having spent an hour or so out in one of the heaviest downpours today I can testify that it has been monumentally wet. But as the farmers and gardeners have been saying – we need it – and as far as I am concerned it can rain a bit more if it keeps on bringing the birds down.

Last Friday there were more willow warblers and chiff-chaffs about and I saw my first wheatear of the year at Balcomie. The flash of their white rump as they take off, contrasting against the dark, bare earth fields they usually turn up in is one of the signs of a Crail spring or autumn for me. I also saw my first sand martins of the year. There was a group of four hawking over the only remaining farm pool at Balcomie Castle. There are a couple of small sand martin colonies between Balcomie and Cambo and I suspect these birds had shifted from there to the pool because insects are more reliable above water in colder weather. Even though this weekend has brought the migrants in, it has not really warmed up yet. The swallows and martins were congregating wherever it was a bit more sheltered and insecty, particularly the lee of sycamores already in leaf or over the strandline. Another first for the year last Friday was a common whitethroat scuttling about in the brambles at Balcomie, making the same grumpy churr in alarm at me as the last whitethroat I saw in West Africa in November last year. That whitethroat was also in a scrubby field corner, in a bush that looked a lot like a bramble: it was a bit warmer though.

One of the male pied flycatchers at Kilminning this morning

One of the male pied flycatchers at Kilminning this morning

Things really picked up after the heavy rain of Sunday. There was a wryneck at the patch at Fife Ness. On Monday and Tuesday there were reports of cuckoos, redstarts, pied flycatchers and even a yellow wagtail (a bird that still eludes me for my Crail list). I managed to get out for a serious look for things first thing this morning. Luckily there wasn’t any rain today for the first couple of hours after dawn. I started at Kilminning and after about ten minutes found a tree pipit foraging amongst the sycamores. Like the whitethroat of Friday, my last tree pipit was in November in West Africa. Again foraging on the ground among scattered trees (eucalyptus though) on the edge of farmland, but again much warmer and much dryer. I then heard the distinctive chinking of a pied flycatcher coming from the other side of Kilminning and I hurried over to find two birds fighting over a patch of sycamores. Usually the pied flycatchers I connect with at Crail are in the autumn and in dull brown winter plumage but these two were handsome black and white adult males. Pied flycatchers are territorial on their wintering ground, on their breeding ground – and from today’s observation – on passage as well. I was grateful for their fighting and calling. It’s so much easier to find a rare bird when it’s calling.

I then tried the patch and had my best hour’s birding of the year. There was a flock of about 30 mixed warblers: 8 or so garden warblers, 4 or 5 blackcaps, a wood warbler, a goldcrest, 2 common whitethroats and the rest an equal mixture of chiff-chaffs and willow warblers. Underneath the flock, which was keeping to the tops of the trees, was at least one, probably more, spotted flycatcher and another pied flycatcher. Garden warblers are not very rare birds but in any year I might only get at most a handful around Crail. Here was my year’s quota in one tree. And wood warblers are very good Crail birds. I haven’t seen one here since 2008. With a mixed flock like this working its way through a patch of trees there was always something new to look at. I thought initially there were only three garden warblers but the longer I looked the more I saw together until I was able to count 8. If the usual rule of thumb about detectability applies then there may well have been another 8 more down at Fife Ness this morning. And of course other species which I missed entirely. Still I was very happy. The icing on the cake, as it came on to rain again, were a couple of swifts, visibly shaking the raindrops off as they passed over me.

The rarest Crail bird of the day - a wood warbler

The rarest Crail bird of the day – a wood warbler

On my way to work I stopped at the lapwing pool at the crossroads east of Toldrie. I was hoping for an elusive yellow wagtail in the damp pasture or along the muddy pool fringe. No wagtail but I did flush a common snipe up from the grass. Another migrant I should think. One third of European bird species are long distance migrants and many snipe winter south of the Sahara just like the warblers and flycatchers I was seeing earlier.

A less obvious migrant - a common snipe

A less obvious migrant – a common snipe

Posted May 6, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

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