Week ending 31st May   2 comments

With unusual impeccable timing after two weeks away in Cyprus and Germany I came back to Crail on Saturday to a report of a Kentish plover on the beach at Balcomie. This is a fairly rare bird with less than 20 Scottish records, although many of these come from the Firth of Forth in late spring. It has been on my hoped for list for Crail, indeed for Balcomie Beach which is perfect habitat for it, ever since I have been in Crail. I caught up with it mid-morning on Sunday after the heavy rain of the morning cleared up. Despite it only being a few kilometres from my house it still felt like a proper “twitch”. I felt a great sense of urgency to get out to the beach and very tense and excited right up to the moment of spotting the bird. And then a great sense of relief that I had seen it for the Crail list. I have seen many Kentish plovers abroad – they are a world-wide species but they favour more southerly beaches. A couple of years ago when I was in California I saw hundreds sharing the beaches happily with the surfers and dog walkers, only trotting a few meters out of harm’s way as a person approached. Today’s bird was a different story. It was associating with much more nervous sanderling and ringed plovers and would respond to their alarms. It was still possible to watch it without disturbing it at about 100 meters, but a telescope was needed to really appreciate it. Kentish plovers are slimmer and slightly smaller than ringed plovers and lack the definite black markings of them – they look like a washed out version of a ringed plover, or at any distance like a chick. They are great runners – like sanderling – and have slightly longer legs so this adds to the dinky, chick like appearance. Later in the year, looking like a newly fledged ringed plover would not be very helpful, but in the spring when there are only adults around it was very distinctive. It was probably a female (males have small patches of black and rufous on them) but I noticed a slight rufous wash on the back of the head which I think only males have. I watched the Kentish plover dashing about the beach for a while. It seemed to want to be alone, moving up to the cover of the strandline where it became invisible when it stopped moving. When alarmed it would rejoin the plovers at the tide edge. All of the plovers flew off to the bay to the north when a dog walker went on to the beach. John Anderson and I were the only bird watchers left to see their departure because of the unintentional human disturbance so there wasn’t much of a conflict but later on in the day this may have become more of a problem.

The Kentish plover at Balcomie beach today - no. 218 for the Crail list

The Kentish plover at Balcomie beach today – no. 218 for the Crail list

It was quite a wader-fest on the beach. As well as the Kentish plover and ringed plovers there were about 10 sanderling and a couple each of dunlin and turnstone. Some of the sanderlings and the turnstones were in very bright summer breeding plumage reminding me that they were still on their way north to the high Arctic, with the start of their breeding possibly still three weeks away. The same might be true for a couple of northern wheatears on the golf course. My last northern wheatear was on top of the tallest mountain in Cyprus last week: it takes them about 1-2 weeks more to reach the Arctic after crossing the Sahara so all of these birds are still perfectly on time to start breeding in those areas of the Arctic where the snow doesn’t melt until the second week in June.

Eider chick

Eider chick

My first eider chick raft of the year was out in Balcomie Bay to add to the Sunday scene. I get very cheered up seeing the chicks each year with their fussy and attentive multiple crèche mothers but also slightly apprehensive because only a few chicks will make it over the next three weeks. The same applies to the lapwing chicks in the area. There are quite a few out and about now on the way to the Secret Bunker and most obviously out on the lawn in front of the Fairmont Hotel. I wish them well in their next 2-3 very vulnerable weeks when everything has them on the menu.

Because of my absence I missed the arrival of the sedge warblers this year. There were several on Sunday morning hurling themselves up into the air in frenzied song flights. They probably feel the need to get going after their late arrival.

Lapwing chick

Lapwing chick

Posted May 31, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

2 responses to “Week ending 31st May

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  1. Just returned from a blustery walk along the coastal path and delighted to see Sand Martins , appear to be nesting in bank on the beach . Hate to think what happens if there is a really high tide . Great blog , very helpful for an amateur

    • Thank you. The tide shouldn’t get that high without a winter storm behind it. It will be the continuing cool weather that will be the sand martins’ downfall. Hopefully things will pick up now after the last few days gales.

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