Archive for June 2015

June 28th   Leave a comment

I got an exciting phone call from one of my daughter’s friends yesterday. She had just seen a red squirrel in her back garden – and she lives on Marketgate right in the centre of Crail! Red squirrels must be dispersing at the moment – the young of the year spreading out to new territories. There was one crossing the road at Fairmount a week ago that caused a small pileup as a Crail resident braked to avoid it (thankfully no-one hurt including the squirrel). Red squirrels are so scarce in the East Neuk that this might even be the same squirrel that has now made it to Crail. The spooky thing is that the red squirrel of yesterday was in the garden next door to the Crailer that had the accident. I suspect they will have felt they were have post-traumatic stress flashbacks if they saw the red squirrel crossing their garden too. Anyway, look out for it in Denburn. Red squirrels are pretty distinctive, being reddish rather than grey, they have more tufty tails and the real clincher is they have tufty ears – the last feature cleverly noted by my daughter’s friend.

Young red squirrel on the lookout for a new home

Young red squirrel on the lookout for a new home

There is a grey heron sitting in the flat topped tree directly behind the kirk as if it is trying to nest. The last time this happened was the year we had very bad gales at the start of June too and a lot of larger birds nesting in trees – herons included – lost their nests. I got very excited thinking that perhaps the herons would start nesting each year in the kirkyard but nothing came of it. Still here is one doing the same thing again under the same circumstances. It is much too late for a heron to start nesting again this year but herons are long lived birds and I suspect they do a lot of considering before they decide to shift nesting site. Perhaps next spring…It would be great to have a heronry in Denburn.

The black-headed gulls have been returning to the shore this week. They have finished breeding and the adults, though still with their dark brown hoods, have come back from the inland lochs to where they spend most of their year. The juveniles will arrive in Crail in the next few weeks. They take longer to get here because they don’t know where they are going just yet. The young of the year – like the red squirrels – take their time dispersing because finding a good place to live for the rest of their lives is a fairly important decision. Most animals don’t shift from the place they decide to live in (or end up living in) in the first year of their life unless they absolutely have to – it’s better the devil you know in many cases, even if conditions where they live deteriorate.

Curlews are another recent return to the shore. They are all adults again, although most will have failed breeding rather than finished breeding to be back in Crail so soon. There is another story here, for another time in detail – but curlews really are disappearing before our eyes as a breeding species in Britain. They are really long lived so even though many pairs are getting no chicks off at all they are still relatively common on the rocky shores around Crail. I have a curlew ring on my binocular strap that I picked up from a dead curlew on the other side of the Firth of Forth in 2004. It was from an adult curlew that had been ringed in the mid-1980s exactly where I found the dead bird. Crail still has many such old timer curlews returning every winter but they will getting fewer and fewer.

Curlew - back around Crail now after breeding

Curlew – back around Crail now after breeding

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Posted June 28, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 21st   Leave a comment

There are a couple of common terns fishing in Roome Bay on most days. Even if you overlook them as just another gull like thing, when they start hovering and diving into the water they stand out a mile as something a bit different. If there weren’t arctic terns, common terns would be a candidate for the most beautiful bird on the planet. Arctic terns are just more so in every respect. They are being quite elusive and staying well out to sea this year; I am only glimpsing occasional birds passing close by Crail. This is more than made up by the puffins that seem to be shuttling by much closer than usual. I love being able to look out of the back of my house and the commonest bird I can see is a puffin.

Common tern

Common tern

Posted June 21, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 17th   Leave a comment

There were 22 eider chicks in Roome Bay this evening. I hope the decrease of 15 since the weekend is because of a break-away group moving down the coast. There are still flotillas of eider chicks being brought across from the May Island and they are quite mobile (even discounting the initial Dunkirk style evacuation from the May).

Eiders and chicks newly arrived on the Crail coast from the May Island

Eiders and chicks newly arrived on the Crail coast from the May Island

Posted June 21, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 14th   Leave a comment

Not a cuckoo but a reminder of why things weren't singing much today - too many other things to do. This is a whitethroat busy feeding chicks.

Not a cuckoo but a reminder of why things weren’t singing much today – too many other things to do. This is a whitethroat busy feeding chicks.

The east winds and rain of the weekend didn’t bring in that late spring rarity I was hoping for. It was very quiet this afternoon out at Kilminning despite the improvement in the weather. After the incredible noise from the cars at the airfield of yesterday it was blissful to have the opportunity to hear some bird song. But everything had obviously been cowed into silence by the day before, except for the skylarks of course – nothing ever stops them singing. And then I heard a cuckoo! My first calling cuckoo in Crail ever. One migrant brought in by the winds then and optimistically looking for a female. If it was here and calling yesterday I wouldn’t have known with all the noise. Today though it was the perfect summer sound to be carried by the wind into Crail. I hope someone else heard it – summers need the sound of a cuckoo.

Posted June 15, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 12th   Leave a comment

I counted 37 eider chicks in Roome Bay this evening. This is the largest number I have seen there for a long time. Despite the gales and the cool weather the eiders seem to be having a good year. It’s a long way from chick to duck though. Round the corner just north of Balcomie Beach there is also a brood of shelducks still going strong. Shelducks try to breed every year on that bit of coast but never even get to the chick stage. Foxes probably get the eggs first. Shelducks nest in quite large burrows in sandy soil at the top of the beach. I should think a determined fox can dig a nest out very quickly. But not this year. I counted about 10 chicks hurrying to the shelter of the sea with their two anxious parents as I walked past. They are about a week old now: John photographed the same brood last week just after they hatched.

The brood of shelducks at Balcomie taken last week. They all still seem to be alive today.

The brood of shelducks at Balcomie taken last week. They all still seem to be alive today.

Posted June 15, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 10th   Leave a comment

The little egret at Fife Ness this morning - no. 219 for the Crail list, but hopefully a much more regular visitor in the years to come as it continues to spread north

The little egret at Fife Ness this morning – no. 219 for the Crail list, but hopefully a much more regular visitor in the years to come as it continues to spread north

Some things work out beautifully. I was walking past Denburn at 8 this morning on my way to meet my lift to work when I got a phone message from John Anderson that he had just seen a little egret at Fife Ness. As I returned his call he came speeding past on his way back to Fife Ness with his camera. I jumped in, borrowed his binoculars and within 3 minutes was watching my first little egret for the Crail list. It was going to happen sooner or later – they are practically summering at the Eden and are breeding just south of the Forth. Still, I remember when they were great rarities in Britain when I was a boy and even as they become commonplace they are always great birds to see. A beautiful, pure white, heron. On a beautiful summer’s morning nothing could be better. I admired it catching sticklebacks for a bit in the pool by the golf course before the morning’s mowing sent it off to rocks further away. I even made it to work before 9.

If you look carefully at the photo you will see a ring on the egret’s left leg. I reported it in to the people in the UK that are colour-ringing them and hope to find out where this bird came from.

Posted June 10, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

Week ending June 7th   Leave a comment

I was admiring the verges between Crail and St Andrews on Monday. A riot of colours with wild flowers blooming after the early spring flowering of the cow parsley. And also thinking that perhaps Fife Council had finally realised that its limited resources might be better spent on Crail Primary School and its decaying buildings rather than grass cutting. The kiss of death of course. On Tuesday they had all been mowed. I think the reason is road safety – I was reminded of this as I swerved to avoid a car on my side of the road that was overtaking the grass cutting tractor on a bend. We have a misguided, expensive and perhaps pointless tradition of cutting grass verges during the summer in the UK: one cut at the end of the season would deal with any perennial species that might develop into a genuine safety issue. Much of the destruction of wildlife and habitats is fuelled by what is known as perverse subsidies – where we actually pay for the privilege of destroying ecosystems goods and services which have great value. There may be short term benefits and individuals who gain but in the long run we all suffer a reduced quality of life. There may be a compelling argument to chop down a forest to harvest the timber or to create farmland to feed growing populations but surely there is no argument to throw money away to “tidy up” verges rather than having a network of wildflower and insect strips through our denuded countryside. Never mind the nesting birds and small mammals that will have been killed directly on Tuesday. If you travel in Germany or Switzerland you soon notice that there is much, much less grass cutting in towns and along roads. To my eyes it doesn’t even look a bit messy or dangerous, and neither country is known for their disregard of either concepts. We just need a change of culture – http://www.plantlife.org.uk/roadvergecampaign – and think of how much money we could then divert to doing something positive rather than simply destructive.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo

Perhaps you have already realised that the spring is pretty much over so the opportunities for me being distracted by rarities in Crail rather than local environmental issues is much less. The gales this week – which have taken a big toll on the new leaves on the trees – were all southerly or south-westerly so there was little opportunity for a last gasp rarity to come in after the Kentish plover of last week. The beginning of June is the best time for a really rare bird to appear in Britain but the window has passed now I think. I did find a cuckoo at Fife Ness this Sunday morning. Cuckoos are a good Crail bird, only really reliable in July and then you have to get lucky at Kilminning and catch a migrant passing through. I have never heard a cuckoo call around Crail – 30-50 years ago this would have been regular. You have to go much further west before you hear them. Cuckoos, of course, are migrants and like nearly all the other migrants they are disappearing in our lifetime. Again whether this is loss of habitats (in the cuckoo’s case the loss of their host species’ habitats), or conditions on migration or conditions on Africa, is unknown. I strongly suspect conditions on migration. Cuckoos love big caterpillars and you need moist conditions for them: summer droughts in southern Europe will make their return migrations difficult. I couldn’t tell whether this Crail cuckoo was on the way up or on the way down – probably the former. A late bird that might be seeking redstart nests in Sweden for the next month. Rare or not, cuckoos are always a joy to see – everyone can identify them by their call but few know they look just like small birds of prey. Look twice at a long-tailed hawk passing through your Crail garden during June or July, it may well be a cuckoo.

The gales this week will have taken their toll on the eider chicks. There were still a few out at Balcomie this weekend. John caught the nightmare even moderate waves must be to a chick beautifully with the photo below. They are practically unsinkable but they can’t feed in a storm and they must run the risk of being dashed against rocks. Again I wish them luck for the coming week and some nicer more seasonal weather.

Eider chick braving the gale

Eider chick braving the gale

Posted June 7, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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