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.



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 wildcrail in Sightings

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