Archive for August 2015

August 30th   Leave a comment

Probable Lion's Mane Jellyfish at Roome Bay

Probable Lion’s Mane Jellyfish at Roome Bay

I came back today from a week in Spain and Portugal – not the best week to be away from Crail with one of the best migrant falls for many years occurring at the end of last week. Still the wildlife in Extremadura was pretty good too. I started the day watching pallid swifts over Lisbon and finished it watching common swifts over Crail – a couple of late season birds dashing over the High Street at dusk catching a snack on their way south. They may well be in Lisbon themselves tomorrow.

A neighbour sent me a photo of a large jellyfish they found in the boating pond at Roome Bay. It’s probably a small Lion’s Mane jellyfish – about 30 cm across here – but it can grow up to a meter or more.

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Posted August 31, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 23rd   1 comment

There was a report of a humpback whale passing Crail towards Fife Ness first thing in the morning. It was flat calm all morning so a whale would have been very obvious. Whale sightings get more and more common every summer as their populations continue to recover. A humpback sighting on the east coast is still pretty good though. I had a good scan from Crail and Fife Ness but with no luck. I did see a few groups of bottle-nosed dolphins passing in early afternoon although none close in.

The knot season continues down at Balcomie. There was a flock of 25 this morning probing busily into the sand near the strand line. I think they were getting sandhoppers which seem to be particularly abundant in jumping clouds as you walk along the beach at the moment. The knot were joined by turnstone, sanderling and redshank, and right up at the top of the beach a single whimbrel.

The big flock of knot out at Balcomie beach this weekend

The big flock of knot out at Balcomie beach this weekend

I did a circuit of all the potential pools around Crail in the afternoon just in case there were some interesting passage waders inland as well. Even the undrained pool at Troustie was pretty much dry despite the heavy rain we have had over the last 6 weeks. It is such a loss to Crail that we don’t really have any pond or pool by late summer. The waders flying over continue over the Forth rather than coming down to us. There were large flocks of linnets and swallows out at Troustie and one or two corn buntings.

There was a spectacular thunderstorm over Crail on Saturday night with 4 mm of rain in about 30 minutes. The rainy season continues.

Posted August 23, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 20th   Leave a comment

Although the 3 month migration season, when anything might turn up in Crail, has started, it didn’t start with a bang today. Our first good bit of easterly winds and rain showers, along with goodies dropping onto the May and at other places on the East coast, didn’t result in anything this morning. There were just some willow warblers (fewer than the weekend), a couple of chiff-chaffs and a garden warbler at Kilminning. Still if you don’t check, you don’t find. I met a few others out hoping to start “the season” off well so if there had been anything about there was some chance of someone finding it. It is hard at this time of year though, with all the leaves still on the trees: for every willow warbler I saw I heard another two. If there had been a silent greenish warbler about (the mid-August rarity) it would have been tricky to find.

There are a lot of golden plover about Crail at least just now. A flock of about 200 is wandering between Saucehope and Anstruther and often flying right above Crail. Listen for their fluting mournful whistles and look for a tight flickering flock of pigeon-like birds. If you get a closer look they are a mixture of handsome black-bellied summer plumage birds and bright, clean winter plumage or juvenile birds, with some more raggedy in between birds.

A mixed flock of summer and moulting into winter plumage golden plovers

A mixed flock of summer and moulting into winter plumage golden plovers

Posted August 20, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 16th   Leave a comment

I had one of those perfect moments this evening. I was swimming with my family off Balcomie Beach – the sky a perfect blue, beach completely deserted except for us and even some surf. And the sea was alive with grey seals, popping their heads out to look at us and then shyly disappearing. Then back again a bit closer in a game of grandmother’s footsteps. And just above, hundreds of swallows passing down the coast. I even had a pintail flying overhead – a rare duck for Crail and luckily quite distinctive enough to identify while lying on your back in the waves.

Grey seal having a curious look

Grey seal having a curious look

Posted August 17, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

Week ending August 16th   Leave a comment

Despite the promise of some migrants at the end of the week there was not much sign of anything particularly unusual at Kilminning and Fife Ness this weekend. Willow warblers everywhere, but they pass through in large numbers in August regardless of the weather. Every bush and tree had a few willow warblers in them: they are everywhere in Crail at the moment too. Inconspicuous as they forage through the gardens unless you know their soft “hoo-weet” call.

I did have 11 whimbrels between Kilminning and Fife Ness on Saturday morning, and a flock of 12 teal and a common sandpiper at Fife Ness as obvious migrants. Shorebirds – coastal shorebirds at least – seem less dependent on the winds though; at this time of year there is always something about on the shore. There are now 10 or so knots on the rocks of Fife Ness.

Whimbrels passing Fife Ness - one of my favourite sights and sounds in the world

Whimbrels passing Fife Ness – one of my favourite sights and sounds in the world

As I sat on Balcomie Beach on Saturday morning I watched the goosanders communally fishing. It’s a great sight to see in July and August. Saturday was a typical sighting – about 20 goosanders in a line about 50 meters out among the rocks, with all of them dipping their heads into the water periodically to check what the fish were doing. They then all dived simultaneously underwater, popping up ten seconds later, many with a fish. The goosanders were cooperatively fishing, herding the fish and then benefitting from the confusion that so many of them create when they all attack at the same time.

A cooperatively hunting goosander with its head down looking for fish just prior to diving with the group

A cooperatively hunting goosander with its head down looking for fish just prior to diving with the group

The swifts left quite spectacularly this year. On Wednesday evening I was watching 30-40 screaming over the high street at dusk and then on Thursday not one. I haven’t seen a swift since. How they synchronise their departure I have no idea, perhaps they were cranking themselves up each evening earlier in the week and finally they passed a threshold so that instead of flying up to roost as usual they just kept going south. The brilliant thing is that they will now mostly already be in Africa and will be in the Congo next week.

There seem very few butterflies and moths this year. It’s been a slow growing season after a late spring so perhaps there will be a rush later in the month. Nevertheless, it is fairly unusual to be here in the middle of August, on a sunny weekend, with no butterflies at all in my garden. It does seem to have been a good summer for bees though.

I saw my first fledged gannet on Saturday – quite an early one. The big clumsy brown juveniles will soon be everywhere. The adults are still working very hard to ensure that the juveniles fledge with lots of fat to sustain them over the first few weeks even if does make it hard for them to fly. The auks have more or less disappeared in contrast – no puffins at Fife Ness this weekend and from now on they will be very rare until next May.

The robins are moulting and so looking very scrappy – if you see one that is. They stop singing in August and become much more furtive as they renew their plumage. It’s almost as if they are embarrassed to show themselves while they have patchy and dull plumage. In reality they hide because they want to save energy to get their moult done as quickly as possible and also because their flight ability is compromised as they grow new feathers. I have seen a few sparrowhawks around Crail this week passing silently (if the swallows let them) from garden to garden looking for the unwary. If I was a moulting robin I would be keeping a low profile too.

Posted August 16, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 13th   Leave a comment

Fulmars - they may be common but still worth looking at - our own min-albatrosses

Fulmars – they may be common but still worth looking at – our own min-albatrosses

This evening was good for sea watching. A brisk south-easterly wind pushing the gannets, fulmars and occasional manx shearwater close in to Crail. The weather forecast is for heavy rain tomorrow so there well may be some migrants brought down.

Posted August 14, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 9th   Leave a comment

One of the summer plumage knots on Balcomie Beach this week - this may even be the unlucky one I found killed by a peregrine this morning

One of the summer plumage knots on Balcomie Beach this week – this may even be the unlucky one I found killed by a peregrine this morning

Every Sunday morning, inevitably I almost end up on Balcomie Beach and Fife Ness. It’s an easy place to visit, there are always good birds there and best of all there is a sense of continuity in going to the same place repeatedly through the seasons. Like time lapse photography every added snapshot adds value: the changes each week make it really interesting. This morning there seemed to be waders everywhere with the autumn migration starting. 25 dunlin, the same number of sanderlings, ringed plover, turnstones, redshank and curlew, even a couple of knot roosting with the oystercatchers at high tide. The knot were still in summer plumage, showing bright brick red underparts and mottled backs. I also found the wing and some body feathers of one on the edge of the golf course. There were at least three earlier in the week… but one met a peregrine. Birds killed by peregrines are distinct from those killed by sparrowhawks because peregrines only pluck the inner wing feathers and so leave half the wing intact. Sparrowhawks are more thorough and pluck all the wing feathers off. They tend to eat prey in the cover of vegetation, so a kill out in the open is much more likely to be a peregrine. Falcons and hawks are more or less all an adult knot has to worry about. Their main defence is to migrate to breed and winter where such predators are fewer and to congregate in huge flocks where their risk of being a victim is massively diluted. Small groups on migration, in unfamiliar territory, are very vulnerable, however. The dead knot I found was in Svalbard or Siberia a couple of weeks ago, perhaps on route to Mauritania for the winter. It may have made the journey 20 times before and just got unlucky this time.

Young dunlin also on Balcomie Beach at the moment

Young dunlin also on Balcomie Beach at the moment

The swifts were very noisy last night, gathering in a big flock at dusk over Crail. They will be on their way back to Africa any day now. It’s hard to tell but I also think a lot of the swallows are heading south just now. Many more of the swallows I saw this weekend seemed to be heading west (and so eventually south) along the coast rather than the other way. They will still be with us until October although this is mostly because of migrants passing through continuously rather than our local birds staying much longer. The swifts and swallows starting to leave always makes me feel sad for the summer passing but they signal the beginning of the most three exciting months bird-wise in Crail.

Posted August 9, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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