August 1st   2 comments

Arctic terns

Arctic terns

I have spent the last few weeks on the west coast of Canada on holiday with my family and as I sat on Balcomie Beach this morning it struck me how similar everything is. Last week I was watching seabirds on a rocky headland much like Fife Ness. Out to sea were cormorants and shags, gulls and auks and on the rocks were turnstones and oystercatchers. True, Vancouver Island has pelagic and Brandt’s cormorants instead of our shag and cormorant, California and Bonaparte’s gull instead of our Herring and Black-headed, and black turnstones and black oystercatchers instead of our species. But ecologically, it is all the same. There is a living to be made fishing or scavenging on any northern latitude coast and the evolutionary answers are the same. The turnstones may be black but they were turning over stones, picking among the mussel beds and chasing each other in their grumpy early summer way when they re-establish their wintering territories and feeding hierarchies. I will see the same behaviour from our turnstones which will be returning to Crail shores from now on. Of course there are differences: Vancouver Island doesn’t have any gannets so today these looked huge and fantastic to me after a three week absence – we are very lucky to have them so common. I do usually take them for granted. My appreciation was reawakened this morning as I watched bird after bird high diving into the surf. And Vancouver Island doesn’t have many terns. I watched arctic terns this morning and re-appreciated them too. They and sandwich terns, of course, will be fairly common for the next month or so as they bring their fledged young for a few weeks’ fishing at Kingsbarns and Fife Ness.

The season was winding down when I left and now the autumn migration season seems a real possibility. I have heard whimbrels calling as they pass over Crail and St Andrews every day this week heading south. Some of these birds will already be in Africa as I write this. The guillemots and razorbills are now much less obvious shuttling back and forth out to sea having finished breeding. Only the last few puffins are left breeding (although so many of them breed that this means that there are still a lot to be seen off Crail now). In a couple of weeks we can expect proper migration to start – easterly winds and rain showers will bring in early migrants like wood sandpipers, whinchats, tree pipits and cuckoos.

One thing that is a bit different between Canada and Crail just now is the weather. They are having a heat wave and a drought and I note from my weather station that we had 84 mm of rain in July. A good rain storm in Crail (several hours of heavy rain) is about 2 mm so that means it has been a raining a lot. You probably already noticed. June in contrast was dry – 17 mm, and May wet again – 74 mm. So if you are a pessimist we can expect more of this wet summer or if you are an optimist you can hope it’s the turn of another dry month.

Gannet - undoubtedly one of Crail's star birds

Gannet – undoubtedly one of Crail’s star birds

Posted August 1, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

2 responses to “August 1st

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  1. These comments and especially the photos are the best “readings” and “viewings” of the month. Can’t wait to read/see the next one. WONDERFUL!!!

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