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 wildcrail in Sightings

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