Archive for September 2015

September 30th   Leave a comment

This evening there were more than 200 little gulls about a kilometre out from Crail. A long way out perhaps but it was a perfectly still sunlit evening so they were easy to see. They were dipping and hovering above the sea characteristically, flashing their black underwings, with an occasional black-headed gull or kittiwake giving me a scale. It’s been a slow autumn for seabirds so far – few skuas, shearwaters and no little gulls until now. I suspect little gulls are always out there this time of year, but too far out most of the time.

Little gull - passing Fife Ness a couple of days ago

Little gull – passing Fife Ness a couple of days ago

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Posted September 30, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 27th   Leave a comment

You couldn’t really have a better day than today weather-wise. A flat calm sea, no wind, no clouds and even though the temperature this afternoon only reached 16 degrees, without the wind it felt perfect. You could see birds everywhere at Balcomie this morning from shore to horizon. Nothing more than our winter usuals, but with something interesting to see wherever you looked. There were a smattering of common and arctic terns being harried by three arctic skuas (two almost working as a team making quite sure that the victim had its fish stolen each time), a merlin hunting along the shore and a redpoll flying over to add a bit of extra interest. The weather looks fairly settled for next week – so more perfect autumn days in the East Neuk to look forward to, if not perfect just yet for migrant birds.

Arctic skua

Arctic skua

Posted September 27, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 26th   Leave a comment

The large flock of golden plover is still around, shuttling between the rocks at Saucehope and the stubble and newly ploughed fields between Fife Ness and Crail. Any large, coherent flock of rapidly moving pale birds over Crail will be this flock. When they come in to land in a field they have a very characteristic way of all conspicuously gliding together in a lazy loop over where they want to land followed by a rapid bunching up with flickering wingbeats before another lazy loop. A bit like a pre-roosting starling flock, but with much larger and paler flock members. The moment they land in a field they disappear like magic, of course, because their speckled backs camouflage their pale undersides.

Our local golden plover flock

Our local golden plover flock

It’s been a quiet week with little moving in the way of migrants or on the sea. Even the May Island has gone quiet with just a single yellow-browed warbler this week. We missed the crucial winds two weeks ago and everything got blown past us straight up to Shetland where there are literally hundreds of yellow-browed warblers (more yellow-brows than trees!). We have the locals to cheer us up though: the bar-tailed godwits on Balcomie Beach and occasionally Roome Bay for example.

A lovely bar-tailed godwit at Balcomie to keep us all cheerful during the quiet spell

A lovely bar-tailed godwit at Balcomie to keep us all cheerful during the quiet spell

Posted September 26, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 26th   Leave a comment

The pink-foots are here at last! There were flocks of pink-footed geese arriving all day today. Most coming in from the sea from the west because the wind had pushed them out into the North Sea during their flight down. There has been a steady westerly airflow from Iceland this last week so they will have been mostly wind assisted but will have had to correct their course. It is such a great autumn sound and sight to hear distant pink-feet and then to look up and see a skein coming in. I can imagine how pleased the geese feel too to see the stubble fields of Fife below them after up to two days of solid flying.

Incoming pink-footed geese: welcome back!

Incoming pink-footed geese: welcome back!

Posted September 26, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 22nd   1 comment

I saw another Crail kingfisher today, zooming across Roome Bay early this morning. You wait 10 years and then two come along at once. I suspect it is not a coincidence and we may now have a kingfisher using the shore regularly between Fife Ness and Crail. I hope so. Global warming is pushing kingfishers further north and they are becoming much more common in southern Scotland.

Another spreading species is the Canada goose. This used to be an annual rarity in Crail but we now we have a regular summering flock between Kingsbarns and Boarhills. This year I have counted as many as 200 roosting at the mouth of the Kenly Burn. Today they were feeding in a big flock across the stubble field behind the bay. Still no sign of any of the grey winter geese though.

Canada geese - becoming more or less resident in the Crail area

Canada geese – becoming more or less resident in the Crail area

Posted September 22, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 19th   Leave a comment

A red admiral enjoying the sun today

A red admiral enjoying the sun today

It was a lovely warm day today with little wind. There were finally lots of red-admiral butterflies about sunning themselves. This summer still qualifies as a poor one for butterflies though.

Every morning this week for the first hour after dawn there have been meadow pipits passing over Crail on their way south. Today they were joined by small groups of swallows and house martins and even a few skylarks, although these might well be at the end of their journey to their wintering grounds rather than at the start. The first geese of the winter have passed over Crail this week – brent and barnacle but still no obvious pink-footed geese yet: any day now they will be over with their distinctive “honk honk wink wink” call as if their voices are breaking.

Posted September 20, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 18th   Leave a comment

This week has seen a big change. There were hundreds of swallows around Crail last weekend but they almost totally disappeared on Wednesday. On both Wednesday and Thursday morning there were flocks going over Crail as if they were in a hurry. Today I didn’t see a single one. Everything else has moved on as well. I found a flock of blue tits, great tits and goldcrests with just three willow warblers in it, working their way along the sycamores at the airfield, but no other migrants.

Even so, I optimistically checked out the Patch for yellow-browed warblers that have started appearing on the May this week. I got excited by a snatch of call but when I tracked the bird down it was only a couple of birders using playback. I couldn’t complain having just tried to call one up myself a few minutes before. It turned out the birders had heard my playback and they were trying to make my calling bird appear for them. All a bit circular. It was a good job we tracked each other down or we would have both erroneously reported in a yellow-browed warbler today. I am usually very careful not to use playback when there are other people around to avoid this, even though I find that most birders, surprisingly, don’t actually notice calls that much.

As I cycled up the hill through the golf course I saw a little bounding shape working its way along the stone dyke by the side of the wall: a weasel. It was searching between the stones for mice, voles or shrews in that characteristic way they have of sudden lightning like runs and bounds interspersed with a frozen upright stare around them. They have that real predator machine look about them shared by sparrowhawks. Constantly alert for movement and ready to shift mercilessly from immobility into a lightning lunge at anything they encounter. Weasels must be a bit short sighted – or just don’t care – because you can always approach them. I got within a few meters of this one, helped by me squeaking like a mouse so that it actually approached me. I have had stoats even crawling onto my boots in this way. So much attitude and confidence in such a small animal. I am still smiling about it although I suspect if I was a mouse I would be less cheerful about the encounter.

This is actually a stoat but without seeing the tail it is hard to tell: this gives more than a flavour of my weasel sighting

The stock stoat picture I use to show what a weasel looks like – John hasn’t got a weasel photo, but as I have pointed out before if you can’t see the tail and can’t judge the size as here it might as well be a weasel

Posted September 19, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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