September 2nd   Leave a comment

I went out to Balcomie Beach this lunchtime to look for a couple of rarer wader species that had been seen there earlier in the morning. The beach was about the best I have ever seen it for shorebirds – literally covered with dunlins and ringed plovers, with a good number of sanderling, golden plover, knot and redshank, and a few bar-tailed godwit as well. In amongst them were the two hoped for species, four ruff and a single curlew sandpiper.

We get ruff every other year – and there are good years when we get a few passing through in the autumn, but it has been a bit lean for the last couple of years. Ruff are odd looking things with pigeon heads and longish necks, and that makes them distinctive and easy to spot. Otherwise they are very variable in size from much smaller than a redshank to much bigger, they have variable colour legs and bills, and variable length bills. They are just as variable in their choice of habitat – I have seen them in the Arctic lichen tundra, on pasture amongst cows in Scotland and in rice fields in Nigeria. Today they were striding obviously on top of floating mats of seaweed on the surf’s edge, wobbling but not quite falling down as the waves shifted back and forth.

A ruff at Balcomie

A ruff at Balcomie

The curlew sandpiper was harder to find. Curlew sandpipers are dunlin size and dunlin like and although I find them totally distinctive, having about 100 dunlin appearing and disappearing on the beach as they poked through the mats of seaweed washed onto the beach made it a bit of a challenge. A fun challenge though. I found it after 15 minutes of searching: a young bird born this year somewhere in Siberia, fuelling up on seaweed fly maggots and heading towards South Africa.

Juvenile curlew sandpiper

Juvenile curlew sandpiper

The wind was from the north-west, perhaps helping bring the waders in. Good for seabirds certainly. There were several great skuas passing Fife Ness today, with one passing Crail this evening amongst the gannets.

Posted September 2, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

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