Archive for October 2015

October 31st   Leave a comment

The wind went back round to the south-west and this afternoon the temperature was up to 15 degrees. A nice day between the showers. The birds from the fall mid-week are trickling away. There are still a couple of ring ouzels at Balcomie, a few redwings and lots of chiff-chaffs everywhere. I had four passing through my garden in an hour this afternoon, with three feeding on the insects on our dead fennel heads. I was seawatching and swung the telescope to focus on a few meters away rather than a few hundred for a change and enjoyed the subtle details of the chiff-chaffs’ plumage in extreme closeup. There are lots of things that make chiff-chaff distinctive despite them being nearly identical to willow warblers, but I think the best feature is they have a much less intense expression than a willow warbler, which along with their tail wagging makes them seem a much less serious bird.

Chiff-chaff - a "little brown job" but worth looking at closely

Chiff-chaff – a “little brown job” but worth looking at closely

Hibernating snails at the burn mouth at Cambo

Hibernating snails at the burn mouth at Cambo

I walked through Cambo to Kingsbarns beach this morning. The rooks that nest down at the burn mouth were making a huge racket around their nests. The sycamore trees that they nest in are now covered with bunches of snails sleeping the winter away. Once you spot one cluster you realise that there are snails everywhere glued into bark crevices. It can’t be a quiet place to sleep for a snail underneath the rookery although I expect the lack of frost and the humidity right next to the sea might be the major reason for them clustering there.


Posted October 31, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 30th   Leave a comment

Today was much quieter compared to mid-week. It started well with a flock of 12 or so snow buntings passing Crail, a little way out to sea, heading towards Fife Ness. But at Balcomie and Fife Ness it was only the occasional woodcock that livened things up. There are still lots of blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings about, and I saw at least 4 chiff-chaffs but it was not as frantic as Wednesday. Everything seems a bit more relaxed and settled in as if thinking about staying for the winter.

A snow bunting that John photographed yesterday at Balcomie - seems there may be a few about Crail just now

A snow bunting that John photographed yesterday at Balcomie – seems there may be a few about Crail just now

Posted October 30, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 28th   Leave a comment

This morning was a classic, misty, Fife Ness thrush fest with every tree and bush shedding flocks of redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds – what with the occasional mistle and song thrush among them, and now two ring ouzels in the garden at Balcomie, it was a complete thrush extravaganza. I love the way you see a few redwings in a tiny sycamore, but as you approach more and more fly out of the tree until 30 or 40 have flown away. It seems impossible that you didn’t see more than a couple to start with and impossible that the tiny tree could have sheltered so many. Walking around Kilminning and Balcomie this morning was wave after wave of these magically exploding thrush flocks. There were many more bramblings around too.

One of the migrant blackbirds passing through Crail today

One of the migrant blackbirds passing through Crail today

I caught up with the black redstart at Balcomie first thing in the morning. A female feeding on the roof slates and old walls of the farm buidings – either a Continental bird fully at home amongst buildings anyway (they are as common as robins in German towns) or one finding a good substitute for the cliffs and rocky slopes they like in their other more mountainous habitat. Black redstarts are as endearing and perky as robins with an added dash of excitement as they flycatch, flashing their red tails against the grey of the stones.

Again this morning there was a real feeling that the next bird I saw was going to be the big rarity. There were several chiff-chaffs and a yellow-browed warbler at Kilminning and both were occasionally making odd calls a bit like much rarer Pallas’s or the ridiculously rare Hume’s warbler to keep me on my toes. And with woodcocks also exploding up at my feet as I craned to see the warblers above me it was all very exciting.

Posted October 28, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 27th   Leave a comment

Lots of handsome redwings passing through today

Lots of handsome redwings passing through today

No sooner had I written off this autumn than the wind went round to the east yesterday. With the mist and drizzle today the conditions were reasonable for some migrants. Sure enough, a black redstart was reported from Balcomie this morning. I went out after lunch and although I missed the redstart, I found a ring ouzel, a jack snipe and a flock of 30 brambling around the garden at Balcomie Castle, and a couple of woodcock down at the Patch at Fife Ness. There were flocks of redwings everywhere and the occasional flock of fieldfares. In short, lots of migrants and so the possibility of something really special – that crucial ingredient of hope makes for the best birding days.

The jack snipe was today’s best bird. Only my second for Crail. They are a common autumn migrant but exceedingly shy and skulking and fond of marshy areas which are in short supply around here. My first jack snipe was flushed by my dog on Kingsbarns Beach several years’ ago and today’s was crouched in a flowerbed! The normal response of a jack snipe is to crouch down and rely on its exceedingly good camouflage amongst the rank wetland vegetation it usually inhabits. Normally they don’t move even if you nearly step on them and so escape notice. I suspect this bird was somewhat lost, but sufficiently with it to realise its camouflage was not going to work in a flowerbed. It popped straight up in front of me as I chased the ring ouzel around the garden at Balcomie, zooming away to find a better place to hide. I just had time to appreciate its small size, stripy back and shortish bill to confirm the identification. Its larger relative, the woodcock, was doing the same thing down at the Patch, but they always fly at about 10 meters and usually with a lot of noise as they beat through the woodland they inhabit like woodpigeons. Consequently I see woodcocks and lots of them every autumn even though their camouflage is just as good as the jack snipes. There should be lots of woodcocks around Crail tomorrow morning as the easterlies and rain continues – look out for brown long-billed birds shooting away explosively from you in Denburn or Beech Walk Park.

Jack snipe demonstrating that camouflage only really works if you select an appropriate background

Jack snipe demonstrating that camouflage only really works if you select an appropriate background

The ring ouzel was also a good bird – my first for this year in Crail although my last was a week ago in the mountains of Catalonia where they winter. Today’s bird is off course but probably more likely on its way to North Africa – Algeria or Tunisia – for the winter. Its stone breaking chacking call echoing around the walled garden at Balcomie seemed to fit the grey misty day perfectly.

An October Ring Ouzel - a much better view than the bird today which was very shy

An October Ring Ouzel – a much better view than the bird today which was very shy

Posted October 27, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 25th   Leave a comment

This weekend has really put the seal on the end of the autumn. No summer migrants about at all for the first week since the beginning of April, the fields full of skylarks and long-tailed ducks appearing out at Balcomie. There is still a hope for a late season rarity if the winds go back to the east again but I have a feeling we are done for the year. It is now time to re-appreciate the common. Today it was a kestrel hunting over the airfield, a contrast of hurry as it shot across the fields in the wind and complete patience as it hovered before crashing down into the stubble.

Kestrel - a lovely sight unless you are a vole

Kestrel – a lovely sight unless you are a vole

Posted October 25, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 24th   Leave a comment

The wind has had a bit of southerly in it for a couple of days so birds were being pushed closer in to Crail today: on Thursday it was practically dead as everything was being blown well out to sea on the strong westerlies. But it felt very wintry sea-watching this morning. Lots of gannets, kittiwakes and auks, with a steady passage of red-throated divers into the Forth. I saw my first long-tailed duck of the winter too, beating like a giant bat against the strong wind.

I had a single goose flying past close in against the wind so it was moving in slow motion. Good thing because as I looked at it I couldn’t immediately identify it. When I first picked it up I was expecting a greylag from its shape, but through the telescope it seemed more like a pink-footed goose with its small dark head and lack of the bright whitish forewing. Then I noticed that the wing was quite uniformly dark, lacking even the paler grey contrast of a pink-footed and the penny dropped. A bean goose, and most likely a taiga bean goose (which has a much more greylag like structure than a tundra bean goose, which is much more like a pink foot). A very good goose for Crail even though there is a small population nearby that winters regularly in the Forth-Clyde valley. They don’t tend to appear until later in the winter and then we only see them if there is extreme weather pushing more pink-feet and other grey geese from the Continent over to Scotland. The last Crail “goose” winter was 2011-12. This winter is predicted to be cold so we may be in for another one.

Taiga bean goose

Taiga bean goose

Posted October 25, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 22nd   Leave a comment

There are a few very common bird species that don’t get to Crail very often – long-tailed tits, bullfinches and jays. I have probably seen more yellow-browed warblers here than all three species combined. Jays are particularly rare and I only had my second sighting of one ever flying into a group of oak trees just by the Fairmont Hotel today. Technically on the wrong side of the hotel which marks the boundary of my 10 km radius from Crail that I consider my patch, but jays are too special not to make it onto this year’s list because of a hundred meters. I suppose I could have seen it from the patch… Anyway there seem to be a lot of jays about this year and there was one reported from Kilmininng a couple of weeks ago so there may well be some coming in from Scandinavia. Jays are handsome, interesting birds. Massive predators but clever and resourceful, and still thriving despite a lot of persecution. It is the lack of woodland with oak trees and the isolation of what bits of woodland we do have that will be responsible for them being so rare around Crail.

Jay - a real Crail rarity

Jay – a real Crail rarity

Posted October 22, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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