October 3rd   Leave a comment

The settled weather has continued. Birds have been arriving from the north – using the settled weather to migrate, but there have been no adverse winds or rain to bring anything here that doesn’t want to be here. A lot of meadow pipits have been going over and today a few flocks of skylarks. I saw a female hen harrier at Balcomie, probably just in from Scandinavia like the skylarks. It was being mobbed by a carrion crow until it gained height and was able to continue west towards Wormiston. I only see a hen harrier around Crail every two or three years although some winters one may be around for several weeks hunting over the fields. Hen harriers should be a common bird here in winter. They are like diurnal owls, happy in open agricultural landscapes and eat everything from mice and voles to small birds like skylarks. Fife in winter is perfect for them. The reason they are not common is the same reason we didn’t have buzzards here thirty years ago: persecution. Hen harrier breeding distribution in Scotland is the exact negative of the distribution of the upland shooting estates. Driven grouse shooting is not perceived by the land owners to be compatible with breeding hen harriers which can take many grouse chicks in a season. It is completely illegal, of course, yet somehow hen harriers disappear from such estates with annual regularity. The situation is complicated by class and privilege. If this was hare coursing or badger baiting being sanctioned by less wealthy people then it would have been sorted out years ago, as indeed we did sort out these other morally and environmentally dubious country pursuits. Lovely to see a Crail hen harrier even if every time I do see one I am reminded that such a rare privilege remains in the hands of greedy and misguided landowners.

Female hen harrier

Female hen harrier

On a more cheerful note – there was a late flock of swallows over the cows at the airfield. Every one was a young bird born this year. The more experienced adults are long gone now, most will be in Africa already. There were lots of small flies about for them. Cycling was a hazard but every time one flew into my eye I thought about the bounty for the swallows to fuel them on the next stage of their journey.

A young swallow on its way south past Crail

A young swallow on its way south past Crail

Posted October 3, 2015 by wildcrail in Sightings

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