Archive for December 2015

December 30th   Leave a comment

The sea looked more like the south Atlantic this morning. A fantastic southerly swell, huge white horses and the gannets and fulmars flying in slow motion into the gale like albatrosses. The run of south-easterlies has really churned up the sea. The run-off from the fields from the apocalyptic rainfall over the weekend has added to the murk so it must be very difficult for any of the seabirds that fish close inshore. There are already a few lethargic looking shags on the rocks at Roome Bay, barely stirring as people go by. When the storms have passed I should think there will be a few bodies along the strandline.

Fulmar - our own albatross

Fulmar – our own albatross

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Posted December 30, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 21st   Leave a comment

There is a dead white-beaked dolphin in the bay two along from the harbour towards Anstruther. It has seen better days (obviously) and is being steadily eaten away. It is just about still identifiable as a white-beaked dolphin. A new species for me and I was surprised to find it is actually quite a common one in the north Atlantic. The key features are still there – a large dorsal fin, a short, rounded head and a white saddle between the dorsal fin and the tail. It is quite a big animal, nearly three meters long. It is always a shame to find new animals dead around Crail but the consolation is knowing that they must also be out there alive to be seen sometime in the future. The local gulls are appreciative regardless: I counted over 40 great black-backed gulls around the harbour, a higher number than usual. They gather around a seal or cetacean carcass like vultures.

The white-beaked dolphin washed up at Crail recently - the local cetacean people know about it and have taken samples

The white-beaked dolphin washed up at Crail recently – the local cetacean people know about it and have taken samples

Posted December 21, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 20th   Leave a comment

There was a considerable surf coming into Roome Bay this morning. I watched the goldeneyes as they dived between the waves indifferent to the rough and cold water. Perhaps not so cold though. The weather is still incredibly mild and the sea temperatures must be much higher than usual. Certainly looking further out it looked more like a September sea than mid-winter. There were thousands of kittiwakes spread out from east to west about 5 kilometers out and with them still lots of gannets, auks and fulmars.goldeneye3

Posted December 20, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 13th   Leave a comment

It has been another week of heavy rain and dull weather with only Sunday being dry and sunny. The milder weather has been ebbing away with a proper frost on overnight on Saturday and my pond freezing for the first time this winter. My bird feeders have been getting a lot of interest as a consequence. The house sparrow troop that usually divides its time between gardens around the co-op and my garden has taken up a daily residency now around the feeders in my back garden. They have been joined by great and blue tits and an aggressive robin that tries – quite unsuccessfully – to keep the feeder to itself. I watched a coal tit ducking in when the robin wasn’t looking and immediately flying away with a sunflower seed each time. It was carrying them to one of the big flower pots on my patio and burying them. This caching behaviour is common in coal tits and they can make quite huge stores of seeds that they return to in the winter. That is if something else doesn’t find them first. Some birds like jays can use hundreds of different locations when caching to insure against the risk of theft. Then the problem becomes one of remembering where all the caches are. Many oak trees get started by forgetful jays and I will expect a rogue sunflower or two in the garden next year from the coal tit.

Coal tit

Coal tit

Balcomie Beach has settled down for the winter. There are about 20 sanderling in residency running up and down the beach with about the same number of ringed plovers. Out at sea the goldeneyes are back, diving in the surf and the eider males are all resplendent again in black and white. Amongst the more obvious waders are always a few turnstones, poking about less conspicuously amongst the seaweed on the strandline or on the rocks. They are very well camouflaged until the fly when they flash lots of white. Most waders do and it probably helps coordinate a coherent flock. Turnstones are very successful waders, found on coasts everywhere on the planet, and they eat almost anything. Their Achilles heel though might be their breeding in the very high Arctic which is disappearing year by year with climate change.

Turnstone

Turnstone

 

Another common but less conspicuous bird at Balcomie and indeed every bit of shore around Crail is the rock pipit. As the winter goes on they spend more and more time amongst the shorebirds, foraging on the strandline for the flies and maggots that are always available there even when frost has made the pickings lean everywhere else. They are not waders but don’t seem to mind getting their feet wet as the waves push the seaweed around and flush out their prey.

Rock pipit

Rock pipit

On the theme of less conspicuous birds, I saw a male merlin on Saturday morning out near Kellie Castle. We have several merlins wintering in the fields around the East Neuk every winter but they are never obvious. They perch motionless for over 85% of the day saving energy, occasionally bursting into life to chase a skylark or pipit. They sit and wait for their best opportunity and ignore most potential prey as too hard work. As temperatures fall it makes sense to take it easy and conserve energy rather than rush around. Sooner or later an easy meal of a small bird that is having to take risks to make ends meet will cross their path.

Posted December 13, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 6th   Leave a comment

The rain of the last few days cleared away today to give a proper East Neuk winters day with plenty of sun and a much crisper feel. There has been so much rain recently that my weather station in my back garden has started to play up. That or it is now -45.6 degrees out there. It has got colder since yesterday’s unseasonal high of 13 degrees but probably not that cold. I hope it comes to its senses as the day dries things out. The mallards, at least, are enjoying the rain. Many of the fields above Crail have large ponds in them now and I counted a good flock of mallards sitting contentedly on what was last week a field of winter wheat.

The local mallards are enjoying the weather

The local mallards are enjoying the weather

The sun was hidden by some low cloud first thing giving a nice flat light for seawatching from my house. In the winter the sun rises straight out from Crail and so the first couple hours of the day are written off it is not cloudy. No little auks this morning but a few razorbills, kittiwakes, one or two gannets and the usual cormorants and shags. From Crail most of what looks like a shag or a cormorant will be a shag but maybe 5% will be cormorants. The easiest way to tell them apart is by their shape when they fly by. Shags are pot bellied with a heads, neck and bill in distinct sections; cormorants are much flatter from belly to neck to head and bill.

Cormorant

Cormorant

Posted December 6, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 5th   Leave a comment

Another day of storms and heavy rain. The only thing to do is to look out to sea and watch what is passing. With being away and the short days I have not been in a position to have a good seawatch until today. I finally found a window of opportunity during daylight today to look through my telescope from my back garden. The last month has been good for little auks along the East coast and so I was hopeful to finally catch up with some. It seems to be every other year that we have a good little auk winter. There were a handful last winter, none the year before but 2013 was good. A series of big storms early in the winter with strong northerlies seems to be the key to little auks turning up in the Forth. It only took a few minutes this morning before I picked up a flock of six flying into the Forth past Crail. Little auks really are well named – they are tiny – barely starling size. They have a distinctive wobbly, flickering flight as if they can barely remain airborne except by maintaining a terrific speed. They behave like puffins in flight, only more so. When they land on the water it looks more like a crash as if they have finally given up their frantic struggle to stay airborne. I counted 216 passing in 30 minutes although were all far out and what I would call “technical” even through a telescope. All were headed into the Forth. If we continue to have bad weather with southerlies they might come in closer to Crail or even get washed up on the beach. Little auks are famous for spectacular “wrecks” when they get blown onto land and end up on garden ponds or even wet tarmac for a while before they get their bearings. Look out for a “baby puffin” anytime soon around Roome Bay or Harbour Beach.

Little auk

Little auk

Posted December 6, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 3rd   Leave a comment

I have not written anything for the last month. I have been away in Nigeria and then a seemingly endless succession of very drear and rainy days have followed precluding getting out and seeing things. Even the gulls are starting to look a bit wet and miserable. All of them flying into Roome Bay this morning were dangling their legs below them, carrying great big clods of mud picked up from the fields they have been feeding in. As a small antidote to the current weather – November was officially one of the dullest months ever – I am posting a picture from my recent trip. A red-throated bee-eater. Very unlikely to ever make it onto the Crail list. A shame – but these are common where I stay in central Nigeria and brighten up every walk.

Red-throated bee-eater. Sadly not the latest addition to the Crail list.

Red-throated bee-eater. Sadly not the latest addition to the Crail list.

Posted December 3, 2015 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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