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.




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 wildcrail in Sightings

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