Archive for January 2016

January 31st   Leave a comment

The last day of January already and my mission to get my year list up to 100 for the end of January has been stalled at 98 for the last two weeks. Last chance today with a nice flat grey light and barely any wind. The view heading out of Crail towards Anstuther was fantastic. Snow on the hills over the Forth with the old volcanos of the Bass and North Berwick contrasting dark in the foreground, and the Pentlands in the distance speckled with white like a proper live Japanese volcano. I headed up to Carnbee reservoir: snowy weather brings smew and they like small lochs. If I am ever to get one on the Crail list it will be on a day like today up there. But it was business as usual – 40 or so tufted duck and the same number of wigeon, a handful of goldeneye and teal, and a pair of little grebe. I saw a distant pair of grey geese flying above Pittenweem – through my telescope greylag geese – number 99. Even at that distance, their white forewing shows up clearly enough to identify them. I checked through the still resident pink-footed geese flock behind Anstruther on my way back to Crail but nothing new.

I spent half an hour in the hide at Fife Ness in the hope of a velvet scoter. This is usually a 1st of January bird but scoters have been thin on the ground this winter. There were few things passing: guillemots, a couple of gannets, eiders, red-throated divers, one common scoter and the resident flock of five or so purple sandpipers on the rocks in the foreground.

Greylag geese - no. 99 for the year list - so close!

Greylag geese – no. 99 for the year list – so close!

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Posted January 31, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 30th   Leave a comment

The gales continued throughout the day with snow showers overnight and this morning. It was raw. A walk out to Fife Ness seemed fine but to turn back home to Crail against the wind was another thing. Not a day for birding. I watched a common gull on the golf course at Balcomie feeding by tacking, a few steps sideways in one direction and then at 45 degrees to move against the wind. It gave up eventually and just let itself be blown backwards pecking halfheartedly at the turf.

The herons started nesting in earnest this week and have been bringing sticks to their nests along the main road at the entrance to Cambo. I suspect they will have to start all over again tomorrow when the wind dies: large tree limbs were coming down today never mind sticks.

Grey heron

Grey heron

Posted January 30, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 29th   1 comment

Another series of gales although the wind is from the south-west so nothing was being pushed past Crail this morning. Everything further down in the Forth was presumably keeping their heads down: an ill judged flight would have resulted in a quick trip out into the North Sea. Denburn in contrast was full of birds. A flock of blue and great tits and chaffinches, probably more than 50 of them feeding happily out of the storm’s way. With them some long-tailed tits. There is at least one flock resident in Crail this winter, maybe two. They usually keep to their own company moving closely together through the gardens and the roadside trees, constantly calling. They are unmistakeable being tiny, pink, black and white and with a long tail of course.

Long-tailed tit - a flock at large in Crail this winter

Long-tailed tit – a flock at large in Crail this winter

Posted January 29, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 24th   Leave a comment

A grey but still very mild day. It seemed very quiet on a circuit to Kilminning and back this morning. A flock of more than 20 magpies at the airfield was quite exceptional; they are becoming more common with each year now that they are being left alone. I was also passed by a flock of 12 purple sandpiper at Sauchope, heading up towards Fife Ness. I wonder how many I missed when I was counting them along the coast last week.

Purple sandpipers

Purple sandpipers

Posted January 24, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 23rd   Leave a comment

I cycled out to Anstruther to see if the goose flock was still out by the new school. Another soggy adventure with the footpaths more water than ground and the ground mud. But much milder with temperatures 10 degrees higher than earlier in the week. The goose flock was in a field of winter wheat to the north of the one it was in last weekend. There were 230 pink-footed geese today grouped around one of the ponds that seem to be in every field after the rain this winter. I only had my binoculars and they wouldn’t let me get closer than a field away before starting to get agitated and shuffling away. I would have been able to spot a white-fronted goose among them but not a bean goose so it may well have still been there. On the way back to Crail along the main road I passed a flock of lapwing and a couple of flocks of golden plover and curlew also in the fields. More winter birds enjoying the sudden change of weather just like me.

Pink-footed geese

Pink-footed geese

Posted January 23, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 22nd   Leave a comment

I walked through the stubble fields behind the Balcomie Caravan Park and Pinkerton this lunchtime. The ground was saturated and the walking difficult. But skylarks and meadow pipits popped up in front of me regularly and in the corner of the field behind Saucehope a flock of 11 corn buntings and twice the number of yellowhammers. The latter expected, but the former still unusual. There may have been corn buntings there all this winter, but I am not used to them being winter Crail residents yet. That there are still stubble fields around is probably significant in this.

Roome Bay was very busy at high tide. Hundreds of gulls of four species feeding in the surf with goldeneyes, mallards and eiders. They were picking small things up from the surface of the sea as it churned and boiled: the huge piles of wrack on the beach must have been growing lots of seaweed fly maggots in the last two weeks and the high tides were now flushing them out.

A gathering of gulls picking up seaweed fly maggots washed out from the wrack deposits on the beach

A gathering of gulls picking up seaweed fly maggots washed out from the wrack deposits on the beach

Posted January 23, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 17th   Leave a comment

The taiga bean goose this morning shot with my phone through my telescope - a good example of why John does the photography

The taiga bean goose this morning shot with my phone through my telescope – a good example of why John does the photography (the geese were not on a steep hill…). It’s the one walking right with orange legs.

Yesterday a couple of white-fronted geese were reported in a flock of pink-feet at Anstruther so I was out first thing this morning to try to track them down. They are not uncommon in the winter in Britain but they are very localised and there aren’t any that winter or even turn up regularly in Fife. I found the flock of pink-feet easily in a field behind the new Waid School building but no white-fronts. Much of the flock was in a dip in the field so I persisted to make doubly sure. After about twenty minutes the whole flock became visible as a dog walker pushed out into the middle of the field. There right at the end of the flock was a goose with bright orange legs and an orange bill – not a pink-foot, obviously, and not a white-front either, but a bean goose. A great find. Not so rare as a white-front but still a lucky bird to get in a year around Crail. When you see a bean goose you need to check which sub-species they belong to – either the tundra sub-species which is much rarer (from Siberia), or the taiga sub-species which breeds in north-western Europe and some of which winter in Scotland. The difference is in the longer neck and bill giving a taiga bean goose a more swan like appearance. This one was a taiga bean goose and a great no. 98 for the year list.

I continued on to Pittenweem and then up to Carnbee checking the fields for more geese. Up at Carnbee there was snow cover although the reservoir was only iced up in one corner. There were lots of tufted ducks and still the family party of whooper swans that were there on New Year’s Day: whoopers on a snowy loch are a proper winter image. As I drove back to Crail I saw several flocks of fieldfares adding to the real winter feel.

The family party of whooper swans in temporary residence at Carnbee reservoir

The family party of whooper swans in temporary residence at Carnbee reservoir

There are quite a few red-breasted mergansers along the coast from Caril to Balcomie just now. A few from Balcomie this afternoon when I completed my last NEWS count and a glorious male very close in at Roome Bay last thing.

Male red-breasted merganser - one close in at Roome Bay

Male red-breasted merganser – one close in at Roome Bay

Posted January 17, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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