January 1st 2016   Leave a comment

Last year I hoped to beat my record of 157 bird species seen in the Crail area. I had a fairly good year but ran out of steam latterly and finished at 152. The consolation prize was six new species outright for the Crail list. But on New Year’s Day it can all start again and everything is worth finding anew. I started out with a herring gull calling in the dark as I left Crail just before 8; the second was a blackbird flying away from the roadside – there were several more feeding under the streetlights as I got to Boarhills. Blackbirds often get up before it gets fully light to start feeding – the early bird gets the worm etc. although a colleague studying blackbirds once watched a late to bed tawny owl getting the early bird.

I headed off from Boarhills through the stubble fields to the shore. It was still too dark to identify most things except by call: I heard a carrion crow, tree sparrows, dunnocks and a wren. The first thing I could identify by sight was a reed bunting, but only because a small flock flew up from the stubble right at my feet. By the time I reached the pond down at the shore I had seen the distinctive sihouettes of a curlew, grey heron, eiders and of comorants and shags flying over the sea. The first flocks of starling also appeared flying out from their roost – possibly from as far as Kingsbarns – they came from that direction. The first thirteen species down and it was only just light enough to see properly.

Grey Heron - number 9

Grey Heron – number 9

The species then started coming thick and fast. A lone redshank on the edge of a semi-frozen pool in a field corner: it was limping so probably forced to feed in such dangerous circumstances for a shorebird. Black-headed gulls started to pass over from their roost on the sea, heading inland to feed. Even though it was light now, calls remained essential. A distant pheasant callng and a small bird overhead instantly transformed into a goldfinch when it also called distinctively. There was then a commotion from the shore – I hoped for an owl or an early falcon but didn’t see the cause. I did see turnstones, oystercatchers and a pair of wigeon flying away. At the pond I heard a robin ticking and a flock of yellowhammers flew down. I persuaded a water rail to squeal back at me from the reeds around the pond. Twenty-five species achieved just as the sun rose.

I walked around the pond alarming a mallard and a moorhen from the reeds and headed down to the shore. I could now clearly identify common gulls and great black-backed gulls on the distant rocks in the strengthening light. I continued down to the Kenly Burn mouth putting up a song thrush from the path and hearing both a blue tit and a chaffinch from the gorse. A large flock of woodpigeon took off from the trees along the burn. I scanned the sea with my telescope: a teal and a red-breasted merganser flew off from the burn mouth, and a meadow pipit called from behind me as I set up, then kittiwakes everywhere far out, an adult gannet, and red-throated divers and long-tailed ducks passing frequently. Forty species just as it turned 9.

Red-breasted merganser - number 35

Red-breasted merganser – number 35

It was mid tide so I couldn’t cross so I headed along the northern edge of the woodland along the Kenly Burn. Stock doves and greenfinches passed over and I flushed a couple of skylark from the stubble. There is a good sized rookery at the burn mouth and the rooks were still there cawing in the early morning sunlight; there were a few jackdaws calling as well. The strip of woodland aling the Kenly Burn is always good and I turned up a great tit and then a flock of goldcrests. Further along a mistle thrush flew off as I approached and then I hit the jackpot with a big flock of long-tailed tits and a treecreeper. Fifty species by 10, so far, so good.

I finally tracked down two dipper on the burn just as I turned the corner to head back to my car in Boarhills. As I got back to the village I spotted three large finches on a wire, a closer look turned them into corn buntings. A really lucky sighting for this time of year. In Boarhills everything had woken up now and there were house (and tree) sparrows everywhere; I found a pair of bullfinches in a big flock of sparrows, greenfinches and chaffinches. Another lucky sighting. I left Boarhills with 54 species under my belt.

I drove to Kingsbarns beach and set up my scope. A stonechat popped up in the dunes in front of me. I scanned the sea – several guillemots close in. I shifted along the shore putting up a flock of rock pipits from the strandline. There were no shorebirds on the sand unfortunately as the dog walkers were now up and about, but the hoped for purple sandpipers were on the undisturbed rocks further out. I continued scanning the sea and some of the apparent guillemots further out turned out to be razorbills. As I scanned a tiny auk sped past and nose-dived into the sea: a little auk – its size and crash landing quite distinctive. A really good species to get on New Year’s Day and a great number 60.

I left Kingsbarns just after 11 and headed up to Kippo. A flock of golden plover flew over the car. There were a couple of kestrels hunting along the Anstruther road and then a very lucky large flock of fieldfares and redwings as I turned off towards Carnbee. There were over one hundred thrushes in the flock with the same number of chaffinches and starlings: everything is very clustered in the winter and you have to get lucky to find a flock. I stopped to enjoy the spectacle of so many birds feeding together and was doubly rewarded by a coal tit. Even the very common is very special on New Year’s Day.

I continued on to Carnbee Reservoir. There was another large flock of winter thrushes there except with my first linnets of the year instead of chaffinches. As I looked at the linnets I heard a honking from the loch: a family of whooper swans, another really good species to get. Right alongside them were three mute swans and a bevy of coots and tufted ducks to add to the list. I had reached 70 species for the day and for the year. I had to scan hard to find the little grebe that I usually expect to see up there. One popped up just as I was about to leave. I headed back to Crail for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake to celebrate the great day so far.

Whooper swans - number 67

Whooper swans – number 67

I continued on my bike around Crail. A great spotted woodpecker in Denburn (which was full of birds already seen today), a magpie calling from the sheep field opposite and then a feral pigeon over Roome Bay. But only three new species since lunch. Things inevitably get slower as the day goes on and the list of already seen species goes up. I failed to find any wagtails or new shorebirds on the shore but saw a sparrowhawk flying high overhead. I passed another four corn buntings on the way to Saucehope, again unexpected at this time of year when I expect them to be all flocking together further inland. A flock of lapwing flew up from the rocks at Saucehope Point. I headed up Warsea Road and saw several collared doves; I headed home via the airfield looking unsuccessfully for wagtails and partridges. My final new species before I got home was a female peregrine hunting pigeons over the Balcomie Hotel. 78 species – my highest total ever on a New Year’s Day list. My optimistic target this morning was 80, so not too bad.

Peregrine - number 78

Peregrine – number 78

There was a coda. I went to a barbeque in the afternoon in a garden at the edge of Pinkerton. A perhaps ill advised idea at this time of year and today was fairly chilly…but I enjoyed it for its birding opportunities, taking my binoculars and adding a merlin hunting over the airfield. There was a commotion amongst the curlews and starlings and suddenly a merlin appeared chasing one of the starlings as it flew straight up. It caught it up in a couple of seconds and plucked it out of the air. A peregrine (probably the one I saw an hour or so before) flew in attracted by the commotion but it chased a buzzard also attracted in, missing the merlin in the confusion – it had gone to ground with its prey in a stubble field. An exciting end to the species total for the day – 79. I scanned the sea in vain for a fulmar to try to get my 80, but I can’t really complain. There’s always tomorrow and I have a real head start on the year so far.


Posted January 1, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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