Archive for March 2016

Week ending 27th March   Leave a comment

The sun always seems to shine at Easter but it was close run thing this weekend. Saturday brought a southerly gale in making it feel very wintry. This morning the wind continued to make it feel raw but in a sheltered spot, with a few daffodils in sight it seemed like spring was here. No sign of any spring migrants yet. It is still a bit early but there were chiff-chaffs, sand martins and the odd osprey reported elsewhere in Fife this weekend. I checked out Kilminning on Sunday morning and it was still winter quiet. The buzzards that breed at the top by the hangers of the airfield have been busy. There were neat piles of feathers from woodpigeons and black-headed gulls on the ground around the nesting tree, along with little drifts of rabbit fur from some of less fortunate Easter bunnies. I also had a look around Balcomie, my first proper “migrant” look of the season. Good early migrants are ring ouzels and black redstarts and Balcomie is great for both of them. I had a very optimistic hope for a hoopoe – the Crail early spring migrant that has turned up about 5 times in the early spring period since I have lived here but each time only seen by one or two lucky people before it moves on. Hoopoes are notorious for turning up in non-bird watchers gardens and by dint of them looking like an exotic escape from a zoo they get noticed but then only frustratingly mentioned in casual conversation a few days later – “oh I had a strange bird in my garden a couple of days ago…” Far too late for me. Most things you can dismiss as misidentifications, but not hoopoes which are as distinctive as puffins. So – please let me know as soon as possible if/when it happens again this spring.

Speaking of puffins. They are a bird of spring and I saw my first one on Sunday passing by Fife Ness on its way into the Forth (no. 104 for the Crail year list). Not quite in its full summer breeding splendour but not quite the dirty-looking, shrunken-billed bird of the winter. After an hour of razorbills streaming past, the puffin looked like a bee buzzing along the waves. Puffin numbers will now start to build up over April for the start of breeding on the May Island, most aptly in May. You don’t really see them regularly close to Crail until later in the summer when they start feeding chicks unless there is a good wind on. The southerly winds kept a lot of seabirds in close this weekend: kittiwakes, gannets and as I mentioned, razorbills, mostly with occasional guillemots, fulmars, common scoters and red-throated divers past. Meadow pipits were also going north along the shore, looking far too tiny against the breakers to be able to get anywhere. But get there they do – small birds just keep flying north at a steady 45 km an hour until they are there (or they have to refuel). I should think the meadow pipits were loving the tail wind this weekend particularly as they turned the corner at Fife Ness to head due north.

Puffins gathering at the May Island prior to breeding

Puffins gathering at the May Island prior to breeding

I looked for frog spawn in the Denburn this weekend but there was no sign. The burn is so silted up that is barely a pond anymore. It’s a perennial problem, the fields above Denburn have no vegetation on them during the winter and the burn gets full of soil after any heavy rain. There is no solution except to keep digging it out. The early frog spawn in Denburn never seemed to have any success anyway. There is plenty that does well in the farm pond up on main road at Cambo and the pond at Wormiston looks great too. But there are not many ponds locally and we should probably organise a proper village pond somewhere in Crail, big enough for toads, frogs, newts and a moorhen or two.

Everything is singing now. At dusk blackbirds, song thrushes and robins are all competing for best singer and all three species will be building nests now.

Robin - one of the birds singing their hearts out just now

Robin – one of the birds singing their hearts out just now

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Posted March 27, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 13th   Leave a comment

The old railway line behind Crail is one of the better farmland walks close by. The farms up there are still fairly intensive, but it is a mix of pasture and there are more retained hedges and shelter belts. Mixed farmland is much the best for wildlife with its mixture of habitats, ideally with relatively small fields and boggy and wooded corners to make a patchwork but now I am just dreaming. Anyway, the railway line is a nice walk, with distant views of the sea, skylarks singing all the way and lots of yellowhammers. There was a flock of about 30 fieldfares and 20 redwings in one of the big pasture fields. It felt springy enough for my check through them for a ring ouzel not to be too optimistic. There are two pulses of ring ouzels through Britain – a late March one and a May one reflecting our breeding population and populations in Alpine Europe that start breeding later. There was also a huge flock of woodpigeons, perhaps more than 500. At one point they all started flying up in a huge wave – I looked in vain for the source of the disturbance but it is hard to pick up something up like a distant peregrine amongst so many flying birds of a similar size and shape.

There is a huge flock of woodpigeons around Crail at the moment

There is a huge flock of woodpigeons around Crail at the moment

I haven’t seen many hares around Crail recently but I saw a few today. Another March special to look out for as they start chasing each other and fighting. I was chatting with a local policeman recently and he told me there is still a problem with hare coursing in the area. Anyone intentionally running a dog after hares is breaking the law: hare coursing is very nasty, like badger baiting and cock fighting, but luckily a bit harder to hide.

Brown hare

Brown hare

Posted March 13, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 12th   Leave a comment

I walked from St Monans back to Crail along the coastal path today. It’s almost always the best to catch the 95 out and to walk back: the wind will almost always be behind you and the sun definitely so. The temperature is climbing back up again and out of the wind it felt mild. The tide was coming in and by the end of the walk all the shorebirds were close in – at the start they were harder to see among the rocks. There were some nice roosts between Anstruther and Crail, including a couple of purple sandpipers close enough in to actually see their backs shining purple. I counted over 60 mallards on the walk with the usual concentration at Cellardyke; they were with the wigeons there and the same female pintail from last week. I really do hope it is the regular it is supposed to be. A flock of over 200 pink-footed geese flew over from the other side of the Forth in a very long v stretching from Pittenweem to Anstruther. They will be heading north soon if they are not already on their way. A long straggling v of geese flying overhead is perfect: I could check each goose easily strung out in their long line. I was hoping for a barnacle goose or a whitefront. Geese flock together in their own species by choice but the ones that get lost will settle for the next best thing and attach themselves to any goose flock. It’s never wise just to identify one or two geese in a big flock and then assume that they will all then be the same. A final highlight of the walk was an overflying siskin – number 103 for the Crail year list. A reminder that the early migrants are on their way already. This week and the next are the best to see one of these: there are always one or two black redstarts passing through Crail in late March (although you have to get lucky to see one) – look for a blackish or dark brown robin on a roof top with a red tail that it often shivers.

Purple sandpiper - well named if you get a close view

Purple sandpiper – well named if you get a close view

Posted March 13, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 6th   Leave a comment

There was a great crested grebe flying past Crail this morning – like an arrow with distinctive really flickering wings flashing white. Just like the pintail yesterday a common bird but not for Crail. They like freshwater lochs or the inner Forth in the winter. I am lucky to see one in a year and they are always a brief flyby on their way in or out of the Forth. Number 102 for the Crail year list and definitely one I wasn’t banking on for the total this year.

Great-crested grebe: 102 for the Crail year list

Great-crested grebe: 102 for the Crail year list

Grey heron collecting branches at Crail for its nest in Cambo

Grey heron collecting branches at Crail for its nest in Cambo

At Cambo the rooks were noisily fine-tuning their nests and generally looking like they are all ready to start breeding with the first bit of slightly milder weather. It suits them to get their chicks fledged as early as possible because they feed in short grass pasture or low crops. Mid-late summer is a lean time for them as the vegetation grows up. The herons are still doing a bit of nest building as well, occasionally carrying sticks from as far away as Crail back to Cambo.

I’ve been noticing a roost of pied wagtails around the Golf Hotel at dusk for the last two weeks. About 25 birds gather on the rooftops before joining together in a dense flock on a tucked away ledge. They may well have been doing this for much longer but I have only just started to notice it with dusk now exactly coinciding with my return home from St Andrews every day. With the changing day length it is easy to think animals are suddenly appearing when in fact it is just the timing of the routines that are changing. Kestrels are like this – they suddenly seem to be everywhere when my daily commute matches with the period of gloaming that they love to hunt in.

Kestrel - much more noticeable at dusk

Kestrel – much more noticeable at dusk

 

Posted March 6, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 5th   1 comment

I walked along the coastal path between Cellardyke and Crail this morning. There was a female pintail amongst the wigeon and mallards in the pools below the former pig farm. It is a more elongated and elegant duck compared to a mallard with a longer neck and tail even if plumage wise it is superficially just another brown duck. It’s a good Crail record – only my 3rd or 4th I think even though they are quite common on the Eden and at Kilconconquhar loch. Again it’s the lack of local freshwater. I was sufficiently excited to text the county bird recorder – his reply was “Oh yes there’s a female there every winter, has been for the last few years…” Oh well, I know better now; I usually walk past the ducks when I’m down at Cellardyke and check the waders and gulls instead. Number 101 for the Crail year list though so I’m happy regardless- it will be the pintails and bean geese that will make all the difference to whether I hit the record 160 by the end of the year.

Female pintail - no. 101 for the Crail list this year

Female pintail – no. 101 for the Crail list this year

Along the coastal path it was occasional redshank and oystercatchers, a few red-throated divers, a couple of common scoter and a lot of gannets. There was a single lesser-black backed gull – this could be a migrant coming back for the summer to breed or just the adult that has been resident at Cellardyke this winter. The cold north wind was keeping things quiet inland although there was a big flock of yellowhammers and skylark in a stubble patch at Caiplie Caves; as the skylark flew up one or two of them started singing as if to make best use of the disturbance – they sing their territorial song while flying anyway.

Skylark

Skylark

Posted March 6, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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