Week ending April 24th   Leave a comment

I have spent the last week in Cyprus catching up with my long term Cyprus wheatear study there so I am out of touch with Crail for the week. Seems migration has slowed this week with little passing after the excitement of the hawfinch of last week. This Sunday there were no migrants at Fife Ness except sandwich terns and a single swallow. But there was an intriguing report of a pair of cranes displaying near Peat Inn before flying off north. I live in hope of such a flyby over Crail. Seems I chose a good week to visit Cyprus and can pick up the Crail migration narrative more or less as it was at the end of last week. Next week must bring willow and sedge warblers, house martins and the rest of the swallows. The following week we can start to hope for rarities like shrikes.

NYOY - a male Cyprus wheatear singing at Troodos in Cyprus and every summer since 2011.

NYOY – a male Cyprus wheatear singing at Troodos in Cyprus last week and every summer since 2011.

I have been visiting Cyprus since 2009 and we have been colour-ringing Cyprus wheatears since 2010. Each year we see how many have survived their migration to Africa by refinding as many individual birds as possible. It involves a lot of walking up and down the forested mountains in the middle of Cyprus. But nothing beats seeing an old friend from last or even several years ago. The individual pictured is NYOY (black over yellow left leg, orange over yellow right leg) that was born in 2010. This was the year that I brought my son Sam to Cyprus to help with fieldwork, when he was 9 – he is now 15 and NYOY is of course 6. Cyprus wheatears have relatively high survival rates for a small bird and we have several individuals that are more than 5 years old in the population, with the oldest being more than 7. NYOY was singing from the same black pine tree that I saw it in all the previous years. In the meantime it has been back and forth to Africa six times. We know from the tags we put on two years ago that Cyprus wheatears fly to South Sudan or Eritrea for the winter – in a single non-stop flight of about 2.5 days with an average speed of 43 km per hour. A bird of this size has a theoretical flight range when fully fattened up of about 2,800 km and the migration distance for Cyprus wheatears is about 2,500 km on average. So they even have a little in the tank for contingencies. Quite amazing really. That their migration to the southern edge of the desert in Africa and back to Cyprus can be achieved by a single non-stop flight might account for their high survival. Other species might have several flights to make and so more links in their migratory chain: if any of these links fail…

On my way home on Saturday evening I stopped off at Episcopi, a famous site for Eleonora’s falcons, to watch these elegant, colonial raptors chasing each other above the sea cliffs. One of my favourite birds for so many reasons. If Cyprus wheatears have migration tales then Eleonora’s falcons have migration legends. You can put a proper tag on a falcon of this size and their phenomenal flights have been tracked to the meter to and from Africa. In short Eleonora’s falcons are one of the most capable migrant species on the planet. They breed late and specialise in group hunting other smaller migrants passing by their island cliffs throughout the Mediterranean. Then they fly huge distances over the ocean or across Africa to the northern tip of Madagascar. Each day on migration they start their flights just before dawn by flying several kilometres straight up to get a Google Earth view of the landscape before heading off to the next distant landmark. They seem to use the larger mountains and islands in Africa to orientate themselves. I probably won’t ever see an Eleonora’s falcon in Crail but a couple have turned up in the UK over the years. It seems unlikely to me that these are lost: an Eleonora’s falcon is so flight capable that they must be exactly where they want to be, whenever. I expect some just like to explore.

An Eleonora's falcon - photographed by John onn a trip to Majorca, not Crail unfortunately

An Eleonora’s falcon – photographed by John on a trip to Majorca, not Crail unfortunately

I finished the long day that was Saturday with a couple of barn owls at Arncroach early on Sunday morning. Unfortunately just outside the Crail list boundary. Nice to see in any case and the year list will surely grow with the returning migrants next week.

Posted April 24, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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