Archive for June 2016

June 26th   Leave a comment

There was a small group of ringed plover on Balcomie Beach this morning including two juveniles. It’s good to know that they have bred successfully. I can’t be sure that they are a local pair but it seems likely. Balcomie Beach is not a disturbed beach – walkers on the coastal path will, by choice, avoid the pebbles at the top where a ringed plover is likely to breed and even on a beautiful day like today few people choose (or perhaps more accurately find) this lovely beach. There was a bright orange and black turnstone with the ringed plovers, coming south or going north I can’t say at this time of year. There are plenty of curlews back on the rocky shore though – failed breeders with obvious gaps on their wings and so well into post-breeding moult.

A young ringed plover

A young ringed plover

Posted June 26, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 25th   Leave a comment

I have been on a chough (pronounced “chuff”) hunt – that’s the rare crow with the red decurved thin bill like a shorebird and bright red legs that occurs on Hebridean islands like Islay. It very occasionally turns up on the east coast and there were a couple of intriguing reports this week from an admittedly new birder – but with excellent descriptions – from the coast along the Castle course near St Andrews. This is just outside my Crail patch but if a chough has wandered that far from the west coast it can surely wander a bit closer to Crail…Also there have been a couple of recentish records of chough from Fife and both were birds at Crail (1990 and 1993), although these were autumn and winter records: still it’s not that far for a chough to come at any time of year so well worth checking out.

I walked up from Boarhills up the coastal path until Fairmont – the border of my 10km from Crail local patch. No sign of a chough but great fun to have to check out every carrion crow, rook and even distant jackdaw that I saw. Normally I don’t really look at them because the three species are such common backgrounds to any day’s birding around Crail. I noticed that they were all moulting – so had finished breeding. I noticed that the rooks were all feeding on the seaweed beds on the shore – all the fields have too high vegetation for them and the golf courses were very busy. Even though they probably have no choice they seemed happy probing away (most were sunbathing so couldn’t have been living on the edge!). I also noticed that all three species were being atypically quiet. Rooks and jackdaws particularly are noisy creatures engaging in non-stop corvid conversations, but not today. Choughs have a very distinctive call – evocative of the windswept Irish headlands and continental mountains where they more commonly occur – so I was listening out. Why were the crows today so silent? Perhaps the warm summer afternoon had made them drowsy? I really like it when the search for the rare makes you confront the commonplace. Jackdaws, for example, are every bit as exciting as chough in their call, behaviour and association with great wild places here and all over Europe. And carrion crows are always up to some interesting bit of mischief if you only bother to look.

Carrion crow - always up to something interesting

Carrion crow – always up to something interesting

Whitethroats and sedge warblers were the other special things on the walk. They are still in the full swing of breeding. There were fledged families alongside song-flighting territorial birds, starting their second broods or hoping for better luck after a failed first one. It does seem like there are a lot of occupied territories this summer indicating that conditions on the wintering grounds were ok last year. Sedge warblers, in particular, are very sensitive to how much rain falls in the Sahel where they winter. The intensity and duration of the rainy season happening right now in places like Senegal will determine how many find good habitat and feeding when they return to Africa in September.

Male common whitethroat busy feeding a brood just about to fledge

Male common whitethroat busy feeding a brood just about to fledge

Posted June 25, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 19th   Leave a comment

It was a relief this weekend to be able to see the sea again. It’s such a constant backdrop to the summer here that when the haar is in Crail is less than half what it should be. The auks, gannets and kittiwakes were still shuttling back and forth out there this week I’m sure, but nice to see them again. Most of the seabirds will be well into feeding their chicks now and the next few weeks are their busiest time.

Guillemots

Guillemots

Posted June 19, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 18th   Leave a comment

Watch out for a red kite that is around and about this bit of Fife. It was seen around the secret bunker on Monday night and again at Blebo Craigs today. Only a few minute’s kite flight from Crail…I hope to personally add it to the Crail list sometime soon. The area around the secret bunker is perfect breeding and foraging habitat for a kite when they do finally spread down here for good.

Red kites - they are fairly unmistakable - big and with angular, twisting wings and a forked tail

Red kites – they are fairly unmistakable – big and with angular, twisting wings and a forked tail

Posted June 19, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 17th   Leave a comment

The continuing wet weather of the week is probably now making a real difference to a lot of birds. A walk anywhere through vegetation this week resulted in a soaking. I saw a buzzard on Wednesday morning sitting in a tree with its wings held out like a cormorant, presumably trying to drip dry. For any birds fledging this week, this wet is a disaster. Fledglings don’t develop all their body feathering until a week or two after leaving the nest and are really vulnerable to getting wet and cold. Timing is everything and there is always an element of luck for every brood during a Scottish summer. One silver lining of the bad weather, at least for me, has been it forcing down all the swallows and swifts to hawk very low in their search for the insects downed as well. At Kilrenny last Tuesday the house martins were hawking over the rape at arm’s length. There is something quite special to be surrounded by swallows and martins as they twist past impossibly fast and sure, so close you can hear their bills snapping when they catch a fly.

Close fly-by from a house martin

Close fly-by from a house martin

Posted June 19, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 13th   2 comments

I came home from work late tonight after a talk to the Kilmany Women’s Rural Institute group about birds and the sense of place they give you – my usual theme about the world coming to visit us in Crail through the different birds that turn up here. And was greeted by a marsh harrier as I turned the final corner and headed into Crail. A male in the gloaming, with a fat crop, quartering slowly over the fields and passing right overhead as I pulled over to the side of the road to watch. I didn’t have my binoculars but it didn’t matter. The world coming again right to me: a very late or a very early migrant or a wanderer from the birds that breed on Tayside. Number 131 for the year list and a good one to get. Only my 3rd or 4th in the 13 years I have been here.

Male marsh harrier - no. 131 for the Crail year list this evening

Male marsh harrier – no. 131 for the Crail year list this evening

Posted June 13, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 9th   Leave a comment

After a gap of a few years I think that there is a pair of grey wagtails breeding again along the Brandyburn, and probably in Victoria Park. They are handsome and elegant birds. I also love their bounding flight and “zit zit” double flight note that makes them very distinctive and noticeable even when passing high overhead. I noticed that they were probably back to breed this summer because they have been commuting over my garden – the Brandyburn is underground of course between Market Street and Nethergate so the wagtails have no choice but to go over the houses. They are at home on rooftops anyway. In the winter in Crail you are just as likely to see them feeding on a wet slate roof as on wet rocks beside a burn.

Grey wagtail

Grey wagtail

Posted June 9, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 6th   Leave a comment

Three red-backed shrikes on the May Island this morning…I was out at Kilminning at lunchtime in hope. No shrikes again for us and my only consolation was one of the most tuneful blackcaps I have heard in a long time. It was really going for it and I could enjoy it in relative peace – being a Monday instead of my usual weekend day visit there was only a tractor cutting the grass on the airfield and a couple of go-carts on the track next door. A flock of eight Canada geese with a couple of greylags flew over: Canada geese are now a summer certainty after being quite a rarity in the Crail area, although they mostly stick to the coast around Boarhills. Number 130 for the year list which will now stay fairly static until the migration season starts again in the August.

A flock of canada geese with a greylag goose

A flock of canada geese (no. 130 for the Crail year list) with a greylag goose

Posted June 7, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 5th   Leave a comment

The first eider chicks have appeared in Roome Bay. Some days this week have been calm so the crossing from the May Island might have been easy. Other days have been much choppier so that many chicks might not have made it. I suspect the eiders run the risk of bringing their chicks over the 8 km of sea between us to avoid the concentration of gulls breeding on the May. They don’t escape the attention of the gulls completely in Roome Bay however. Maybe it’s because the sea is usually much rougher on the eastern side of the May making it harder for the chicks to forage. Roome Bay is certainly a very benign environment in that respect in the summer.

Eider chicks braving the waves

Eider chicks braving the waves

Goosander

Goosander

I walked from Kingsbarns back to Crail this morning. The beach was busy with sandwich and arctic terns, and sand martins scooting along almost at sand height. There were a few signs, even now, of the end of the summer. A couple of curlews and some black-headed gulls – probably failed breeders – back already on the rocky shore for the winter. I saw my first goosander of the summer. One or possibly two birds fishing in the bay at the north end of Balcomie golf course. They come here to moult after breeding, although most come in July. I also saw the local pair of shelducks there but no sign of chicks. They have a hard time breeding successfully each year. There were a few newly fledged skylark chicks in the wheat fields at Wormiston Farm. They seemed very vulnerable, barely flying away in time on weak fluttery wings as I approached. Just out of the nest I should think. Another two weeks and they will be much more capable and likely to survive.

Posted June 5, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 3rd   Leave a comment

There seems to have been a lot of road kill on the way to St Andrews from Crail this week. Lots of young rooks fledging from the rookery directly above the road at Brownhills – their first flight must have been very brief – a roe deer at Cambo on Friday and worst, a buzzard at Boarhills on Wednesday. Such casualties are inevitable with all of us dashing about but always a shame.

The crops are growing up and the leaves are all out on the trees; as this happens it gets harder to see things. I haven’t seen any hares for a couple of weeks, for example, but they must still be there. I doubt there has been some great hare migration.

An invisible hare

An invisible hare

Posted June 4, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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