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

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Posted June 25, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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