Week ending July 31st   Leave a comment

There is an end of summer feeling among the birds of Crail. It seems unfair with August still to come but the good weather of August is needed for the adults to moult and get back into condition again after the efforts of breeding. And the juveniles need the time to be able to find their feet before their skills get really tested in the winter ahead. Some species are still breeding – classic late species like corn buntings, yellowhammers and greenfinches, but for most the last nests may well have been a month ago. There was a corn bunting singing away on Saturday from the wires by the airfield and I heard yellowhammers still singing from practically every field this weekend.

A young common whitethroat

A young common whitethroat

Out on the shore more waders are returning. There were four sanderling in summer plumage and some young dunlins on Balcomie beach on Saturday. Several redshanks are already back around Crail to join the curlews and oystercatchers. The seabirds are now all more or less finished apart from the gannets – their huge chicks need until the end of August before the first are ready to fledge. There was a steady stream of sandwich terns – both adults and juveniles – passing by Fife Ness and moving north this weekend. August is a good month for terns here. The coast between Fife Ness and Kingsbarns fills up with post breeding arctic, common and sandwich terns, and every year, one or two roseate terns as well if you can find them amongst the hundreds of other terns loafing on the rocks and beaches. With the terns come the first arctic skuas although they don’t get really common until the end of August.

A moulting sandwich tern - hundreds spend August around Kingsbarns and Fife Ness

A moulting sandwich tern – hundreds spend August around Kingsbarns and Fife Ness

Things really start to pick up a bit in August after the quiet of July. Some of the best birdwatching days around Crail can be after a couple of days of easterlies coincident with some heavy rain showers. These conditions bring on falls of migrants when we can have whinchats, pied and spotted flycatchers, tree pipits and other usually scarce passage migrants everywhere – and there is always the chance for a rarity among them such as an icterine or barred warbler. Balcomie Beach is great under these conditions too with scarcer waders such as ruff, little stint and curlew sandpiper turning up. We don’t get perfect conditions every year but I always travel in hope and keep an eye on the weather vane on top of the town hall for when it points to Fife Ness rather than inland.

One regular wader to look for in August is the common sandpiper. These are the noisy small shorebirds that breed along upland rivers in Scotland. In late July and August the juveniles end up on the coast and a few spend a week or two around Crail. They have a characteristic way of flying with very rapid buzzing wingbeats followed by glides on bowed wings – they always call as well – a shrill series of repeated “swee” notes – making them even more distinctive. They are eventually on their way to spend the winter along African streams and rivers.

Common sandpiper

Common sandpiper

Posted July 31, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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