August 20th   Leave a comment

And today feels a bit like Christmas. The huge hoped for fall of August migrants didn’t materialise this morning but there was enough about to make things quite interesting. I made it out to Kilminning by 7 and enjoyed the best of the day’s sunshine as I cycled out. Immediately I was struck by how quiet it was and I began to feel a bit disappointed. Sometimes even when the weather is right we don’t get lucky. Then I found a flock of willow warblers in the pines at the entrance to Kilminning – some migrants at last. I spent the next 40 minutes checking through them carefully. There were about 20 of them mixed in with coal and blue tits and a couple of chiff-chaffs; each one needed to be checked and it was a challenge as they darted about the trees. I finally saw a greyish warbler among them – a lesser whitethroat – always a good indicator species for Crail of other good birds to find and number 136 for the Crail year list. It was sobering to think that it took so much patient checking through the flock before I was lucky enough to see the lesser whitethroat. So much of finding rare birds is, well, finding them. They are around so much more than we ever detect them.

Lesser whitethroat

Lesser whitethroat

I continued down to the bottom of Kilminning. Again it seemed very quiet apart from a whinchat at the edge of the airfield – another good indicator species. Then I suddenly heard a very distinctive “choo-slip” like a pied wagtail or speeded up yellow-browed warbler. A greenish warbler maybe? Then it called again and again from the willow tree in front of me followed by a quite striking willow warbler type bird flying out of it into the next tree. Almost certainly a greenish warbler – a fantastic August rarity for Crail, breeding in central Asia and wintering in India, and one I have only seen once before here (August 24th 2003, so 13 years ago!). A once a decade Crail bird (obviously number 137 for the Crail year list as well). I got out my phone to listen to the call to confirm I wasn’t mistaken – a perfect match – and as I listened the live bird started calling again and even gave a short burst of song. It flew from tree to tree above me and finally came out into clear view in an elder for a few seconds. Greenish warblers are quite distinctive in a technical sort of way – very clean and two toned looking, whitish below and olive green above with a nice, distinctive black eye-stripe and a large white supercilium all along the head, curving up behind the eye. I took all of this in and remembered to check for the wing bar – there it was, a single thin yellowish white line in the middle of the wing. And then it was off back into the dense vegetation.

I cycled up the road to get a phone signal, called John Anderson and then put the news out for the rest of the Fife birders. Rather ill-advisedly I gave the bird the kiss of death by describing it as easy to see and “responding well to playback”. I then waited for others to arrive. Within ten minutes some other birders and John arrived and we tried to refind the bird. But it had gone to ground and apart from bouts of calling wasn’t seen again for several hours. It’s really frustrating to find a good bird but then not to be able to share it with others (not as frustrating as not seeing the bird at all though) and I was relieved when I came back to Kilminning later in the afternoon to find that it had been seen by a few others in the hours that followed. But I was very lucky this morning to get such a good view and to hear it calling and even singing right in front of me. After that first run of sightings I didn’t see it again and so after an hour I went up to Balcomie Castle to look for a reported pied flycatcher. Not so lucky this time. Still I headed back to Crail mid-morning for a well-earned coffee with a happy heart.

This afternoon I returned to Kilminning and Balcomie looking for more warblers and flycatchers but it was the shorebirds turn. Amongst the dunlin on Balcomie Beach was a juvenile curlew sandpiper. A once every two or three years Crail bird (number 138 for the Crail year list) and one of my favourites if only because it is the quintessential birders bird. If you don’t look out for curlew sandpipers, you will never see them. They look to me quite different to dunlin but it’s all very subtle: longer legs, neck and bill giving a more elegant shape. In a flock of dunlin they are just another dunlin unless you remember what to look for. And that’s probably the other significant part of finding rare birds. When you see a bird, you mustn’t assume it’s common (although expect it to be) – remember the alternatives and check them all off.

Juvenile curlew sandpiper

Juvenile curlew sandpiper

After the beach at Balcomie I was understandably still feeling lucky so had a bit of a sea watch at Fife Ness. The wind had been picking up all day from the south so the seabirds were close in. Lots of kittiwakes, fulmars, gannets and sandwich terns but nothing unusual. The shorebird excitement continued though with small flocks of redshanks and knots – some still mostly in their red and grey summer plumage – passed by, heading south. And then a black-tailed godwit flying over at Kilminning on my way home. Another species as unusual as the curlew sandpiper for Crail and so another addition to the Crail year list, making 139. I had slipped behind in my race to beat my all time best Crail year list this week – I reached 138 species by the 19th August in 2012 (my record year to beat with 156). I am now back on track being one ahead, although the lead is precarious and I have to continue adding species to keep up with the very good August and September that we had in 2012. Still, so far so good with a really good day today, exactly when needed. I finished the afternoon off with some more knots, a whimbrel and a couple of common sandpipers at Saucehope.

Black-tailed godwit - one flying over Kilminning today put me back ahead in the Crail year list challenge - no. 139 for the Crail year list

Black-tailed godwit – one flying over Kilminning today put me back ahead in the Crail year list challenge – no. 139

This evening the wind has gone round to the north and there are some showers forecast overnight. Tomorrow might have some potential and certainly there will be some local birds today that haven’t been found yet.

Posted August 20, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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