Archive for August 2016

August 18th   Leave a comment

Some encouraging east winds over the last few days. But the haar that came in with them was easier to spot than any birds that might have been blown in today. I could only find some willow warblers at Kilminning and a wheatear at Saucehope this lunchtime and I suspect they have been here all along. Again, an east wind without rain showers is a damp squib. There were roe deer to see at least; there seems to be mothers with a well grown fawns popping up everywhere. Some of this must be because the fields are getting harvested and the fawns are now big enough to run out of trouble rather than hiding.

Roe deer - mother and fawn

Roe deer – mother and fawn

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Posted August 19, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 12th   Leave a comment

There were a couple of bar-tailed godwits joining the sanderlings, dunlins and ringed plover on Balcomie Beach today. They were very wary unlike the other waders that have got used to the dog walkers. Bar-tailed godwits are truly exceptional migrants (and all migrants are themselves pretty exceptional) so these birds could have been fresh in from Siberia, thousands of kilometres away. They might have been looking at red-breasted geese and arctic foxes just a couple of days ago. I saw a knot passing Fife Ness later – another exceptional migrant also on its way back from the far north. Surprisingly my first for the year. They are not uncommon on the rocky shore around Crail in the winter but I missed them somehow- number 135 for the year list.

Bar-tailed godwit

Bar-tailed godwit

At sea from Fife Ness there was quite a heat haze making the gannets and gulls just blurry shapes more than a couple of kilometres out. I could make out a couple of manx shearwaters passing further out because of their very distinctive cross shape, flashing black and white as they banked over the waves but not much else. Closer in there were a lot of sandwich terns passing as well as quite a few arctic terns. Many were juveniles so at least some arctic terns, somewhere have had a reasonable breeding season. Some colonies on the west coast don’t fledge any chicks at all because of predators such as mink reaching their breeding colony. Remote places like the May Island are essential to allow them (and many other vulnerable seabirds) to nest unmolested. A group of bottle-nosed dolphins passing by out of the Forth rounded off a nice summer sea watch.

Juvenile arctic tern

Juvenile arctic tern

I have been keeping any eye on the swifts this week. They will be going any day soon and I don’t want to waste a day of appreciating them. On Tuesday I cycled back from Anstruther by a rape field that was being harvested. Downwind was a flock of about 100 swifts. They must have been feasting in the insect plume disturbed by the harvester. When swifts are really successfully feeding they change direction all the time, and this flock was a darting mass of birds going everywhere. This year seems to have been good for swifts in Crail. The flock between Crail and Anstruther will have attracted birds from all around or even might have been a flock already on migration so such gatherings don’t give a good indication of how well they are doing locally. But I think there might be double the birds this year (perhaps 60 rather than 30 in the skies above Crail in the late evening when they seem the easiest to count). I wish them well on their journey to the jungles of the Congo.

Posted August 12, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 9th   Leave a comment

One of Crail’s best wildlife sights is gannets. We have one of the world’s largest gannetries on our doorstep and even without binoculars you can’t help but notice these massive white and black birds constantly passing Crail. A real highlight is to sit on the rocks at Fife Ness and wait for some of them to start fishing. It’s not uncommon to have tens of gannets diving in a frenzy right in front of you. The gannets want to get deep into the water as quickly as possible to surprise fish so dive from, sometimes, tens of meters above the water to build up momentum. They shoot into the water like arrows, with such speed and density that you wonder that they won’t damage themselves or even hit each other in the apparent melee. When you look at a dive closely, however, it is absolute precision, the gannet effectively folding itself into a javelin to streamline itself and to reduce the force as it hits the water. There is a tale of a gannet killing itself by diving onto a fishing boat deck with such force that its bill stuck itself several centimeters into the decking: getting their streamlining right (as well as actually hitting some water!) must be very important. I imagine young, inexperienced birds have a perpetual headache.

Gannet on the look out

Gannet on the look out

Diving gannet

Diving gannet

Posted August 9, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 7th   Leave a comment

An unexpected gale today. Very strong winds from the south-west – quite the wrong direction although it was a warm wind as a consequence. There has been a complete change over at Balcomie Beach. A few dunlins still, but all adults today with good amounts of summer plumage instead of the juveniles of Friday. No sign of the stint and only a couple of sanderlings. The main feature was a group of sandwich terns roosting on the sand. A mixture of black speckled juveniles and adults fast losing their summer caps. It was hard to see what was passing at sea in the strong wind and the sand blasting on the beach. The gannets and fulmars were really flying by with one or two late puffins far out.

An adult dunlin still in summer plumage on Balcomie Beach

An adult dunlin still in summer plumage on Balcomie Beach

Posted August 7, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 6th   Leave a comment

A first year whinchat - taken in a fallow field in Africa in November but pretty much how it was today

A first year whinchat – taken in a fallow field in Africa in November but pretty much how it was today

Inspired by the stint of yesterday I went out this morning on a circuit of all the potential wet patches in the fields around Crail in search of more migrant waders. Despite the recent rain all were dry – all have been “improved” so much recently that it was perhaps hopeless anyway. I ended up at Troustie House where one damp field corner lingers on but even this was too overgrown with grass to be much good. There were a ton of tree sparrows about which always make Troustie a good place to visit. A little further on are a couple of irrigation ponds that keep water in all year round. They have steep bank sides so are less good for waders but might attract a green sandpiper one day. There were only swifts and swallows using them to drink today. Then a small bird caught my eye – a juvenile whinchat – a good August bird that you need a bit of luck to find around Crail. I see hundreds of whinchats in Africa every winter as part of my research but seeing one on its way there through my home patch is much more of a thrill (and it was number 133 for the year list too!). Whinchats love a scrubby, neglected field edge in Africa and this is exactly where it was today in Crail. Further into the fallow field there was a juvenile wheatear – also on its way to Africa for the first time. They winter a bit further north than whinchats, closer to the Sahara, but again the empty, weedy field it was using here is pretty much what they choose to spend the winter in, in Africa. There were a lot of meadow pipits in the field too and probably a tree pipit – I only heard one call briefly and not quite close enough or long enough to add it to the year list (another August migrant that I need).

Juvenile wheatear (this one at Balcomie but a migrant from mid this week at least)

Juvenile wheatear (this one at Balcomie but a migrant from mid this week at least)

I finished my circuit along the shore back to the harbour and saw a common sandpiper on the rocks – one more migrant wader at least and number 134 for the year list. To keep my momentum and to hit my target of 160 I will need a few more trips out like this: August can be a really good month around Crail with the right weather and I suspect today’s small haul was the left overs of the easterly winds and rain mid-week.

Posted August 6, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 5th   Leave a comment

John texted me this evening that he had found a little stint on Balcomie Beach. The first new bird for the Crail year list since June and one that we only get every couple of years. I probably beat my record for getting down to Fife Ness quickly and then to really get into the spirit I sprinted down from the car park to join John by the beach. Probably a bit unnecessary for a little stint but it felt good to be chasing a new (ish) bird after a week away from new birds every day. The little stint didn’t need the dash – it was obliging and obvious with a flock of ringed plover, dunlin and sanderling trotting along the strandline. John and I discussed the ethics of getting closer – there is always the risk of disturbing a rare bird so it leaves before others get to see it – but it was taken out of our hands by a noisy, large family of dog walkers that suddenly appeared and duly chased the flock away. Balcomie Beach is fairly large so the flock just moved up and down out of their way, landing quite close to us as we remained still. If you can fly humans are just a nuisance, although when it is cold such disturbances can make a make difference. I should think the stint will be there tomorrow. Number 132 for the Crail year list and good to get back to adding to it – the first proper migrant of the season.

The little stint on Balcomie Beach this evening

The little stint on Balcomie Beach this evening

Posted August 5, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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