Archive for September 2016

September 28th   Leave a comment

The pink-footed geese arrived today in big numbers. There were skeins passing all day from St Andrews to Crail. I sat indoors listening to their wild calling overhead and wished I could be out there with them.

Pink-footed geese - arrived today

Pink-footed geese – arrived today

The Brunnich’s guillemot is still resident in Anstruther harbour, allowing views so close you could almost touch it. It really is like a penguin, especially with its wings lacking flight feathers.

The Brunnich's guillemot in Anstruther harbour again

The Brunnich’s guillemot in Anstruther harbour again


Posted September 28, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 26th   Leave a comment

The Brunnich’s guillemot was in residence at Anstruther Harbour all day today providing everyone who went to see it with good views. As John’s photo below shows (much better than mine yesterday, obviously) it is in moult – replacing its flight feathers which they typically do late August to September. This bird won’t be able to fly at the moment (well, they are pretty much northern hemisphere penguins already) so can only swim away – and indeed must have been in the area a bit of time already before it swam into Anstruther Harbour. Its chance of being a fixture for a while is high.

The Brunnich's guillemot - still in Anstruther harbour today. A decent photo as well.

The Brunnich’s guillemot – still in Anstruther harbour today. A decent photo as well.

Elsewhere it is pretty quiet. I checked out Kilminning this evening and apart from a lot of robins (which seem to be increasing, so some may already be here for the winter) and wrens I didn’t see anything special in the bushes. There was a nice flock of lapwing and golden plover in the adjacent potato field and I enjoyed watching the gannets strung out in white lines on the horizon heading back to the Bass Rock at dusk. But I missed the terns – it has now been several days without even a sandwich tern.

Posted September 26, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 25th continued…   Leave a comment

It has been a frustrating week with birds not quite materialising or being missed but all’s well that ends well. A Brunnich’s guillemot was seen yesterday and photographed just outside Anstruther harbour on a trip out to the May Island. There was some initial uncertainty about its identity: it’s what is known as a mega-rarity, with only a handful of recent Scottish records and most in the northern Isles, and almost always later on in the winter. And it’s tricky to identify without a good view, which is usually difficult for a seabird. Photos were taken and then the features became clearer. Anyway it was relocated in Anstruther harbour this afternoon and put out on the grapevine. I got the text just after 4 while I was cooking Sunday dinner, thankfully just as everything had gone into the oven. I was out at Anstruther about 20 minutes later and after a sprint around the harbour wall (which is a long harbour wall, I have to say, when you are running carrying a telescope) there was the Brunnich’s guillemot obligingly snoozing on the water only a few meters out. There were a few other local birders there already and I joined them sat on the harbour edge to enjoy this vastly unexpected bird. Brunnich’s guillemot is the high arctic replacement for common guillemot and I have never been to the right part of the Arctic – so not only a new bird for the Crail list (no. 224) but one for my life list as well, and of course for the year list too, no. 153. I watched it for about three-quarters of an hour, able to see every feature that distinguishes it from a common guillemot. In short – more like a razorbill than a guillemot. It is a moulting bird and looked quite happy in the harbour so is likely to be here for a while – they are one of those species that although rare, once here, tend to hang around. So it should hopefully be a major attraction for birders in the coming week. This evening, its position in the sheltered harbour, and so close in, was absolutely perfect. The high Arctic came to visit me today. And I got back to Crail – very happy – in perfect time to put the Yorkshire pudding in the oven.

What made it a Brunnich’s guillemot rather than a common guillemot? A whole series of characters that were easy to see considering its position 25 or so meters from me, through a telescope, on a calm sea with perfect light – but I dread to think how difficult it would be in a swell and at a distance.

The Brunnich's guillemot in Anstruther harbour this evening. My poor phone photos taken through my telescope - but such a good view that they suffice to identify the bird

The Brunnich’s guillemot in Anstruther harbour this evening. My poor phone photos taken through my telescope – but such a good view that they suffice to identify the bird

With reference to the numbers in the pictures above:

1 & 2: Distance from the bill tip to end of feathering at base of bill, and this point and the eye is a ratio of 1 to 2.

3: Change in angle of bill halfway along the lower bill

4: Decurved upper mandible

5: Mostly dark around and behind the eye

6: White line along the cutting edge of the first half of the top of the bill, below the nostril

7: White unmarked flanks

8: Thick neck and general razorbill like shape

9: Grey black upper colour – never looking brown (or milk chocolate as would be expected in the strong light)

Posted September 25, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 25th   Leave a comment

The theme of wildlife beginning at home continued today. My best birds were from a sea watch from my teenage son’s room (where I am a barely tolerated tenant) which overlooks the Forth. An adult little gull heading into the Forth and then ten minutes later an adult Mediterranean gull passing the other way. After a lull of several years, three Crail Mediterranean gulls in as many weeks. This one was gloriously glowing almost pure white in the morning sunshine, apart from the diagnostic dark smudge behind the eye. Best of all – a new species for my garden list – number 129. It was much less interesting at Fife Ness later although I could see the flocks of kittiwakes on the horizon today and occasionally them bunching up like a cloud of flies in the extreme distance, presumably as they were targeted by skuas. I also saw a wheatear at Saucehope on the way home.

Adult mediterranean gull - glowing white

Adult mediterranean gull – glowing white

There was a family of swallows in my garden this afternoon: two parents and three juveniles, still being fed occasionally. A late brood but probably OK if the weather holds. Many of the other swallows left this week, I think, although it always hard to say because we have passage birds replacing the local birds right through October.

Young swallows

Young swallows

Posted September 25, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 24th   Leave a comment

There was a reasonably strong south-south easterly today but sea watching actually got worse compared to yesterday. In fact, it was really quiet – no terns, barely any kittiwakes – and only the gannets to save it, and a flock of teal passing close by Fife Ness. I didn’t see any summer migrants today apart from swallows and they were few and far between. One paced me and my dog Nutmeg as I cycled through a stubble field, picking up the flies we were disturbing by our passage. At one point Nutmeg started chasing the swallow and it just kept flying along with her in a zigzag fashion, the dogs increasing excitement and speed adding to its value as a fly producer. I have seen swallows following running antelopes in Africa like this, although they always seem oblivious to the swallows. Nutmeg would have chased this swallow, generating flies all day, terrier fashion, if the swallow hadn’t eventually decided to keep heading south.

Teal migrating past Fife Ness, heading south

Teal migrating past Fife Ness, heading south

I have been waiting for the geese all week – they should certainly be here any day now: pink-feet sounding like their voices are breaking and barnacles yapping like dogs overhead. Another sign of winter, I saw two purple sandpipers around the rocks at Balcomie today, flying away like dark dunlins with their distinctive, swallow like “zwick” call.

Purple sandpiper - arriving at Fife Ness for the winter

Purple sandpiper – arriving at Fife Ness for the winter


Posted September 24, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 23rd   Leave a comment

More garden visitors this morning reflecting that passage is going on. A meadow pipit perched on the telephone wire and then a redpoll calling overhead as I left the house. The latter a new addition to one of my other lists – my garden list – now at a creditable 128. Although if I saw a white-tailed eagle over the May Island (and I reckon it would be identifiable through my telescope) that would count too – more a “birds seen from my garden” list.

We have had settled weather for a long while now so birds passing at sea have been thin on the ground. I have seen no bonxies and only a handful of arctic skuas passing the bottom of my garden – in some years it may be several an hour – and only one sooty shearwater in the last week. Perhaps the only things that have been in good numbers are the gannets – with lots of juveniles passing this week and also red-throated divers.

A red-throated diver - lots passing by Crail into the Forth this week

A red-throated diver – lots passing by Crail into the Forth this week

Posted September 23, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

September 22nd   Leave a comment

At first light there was a chiff-chaff singing and two willow warblers calling from my garden so I was out early this morning with high hopes. The overnight heavy rain and south-easterly winds of the last couple of days must have brought something good in. Unfortunately all I found was more rain: no further warblers at all at Kilminning except maybe some new goldcrests. It did eventually clear up by 9 when I had to head back in frustration. At lunchtime this got worse when I got a text that a buff-breasted sandpiper had just been seen at Balcomie. I was working at home so I was out at the field within 10 minutes (grateful for the brisk west wind to push my bike out there faster). But not fast enough – I missed it by 40 minutes. I spent an hour scanning every ridge and furrow of the field from the edge but found only 2 wheatears, 45 skylark, 7 golden plover, a starling, a curlew, 12 or so rooks and a sparrowhawk – I feel I have to recount these as testament that I was really searching the field hard. A couple of others looking drew a blank as well. It had moved on. I have now “dipped” on buff-breasted sandpiper twice in exactly the same field – coincidentally there was one at Balcomie, again for less than an hour, at the end of September in 2013. Buff-breasts are attractive high Arctic waders that breed in North America. Needless to say they are rare with only 2 in the Crail area in the last 13 years – both of which, as I have said, I tried and failed for. I headed home disappointed again; with anything you care about there will be bad days as well as good days. My highlight today turned out to be two chiff-chaff feeding on the rose bush just outside the window in my garden late morning as I glanced up from my work; there can never be disappointment with unexpected birds.

A chiff-chaff - the bird that came to me today

A chiff-chaff – the bird that came to me today

Posted September 22, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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