September 17th   2 comments

Mid-week the winds were again easterly but it fizzled out on Thursday with a still day and the haar in. I went out at lunchtime but could barely see the trees let alone anything in it: a common snipe grumping off away from me into the mist was the only highlight. I should think the seabirds were excellent somewhere out in the fog… Late in the afternoon a yellow-browed warbler and a pied flycatcher were found at Kilminning where I had been looking a few hours earlier. Encouraging that some things had been brought in even if I didn’t find them. So today I went out reasonably optimistically in search for an early yellow-browed warbler. But sadly it was too beautiful a day, perfect late September weather for sitting on the beach but not for migrants to stay around if they had been brought in mid-week. There was nothing at Kilminning except for a blackcap and a redpoll flying overhead, calling to announce its identity and to get it onto the Crail year list – no. 151.

Redpolls come in various forms and depending on your point of view some of these might be species. When I started bird watching there was one redpoll species, but this was split into two – common and arctic redpoll. Then common redpoll was split into two species – mealy and lesser. And then arctic redpoll was split into two – hoary and Hornemann’s arctic redpoll. Are you keeping up? And then the two arctic redpoll species were lumped back together and now there is some discussion about lumping lesser and mealy back together. It all got complicated because people started using DNA to split species and if you look hard enough you can find differences in DNA at any level. Species suddenly consist of lots of distinct populations and then it’s not too big a jump to start to think of the populations as distinct and separate – which is pretty much the definition of a species (or at least one of the definitions…). Our knowledge of genetic differences and speciation is also changing all the time and opinions about species boundaries and differences seem to change all the time too. Work in progress definitely but where does it leave me with a redpoll (species?) flying overhead calling when I want to add it to my Crail year list. Well luckily I bowed out of this many years ago and as far as I am concerned there is only one redpoll species – I had a conversation with a famous ornithologist studying arctic redpolls while we watched a pair building a nest in northern Alaska and I commented on how different they looked. He said, “redpolls are all one species, grading into each other in one place or another, they just move about a lot and when you see one end of the continuum next to the other end, then they look different, but even the arctic redpolls are just redpolls”. Good enough for me (even if many will disagree) and best of all adopting this point of view means that when a redpoll flies over calling distinctively (and no-one has yet suggested that the different “species” have distinctively different calls) I can identify it fully. So on to the Crail year list with a happy heart. Of course if I did think redpolls were several different species there would be more species to add to the list…maybe in a decade or two when I am desperate to add any new species to it.

Juvenile mediterranean gull

Juvenile mediterranean gull

Balcomie Beach this afternoon was fairly quiet – it was a very high tide and all the waders apart from a few dunlin were roosting around the corner at Fife Ness. A juvenile mediterranean gull flew in for a couple of minutes. They are much less obvious than the adults looking like a cross between a young black-headed and a common gull but distinctive when you get your eye in. A sea watch from Fife Ness was very pleasant in the warm sunshine but also fairly quiet – distant arctic skuas and a sooty shearwater. A pod of about 15 – 20 bottle-nosed dolphins passed close by heading towards Kingsbarns. I finished the afternoon looking for a common redstart reported from the Patch but only found some willow warblers and a chiff-chaff. The highlight was a speckled wood butterfly on a bramble bush – well away from its usual range but perhaps not surprising considering all the migrant painted lady butterflies that have appeared in the last week or so.

Bottle-nosed dolphin - as many as 20 passed Fife Ness this afternoon

Bottle-nosed dolphin – as many as 20 passed Fife Ness this afternoon

Posted September 17, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

2 responses to “September 17th

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  1. I found a Speckled Wood at Kilminning earlier in the year, and it turned out to be only the second record for Fife, so worth passing on your sighting (if you haven’t already) to the Butterfly recorder folks.

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