Archive for October 2016

October 31st   Leave a comment

We don’t always have long-tailed tits around and about Crail but there are at least two groups making the rounds just now. I saw a flock of about 10 in the Patch at Fife Ness and then immediately afterwards a flock of about 15 at Kilminning. They must have a good breeding season – like grey partridges, their autumn group size is probably a reflection of a single pair’s reproduction during the summer. Long-tailed tits always move together as a tight, cohesive group, calling constantly to maintain contact with each other and so always advertising their presence.

Long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tit


Posted October 31, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 30th   Leave a comment

A circuit around Balcomie Beach, the Patch at Fife Ness and Kilminning only turned up one summer migrant today – a chiff-chaff. And it could easily be a wintering bird. Autumn migration is perhaps really over for the year. Everything seemed fairly wintry. My first fieldfare of the winter, pink-footed geese flocks passing, golden plover roosting on Balcomie Beach, a flock of siskin and overhead, passing Fife Ness, a snow bunting. The only local bird news today was of snow buntings passing through Fife so there must have been a relatively major movement. I’m always glad to see one – usually they are just late autumn or early spring passage birds and you have to get lucky. They are more reliable at Tentsmuir and Out Head, spending the winter on the bleak, windswept dunes that resemble the high tops where they breed. Snow buntings are tough birds of tough environments and I can hardly think of seeing one without feeling cold. Today’s bird was no. 159 for the year list. I still have barn owl in hand so my target of 160 this year is pretty much guaranteed with just a little a bit of evening tramping behind Barnsmuir in December.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting – no. 159 for the Crail year list

Posted October 30, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 29th   Leave a comment

There are robins everywhere. Including the beach at Roome Bay and all along the rocky shore to Fife Ness. Any small bird on the shore around Crail is usually a rock pipit – dull and camouflaged, perfectly blending in with the rocks. Not so just now with the robins standing out in their bright red autumn plumage, and making it worse by constantly chasing each other as they try to sort out territories with newcomers apparently still arriving every day. There is good feeding on the shore: it never freezes and the drifts of seaweed provide plenty of maggots and flies for a fossicking robin. Any bit of beach could accommodate tens of robins but they still try to maintain a territory. The rock pipits occasionally get chased away too which seems to be a bit of a liberty considering that they use the same bit of shore all year and not just for a few winter months.

Rock pipit - they are having to put up with  the neighbours from hell at the moment as the migrant robins try to take over their patches

Rock pipit – they are having to put up with the neighbours from hell at the moment as the migrant robins try to take over their patches

Posted October 30, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 27th   Leave a comment

The wind has been firmly back in the west for the last couple of days bringing slightly warmer weather but no chance of further migrants to finish the season with. There are redwings about now, here for the winter, and there were reports of waxwings on Monday and Tuesday. The word is that we might expect a waxwing winter this year. Waxwings have periodic “irruptions” after a successful breeding season in the taiga of Europe and Asia, spreading much further west as a result. So look out for waxwings over the next 2-3 weeks. We get them first as they arrive on the east coast and Balcomie caravan park with its good rowan berry crop this year is perhaps the best place to look.

Waxwing - unmistakable and very likely in Crail  in the next week or two

Waxwing – unmistakable and very likely in Crail in the next week or two

I was in London on Tuesday sitting in St James’s Park listening to the ring-necked parakeets screeching overhead, remembering the Crail ring-necked parakeet of a few years’ ago. Ring-necked parakeets are spreading out from London where they are now pretty much everywhere. The bird tables, big trees and warm temperatures of the capital insulate this parrot from the winter weather that restricts parrots to more tropical areas. The sub-species that is spreading across the UK is probably mostly the Indian one, and they can occur up to 2000m, so are already quite hardy. They also occur in sub-Saharan Africa. I was watching ring-necked parakeets in Dakar the Tuesday before, where it was 30 degrees hotter than in London this week. A pretty flexible parrot then – and it is always the flexible generalist species that do well in human urban environments. We have a mild climate in Crail, bird tables and tall trees (well a few anyway) so the Crail ring-necked parakeet survived for 7 years here (2005-2012 RIP). And of course the sad conclusion of its lonely existence in Crail was that in the year that a second ring-necked parakeet turned up and they started to breed, both died, probably by a sparrowhawk. Since then the rest of the parakeet breeding population has been inching north. It might be a few years before we get them back to Crail, but ring-necked parakeets are here to stay.

Another good winter bird to look out for and one that is guaranteed right now is the turnstone. They are common around the rocky shores of Crail and particularly between here and Fife Ness. Somewhat inconspicuous, their behaviour of flipping over seaweed (and turning stones of course) draws attention. They are another hardy, flexible species recorded eating almost everything that turns up on the shore (including dead seals!). Turnstones like most waders live a long time and return to exactly the same bit of rocky shore each winter: any turnstone you see is a lifelong Crailer.

A Crail turnstone

A Crail turnstone

Posted October 27, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

October23rd   Leave a comment

I have been away in Senegal visiting the Sahel and refamiliarising myself with a lot of birds that I can now longer see because of the current trouble in northern Nigeria. It was a pleasure to see chiff-chaff, common redstart, nightingale, tawny pipit, yellow wagtail, pied flycatcher, spotted flycatcher and a host of other migrants in the hot acacia woodland, either there already for the winter or staging through on their way to the savannah further south. And of course the waders – Senegal has a lot of wetlands – and every pool has 20 or so wader species, with most of them being European migrants. The unexpected highlight though was the sea watching. Five species of skua with hundreds passing every day to really help you get your eye in. I realise I have been too conservative in my identification of pomarine skuas in the past: many of my possible Crail pomarine skuas, seen at a distance, were probably definite. The terns were great too – common, arctic, sandwich, roseate, little and black, but amongst royal, lesser crested, white winged and Caspian so each one needed careful scrutiny. Like the pomarine skuas, seeing over 500 black terns passing at sea in the last week under all light conditions should allow me to pick up them more regularly when they pass Crail far out. There were one or two more familiar juvenile gannets as well, but looking a long way from home. They will all have been born around the UK or the North Sea, but some had made it all the way down already. It’s hard to avoid the connectivity between Scotland and Africa. Perhaps the most poignant reminder: a common redstart two weeks ago at Kilminning, and then one last Wednesday flying in to attempt to land on our small boat 21 km out from Dakar. I hope it made its relatively few final last kilometres to the African mainland.



I did a quick tour of the fields behind Crail and Kilminning this morning to get my eye back in to Crail. Despite some easterlies and rain showers it was quite quiet. Some chiff-chaffs and a blackcap among the goldcrests and a flock of four barnacle geese flying over. The theme of it being fairly quiet the last couple of weeks continues. Nothing turned up that would have been new to my year list: I have got away lightly being away from Crail in peak rare migration time. The season is not yet over yet and I have a feeling something very good is just around the corner. I just hope it turns up before I return to Africa in a couple of weeks following the migrants again.

Posted October 23, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 10th   Leave a comment

There was a female goosander close in at Roome Bay this afternoon. It was swimming among the rocks at the tideline, with its head mostly underwater looking for fish. They look more like sea-serpents than ducks sometimes.

A goosander looking for fish - they swim along with their heads under the water for long periods before they dive

A goosander looking for fish – they swim along with their heads under the water for long periods before they dive

Posted October 10, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

October 9th   Leave a comment

I spent a couple of hours in the Patch at Fife Ness this morning. I managed to find a lesser whitethroat and a pied flycatcher, both of which had been reported yesterday. It was instructive as usual to spend a long time looking for them and only to see the pied flycatcher after about an hour. You really have to work an area to see what is there when the leaves are still mostly on the trees, and then you probably don’t see the half of it. But again there was plenty to look at today: goldcrests everywhere, several chiff-chaffs and blackcaps, and a flock of noisy tree sparrows zooming overhead in the usual autumn indecision about what to do the fact that they have dispersed as far as they can in Fife without a sea crossing. There was no sense that more birds had come in overnight: nothing more than yesterday was reported and there were a lot of birders out looking today. I spent the afternoon enjoying the restless pair of robins in my back garden and their epic singing battle to keep the status quo in the face of all the incomers. It seems such a civilised way to resolve differences, although I shouldn’t think the robins think about it that way.

A Robin - lots of migrants upsetting the residents at the moment

A Robin – lots of migrants upsetting the residents at the moment

Posted October 10, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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