Archive for December 2016

December 31st   2 comments

Time to take stock of the year – the Crail year list starts anew tomorrow. I hoped this year to beat my record of 157 and ideally reach 160. I saw 161 species this year, so I’m very pleased. The species list was as follows:

Great Spotted Woodpecker - no. 72

Great Spotted Woodpecker – no. 72

Gannet - an annual crowd pleaser and no. 38

Gannet – an annual crowd pleaser and no. 38

Northern Wheatear - no. 106

Northern Wheatear – no. 106

Long-tailed Skua - no. 144

Long-tailed Skua – no. 144

Brunnich's Guilemmot - no. 153 and one of the stars of the year

Brunnich’s Guilemmot – no. 153 and one of the stars of the year

Pink-footed Goose - no. 89

Pink-footed Goose – no. 89

Arctic tern - no. 121

Arctic tern – no. 121

Golden plover - no. 61

Golden plover – no. 61

Knot - no. 135

Knot – no. 135

1 Herring Gull 01/01/2016
2 Blackbird
3 Carrion Crow
4 Tree Sparrow
5 Dunnock
6 Wren
7 Reed Bunting
8 Curlew
9 Grey Heron
10 Eider
11 Cormorant
12 Shag
13 Common Starling
14 Common Buzzard
15 Redshank
16 Black-headed Gull
17 Common Pheasant
18 Goldfinch
19 Goldeneye
20 Turnstone
21 Oystercatcher
22 Wigeon
23 Robin
24 Yellowhammer
25 Water Rail
26 Mallard Sunrise
27 Moorhen
28 Common Gull
29 Great Black-backed Gull
30 Song Thrush
31 Chaffinch
32 Blue Tit
33 Woodpigeon
34 Teal
35 Red-breasted Merganser
36 Meadow Pipit
37 Kittiwake
38 Gannet
39 Red-throated Diver 09:00
40 Long-tailed Duck
41 Stock Dove
42 Greenfinch
43 Skylark
44 Rook
45 Great Tit
46 Jackdaw
47 Goldcrest
48 Mistle Thrush
49 Long-tailed Tit 10:00
50 Treecreeper
51 Dipper
52 Corn Bunting
53 House Sparrow
54 Bullfinch
55 Stonechat
56 Guillemot
57 Rock Pipit
58 Purple Sandpiper
59 Razorbill
60 Little Auk
61 Golden Plover 11:00
62 Kestrel
63 Fieldfare
64 Redwing
65 Coal Tit
66 Linnet
67 Whooper Swan
68 Mute Swan
69 Coot
70 Tufted Duck
71 Little Grebe
72 Great Spotted Woodpecker 12:00
73 Magpie
74 Feral Pigeon
75 Sparrowhawk 13:00
76 Lapwing
77 Collared Dove
78 Perergrine
79 Merlin 14:00
80 Fulmar 02/01/2016
81 Ringed Plover
82 Sanderling
83 Grey Wagtail
84 Grey Plover
85 Lesser Black-backed Gull 06/01/2016
86 Pied Wagtail 08/01/2016
87 Bar-tailed Godwit 09/01/2016
88 Dunlin
89 Pink-footed Goose
90 Great Northern Diver
91 Black Guillemot
92 Grey Phalarope
93 Woodcock 10/01/2016
94 Common Scoter
95 Slavonian Grebe
96 Tawny Owl 13/01/2016
97 Grey Partridge 15/01/2016
98 Bean Goose (Taiga) 17/01/2016
99 Greylag Goose 31/01/2016
100 Common Snipe 28/02/2016
101 Pintail 05/03/2016
102 Great Crested Grebe 06/03/2016
103 Sisikin 12/03/2016
104 Puffin 27/03/2016
105 Sandwich Tern 02/04/2016
106 Northern Wheatear 03/04/2016
107 Shelduck
108 Chiff-chaff
109 Blackcap
110 Black Redstart 06/04/2016
111 Barn Swallow 07/04/2016
112 Velvet Scoter 08/04/2016
113 Sand Martin 10/04/2016
114 Common Redstart 13/04/2016
115 Goosander 15/04/2016
116 Hawfinch 16/04/2016
117 Willow Warbler 30/04/2016
118 House Martin
119 Whimbrel
120 Common Swift 01/05/2016
121 Arctic Tern 02/05/2016
122 Common Whitethroat
123 Manx Shearwater
124 Storm Petrel
125 Sedge Warbler 06/05/2016
126 Yellow Wagtail
127 Marsh Warbler 11/05/2016
128 Common Tern 14/05/2016
129 Garden Warbler 27/05/2016
130 Canada Goose 06/06/2016
131 Marsh Harrier 13/06/2016
132 Little Stint 05/08/2016
133 Whinchat 06/08/2016
134 Common Sandpiper
135 Knot 12/08/2016
136 Lesser Whitethroat 20/08/2016
137 Greenish Warbler
138 Curlew Sandpiper
139 Black-tailed Godwit
140 Pied Flycatcher 21/08/2016
141 Mediterranean Gull 22/08/2016
142 Gadwall 27/08/2016
143 Sooty Shearwater
144 Long-tailed Skua
145 Arctic Skua
146 Greenshank 28/08/2016
147 Great Skua
148 Tree pipit 04/09/2016
149 Little Gull 10/09/2016
150 Black-throated Diver
151 Redpoll 18/09/2016
152 Spotted Flycatcher 20/09/2016
153 Brunnichs Guillemot 25/09/2016
154 Lapland Bunting 02/10/2016
155 Yellow-browed Warbler
156 Red-flanked Bluetail 05/10/2016
157 Barnacle Goose 06/10/2016
158 Brambling 08/10/2016
159 Snow Bunting 30/10/2016
160 Pomarine Skua 06/11/2016
161 Jack Snipe 29/12/2016

On behalf of John Anderson and myself (Will Cresswell) – thank you for reading this year; Happy New Year and here’s to another year of good birding and wildlife around Crail. I’m hoping to beat the New Year’s day record of 79 tomorrow…


Posted December 31, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 29th   Leave a comment

Purple sandpiper

Purple sandpiper

Another nice day today, cold enough to feel a bit wintry but with the westerly wind not too strong to make it uncomfortable. Still relatively mild though and I watched a steady and unseasonal stream of gannets past Fife Ness this morning. There were a couple of red-throated divers and a few guillemots at sea and the usual small flock of purple sandpipers amongst the breaking waves on the rocks.

This afternoon I cycled up the B940, north-west from Crail to look for anything in the fields. There is a nice stubble field at Damside which has a lot of starlings, house sparrows, chaffinches, greenfinches, yellowhammers and reed buntings in it and a flock of about 15 tree sparrows. Further up at Muirhead there is a fallow field edge, probably being left for game cover, that is also full of birds – goldfinches, grey partridges, pheasants, skylark and a lot of reed buntings. I tramped around a boggy bit just off the road at Hilleraye and flushed 5 common snipe and with a bit of persistence a single jack snipe – number 161 for the record breaking Crail year list. They are much, much harder to flush and fly off silently making them much trickier to find. They also look a lot like snipe when they fly– the longer bill of a common snipe is foreshortened as they fly away from you so its shorter bill is not much use as a feature. I find the much more prominent golden stripes on the back the best feature along with their smaller size, as long as you see them as they flush close to you. Jack snipe are also supposed to only fly a short distance and not to gain much height – this is not a great feature. Common snipe do usually fly off to a large distance and to go quite high quickly, but jack snipe can do this as well. Inspired by this I tramped a few more wet places and in a near pond in a brassica field at Lochton I flushed another common snipe and then a second jack snipe. This one truer to character flew low and landed in the field close by, running into cover for a bit before freezing. If they stay frozen they are fantastically well camouflaged and I will have walked past many more jack snipe around Crail this year than I found today. Still, now on the year list and better late than never. Two days more to get a barn owl…

Jack snipe - no. 161 for the Crail Year List

Jack snipe – no. 161 for the Crail Year List

Posted December 29, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 27th   Leave a comment

I usually try to keep Wild Crail relevant to Crail – my limit is 10 km from the centre of Crail. And most of my local birding is confined there because everything is much more special when you find it on your local patch. But it’s Christmas and a little bit of twitching abroad seems in order. There have been lots of shore larks turning up this year with some spectacularly large flocks turning up on the Norfolk and Lothian coast. I have been keeping my eye out along the shore and golf courses at Fife Ness but shore larks really like very open areas of saltmarsh and mud rather than rocky shores. Places like Tentsmuir, where I caught up with a pair of shore larks today. Shore larks are spectacularly tame and it was easy to locate this pair because they were 20 meters in front of several photographers lying down in the dunes at the edge of the saltmarsh area there. A lot of others were out twitching these shore larks today. Tentsmuir also hosted hundreds of walkers and dogs out on the beach and amongst the dunes today so it is a good thing that the shore larks really don’t care less.

Shore larks are high Arctic birds that never really encounter people and you have to get to within about 15 meters before they fly off – and they never fly very far when they do. I watched a few birders creeping in to get closer and others just strolling up – the shore larks oblivious either way. The main determinant of the approach strategy was how many other birders were there already. When you are in a crowd at a twitch you have to behave very cautiously because nothing is worse than being the person who has scared off the bird that everyone has come to see (it can be dangerous if the bird is very rare…). If you have the bird to yourself most people try and get close, and more often than not, the rarity doesn’t bother much. And if it is a shore lark, it is a sure thing anyway. This then manifests itself in really big twitches as the larger the crowd, the greater the distance from the bird (which makes sense) – but as time goes on the crowd gets closer in a very slow game of Grandmother’s footsteps. Sometimes the rare bird can end up literally at people’s feet, with photographers frustrated that their long lenses are just too long.

Shore larks are very distinctive with a handsome black bandit mask and a yellow throat and eye stripe. One of these days they will turn up in the Crail patch – probably in front of someone playing golf at Balcomie or Kingsbarns, refusing to move even as the golf balls rain down on them. Please study the picture below if that is likely to be you and please let me know when you see one!

Shore lark - this one currently at Tyninghame over on the other side of the Forth, but much as one of the pair at Tentsmuir today

Shore lark – this one currently at Tyninghame over on the other side of the Forth, but much as one of the pair at Tentsmuir today

Posted December 27, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 25th   Leave a comment

Today was one of the warmest Christmas days I remember. Over twelve degrees for most of the day. The gales were back with some very strong gusts late morning. I was watching the Saucehope flock of golden plover swirling in the wind over the ploughed field next to Pinkerton, wondering at their apparently unnecessary precision acrobatics when I saw a larger bird amongst them. It was flying like a thrush with flickering wingbeats and then short glides with its wing closed. A male peregrine disguising its usual flight to get amongst the flock. I have seen merlins do this type of flight often – like a mistle thrush – but peregrines hardly ever do it. They are just too big to fool anything that they are anything other than a bird of prey with bad intent. The golden plover flock divided and streamed around the peregrine as it banked back and attacked again. No luck for the raptor. Despite its disguising flight I don’t think it ever had the element of surprise and a golden plover can fly as fast and much more agilely than a peregrine. I watched it resume a more obvious raptor like flight and head off towards Wormiston to find another flock that was a bit easier to surprise.



The theme was repeated about ten minutes later on the beach at Roome Bay. I was just lamenting having put up the redshanks on the strandline when a female sparrowhawk appeared, stooping down the cliff scattering the rock pipits and pied wagtails, but missing the already departing redshanks by seconds. I may have spoiled that particular sparrowhawk’s Christmas dinner. But like the peregrine it headed straight off to set up another attack and I quickly lost it, diving into one of gardens in Pinkerton.

Sparrowhawk - if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Sparrowhawk – if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Posted December 25, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 24th   Leave a comment

The gales and rain showers eased this afternoon and I walked through Cambo and along Kingsbarn’s beach in bright sunshine. Deserted of people but not of birds. I enjoyed the ducks: wigeon and mallard at the mouth of the burn and then goldeneyes and long-tailed ducks on the sea. It was close to high tide and the wrack line was covered with feeding redshanks and turnstones. There was a pair of stonechat just at the south-east end of the beach, foraging on the rocks but using the gabions as a perch to retreat to. On my return a flock of pink-footed geese flew past out at sea heading towards Fife Ness and the Lothians beyond with the still strong wind behind them. A good Christmassy sight to finish with.

Pink-footed geese

Pink-footed geese

Posted December 24, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 23rd   Leave a comment

With the gales and rough seas of today I was expecting some passage at sea. But there were only the usual herring and great black-backed gulls and shags passing and a single gannet. The west coast is getting the seabirds today I think.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Posted December 23, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

December 18th   Leave a comment

There was a lively crowd on Balcomie Beach today. A pair of red-breasted merganser fishing among the rocks, about 20 sanderling with 10 each of ringed plover, dunlin, redshank and oystercatcher at the water’s edge and then turnstones, lots of meadow pipits and the usual rock pipits along the strandline. With a final backdrop of a couple of stonechats on the grass stems at the beach edge. Further along at Fife Ness I could see huge clouds of seabirds tailing a large fishing boat on the horizon – frustratingly 5km too far out to make them out. I consoled myself with a couple of bottle-nosed dolphin chasing fish much closer in, although when they are feeding they barely come up at all and not in the regular predictable way that a pod travelling past does.

Male stonechat

Male stonechat

Posted December 18, 2016 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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