December 11th   Leave a comment

There is newly ploughed field directly between Crail and Wormiston that was full of skylarks on Saturday. As I went along the footpath below it, the larks kept on popping up with their soft, rippling calls until the sky was full of them. It always amazes me how many larks can hide in a field. You have no idea until they take flight. One of the larks flying up gave a distinctly different call – a soft rattle followed by a “chew” – a snow bunting. It was a juvenile so barely showing any conspicuous white on it; without the call it would have been lost in the flock. I suspect I often overlook snow buntings around Crail in the winter.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

Most of the skylarks and the snow bunting had moved on today. But I found a load more skylarks in the stubble fields of the airfield. One singing frantically high in the distance caught my attention and sure enough, it was being chased by a female merlin. I watched the merlin stooping on the climbing and diving lark for about a minute before the lark dived straight down into a pile of rubble at the side of the airfield where it presumably found a crevice to hide in. The merlin just missed it as the skylark reached cover and it glided off to the middle of the airfield to perch on the ground, itself disappearing the moment it stopped flying. Merlins sit for hours immobile and ignored before an unlucky lark or pipit draws its attention by flying up. My crossing of the stubble field probably put up the lark that was targeted in the hunt I saw, my passage revealing both the cryptic prey and then the cryptic predator. Merlins sometime follow people or vehicles to take advantage of disturbed potential prey flying up in front of them, but then there are also accounts of skylarks (literally) flying up people’s trouser legs as the only available cover to elude a merlin.

Down at Roome Bay at lunchtime it was a nice high tide. Most of the Crail redshanks (I counted 37) were in the corner below the cliff on the drifts of wrack, picking up the displaced sandhoppers and seaweed fly maggots as the waves crashed into the seaweed piles. They were joined by the usual suspects of mallards and black-headed gulls applying themselves from the sea side of the equation. These high tide feeding frenzies are one of Crail’s wildlife spectacles. Lots of other, rarer, species join in but it is the sheer number and busyness of everything against the backdrop of the crashing waves, that everything has to dodge, that makes it worth looking at.

There are a couple of pairs of wigeon always down at the mouth of the Brandyburn amongst the mallards. Look out for the orange heads of the males and big white wing patches when they fly.

Male wigeon down at the mouth of the Brandyburn

Male wigeon down at the mouth of the Brandyburn

Posted December 12, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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