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 wildcrail in Sightings

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