Archive for February 2017

February 28th   Leave a comment

Another Crail duck, but less often seen unless looked for is the teal. These are quite tiny ducks and that alone is enough to identify them. They are quite happy in very small ponds and I come across them in ditches and temporarily flooded bits of fields quite often. The most reliable place to see them is on the rocky shore between Fife Ness and Kingbarns, usually in a pair, looking small compared to the wigeon and mallards that they are usually with. At this time of year large numbers (although only cumulatively – the flocks are small) pass by Crail, following the shore on their way north. Some individuals obviously rest overnight on the sea and it can be quite disconcerting to see a flock of teal sitting quite far out among the waves out at Fife Ness among the early morning guillemots and gannets.

A drake teal - really handsome with a good view

A drake teal – really handsome with a good view


Posted February 28, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 27th   Leave a comment

The eiders are busy displaying in readiness for the coming breeding season. The males lift up their heads and stretch up their necks at the females, who tend to watch in quite a disinterested manner. They also have a lovely set of calls but they are quite quiet and easy to miss. The males make a gentle, repetitive “phoo -arr” to the females – almost like a 70’s builder, but one that has lost his voice or his confidence. The females respond with a quacking “no, no, no, no, no”, which perhaps explains the male’s lack of conviction.

Male eider displaying to a female

Male eider displaying to a female

Posted February 27, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 23rd   Leave a comment

In the absence of anything new appearing this week apart from the bad weather, there is time to reflect on one of the star birds that we have with us every winter. You see them reliably on Balcomie Beach and occasionally in Roome Bay – tiny very pale grey and white shorebirds running along the surf line on sand or fine mud – sanderlings. I have always been intrigued by sanderlings ever since I started bird watching when a more experienced birder (well they all were then I suppose) told me of a study that had worked out that sanderlings must use more energy feeding than they could possibly ever gain because of their continual running about. If you have watched sanderlings for even just a few minutes you will know why they might have drawn these conclusions. A sanderling’s lot is to chase the small waves in and out, continually pacing – and often sprinting – along the water’s edge in search of tiny prey that gets washed in by the tide. Clearly the scientists doing the study got their sums wrong. They do dash around a lot but they eat a wide range of often large prey, probing for shellfish and worms, and taking small crabs when they can get them. And they are probably very well adapted to conserving energy in cold environments to see to the other end of the energy balance equation. Certainly they can stand the cold. Sanderling breed almost as far north as it possible for anything to breed. I have only seen one pair of breeding sanderling, on a ridge just above the still frozen sea in June in Alaska. I was at the most northerly point of Alaska at Barrow, yet this pair of sanderling were breeding at one of the most southerly points of their range. I remember exiting the area very quickly because I thought a darker shape out on the sea ice was a polar bear: it didn’t feel to me like balmy southern climes.

Sanderling on Balcomie Beach

Sanderling on Balcomie Beach

As well as their supreme cold adaption sanderlings also have to deal with the heat at times. Many sanderling winter much further south than Crail and I see sanderling feeding just as happily in the heat haze of an African beach as on Balcomie. Sandy beaches look pretty much the same the world over (they all have sanderlings on them for a start) but that energy budget calculation must be completely different for a tropical wintering sanderling. Overheating because of all that running must surely be the issue. And the energy required to keep warm when they are not feeding will be neglible. Then this energy budget framework begins to make sense of it all – if you are running around a lot you keep warm as a by-product, and if you migrate all the way from Svalbard to Senegal it may take a lot of energy, but once you get there your costs will be very low for the winter. Life’s a trade-off (…and then you die): I wonder if a Crail sanderling that only migrates 3,500 kilometers from Ellesmere Island to join us, but that has to dash about all winter uses a similar amount of energy to a Senegal Sanderling that migrates more than 7,500 kilometers, but which can take it a lot easier when it gets there. The temperature transition for a tropical sanderling in the spring must be a thing as well. From 40 degrees to 10 below, potentially in just a few days. Birds, and shorebirds in particular, really are amazing things.



Posted February 23, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 19th   Leave a comment

Lesser celandine flowering at Fife Ness

Lesser celandine flowering at Fife Ness

It has practically been a spring weekend. The great tits, song thrushes and blackbirds have been singing their heads off; insects were out and about and the lesser celandines are flowering even out on the exposed bits of Fife Ness. I had a black-throated diver flying past at Kilminning on Saturday making 100 for the Crail year list; 11 goldeneyes in Roome Bay was another highlight, but otherwise February continues fairly quietly, the calm before things start to get much busier next month.

Black-throated diver - no. 100 for the Crail year list

Black-throated diver – no. 100 for the Crail year list

Posted February 19, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 16th   1 comment

A grey heron at the Cambo heronry

A grey heron at the Cambo heronry

I am seeing the grey herons back up on their nests daily. They will be getting ready for their early season. The heronry is along the main road just after the entrance to Cambo on the way to Kingsbarns. There are several nests there in the tops of the pine trees, but they are surprisingly difficult to see from the road unless there is a heron flying in to give them away. There has been an occasional heron standing on the half built nest in the tree behind Crail Kirk too. A few years ago I got quite excited at the prospect of a new heronry forming actually in Crail but it didn’t materialise. Maybe this year. Denburn would be a great place for a heronry.

Posted February 16, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 14th   Leave a comment

As I was on my way to work yesterday morning, and had just gone through Kingsbarns when a female merlin shot over the road in front of the car going at about 100 km/h. I just had time to subliminally identify it and follow it as it jinked over a wall and continued over the adjacent field. I am glad I wasn’t driving so I could enjoy the distraction. Merlins are one of my favourite birds – I have said before, they can hunt anything in any way and have complete mastery of the air. Because of their small size they are so much more manoeuvrable than peregrines, but they still can fly very fast and powerfully. And no. 99 for the Crail year list – if I get one more in February I will pull ahead of last year’s record breaking year, not that I am competing this year of course.

More winds and high seas today although a little warmer. Still a steady passage of red-throated divers and auks. John had a little auk yesterday but they are very rare this winter.

Golden plovers coming down to a less than peaceful roost on the rocks  at Fife Ness

Golden plovers coming down to a less than peaceful roost on the rocks at Fife Ness. Note the one at the bottom thinks it is spring already.

Posted February 14, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 12th   Leave a comment

More big seas and seabirds being pushed close to Crail. This morning there were tens of gannets passing every few minutes, as if it was mid-summer. Still lots of red-throated divers too. It was really too windy to see or hear anything inland. The skylarks I flushed on the track to Wormiston all barely flew away, hugging the ground for a few wingbeats before dropping out of the wind. Bizarrely there was a single canada goose in the drilled stubble field that held the lapland buntings a few weeks ago. It flew off as I approached so I don’t think it was injured. Mid-winter canada geese are unusual around Crail and this was my first of the year – making no. 98 for the Crail year list.


A red-throated diver passing Fife Ness

Posted February 12, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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