March 2nd   Leave a comment

A male stonechat foraging on the beach this morning

A male stonechat foraging on the beach on Wednesday

With the cold weather back again now is the perfect time to seek out a stonechat. Think of a robin but with a black face and a white collar. Its behaviour is the same though. Perching on small stems and twigs, dropping to the ground and then pouncing on an insect. Or more likely a sandhopper in this cold weather. That’s why it is a good time to look for stonechats. They always like the edge of the shore but in cold weather they actually come out to feed on the beach where there is always something small wriggling or jumping about to provide a meal unlike the frozen ground behind the beach. So they are very obvious and even tamer than usual. If you sit down when you spot a stonechat it will soon ignore you (robins do the same) and start feeding right beside you. One of the most endearing things about stonechats is that they always come in you will get a good view of both male and female. Females are dull versions of the male, so unlike robins in this respect, but easy enough to identify particularly when the male is close by. Stonechats are a strange species in that they occur all the way from Denmark through Africa and east to Japan: I have seen them in highland areas in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. A more colourful version but still the same stonechat perched jauntily on a stem or twig and ready for any insect that passes by below. Because of their range from tropical areas to Arctic Russia (they are summer migrants to northerly areas and cold winters here can reduce populations substantially) they are often used as a model species to test theories about how the environment shapes the life history of animals. Tropical bird species, for example, usually lay only a couple of eggs – it is thought because nest predation rates are so high, but otherwise living is easy – so better to invest little and often, whereas temperate birds aren’t likely to survive a winter so better to lay as many eggs as possible. Sure enough, in stonechats there is a trend for 4 egg clutches in Kenya all the way to 7 egg clutches in Scotland. I don’t know what it is about birds that occur everywhere I go, perhaps because they link me back to home – stonechats are one of those species that I am as pleased to see at Balcomie as in Senegal.

And again

And again

Posted March 2, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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