Archive for June 2017

June 30th   Leave a comment

No sign of the black-browed albatross at Fife Ness this morning. The North Sea regular that has been returning to the German coast for several summers now has also taken a liking to visiting Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire. Yesterday it decided to fly up the coast and was seen all the way up to Bass Rock where it disappeared last night. I suspect it is sitting in the middle of the gannet colony right now hoping there is another albatross around. I had an hour or so of watching great seabird passage past Fife Ness despite the lack of giants – all the usual suspects with the addition of a fine adult summer plumage little gull, the first for the year. I was also hoping for storm petrels – several were seen yesterday but again no luck. The summer is turning and it will soon be migrant season again. Two velvet scoters past Crail this evening were another sign.

Little gull

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Posted June 30, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 28th   Leave a comment

Today and tomorrow are good for looking at seabirds passing Crail. There is a north-easterly wind which will strengthen into a gale tomorrow. This has been pushing seabirds right against the Crail coast as they fly in and out of the Forth to feed their chicks. Saucehope Caravan Park was great this afternoon, with puffins passing just a few tens of meters out. At Fife Ness I watched a feast of razorbills, guillemots, puffins, gannets, arctic, common and sandwich terns and kittiwakes passing just beyond the low tide rocks. This morning it was manx shearwaters as well passing Crail, coming past at a rate of 25 every 10 minutes; some goosanders and surprisingly, quite a few large flocks of common scoters.

A close flyby by a razorbill

Balcomie Beach is at its quietest. Only a few oystercatchers and immature common gulls this afternoon. The eider chicks along the shore just to the north have got much fewer, but the survivors are now much bigger and should make it now.

Some of the surviving eider chicks

This evening I did a circuit up to Troustie to look for barn owls. The rain last night will have made hunting poor so I was hopeful they would be out before dark to catch up with feeding their chicks. My run of bad luck with barn owls continued, still it was good to be out in the wind and the gloaming – not very summery in feel perhaps – but bracing. At dusk you realise just how many hares there are. They were popping up everywhere, suddenly racing away across the tracks to disappear just as quickly into the potatoes or wheat.

A brown hare in the gloaming

Posted June 28, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 27th   Leave a comment

This year seems to have been a good one for common whitethroats. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere along the coast path that hasn’t got a pair of whitethroats. They are very territorial and come back to defend their same bush and patch of scrub every year, but each year there seem to be more bushes with a singing whitethroat. They have been on the up, more or less, since their monumental crash in the 1960’s when half the UK’s 5 million breeding pairs failed to come back one summer, probably after encountering the effects of a severe drought on their way to fuel up before crossing the Sahara. Things have improved a bit in West Africa rainfall wise since the 1990s and the whitethroats themselves have probably changed their migration areas and routes. Most have fledged chicks now and so they are even more abundant; although they skulk a bit, whitethroats do pop up to check you out if you are in their territory and make a grumpy rattle to let you know they have seen you. They are much more skulking on the wintering grounds. Where I often go in central Nigeria there is a whitethroat in every bush but you only know this if you play back their song so they come out to defend their territory. They are every bit as territorial on the wintering ground as they are in Crail. I think of whitethroats as very stay at home birds – they just have two homes, each a small bush, but separated by 6,000 km and on two different continents.

Common whitethroat

Posted June 27, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 22nd   Leave a comment

Wildflowers not cracked tarmac along Roome Bay Avenue

In an unusual bit of sensible management by the Council, the cracked and broken tarmac footpath along the top of the sheep field and Roome Bay Avenue was removed a couple of months ago. I walked past the digger for a couple of days as it dug out the old tarmac and hoped that more new tarmac wasn’t to follow. It’s an unnecessary bit of footpath, next to a field and the tree roots along it have taken over – they would have to go if there was to be any chance of a flat path there again. And common sense prevailed. The bare earth was left to itself. Now the old footpath is now burgeoning with wild flowers and insects. It’s nice when something gets put back to a wilder state: something no longer costing us money to maintain and a thing of beauty instead of something sterile and useless.

Posted June 22, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 21st   Leave a comment

The longest day and with a spectacular thunderstorm to end it. We are up to 52 mm of rain this month with 10% of this falling this evening in 40 minutes. June onwards really is the rainy season for us.

Sedge warbler

The sedge warblers are continuing to sing very loudly and vigorously from weedy tangles and bramble patches at the sides of the fields and roads. They have a tight schedule. Arrive at the end of April, then two months to get their first brood completely independent (a fairly typical small bird 3 weeks eggs, 2 weeks chicks and then 3-4 weeks feeding fledged chicks). As long as everything goes to plan. But as with most open nesting birds, and even ones like sedge warblers that nest hidden deep in cover, they lose 40% of their nests to predators. So many birds will be trying to renest even as some may be thinking of finishing and starting their moult before returning to Africa in August. It means a staggered season and desperate birds singing right through June and July. Some nesting sedge warblers have it even more complicated, with one male having several females in their territory – they may be the ones that really sing vigorously.

Posted June 21, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 20th   Leave a comment

Sand martin by its nest hole

I have been seeing quite a few sand martins in ones and twos between Anstruther and Kingsbarns. Sand martins are swallows, pale brown above, white below with a neat brown breast band. It’s hard to notice more than the general brownish colour when they fly by, but the lack of clear black and whites makes it easy to rule out the other two common Crail swallow species, the barn swallow and the house martin. The most characteristic thing about sand martins, to me, is their flickering flight. They are extreme swallows, with a lightness of flight and loose wingbeats almost as if each wing is being flicked independently rather than being systematically beat together. When you get your eye in then suddenly you see sand martins much more often. The best places to see them are along the shore. They breed in holes they dig in sandy or loose soil banks, so the small earthy cliffs common along the shoreline – particularly between Balcomie and Kingsbarns – are where they concentrate in summer. But I see them almost anywhere around Crail; never daily as the other swallows, but perhaps once every week during the summer. They have bred in the pipeholes in the seawall at Roome Bay in a couple of years: then they were a daily sighting. They breed in colonies but often these don’t last for more than a few years because of the nature of the temporary sandy cliffs that they use. Sand martins are a fantastically common species worldwide – they breed in North America and from here to Japan. They winter or pass through everywhere in the world apart from Australia and the Pacific islands. I have seen thousands of sand martins over rivers and wetlands from the Amazon to the Congo, and when I was in Kazakhstan, surveying wetlands there late one summer, we counted a million spread along the telephone wires running beside the salt lakes there, congregating before migration. That’s a lot of swallows and a lot of mosquitos and midges being eaten.

Posted June 20, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

June 17th   Leave a comment

A hot day in Crail – we made nearly 25 degrees today. I watched the auks flying around Fife Ness and felt like I was scanning the Mediterranean – apart from the seabirds of course. Sea watching in the Mediterranean is fairly dull. Today the auks all looked slightly odd as the fish they were carrying glinted in the strong sunlight making them look like they had extended white heads. And the extra weight of the fish changes their flight and posture slightly so guillemots look more like razorbills and razorbills like puffins. There are a lot more manx shearwater passing now – some evenings this week flocks of more than 30 have been passing regularly.

Puffin carrying a load of sand eels back to the May Island to feed its chick

I came back to Crail through Kilminning and flushed a bird which looked a bit like a sparrowhawk crossed with a nightjar. I saw it poorly and started thinking about nightjars and how fantastic it would be to find one for the Crail list. Then three flew up in front of me and showed themselves well – cuckoos! Already on their way back to Africa and stopping for a quick refuel on the caterpillars and large insects in the grass of Kiminning, along the shore. There were cuckoos recorded from Kilminning last week and passing along the coast further West in Fife yesterday. When you only have to lay your eggs in another’s nest, and don’t need to look after your own chicks then you can head back to Africa after only a few weeks here in Scotland. We get another wave of cuckoos through in August, but this time the juveniles. I say wave – but cuckoos are good Crail birds. I saw more cuckoos today than I have seen in the last five years around Crail.

Cuckoo

Posted June 17, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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