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 wildcrail in Sightings

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