Archive for July 2017

July 30th   Leave a comment

I have just returned from a week on the west coast, in Wester Ross, enjoying the things that are common there, but I doubt will ever make it to Crail, such as golden eagles, and things that occasionally do, like black-throated divers. It was particularly nice to see spotted flycatchers everywhere in the damp woodlands, field edges and gardens. They used to be common on the east coast and I miss them.

Balcomie Beach has lost its stinking mat of rotting seaweed during my time away and so most of its waders. Only about 25 dunlin and 30 sanderling were there today. The numbers of turnstone was up though with over 40 in one flock and there were 5 knot in the high tide roost at Fife Ness. A flock of 8 whimbrel flew in from the sea, whistling as they came in, and recruited 3 whimbrel in the roost to join them as they continued along the coast past Crail.



Posted July 30, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 21st   Leave a comment

A strong south-easterly today. Lots of gannets close past Fife Ness but surprisingly little else. A few manx shearwaters and the occasional small groups of sandwich terns. They are becoming more common as August approaches, adults followed by their shrill juveniles moving up the coast from their breeding sites like the Farne Islands to spend the next two months feeding their young along the east Neuk coast. On Balcomie beach about 35 turnstones had joined the dunlins and at least four knot; there was another knot feeding on the rocks at Roome Bay this afternoon. Knots are chunky waders with short legs and a relatively short bill for a wader, and the one in Roome Bay is easy to identify because it still mostly has its red summer plumage. There was also a good whimbrel passage today. I saw a flock of 5 cutting the corner at Fife Ness by flying over the golf course, more at Balcomie and I heard another calling as it passed high over the High Street this morning.

One of today’s knots

Posted July 21, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 20th   Leave a comment

There were possibly even more dunlin today on Balcomie Beach – maybe even 300. I stood talking to quietly to someone for about 30 minutes as we watched them and by the end the dunlin, with turnstones and sanderling too, were feeding less than 15 meters away. It’s been such a highlight of July to be a part of this wader festival. More post-breeding flocks elsewhere – tens of goldfinches and linnets in the fields, and now increasingly large swallow flocks as the juveniles of the year start banding together.

A young Crail swallow over the ripening wheat

Posted July 20, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 19th   Leave a comment

There were 225+ dunlin on Balcomie Beach at lunchtime today, three ringed plovers, 20 or so sanderling and a few turnstone and redshank. The seaweed has rotted to a dense black mulch, pitted now with beak holes. The seaweed fly maggots must be legion to sustain such numbers day after day. Although the little ringed plover seems to have moved on, the Mediterranean gull is still feeding with the black-headed gulls in the surf of Roome Bay at high tide. Its black hood is getting patchier every day and is now speckled with white.

Some of the over 200 dunlin now at Balcomie

Posted July 19, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 17th   Leave a comment

I am not often at Balcomie Beach at sunset but I should be. Especially on a warm July evening with it looking like the Hebrides. And waders scurrying along the sand. The little ringed plover is still there, and feeding along the tideline, mostly with the dunlin. Two or three whimbrel flew over calling in between the flocks of oystercatchers – one of the flocks had a juvenile shelduck with them, not long independent. A local pair of shelduck has been successful even if the Balcomie pair have not been – they have been hanging around in a pair in the bays north of Balcomie for the last couple of weeks with no signs of chicks.

The little ringed plover still at Balcomie Beach this evening

Posted July 17, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 16th   Leave a comment

John Anderson didn’t find the little ringed plover later yesterday afternoon so I went down to Balcomie Beach first thing to help him refind it. No need, I found John crouched immobile 15 meters away from the bird. The tide was in but there are a few muddy pools on the strandline and the little ringed plover was feeding there alone, with John in the background having gradually crept closer over the last hour or so. I approached from the other side and got much better views than yesterday. It seemed much more settled. I was able to see the pale fringes of the back feathers that juvenile birds have and also its characteristic yellow eye ring (which is much more obvious in adults). Eventually it got fed up of our close proximity and moved up the beach, joining the dunlin and sanderling flock, which also had a slightly pinkish adult knot among them.

The little ringed plover on Balcomie beach today at 09:00

Just after it moved a sparrowhawk appeared being chased by a herring and black-headed gull and an oystercatcher. It was carrying prey and at the time I thought it was one of the dunlin from the flock further up the beach because I could see a bit sticking straight out from its claws like a long bill. John took some photos as it passed and later I could see that it was carrying a song bird, probably a rock pipit and it had eaten a lot of it already. I suspect it was disturbed from feeding by a gull trying to steal its prey. The sparrowhawk made a successful getaway disappearing over the golf course. There was a kestrel hunting along the beach as well while I watched the plover – you can’t blame the birds of prey. Like me they are drawn to the action and Balcomie Beach is full of small birds – the waders of course but also pied wagtails, rock pipits and lots of perfect dinner sized starlings.

The sparrowhawk drama unfolding down at Balcomie this morning

On the way back via Fife Ness there was a flock of four common sandpipers on the main roost rock and a juvenile wheatear on the golf course. There have been wheatears along the shore most days this week and another whinchat two days ago – it really is worthwhile birding along this bit of shore at the moment.

Posted July 16, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 15th   Leave a comment

I heard a distinctive descending two-note “choo-ip” call from a small wader as I cycled across Balcomie Beach this afternoon. A smaller ringed plover was following a larger one, both tailing a flock of sanderling flying away from me. I stopped and double-checked the absence of a wing bar of the smaller plover – a little ringed plover. The much rarer summer migrant version of a ringed plover that breeds inland and only in small numbers in the UK. I have only ever seen one before around Crail, during the summer when there were floods in lots of the fields creating perfect muddy pools for migrating waders. Little ringed plovers hardly ever turn up on the sea shore. They prefer inland muddy pools, although I have seen plenty in salt water pools close to the shore in Europe and Africa. And Balcomie Beach, and the other muddy coves along the coast at low tide are the only wader oases in the desert of dry land that is the East Neuk. Little ringed plovers are, as the name suggests, smaller than common ringed plovers – they are more slender with longer wings and a smaller more rounded head which accents their smaller size. This one was busy feeding. It is on its way to sub-Saharan Africa (although a Swedish bird was tagged going all the way to India and back, while its mate went to Nigeria!) so needs to fuel up. Despite being disturbed initially by me and then by a series of coastal path walkers it kept coming back to the muddy beach to feed, sometimes alone but more often with the adult common ringed plover and the sanderlings. It was very inconspicuous though and I don’t think I would have noticed it initially if it hadn’t called.

The Balcomie little ringed plover

Posted July 15, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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