Archive for August 2017

August 31st   Leave a comment

I saw a flock of about 10 grey partridges in the stubble field between Balcomie Caravan Park and Kirklands this evening. The young of the year stay with adults through the winter so an autumn flock (covey) gives an indication of the breeding success of the summer. So far so good. I will have to keep my eyes out for other coveys to see if the other Crail pairs also got lucky.

A covey of grey partridges


Posted August 31, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 29th   Leave a comment

The annual tree sparrow invasion is happening. I am regularly hearing tree sparrows flocks flying over Crail and they are in most of the unharvested wheat fields that remain around us. The call is like a house sparrow, just a harder and dryer “tack”, and when a whole flock is going over it sounds like a small machine gun as they all call rapidly. On the ground they are easy to identify – with a neat brown cap and black earphones. The juveniles of the year are dispersing and they all seem to accumulate in the East Neuk, stopping as they meet the sea. There should be some visiting bird feeders in Crail for the next month so it’s worth looking out for that neater looking sparrow on your feeder.

Tree sparrow

Posted August 29, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 27th   Leave a comment

There are more waders about now it is the end of August. There are about 30 redshanks back in Crail including at least three of my colour-ringed birds. I haven’t ringed any new ones for three years now and they get fewer and fewer every year. One was feeding among the skerries of harbour beach this morning, Yellow Black/Green Black (that’s left leg, yellow ring above black above the knee/ right leg, green ring above black above the knee). I ringed this bird on the 21st March 2011 on Harbour Beach: it was a juvenile, so born the summer before in 2010. And here it is back in Crail for an eighth winter, feeding just 45 meters from where I caught it, as it has done every winter (although sometimes it wanders to Roome Bay for an afternoon…). It is not a big bird – with a small wing and leg length when I measured it during ringing – so probably a Scottish breeder; perhaps on Lewis or from Wester Ross, or Shetland. As I checked through the redshanks for colour-ringed birds I spotted a more elegant one – a greenshank. They are reasonably easy to identify: the clue is in the name, green legs and with a slightly uptilted bill, but otherwise much as a redshank. We get a few greenshanks through Crail every year, with most in August, on their way to pools and rivers all over Africa, although more and more spend the winter in the UK as the climate gets warmer. Other waders around the harbour were a couple of common sandpipers, curlews, oystercatchers and a turnstone.

A greenshank

It is still mostly ringed plovers on Balcomie Beach with a few dunlin and sanderling. The rocks to the north have got hundreds of terns on them now. They are a mixture of arctic, common and sandwich terns. There may be a roseate tern among them but a good view is needed and this weekend my visit was at low tide when they were a long way out. The crows feeding on the rocky shore were getting a hard time when they flew near the terns. The arctic terns, particularly, seem to be still in colony mode. But most of the time the terns were loafing – taking it easy on a still, warm August day with nothing much to do after the busy breeding season and a few weeks before migration. The same for the gulls, although for most they don’t even have to worry about an up and coming migration. The black-headed gulls are already home for the winter. Breeding black hoods gone now, no young to protect or feed and still longs days to feed in. They will be using this gentle period to moult though, where they change their flight feathers for a new set. This takes a fair bit of energy so they won’t be able to loaf all day.

Black-headed gull – note the new shorter wing feathers close to the wing tip that are growing back as it moults

Posted August 27, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 25th   Leave a comment

I have been in Finland for the last two weeks – swifts, pied flycatchers, yellow wagtails and redstarts up at the Arctic circle, and Finnish specialties like red-flanked bluetail, pygmy owl and hazel grouse. But it’s very quiet in Finnish forests in August and it’s nice to be back to distant horizons and a landscape where you can see things. Autumn seems to have crept in while I was away and migration season will soon start in earnest. Our swifts are long gone and there are a lot of swallows and house martins sitting on the wires already. I watched a young male sparrowhawk slipping silently through the trees in Beech Walk park, finally getting some peace to hunt because the swallows were uncharacteristically off sentry duty, sitting preening in their lines, apparently already with thoughts only of the African savanna far ahead of them.

A sparrowhawk – looking forward to when the aerial sentries – the swallows – leave and allow them to hunt by surprise again

Posted August 25, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 12th   2 comments

I cycled along the coast path between Boarhills and Cambo this lunchtime. The mouth of the Kenly Burn was busy as ever: hundreds of gulls, redshanks and a common sandpiper, but only a small flock of Canada geese this year – about 12 birds. There were six wheatears on the rocks along the route and some large flocks of linnets. They seem to like the rocky shore this time of year. The sea was very calm and every scan I could see lots of seals. A head poking up here and a whole body hauled up there: they are hard to count but there must be hundreds of grey seals along the shore between St Andrews and Crail.

Grey seal

Rumours of Balcomie Beach becoming dull were a bit premature. Tonight and last night at high tide there were over one hundred dunlin strung out along the beach. Just as tame as in July. I could walk up to within 25 meters before they started looking alarmed and after I sat down they would trot past me at 10 meters. This evening they were joined by over 60 ringed plovers. Not quite as tame but 15 meters tame instead of 10. I wonder if they were all from Svalbard and on their way to Africa. Some might be local birds but probably not. There were few juveniles among them, maybe only 10% – either a very poor year for the locals, or the more northerly adults typically on their way south well before the juveniles.

Ringed plover

Posted August 12, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 10th   Leave a comment

Sea watching is a hit or miss business. I sat at Fife Ness for an hour this afternoon, half looking at the wader roost and half looking out to sea. In the hour there were barely any kittiwakes and no terns at all when there were hundreds yesterday. Two great skuas passed going north far out but no shearwaters apart from the occasional fulmar. The wader roost was also as uneventful: the usual redshanks, oystercatchers and curlew with a handful of dunlin and turnstones. Balcomie Beach is in its summer holiday busy period with people on the beach most of the time so its attraction for waders is less and so also the high tide roost.

Listen out for the soft “hoo-weet” call of willow warblers. They are in every garden in Crail just now as the young of the year start to drift south. If you see them they are tiny, very active and quite yellowish among the leaves of small trees and bushes.

A young willow warbler

Posted August 10, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

August 9th   Leave a comment

The beginning of August can be very quiet. I only saw and heard sparrowhawks as I walked through the woods at Cambo this morning. There were a couple of newly fledged sparrowhawks making a shrill whine almost continuously, increasing in pitch and frequency as one of the parents came back. It was then chased around the wood as the young competed for whatever it was carrying, gaining hunting skills as they went. As I got down to the shore there was more to see: a family party of grey wagtails down at the burn mouth, lots of sandwich terns passing along the coast and black-headed gulls on the beach.

A phone through my seawatching telescope photo of the ring-necked parakeet this evening

I was sea watching this evening from my house trying to turn very distant kittiwakes into arctic skuas in the surprisingly gloomy light. As I sat there I heard a familiar squawk and then saw the ring-necked parakeet fly into a birch tree at the bottom of the garden. It sat there for ten minutes or so, calling quietly and looking around, always I’m sure, on the lookout for other parrots. It’s the first time I have seen it since the beginning of July although I have heard the occasional call. I’m sure it is around Crail all the time, just surprisingly inconspicuous.

Posted August 9, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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