Archive for September 2017

September 30th   Leave a comment

It was clear last night with little wind so good departure conditions for migrants. There was a fair bit of visible migration during the last two days – skylarks, meadow pipits and redpolls passing over. This morning there were still migrants about but many fewer than mid-week. The swallows have all gone, the final ones and twos disappearing imperceptibly this week so that today I didn’t see a single one – the first such day since the end of April. I only found two yellow-browed warblers today – one at the top of Kilminning and a second in the big sycamores behind the caravans at Fife Ness. I spent a long time looking unsuccessfully for a common redstart at Kilminning and of course, because I wasn’t looking for yellow-browed warblers I kept on getting great views of one. I also found a garden warbler, feeding inconspicuously on rowan berries.

Garden warbler

The barred warbler was showing well again today. I only had to wait 5 minutes before it came out to grab elderberries, in clear view for about 30 seconds. It really is the best barred warbler for visibility we have ever had. There was also a spotted flycatcher at the bottom of Kilminning – this is a new bird in yesterday or today. The pied flycatcher remains at Balcomie, again right up in the canopy of the biggest sycamore by the walled garden and requiring a few minutes to find it. There were a couple of brambling in the same sycamore.

The Patch at Fife Ness was very quiet – everything had moved on from last Thursday except a chiff-chaff. I heard the yellow-browed warbler as I sat on the hill just outside the patch scanning the sea – one was reported here last Monday and I suspect it is the same bird rather than a new one in. I had plenty of opportunity to hear the yellow-brow because I was a long time watching at least 21 bottle-nosed dolphins passing by into the Forth. The sea was calm and from my elevated vantage they were relatively easy to count. They were spread out in groups of 3-4, with a big range of sizes from quite young ones to big adults. A great skua flew over them while I was counting.

Bottle-nosed dolphin


Posted September 30, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 29th   Leave a comment

Despite the increased number of things turning up in the south-easterlies this week, there hasn’t been much going on at sea. Sea watching has remained fairly quiet, with the only things of note being a steady stream of late fledging young gannets going out of the Forth and a steady stream of red-throated divers going in. We haven’t had a winter with lots of red-throats around Crail for a few years but it looks like we might this year.

One of the many red-throated divers flying past Fife Ness into the Forth this week

Posted September 29, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 28th   Leave a comment

More easterlies on Tuesday and getting stronger on Wednesday and then finally some heavy rain for a few hours on Wednesday night. Thursday dawned bright and sunny, with little wind. A perfect stage for finding some migrant birds around Crail. I checked out Kilminning and Balcomie first thing this morning: at least 4 yellow-browed warblers, chiff-chaffs, blackcaps, a willow warbler, the first brambling of the year, lots of new song thrushes and robins, a couple of redpolls and the barred warbler starting its second week at the south end of Kilminning. After its shyness of the weekend the barred warbler is now feeding on elder berries, popping out of cover to eat them and being nicely and regularly visible. It should stay around for another week or two and as the leaves start to fall and it continues to feed on elder berries it should be fairly easy to see. The best vantage point is the first “bay” south of the ruined  toilet block, where there is a dense dog rose bush, backed by the elders it is favouring, and just to the north of the whitebeams (not rowans as I called them last week) where I first found it. On my back to Crail there was a northern wheatear in the stubble by the airfield. Finally I checked Denburn Wood optimistically for a red-flanked blue-tail. They have got a lot more common in the autumn in the UK and the conditions over the last three days were exactly what brought the last three birds to Denburn.

The barred warbler now in residence at Kilminning for its second week

Last thing this afternoon I checked out the Patch at Fife Ness. Another 3 yellow-browed warblers at least, a lesser whitethroat, a blackcap and some more chiff-chaffs. The yellow-brows seem to be calling quite regularly this year and so are not hard to find – or there are a lot of them about. On my way back I stopped off at the tall sycamores around Balcomie Castle to look for a pied flycatcher reported there. I found it after quite a long search because it was keeping right to the top of the canopy and picking insects off the trunks and branches rather than conspicuously flycatching. This is the first Crail pied flycatcher of the autumn and very late. They are usually a common and reliable “scarce” migrant from late August onwards. The breeding season was late in parts of Scandinavia this year so we may just be at the start of a late passage season. Time will tell as we move into October next week and the peak period for unusual birds in Crail.

Yellow-browed warbler – I found at least 7 today

Posted September 28, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 26th   Leave a comment

Yellow-browed warbler

The easterly winds have continued and there was rain on Sunday night. Monday and today there were lots of reports of yellow-browed warblers and some spotted flycatchers from around Crail. I stopped at Cambo on my way home from work to look for a ring ouzel reported there at lunchtime. Almost straight away I got onto a mixed flock working their way along a wooded hedge on the western edge of the gold course. Three species of tits, treecreepers, goldcrests, chaffinches, wrens, robins and dunnocks – and mixed in with them a chiff-chaff and a yellow-browed warbler. Nothing beats a mixed flock in the autumn. Lots to look at and when you have checked them all you can start again because there will always be birds that you missed first time, always with the hope of something special among them. At one point a pied wagtail ended up in the middle of flock, atypically perched in the middle of a small oak tree. I didn’t see it at first, but I heard it call. Lots of very rare warblers sound a bit like pied wagtails so my excitement went up a notch briefly. I didn’t have time to really search for the ring ouzel but the flock wasn’t a bad consolation prize. It feels like there is a lot more to find this week, especially with the concealing fog today.

Posted September 26, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 24th   Leave a comment

The rain overnight didn’t materialise and so with not only Dundee RSPB group and the Fife Bird Club in the area, but also a contingent from Glasgow and the Lothians, there were many more birders than birds today. The barred warbler had an audience of up to 30 at a time although some had to wait several hours to get even a modest view. It is much harder in a crowd to see something like a barred warbler because you can’t go and sit quietly in the middle of one of the bushes and wait, looking up against the sky to see it more easily as it moves through. That wouldn’t work if thirty people did it and the peer pressure if you did it unilaterally would too much to bear. I looked for birds elsewhere today; Kilminning was pretty well covered even of no-one could look inside the bushes.

The wind remained south-easterly and reasonably strong, but there was surprising little sea-watching from Fife Ness. Very few kittiwakes, and no shearwaters or skuas at all. There was a female merlin hunting around the Yellow House at Wormiston Farm. I watched it string together a series of unsuccessful attacks on a linnet flock, some meadow pipits and then a skylark, with clouds of small birds rising up in front of it so I could keep track of it even as it disappeared behind dykes and into ditches. Another highlight was a big flock of roosting golden plovers, ringed plovers and dunlins in the harvested potato field next door to the driving range at Balcomie Golf Course. There were a lot of linnets among them and possibly also some twite but I couldn’t get close enough to hear them. There are several hundred golden plovers in total around Balcomie at the moment, with sub-flocks roosting in several ploughed fields and Balcomie Beach, as well as the potato field. They are spending a lot of time nervously flying around between roosts and I think this is because there is a peregrine around. I have seen roosting birds spook several times to low flying woodpigeons which makes me think they are a bit sensitive and I saw a peregrine the day before yesterday coming from Balcomie. As with the merlin, any peregrine in the area will concentrate where there are lots of prey, and the fields around Balcomie really are full of birds.

Golden Plover flock

On one occasion as I watched another flock of golden plover circling Balcomie I spotted a different wader with the flock. A ruff: the first of the year and not always guaranteed for the year list. Having seen this one, I then saw another a few hours later flying over Kilminning. It could be the same bird of course: Ruff are very happy feeding in ploughed or pasture fields, with almost any other species of wader or alone. One or two could easily disappear into the fields around Crail. I have been checking Balcomie Beach all summer for them but perhaps I should have been paying more attention inland.


Posted September 24, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 23rd   Leave a comment

There was a common rosefinch seen yesterday afternoon and I hurried down to Kiminning after work to see if I could see it. Rosefinches are hard to connect with. They don’t stay around long in the autumn and aren’t very conspicuous. By the time I got there it was early evening and gloomy, with a strong south-easterly wind. Not the best conditions and despite checking through a lot of goldfinches I didn’t get lucky. For every bird I could see there were another 10 hidden under the canopies of the rowan trees where the rosefinch had been seen. I tried again first thing this morning. A contrasting beautiful bright and still day, with lots of late season swallows passing over singing in the morning sunlight. Perfect for finding anything. But not the rosefinch again. They often are just one day wonders. I consoled myself by relocating the barred warbler down at the bottom of Kilminning. It was in the same place as the Thursday when I found it, but much less conspicuous. Only one reasonable view and a burst of call: a characteristic rattling series of chacks. It was feeding within the rowans and roses again, moving over about 70 meters, so hard to be in the right place to snatch a view. It is likely to stay at Kilminning for several weeks now. The real highlight of the morning for me was a lovely view of a badger shambling along a bank at Kilmmining before disappearing into the same dense cover I was scanning for the barred warbler. When you do see them and realise how large and obvious they are it seems impossible that they are hardly ever seen. There are several setts within 500 meters of Kilminning – probably 50 resident badgers or so – but I have seen many more barred warblers there.


Despite the promise of the barred warbler and the rosefinch, and so a steady stream of birders around Kilminning and Fife Ness, nothing much else was turned up: lesser whitethroats and a blackcap. I found a Lapland bunting along the coastal path about 800m north of Balcomie Beach. As I cycled by I saw a brown bird fly up from the beach and continue over the golf course and I could see it was odd – a cross between a bunting and a skylark in flight – the distinctive signature of a Lapland bunting. Not quite enough to clinch a certain identification but luckily it gained height and began calling – a rippling “trrrk” followed by a “chew” – which did clinch it. I have been expecting a Lapland bunting all week. When we get northerlies at the end of September we get them, although they disappear among the skylarks in the endless stubble fields. It usually takes a lot of tramping across the fields to find one.

There is rain forecast tonight so there may be more birds tomorrow. There is also an excursion by both the Dundee RSPB group and the Fife Bird Club to Crail and Fife Ness tomorrow. I imagine the two groups will meet in Denburn Wood tomorrow lunchtime and probably have a turf war. But hopefully such numbers of observers will turn up something good. Previous excursions have turned up red-flanked bluetail and Pallas’s warbler in Denburn.

Posted September 23, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 21st   Leave a comment

A spell of easterly wind yesterday and heavy rain showers overnight. It cleared up a bit by the afternoon and I went out to the bottom (south part) of Kilminning. There were a lot of birds about, active after the rain. Flocks of skylarks, probably just in from Scandinavia in the stubble fields, and hundreds of home-grown goldfinches on the thistles along the edges. I started to check the insides of the bushes and under the canopies of the trees where the flycatchers and warblers end up after a storm. You still have to get lucky, but it was still and movement amongst the leaves was easy to spot. I saw something in a rowan that looked like a shrike, largish with a longish tail and with a scaly look. For once, instead of diving further into the tree, the bird looked back at me and bristled its head, looking more affronted than alarmed. It scrabbled around the branch it was on and even came a bit closer giving me a lovely view. A barred warbler – not a shrike – but as good as. I am lucky when I find a barred warbler, rare and also skulking, and not usually given to looking back at you with as much interest as I was giving it. They are scruffy looking warblers, with scaly marks under their tail and on their back that make them look dirty. And their colour is already a dirty grey with a slight pinkish tinge as if they have got dusty. As the barred warbler looked at me it fluffed up its head feathers again further adding to its dishevelled appearance. I am probably not selling this bird, but it was super-sized and full of character, and best of all, actually visible. Perhaps the bird then realised I had discovered why barred warblers generally skulk – because it’s easier than looking smart. I can sympathise with that. Of course, it promptly disappeared. I had probably only been looking at it for 15 seconds: it seemed like a lot longer. I kept looking but there was nothing else except a willow warbler.

Barred warbler

I checked out the top of Kilminning just in case. Where there is one rare bird there is usually another. Only a chiff-chaff and a lot more goldfinches. I scanned them for a rosefinch and was rewarded with a young siskin. Not a great rarity but the first of the winter.

The sun came out in the evening to clebrate. The sea flat calm. Not nearly as many seabirds as the weekend, but great visibility. There were two adult little gulls dipping with the kittiwakes out from the Brandyburn. Things seem to be picking up this autumn at last.

Adult winter little gull

Posted September 21, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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