September 3rd   Leave a comment

There has been a good south-easterly wind all day. It should get things moving. At Fife Ness the gannets were streaming by enjoying the stiff breeze, powering along using its energy instead of their own to get to and from Bass Rock. There were hundreds of common and arctic terns heading south into the wind – these would presumably be passing further out – just today pushed closer into the shore. The light was odd today so the juvenile arctic terns looked grey backed as they approached from the north: I got excited hoping they were black terns. As they got closer and became visible against the sea rather than the sky then they became much paler and resolved themselves as arctics. A cautionary lesson – a single juvenile arctic glimpsed today, would have probably have gone down as a black tern. When there are hundreds of them it’s easy to realise that something is up with the light. Sea watching is like this – I once spent several weeks watching shearwaters pass Gibraltar. We watched in the early morning and in the evening (when the birds of prey weren’t passing over the rock). After a while we realised that we saw much more of one species in the morning than the evening, and then becoming aware of this we started to notice that we saw more of one species passing into the Mediterranean than out. It was all tricks of the light – the shearwaters at the time were all manx shearwater types, still in the process of being split into the three or four species that they are now considered to be, and the colour of their backs and the degree of contrast in their plumage were the main criteria to split them then. All subjective and all totally dependent on the strength of the light and the background. I’m sure we saw three of the species but it was only at the end of four weeks that we felt we could do it regardless of the direction of the light and the time of day. The golden rules of sea watching remain though: never identify anything until you have spent a good while getting your eye in to how the light is, and anything not seen well but identified as something rare in the first few minutes is unlikely to be so.

Despite the good tern numbers there was not much else. No shearwaters to try the light further apart from fulmars. A single dark arctic skua – possibly the same bird as yesterday intercepting the passing terns like a highwayman. There were more teal passing and later past Crail a velvet scoter and another dark phase artic skua.

There was a greenshank in stinky pool (the muddy tidal pool just on the left after the road crosses the golf course just before the tip of Fife Ness). A common sandpiper was north of Balcomie Beach along with 5 wheatears. I scanned through the tern flock there with a telescope for 40 minutes but no roseate terns and many fewer arctic terns compared to yesterday. Today it was mostly common terns. There must be a big turnover of birds every day – instead of a static flock resident for a month, perhaps a more dynamic congregation of whatever birds are passing that week.

One of the Balcomie common terns

Posted September 3, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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