Archive for October 2017

October 29th   Leave a comment

The wind was mostly northerly today, strong in the morning and there were many more gannets passing Fife Ness. I watched them and thought that I really have no idea about migration. Most were flying high in skeins like geese except with long periods of gliding, and most were heading due north into the wind. First, why go north at all and second why fly high where the wind will be even stronger? The gannets really looked like they were going somewhere and hundreds were passing in the hour I watched, but where and why I have no idea. A great northern diver came past, also high but flying south – now that made sense – an Arctic bird heading down to winter in the southern North Sea.

Gannets

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Posted October 29, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 28th   Leave a comment

I was out at Kilminning this morning and it was almost deserted relative to last week with just a few blackbirds on the now equally scarce berries. There was at least a small flock of black-headed gulls down at the water treatment works outflow. One of them looked much smaller and with short arctic tern length legs. An adult little gull on closer view. I haven’t noticed how short their legs are before and this is a great feature if one is perched in a line of black-headed gulls. Little gulls are much more aquatic than black-headed gulls that also like to stump around a ploughed field or bit of turf looking for food. You would never see a little gull doing anything other than perching on a piece of dry land. They are much more like terns, aerial feeders picking food up from the surface of the water. They just need their legs for perching not walking. This little gull had nearly lost all of its black hood but still had a dark crown and a dark spot behind the eye, like a black-headed gull. When it took flight the lovely pure light grey upper wing contrasting with the sooty black lower wing made it even more distinctive. An adult little gull might be my favourite gull, although I haven’t seen a Ross’s gull yet so I may change my mind.

Adult little gull

Despite the strong winds today there was little passing Crail. Again my autumn sea watching lists this year are more about absence than presence: no shearwaters, skuas or kittiwakes. A few juvenile gannets, razorbills and guillemots, a common scoter and the usual shags and gulls were the only things passing Fife Ness this afternoon. The numbers of purple sandpiper are building up in front of the hide for the winter at least. On my back to Crail along the road I counted 26 grey partridges in three groups at Balcomie (they looked like they were having a rumble before my approach scattered them) and then another group of 10 at the airfield. Great numbers for another one of our East Neuk specialties.

Posted October 28, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 26th   Leave a comment

Goldcrest – cheer up you’re on holiday

At this time of year the number of goldcrests around Crail increases as we get migrants coming over from Scandinavia to winter in Scotland and further south. If ever you get the feeling that birds are just too fragile to do the things they do then have a good look at a goldcrest when one passes through your garden. Our smallest bird with an appropriately thin high-pitched call, they barely look able to survive a cold night let alone a night’s flight over the North Sea. Yet survive they do. Their tiny bills and active foraging mean that they can find the smallest insects hidden amongst the remaining leaves and branches. A tree to a goldcrest represents a huge area for foraging in and when I watch them they seem to find small spiders and aphids constantly. Very cold weather does kill them of course. Their volume is so small that they lose heat easily and they are too little to keep large fat reserves on them. Any bird given enough food can survive the cold, but if they can’t forage fast enough to make up their heat loss then it is just a matter of time. I am not sure why I am talking about cold weather in the context of Crail. For most of the time goldcrests spend the winter here it will be relatively balmy with temperatures well above freezing. That is why they come here in the first place. It might not feel like a holiday in the sun in Crail in December, but to a Norwegian goldcrest it is the Mediterranean.

Posted October 26, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 25th   Leave a comment

Spare a thought for one of the best birds we have in Crail. Almost every day of the year – except maybe a few in May and June you will find curlews along the shore. In Roome Bay there are usually a couple striding around the rocks, often inconspicuous despite their large size. When spotted they are fairly unmistakeable with their absurdly long curved bills. In flight they look a bit like young gulls until you see their bills. But why spare a thought for them apart from the fact they are wonderful? At the moment they are arguably the breeding species which is declining the fastest in the UK. In Scotland the breeding population has declined by over 50% in just 16 years. The UK holds 28% of the European breeding population so this is worrying, although globally the species extends all the way to the Pacific in Russia and there may be a million pairs there. The wintering population, which includes some Russian birds, has declined by 20% so there may be a problem in Russia too. Why curlews are declining is a bit of a mystery and subject to ongoing research at the moment. But curlew species globally have a bit of a problem – something about them makes them vulnerable. The slender-billed curlew – once a common European wintering bird – probably became extinct in the 1990s; the eskimo curlew – also formerly very common in the Americas – probably became extinct in the 1980s. Modern day dodos. It would be unthinkable for our Crail curlew to disappear as well.

A Crail curlew – still here

Posted October 25, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 23rd   Leave a comment

Tree sparrow

I was working at home today and while gazing out of the window during a lengthy phone call I noticed one of the sparrows that was in my rose hedge was a tree sparrow. I have had tree sparrows flying over high but this is the first time I have actually had one in the garden. Like the corn buntings, the tree sparrows seem to have done really well this year. As I wrote in August there are lots of the post-breeding flocks about all around Crail. For example, I saw a good size flock of 30 or so at the yellow house at Wormiston, and another of 20 or so at Fife Ness this weekend. It makes me want to get some sparrow nest boxes up – I would be happy with house sparrows but if I could get tree sparrows… It has got colder over the last couple of days so it is probably time to put out the bird seed and peanuts for the winter and that will help lure any tree sparrows looking for a new home.

Posted October 23, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 22nd   Leave a comment

There are still redwings and a few bramblings about left over from Thursday plus a flock of four redpolls and a couple of blackcaps at the bottom of Kilminning. The blackbirds are now the commonest thrush again. At Balcomie Beach the redshanks were chancing it, feeding right at the top of the beach on sandhoppers even at low tide. A sparrowhawk would only have to approach from the golf course and jink over the marram grass to be a few meters away from the flock before it would have any chance of being spotted. It is usually the juvenile redshanks that take these risks and I bet a few more will have been caught this week if this is what they have been doing. The few remaining dunlin on Balcomie – about 10 – were being much more sensible, picking on the beach close to the tide line and with a hundred meters on all sides to detect anything approaching. The sanderlings have been conspicuous in their absence this week. There was a single grey plover feeding again on the flat seaweedy rocks just in front of the hide at Fife Ness: little else at sea with another very quiet day despite the strong winds of the week. As I came back to Crail I watched a cormorant in Roome Bay come up with a flatfish three times as big as its head. A great black-backed gull came straight in as the cormorant struggled with the fish, desperately trying to fit it into its bill. The cormorant finally managed it but the gull nearly got lucky. I could see the clear shape of the flatfish distending the cormorants neck, making it look like a pelican.

One of the Balcomie dunlins

Posted October 22, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 21st   Leave a comment

There were fewer birds around this morning. Many must have left yesterday or overnight. Relatively speaking there was a lot to see this morning – redwings and blackbirds everywhere and a flock of 20 brambling at Balcomie – but not compared to yesterday. I found a chiff-chaff at Balcomie and another in the Patch with a blackcap. The only summer migrants for the whole week: I failed to see a ring ouzel seen at the Patch today but ring ouzels are like that. You usually see them flying away rather than being able to go to a place where they are staying. The highlight at Fife Ness was a kestrel hunting along the upper shore. Hovering into the wind so it faced straight out to sea, sliding up and down in the same place as if on a wire. The wind was strong enough that it just hung like a kite without moving its wings, until dropping as if the wire had been cut to catch a hapless shrew in the grass below.

Kestrel

Posted October 21, 2017 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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