Archive for November 2017

November 30th   Leave a comment

Every morning for the last few days I have been driving past a big flock of black-headed gulls feeding in the rough pasture field on the right just as you come into Kingsbarns from Crail. There is a wall between the road and the field and many of the black-headed gulls are hidden behind it. But as cars come past, the hidden gulls close to the wall and so the road fly up in alarm, presumably because of the noise. This then makes a wave of panic dragging up the gulls further away from the road. Even those who can see that the source of the disturbance is a passing car and so nothing to really worry about join the temporary panic. The gulls swirl around a bit but then soon settle down again. Until the next lot of cars repeats the process. You can imagine that if this goes on all day then the gulls will be using more energy than they will be gaining feeding in this disturbed place. And why should the gulls further in the field – both further from the disturbance and with better information that the alarm is false be drawn into this time and energy wasting? I think the answer might be that even though it seems the conditions are cold and difficult for the gulls, it is not really the case. They can afford to “waste” energy because the foraging is actually very good in the field. And from their point of view, with costs covered, they should not take any chances. The gull that cleverly stays on the ground ignoring its flock mates during each false alarm will sooner or later be the single sitting target in the field when it turns out to be a real alarm, when a hungry buzzard or peregrine jinks over the wall. Sometimes it pays to stick with the crowd even when the crowd is doing something foolish…just in case.

Black-headed gull flock – there is safety in numbers, but only if you stick with the crowd

Posted November 30, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 26th   Leave a comment

A clear, cold and bright morning. Balcomie Beach and adjacent rocky shores have their winter bird communities now. Hundreds of herring gulls loafing on the rocks; mallards, wigeons and eiders with the occasional red-breasted merganser in the water between; redshanks, oystercatchers, sanderling, ringed plover and turnstones on the mud patches with an occasional grey plover or curlew. The cold weather has meant that a few of the redshanks have been taking risks and have tried their luck feeding on the top of the beach or on the golf course behind: not much luck though – I found two fresh redshank kills, probably by sparrowhawks.

One of the 2-3 grey plovers at Balcomie now


Posted November 26, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 25th   Leave a comment

MOBB first ringed in November 2012…

I have been in Africa for the last two weeks. Following the migrants to the middle of Nigeria. Catching nightingales, whitethroats, yellow wagtails and whinchats to put colour-rings and tags on to find out what they need during the winter and whether the changes in Africa will mean some will still come back again each spring. Three days ago I took an adult male whinchat out of a net that was already ringed. MOBB (Metal Orange Blue Blue). We first caught this one as a young male on the 10th November 2012, so it was born sometime in May or June that year. Probably in Eastern Europe or in Russia: most of the whinchats we have tagged have gone there to breed, although they range from Serbia to Finland to the Ural Mountains – about one quarter of Europe. And here it was again, about 100 meters away from where it was originally caught, but separated by 5 years of time and over 66,000 kilometres of travel in between. Not bad for a bird the size of a robin. It’s impossible not to like birds.

Back to eight hour days and cold weather, and no African birds here until next March or April.

MOBB recaught 3 days ago, still going strong 5 years later

Posted November 25, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 6th   Leave a comment

I was at Kingsbarns beach at high tide, with very little swell or wind so it was very calm. There were a couple of red-throated divers close inshore, barely a few meters from the tides edge, fishing in very shallow water. They look smaller close up – duck sized. But that was made up for by the detail I could see in their plumage. Subtly spotted and with one bird having faint red streaks of its summer red throat remaining. Best of all was the detail on its head; a quite delicate and uptilted bill, and a bright, red eye shining in the late evening sunlight.

Red-throated diver – red-eyed diver

There was the usual wader and gull roost just to the north of the car park. Quite a few purple sandpipers were among the redshanks and turnstone. The purps were not in a coherent flock like the other species but were all tucked into neat hollows in the rock as if they had worn them away through the years like limpets. It wasn’t a cold afternoon but they were behaving as if it was. Perhaps they spend so much of their time exposed to the elements, constantly being wave and wind splashed as they feed that it is a relief to get completely out of it at high tide.

Roosting purple sandpiper

Posted November 6, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 4th   Leave a comment

The autumn is passing into winter. Even with some easterlies now there would not be much to be blown in. It was all winter birds today. There was a flock of 25 fieldfare at Wormiston heading inland. There was large flock of pink-footed geese closer to the shore in the large stubble field north-east of the Yellow House (by Wormiston Farm). The stubble field was alive with birds. A couple of hundred geese, hundreds of linnets, starlings and herring gulls, and plenty of skylarks, meadow pipits, carrion crows, rooks and curlews. Stubble fields are brilliant and there are still quite a few around Crail. I tried to check through the goose flock for any other rarer goose species among them, but they were fairly wary and I could only get within a couple of hundred meters before they looked a bit too alert for comfort. I left them alone – I hope the flock stays around Crail, and I hope a few stubble fields stay as well. Quiet seas again at Fife Ness: no gannets today, only a few auks, and a pair of red-breasted merganser and then immediately a flock of three goosander, like a textbook flight identification exercise.

Pink-footed geese

There has been a big influx of hawfinch in England this autumn and they seem to be moving north with several seen in the Lothians today. So there may be some in Fife over the next few days. Worth watching for a huge finch with a huge bill on your peanut feeder.

Posted November 4, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 2nd   Leave a comment

The bottle-nosed dolphin pod is still at large around Crail and Fife Ness. The dolphins have been in our part of the Forth now for most of the autumn. Yesterday morning I saw about 15 passing Crail heading towards Fife Ness. They were going slowly, milling around a bit and smacking their tails into the water so I think they were catching fish. Every recent sighting I have had has included a small individual, keeping close to a larger one. Presumably a mother with a calf.

Bottle-nosed dolphins at Fife Ness – note the smaller one on the right

Posted November 2, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 1st   Leave a comment

Purple sandpiper at Fife Ness yesterday

Purple sandpipers can be difficult birds to see but there is a fairly reliable flock down at Fife Ness at mid tide at the moment. Sit on the rocks just to the left of the hide and scan the weedy flatter rocks right at the water’s edge. Look hard – scan with faith – and you will see mouse like birds scurrying between the waves and the rocks. They pick about right up at the surf line, working the shifting edge of the land and the sea. If you sit a bit further out and have the patience to wait they will return and can end up foraging just a few meters away from you. Not shy, just inhabiting a space where we don’t really go. It’s worth it to get a close up view. They genuinely do have a purple gloss to their feathers. They are extreme birds, but don’t make a fuss, from high Arctic breeding sites (very occasionally even the tops of the Cairngorms), to the wave lashed rocks of Crail.

Posted November 1, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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