Archive for January 2018

January 31st   Leave a comment

Grey herons are another early season nester like rooks. A pair has been hanging around the heronry at Cambo for the last week. The rationale for rooks is that they are open field and grassland specialists so they can’t find as much food as the summer progresses and the vegetation and crops grow up. I’m not sure what the reason is for grey herons – they are big birds so development will take longer, but even so they are not very big. And there should be plenty of food for them even in a dry summer, particularly as our herons are mostly seashore feeders.

The early pair of grey herons at Cambo this week

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Posted January 31, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 28th   Leave a comment

Male stonechat

Another mild day and everything thinks it is spring. There were great tits, blue tits, robins, song thrushes and blackbirds singing at Cambo this morning and the rookery was raucous with birds sprucing up nests and getting ready to breed in just a few weeks time. It was dead calm at sea with the mist making everything look huge: all the red-throated divers looked like great northerns. There were quite a few red-breasted mergansers and a couple of long-tailed ducks from Kingsbarns Beach as usual. A pair of stonechats were at the Cambo end of the beach feeding on the strandline at high tide: the beach stonechats will have weathered the recent cold much better than the birds inland. The male was well on the way to having its breeding completely black hood and bright orange breast.

Posted January 28, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 27th   Leave a comment

The temperature was up to 11 degrees this afternoon making a big contrast with last weekend. I did a circuit of Crail rather than heading down to Balcomie. I was trying to see if any of my colour-ringed redshanks were still about. I found two at Harbour Beach and another at Roome Bay. In total I have seen five individuals back again in Crail this winter. The oldest, GGYY (green green yellow yellow) was roosting today on the rocks at Harbour Beach, about 25 meters from where I caught it on the 24th of February 2009. It was an adult so was born at least in 2007 making it now 11 or more years old. Still a while to go before it takes the longevity record of 27 years, although I may have caught it at age 16 or older – you can’t tell how old redshanks are after their first year. The others still around range from at least 6 to at least 9 years old. I should probably catch a new cohort to keep up the survival study. I gave up because the redshanks became very hard to catch. All the birds I hadn’t caught had got wise to my traps and nets. There will be many now in Crail who have arrived since last time I caught about 4 years ago so I may now have better luck.

Redshank – some have been coming back to Crail each winter for over a decade

I finally tracked down a greenfinch for the year list. Four flew out of a garden in Pinkerton in front of me: I don’t think they are becoming really scarce, I have just been unlucky. Nevertheless, where greenfinches once were common it is now goldfinches. Like the bullfinch, long tailed tits are not regular in Crail but I saw a flock flying over the back gardens of the High Street and Nethergate today.

The elusive greenfinch at last

Posted January 27, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 26th   2 comments

Male bullfinch

Bullfinches are not often in Crail, which is a shame, because they are outrageous to look at, like little matadors and with a very attractive soft peeping whistle. Anyway, there are at least three in residence along the hedge between Balcomie Caravan Park and the cemetery extension. They are local birds with a higher pitched “phew” than the larger immigrant birds we get from Scandinavia – their large size gives them a more melancholy, deeper “phoo” note.

Posted January 26, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 21st   Leave a comment

John tipped me off about the local pink-feet – there are plenty about if you know where to look with over 1000 at Kilduncan Farm near Kingsbarns. They are feeding near to the road and gave some close views this morning. At Balcomie everything is still in its usual winter situation but with perhaps more sanderling along the beach. I found a snipe on the rocky shore along with lots of meadow pipits, reflecting the harder weather inland. Unusually for the time of year, two goosander flew past. I don’t usually expect to add them to the year list until June. The twite are still along the coastal path a few hundred meters north of Balcomie Beach with perhaps 15 there today. There is still a huge linnet flock in the stubble towards Wormiston Farm so the rest of them may be in there. The field which had the Lapland bunting in December has now been mostly ploughed but there is plenty of stubble remaining in the area. The problem is that even a move of just a few hundred meters makes them very hard to find again, especially when they won’t flush in the cold weather until you are just a few meters away. I tried in the closest bit of remaining stubble and put up many meadow pipits and skylarks. They were flushing at very close distances, sometimes only a meter or two away so I rapidly became discouraged.

Goosander – two past Balcomie Beach today. Usually they are a mid-summer bird

A merlin soon perked me up. A male flew in and got on to one of the linnets flying on the edge of the large flock there. There was a rapid chase and a couple of stoops before the merlin gave up and disappeared towards Kingsbarns Distillery. I picked it up again a few minutes later in a blur of speed as it set up a hunt low over the fields. It suddenly gained height and started chasing a finch at about tree height. And then a second merlin appeared. This time a female, shooting up from Kilminning. Both birds swooped at the poor finch, one from above and one from below. After a few seconds the finch made it to the cover of the beech trees around Balcomie House. The merlins continued to chase, swooping around the branches as the finch tried to get into cover. The finch then flew out of cover heading back to Kilminning and the stoops resumed. It seemed impossible that the finch could escape but both merlins broke off after another half minute or so as the finch made it to the denser cover of the sycamores at Kilminning. An impressive show. The merlins looked like they were co-operating but I doubt there was anything more going on than one merlin taking advantage of the other’s hunt and the increased likelihood of the finch making a mistake if it had two predators to worry about. Co-operative hunting in raptors is surprisingly rare and most are rugged individualists, even when it should make a lot of sense to pool resources. A dream combination would be a sparrowhawk hunting with a peregrine – one that catches on the ground and one that catches in flight. But whenever you see the two species closely together, the peregrine is usually hunting the sparrowhawk rather than exploiting its flushing of prey.

Another satisfying part of the whole observation was confirming that the merlin I saw first was a male. It is tricky to judge size in a flying raptor, but males are quite a lot smaller than females and have a particular way of flying like a mistle thrush. I was fairly sure it was a male because of this but the much larger female joining it made it quite clear. Like getting a tick and gold star for a bit of homework. I am seeing merlins quite regularly at Balcomie this winter so look out for them if you are there. Like small peregrines with a sparrowhawk’s long tail and supercharged attitude.

Posted January 21, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 20th   Leave a comment

I have been in Liberia for the last couple of weeks and it is a shock to the system to move down thirty degrees. Thousands of common swifts above the rain forest and barn swallows everywhere to add to the summer feel. But up at Kellie Law today it was like the Arctic, lots of snow, vividly bright sunshine and the Firth glittering in the distance. No snow in Crail of course although the ground was frozen all day. There were robins all along the way, very conspicuous against the snow on the tops and then also conspicuous around Crail because they were forced to forage in more obvious places where the sun had melted things a bit. There are surprisingly few pink-footed geese about considering the harder weather inland and no influx of snipe or woodcock – perhaps if the cold weather continues.

Pink-footed goose avoiding the snow

Posted January 20, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

January 1st   Leave a comment

The elusive greenfinch – should have gone to John’s garden today

I like to start the New Year with an all day bird race around Crail to see how many species I can get. Today’s total was 84 – one less than last year. I missed a few “easy” species like greenfinch, fulmar and ringed plover, but had two rare species – the long staying Lapland buntings and twite. Other highlights were unexpected large numbers of fieldfares and redwings – probably hundreds through the day. I started at Boarhills to get water rail and dipper, as well as a good range of species with its nice mix of woodland, shore, fields and damp corners. Boarhills is a reliable place for bullfinch and long-tailed tit too. Then Kingsbarns for shore and seabirds, Kippo wood, with an unexpected flock of 25 mistle thrush alongside it, Carnbee for lake species, including coot, moorhen, little grebe, tufted duck, whooper and mute swan and greylag goose, and then Fife Ness and Balcomie for shorebirds and randoms. It was high tide at Balcomie: spectacular for the gulls congregating to feed on the seaweed flies as the waves lapped right up to the marram grass, but less good for finding shorebirds. I finished up at dusk in Denburn – still looking for the elusive greenfinch and a great spotted woodpecker – and then Roome Bay to finish the list with no. 84, a grey wagtail. A good start to the New Year, and there is always tomorrow for a greenfinch.

Posted January 1, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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