Archive for March 2018

March 31st   Leave a comment

The May Island has had an influx of birds brought in by the returning easterlies of the last two days and then the heavy rain showers of yesterday. I set off for Balcomie and Fife Ness this morning in the first real migrant hope of the spring season. When the wind is in the east it takes a long time to cycle out but it is usually worth it. Sadly not today. There were certainly some more blackbirds about and maybe some robins, but nothing out of the winter ordinary at Kilminning or in the Patch at Fife Ness. I did have some very close views of goldcrests feeding less than a meter away and I suspect finding it hard going in the cold wind – they may have been hungry migrants of course. The pair of sparrowhawks that nest in the Patch thought it was spring at least: they were displaying to each other over the trees with their slow wingbeat pacing, looking very laid back in the stiff breeze. A seawatch at Fife Ness was most notable for the waves. There were kittiwakes and common gulls passing close in and razorbills and red-throated divers further out. Balcomie Beach has miraculously been cleared of it mountains of washed up timber – perhaps not that unexpected considering the piles of sea-washed lumber that I spotted in various farm buildings around and about today. There were some dead shags washed up instead as the storms continue to take their toll. The cycle back into Crail was much quicker than the journey out: the season hasn’t quite started but it can’t be long now before we get the first chiff-chaff back through Crail.

A razorbill passing Fife Ness today

Posted March 31, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 29th   Leave a comment

The lapwings that breed around Crail are now in obvious pairs and hanging around together in damp fields. We don’t have very many breeding but it is still not too uncommon to see a lapwing displaying around and about. They have a tumbling display flight, flashing black and white as they loop the loop from about 30 meters up to almost brushing the ground. Their call is very strange and very hard to describe, but once heard quite unforgettable. And a sound of the spring. The easiest place to see some displaying lapwings is in the field opposite the entrance to the Fairmont Hotel, the fields to the north of Sypsies farmhouse (where I, unusually, also flushed a woodcock this afternoon from a field margin), or further along the road up to the secret bunker from Crail.


Posted March 29, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 18th   Leave a comment

More storm and snow showers. The gulls at Balcomie were exploiting the wild surf by hovering into the wind just above the breakers. They then swooped down behind them to pick up one of the many small and large animals, dead or alive, scoured from the bottom. And the waves really have really been scouring. About 30 centimeters depth of sand has gone from Balcomie Beach so it is now more pebbles with mud in between than the sandy beach it was. It’s a really profound change: a lot of sand has gone from Kingsbarns beach too but it’s still a beach.

Herring gull

Posted March 18, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 17th   Leave a comment

The seas are huge again. Kingsbarns Beach this morning had disappeared under the waves and the spume spreading above the tideline. Lots of things are getting washed up – cuttle fish bones, a huge conger eel out at West Braes and the usual storm of creels. Thoughts of spring banished again as this winter – more typical of 40 years’ ago – continues.

Gannets in the storm

Posted March 17, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 14th   Leave a comment

Gannet in the strong wind today

I left my front garden this morning and started down Marketgate when I saw a male merlin passing over the houses. It was heading towards Beechwalk Park with its distinctive half thrush half bee-eater flight that it uses to confuse prey to its identity on approach – a kind of surprise attack but in plain sight. It just flashed over my head and was gone so I don’t know what mayhem it caused in the park, or perhaps it was aiming at the big finch flock in the corn bunting patch at Bow Butts. A great start to any morning. I’m glad I already have merlin on my garden list so I wasn’t faced with the dilemma of whether to include it or not for the sake of me being just a few meters outside my garden when I saw it.

It’s got windy again and suddenly it feels much colder even though the temperature went up by a couple of degrees today. The gannets were blowing past and seem to be enjoying it at least.

Posted March 14, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 11th   Leave a comment

The fields were already saturated after the thaw of last week with pools and ponds everywhere. The heavy rain of yesterday has nicely topped them up again. A small consolation of the very wet weather. In another month, these pools will be just right for the waders passing north. Now every pool has a pair of mallards on them. I don’t know where they have all come from unless all the hundreds of mallards on the shore scattered between St Andrews and Crail have all moved inland. The large, more permanent pond in the field by West Quarry Braes (by Ribbonfield) also now has a couple of hundred pink-footed geese around it. They were wary as I got out my car to have a look, but stayed put even though I was just 50 meters from the closest birds. Their tameness is a great sign. In many parts of the UK they will fly at hundreds of meters because of wild fowling. There are several parts of the Lothians nearby where they are shot at (the Tyninghame estuary at Dunbar for example) and it is a lucky pink-foot that doesn’t meet some wildfowling during a winter visit to the east of Scotland. But the geese must learn that there are some places where humans are much less of a risk and behave accordingly.

Pink-footed Goose

Posted March 11, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 10th   Leave a comment

A walk from Cellardyke back to Crail along the coastal path this morning was a mistake. The wind was back to south-easterly after a couple of days back to the prevailing south-westerly. And so it was raining horizontally into my face as I walked along. There were a couple of kestrels along the route and a buzzard, and a pair of shelduck at Caiple. There may have been some more birds about but they really did need to be as big and as bright as a shelduck to be noticed this morning. We have 2-3 pairs of shelduck breeding along the coast between Anstruther and Kingsbarns every summer. They breed down rabbit holes and defend their nests and young vigorously, but still have a terrible time with foxes and disturbance. We get maybe one brood making it to fledging every other year.

Pair of shelduck that bred at Balcomie a couple of years ago – males are larger and have a knob on their bill like mute swans

Posted March 10, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 5th   Leave a comment

March is a good time to see red-breasted mergansers. They turn up regularly in Roome Bay and are a constant fixture off Balcomie Beach. The males are particularly worth seeing with their bright red spiky bills, red eyes, and their punky head feathers – mini-Chinese dragons. In flight they are so thin and elongated, with their wings right at the back of their bodies, that they look like arrows. Red-breasted mergansers are mostly marine in the winter, catching small fish close inshore. They replace the goosanders – our other common fish-eating duck – at the end of the summer. Both species are absent from Crail from late April to the beginning of June when they move inland to breed on rivers.

Male red-breasted merganser at Balcomie

Posted March 5, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 4th   Leave a comment

The coastal path between Crail and Fife Ness, particularly after Kilminning, is covered with mud and debris from the storm, and in some places still with a covering of spume that looks just like the thawing snow around it. With the thick grey incoming clouds and low light of this morning it was all very post apocalypse. A sea watch from Fife Ness didn’t turn up much: a possible black-throated diver, a red-throated diver, guillemots and more kittiwakes close in. There were a lot of waders on Balcomie Beach at least, including four bar-tailed godwits and three grey plovers, and a big flock of purple sandpipers on the rocks behind. There was a young seal on the strandline probably taking a breather from the rough waters. It began to shuffle off back to the sea after I disturbed it.

The young grey seal on Balcomie Beach this morning

Posted March 4, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 3rd   Leave a comment

1st winter kittiwake passing Crail

Despite the continuing thaw and easing winds Crail was still full of fieldfares, with several on the rocky shore. There were also redwings today, or at least I noticed them. One was unmissable, foraging under my bird feeder – like the fieldfare earlier this week I usually only have them flying over my garden. There were more in Denburn and Beech Walk Park later. There was a flock of more than 100 skylark out in the big field between Balcomie Caravan Park and Kirklands: there may be some more interesting things among them but the snow showers and wind made checking them out difficult. Another good flock – of linnets and goldfinches – was congregated at the Bow Butts corn bunting seed patch. These patches will have been a real lifeline over the last few days to a lot of birds. There were quite a few kittiwakes passing close in and low over the rocks of Roome Bay, they were with a steady passage of common gulls heading east out of the Forth. It should be worth sea watching tomorrow as birds blown about by the storm move back along the coast to where they want to be.

Posted March 3, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 2nd   Leave a comment

It was much less windy today with the waves half the size of yesterday, although still a day to be inland. The snow was slowly melting all day and the roads were completely clear by the evening. The tree sparrows visiting my back garden feeder were a distraction again as I worked at home. At least eight today, always visiting as a tight flock. They visited every fifteen minutes or so until about 10 in the morning and then disappeared until mid-afternoon. I can’t think they were having a hard time of it. That’s their typical pattern of feeding in good weather. But my feeder needed filling up afterwards so it was probably making all the difference. If we know a sparrow weighs about 24g and assume it needs about 30% of its body weight in seed a day, then a sparrow needs 7 gm of seed a day. If we get a 1 kg bag of mixed seed (high end low wheat stuff) for a pound then that will keep one sparrow alive for 142 days if it eats nothing else – let’s say that’s the winter covered (it certainly is for usually mild Crail). So, a pound a bird a winter at maximum, and each bird will be eating natural food as well, so that pound probably goes much, much further in terms of bird survival. Sounds like a bargain even for just the entertainment I got today watching the tree sparrows shyly egging each other on to be the first at the feeder so that the rest would know it was safe. Then their jostling cockiness when they all finally got to the feeder, but on a knife edge, with the slightest disturbance turning them back to their game of grandmother’s footsteps.

A terrible photo of one of my tree sparrows: the result of a misspent morning working at home, a telescope, a snowy window and my phone camera

Posted March 2, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 1st   Leave a comment


Another day of cold easterly winds and snow showers although the temperature climbed just above freezing by late afternoon as a faint hope that things were getting a bit better. And a day of birds in odd places to try to escape the storm: shags clustered close in to the shore at West Braes with even the toughest of the tough, purple sandpipers, feeding on the beach like sanderlings away from the murderous waves crashing against their usual rocky haunts. There was a fieldfare in my garden trying its luck on the shiny ornamental crab apples that even my resident hungry blackbirds avoid. I have only ever had fieldfares flying over my garden and then not very often. It has been a good winter for fieldfares with a large flock in the fields just to the north of Crail for most of it, but today they came into Crail for the shelter.

West Braes in the storm – thanks to my son Sam for this photo

Posted March 1, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

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