April 26th   Leave a comment

The slow pace of the spring continues. I saw my first swallow a couple of days ago (two weeks later than last year) around the sheep field below Denburn. This is a regular spot with one or two pairs breeding in the big house (the one turned into flats) next door. Swallows are former cave nesters, making their nests on ledges close to the roof. Caves are generally in short supply so the ancestral swallow that decided to start nesting in the man-made caves that we make as buildings will have suddenly gained a huge advantage. Now a cave nesting swallow would be a real find. Swallows have probably been nesting with us ever since we left Africa, spreading over Europe and Asia as we did. When we started building cowsheds and stables swallows must have really taken off in numbers – not only good nesting sites but full of flies as well. Swallows are declining now as insect numbers fall through intensive agriculture and probably also through loss of habitat and roosting sites in Africa. There are huge roosts of swallows in places like Nigeria and South Africa. This makes them vulnerable to sudden large declines if something happens to these places. This applies in the same way to any migrant. They are all vulnerable to the disappearance of any one site they depend on in the long chain of places they string together to successfully complete their annual cycle between Europe and Africa.

One migrant that has appeared in good numbers so far is the whimbrel. The small curlew that migrates from tropical coasts to the Arctic and back each year, although we have a few breeding in the northern isles. John Anderson had a flock of 24 on Balcomie Beach today. They are more usually in flocks of 2 or 3, flying over Crail. Their seven note whistle (mostly the same tone but slightly descending like a doppler shift at the end) is the best way to identify them as they fly high and fast overhead.

Whimbrels at Balcomie this week

Posted April 26, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

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